29 October 2010

vii Favorite Movies With Numbers in the Titles That Are Not Sequels

2001: A Space Odyssey
32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
THX-1138
7 Samurai
District 9
The 10 Commandments
Plan 9 from Outer Space

Honorable Mention:
Godzilla 2000 , technically speaking, none of the Godzilla films are exactly sequels, more like episodes, akin to James Bond films or the works of Kevin Smith. There may be ties (especially if it involves Mechagodzilla), but each film, by its very nature, stands alone. If nothing else, Godzilla 2000 has the weakest ties to the other films in the series.

10 of My Favorite Movies With One-Word Titles:

Labyrinth
Hero
Rashomon
Powaqqatsi
Unbreakable
Casshern
Strike
L'atalante
Solaris
Metropolis

22 October 2010

You know what I hate about Stephen King?

The damned colloquialisms.

Whether it's:

"F--- me, Freddy" in Dreamcatcher,

"Shoot a Pickle" in The Tommyknockers,

"Doodly-Damn" in Cycle of the Werewolf (thankfully excised from Silver Bullet),

or any other that I can't remember, they're omnipresent and annoying. They grind the story to a screeching halt and never sound natural coming out of anybody. Maybe the problem is simply that I've never in my entire life actually heard anyone say any of these things. Whenever I hear someone in the story say them, they never seem to be in the right context, and even READ like they were afterthoughts. As dialogue in film or television adaptations, they sound even more clunky and forced. It completely kills the immersion and utterly deflates the terror.
Of all the criticisms I can level at King's work, this is the only one I can never forgive and move on from (except maybe the name-branding and pop-culture references).

20 October 2010

Okay, this could pose a problem...

I just found out that when I post a weblog entry, the date it sets is not actually the date it gets published, but the day the draft was created (or last saved, I can't quite tell). This made my horror movies for non-horror movie fans list show up as being posted on the 15th of October rather than the 18th, making the whole "13 days until..." motif rather embarrassingly erroneous, if only in appearance.

This strikes me as very odd. I mean, why would I want the "post" date to be based on when I wrote the draft as opposed to when I actually publish the post? After all, when a film is copyrighted, it's copyrighted the year of its theatrical release, not the moment post-production concludes or principal photography wraps or the script is approved. Many films have been sidelined by distributors (would-be or otherwise) for years following post-production. Video games have a similar problem, especially considering the games that are imported from Japan. I recently heard about a game called Hydlide, an RPG released back in 1985 in Japan but not released in the US until some four or five years later. In terms of technology, even back then, that was practically a generation gap, akin to comparing Phantasy Star II (1989) to Final Fantasy VIII (1999) or even The Tower of Druaga (1984) to The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000).

Of course, that's overstating the situation as we're only talking about a few days or maybe weeks, but it's not as if I wrote the entry out in full and then let it sit in the posts list for weeks before publishing it. Even if that were the case, I'd still give it a once-over, and I know there would be changes to make, whether they were needed or not.
It's a problem I've had since maybe even high school; no matter how much preliminary writing I'd do, I'd end up doing a first-page rewrite the night before. I wouldn't even look at that first draft for guidance. Of course, that had as much to do with me having already internalized my notes on the given subject as any sort of dissatisfaction or disassociation with that early draft. This habit reached its apex in college and at one point I was very overwhelmed with something like four papers in three consecutive days.
The truly ironic part, though, was that I'd always get better grades on those rushed essays than the few essays that I'd write early on and finish weeks before the due date, as though they were the control factor in an experiment. At worst, I'd get a B on a hasty and agonizing re-write.
People tell me this is a great ability, and sometimes that they even envy me for it. The fact is, I hate it. I hated that my last-minute forehead-bleeding sessions got better results than works I'd planned out in advance and got done early. It cheapened the accomplishment and left me feeling like I'd put a gun to my head as some sick means of self-motivation. It's like when you start nodding off on a long drive and, instead of doing the sensible thing and pulling over, slap yourself as hard as you can. Sure, you've made great time, but the stinging sensation on your palm and cheek doesn't go away as quickly as it should and you feel like a tool for hitting yourself. It's like how I imagine Bruce Banner feels when he makes himself get angry and reluctantly unleash The Hulk.
It never helps that I already sweat over every word I write, regardless of time, even if it's a reply to a comment on something I've written or a thank-you note for a birthday card. I worry over everything and find myself playing out every possible outcome of the scenario, from jovial conversation to excruciating fall out. Maybe it's some subconscious fear of dying and the inevitable reality that ultimately my words survive me, as they ultimately do for everyone.

