Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Day Planet Terror Stood Still

So for movie night on 14 August we had a classic tale of alien contact, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and a modern take on horror/action/zombie badness in Planet Terror.

I don't know that I can add anything to the immense amount of analysis that has been levelled at Day over the last 50 years, so I'll just say that you should see it. You should especially see it if:
1. You're thinking of watching Mars Attacks, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Independence Day (to pick three heavily influenced films);
2. You're in a world that, 18 years after the end of the Cold War, still has enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone twice over and you don't know what to do about it[1];
3. You're thinking of seeing the Re-make;
4. It's the 10th of December (2 days before the release of the re-make which The Crotchety Old Fan has declared THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL TO WATCH THE ORIGINAL MOVIE DAY (TDTESSTWTOMD for short))

Planet Terror is as pure a piece of bad zombie action as you could hope to see. It's all about putting zombies, go-go dancers, rogue military officers and a woman with a machine gun for a leg onto our screen and getting on with it. At the end of the day it adds very little to the zombie movie genre, but it's a pleasure to watch, and the little touches and in jokes (the "missing reel" and the jar of testicles spring to mind) make it a lot of fun. Also, Bruce Willis appears to be sporting Sten's beard. This film has been rated "Gruesome" by the V___ film preview board.

[1] I really need to get together a list of Nuclear Anxiety and/or Cold War films, and see which are relevant today; TDTESS alone won't answer that question, but it's certainly on the list.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a smart, interesting comic, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kevin O'Neill, featuring a team up of various Victorian era adventure fiction heroes. Volume's 1 and 2 of League features Bram Stoker's Wilhelmina Murray, H Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain, Robert Louis Stevenson's Henry Jeckyll[1], Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, and Hawley Griffin, an inevitable spin off of H G Well's The Invisible Man confronting a variety of unusual threats to the British Empire. There's a follow-up story, Black Dossier, which I haven't read yet.

Heckler claims to have got a DVD of the film. He is, however, wrong, as there is no film. There is no film. There is no film.

Don't believe me? Ask Alan Moore.

[1] And Edward Hyde

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Tag Shields Are Failing Cap'n!

We've tried to avoid becoming part of any meme or tag by ensuring that we have no friends on the internet[1]. As this post shows, our strategy has failed. Clearly we haven't worked hard enough at this, so our next move will be to create some internet enemies[2]! But before that, here's the 48 top sci-fi adaptions meme:

SF Signal started it.
The Crotchety Old Fan was caught in a crossfire and hit twice with it.
He passed it on to us.
There's probably a moral here somewhere.

The rules are:

  • Copy the list below.
  • Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book. [Edit: bold isn't showing up, so I've changed to Pink and Bold]
  • Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn't finish it.
  • Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)

The list:

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. War of the Worlds
  3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  4. I, Robot
  5. Contact
  6. Congo
  7. Cocoon
  8. The Stepford Wives
  9. The Time Machine
  10. Starship Troopers
  11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  12. K-PAX
  13. 2010
  14. The Running Man
  15. Sphere
  16. The Mothman Prophecies
  17. Dreamcatcher
  18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
  19. Dune
  20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
  21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
  23. Battlefield Earth
  24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  25. Fire in the Sky
  26. Altered States
  27. Timeline
  28. The Postman
  29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
  30. Solaris
  31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
  32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
  33. The Thirteenth Floor
  34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
  35. Deadly Friend
  36. The Puppet Masters
  37. 1984
  38. A Scanner Darkly
  39. Creator
  40. Monkey Shines
  41. Solo(Weapon)
  42. The Handmaid's Tale
  43. Communion
  44. Carnosaur
  45. From Beyond
  46. Nightflyers
  47. Watchers
  48. Body Snatchers
A little embarrassing I know. One or two thoughts:

