Archive for September, 2012

I feel I should point out that this post is tagged ‘horror.’ Happy watching!

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Fall has arrived and October is nearly upon us (seriously, where did September go?), bringing with it my absolute favorite holiday: Halloween.

I know you’re all really surprised . . .

Those of the uninitiated might believe that Halloween happens on October 31st, and on this strange, commercially-driven day small children scamper about in costumes demanding candy while young adults overindulge their Ids and get extra, extra plastered in skimpy outfits. Technically true, yes, but not nearly the whole truth. See, if approached correctly, Halloween can and should be a glorious monthlong event.

Given that this is the most unhindered October I’ve ever had and probably ever will have, I’m excited to announce a new project for this blog: 31 Days of Halloween. 31 Days of costumes, scary movies, spooky stories, eerily colored cocktails, pumpkin carving, writing prompts, arts and crafts, haunted house ideas, and everything else I can come up with. Yes, ladies and gents, we are welcoming the autumn and All Hallows Day in style.

What does this mean for the blog? At the very minimum, there will weekly updates on Halloween projects. In each update, I’ll fill you in on whatever I wore, watched, read, and mixed during the week. I’ll post a weekly prompt, fun recipes, trivia, and costume ideas. Maybe some how-to videos if I’m feeling really ambitious. Plus, there will be a book exchange and giveaways for All Hallows Read (details next week!).

Some things I’d like to do this month:

–watch 31 horror movies

–(re)read 31 scary stories/poems, including “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

–read 5 horror novels

–write a ghost story

–create 5 costumes

do a zombie run

–mix 13 Halloween-themed cocktails [I’ll provide virgin equivalents whenever possible]

–cook 13 Halloween snack/dessert recipes

–give away (at minimum) 3 books for All Hallows Read

Of course, participation is welcome! I’m going to kick off the movie-watching on October 1 by livetweeting The Cabin in the Woods at @julialivetweets. Feel to watch along and comment. And throughout the month, please share your own Halloween projects and ideas.

How do you celebrate Halloween? Is it a monthlong affair or just one night? And what would you like to see for 31 Days of Halloween on ‘The Girl Who Loved Zombies’?

So this week Revolution continued with its second episode, “Chained Heat” (presumably named for the 1983 exploitation film starring Linda Blair?), AKA the next installment of look-at-these-horrifying-but-stunning-panoramic-visuals-oops-we-ran-out-of-money-for-good-writers. But with 100% more flag burning.

I’m still working on the reasons why I’m going to continue watching this show, but let’s run through the egregious sins and slight triumphs all the same. And although it should go without saying:

HERE BE SPOILERS.

So, episode two begins with a trip in the DeLorean back to our heroine Charlie’s childhood immediately after the fall of the technologically-driven world as we know it today. Mom and Dad are packing the kidlets up for a trek out of the ruins of what was Chicago because there will be food and water and better daycare in the country. Mom takes Charlie aside and in classic Eric Kripke fashion explains to her daughter that she’s in charge of her little brother, Danny, and must never let go of his hand because when the world ends it’s totally okay to give your children neuroses, especially if you’re planning on dying/disappearing in the near future.

But in case you wanted to linger on the emotional and psychological complications of that, TOUGH SHIT because we need another action sequence starring Bella Swan’s dad (aka Uncle Miles, aka Han Solo) and some random bounty hunter. No, not this one.

Unfortunately, Charlie begs Uncle Miles to let the poor slob go after he knocks him unconscious. Which totally won’t get them into in trouble in, oh, the very next scene when Uncle Miles get captured by militia to get taken back to his army buddy, who is apparently the King of Everything. Cue second action sequence and consequent escape, MAKING EVERYTHING PRECEDING THIS COMPLETELY POINTLESS.

Cut to said King of Everything who’s in the process of good-cop-bad-cop torturing one of the rebels, AKA terrorists, AKA patriots (I’m not kidding) except he’s apparently really bad at it because he kills the prisoner after, like, two minutes.

