Friday, October 31, 2008

Correcting Popular Song Lyrics

I just wanted to take a moment and, as a public service, correct certain mistaken impressions members of the public might have gotten as a result of listening to popular songs on the radio. This is a minor but significant service I have chosen to perform from time to time, simply because radio remains the third or maybe fourth most popular medium of communication out there. (It definitely beats out carrier pigeons, at any rate.)

Today, I'd like to correct a misapprehension caused by lyrics in Natasha Bedingfield's song, "Unwritten", in which she sings, "Feel the rain on your skin/No one else can feel it for you..."

This is technically incorrect. A person with expert skills in butchery and tanning could, in fact, flay off a piece of your skin that would be extremely thin and, after tanning, quite supple. They could then find a sufficiently powerful rainstorm that the impact of the raindrops could be felt directly through the piece of thin leather. Naturally, this would wreck the material, so it could only be done once per piece of your skin that they felt the rain on, but they could nonetheless feel it for you.

Hopefully, this information arrives in time to be helpful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Essential Halloween Viewing

So we're just about a week out from Halloween...and please don't come to my house trick-or-treating, as we're not giving out candy this year. Please don't blame me for that, though. I love to stay at home, with a bowl of candy by the door for the kids and a horror movie in the DVD player for the times between knocks on the door...but I'll be at work, and my room-mates have expressed a preference to instead hang out in the basement and play video games. Spoilsports.

But the question is, what horror movie would go into that DVD player if I wasn't stuck at work? I'm going to take a moment to suggest some personal favorites. Obviously, these are my own choices based on my own tastes in horror. I look for a fast pace--movies like 'Halloween' or 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre', where it takes a half hour to get to the first real scare, just bore me. I don't get hung up on wanting tons of plot, but I don't like movies that have plot holes so glaring I can't ignore them even if I try. And genre-blending films score bonus points. So with that in mind, here are my picks...and I'd be interested in hearing other suggestions (hint, hint, I've got a luvverly comments section just waiting for you to fill it up...)

1. The Evil Dead Trilogy. Honestly, I can't choose just one of these three. They're all brilliant, each in their own way. In terms of pure horror, the first one is probably the most effective; Raimi studied dozens of horror movies, figuring out how to make the leanest, meanest, most terrifying thriller he could, and it pays off. The second one is probably the best of the three, and the most influential--Raimi's use of motion in his direction and the way he mixed genres together show up in practically every modern movie, not just the horror flicks. And 'Army of Darkness' has all the best lines.

2. Slither. A vastly underrated horror flick that is, quite honestly, the best horror film of the last decade. (If not longer.) It's smart, it's funny, every actor in it gives a terrific performance that really lends believability to the whole story, it moves like a freight train, and it has the best gag reel of any movie you'll ever see. If you call yourself a horror fan and you don't have this DVD on your shelf, you should be ashamed.

3. The Holy Trilogy. Of course, by now it's "The Holy Pentalogy", but Romero fans tend to have Views on 'Land' and 'Diary'. (For the record, I love 'Land' unabashedly and in some ways, it's my favorite just for the upbeat ending...and 'Diary', while uneven as all hell, is tremendously entertaining at times and has the most badass deaf Amish farmer ever. Oh, and the most badass drama teacher, too.) But when zombie fans talk Romero, they mean 'Night', 'Dawn', and 'Day of the Dead'. Romero's not a perfect film-maker--he wears his politics on his sleeve, and his characters have a tendency to speechify instead of talking. But his movies have a sense of realism to them that makes the horror hard to shake. You feel like you're watching a documentary, and the effect haunts you long after the credits roll.

4. Flight of the Living Dead. This one is not a Romero movie--it's a straight-to-DVD slice of beautiful cheese. I'm not going to defend it as a quality movie, but it's wonderfully entertaining; the movie unapologetically loads up a plane full of stereotypes and then gets straight to the zombie action. Half the fun is predicting who's going to be zombie chow and in what order. Will it be the Pilot Who's On His Last Flight Before Retirement? Will the Golfer Who's Obviously Supposed To Be Tiger Woods get to use that putter on a zombie? Just how will the Amoral Scientist Who's Responsible For It All get his comeuppance? A wonderful guilty pleasure.

