Thursday, October 10, 2013

Geeks vs. Nerds

I go back and forth between the terms "geek" and "nerd," and they're often used interchangeably, but now some scientist (probably very geeky) has tried to quantify the difference, with a graph!

Are you a geek or a nerd?

I'm not entirely sure I follow his rationale, and only a few of the terms on the graph seem to apply to me. From what I can tell, I'm both extremely geeky and extremely nerdy, mostly due to the books, Star Trek, Star Wars and Tolkien factors. But I don't do gaming, costumes, technology or collecting.

There was no data about stealth geeks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TV news and Defiance Review

First, Warehouse 13 is coming back April 29, but the season premiere (the resolution of last season's cliffhanger) is currently available online via the SyFy web site and OnDemand (depending on your cable company). I watched that last night, but I may have to rewatch the older episodes they've also put OnDemand because I'd forgotten a lot.

I also watched the series premiere of Defiant, the new SyFy show. I'll definitely watch it again, but I'm not in love with it yet. I've found that the shows I get really into have some character or some question (or some question about a character) that makes me eager to see what happens next, not so much for the plot but because I can see that the mix of character and situation is going to be interesting. A lot of it comes from a sense of surprise. For instance, one of the things that got me intrigued about Firefly when I saw the first episode that was aired ("The Train Job") was the revelation that on this ship full of criminals pulling off heists, the one who was wanted by the Feds was the prim and proper doctor. I remember that sense of "Oh, now this could be interesting." So far, there's none of that in Defiance. I don't dislike it, but there was nothing that had me really curious about how things would work out.

From what I could tell of the backstory, there was an alien invasion by an alliance of races that planned to terraform earth to be a new home for them, but they weren't prepared for earth already being inhabited. There was war, until the soldiers decided not to fight anymore, and now there's a tenuous peace in a weird postapocalyptic landscape. Our Hero is a Mal Reynolds/Han Solo type, a former soldier who's an embittered veteran of a famous battle who's now something of a mercenary/scavenger, and he travels with his adopted alien daughter, a war orphan he took in and raised as his own. They get robbed by a roving gang and then are rescued and taken to the town of Defiance, formerly known as St. Louis, and if you've ever seen any movie or TV series ever, you pretty much know everything that will happen after that.

It has a bit of a Firefly vibe, with the Western tropes in a science fiction situation, and there's a dash or two of Mad Max in there, as well. I find a few of the characters interesting, though not all that intriguing (there's no real mystery to any of them, nothing I'm dying to find out). I'm a little worried about the teen Romeo and Juliet plot because the kiss of death for most of the recent science fiction series (V, Terra Nova, Revolution) has been the annoying teens put front and center. But my main problem with the pilot was that there were no surprises whatsoever. Starting about five minutes into the show, I had outlined pretty much what would happen. A lot of these tropes are right out of famous movies, down to the scenes and even some of the lines. Even the big "shocker" in the episode's tag was a bit of a "well, duh!" Granted, I'm hard to surprise because I know too much about story structure, but it would be nice to have one or two developments that I didn't see coming or that didn't seem so horribly telegraphed. I feel like I can even see how the series is likely to progress, so I hope they throw in a few monkey wrenches along the way to shake things up. Maybe the obvious triangle won't happen or the obvious budding relationship between the currently at-odds younger people won't come about, but I won't hold my breath. Still, it's science fiction on television. There are spaceships and aliens, and so far the teens aren't too prominent, so I'll be watching unless something else gets in the way.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Snow White and the Huntsman

I like fairy tales, and I like retellings of fairy tales that flesh them out or reimagine them. You'd think that would have led me to see Snow White and the Huntsman in the theater, but something about it just struck me as Not My Kind of Thing. And I was right, but it was the perfect thing to watch on HBO when I was sick. You really need to be feverish and on cold medicine to properly appreciate it, probably because it seemed like the entire cast was doped up on Nyquil. They all just kind of mumbled their lines like they were barely conscious, and then every so often Charlize Theron would jolt herself out of her stupor and scream something and make me jump. Being on Nyquil yourself makes you more sympathetic to the characters. You want to hand them a tissue and some juice instead of just rolling your eyes at them.