So, yeah, Blogger turned out to have a weird set-up with drafts and publishing dates. Good thing I caught it now before I finished a few other time-sensitive journal entries.

Lastly, random fact about me: I hate saying goodbye. Hearing it is somewhat tolerable, but overall it just depresses me. I think I can cite the moment when it began getting to me, but it would only be a supposition and giving that event far too much credit. So, if you're the first to say goodbye, and there's a pause before I reply (with anything BUT goodbye), that's the reason.

Good night, and good luck. (Haven't closed a journal with that phrase in years. I like it, even if my theater background makes me averse to wishing good luck. Come to think of it, I should really see that movie again; the last time I saw it was in the theater.)

18 October 2010

Horror For All!

As Stephen King pointed out in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, horror comes in three flavors: Terrify, Horrify, and Gross-out. Gross-out is self-explanatory, best represented by films like the Saw series (which will plague us for, hopefully, the last time with this year's installment), Turistas, and anything made by Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather of Gore. Horrify is less obvious, but just as straightforward in concept; it refers to what's commonly called the jump scare, anything that's only really scary because it startles us with its abruptness and unexpectedness, playing on our flight-or-fight response hardwired into our very being by evolution itself. Terrify, lastly, is the hardest to describe as it relies neither on visual stimuli or instinctive reactions to make itself known. Rather, it works by what it doesn't do but makes you think it will.
One might think, then, that this makes for three different types of horror movies, one for each form of fright. However, in terms of horror movies, there's more like two, with Terrify serving as a kind of guiding principle for the other two to follow. In fact, Terrify is so vague as a principle that some of its best cinematic examples are not even horror movies. Films of the Gross-Out variety, on the other hand, tend to "preach to the choir" so to speak, while those of the Horrify ilk rise above the one-trick pony quality of their gory kin and tend to draw the bigger crowds.
What follows, in honor of having only 13 days until Halloween, is a list of films that favor the Terrify variety of horror, and only occasionally employ the Horrify strategy, but all generally steer clear of the Gross-Out ideology. In other words, these are horror movies that really anyone can enjoy; not many people like to get grossed out, but deep down, almost everyone likes to get scared on some level, even if only at one particular time, like a certain holiday.

KAIDAN:
This Oscar-nominated anthology based on Japanese legends collected and published by Lafcadio Hearn is as eerie as it is beautiful. Japan as a nation was something of a Johnny-come-lately when it came to color in its cinema, having been completely left out of the Technicolor era. That said, when they came on the scene, they hit the ground running, hitting their full stride by the time Kaidan (sometimes spelled "Kwaidan" due to the translational sensibilities of the time) reached screens. The sets look like sets, it's true, but what sets they are. Admittedly, I've only seen two of the four segments that comprise the film, but even just one of them is worth the price of admission and I'll probably be celebrating Halloween by checking out the other two. The two parts I saw were "The Woman of the Snow," where a happily-married woodsman admits a terrible secret to his wife, only for her to have one for him as well, and "Hoichi the Earless," where a blind musician is asked by a mysterious visitor to play for a most uncanny audience.

SOLARIS:
Not many would consider Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to be a horror film, nevermind that most of the story involves a group of astronauts trapped on a claustrophobic ship run by a sentient computer with full control of the airlocks, life support, and (most importantly) any and all communications with anyone who might be able to do anything to help in case, say, said computer were driven homicidal by a small oversight in teaching it the difference between being asleep and being dead. In Andrei Tarkovsky's "Anti-2001" film Solaris, it's not the computer onboard that one should be weary of, nor even the enigmatic and alien ocean below, but of one's own demons within, or rather, what the aforementioned ocean makes of those inner demons. For reasons never fully explained, the ocean of the eponymous planet is able to make physical representations of people from the crew members' respective pasts. The trouble is, the ocean doesn't quite get many of the details right. It's not its fault, though; it's working from their memories... and consciences.

