Monday, April 30, 2012

The Pledge: Day 30, or Thanks For Talking Me Through This

So, it's the final day of my no movies, TV, video games pledge, and I'm thinking of quitting early.

"What?" I can hear you say. "How could you betray us like that, Gabe?"

Don't think of it as betrayal. Think of it as time off for good behavior. I've been very productive this month. Well, comparatively, anyway. I've gotten a lot of stuff done, and even more stuff half-done.

"But Gabe," you say, "why not close the month strong and finish up some of those half-finished projects you just now mentioned?"

Jeeze, if I'd known you were going to give me the third degree, I wouldn't have said anything! Anyway, I'm sick today! Do you have any idea how awful it is to be sick and stuck in bed with nothing to do? It's the worst! It's almost as bad as being in a funk on a Saturday!

"But Gabe," you say, "you could always read a book or listen to some music. Perhaps you could queue up one of those internet podcasts you discovered this month."

Hey, who told you about those? Seriously, I want to know who you've been talking to! You think it's okay to go snooping around in my private life just because I tell you about it in my blog?

"Gabe, Gabe," you say, "you're missing the point. All I'm saying is, aren't there things you could be doing besides watching TV? You've done so well up 'til now. It'd be a shame to blow it all on the last day."

Well, I guess so. I just really miss watching TV is all. But you're right. I shouldn't give up when I'm so close to the finish line. All right, you've convinced me. I'll stick it out for the rest of the day. But I'm warning you, when midnight rolls around, all bets are off.

"That's fine," you say. "That's just fine. Just stick with it, okay?"

Okay. Thanks for talking me through it. You were right all along. I need to finish what I started. And don't worry, I will get around to finishing up those half-finished projects. But it'll have to wait until I feel better. That cool?

"Sure," you say.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Movie Review: "Lockout", or Well, I Guess I'm Kinda Glad They Didn't Call It "Escape From Space"

2012, Rated PG-13
Written by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather (Screenplay), and Luc Besson (Screenplay and Original Idea)
Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger
Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan, and Joseph Gilgun

Did I mention that I like to watch movies with my son? I think I may have touched on that already, but in case you're one of the just slightly over 7 billion people who haven't been following this blog avidly since its inception, let me bring you up to speed.

If The Lost Boys taught us anything, it's that boys of a certain age need guidance. Well, boys of any age, really, but especially young fellas just starting to navigate the oh-so-treacherous waters of a little nightmare known as puberty. That is the point in a lad's life where he will begin either his inexorable slide down the slippery slope of ignorance into the bog of douchebaggery, or his steady ascent of the golden ladder of learning to the summit of Mt. Wisdom. Or he could just sit around, playing video games and masturbating himself into the mire of mediocrity, but that's a scenario nobody wants to see played out.

As a father, it is, of course, my sacred duty to set my son on the right path. With that in mind, we have begun the weekly tradition of watching the great manly films of history together. This naturally began with the Die Hard series, and has in recent months progressed into the Snake Plissken series, of which Escape From New York and Escape From L.A. are the centerpieces.

Okay, I can hear some of you crying "foul" already, so let's just nip this thing in the bud before it turns ugly. Right now you're saying, "What about Eastwood's Man With No Name?" or, "Hey, there was nobody manlier than John Wayne!" and even, "Have we already forgotten the manly works of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney?" Listen, I have to start with my generation's manly films. That's just how this thing works. The only way to impart something meaningful to a child is to be genuine about it, and as much as I love A Fistful of Dollars and Rio Bravo, those weren't the movies that wowed me as a kid. Sure, later - as an adult - they blew me away, but the movies that shaped my view of the masculine ideal had stars like Bruce Willis, Patrick Swayze, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. So get off your damn high horse and teach your own kids about Angels With Dirty Faces if that's what moved you. As for me and my son, we will watch '80s action.

So, getting back to the story...

