Coming to grips with The Walking Dead #144

No concrete spoilers here… just some vague rambling. Honestly, though, if you don’t read The Walking Dead, this post will probably be of little interest to you.
Robert Kirkman is an asshole

Something brilliant happened at the end of The Walking Dead’s most recent issue, #144. No, I didn’t just read it. I’m just still digesting the damn thing.

Despite the recent appearance of the creepiest faction yet, the series has been luring its readers into a sense of security, drip-feeding us the feeling things might turn out alright for the ever-growing group of survivors. Lesser writers would have failed to cover up all the clues that things were, once again, about to go balls-to-the-wall insane. Not Robert Kirkman.

I’m not saying he pulled a fast one on me. I’m saying I’ve allowed myself some willing blindness. His writing has been so dread-inducing for so many years, I’d just assumed he’d gone soft with the format change. Frankly, I was hoping he had… those characters have been through so damn much.

I’ve been digesting #144 ever since it came out. I keep thinking I should have known!, but that’s how this series hooks you: in most stories like this, you can’t wait until the shit hits the fan. Imagine buying a ticket to a zombie movie and nobody gets eaten. That’s all good and well for the main characters, but not too great for us, the viewers. I’ve come to realize that what Kirkman has managed to do with his characters is make me genuinely want a “happily ever after” scenario for them. 
Even if nothing of interest ever happens again, it’ll be better than another one of those awful deaths.
Sure, those awful deaths are the very reasons we read this stuff. That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt like holy hell. When I read #100 and got to that scene, I paused, went glassy-eyed, and said to myself, “Fuuuuuuck.” It was like a band-aid ripped right out of the nether regions. 
I kept hearing #144 wasn’t one to be missed, and when I got to the scene everyone’s been talking about in a roundabout way, I didn’t think it was too big of a deal… 
Until I turned the page…
And the next one…
And, holy shit, the next one, too?!
That was, hands down, one of the most creative use of page-turns I’ve seen in… hell, I don’t even know how long. What a kick to the gut. And it just keeps getting more impressive the more I think about it.

The Death of "Superman Lives"

Two of my favorite subjects for nonfiction are terrible movies which got made and good movies which were never made. I always assumed we dodged a bullet when Tim Burton’s Superman Lives was cancelled, but I was wrong… probably. After seeing the Kickstarted documentary The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? I think Tim Burton’s Superman would have beaten Snyder’s Superman fist-over-fist. It would have certainly been better than Wild Wild West, which is where Warner Bros. shifted its money and focus after cancelling Superman Lives.

I know it’s popular today to hate the comics of the 1990s (I don’t give a shit—I still like old school Spawn), but DC’s Death of Superman would have made a pretty great movie, even if it did kind of embody what was wrong with comics of that era. I remember reading Kevin Smith’s leaked script back in the AOL days when I still thought the movie was getting made: some of the dialogue was goofy and a little long, but it was a pretty exciting read as long as you imagined Christopher Reeve in the part. According to the documentary, that’s exactly what Smith was doing when he wrote it.

Since the movie was never made, Death of “Superman Lives” shows us the ocean of concept art designed in pre-production, including some of Tim Burton’s own drawings. The important thing to remember about concept art is the final product never looks as good as the preliminary sketches, but the stuff they designed for Superman Lives looks even more fantastic than most movie art, leading one to the conclusion the movie itself could have been better than most. The variety in the aliens they designed for Brainiac’s ship was enough to convince me we missed out on something special. At one point I thought, “There’s no way they could have done all of this in one movie,” and later learned the initial budget estimate was $300 million; 1995’s Waterworld cost $175 million and was the most expensive movie up until that point. Naturally, the studio ordered cuts to the script’s more expensive elements.

Still, that they spent thirty million on a movie they would never make is a testament to Hollywood’s extreme wastefulness. It’s such a shame the movie was never made. Whether it was good or not, it would have been rebooted by now anyway.

