Saturday, May 9, 2009

I Heart Sci-Fi Originals, Part the First

As one who spent a large portion of the late '80s watching -- and sometimes making fun of -- horror movies with my friends, I know that much of the fun of a horror movie (esp. bad ones) lies in your ability to let humor override the scare when the scare does not deliver. It's hard with good scary movies to accomplish this, because films like The Descent and Ravenous do such a great job of drawing you in, making you laugh to release tension, and still managing to scare the crap out of you. Best to just enjoy those films for what they are and leave the wisecracks at home. I think Snakes on a Plane set the gold standard for many of these movies: after all, it's all in the title, right? Either you're gonna go see a movie titled Snakes on a Plane, or you aren't. There is no in-between (and yes, I saw it opening night - the first time ever I have seen a movie snake roar).

Sci-Fi Originals, which essentially picks up where MST3K left off, provides bad horror at its best...or worst. Every once in a while, they do a pretty decent job of camping it up on a basically decent script with fair-to-middlin' actors. Yet even then, you're embarrassed to admit that it spooked you a little and you kinda liked some of the characters. The uncharacteristically decent Wyvern (a Nordic flying dragon) is the only one of these that springs to mind.

What makes Wyvern different from most of the other films on Sci-Fi? Well, it has four things that most other films featured here lack: (1) a setting that feels real (in this case, a remote Alaskan town); (2) a script that doesn't take itself too seriously; (3) a cast of actual actors, not relatives of the producer; and (4) decent CGI that doesn't look like it was done by unpaid student interns. Oh, and two actors from "Northern Exposure", who bring credence to the whole Alaskan thing. Yep -- Barry "Maurice" Corbin, who for once is not playing an Army guy, plays Haas, local live-off-the-land guy. And remember Marilyn (Elaine Mills), the doctor's receptionist? She plays the deputy, although now I know why she rarely spoke in "Northern Exposure". Almost mercifully, she is an early victim of the title monster. We also get to see Don S. Davis (Major Briggs from "Twin Peaks") playing a convincingly eccentiris ex-Army guy. These are familiar faces, and I always like to see them again, even if it's in a movie about how global warming is freeing giant monsters from the melting polar ice caps. I take my comfort where I can get it.

Abominable, on the other hand, looks like it was filmed for about five bucks at a rental cabin in Southern Cali. Yes, there's loads of bad CGI and an ending that tries hard to have a twist that comes off more cartoonish than scary (wait, is that a bad thing?). However, it does have a little bit of suspense (not enough) and apparently Lance Henrickson (who needs no introduction) is in the first five minutes. I missed that part -- blame knitting again. Even Sam Raimi has a cameo. I can only assume the director had a lot of friends in high places. The lead is played by the actor who played Crazy Lloyd Braun in "Seinfeld", making it even more weird when the deputy shows up...and it's Kramer's lawyer ("Who told you to put a balm on it?").

Hollywood must be a very small town, indeed.

But possibly the very first film on SciFi that I watched from start to finish (while knitting - does that count? I guess I was listening to it more than watching it) was this movie:

Yeti is not a good movie, nor does it try to be one. It does not score on the camp level, and neither does the acting and what I assume was a script. No award-winner is Yeti. Not only did I hate every single character, but I could practically hear the pitch the producers gave this one: "It's like Alive meets Abominable! In the Andes -- we shoot it in the Sierras near the director's cabin. C'mon -- it's got Dom DeLuise's son! How can we miss?" Let's just say this plane-crash-in-the-mountains movie has its real defining moment when the CGI interns gave the Yeti the ability to jump twenty yards in a single bound in the last twenty minutes of the film. 8/ WTF? The only possible reason I could think of for this was either the interns got bored or money ran out, so they couldn't actually spend time laying down some artwork. "We're gonna be here all night with no overtime -- just make the damn thing jump to the other side of the camp, fer Chrissakes!"

