Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stories from Nothing: The Proposal

A woman was proposed to at a table near my boss. While the husband was beaming, my boss and her friend were weeping and ordering champagne for these strangers, the bride-to-be did not look too enthused.

The Story:
The ride home was especially quiet that night. Mark was at the wheel and he was smiling into the horizon. He couldn't wait to get his new fiancee home. Fiancee. Man, he couldn't believe his luck. She had really said yes. He was so happy. The people next to them had bought them champagne, on top of the champagne he'd already ordered for the special occasion. He'd been planning this for weeks.
"You're awfully quiet," he said, turning to Brandi in the next seat. She was staring out of her window, looking at the long string of trees passing by on the side of the road. "How are you?"
"What?" he said, his brow furrowing. "What's wrong?"
"Yes! This!"
"I don't follow." A well of concern washed around in his brain.
"Of course you don't."
"Brandi, honey, what's wrong?"
They stopped at a red light, sitting there, the left blinker flashing on and off. Tick, tack, tick, tack, in a rhythm that never seemed to end.
"I don't want to marry you."
"I don't want," she looked at him, now. Her blue eyes were cold. "To marry you."
"But," Mark felt his whole body open up beneath him in an empty zenith, "but then why did you say yes?"
"Are you kidding me?"
Mark only looked at Brandi, tears welling. She sighed.
"How could I say no?" she said. "We're in a restaurant full of people watching!"
"So?" Mark pushed the car forward. "You could have been honest with me."
"Oh really? And then, what? Said no and quietly slipped out of the restaurant, a carpet of silence following me as people say in hushed tones, 'how could she say no? He looks so lovely'!"
"So instead--"
"So instead," she cut him off, "I pretended to say yes so I could get out of there in one piece."
"Brandi, I--"
"Take me home," she was talking as if he wasn't there. "I'll come get my stuff in the morning."
The wind outside was colder than usual for summer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

It Ain't What it Used to Be: How Science Shows Us The Future Isn't What it Once Was

Science, the frontier for the human race to discover all that is mysterious and hidden within our vast and expanding universe. It has given us space travel, modern medicine, the basic understanding of our entire world and, maybe, eventually, teleportation and space colonies. It is the single most important thing we have in our culture at the moment and it will bring us into the mysteries of the future with a curious glint in its eyes and a sturdy, graceful stride that inspires confidence in us all. 

It also completely ruined the sci-fi future I, and all those from my generation, had envisioned for our world. It did it with the grace and tact of telling a child that rainbows aren't, in fact, magic bridges to leprechaun's gold.

"Look, a rainbow, it's magic!" The child would say.

"No," science says. "Silly child, it's merely light reflecting off the water particles in the air and refracting."

The child cries. Science smiles with a job well done.

Twenty years ago, the 2000s seemed like a futuristic and somewhat terrifying place, with the Terminator films telling us the apocalypse was nigh and films like Escape from L.A. and Johnny Mnemonic showed us that we will likely be living in a slightly camp, neon-lit, junk-filled, post-apocalyptic insane asylum.

Instead, we have Priuses, iPads and wars that are pretty much completely conventional. Sure, the weapons are more advanced, but the basic premises are all the same; people go out to shoot other people on foot, from cars, from planes or from boats - but boats are going out of style.

In four years, we will be in 2015, the future date set by Back to the Future Part II where the future world has large, 3D-movie-like advertising, hover-boards and flying cars, clothes that speak and self-dry and sexy, lady cops in tight, spandex body suits. I don't know if I'm the only one, but I don't think that that is going to happen.

Now, I know Terrafugia just released its first flying car to begin sales last year after being officially cleared as street and sky safe, and you can have one for the price of a small studio apartment.

However, despite all that excitement, there is still logic there to take down the fun, "Flying cars are a terrible idea," Dr. Daniel H. Wilson more or less tells you in his book, Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived. "Instead of drunk drivers, we'd have drunk flyers crashing through your roof."