Uncle Miles tells Charlie and the gang (British-chick and Ex-Google) that he’ll be going off on his own to get some help. He’ll meet them in Random Town, Illinois. And no, you better not follow him. No seriously — Yeah, of course she follows him. British-chick and Ex-Google spend the rest of the episode talking about British-chick’s dead iPhone and the magic Apple necklace Charlie’s dad gave Ex-Google before he died.

Meanwhile, Danny, the little brother whose sole defining characteristics are his asthma and his inability to shut his mouth at key moments, is still with his militia escort. They stop at a Random Victim’s house to shoot him, steal a deer carcass, and burn the American (read: “rebel”) flag. It’s okay to shoot people according to something called the Baltimore Act, which says no civilians can own or carry guns — except, in true Baltimore fashion, everyone does.

Back at the farm, Charlie and Uncle Miles inevitably meet up, but they have to hatch a plan to rescue the chick Uncle Miles needs to blow stuff up. Introduce new character, Hot Chick from Miles’ Past (HCMP) but don’t worry, you don’t have to care about this one either.  HCMP is trying to steal a high-powered rifle from the militia, so long story short, Charlie has to play decoy and kill a coupla guys. Which she feels really bad about — oh wait, your time to contemplate the emotional and psychological realities of that is over, too.

And naturally, if you weren’t exhausted enough by this episode, BTWS, CHARLIE’S MOM IS ALIVE AND BEING HELD CAPTIVE. LOL, BYE.

I’m not kidding.

So between the ham-handed political and pseudo-religious commentary (I mean, honestly, they’re making True Blood look subtle here) and the whiplash pacing and story structure, I don’t have much to recommend this episode over the pilot. Charlie’s got some interesting stuff going on between her feelings of responsibility for her brother and her introduction to the scarier side of the apocalypse, but it’s dealt with so shallowly that it just feels trite.

If next week is a bust, too, I think I’m calling it quits.

What are your thoughts about “Chained Heat”? The flashbacks? The reveal at the end? Will you be tuning in next week?

As we discussed last time, dystopias often emerge from the wreckage of human civilization. Some event (apocalyptic or otherwise) triggers the dissolution of society as we know it. In The Hunger Games and The Windup Girl, it’s an environmental disaster. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and P.D. James’s The Children of Men, it’s widespread infertility. The societies that spring up from these armageddons are often built around specific insecurities created by the events. For example, in The Windup Girl, the Environmental Ministry has become one of the most important divisions of government. In The Handmaid’s Tale, an unyielding social system of legal enslavement is built around fertile women.

What about the old school dystopias, you might very well ask? The societies that began as utopias and dissolved into dystopian nightmares. The societies of Fahrenheit 451Brave New WorldAnimal Farm1984, The Giver, and many others. In some ways, I’d argue that these defunct utopias are more frightening — they indicate a level of complicity on the part of your average citizen. What is truly frightening about Fahrenheit 451, for instance, is not, after all, that the government burns books. It’s that nearly everyone in that society is fine with it. Ordinary people report their neighbors for owning books. Our protagonist’s own wife would rather interact with the talking walls than her husband. Likewise, in The Giver, everyone is content enough to live without color, without love.

Here we have (usually totalitarian oligarchic) societies built around a series of ideals. We exchange intellectual curiosity for technological wonders. Absolute safety for personal freedom. Peace for individuality. On the surface, your average person would agree with many of these ideals. Hence the slow backslide from utopia to dystopia. In this case, unlike with the post-apocalyptic dystopia, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the world changed. In many of these novels, there are few people left to remember it any other way. And, after all, how can you miss what you never had in the first place?

Of course, that is where the dissimilarities end. Be it a degenerating utopia or a post-apocalyptic reconstruction, a dystopia is a dystopia.

What’s interesting, however, is where culpability lies. For instance, on a superficial level, we might make the argument that a post-apocalyptic dystopia has a largely external impetus. Although you can track the human behaviors that lead to the cataclysmic events in, for example, a climate change-driven apocalypse, society isn’t destroyed directly by people. (It’s destroyed by tidal waves and hurricanes, etc.) Conversely, if a utopia is built around an idea that many, if not all, people in a given society prescribe to and that utopia then becomes corrupt (as utopias inevitably do), then that dystopia could be seen as being created directly by mankind.