Jurassic Park - I would happily, or at least stoically, finished this, if I hadn't picked it up to look at in a friend's house while said friend got ready to go out. 40 minutes later they were and I left it behind.
War of the Worlds, Island of Dr Moreau, Time Machine, Invisible Man - H G Wells studied at the Normal School of Science, which later became the Royal College of Science and is now a constituent college of Imperial College London. By a staggering coincidence, along with my degree from IC, I became an Associate of the Royal College of Science. Apart from allowing me to put ARCS after my name, this link with H G Wells has lead me to read far too many of his books. If there were four I'd recommend reading, it's these four. If I was going to film one it wouldn't be any of these (or even the others that have been filmed - The First Men in the Moon. The Shape of Things to Come, The Sleep Wakes) but The War in the Air.
Starship Troopers - The book's good (even when I disagree with it), and the film is good as a Robocop-in-space. But where do they connect?[3]
Hitchhikers - grew up with the TV series, later read the books and heard the radio version. The film hadn't quite gutted it as Hollywood was expected to do as you could still see bits of the original in it. One thing that worked in the film - Ford Prefect claims to be from Guildford, but is clearly an American, which would have fit in perfectly with the original(s).
The Running Man - If there's anything of the Stephen King novel left in the film, you could have fooled me. Hmm, must add The Running Man onto our list of Arnie films.
The Iron Man - the film came out too late for me as I'd outgrown the book ("Where did he come from? Nobody knows") but it's still haunting.
The Postman - probably the only David Brin book I've not read.
Nightflyers - never seen the film. Read the novella recently when I got hold of the George R R Martin retrospective story collection. Good, but it feels a little old fashioned, probably because the whole crossing horror with space travel has reused these ideas endlessly since then.

As I said we don't have internet friends so I'm not tagging anyone. Breaking the chain will add karma to my soul and mean I never find true love and all my finances will fail, damn it, but that's the price you pay for blogging. Heckler and Kochk - breaking internet chains so you don't have to.

[1] This isn't quite true, but most of our internet friends know us under different names, and don't blog about sci-fi. Who would have thought!
[2] Maybe we'll start with The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. I read them anyway, so it would make any feud much less hard work.
[3] By a staggering coincidence, our notes from Starship Troopers 3 seem to have fallen through a time-rift from when we're going to be able to see it in the UK in September. They seem to have been distorted by their passage, or maybe that's just Heckler's handwriting (spoilers):

His Chief of Staff used to polish my brass, if you know what I mean!
It only took me 8 years to make colonel.
What I do out of uniform is off the clock General.[4]
Asking the Sky Marshall for an autograph.
Johnny Rico - Hero of Planet P.
They'd use heavier firepower, but it would damage the set.
We lost the Sky Marshall. Good we'll all hang together.
It's only 100 klicks away. - We ain't got rations for that. - You're
fat, you won't need them!
They should clone Dix so there's an army of Dix.
Controversy with a Q
He thinks God is a bug!
Sure he's gone - but he left us with a song!

[4] Heckler as capitalised General, but left colonel lower-case. Due to the different usages here, I'm not entirely sure that's wrong.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Archery Comics!

Comics writer Warren Ellis released 4 one-shot comics in 2004 asking the question what would comics look like if they hadn't been overtaken by superheros so completely? Comics grew out of the old pulp magazines, so he used old pulp genres. There was a detective story, a science fiction story, an aviation story[1] and an old-school pulp-mystery hero along the lines of The Shadow or Doc Savage story, all released under the fictional Apparat comics line.

Now he's releasing a number of one-shot comics under the Apparat line. Crécy is the first. As might be imagined it's a story of the battle of Crécy, from the viewpoint of one of the archers, William of Stoneham. There's less chivalry and "let the boy win his spurs" and more rain, sausages made from horse's arseholes and swearing, and, especially, more longbows.

Now as every good English schoolboy knows, the crossbow is not even in the same league as the long bow. A trained archer fires 10 arrows a minute, while some Italian with a bodged together machine will be lucky to get off 2 in that time. Like so many things all good English schoolboys know, and as Crécy details, this isn't true. The Genoese were professionals with well-maintained weapons, and hooks on their belts to cock the crossbow in one smooth standing-up motion. Seven and a half bolts a minute, and man-sized pavise shields to reload behind, so they are invulnerable to arrows. Longbowmen aren't invincible when their opponents are invulnerable.

After a history lesson as obscene as it's fascinating the English win the battle. I expect Ellis intended this to be part of an imaginary history or medieval war comic genre. But I can't help thinking of an imaginary archery-comic genre. Robin Hood and William Tell fill in for Superman and Batman; Wonder Woman is an amazon, so give her a bow and she's good to go. Legolas has a spin-off comic from Lord of the Rings (which has more archery in it). Archery-heroes with the names like Apollo and Artemis are obvious, and maybe Cupid too. Rambo becomes an Archery-hero, and there's a whole Trojan War cycle with Achilles and Penthlisea doing the whole love and death thing. Historical stories come in as well - Genghis Khan, Domitian (who apparently could fire 4 arrows at once) and the archers of Henry II[2].

There's maybe even room for Green Arrow in this imaginary comics genre. Maybe.