Great. There goes that idea. That, by the way, is only one of the reasons why jetpacks will never happen. The other, of course, being that we can't fit enough fuel into the jetpack for it to fly for more than thirty seconds, and without burning our feet off. So, there's that.

Two things we do now have from the future we always wanted are lasers and data tablets. The army is, in fact, working on laser weapons that are considered non-lethal weapons under their current development. They fire superheated beams at people that burn incredibly, making people run away; it's mostly to disperse rioting crowds. So, while cool, it is not Star Wars, solid-colour lasers that make fun sci-fi noises. 

And last, but not least, we are brought to data tablets. If you've seen any science fiction film in, say, the past thirty years - or more likely, even more - you've seen a data tablet. Often a translucent glass rectangle that is a touch screen and can access any piece of information that the main characters require. For as many years as they've been fiction, people have wanted to have them. Information at your fingertips all the time? Excellent! A touch screen? Super cool! Translucent? Alright, not so much, but still! And we have them - if you are any one of the people who owns an iPad or other tablet or simply any kind of smart phone made nowadays (iPhone, HTC, Google, to name but a few). That's right, we have that piece of sci-fi technology right here, right now - and to be honest, we had no idea what to do with the tablet tech once we got it. Sci-fi movies didn't take into consideration that laptops and other personal computers - or that ordinary cell phones with an internet connection - would be so common amongst people.

So, there's that.

We do not have Fifth Element pills-that-turns-into-roast-chicken-as-soon-as-it's-in-the-microwave. We don't have colonies on the moon. Where is my Skynet? Sure, where we're at is great and we really are living the future, though we don't really realize it, but I feel like our future isn't going to be the cool, flashy place we thought it would be.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Rum Diary Nails It

As a rule, I am always wary of film adaptations of books I thoroughly love. I was disappointed in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film - despite it being, in and of itself, a good film - and I fear I will be disappointed by the upcoming On the Road film. In spite of this, I am tremendous fan of Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Leas Vegas; not only because Johnny Depp was astounding as Hunter S. Thompson/Raoul Duke, but because the film captured the insanity of the text, the essence, the spirit.

To this end, I was (perhaps to my own surprise) not disappointed with Bruce Robinson's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary.

Initially, I was incredibly skeptical due to the overtly comedic take that the trailer seemed to imply. The Rum Diary's not an overtly funny book, I thought as I watched it, what have they done? Robinson is also the man responsible for Withnail and I, a British Fear and Loathing-style film that I was not too keen on.

So, from the get go, we're off to a bad start.

Not only was I proved wrong, I was proved so thoroughly wrong; the film was so effective, so emotive, that I was literally left in a speechless daze after I left the cinema.

Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is a struggling novelist and journalist who is trying to make it and takes a freelance job at the San Juan Star, a local newspaper in Puerto Rico. Once there he meets his boss Lotterman, played perfectly by Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, Burn After Reading), and his eccentric co-workers Sala, portrayed by Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass, Rounders) - whom incidentally was the performance I was by far most impressed with - and the infamous Moberg, classic weird guy Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar, Saving Private Ryan).

He must deal with the local culture of seemingly endless madness and the imposed culture of the ex-patriots who live there, like money-hungry Sanderson, stylishly pulled-off by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking). Wading through this, he meets beautiful blonde Chenault (Amber Heard) and deal with his feelings for her.

"You smell that?" Kemp asks Sala and Moberg. "That's the smell of bastards."

Johnny Depp can do so much with the smallest of movements, and he captures perfectly the essence of a Hunter S. Thompson protagonist - keeping in mind, of course, that this is pre-Fear and Loathing Hunter. Kemp is an understated, frumpy fellow with a drinking problem whom I found thoroughly likeable.

The real joy, however, came in watching Michael Rispoli be constantly sweaty and grimy Sala, the staff photographer. His constant talking at Kemp is a real joy of this film. Ribisi's performance, too, as Moberg- the crime and religious affairs correspondent - echoes deeply classic Hunter S.; madness with a very thick coating of depth.

It was wonderful to see Eckhart portray a real bastard in this film, one of the few times we get to see this handsome all-American be a tight-jawed money-grubber. And no, he was more Wall Street evil, not Two-Face evil.