Still, what do you want for free? As long as there's movies with titles like Mansquito and The Man with the Screaming Brain out there, I'm gonna watch them. I could go on like this forever, but I think that in order to give these features the shit they deserve, I better revisit this next week. Maybe we can talk about Ice Spiders or Flu Bird Horror.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Want to feel S-M-R-T smart?

Then go to Yahoo! Answers.

No, srsly. Back when I was unemployed and inevitably on my laptop all day, I started reading (and god help me, answering) a few of these questions. It wasn't on purpose, like I said to myself, "Hey, you know what sounds like fun? Reading some idiotic questions for a few hours!" But there are only so many times you can check the jobs on craigslist and before you really need something like Yahoo! Answers to make you feel like maybe you don't have it all that bad, after all. Case in point: I could have been like Bethany here...

This is of course one of those questions that you suspect is a joke in sheep's clothing, but then again.... The dead giveaway is when the winning answer is the biggest smartass.

Then there are questions like these:

Is there something wrong with my KITTENS? PICS OF THEM?

*[pic of perfectly normal kittens linked - one is a tabby, the other b&w]*

this is my kittens why is it that the one on the right is the colour of all the rest of them which is 4 all together and the one on the left is the odd one out and he is massive why is he black and white? should we take him vets has he got a desise?

Additional Details

they are one month old

[Sorry, I tried to do a screenshot but it's too huge...]

I especially like the fact that this astute seeker of knowledge thought it was important to note their age. In fact, that is the one thing that makes it seem almost real...until they overplayed their hand and spelled disease incorrectly, yet "white" and "colour" are spelled correctly. That is, assuming they are Canadian or British. I dunno. The jury is still out on this one.

I will refrain commenting on the INSANE number of "Am I Pregnant OMGLOLZ1!!!" questions out there, as well as the equally large number of ways to say "OMG U shld srsly take a TEST LOL!!!" Okay, so I just commented by mentioning it. But let us never speak again of the "TTC" category of YA. Really, it's for the best, punkin. *pats hand*

Anyone got any favorite Q&As from Yahoo Answers, or a similar source?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Step to My Mad Survival (Television) Skillz

Remember when Survivor first hit the airwaves? It was as if every network executive suddenly was scrambling to hop on the reality TV train. Part of this may have something to do with the idea that they could get the network to pay for their vacations, but it wasn't just Survivor-styled television that took off. Suddenly, reality TV became television. You couldn't turn on the TV without ending up on Bad Girls Club, American Idol, Road Rules or the unfortunate Rock of Love (Brett Michaels, have you no shame?). It was trash TV heaven.

Then, just when reality TV was about to die its just death in the court of public opinion, some douchebag (one word or two?) at A&E dreamed up Intervention, suddenly lending a sleazy sort of class (like an heiress with a chancre sore) to the genre by creating a sub-genre. Yeah, that's right -- I call it the Somewhat Scripted Penny Dreadful. We, the viewers, get treated to a PAINFUL 60 minutes of someone who once had a mediocre existence and now clings tenuously to a totally miserable one. It could be anything from booze to meth to gambling to OCD that drags us down into the vicarious snake pit of their lives; it all ends in tears one way or another. Yet, somehow, these people have families and friends willing to humiliate themselves on national television, on the off chance that it might save their lives.

And that, my friends, is what I call true Television Genius. It's the same sort of network brilliance that decided a WWII Nazi prison camp was a great idea for a sitcom, or that Americans would actually watch a show where amateur Christina Aguileras galore compete for a questionable prize. Shows like these should never have made it past the pitch...and yet they did. Not only that, but they each pulled in obscene amounts of viewers who actually went back week after week for more punishment.

Me? I prefer the old-school documentary true crime shows like Forensic Files, Cold Case Files (featuring the dulcet narratorial voice of Bill Kurtis), and Dominic Dunne's Power, Privilege & Justice. Why do I like these shows? Obviously, not for the high production value or excellent reenactments (in fact, the grainier and hammier the reenactment, the better). I like them mainly for two reasons: (1) to ponder what it is that makes people do bad/stupid/evil things, and (2) because the narrations cure my insomnia faster than warm milk. An extension of this is shows that simply rehash old news footage and add wacky noises, like World's Wildest Police Chases, The Smoking Gun Presents the World's Dumbest Criminals, Part 457 etc. This is just my version of crack. Don't hate me, pity my ignorance.