It took all of about ten seconds of post-opening credits screen time for my son to decide that Snake Plisskin was his new hero (or anti-hero, if you like). This should come as no surprise to anybody who's seen the movies. Snake is a sort of "perfect storm" of testosterone, mystery, and danger. He's tough as nails and everyone knows it; his origins are hinted at, but never explained; he's so anti-authority that he'd rather face life in the worst prison there ever was than let the suits push him around; and he's not even afraid of Lee Van Cleef! On top of it all, the stories Carpenter and Russell crafted around him are so giddily over-the-top that not only is there no opportunity to get bored, but by the time the credits roll, the viewer is left in a sort of stunned, sensory overload daze that - once brain function has been re-established - can only really be described through mumbling rasps, amongst which, "awesome" is the only distinct word.

Still, I only consider N.Y. and L.A. to be the centerpieces of the Snake Plissken series. The further sequels are unofficial, and more in the vein of parallel universes, but I still look at them as philosophical brothers (or a sister and a brother, if you prefer) to the original duology.

Doomsday, the 2008 Neil Marshall film, could easily have been retitled Escape From Scotland, and is so blatant in its emulation of the Plissken films as to even use the same opening credit font as Escape From New York. The movie bears such staple Escape features a heavily fortified wall that allows nobody in or out of the secure zone, a dystopian corrupt bureaucracy that cares only for covering its own ass, and even a monocular heroine whom - in a wink so hard someone's eye probably exploded - they named "Eve." There's even the requisite unfair gladiatorial arena battle to the death. Basically, it's the logical descendent of the Escape series, and succeeds - in my book, anyway - with flying colors.

Lockout, not so much.

Quick setup, just so you know where this is all going: On a mission to determine wether inmates of the world's only low-orbit, super-max prison are being subjected to inhumane circumstances, the President's daughter (Maggie Grace) is taken captive when the prisoners escape their stasis pods and take over the prison. Ex-CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce), recently convicted of treason he didn't commit, is offered his freedom if he can infiltrate the space station and rescue the girl from the two madmen (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun) who are leading the uprising.

Okay, so when I heard they were making Escape From Space (i.e., Lockout) it was a given that my son and I would end up watching it together eventually. He hasn't seen Doomsday yet - the level of graphic brutality in the film is, in my opinion, a tad much for a twelve year-old - but I know that it will only be a handful of years until we're both sitting on my couch, laughing maniacally at the black absurdity of the adventure Snake's spiritual little sister finds herself wrapped up in. When I learned that Lockout had received a PG-13 rating, my feelings were split: On the one hand, I was happy because it meant I could take my son to see it right away; on the other hand, a PG-13 rating meant a neutered storyline, necessarily devoid of the darker elements that made the previous 3 Escape movies so memorable. Still, for my son's sake - and in a rare flare of my own stubborn optimism - I decided that we had to give it a shot.

I was both pleasantly surprised and disappointed, in almost equal measures.

If a stranger said to me, "You know what kind of movie I want to see? I want an action movie set in a dystopian future, where this kinda awesome tough guy goes on some kind of rescue mission into some hell-on-earth wasteland that's walled off from the rest of society," I'd say, "You want to watch Escape From New York." If that stranger then said, "Nope, I've already seen that one. But I liked it, and I want something like that," then I'd say, "Oh, then you should definitely watch Escape From L.A." If the stranger followed that up with, "Yeah, I saw that one too. Good movie - not Escape From New York, but still good - but I want to see something new," then I'd have to reply, "Well then, I think Doomsday is the movie for you, my friend." Now, if the stranger persisted, saying something like, "I know, right! Friggin' Doomsday was awesome! Yeah, but I just gotta see something new, and it really has to be in that same sorta vein. You know anything like that?" Then I would be quick to respond, "Well, if you just have to have that same sort of thing, I guess Lockout was okay."

It doesn't rank high on the list. Still, it's not utterly without merit.

My main beef with Lockout is the fact that it feels like a studio head said, "Hey, you know what I hear a lot of people really love? Those 'escaping from New York' movies. You know, the ones where the guy has to go in and save someone trapped inside this giant prison? We should make our own one of those, only it should have a real budget. None of this 'cult-underground' crap. This should be a real picture." Then they made Lockout. Let me count the ways in which it fails.