For her part, Amber Heard held up her role well and she was a perfect choice for the character; a outgoing and spontaneous woman, with more than a hint of sheer danger.

There is practically nothing I didn't like about this film; the dialogue was tight, it was beautifully shot and it had a great mix of humour and serious depth reminiscent of Gilliam's Fear and Loathing. I did find at times that the comedy was sometimes taken a little too far, such as a certain car-and-stairs sequence, but in general I found it was a well-thought-out and well-constructed adaptation of a great book that clearly came from the heart. 8.5/10


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why, Evolution? I Thought We Were Friends.

Let me say this first - I am a strong advocate of evolution. It's the only plausible explanation, for me, as to our existence on this planet. So, yes, that means I am not a deist or theist. But, that doesn't mean I don't have qualms with some things evolution has done.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for opposable thumbs, great hair and the ability to sing in thirty different languages, but sometimes the things evolution did just seem cruel. In retrospect. And I'm not talking just about the animal kingdom or the whole "testicles on the outside" thing, either - though, really, that was a slip up.

No, what I'm talking about, is the essence of sentience. Stick with me here. All mammals - and most likely all animals - share the same instinct to survive. In 1952, neurologist Paul McLean proposed that the Limbic System was where all emotional survival instincts originate - fight, flight, feed and procreate. However, around 50,000 years ago, one of these early humans became conscious of its own consciousness.

This means it gained the ability to contemplate its life, what has happened, what could be and, the focus of this article, its own death. A completely unique creature which can merge the creation of highly evolved symbolic systems with the destructive power of its most basic instinct, fear.

Ernest Becker said that;

"[T]he real world is simply too terrible to admit. It tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will someday decay and die. Culture changes all of this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe. Immortal in some ways." 

To make things clear, I am also an advocate of culture, because it does make us feel important. The things we create are unparalleled by any other creature in existence. Art, literature, films, technology, this article - all of these things are part of what makes mankind's culture so interesting; a way of immortalising itself while simultaneously bringing joy and improvement to the lives of all humans who follow.

Of course there are the negative aspects of culture and culture propagators, but that is not the focus here.

The focus here, is the fact that we - as human beings - are born with the awareness of our own deaths. While I can comprehend the evolutionary point to giving us opposable thumbs and the ability to use tools - it makes us a deadly prey while also leaving us fleshy, soft and gooey as opposed to being covered in armour and spikes. With tools and creativity, we create our own weapons and armour. I can also see the evolutionary point in being upright with two hands and two legs, it’s a simple and easy structure. What I can not find logic for is the awareness of our own demise. 

Of course, with the awareness of existence comes in tandem the awareness of the end of that existence. I guess that's the only way it can be. This sentience is what we lord over the animals with, creating beautiful and wondrous things as a result of it. We immortalize ourselves. As social psychologist Sheldon Solomon said, 

"[culture] is supposed to give us a sense of where we come from and what we're supposed to do while we're here". 

Then again, evolution, you've given an essentially still-primitive mammal, whose basic instinct is still to be afraid of everything, and made them aware that they’re going to die.

I have lain awake at nights, having shaking panic attacks, contemplating the concept that, though I am alive now, I will die. And it's not the dying that scares me - that's the easy part. It just happens. No, what's hard to come to terms with is the overarching perspective that I am used to existing, to doing things, and then to suddenly no longer be doing anything at all is terrifying.

Honestly, from an evolutionary standpoint, I can't figure out what the point was to give us awareness of our existence and death. The logical answer, then, is to not think about it and to make the best of the time that we do have, but let's face it - we're obsessed with death. It's everywhere. Films. TV. Books. Art. All of these are filled with death. Religion is used as a coping mechanism and tells us we go somewhere afterwards - forever - once we die, to make this world not seem so awful.