The promotional material for the documentary has been using pictures and video of Nicolas Cage in strange variations on the Superman suit to drum up hype. During the making of Superman Returns, Bryan Singer would flash a photograph of Nicolas Cage’s Superman whenever someone complained about Brandon Routh’s look in his own film: “Look, you were going to make that at one point.” Yet the documentary makes it clear Tim Burton’s crew wasn’t taking liberties with Superman’s traditional look, but experimenting with suits he’d wear later in the movie, including a regeneration suit following his death and resurrection. Tim Burton confesses it’s the reason he’s a lot more careful today about letting pre-production material get out: artists need time to experiment behind closed doors.

I’ve wanted to see The Death of “Superman Lives” for a while now and I wasn’t disappointed. While I wouldn’t say it’s a great documentary, it does what really great documentaries do: it changes my opinion about something I felt strongly about. And yes, by that I mean I really want to see Tim Burton’s Superman Lives.

Oculus Cinema in Gear VR

I think this blog can attest to the fact I’m a movie buff. I like big images and big sound. For as long as I can remember, owning a bonafide movie theater has been on my short list of dreams. This weekend the dream came true…

Sort of.
The sense of presence in Samsung’s virtual reality headset is amazing. I showed it off to five of my friends this weekend, all of whom typically roll their eyes at my gadget obsession, and they were all blown away. Watching someone realize they can look around a 3D environment is almost as fun as experiencing it first hand. I don’t think I’ve ever said “wow” so many times in my life. The 360-degree videos which come pre-installed with the Gear VR are so real, you feel like you’re there. Notice I used no modifiers, no weasel words: you feel like you’re there. Period.
I won’t talk about the games and the virtual vacations today because I haven’t spent much time with that stuff. Oculus Cinema is what I really wanted. 
The app comes pre-loaded with a handful of short films and trailers. Two of the trailers are in 3D. Although I’ve always hated 3D movies, Oculus Cinema’s 3D is much more impressive than anything I’ve seen in a theater. The screen isn’t dark and you don’t get that flat look in the faraway backgrounds which has been one of the more distracting aspects of 3D movies for me. Then again, that’s only around five minutes of 3D footage that’s been cherry picked for the app. Who knows what a full length picture will look like when it hasn’t been tailored for this device specifically?
Still, I’m a lot more open to the idea of 3D movies now, just as long as I don’t have to watch them in actual movie theaters anymore. I find Gear VR is more comfortable than the disposable glasses at the multiplex. Then again, I don’t have to wear my prescription glasses underneath Gear VR like I do with the movie theater glasses. (If one of your eyes is dramatically worse than the other, or you’re extremely far-sighted, it would be best to invest in contact lenses before getting Gear.)
there’s some great use of colors and cinematography in this movie, perfect for Gear VR
The first full length movie I’d planned to watch in Oculus Cinema was Tremors, but I decided to save that until I find a way to plug the headset into my surround sound system (I’m led to believe that’s possible). I decided on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 instead, which certainly isn’t a movie I mind watching with headphones. Although it’s not the equivalent of 1080p video, I was never disappointed in the quality of the image. The last time I saw this movie was on VHS, and Gear VR looks at least twice as good as that experience was. The apparent size of the screen and the colors were fantastic. Although jump-scares rarely get me, the first time Leatherface comes running out of the darkness with his chainsaw in hand scared the shit out of me. 
So, is the unit comfortable enough to watch for two hours straight? Well, I hate to say it, but I took two breaks. I’m not sure I needed two breaks, but I took them anyway. Not because of motion sickness or eye-strain (so far that hasn’t been an issue for me), but because it just isn’t comfortable wearing the headset for so long. 
The following video is a great primer on Oculus Cinema:
Now, some things suck about the Gear VR, too. The “screen-door” effect, though minor, is still an issue. Unless you’re watching a really bright movie, you probably won’t notice it unless you’re actively looking for it, though, and I hear it’s a lot better than it was in similar prototypes. (Although the screen resolution is better than consumer-level televisions, it’s a lot closer to your face and magnified through lenses, no less. I suspect the effect will be absent in these devices in a year or two.) Today the lenses were fogging up, which is especially annoying. Oklahoma humidity, however, probably has a lot to do with that. Your mileage may vary.
Those are only my minor complaints. Samsung made the bone-headed decision to lock the experience down to a handful of approved apps. Google Cardboard is almost as impressive (though more likely to cause motion sickness) and you can get it for less than twenty bucks if you don’t want to build your own. Not only does Cardboard allow just about anyone to create content for it, it even has an official YouTube app. The Gear VR doesn’t allow streaming videos of any kind, which I’m more interested in than short demos and mobile games. I understand Samsung feels it can offer a better experience by controlling the content with an iron fist, but it’s more of the usual corporate bullshit which only weakens the value of their product.
Thankfully, you can add your own movies to the device as long as you ripped them yourself or obtained them in a way corporations like Samsung wouldn’t approve of. It’s still no excuse for Samsung’s oversights, but it’s a start. Watching movies from Netflix, Google Play, or the Apple Store can’t be done out of the box and the workarounds people have come up with are a serious pain in the ass for most people. Again, I want to stress it’s an incredibly stupid move on Samsung’s part. It’s the only reason I can’t recommend the product although it’s something I think everyone in the world should try. The device has been out for more than seven months now and still doesn’t have the everyday apps the public wants. That’s more than unacceptable. That’s a slap in the face.
Although I have Waterworld, Dr. Strangelove, and Tremors uploaded and ready to go in Gear VR, I’m pretty certain the next movie I watch will be on my regular ol’ television. Yes, Gear VR may be the most impressive and futuristic gadget I’ve ever laid my hands on, but it’s like an amusement park ride: there’s only so many times you want to go on a roller coaster before you want to go ride around in the bumper cars. For something that’s been out for nearly a year, there’s just not enough official content in my opinion. 
My suggestion for movie buffs? Unless you already own a Galaxy Note 4, wait until a better, less restricted headset comes out. It’ll be cheaper and a lot less frustrating.