Most recently, however, I've noticed a new trend in reality grit TV: I call it Survival TV. This trend hit it big with 2008's newest entry from A&E (somebody gave that douchebag a promotion and a film school education) titled I Survived.

At last: a show that speaks to ME. I think it's significant that just after Hurricane Katrina throws our post-9/11 psyche to the wolves, this show is pitched. Imagine the tough sell here: for the most part, this is just one person (okay, three people per episode) sitting against a black background, telling their true and gritty story. The only soundtrack is a very ominous, low tone (not tones, tone). Sometimes, they'll flash a picture of what we interpret to be the setting, artfully arranged and shot in an honestly creepy way. But it's only creepy because we know that the story this woman is telling about that quaint-looking cottage is about her three days of terror with a lunatic. And I don't need to tell you why that dusky shot of the woods is terrifying. Simple: it scares us because we supply the mental picture. Our storytellers are providing us with the story that comes alive with a disturbing clarity that a re-enactment could not possibly top. The stories for the most part are illustrations of how totally at the mercy of random moments and sheer luck we all are...and that the spoken word as story is not yet dead.

I meant to give a big critique of these shows when I started out, but I have to admit: this is the one survival show that takes us back to the days when we'd sit around the fire and trade ghost stories (yes, I mean summer camp, but also back before the days of the written word). Real, true storytelling can be very compelling, and congrats to the one-time douchebags at A&E for sensing that we're smart enough to paint our own pictures.

Is it also exploitative? Hell, yeah! But it's as tasteful as exploitative gets. Apparently, many Americans enjoy a vicarious piercing of the veil that the tension in this show provides. But we know the hero survives because, as Rachel Ack of The Ack Attack would write, *lol episode title*.

Which brings us to Escaped, recently premiering on my new favorite channel, Investigation Discovery. I'm not going to say much, other than it's like American Justice meets I Survived, only without the tension of I Survived. I guess you could say that it's the poor man's I Survived. I don't mean to trash the show; they tell stories from the standpoint of survivors, but because of the nature of the title, it tends to mostly tell stories of women who escaped sex slavery. And while it's made me much more disparaging of the porn business at its worst level, at no point am I on the edge of my chair wondering if the girls will get out of the basement in time. There's a slightly lurid feel to watching this show; it's something akin to how you feel watching a documentary on Jeffrey Dahmer. I mean, do we really need to hear this story again?

I think the biggest problem with Escaped (or Escaped!, as the network refers to it) is that for all its stories of human degradation and depravity, it lacks the heart that I Survived relies on for its backbone: the tale of the man who makes a wrong turn and ends up stuck in his car in a snowbank for a week, or the elderly couple attacked by a mountain lion. Man vs. Nature! And that's where this show picks up:

I happened upon it while trying to lull myself to sleep one night, and ended up recording it to watch with my husband the next day. I Shouldn't Be Alive is like I Survived with re-enactments; however, it focuses entirely on situations where man missteps in nature and realizes just how ill-prepared for a worst-case scenario he really is. It's largely hit-or-miss; either you're on the edge of your chair, or you hate the bickering jackasses who were stupid enough to sail across the Sea of Cortez on a freakin' catamaran. The episode that hooked me, though, was one where a father and son get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness when their raft flips into freezing cold water. They lose all their gear -- food, camping equipment, and dry clothes -- about 60 miles from the nearest town. BOOYEAH! With good actors for the re-enactment scenes, this one stands out in my mind as a Story With Heart *and* Tension.

Like I said though: at least half the time the people portrayed are testosterone-driven dicks who
goad each other into ridiculous situations which they never would have ended up in had they paused to give it proper thought.

Then again, what on earth would we have to watch if they did?

Food for thought: Just how many categories and sub-categories of reality TV are there? Talk amongst yourselves, class -- break into discussion groups and show me your comments.