I don't know, evolution, your reasons are mysterious to me. But, hey, I'm scared of mother nature already - I'm not going to mess with her will.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flashback: The Mario Bros Movie

New "segment" I want to do which is called FLASHBACK: having a look at stuff from our

We all grew up with the awesome and, in many ways, delightfully camp films from the late eighties  and early nineties. They are cinematic classics. Films you know, like the Back to the Future trilogy,  the Indiana Jones trilogy - which was unfortunately and unforgettably molested recently - and the original Tim Burton Batman films. And some films which stood on their own like The Goonies, Beetlejuice and Ferris Bueller's Day Off among many others.

Combined within this, for us as a lucky generation, were those classic video games which started off the modern gaming identities held within PlayStation and Xbox and Wii. Games such as Pacman, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and the all time favourite, Super Mario Brothers. None of which, upon reflection, make any sense concerning their stories, but were fun nonetheless.

After all that was said and done, there was a phase in cinema history which continues on to this day, and that is making films out of the games we love so much. Some of them are kind of okay, though none really come to mind right now, and some are just downright embarrassing. Most of them come to mind right now. But one film from my childhood, which in some ways seemed pretty great then, comes to mind right now. And that film is the critically despised, and generally disliked, Super Mario Bros film.

For those of you who haven't seen this film - I urge you, please, please do. It is truly one of the best achievements in 90s camp cinema. Notice in films like Back to the Future: Part II and Batman and Robin and many others, that there was a certain level of puppetry and bright neon colours and garbage involved in the scenes. If you've seen any of these 90s camp movies, you know what I mean. This film does it best. What's worse really, is that it uses some truly fantastic actors to capture it all. Actors who, probably, had significant damage done to their careers because of it.

This film, which boasts a whopping 3.8/10 on and an astounding 13% on, hosts John Leguizamo as Luigi, Samantha Mathis - yes, she was big news in the 90s - as Daisy (a princess), acting heavyweight Bob Hoskins as Mario and original Easy Rider Dennis Hopper as King Coopa. Yes. Seriously. Also, an animatronic Yoshi.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it the brief review of 

"[d]espite flashy sets and special effects, Super Mario Bros. is too light on story and substance to be anything more than a novelty".
That's more or less right, but it's also so much more. It is truly ridiculous.

Princess Daisy is a woman born from the dinosaur-ruled world of King Coopa - a parallel universe in which mankind evolved from the lizards instead of primates - and she is the only one who can save it from the evil king. Mario Mario and Luigi Mario - again, no, I'm not kidding - help her out while being plumbers, apparently bad ones at that. Meanwhile, the idiot lackeys of Coopa kidnap Mario's girlfriend Peach (a-ha) and so it turns out he must rescue her, too.

I'm not kidding. Seriously, see this movie. It is by far one of the funniest and most amusing films you will ever enjoy…with the gift of hindsight.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stories from Nothing: The Flower

Catalyst: L found a flower on the ground and put it in an open mailbox on the way home.

Story: The flower lay in the mailbox, unexposed to the elements, atop the Morgans' electricity bill. Laura and Richard came home at the same time and, as Richard parked the car, Laura would go out to the mailbox and retrieve whatever lay within.
Reaching her hand in today, she pulled out the still-crisp flower and stared at it.
"Richard!" she said, stomping into the house. "Richard, come here!"
"What?" Richard put his keys on the kitchen counter.
Laura held the flower out to him. "Someone put this in our mailbox."
"I don't know, Richard, why don't you tell me?"
"Honey, I don't know who would do that," Richard moved to her, to take the flower. "Where was it?"
"I told you it was in the mailbox!" she held it away from him. "Was it her, Richard? Was it her again?"
"Jesus, Laura," Richard said, turning away. "It's over with her. I ended it. You know that."
"Do I? Because this says different!"
"No it does--"
"She's coming back! She's putting things in our mailbox now!"
"We don't know for sure--"
"Don't be a child!" she threw the flower across the room. "Who else would it be?"
"It could by anyone!"
"Why would anyone put a flower in someone's mailbox?" Laura began to cry. "You bastard," she said, then. "You bastard."
"Who would do this to us?" Richard said to himself, under his breath. He sat at the kitchen table. "Why?"