Ted 2

I held the first Ted film at arm’s length until Flash Gordon showed up. Then I was all in. Unfortunately that’s all I remember about that movie, other than a hilarious scene involving a turd. Flash Gordon’s in this one, too, but none of his scenes are as funny as they were in the first movie, so it’s safe to say this one isn’t as good.

Oh, and I hate courtroom scenes. Ted 2 spends way too much time in court. Every single joke about a courtroom has been done to death by now and these scenes always drag on. Fuck modern movies with courtroom scenes, comedies or otherwise. They all suck.

Otherwise, Ted 2 is actually pleasant if you’re as hungover as I was when I saw it, at least when the jokes work (it’s about 50/50). Most comedy talents should stay the hell away from movies. They often see Hollywood as little more than a career move. Richard Pryor was notorious for making movies “just because,” and while he made some great ones, he made a lot more stinkers. Seth MacFarlane, on the other hand, is a good fit for movies. I think he’s genuinely trying to make good movies rather than all-out laugh-fests, which often come off as forced and desperate.

I’m also the only person I know who actually enjoyed A Million Ways to Die in the West. I think it’s criminally underrated. Everyone else seems to think I’m criminally insane. I wasn’t a MacFarlane fan before that movie. Afterwards I wanted to see him in a lot more movies. He could be like the Woody Allen of our times… his hit/miss ratio is developing about the same, anyway.

The problem with Ted 2 is we’ve seen every bit of this before: The Family Guy flashback gags, the disappointingly conventional love plot, the pointless asides—it’s becoming stale. I don’t think the problem is MacFarlane. I think the problem is he won’t be able to raise enough money to make anything else.

In the beginning of the movie, Ted marries his cashier girlfriend from the first film. Soon after, he receives a letter telling him the marriage has been nullified because he’s not legally recognized as a person. This leads to him losing his job and… ugh, this is all boring, isn’t it? You’ve seen the trailer. You already know everything you need to know.

