Sunday, 27 July 2008

Heckler and Kochk: Two Views of WWII

Movie Night is sometimes referred to as "Hairy Belching Men Night" which is somewhat unfair to the swearing, drinking and physical comedy aspects of the evening. Last Thursday we packed up and went on the road, projector, big screen, whiteboards and all to Beretta's house for "Civilised Mixed Company Supper Party Night". Everyone was on their best behaviour, except possibly me who made slightly more mess than everyone else there combined (hardly any wine got on the ceiling). Watched: Wonder Woman: Judgement From Outer Space Part 2, and South Pacific.

So, two different views on World War 2. In Judgement From Outer Space, aliens, concerned at the development of rockets and atomics, take a look at 1942 Earth to see if we have the potential to grow into civilised, peaceful beings, or if we're violent barbarians who need to be wiped from the galaxy. Initially Andros, the alien can't see any difference from his point of view between the Allies and the Nazis. "Americans don't torture people or make arbitrary arrests" Wonder Woman points out[1]. Well, it's good to see America's moral superiority to the Nazis so clearly stated.

If I have a real problem with this two-parter it's that the US authorities are perfectly happy taking Wonder Woman and Andros' words on being a 3,000 year old superhero and an alien sent to sit in judgement on us respectively, while the Nazis insist that they can't be, and must be products of US Atom research. In the WWII I studied, it was the Nazis who liked ideas such as the Hollow Earth, and proposed the Star Aldebaran as the origin of the Aryan race; wouldn't they be more likely to accept such ideas? (Anyway, here's the theme tune: Stop a Bullet Cold, Make the Axis Fold)

South Pacific is a classic musical, and was chosen despite a stack of bad to moderate Sci-Fi a foot high being available. Sadly I didn't take notes from the Whiteboards, but here's the four most famous songs based on a non-representative sample:

Happy Talk
I'm Going to Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair
There Is Nothing Like A Dame
Some Enchanted Evening (disputed, until I pointed out that Mr S___, our RE teacher at school and something of a musical buff would sing this one, after which Heckler bowed down and worshiped the song)

And boy are there some unusual versions of some of those songs on Youtube.

Heckler noted that Nelly didn't actually do a lot of nursing (and in general, the various members of the US military in the cast had a lot of time to hang around singing). Of course, that is explained in the film; the male chorus are Seabees (Naval construction units), the female nurses. The base has been built, but they don't have the intelligence on the Japanese to commit to an offensive, so the hospital isn't full, and the Seabees can hang around doing laundry and running scams. See also the expression Hurry Up And Wait.

Anyway, it looks like we'll be back to being hairy, belching and watching some genuine bad Sci-Fi this week. Until then, all the youtube videos in one player can be found here:

[1] I suspect that Steve Trevor's USAAF Counter-Intelligence unit would be pretty happy making arbitrary arrests, and even torturing people if Wonder Woman wasn't there to act as their conscience

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Linkage and Administrivia

Heckler got a new, double size whiteboard (it's, what, A2? so it can still sit on someone's lap) and revealed it at last Thursday's movie night. In fact he took a picture of me looking at it [1]. And we still have the old one. There's good news and bad news - more movie night notes, but I didn't copy them off so won't be reporting them here.

Time to actually start a links section or two; I'll be expanding this later. Part one Kochk's Blog-U-Tron ("They Write Good Sci-Fi Commentary And You Should Read It"): The AMC SciFi Scanner talks some sense and includes John Scalzi's provocative weekly Sci-Fi movie columns. Talking of Scalzi, his own Blog, the Whatever talks about Sci-Fi a fair bit, although since AMC pay him for talking about movies, he talks more about literature. And of course The Crotchety Old Fan who apart from his deep knowledge of the history of Science Fiction is behind all kinds of interesting stuff I haven't quite had time to explore in detail, most notably the Classic Science Fiction Channel, as featured previously here, and now in the non-blog Links To The Fifth Dimension ("They do Sci-Fi Stuff So You Don't Have To"?). Of interest (as background) Planetocopia - a climatologist creates several planets (including alternative Earths). And Finally Strange Horizons, an online Speculative Fiction magazine; the reviews focus on SF and Fantasy literature, but that's all good too.