Snow White is a pretty problematic fairy tale to try to translate because the heroine is essentially a Mary Sue -- she's the most beautiful girl around, so beautiful that everyone either loves her instantly or is insanely jealous. The core of the plot is that someone is so jealous of her beauty that she wants to kill her, which is a rather lame motivation for a villain. Some of the retellings attempt to provide another motivation, which can backfire if it's even lamer than "because she's prettier" (see Once Upon a Time). I haven't seen Mirror, Mirror, but my impression is that it was played for laughs there, where we were supposed to think it was a ridiculous motivation. The Disney animated version played it straight. This one really goes for the gusto. Not only is Snow White the fairest of them all, she's so fair and pure and good and sparkly and wonderful that her very existence threatens the queen's powers. You see, the queen has made a career out of marrying kings, killing them, taking over the kingdom and then she seems to get some of the power from killing the kings and other power from taking milk baths and more power from sucking the youth and beauty from all the young, beautiful women in the kingdom (they weren't really precise with the explanations here, or else I missed something in all the soporific mumbling). I guess she moves on when she's depleted the place. Anyway, her magic mirror tells her that her power will be weak while Princess Sparkly Perfect still lives, but if she eats her heart, she'll be immortal. To make sure we know how magically special Snow White is, she literally <i>walks on water</i> to meet the Aslan-like magic white hart that rules the forest, and the Aslan-like creature <i>bows</i> to her as an onlooker breathes, "She is life itself!" So, yeah, go big or go home -- if she's going to be the fairest of them all, why not go over the top?

The movie follows most of the beats of the fairy tale otherwise, except the huntsman sent to get her doesn't send back a deer heart and instead stays with her for a kind of buddy road trip thing, she only stays with the dwarfs for about a night instead of living with them in hiding, she rallies the people into an assault on the castle after being awakened from the magical coma, and nobody falls in love with a corpse in a glass coffin (which is a step up from the story).

I hadn't seen the Twilight movies, so I didn't have a lot of preconceived notions about the Twilight chick, but she seemed to mostly go through the movie with a perpetual "Huh?" look on her face. In fairness, I probably had a similar look while watching the movie, but mine was more "You have got to be kidding me" than "I don't get it." The poor girl just looked confused the whole time. I'm also worried that she needs to be evaluated for breathing difficulties. She spends a lot of time with her mouth hanging open and her chest heaving like she's struggling for air. Maybe that was why she needed all the Nyquil.

I remember when this movie came out that most of the enthusiasm was for the Huntsman character, and apparently he's going to be the focus of a follow-up film, but I have to say that I wasn't impressed at all. He was such a standard issue Something Bad Once Happened to Me, So Now I'm a Drunk Who Doesn't Care About Anything Until The Right Woman Cures Me With Her Magical Sparkliness antihero stereotype. He actually had two Han Solo "I'm leaving because I'm selfish, but I'll come back at the right time" moments. I think he was method acting with the drunkenness and combining it with the Nyquil because he was the worst for sounding like he was barely awake. Not that I blame him, given the dialogue he had to spout. Like, "What does a girl like you know about pain?" Dude, the wicked queen hired you to track her down. Do you really have to ask the question?

The guy I found intriguing and who I'd like to see focused on in a future movie was the former childhood best friend. Yeah, I've got a weakness for the childhood best friend type, but this one had just as much reason for pain and guilt but didn't feel the need to go on and on about his angsty manpain. Instead, he apparently has been working on some serious skills, and he got the absolute best moment in the movie (one I wish I could steal without being obvious about it so it could go in a more worthy story). He's learned that Snow White is alive (he's believed her dead all this time and blames himself), has escaped and that the queen is hunting her, so he infiltrates the queen's creepily quasi-incestuous brother's (someone's been reading George RR Martin) hunting party by standing in the road in front of them to block their progress and asking if they need a bowman. The queen's brother says they already have one. THWANNNNNG. Thud. "I ask again, do you need a bowman?" That's my kind of badass. Plus, he looks like he smells a lot better than the Huntsman (come to think of it, that may explain her other facial expression, which seems like "What is that smell?" and it may explain the panting and mouth breathing).

The other best thing about the movie was the dwarfs, which were a surprising who's who of British actors. I figure they must have found the bar where they all hang out, dosed their drinks, tossed them into a van when they passed out, then held them prisoner long enough to do their scenes. That's the only explanation that makes sense. Too bad they were barely in the movie.

Actually, there was some potential to this story, although the dialogue was terrible. The main problem was that they didn't bother to flesh out the characters into anything resembling people. Snow White is the Perfect Sparkly Princess with no touch of humanity or depth to her. She mostly exists as a quest object, no matter how much they try to make her a kick-ass woman warrior (note: it takes time to learn to use a sword or even be able to hold it without pain -- something that didn't seem to happen when she was locked in a cell for years). There was nothing to the Huntsman other than his standard-issue angst/reluctant heroism. There were hints of something kind of intriguing about the best friend -- how did he become such an expert archer, what was his relationship with his risk-averse father, what was his role in the rebel underground? -- but he just seems to exist because apparently a movie like this needs a triangle. I wonder if I could write his story of what's going on the whole time Snow White's imprisoned and file off the serial numbers.