THE FORGOTTEN:
There's quite a bit of hate out there for this film, and, for the life of me, I don't understand exactly why. In a way, it's the perfect kind of horror movie; it takes a simple premise (in horror terms, a common fear) and runs with it. In the case of The Forgotten, the base fear that makes up the premise has to do with paranoia, the feeling that some unseen force has an agenda against you and you are completely powerless against it, coupled with the possibility that the whole thing may be merely self-delusion. In the film, Julianne Moore plays Telly, a mother grieving the loss of her son, the exact circumstances of which are not only mysterious, but ever-changing, from a plane crash at the age of nine to a miscarriage that many years earlier. Admittedly, the execution of the film's "What's real and what isn't?" motif is fundamentally flawed, but the performances keep you invested in spite of that.
My only beef with the film is that I've somewhat already seen it before, albeit in a rather unlikely place, the 5th episode of the 4th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Entitled "Remember Me," the story centers on Dr. Beverly Crusher unknowingly trapped in a failed warp bubble experiment wherein members of the ship's crew sporadically disappear without anyone giving any notice or having any memory of them ever existing. It aired on the 22nd of October in 1990, fourteen years before the release of The Forgotten. The two share a similar premise, and both feature a strong female lead (both redheads, oddly enough). They even share a subtext in the form of romantic tensions between the leads and their male counterparts, Crusher and Picard in the case of Star Trek, and Telly and Ash in The Forgotten. I wonder if screenwriter Gerald Di Pego is a Trekkie?

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY:
I feel like I've talked endlessly about these "faux first-person footage" films and, for those of you that have endured reading those reviews of mine, it may seem a bit strange that I'd recommend one in any favorable light. Put simply, of all the Blair films out there, this is one of the best. Most of the scenes in the film are locked-off shots. That is, the camera is mounted on a tripod and left "unmanned" by any sort of camera operator. The angles favor function over flattery and certainly aren't intended to hide or obscure anything. Though seen as a weakness in comparison to other Blair films, this lack of ambiguity works in the film's favor and while we may never see the entity in question, there's certainly no question about what it is, what it wants, and how far it's willing to go to get it.

FLATLINERS:
The fear of dying is arguably the most common and universal fear that plagues humanity. Almost all of our actions are dictated, driven, and motivated by the singular principle that we are mortal, and that mortality is fickle and unpredictable. Flatliners centers around a group of medical students obsessed with death, namely patients who have actually experienced it or situations not far removed from it, with one patient having once been declared legally dead for four-and-a-half minutes. The students, using their medical knowledge, endeavor to "explore" the great unknown by way of inducing near-death states of being. They each are revived, luckily and in the nick of time, each having a different and unique experience of "the other side." The trouble is, they don't leave those experiences behind when they come back. What's great about this film is that, because the fear it centers upon is essentially that of the unknown, it really doesn't matter what your personal beliefs are going in. I don't personally believe in the afterlife, but that didn't make the film any less terrifying. For me, the real moments of fear and tension are in the CPR sessions where the students bring each other back their states of near-death.

THE SHINING:
Part of the reason why this film seems to have such a wide appeal beyond the normal crop of horror fans is that it's really so unlike any other horror film to come before or since. Stanley Kubrick has never been one to work within the confines of genres, ignoring their far-too familiar tropes and cliches yet still staying respectful to them and not straying too far from the path. The Shining stands as a kind of horror psychology test, with different people seeing the film in different lights. For some, it's a ghostly, haunted house story of the most supernatural variety. For others, it's a psychological thriller about the effects of isolation, where . For others still, it may be both of these things, or neither. Whatever the overall interpretation, it's a textbook example of the best kind of horror movie, taking a simple premise and running with it.

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES:
I actually debated whether or not to include this one, and I'm not going to have that much to say about it, and what I do say will be the result of a mental strain to find the right words. Don't get me wrong, The Mothman Prophecies is an effective horror movie, but the way its horror works is so different from the other entries on this list that it stands as having an unfair advantage over them. Whereas the other films are ultimately works of fiction, though some more thoroughly researched than others, this film is only a slight dramatization of a book that chronicles and collects the accounts of residents of the otherwise-sleepy little town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, of a series of seemingly unconnected events culminating in an unquestionably tragic event not forgotten today. The film is well-made enough on its own merits, but having the backlog of lore, skepticism, and facts sets it above any other attempt in cinema to capture the essence of human fear. The fears are real because the people are real. Say what you will about what they believe they saw, but that makes it no less real to them, their fear of it no less real.