Heckler tells me that too much theology is boring. It's probably just as well I haven't seen Prince Caspian then. While I'm linking, if you want more theology, Slacktivist tells us what C S Lewis was actually writing about in Prince Caspian (the answer: beer). One final thing - in the pub G___ pointed out the Duffy Video to Warwick Avenue I reviewed looked very cheap to make. For a more expensive Duffy video I suggest Mercy

[1] "It's a picture of me staring at some crudely drawn breasts!"
"They're not that crudely drawn"

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Act III

So: Tragedy.

Also pilot and origin story.

And finally, lots of extras! A real finale.

It's not the meditation on supervillainy I was hoping for, but I doubt there ever will be unless I write it myself.

I will be pleased to receive this (hopefully on the extra packed DVD) for my birthday.

We will now return to our usual programming (assuming Heckler doesn't write anything).

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Act II

Well, I was wrong.

Here's the episode in jokes, which inevitably will be spoilerish:

"Billy, you're driving a spork[1] into your leg."
"So I am. Hilarious."

"... at my famously successful heist last week; I say successful in that I achieved my objective; it was less successful in that I inadvertently introduced my arch-nemesis to the girl of my dreams and now he's taking her out on dates..."

"I need to be a little more careful on what I say on my blog. Apparently the LAPD and Captain Hammer are among our viewers."

"I wanna be an achiever. Like Bad Horse."
"The thoroughbred of sin?"
"I meant Gandhi."

"Apparently the only signature he needed was my fist. But with a pen in it. That I was signing with."

"See Penny's giving it up. She's giving it up hard. 'Cos she's with Captain Hammer. And these [brandishes fists] are not the hammer. [walks away. pause. returns.] The hammer is my penis"

I note of course that the duet at the beginning, where Horrible is in utmost despair and Penny is deliriously happy from the same events, and they're singing the same song with slightly different words and emphasis, is, despite not being funny at all, really good.

Am I foolish enough to predict what happens in Act III? Well the only thing I can see for certain is that Horrible tries to kill Hammer and fails. What happens then is up for grabs. Probably Bad Horse turns up and maybe Hammer and Horrible have to combine to defeat him, or maybe Hammer is revealed to be in partnership with him, or maybe he doesn't turn up and it's just singing cowboys. As for Penny, I'd like her to clear off away from these lunatics at the end, or a second best would be her falling for Bad Horse. Girls love horses, and they love a bad 'un. What could be more natural than that?

[1] The spellchecker doesn't have spork, but does offer "Spock" for it. Crazy.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Act I - more thoughts

I had a few thoughts while, um, dealing with some laundry, and the last post was a bit full of OMG!-ness so here they are:

Dr Horrible seems to be young, hungry for power and success, net-savvy but not yet very successful - his blog has something of a cult status, but isn't read and analysed all over the planet as, for example Lex Luthor's blog would be. Evidence: applying to join the Evil League of Evil and that he doesn't have his own washing machine (has he used the parts for one of his devices?).

Supervillain plans tend towards one of two paradigms; EITHER they ignore the existence of Superheroes entirely (this being a kind of genre blindness) and so they tend to fall apart when a walking muscle jumps on top of the van and destroys the device controlling it; OR they aim their plots directly at their superhero rival, often at the expense of their other goals. Having gone for the first option in Act I I would anticipate Dr Horrible trying to attack Captain Hammer in Act II. From the plot so far, I would expect the classic plan - make the superhero look to be not a hero at all.

SuperHERO stories always come down to punching[1]. But this is a SuperVILLAIN story. And it's only Act I.

UPDATE: That's a very long shot at the beginining - Neil Patrick Harris talking to camera for 3 minutes

[1] As Joss Whedon is aware; the three volumes of Astonishing X-Men I've read illustrate this clearly.

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Act I

Joss Whedon's Supervillain Musical is online for a limited period. Here's what happens - Dr Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris best known as Dougie Houser, or possibly that psychic Colonel from Starship Troopers) has a video blog. This introduces the character, who intends to rule the world using his freeze gun (which freezes time) and then offer it at the feet of Penny, a girl he admires at the laundry. He also reads an email from Johnny Snow who claims to be his nemesis, but his nemesis is actually Captain Hammer[1] (Captain Hammer comic here).

