In which I learn something new, and horrible

January 6th, 2010

I used to believe that almost every creature in Australia was venomous. The few that aren't made out of poison have razor-sharp claws and/or fangs.

Apparently, even the very, very small number of Australian creatures that don't poison you or tear you into small chunks are just as horrifying: "Invading beetles mummified by stingless bees"

Since the bees can't sting the beetles, or spray them with poison, or acid, or boiling poisonous acid, they instead cover them with resin, mud, and wax and freaking mummify their enemies.

So even if you manage to escape from spiders, snakes, sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, killer ants, drop bears, stampeding herds of fire camels (I'm sure I read about those somewhere) still have to avoid being caught and entombed forever by bees.

Dammit, Australia, you can stop now. We get it: You're an inhospitable land full of death, hideous death, and hideous death by mummification. You're like every monster movie from the 1950s, all lumped together and then multiplied by 1,000 and covered in venomous spines and claws and fangs.

You win Most Terrifying Continent. Again. The award is in the mail. Please do not send the ants to pick it up.

Even more metal

January 6th, 2010

So Christopher Lee is recording a metal album (or at least a metal-like album) about Charlemagne. Obviously, that's pretty awesome.

But you know what would be completely, utterly awesome? Capital-A Awesome? Or, mostly likely, even more awesome than mere words could hope to describe?

A metal concept album with Christopher Lee and William Shatner.

With Leonard Nimoy.

You're welcome.

Horror, criticism, and movie choices

December 24th, 2009

I've been meaning to recommend this piece of horror criticism for a couple of months: Nicholas Seeley's "A Dragon in the Time Machine: A Gross Anatomy of Horror." He does a good job expanding on Stephen King's theories, and this part in particular grabbed me:

But to my mind, the perfect work to illustrate the Vampire archetype is perhaps not the one you would expect: Ridley Scott's film Alien. This is a Vampire story distilled to its essence: a small group of humans, alone with the darkness, in which lurks a thing that is coming after them. They have done little or nothing to deserve this fate, but it doesn't matter much. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon takes some pains to develop the characters, but character is, in the end, nearly irrelevant too. The good and the bad, the strong and the weak get eaten all alike. There's no excess in this movie to distract from the horror—and wonder—of the beautifully conceived monster that's coming to get us.

This made me think of Aliens, which is a very different movie altogether. I don't own Alien or Aliens on DVD. I love the movies, but I've been scared off by the eighteen different versions available (Original, Director's Cut, Platinum Edition, Gold Star Director's Platinum Edition Special Version, Extra Crispy...).

One version of Aliens, for example, restores some deleted scenes. One of those being a scene where the marines set up sentry guns, and those guns mow down scores of aliens before finally running out of ammo. When I first saw that scene, I thought it was pretty damn great, and I wondered why the hell it was removed.

But now, after reading Seeley's article and thinking about it for a bit, I agree that it should have been removed. Because that scene really reinforces what Aliens is: It's a Zombie movie. While Alien might be a Vampire movie, with the humans facing off against a single, powerful being, in Aliens the good guys are running away from hordes of monsters. Monsters that die easily when faced one at a time, but which will quickly overwhelm you when faced in numbers. The sentry gun scene only serves to highlight that point: You can kill dozens of the things, but eventually you'll run out of bullets and they'll tear you apart.

So the sentry gun scene just isn't necessary, doesn't really add anything (except some nifty hardware), and possibly detracts from the movie.

As a bonus, I think that reduces the number of versions I have to choose from to only around twelve or so.

Something of a movie review

December 15th, 2009

We took the girls to see The Princess and the Frog last weekend. I thought it was certainly decent, but not great. Although I think my opinion is warming the more that I think about it.

What bothers me is the pacing. I'm not sure how well I can describe it, but the pacing just seems off. Not quite right. Something about the flow of the story bugs me. I think it's uneven, moving in a bunch of small, jerking scenes. It seems to take a while to get to the ending, and then the end rushes by.

The character development is also a bit wonky. The princess in question isn't bad, but...actually, I can't complain. Thinking about the rest of the Disney princesses, Tiana is massively complex in comparison.

However, the prince is another story. During the course of the film he...

Ok, here there be spoilers.

The prince falls in love with the heroine, as he should, but it feels arbitrary. And in doing so, he changes completely. Just a few minutes before, he's singing about how much he loves his carefree, no-responsibility life. Then, BAM! He falls in love, and decides that hard work is the way to go.

The only rationale is that it's a fairy tale, and that the character has to change to fit the story. At least the prince is likable enough from the start, with a bit more personality than most Prince Charmings. Still, the transition is pretty sudden.

However, the movie regained a lot of my goodwill by doing something hugely unusual: A character, who appears to get killed...actually dies. Not Tiana's father, who dies offscreen, but that's hardly surprising (as there are very few Disney protagonist with a pair of living parents; there's a very strong Dead Parent(s) rule in Disney movies). No, this is actually one of the entertaining sidekicks. Who is badly wounded during the climactic battle, and, miraculously, does not shake it off to dance and sing during a joyful final scene.

Which sounds like I'm being a cynical bastard, but it means that a character who leaps into danger, knowing the risks, actually makes a meaningful sacrifice. He dies nobly, and although he gets a pretty damn cheesy death scene...well, it's a death scene. For a good guy. That's pretty damn amazing, and made me appreciate the movie quite a bit more (if the character had survived, I'd be writing the movie off right now).

As for the villain...well, he looked and acted appropriately evil, but I thought his end happened a bit suddenly. I'm not sure about that either, though, because more of him might have been too much. Maybe a little more backstory would've helped, because he was basically a moustache-twirler. But that was his role, he played it, and he met a nasty (and rather loud) end. You don't always want a sympathetic villain, right?

The voices were good. I didn't get the sense that actors were hired for their names more than their actual voice acting ability. That bugs the heck out of me.

But was it good? Yes, overall. Flawed, but good.

Plus, it followed a set of previews that made me want to run screaming, so that didn't hurt my opinion of it (the previews included another Alvin & The Chipmunks movie, something with talking cats and dogs, and a movie about Miley Cyrus learning the value of family...each preview more painful than the last).

Getting to the essence of a book

November 4th, 2009

Because someone brought up A World Lit Only by Fire in a Facebook post, I thought I'd check out the reviews on amazon. This brilliant snippet is from a 4-star review, and tells me everything that I need to know about the book:

"It is easy and interesting to read unless you try to remember everything that is in it."

I love it. I'm assuming it's just an unintentionally hilarious bit of reviewing, and they didn't mean to make it sound like it's an excellent book for people who don't want to have to think while they read a book about medieval history.