1. Maggie Grace does nothing for me. She's pretty enough to look at, I guess, but she has no charm; no presence. She was my least favorite character on Lost, and has done nothing in the intervening years to convince me that my initial assessment of her was wrong. Almost any other actress would have been just as good in this role, if not better.

2. What about the inmates? Out of a space station-full of maniac criminals, how is it that only two of them manage to be even remotely interesting? Even the tiniest hint of characterization among the prison population would have done wonders for my opinion of this movie. Sadly - the two leaders of the rebellion aside - it is nowhere to be found.

3. Why the hell is this place so heavily fortified? Don't get me wrong, I know believability has never played a large role in the Escape movies, but come on! There is exactly ONE super-max space prison in existence, and we're led to believe that - aside from the international space station - there isn't much else up there. Space exploration can't have advanced all that much, since the reason the President's daughter is visiting the prison is that she believes researchers are conducting experiments into the effects of deep space exploration on the human body. So why is the station's outside armed to the teeth? If they're still researching space exploration, one would assume that it's still not a huge industry. So, where's the external threat? Someone planning a jailbreak? Here's a simple solution: Don't open the airlock! Problem solved! Nobody's going to go blasting holes in a space station where somebody they're trying to rescue is housed. This whole thing just confused the hell out of me.

4. For a sci-fi movie, this place is dullsville. I know it's a whiny gripe, but the sets in this movie are, for the most part, just plain boring. Earth looks like stock footage from a Bladerunner wannabe's b-roll, and the space prison interiors look like they just recycled the sets from (INSERT ANY SPACE STATION MOVIE TITLE HERE). Once we get outside the prison, things start looking good, but those shots are so few and far between that they don't manage to counteract the cumulative blah of the rest of the movie.

5. Where have all the badasses gone? I mean, seriously? If you're going to build a house on Badass Blvd., you'd think you'd put more than one room in it. Snow is a fine tough guy, but where's his opposite number? Alex (Vincent Regan) is supposed to be some criminal mastermind, but lacks the charisma and ruthlessness necessary to even get past the velvet rope at Club Antagonist. Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) is a maniac, but gets neutered and relegated to the role of sidekick by the lackluster Alex. Langral (Peter Stormare) looks like the perfect corrupt government operative thug, but loses his teeth in the third act. Someone (I think it was Samuel L. Jackson - and he would know) once said that if you've got a great villain, you might have a good story on your hands. These villains lack greatness.

It's a bleak picture I'm painting, I know, but it's not all bad. The movie does have some bright spots. Guy Pearce is always fun to watch, and I like the fact that he's playing against the Snake Plissken type here. Snake was always quiet and brooding, but Pearce's Snow is chatty and sarcastic, always ready with a witty retort. He sort of reminds me of Bruce Campbell's Brisco County Jr., only a little less campy. And despite the stock interiors, when we go outside (well, in space anyway) things do start to look pretty good. The action is mostly ridiculous fun, and the final escape is so over-the-top that I actually found myself giggling giddily as I watched it play out. It's all absolutely absurd, but that's always been the fun of the Escape movies.

My son enjoyed it, of course. I knew he would, and I deliberately didn't dampen the fun for him by nitpicking the movie to death. Despite my skepticism - and the justification thereof - I went into the movie wanting to like it, and I guess I could say that I did. I liked it. But that's it. No fireworks.

So, will I be adding Lockout to my collection when it hits the home market? Yeah, but only because I'm pretty merciful on this kind of film. It definitely goes at the bottom of the Escape From stack.

But really, even the bottom of that stack is a fun place to be.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Pledge: Day 11, or When Do the Folks from Guinness Get Here?

Well, my productivity continues, though morale is not at what you'd call an all-time high. I swear, I can hear the TV calling to me at night like the ghost of a dead lover.

"Gaaaaaabe... Gaaaaaaabe... Where are you, Gaaaaaaaabe? Don't you love me anymore, Gaaaaaaaabe?"

I'll tell you, when you've been lying awake in bed for three hours, that gets annoying.