He gets a letter from Bad Horse, leader of the Evil League of Evil, who is willing to let Horrible join if he proves himself with an especially spectacular crime. As it happens Horrible is going to steal the Wonderflonium he needs for his freeze gun. He runs into Penny who is collecting signatures for a homeless shelter and finally talks to her. As he attempts to steal the Wonderflonium by remote controlling the van it's on, Captain Hammer arrives and destroys the device controlling the van. The van careers out of control and nearly hits Penny; Hammer throws her out of the way into a pile of garbage just as Horrible manages to stop the van. "You nearly killed her," says Horrible. "I remember it differently," says Hammer. Penny and Hammer's eyes meet and to Horrible's dismay they "connect" and sing. The episode ends with Horrible running away with the Wonderflonium while they are distracted.

Well, it's all set up - comedy, songs that actually drive the story, a superhero[2] who causes at least as much damage as the villain he opposes, a love triangle, and of course Bad Horse lurking in the background. All in under 14 minutes. I for one will be watching this again and again (until Monday, obviously).

[1] I contend that one can have but one nemesis, and it is pleasing to see Dr Horrible agree.
[2] This covers some of the same ground as Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, in a more comic fashion; Dr Impossible notes that although he's smarter than the heroes and his plans involve robots, high technology and out thinking people, somehow it always comes down to hitting each other.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Movie Night 11/07/08

Movie night was a day late, as Heckler was celebrating being out of warranty. Be careful Heckler, if you break yourself now, you'll have to pay for repairs! Anyway we finally finished Crime Traveller with the last two episodes The Lottery Experiment and The Broken Crystal[1], another Wonder Woman episode (Last of the Two Dollar Bills), an early episode of Lost in Space that I failed to record anything about as that came last, and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965, Dir: William Asher). Even by our generous standards this doesn't count as Sci-Fi, even if there's a mermaid[2] swimming in and out of the plot, but the DVD was a present from, erm, Beretta[3]? who was attending, and anyway we've been admiring the opening sequence on Youtube for quite some time. Anyway, to the whiteboard:

General Comments:
If you don't review bad Sci-Fi, we won't make guns

Crime Traveller, The Lottery Experiment:
Slade: I think I can help you!
Turner: Why, have you taken a course in Laser Optics?
"98 number memory and message capacity. The Rolls Royce of Mobile Phones."
Perhaps he'll get a new ja[cket][4]

Beach Blanket Bingo:
"If I put my arm around someone, I like it to be my idea."
"I'm saving that one for my wallet."
"Come along now, let's get out of these loose clothes and into something tight."
"It's just good clean fun that keeps him out of pool halls."
"It was my bad side - I was facing front."
"The best way to learn is to watch."
This film is generating quotes faster than I can write, and I'm running out of space.
"I, Eric Von Zipper, am putting the snatch on you."
"It's a people bite!"
"Frankie's small, but he's wiry."
"I'm taking you to my boobie[5] house"
Frankie's wearing Jeff Slade's Jacket!

From Crime Traveller: The Broken Crystal
Synchotron (sic)
"Lengthen the photon rod."

And Generally:
I'm bored of the board
Boobies make me smile
Goebbels! [6]

Anyway, before I emulate Jeff Slade and make my 7:30 bedcheck, here's all those videos in one special movie night player:

[1] K: Didn't we watch that last week?
H: No, that was The Dark Crystal
K: Yes, but it was broken
H&K: Mmmmmm...
[2] Played by Marta Kristen who also played Judy Robinson, the blonde daughter in Lost in Space. In fact if we believe IMDB she seems to have gone straight from Beach Blanket Bingo to Lost in Space. Coincidence? You tell us!
[3] Heckler, I know Krupp is funnier, but she expressed a preference. Still, you can call her Krupp if you like.
[4] Slade has worn the same mustard yellow jacket in every episode of Crime Traveller - The episode when he wore a dark blue one, he got locked in the boot of a car and set on fire which ruined it.
[5] It's taken some googling to find out what was going on here; it seems that South Dakota Slim calls everyone "boobie".
[6] This probably deserves a footnote: In the episode of Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman destroys a padlock with her bare hands, then one of the Nazi agents shoots one out, then Major Steve Trevor opens another one by forcing the lock. I then imagined Adolf Hitler reviewing the budget of Nazi Sabotage operations in the US and exclaiming "They're claiming expenses for 2000 padlocks? That doesn't sound right. [shouts] Goebbels!" Following which we shouted "Goebbels" at each other until it ceased to be funny.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Dark Crystal

I didn't take notes off the whiteboard at the last movie night, which is probably just as well as there were some unusual illustrations. For the record we watched 2 more episodes of Crime Traveller (which I will review when we've finished, and this time I won't show Heckler my notes before hand), The Dark Crystal and an episode of Wonder Woman[1].