So I’m especially curious about our contemporary fixation on the post-apocalyptic dystopia.  If the world ends and we rebuild an imperfect society, are we less at fault? Or is it that we’ve located our cultural anxieties in more dramatic events, such as catastrophic climate change? Do we fear less what we might do as a society than what will be done to us?

Although, of course, even a post-apocalyptic society is created by people so in the end, we still only have ourselves to blame.

What’s your favorite utopia gone dystopian? What differences/similarities do you notice between post-utopian and post-apocalyptic dystopias? And if you could create a utopian society around any ideal, what would it be?

Yes, we’re changing this from “Kickstarter of the Week” to “Kickstarter of Note.” Because . . . it sounds better, right? The underlying idea, however, is the same. Today’s crowdfunded project — of the musical persuasion — comes to you from Indiegogo.

Project: Cossbysweater’s debut album

End Date: October 31 at 11:59PM PT

Prizes: Thank you notes and letters, digital downloads, signed copies of the CD, posters, t-shirts,  the cover of your choice (w/video!), original songs, house shows — even original album art.

Current Goal: $10,000

Current Pledges: $4,917

Why they deserve your support: Cossbysweater is a YouTube artist, which is brilliant on its own, but she writes songs about nerd and fantasy culture (as well as “real life feelings”). I’m particularly fond of her hobbit song. I’m new to her music personally, but it might be something you like — and it’s easy enough to give it a chance. The lovely thing about YouTube is you can listen to lots of sample tracks before you make any sort of financial commitment. And, as always with these projects, even a little bit helps.

Did I give: Not yet, but I’m planning on it!

We haven’t had a Hope for the Genre in a few weeks, but never fear–we have hope! And from Frank Langella no less.

Genre: Soft Sci-Fi/Social Sci-Fi

Medium: Film

The premise: Robot & Frank is the story of Frank (Langella), a retired jewel thief with dementia, whose son, Hunter, (James Marsden) buys him a “helper robot” (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to look after him during the week. Frank also has a daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), who lives and works abroad. Until the robot’s arrival, Frank’s life is generally aimless and he often loses focus and orientation. His sole joy seems to come from visiting the (incredibly neglected) local library where he flirts with the head librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon). When the library becomes the target of a reclamation nonprofit that wants to “create a community experience” in the building, but also get rid of all the books, Frank reverts to his old ways–with the robot’s assistance.

Why it’s awesome: Good lord, Langella is a giant among Lilliputians, and this film shows exactly why. His portrayal of Frank is utterly heartbreaking, depicting a realistic look at memory loss (unlike, say, in The Notebook) and a man who has been left behind by the world. Sarandon, Marsden, and Tyler round out the supporting cast beautifully. You’d expect the characters, especially the estranged children, to be less multidimensional but I found their alternate disillusionment and optimism to be very convincing. Sarsgaard’s voice work for the robot was pretty much perfect–it reminded me of Kevin Spacey’s GERTY from Moon in all the best ways. Moreover, it’s a terrific collision of genres: heist movie, family drama, and near-future science fiction. Bonus points for the futuristic hipsters who are into books because they’re “so retro. “Awful and funny.

Why it’s hopeful: Like the other films I’ve discussed so far, Robot & Frank brings a humanity to its material that science fiction is often criticized for lacking. What’s especially great about it, however, is how essential the science fiction is to the human material. It’s completely believable that we would direct our achievements in robotics toward elder care. And Robot & Frank doesn’t work without the robot. Their relationship is absolutely the central relationship to the movie, so that when Frank admits of the robot, “He’s my friend,” it’s an absolutely beautiful and moving moment. Another reason this movie makes me hopeful for the genre is that it isn’t afraid to be complicated or sad. I can absolutely imagine this story, in less capable hands, being reduced to something gimmicky or trite. Instead, it’s complex; it reflects the difficulties of the situation and fully acknowledges that Frank’s condition cannot simply be solved. Personally, I don’t mind having my heartstrings tugged if it’s earned–and they definitely earned it.