But like I said, productivity is up. As I've stated elsewhere (Twitter, Facebook) I think I set a world record for publishing rejection this weekend. I submitted a story (American Machine) to Ideomancer on Saturday morning, thinking that, with the story's mix of ideas and character (something the submission page of the magazine's website said was one of the main things they were looking for), it would be a good fit with them. Sunday night, after returning home from my nephew's birthday party, I found my rejection letter in my inbox. After less than 48 hours.

"Strong characters and the setting has potential," wrote the fiction editor, "but I didn't feel there was enough plot here for a 2000+-word story."

You know, I got depressed for weeks after my first rejection, and though this is only my second, I can feel my skin getting thicker. More than that, though, I think it helped that the editor explained her reasons for rejecting the story. That first rejection was just a form letter. It could very well have been the not knowing that drove me so crazy afterwards. This rejection, at least I know. She's a plot person. I can understand that.

And it didn't hurt that she said I wrote strong characters. I knew it already, but a little outside confirmation never hurts.

So that's where I'm at. I know you were dying to know.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking the pledge...

I've sworn off TV, movies, and video games for the month of April. No joke. Those of you who know me are aghast, I'm sure. Don't worry. If you come over to my house to visit, I'll still watch a movie with you. I've just decided not to indulge in any electronic entertainment (other than e-books, facebook, and Twitter) while I'm alone.

I'm only 4 days in, so my view may be a little skewed, but so far I'm split between feeling like I'm in hell, and feeling like I've never been more productive. All I want to do right now is sit down and watch a movie. Any movie. I just want to zone out for a while. At the same time, let's take a look at what I've gotten done, shall we? Oh, and to give it a little context, I'll compare my accomplishments of the last 4 days with my accomplishments of the previous 2 weeks.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS, 4/1/12 - 4/4/12 (4 days)

-Wrote, rewrote, and published this blog entry.
-Designed, drew, and uploaded banner for my facebook page.
-Finished polish of short story, printed it, prepped it, and submitted it to Leading Edge Magazine.
-Wrote, polished, and posted movie review of Fright Night (2011 remake)
-Repacked and shipped my son's Amazon return (This may not seem like a big deal to you, but believe me, this could have dragged on for weeks before I finally got around to it).
-Insulated, sheeted, and laid sub-floor in my front porch addition.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS, 3/18/12 - 3/31/12 (2 weeks)

-Moved my movie reviews over to my main blog.
-Set up Twitter account and facebook page for StinkerFest
-Wrote cover letter for and polished 1/3 of my short story.

Accomplished 6 things in 4 days vs. Accomplished 2 things and partially accomplished a 3rd in 2 weeks. Compelling statistics, even for a slacker like me.

And yet, despite the undeniable uptick in productivity, my inner slacker weeps every time I walk past my TV without turning it on.


One day at a time, sweet Jesus...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Movie Review: "Fright Night 3-D", or This Is Not the Kind of Total Immersion Therapy I Had In Mind

Fright Night
2011, Rated R
Written by Marti Noxon (Screenplay) and Tom Holland (Story and 1985 Screenplay)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrel, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, and Toni Collette

The first thing you need to know is that my wife is terrified of vampires. The second is that it's all the fault of the 1985 horror/comedy Fright Night. She will argue with you to this day that it is the scariest movie ever made, and, flying in the face of all reason and common sense, she is completely serious.

Vampires are a mixed bag for me. As a kid, the first proper horror movie I ever saw was 1987's The Lost Boys, and it was love at first sight. That movie had it all: rock star vampires; motorcycles; comics; surf nazis; Grandpa; the sweetest mullet to ever grace the big screen; and not one, but two Coreys. From that moment on, I thought vampires were the coolest monsters on earth. Until I grew up, that is.

I blame Ann Rice. Sure, I liked Interview With the Vampire, but let's face it, whatever tough guy cool vampires had, she managed to dress up in drag and parade down main street, confusing the hell out of everybody. I'm sorry if it comes off as homophobic, but Ann Rice's vampires belong in a gay pride parade, not a horror con, and the worst part is that they were hugely popular. It was all downhill from there. Despite the occasional bright spot (From Dusk til Dawn, John Carpenter's Vampires, and 30 Days of Night come to mind) within a decade, vampires had degenerated to the level of Twilight. Need I say more?