[1] No really! It first appeared as a subset of (proto) science fiction in the 19th century, was prominent amongst adventure fiction between the wars, had a few final moments in the 50s (Biggles springs to mind) and finally became indistinguishable from thrillers and adventure stories as the tropes and scenery became mainstream or were discarded.
[2] Tepus, Bowman of the Guards; Gilbert of the White Hind; Hubert of Suffolk; Clifton of Hampshire; Egbert of Kent; William of Southampton. It's like a medieval JLA but with bows!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Recycled Review: Labyrinth

Heckler and I were at the Great British Beer Festival on Thursday[1] and sadly Starship Troopers 3: Marauder isn't out in the UK or we would definitely have watched it when we crawled back to Sten's flat [2]. But that's no reason not to put up some content. I previously said I would put up my thoughts on Labyrinth (1986, Dir:Jim Henson, trailer). Here's what is in my note book:

She's wearing jeans under that medieval frock
Don't say "David Bowie" 3 times
Sten is a rubbish Goblin King (He doesn't wear enough makeup)
Not the Bog of Eternal Stench!
Is that all it does? Smell?
There's a horrible bitey thing on a stick! And it's biting another goblin's arse!
Heckler sleeps with Antonio Banderas[3]
Babies: not evil, just incontinent.

The film's been out for 20 years, so I won't recap here. I'm just going to touch on why I think this film is an improvement on Jim Henson's previous puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal (reviewed at Heckler and Kochk!). 2 main performances (Sarah the heroine[4] and Jared the Goblin King[5]) are played by live actors. Most of the rest of the cast are puppets. This emphasizes the difference between the real world and the goblin world, and between the run of the mill goblins and Jared, the tall, good-looking, androgynous rock-god-king.

There's songs (many of them written and performed by Bowie). Sarah grows up and learns something. There's some real scary bits. And, with all due respect the Sten, Bowie nails the whole goblin king thing - the combination of attractive, scary and unpredictable all at once is just right. The labyrinth itself sometimes looks a bit like an illustration in a book, but that's mainly because, as it turns out, it is.

Jim Henson obviously learnt from The Dark Crystal and built on that, with good results. As we know, it didn't do too well at the box office, but it's had a long tail with video and DVD. And I can see why - I now feel like watching it again...

[1] It sounds like we're inseparable and live in each other's pockets; I assure you that is not the case.
[2] Good Point (for fans of the book): Armoured suits make an appearance
Good Point (for me): Some theology makes an appearance
Good Point (faint praise): It's better than Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation
Bad Points: The rest of the film
[3] This was byplay, not related to the film
[4] Jennifer Connelly, who went on to win an Oscar in 2002
[5] David Bowie, in one of the two non-human roles that he absolutely nails.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Admiral Ackbar

While I'm putting a few posts up there's just time to mention good old Admiral Ackbar (a)who popped up in movie night before the one where we went on the road and ended up watching South Pacific.

Here is his official website;

...and here is a clip of him at his finest;


(a) he is somewhere high up in the hierarchy of the rebel alliance in the Star Wars universe. He is remembered for but one line!

The Animatrix

At the most recent movie night Kochk and I finished watching the 9 short films which made up the Animatrix. Lemat had gone home, or possibly to Casualty to get some anti-depressants after we had watched "Alien Apocalypse".

This means that in the last few weeks we have managed to finish off not only this DVD but the complete series of "Crime Traveller" and "Galactica 1980"

Anyway - back to the Animatrix - this was a straight to DVD spin off from the Matrix trilogy (a) and was meant to tell us more about the world of the Matrix itself.

All 9 of the mini films has names and - so far as I could tell - were unrelated to each other save for the theme of the Matrix.

The Matrix, we know from the original film, is a virtual reality that all of humanity (b) is trapped in letting them believe that the are living in a normal world whereas in fact they are all in pods in a post apocalyptic machine world where human bodies are supposed to be used by the machines as a power source. People don't struggle because they don't realise they are trapped. A sort of docile "battery farm" (d) if you will.

Like anything Windows based the Matrix appears to be vulnerable to various breakdowns and problems. One of the films featured a haunted house within the matrix which was in fact a manifestation of the representation of the world breaking down because the surroundings appeared to pixellate and gravity was behaving incorrectly. Another featured an athlete who was able to walk again after his muscles apparently exploded whilst he was running in some sort of international sprinting race. The Matrix is not perfect in other words - just like real life.