So The Dark Crystal (Trailer) - a fantasy movie where all the actors are puppets from Jim Henson. It looks like if you search youtube you can find the whole film up there if you've not seen it or forgotten about it some time in the last 25 years. The first question is, does it show it's age? Visually, no, because although there has been puppetry in films since then, the state of the art doesn't seem to have advanced greatly. Storywise, it's a little simple - it's definitely a kids film[4], and other than looking good (Aughra's Orrery has stuck with me since) doesn't make much attempt to hold the attention of adults.

That simple story - The Last Gelfling™ has been brought up by the Gentle Mystics™ to find a Shard of The Crystal and use it to Repair the Crystal in Accordance With The Prophecy, or The Evil Skeksis™ will destroy the world. Not that there aren't some good bits - (Jen - Wings? I don't have wings! Kira - Of course not. You're a boy. And: Jen - The prophecy didn't say anything about this! Kira - Prophets don't know everything!)

On balance not as good as the next time Jim Henson went for fantasy with puppets - Labyrinth. Which not coincidentally came as part of the three pack of Henson Fantasies (with MirrorMask). We watched Labyrinth before Heckler and Kochk started up, but I have the notes, so I'll briefly cover that real soon now.

[1] Notes made during Wonder Woman:
Wonder Woman is a Super Secretary
The Falcon really doesn't like Aubergines[2]
Are you going to change in front of the window Diana Prince?
Wonder Woman has flat stunt boots and heeled posing boots[3]
Good thing they use the same notation on Paradise Island. What, Greek letters?

[2] I have not the faintest clue what this was about
[3] So that's how she does it!
[4] LeMat was saying how it scared him when he first saw it

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Dieselpunk vs Steampunk

A couple of weeks ago two different TV channels happened to synchronise their schedules to create a virtual double bill: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow followed by Wild Wild West. Sky Captain has the Sky Captain, Joe Sullivan, (played by Jude Law) tracking down both the mysterious kidnappings of eminent scientists and the source of mysterious giant robots which are attacking all over an alternate 1939 world and stealing resources and equipment. Wild Wild West has US Army Captain Jim West tracking down Confederate hold-outs who are kidnapping the most eminent scientists in 1869 America, while preparing for a new Confederate rebellion. Both are saddled with sidekicks they don't want (Sky Captain gets Polly Perkins, intrepid girl reporter for the New York Chronicle played by Gwyneth Paltrow; Jim West gets US Marshal Artemus Gordon played by Kevin Kline who builds gadgets and intrepidly dresses up as a red-head (leading inevitably to Will Smith's line: "Never drum on a white ladies boobies at a big redneck dance"))

I could go on about similarities and differences to try and build a coherent article or even track down links between the films (Bai Ling plays a beautiful and evil sidekick to the villain in both!) to try and impress you. But in all honesty I've put off writing this for so long it's movie night tonight and I'll have a backlog. So here's some of my notes:

The Sky Captain is an extraordinary pilot[1], and a fine pulp adventurer, but a rubbish general. His "Army for Hire" doesn't seem to have been on alert despite the attacks on New York, which appears to be just up the road. On the other hand, there's not (yet?) been any attack on Pearl Harbour, so maybe the "If you think you're under attack, get those damn planes off the ground" idea isn't in his doctrine.

Polly Perkins ("Could we just for once die without bickering?") sees to be fine as an investigator, and has a good turn of words. But she's rubbish at holding on to her camera, or in fact sending her copy in to the editor.

Angelina Jolie turns up as a British Air Captain[2] in a leather flightsuit and an eyepatch. Sky Captain has a machete[3] which comes in useful on the mysterious island. This is a full on alternate history; not just the technology but the world situation is different to our 1939.

It's the technology - a ramped up 30s - that makes it dieselpunk. It looks fantastic. It uses many old 20s and 30s pulp ideas.

Maybe that's the flaw; it uses them but doesn't examine (or better yet re-examine them) in the light of the 21st century. There's lots of ideas that sound better than they turn out to be[4]. It seems to have been the director's first and to-date only film. As I said, it's flawed, but it's interesting and it looks great.