5. Jason X. And speaking of guilty pleasures...this one is one of those movies that nobody went to see because they knew it must be bad, but us secret fans know that it's the best of all the 'Friday the 13th' movies. It's got some great one-liners, and the "holodeck" sequence is the apotheosis of the entire series. (In order to distract Jason, the good guys program in a Crystal Lake simulation, complete with holographic teenagers who say, "Hey, do you want a beer? Or do you wanna smoke some pot? Or we can have premarital sex! We love premarital sex!" Instant win.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Brief Observation

No Storytelling Engine this week (on Monday, I was still in Atlanta, GA watching my flight get delayed, and things only got more fun from there) but I will blog a little, just to make a brief observation which some might claim has some connection to the current political process.

To wit, nobody who calls themselves a "maverick" is ever actually a maverick. Real mavericks don't call themselves mavericks, because they don't give a damn about what you think of them. They just go out and do things, and let other people worry about labels. A guy (or a gal, or a two-person combination of a guy and a gal whose names happen to fit conveniently on a yard sign) who says, "I'm a maverick" (or "we're mavericks", repeatedly in a vice-presidential debate for example) is desperately courting your opinion. And if he's that desperate for your approval, he's probably going to be desperate for someone else's. (Like, say, hypothetically speaking, a Republican President or a bunch of racist right-wing voters.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Out Of Town

Just wanted to drop a note to say I'll be out of town all next week and don't know how often I'll have Net access, so this blog might be fairly quiet for a bit.

Thanks for your patience!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Authenticity and the "Darkening" Of DC

So we've all heard about 'The Dark Knight', right? Grossed something like $500 million, critical and financial success, absolute blockbuster to end all blockbusters and DC's first real success in the movies since...well, arguably since 1989, when 'Batman' launched with a different Batman and a different Joker and a different director. Certainly, the biggest success DC has had since Marvel started absolutely cleaning up with their string of well-received hits. (And, okay, 'Elektra'.)

But the thing is, I think DC is taking away the wrong lesson from this. They're talking about how this proves "dark" superheroes sell, and how they're going to be doing more dark stories in their next several movies, and how this validates Dan DiDio's tenure at DC where he made a conscious decision to aim for a more "adult" audience. (Which has been a bit of a controversial point over the last few years, with both sides pulling out sales charts that support their case, and goalposts moving back and forth, and all the general fun you get from Internet debates. But I digress.)

Because I don't think that 'The Dark Knight' succeeded because it was "dark", I think it succeeded because it was real. It was heart-felt, to use an older term. Christopher Nolan felt genuinely, personally touched by some of the Batman stories he'd read (most obviously "The Killing Joke") and he told a Batman story that meant something to him, and that intensity, that depth of feeling resonated with his audience. The audience was willing to follow him to a very dark place for that story, because that's where the story led.

It's that last point that's key--"that's where that story led". The darkness in 'The Dark Knight' wasn't forced, it wasn't there for its own was there because Christopher Nolan told a story of moral ambiguity, of the specter of mindless chaos in a world still reeling from the 'War On Terror' (and no, Bush isn't Batman. Bush is Harvey Dent. But I digress again.) Nolan didn't tack on a sad ending and he didn't tack on a happy ending. He followed the story through to the ending it had to have.

Audiences can always smell when they're being manipulated, and just as surely, they can smell when they're not. Everyone who watched '28 Days Later', whether they loved the movie or hated it, all hated the ending, precisely because it pandered. The writers looked at the ending they had to have, with Selena and Hannah about to become the unwilling mothers of a new society while Jim was left to die, and it scared them, so they copped out. Even before they tacked on the uber-happy ending where Jim survived being gut-shot in the middle of nowhere, they backed away from the truth of what things were, and the audience knew it.

And DC has been doing just the opposite. They've been tacking on death and rape, blood and gore and misery and discord not because they're where the story has to lead, but because they think it sells. (And they're not the only ones--in fact, the single worst offender in this regard in the last decade has to be Penance, whose character can be summed up as "Dark Speedball". Does anyone think this was a deeply heart-felt change for this character?)

In the end, things have to be real. The audience will follow you if they're real, whether through darkness or light. We don't want sad endings or happy endings, we want true endings. We want our happiness to be earned, our sadness to feel honest. We want to be moved, not pandered to. And if DC can't understand that, then its next "dark" movie is going to feel more like 'Superman Returns' than 'The Dark Knight'...and it'll probably do the same kind of box office.