If you liked the Matrix you MIGHT like this but it is by no means guaranteed - indeed you probably need to understand most of the Matrix back story to have any chance of following what these films are all about.

Of course the films pose several questions for us but the most haunting question of all is whether we can know the true nature of reality or whether in fact what we see is only a shadow of some other reality. Maybe life is but a dream!


(a) Just as with the original Star Wars (ANH) the original Matrix film is a stand alone movie although it left the path open for sequels (or even prequels). Many hold the first Matrix film as the best even though in may ways the sequels are superior in most respects (eg depth of plot, action and effects). Maybe it is the heart in the original Matrix or just the fact that it was unique at the time which made it such a success. "Bullet time" filming techniques were invented for the making of this film.
(b) Well bar the likes of Laurence Fishburne's character who live in the last human city of Zion(c), and possibly Free France which as we all know is in the South Pacific. Zion by the way is way way down underground, it looks a fair bit like the wierd subterranean world inhabited by old Heckler & Kochk Cleopatra 2525.
(c) Which we remembered when we sat down - (copyright) Boney-M "By the Rivers of Babylon"
(d) Boom! Boom!

Movie Night - 31st July 2008

I have a number of comments to make in respect of last night's movie night and cannot help but agree with the majority of sentiments that have tumbled from Kochk's keyboard.

I would like mainly to talk about the film "Alien Apocalypse" which starred an "actor" called Bruce Campbell. Here he is advertising Old Spice as worn by our esteemed colleague Lemat;

SPOILER (although you are presumably reading this as we have watched bad sci fi so you don't have to) The plot of this film features 4 astronauts returning from some very non specific "Probe Mission" that has seen them come back after 40 years away. I can't remember for certain but I think they mention having been cryogenically frozen - the crew don't look all that old (a). This is inconsistent with a line later in the film in which the President of the US (b) (c) thanks Bruce Campbell's character for having sent a message back to Earth warning of the approaching alien attack fleet(d).

In a plot stolen directly from Planet of the Apes the returning astronauts find that the Earth has been taken over by giant termites (f) who have enslaved humanity to work in saw mills to feed them wood (really!? who made this stuff up). The aliens also, at least twice in film, bite off people's heads and swallow them (cue for hilarious headless body spurting blood effects). One of the aliens says "next to wood it (people's heads) is our favourite delicacy". One wonders how they decided upon thi if they normally only eat wood - I guess it must be an acquired taste!

The aliens appear to have pretty much subjugated all of humanity notwithstanding the lack of any apparent military capability on the planet bar infantry and one single armoured personnel carrier. Human slaves wear gags and forfeit a finger for each failed escape attempt. There is no obvious organised human resistance and they seem to have lost a lot of civilisation such as the concept of shaking hands and what doctors do. Also the only good looking human on new Earth has misinterpreted chamois leather as something to be worn as a bikini.

On the subject of doctors I would like to return to the subject of the "probe mission". As I mentioned we did not see the ship and we aren't told much if anything about what the mission was. The mission had a crew of four and when we first see them one crewmember has a broken leg. Let us assume that one, if not two, of the crew is a pilot what then would be the specialities of the other three crew? Well, in short, we are not told except that Bruce Campbell's character osteopath! An osteopath? I mean what sort of mission were they on? As someone who gets the occasional back twinge I know that a good osteopath is good to have on hand but equally so is a mechanic, a barber or chef! On a space mission I'm thinking that a pilot, an engineer, a navigator and probably a medic (rather than an osteopath) are probably my the highest mission priorites.

Anyway luckily Bruce Campbell's character is able to use his osteopathy skills to heal the people on Earth so that they will trust in him and follow his uprising against the alien termites. No really, that's what the film did!

I won't go into much more detail about this. For me the scene I remember most - from when I was curled up in the foetal position rocking gently back and forth to cope with this film - was Bruce Campbells screaming face in slow motion being covered suddenly in green alien goo. Like some horrific alien fetish porn film (although it is meant to be the character killing aliens with a sword). I felt ill after this and the only cure was that the film was over. Sadly this was only teh first film on a Bruce Campbell double bill - I may need some time before I can possibly cope with the second film "The Man with the Screaming Brain"

I give this film 9 Bela Lugosis on my bad sci-fi scale!