So on the Wild Wild West side, we have a couple of one liners from Will Smith: "Hold on a minute Belle, you can't just go ramming a man's personal things into a hole like that."
"This is not the way you transport nitro."

I don't remember ever seeing a whole episode of the original 60's TV series (there's an idea Heckler), but on the idea of a black lawman in a comedy western, didn't Blazing Saddles do that better?

The technology is one part super-powered Victorian Steampunk (note Loveless's steam-powered wheelchair) to three parts fantasy. Wild Wild West is more secret history than Alternate History (most of the things that are a matter of historical record actually happened around about 1869, although the secret service was actually set up to combat counterfeiters and that in 1865). And this film passes the time easily enough, it's amusing enough and the action and effects are good enough, but it never seems to me to be trying for more than good enough. To me, Sky Captain seems to try for more, and partially succeeds, while Wild Wild West aims to pass the time pleasantly and just about manages it.

Some videos (link):

[1] Although not as extraordinary as his plane, from the imdb trivia page (oh, spoilers):

Sky Captain flies a late-model P-40, the six gun version of the P-40N. However, his has a few "Hollywoodifications":
- The rear decking behind the pilot's seat, and the fuselage fuel tank under it, were removed in order to add a second seat (for Polly). This was actually done to some real P-40s for flight instruction.
- The pop-open bays for the cable launcher and magnet bombs are right in the middle of the centerline fuel tank (which fills the interior of the wing between the main wheel wells).
- The small underwater engines under the horizontal stabilizers would retract right into the tail wheel gear well, and into each other.
- When going into underwater mode, the ostensibly solid-metal propeller blades collapse down into the prop spinner, and into a different section of space-time. The real plane's prop spinner is a shell that goes around the collars and gearing of the prop hub assembly.
- Roughly 5000 horsepower appears to have been added to the 1200hp Allison engine.
[2] This being an alternate 1939, it's not quite the RAF and it's not really the Navy either.
[3] There are several scenes in the Jurassic Park films that I can't help wondering why no-one ever packs a machete with them. It turns facing a velociraptor from "certain death" to "deadly fight".
[4] SPOILER: having archive footage of the dead Laurence Olivier stand in for what turns out to be archive footage of the dead Dr Totenkopf sounds fantastic, but you know, on screen, so what?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

No Movie Night

There was no movie night last week, as Heckler was off to Glastonbury. But does that mean there was no Heckler and Kochk? As it happens, yes. But that doesn't have to be the case.

I'm going to start a no-movie-night tradition[1] of reviewing something that's completely unrelated to this blog's stated purpose. In this case, the video to the song Warwick Avenue by Duffy. Youtube link here.

So the first thing I notice is that from 0:18 to 3:35 is one continuous shot of Aimee Duffy singing and crying in the back of a taxi. That's a pretty long take for a music video. It also gives me my first comparison: a close up of a face for a long time and crying suggests to me Sinéad O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U (this video dates back to 1990 when O'Connor was 24, the same age as Duffy is now). Was this an influence?

Next thing to notice: from 2:10 to 2:24 she stops singing in the video, although the playback keeps going. I don't know if this is deliberate, but the way it appears, that she can't go on singing her prepared song, is almost heart breaking. (Michael Stipe stops singing and walks away from the microphone in a couple of REM videos, but it has a different effect. I can't seem to find the video I'm thinking of; still, you might get the idea from the video to What's the Frequency Kenneth).

Thirdly, the song is mostly about what Duffy is going to say when she meets her ex-lover at Warwick Avenue (lyrics here), but the video begins with her taxi pulling away from Warwick Avenue tube station. So she's going over what she meant to say, but, I think it's clear, it didn't go as well as the plan laid out in the lyrics. And what's going on in the lyrics is not a happy scene.

Which leads me to my final point: that despite what popular media might suggest, grief is not pretty. It's not about beautiful young women weeping photogenic tears in front of the camera. If everyone grieving looked like Sinéad in Paris or Duffy in a Taxi in west London, we'd all be there to offer sympathy. In real life grief is ugly and unpleasant, and that's why people avoid it.

Playlist here as Warwick Avenue doesn't embed.

Anyway enough of this. Next time some actual Sci-Fi; Dieselpunk vs Steampunk!

[1] Which may last as long as one no-movie-night