Speaking of the trailer, it makes the movie look much worse than it actually is. Usually they show all the best parts. Ted 2’s trailer manages to show some of the worst. When Ted is asked if he believes he has a soul, he breaks out into song. It’s awful and cringe-inducing. Who honestly thought that was funny?

And when Ted and Mark Wahlberg end up in the sperm storage of a fertility bank, you’ll sigh because you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen next. I don’t have a problem with shock humor. I have a problem with boring humor. To call a semen fight “boring humor” is going too far because it still suggests there’s humor there. There’s not. Not when you see it coming from a mile away. (Uh, no pun intended.)

The best part of the franchise, other than Ted and Wahlberg’s chemistry, are the special effects. They’re so good you completely forget you’re watching a movie that has CGI in nearly every scene. It’s weird that during the two hundred million dollar Age of Ultron I was constantly wincing at the phony effects and yet Ted 2 manages to be so consistently believable, you even forget he’s a talking teddy bear. But that’s part of the problem: it’s not nearly as funny when the talking teddy bear is just another human character. There’s nothing special about it anymore.

Anyway, Ted 2 is worth watching if you’re into that kind of thing, but I wouldn’t pay for it if I were you. Not unless you’re really desperate for something new to watch. Or really, really hungover.

Netflix Pick: 13 Sins (2014)

Now this is my kind of movie… at least until it all falls apart. The more out there a concept, the harder it is to wrap it all up, so 13 Sins gets a pass. It’s all about the journey, not the lackluster destination. 

13 Sins is what Phone Booth could have been had it been made by a better director. Phone Booth was more of a thriller; its visual style and mood was the epitome of what I disliked about the 2000s, my least favorite era of film. 13 Sins has a lot more horror elements (blood, desecration of bodies, and Pruit Taylor Vince, the wonderfully odd-looking character actor from Jacob’s Ladder). It’s also more proof that horror is probably coming out of the depressing rut it’s been in with ad nauseam Saw sequels and found footage.

Elliot (Mark Webber) is a thirty-two year old loser who doesn’t even have the guts to tell his boss to go to hell when fired for bogus reasons. He’s got a mentally handicapped brother, a pregnant fiance, and a rancorous father who was driving the car that killed Elliot’s mother. You’ll probably roll your eyes at these obvious setups, believing you know exactly how the movie will employ them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be wrong. Early on this film is a master at misdirection. (Later on, you’ll probably figure out the bigger reveals, but that’s okay.)

13 Sins doesn’t pussyfoot around even though the main character does. Soon after losing his job, Elliot gets a phone call from a stranger. Kill the fly in his car, the stranger says, and Elliot will be a grand richer. Elliot humors the tinny voice and checks his bank account. Sure enough, a thousand bucks have been deposited. The second challenge is to swallow the fly, which is worth more money. I won’t tell you what the other challenges are, but they only become more and more bizarre. By challenge #4, the cops are already on Elliot’s trail. 

This is not a slow movie.

By then, Elliot is beginning to have some fun. Whereas he used to be a quiet, timid man, he’s learning to enjoy making waves. After smooth-talking his way out of a run-in with the cops, we see him smile. And we smile, too. We’ll be damned if we don’t feel like we’re with him every step of the way, rooting for him even when the challenges get progressively weirder, including a challenge that seems ripped right out of Weekend at Bernie’s.

This isn’t to say the execution is flawless. The film seems to want to say something about human nature and greed, but the message bounces all over the place; perhaps it wants to say too much for its hour and a half running time. The tone seems to fluctuate throughout, peaking when it’s humorously dark and bottoming out when its main character actually shows some humanity. The ending artificially wraps up the escalating complications with a neat little bow. It’s like a fun roller coaster ride that ends unexpectedly and anticlimactically. Oh well, it’s still better than any Saw film ever.

I hope 13 Sins is part of a renaissance in horror. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more films like this and It Follows to wash the out the joyless aftertaste of the 2000s and that era’s over-produced Resident Evils and Underworlds. 