But I will say, it gave me a laugh or two and inspired me to start thinking about how I'd deal with the issues inherent in the Snow White tale.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Surviving the SyFy Movies: Chupacabra vs. the Alamo

I have to admit to having a slight fondness for some of the Saturday-night SyFy movies. I prefer the Fantasy Cheese genre to the Mockbusters or the Horror/Monster types (though Mansquito was highly entertaining), but any of them can be fun when I'm in the right mood.

I was really looking forward to Chupacabra vs. the Alamo because it pretty much writes itself. You know from the title exactly what's going to happen. Sadly, this one was just plain bad, not awesomely, entertainingly bad. Spoilers below, as if you can't figure out everything based on the title.

To start with, I suspect that no one involved with the film has ever been to the Alamo, to San Antonio or to Texas (after this movie, they probably won't be allowed to visit Texas). They also apparently haven't looked at a map of Texas. The basic plot is that the chupacabras have migrated from Mexico to near San Antonio via the drug smuggling tunnels. That's some pretty impressive tunneling technology, considering that San Antonio isn't a border city and that would be a really, really long tunnel, not to mention the fact that there's a <i>river</i> between Mexico and Texas. Oh, and there's apparently a lush forest with ferns all over the ground 80 miles from San Antonio.

So, anyway, Erik Estrada (who has not aged badly since his CHiPs glory days, but who also hasn't taken acting lessons since then) plays a DEA agent (with the troubled relationships with his teenage kids that seems to have become mandatory in these movies -- the horror will end up bringing them together as a family) investigating the slaughter of a group of cartel members in one of these tunnels right outside San Antonio. But those wounds don't look like anything a human would have made! From there, we get a lot of badly CGIed "chupacabra" attacks, with the chupacabras looking like they took photos of chihuahuas and digitally altered them. The effects are so bad that the actors look like they're just flailing for no reason and the CGI chihuahuas are in a different plane of existence. But that's not the worst effects failure.

You know how in old movies, it's pretty obvious that Cary Grant is sitting in a car in a studio while scenery is being projected on a screen behind him? There's a lot of that here, where Erik Estrada rides his motorcycle past all the major San Antonio landmarks on his way to the crime scene outside the city, and it's so fake that it's laughable. In fact, the effects are at "spoof" level, without the filmmakers seemingly being in on the joke. I know these movies generally have a "here's five bucks, go make a movie, kid" budget, but if you can't fake it well, fake it with style.

I will give them props for a scene in which two teenage girls are in the house alone when the monsters invade (we won't get into how the rabid CGI chihuahuas can get through closed and locked doors), and they actually do things that make sense instead of just screaming like idiots. The girl in the kitchen takes out one with an electric carving knife and pulls a Gremlins on another in the microwave (yes, our fearsome monsters are small enough to fit in the microwave). The girl in the bedroom takes out one with a hot steam iron to the face.

I skipped past a few more scenes of various attacks, though it does look like the beasties followed the DEA agent home and are now on his trail through San Antonio, but somehow, a hardy group of random people who've survived previous attacks ends up at the Alamo (of course, given the title) right at closing time, where they team up with the tour guide in a Davy Crockett hat (of course) who knows the place better than anyone, and they prepare for a last stand, using antique weapons they take from display cases. No mention is made of finding ammunition for these weapons. In fact, they fire them without having to load them, so I guess loaded weapons were on display, and they still work more than 150 years later. But when all their plans fail, they mention the legend that there was an escape tunnel dug, but no one's ever been able to find it, in all these years of the Alamo being thoroughly explored -- oh, wait, here it is, behind this crudely boarded-up wall in a utility room (yes, a utility room that apparently existed in an early 19th century mission/fort). And since they have an escape route, they decide to trap all the chupacabras in the Alamo, rig a bunch of explosives (that they conveniently happen to have handy) and escape through the tunnel. Mind you, the tunnel -- supposedly built in 1836 and lost since then -- comes out in a parking lot, where there's an easy-access hatch. Yes, the parking lot pavers somehow knew to put in a hatch over a tunnel lost since 1836.

So, yeah, not only do they blow up the Alamo (sacrilege!), but they don't seem to realize that the Alamo is right smack downtown in a major city. Why would the wee beasties focus on chasing a handful of people into the Alamo when there's an entire smorgasbord of people just milling around on the Riverwalk across the street? Not to mention that San Antonio is a military city. If they're under attack from an invasion of strange creatures, they aren't going to have to rely on a few DEA agents, a couple of street thugs and an overeager tour guide. If it's anything like my last visit to San Antonio, about half the US Air Force is probably across the street at the Riverwalk. Also, the Alamo itself isn't all that big.  Here's a picture from my last trip. If you tortured yourself with this movie, you can see the difference. It's no longer a highly fortified position you'd retreat to in a crisis.