12 October 2010

QuikTek

I mentioned Twitter last time, and writing about how I appreciated its versatility made me remember something. The first weblog I ever had was on Yahoo!360. I knew well of (and hated) MySpace, but hadn't heard of Facebook. I always preferred 360 to MySpace because it seemed that 360, by virtue of being a Yahoo! service, attracted a wider and more eclectic audience, whereas MySpace was almost exclusively a teen phenomenon. Call it ageism or technophobia, but it's probably safe to assume that more people have an e-mail address than a MySpace account, therefore that older and/or less tech-savvy generation still "ooh"-ing and "ah"-ing over Electronic Mail will be more likely to start up a weblog if that service is offered as part of the "packaged deal" that came with their e-mail account as opposed to seeking out an external, self-contained site that requires separate registration. In other words, on Y!360, you got more people who would probably not have otherwise started a weblog because they wouldn't want to leave their comfort zone.

Yahoo!360 is gone now, crushed underfoot by practically every other social networking site in existence, the key problem being a few unresolved technical issues (which led to my friend Vanessa tragically losing her entire account), the others being a deliberate dismantling by Yahoo! in light of a proposed buy-out of Facebook and an attempt by Yahoo! to make the networking tools of 360 a more integrated part of one's Yahoo! profile. I've archived those entries to a site called Multiply, a rather shameless MySpace knock-off. I won't link them here; they're not much to look at. Most of them recount my obsessions over my own personal pet peeve about 360 in light of other weblog sites like Multiply or Blogger, which was mobile-friendliness. I prided myself on "breaking the system" by using my PSP's built-in web-browser and wi-fi to write entries in clear defiance of desktops. It probably went a little too far; every time I got a new device, my readers would know it, evidenced by my "Hey, guess what I'm writing this on!" style of entry.

There was something I don't think I ever said on 360 and I think I never said it because I wasn't actually sure how well it would translate to text, so here goes:

The very best thing about 360 is that WE'RE ALL DIFFERENT, COMING FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE, ALL OVER THE WORLD, and yet, at the end of the day, we're all just sitting at home in front of our computers, talking to one another.

the very worst thing about 360 is that we're all different, coming from all walks of life, all over the world, and yet, at the end of the day, WE'RE ALL JUST SITTING AT HOME IN FRONT OF OUR COMPUTERS TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER.

The point is, while I may have been seemingly singing the praises of Twitter last entry, my adoration is almost entirely conceptual; the first social networking site made with mobile networks distinctly in mind. By its very nature, it encourages people to go out into the world and not feel tethered to their undoubtedly uncomfortable desk chairs in front of their undoubtedly cluttered and cumbersome desks upon which rest their undoubtedly ghastly laptops and monolithic desktops.

To crib a saying by filmmaker Jean Cocteau: Weblogs will never truly achieve anything until they can be taken to all the same places ordinary notebooks and pens can go.

Twitter was a good start.

Tumblr appears to be the next step.

Evernote is the long stride between them.

10 October 2010

Do It To It, Dammit!

I should have known this would happen; I make a To-Do list and all it makes me want "to do" is anything but what's on the damned To-Do list. In my defense, some of the journal entries proposed are technically "here" on Blogger, just in draft form. So, they aren't NOT being worked on. The only one that may be abandoned is a review of Jim Starlin's Cosmic Odyssey, a mini-series featuring Jack Kirby's New Gods with art by the indomitable Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. I may still make the accompanying primer video giving an historical overview of Jack Kirby's The New Gods. In keeping with my desire to write reviews of items that don't fit proper categories or are otherwise heavily-marginalized, the video would discuss how originally Kirby's Fourth World series of monthly comics were never meant to be part of the DC Universe proper. That is, we'd never see crossovers with or guest appearances by DC denizens such as Superman or Batman. Tragically, though, the books would be abruptly canceled (the notably ironic exception being Mister Miracle, Super Escape Artist) and many of the characters would be scattered to the winds, settling upon the larger DC Universe in an oddly intriguing kind of "separate, yet joined" status. There's a long-running tradition of superheroes (or other comic book characters) that lack the following to sustain their own title, but are popular enough that guest appearances in other books meet with little to no dissent or disinterest.
As for Cosmic Odyssey, I don't think I'll be reviewing it simply because it's a tad on the unremarkable side. It was far from disappointing; with Starlin's fearless approach to storytelling and Mignola's dramatic lighting and shading, it truly is a match made in heaven, one that I wish would have been repeated prior to Starlin's solo project The Death of the New Gods. Suffice it to say, if Starlin and Mignola do work together again, it won't be on The Fourth World.