Taking both my and my wife's attitude on vampires into consideration, I wasn't quite sure what to think when she came home last Friday with a copy of the 2011 remake of Fright Night under her arm, saying she got it for us to watch together this weekend. On top of our mutual distrust of modern vampire flicks, neither my wife nor I are huge fans of remakes (quite the opposite, in fact). And with her fear of the source material and my fear of subjecting myself to another Lost Boys: The Tribe, of all the horror remakes Hollywood has vomited out since Michael Bay remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fright Night is the one I never figured would put in an appearance at my house. All of this begged the question, Why?

Maybe for her it's one of those radical, lock-yourself-in-a-box-with-the-thing-you're-most-afraid-of-so-you-can-overcome-your-fear-of-it forms of therapy. Maybe for me it was supposed to be one of those lock-yourself-in-a-box-with-the-thing-you're-most-prejudiced-against-so-you-can-overcome-your-fear-of-it forms of therapy. I'm still not sure, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the result.

When I saw the previews for Fright Night, I was anything but hopeful. The original Fright Night was and is a beloved piece of horror history, and rather than the campy fun of that film, it looked like the filmmakers had gone the post-Scream-trying-too-hard-to-recapture-the-glory-of-the-old-days-and-completely-missing-what-made-them-great-in-the-first-place route. (Once again, see Lost Boys: The Tribe if you have any questions. Actually, don't. Just take my word for it: It sucks. And not in a good way.) Colin Farrel looked completely miscast and Anton Yelchin is anything but my idea of a leading man - or a leading teen, for that matter. Tack onto that the tired old 3-D-gimmicks-flying-at-the-screen factor, and you can count me out, thank you so very, very much indeedee.

Imagine my surprise when the movie was actually watchable! Not just watchable, but pretty good, even! I'm not going to go so far as to say it was great, or even to say I strongly recommend it, but if you - like me - have been pining for a good, old-fashioned vampire flick to come along and kick things back onto the right track, this might just be your movie.

I will say this much against it: 3-D gimmickry is dead to me.

I like the new 3-D. I plan on getting a 3-D TV as soon as I can (which, at my current rate of saving, should be some time shortly before I retire), but I hate those "3-D shots" they shoehorn in just to justify using the technology. I hate them because they're not there to serve the story. They're there to sell the technology, and nothing more. That type of William Castle-esque audience condescension, I have no use for.

3-D is fun technology, and serves the magic of cinema just fine without having to slap us in the face. "3-D shots" only serve to ruin a movie by breaking the 4th wall and screaming at us, "Hey, dummy! You're watching a movie in 3-D! Remember?" This effect is only amplified when you're not watching the move in 3-D, and these nonsensical shots of things flying at the screen appear, thrusting you back, out of the world of the movie. I hate this. Do you get my point, or am I not being clear? Maybe I could have it jump out at you in 3-D!

So, techno-schlockery aside, Fright Night really did win me over. I was a doubter, and was pleasantly surprised to have my doubts allayed. It's not a perfect movie. Jerry's (Colin Farrel) behavior is certainly erratic and at times defies rationality. But the truth is that, as far as the bar has fallen, any vampire movie that can show me a good time - plenty of thrills, a few laughs, and characters whose deaths I don't pray for from their first moments onscreen - is pretty much a winner in my book. Will I watch it again? Despite all expectations to the contrary, yeah. I will.

So I guess the therapy worked. Well, for my part at least.

I stay up and do a little writing when the movie is over. By the time I finally roll into bed, it's well after midnight. The bedside lamp is on, and I reach over to turn it off.

"Don't," says my wife, grabbing my arm. "I had a nightmare. Leave it on."

Maybe immersion therapy wasn't the right choice for her. Look on the bright side, honey: At least the terrifying monsters weren't JUMPING OUT AT YOU in THREE-DEE!!!