(a) Well in the sense that they obviously haven't been living in space for 40 years unless they left as children.
(b) or "USA", a collection of independent states that used to be part of the colonies
(c) The President is an old man who seems to be sitting in a very low rent looking bunker somewhere near Portland. When he later goes on the offensive against the aliens the President also wears an anorak.
(d) This film is so low budget that we never see anything of the alien attack fleet. In fact all we see of the alien technology at all are the energy weapons they carry and some sort of armoured infantry carrier about the size of a transit van. Said vehicle also seems to be larger on the inside based on the number of alien troops who are disgorged from it (e)
(e) Come to think of it we don't see Bruce Campbell's space ship either - except as a shooting star coming down from he sky. I feel cheated.
(f) Albeit these are invading alien giant termites rather than intelligent apes who have evolved and overtaken humanity (g)
(g) Disappointingly - especially given how cheesy this film is - no character says "get your hands off me you damn dirty termite!"

Movie Night 31/07/08

The Watchlist:

Batman and Robin "No matter how bad The Dark Knight is, if we've just watched Batman and Robin it will be an instant classic."
Alien Apocalypse "We've been flirting with Bad Sci-Fi for a while - it's time we took our relationship to the next level."
Lost in Space episode "That Rocket may be small, but it has enough wonder fuel to make a real blast."
The Last Three Films in The Animatrix "Wow, that is some trip."
Random Futurama episode "Sweet Gorilla of Manila!"

Other business:
Our friend S___ has been given the nom de blog Sten.
Movie night regular LeMatt asked "If I were loaded with blanks, would I be Matt LeBlanc?"

From Kochk's whiteboard:

K: "Serious objective professional and analytical reviewing this evening"
H: "Shall I draw the cock and balls now?"

Batman and Robin:

Bat Nipples!

Alien Apocolypse:

Muzzle Fetish
Evil Dead.
It's a bunch of apes on horseback. Morning Stan!
Welcome to PlankWorld™ the world of wood™!
When Conga lines go bad!
The aliens want to get wood.
If the aliens can't get wood, they get head.
Why did they take an osteopath into space?
LeMatt: I sense some headbiting going on. The aliens are a bit headstrong.
We've been flirting with Bad Sci-Fi for a while - it's time we took our relationship to the next level.

From Heckler's Whiteboard:

Morning Sten! [Picture of Sten Waving]

Batman and Robin:

That's no control lever
The Ice Man cometh
I'm afraid my condition leaves me cold to your plea.
You're not sending me to the cooler
Stay cool bird boy
If the doctor says so then it must be true
Oxbridge Academy
Hi Freeze! I'm Batman.
Your emotions make you weak, that's why the day is mine
Freeze's Rocket [Picture of Rocket] I see nothing phallic about that!
Gilgamesh Wing
You corrupt my research into some diabolical scheme of world domination
Who wouldn't want their hands on Bruce Wayne's family jewels?
I programmed my brain waves into the bat computer to create a virtual simulation
Your stupidity is terminal, now you're cured
Poison Ivy:{ Why not send junior home early. I've got some wild oats to sow
{ My garden needs tending
I respect your opinion but sadly I'm not good at rejection so sadly you'll have to die
The Bat Signal comes out of a sac on Sten's arse[1]
I hate to disappoint you but rubber lips are immune to your charms!


[Picture of Y-fronts]

Alien Apocolypse:

The aliens should have just landed at PlankWorld!
(Alien swallows space pilot's head) "That is our favourite delicacy next to wood"
The President lives, with all his men.
Osteopath in space.
Space probe mission.
The time is now [2], this is the place.

Lost in Space:

That Rocket may be small, but it has enough wonder fuel to make a real blast.
Some commander! You don't know a giro from a flux gate


Sweet Gorilla of Manila! A Letter from the Central Bureaucracy

For no apparent reason:

D___ J. P____

So, the good news is that Alien Apocalypse is what this whole thing is about: Us watching Bad Sci-Fi so You don't have to. The bad news: there's a Bruce Campbell commentary track. In theory I might review the film without listening to it. But that's for less foolhardy critics. I will take one for the team by watching Alien Apocalypse with the commentary track and THEN review it. But in case V___ is reading this from Egypt, I warn potential viewers that, in the words of LeMatt, the film contains a lot of headbiting; the V___ preview board officially rates the it as "gruesome".

[1] This would be like the planetary defence plasma bugs from Starship Troopers. That's another Earth Defence system involving Sten. Is there any way of protecting the Earth without this man?
[2] Alien Apocalypse has a line that is the title of a Moloko song; Batman and Robin features a Moloko song. At last a unifying feature to the evening![3]
[3] Red Heat and Three Kings both made the long list for second feature.