Hitchbot comes to America!

Hitchbot’s trip across Canada

Hitchbot, the hitchhiking robot who safely made its way across Canada with the generosity of strangers, has been in the United States for a few days now. I don’t know exactly what it is about this story that makes me so giddy and gleeful, but I love Hitchbot and the social experiment behind it. For the first time in my life, I actually want to see someone’s vacation photos.

Here’s Hitchbot’s official page. Here are detailed travel logs of its Canadian trip and its vacation in the Netherlands, both of which have plenty of photos. The following photo is one of my favorites:

I’m disappointed Americans are reacting so pessimistically to Hitchbot’s travels in the United States. The general consensus is the police are going to mistake Hitchbot for a bomb and shoot it or some redneck’s going to scrap it or worse. I don’t know. I have a lot more faith in Americans, but then again I’m not conditioned to live my life in fear because A) I leave the house every once and a while and have a pretty good concept of this thing called reality, and B) I haven’t been brutally murdered yet. I’m willing to bet money Hitchbot isn’t going to end up in a ditch.

*Update: goddamn it, Philadelphia.*

Seriously, though, if Obama doesn’t take time out of his schedule to meet with Hitchbot, I’m going to be pretty damn disappointed. I really want this to become a national news story everyone here is talking about.


Seinfeld, Witcher 3, and… well, that’s about the extent of my life lately

Since all of my old drinking buddies have been missing in action lately, I’ve been dividing my free time between writing, The Witcher 3, and Seinfeld on Hulu. Despite it being my favorite sitcom, I haven’t seen Seinfeld in over a decade. I’m surprised by what I remember, but even more surprised I forgot all about ASSMAN….

The Witcher 3 is awesome, by the way. I haven’t found the time to play it since Sunday, but it may even be my favorite single player game ever. I honestly don’t think Fallout 4 can top it. Here’s hoping Cyberpunk 2077 will.

Shiver me timbers, Suicide Squad looks pretty damn good

I’ve been skeptical of DC’s ability to “catch up” with the MCU, but considering the lackluster Age of Ultron and the pleasant surprise of last weekend’s Batman v Superman trailer, I’m beginning to realize I’m wrong.
And I love being wrong about stuff like this.
I’m not sure why every other trailer these days includes a stripped rendition of an older pop song. The tactic is becoming like that Crimson Tide song which was used in every action movie trailer in the mid to late 90s. I think the contrast of soft music and harsh visuals works for Suicide Squad better than it has in other trailers, though. It’s used in a more playful but diabolical way, which lends itself well to the subject matter… at least if this is the kind of movie I think (hope) it is.
I just can’t help but wonder where Harley is going to the bathroom in that cell. And do they really give dangerous prisoners enough cloth to hang either themselves or unsuspecting guards? Looks like she breaks out of the cell at one point and I’d bet money that cloth is used to acrobatic effect.
I love the cast so far. I found Focus to be kind of enjoyable, mostly because of its leads, so I love that they’re putting Will Smith and Margot Robbie in another movie together. As much as I bitch and complain about Hollywood movies on here, I actually adore good Hollywood movies and what I consider old-fashioned movie stars… I just think Smith and Robbie’s chemistry is the kind of stuff that sold tickets fifty years ago, so I hope they have a lot of screen-time with each other.
As for Joker, well shit… I still don’t know what to think about that. We’ll see. If it doesn’t work out, we won’t have to wait long for another reboot.
Since DC has to spend some time building up to the Justice League film the way Marvel built up to Avengers, I’m really beginning to see the brilliance in getting a Suicide Squad movie out there pronto. I might want to see this more than Batman v Superman at this point. The biggest problem for me is the feeling this movie probably needs an R-rating to really pop. Sure, it looks dark and subversive as far as standard summer blockbusters go, but can it really pull off that tone with the inevitable PG-13 rating? 
I don’t know, maybe it’s best to wait and see if they sell an unrated cut on DVD. I kind of doubt it, though.