Changing gears to old business, there's no update on Jolicloud's "Windows Refund" program as they've yet to answer my inquiry and I've found no other information on it specifically. There was, however, something tangentially related: an article sourcing the Novell Boycott's information about Dell's "Windows Tax Credit." I won't go into too much detail because it's actually going to help me round out the story regarding Jolicloud's refund program, but the long and short of the matter is that Microsoft has essentially pressured Dell into selling PCs with Windows pre-installed exclusively, with prices actually favoring Windows-equipped PCs versus ones with a Linux OS on it.

In the broader scheme of things, there have been a few minor changes to the format of Decay-Proof Record Scroll. I've overcome my fear of tinkering with CSS or, for that matter, any HTML document I didn't write from the ground up myself, and proceeded to tweak the template I selected when I first opened this Blogger account. While I do like the format overall, a few minor problems came up that were fast becoming persistent nuisances, chief among them the width of the main text column. For text, it wasn't an issue, and admittedly seemed to help the words flow, being neither an intimidating, monolithic wall of text nor a thin, whispy news ticker. For videos, however, it turned problematic. Even with videos in the 1.33:1 ratio, the results of refitting them to fit inside the column were less than satisfactory, with videos in 16:9 even more so. Granted, I remember the days when 160 x 120 was the norm and formats like 320 x 240 were "cinematic," but after more than ten years following those days, even I don't feel regret thumbing my nose at videos smaller than 320 x 240. Put simply, it's been long enough, we can expect more. The highest quality Youtube HD video may still only just hold a candle to a DVD, but they're still leaps and bounds above the Cinepak cut-scenes of the early CD-ROM era.

I've also added a Twitter module, which probably gets more updates than any other site I frequent. Then again, that's supposed to be the appeal of Twitter, that you can update it from practically anywhere with any reasonably-equipped electronic device, mobile or otherwise. In a sense, it's what I've always wanted from a weblog tool, a journal anyone can see that's as accessible to me as pen and paper.

Speaking of which, I've also removed Atop the 4th Wall from the Better Reads module. Don't get me wrong, I still watch each new update and hold no ill will against it, it's just that Better Reads seems better suited for weblogs that update irregularly as opposed to AT4W's "Every Monday" model. It also lets me give top billing to my friend Karla Thomas' new Tumblr page Bloggity Blog, which sadly doesn't seem to get half as many followers as her original DeviantART page. It's understandable as, typically, people who "live" on a particular site don't like to be told to go "somewhere else," even if it's only for a brief visit. This is probably the worst part of the whole "Web 2.0" side of the internet; no longer one vast, open country, but a scattering of walled city-states that insist on their own self-sufficiency.
It reminds me of something my brother told me when he went to Canada. On the plane, the in-flight magazine was full of ads promoting tourism in countries all over the world, including Poland and Japan. At first, he didn't think much of it until, when he landed and got settled in, he still kept seeing the same foreign travel ads all over, with the same ubiquity there that "What happens in Vegas..." has in the States. He said it really put the concept of "international" in perspective, noting how the US seems to have this "we have everything right here" mentality when it comes to tourism. It's genuinely sad that we went from services like Geocities to ones like MySpace; sure, it makes networking far easier, but it would seem to do so at the cost of diversity. Perhaps it's just an inevitable social phenomenon.

Last update: I'm also working on a short story, and hopefully I haven't jeopardized its completion by mentioning it here. Like the act of making the To-Do list, I find the less I spend talking about something is more time I can spend doing something, hence not displaying the list here. As such, I'm not going to delve into the plot apart from little hints I've divulged on my Twitter feed, such as doing research on Orbital Resonance despite not technically being a sci-fi story.

Now, we move onward to more regular updates, and less updates about updates.