Monday, April 29, 2013

The Humanoid Alien Problem and Syfy's Defiance

Syfy's new show Defiance is trying to fill a lot of big shoes. It wears its biggest influences on its sleeves: Joss Whedon's Firefly is the western-future mashup spiritual ancestor on one side, and Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica is the other clear tonal influence. Syfy is invested in attracting and keeping new viewers, but its approach runs the risk of alienating the same fans they seek to attract: the similarities to Firefly may make the new show look bad in comparison, and many science fiction fans have "grit fatigue" brought on by the generation of "darker" shows already following in BSG's footsteps (Syfy's own Stargate Universe is an example of how the tactic has already backfired). But it's the similarities to another Moore show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that risks alienating the most potential new viewers - with aliens.

Sure, a lot of science fiction fans like aliens. Heck, I like aliens. But aliens are often the first thing that turns a new sci-fi viewer right back around to the door. Forehead wrinkles, contacts, skin paint, spots, false teeth - easily cheesy. A more gradual approach to introducing the outlandish has been what's roped viewers into things like Game of Thrones (that, and wanton sex and violence).

As a science fiction fan, I've got to ask the question: why are do so many "aliens" have to be so human? Why do we keep on making TV shows that have aliens that look so much like us?

I get that there are budgetary concerns. And CGI is only just getting to the point now that it's cheap enough to have weirder aliens at an affordable price. But let's run through some of the problems with humanoid aliens.

  • It's incredibly unlikely that one, let alone several, alien life forms will evolve such similar height, weight, limb number, skeleton type, genital location, etc to humans. I'm glad that Defiance has some "giant" and "dwarf" aliens, and a glowing ball of energy alien, but the three primary races are human-norm. And everyone but the glowing energy balls has two arms, two legs, two eyes, one mouth, five fingers, etc.
  • Alien "culture" often takes the place of actual character. Essentially, every member of an alien "race" (more on that term in a minute) is 99% a product of his/her/its imaginary culture rather than a thinking, feeling character. The best alien characters are those who are the product of their culture but also act as independent people - something we take for granted with human characters.
  • There's a whole lot of alien racism. Think about it for a minute: all ___ of the ____ race has these characteristics. If we're not talking about aliens, that's a pretty shameful statement, so why is it so easy for science fiction writers to treat it casually? This isn't unique to sci-fi either; fantasy has the exact same problem. Have you ever heard of a fat elf? Why is there so much variety allowed and recognized among humans and so little among aliens?
  • Language: everyone in the universe has somehow evolved languages that everyone can (physically) speak, with similar conceptual and grammatical rules? While I'd love to say that it's some sort of comment on evolutionary linguistics... it's not.
  • And let's not forget the whole gender/species question. a) Why do all humanoid alien races have all the same gender characteristics? b) If we can reproduce with aliens, are we the same species? What?
It's not that I don't think there's a place for humanoid aliens. But so many other shows have gone there before that it begs the question of what new can Defiance bring to the table? Can it be more than a sum of parts gathered from other shows?

There are enough examples of doing stranger aliens, better, that Defiance seems a little lazy (Farscape did weirder, better, though there were a lot of humanoids there too). To me, the best, most inventive work on alien races came from a video game: Mass Effect had more interesting, more varied, and more variable alien life-forms and alien cultures than anything I've seen on the television. In addition, there's a hint as to why there might be so many bipeds in the ME world (a shared galactic ancestry, intermittently destroyed by #spoilers).

It comes down to this: if tomorrow aliens landed, and they had two arms, two legs, one head, five fingers, etc, I'd want to know why they look so human. It would be weird, and we would want to know why there was such a close resemblance. So why don't we apply the same rigor to our science fiction?

And why do we keep giving Julie Benz work?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hemlock Grove, why can't you be better?

I'm worried about Hemlock Grove. It's Netflix's new supernatural release-at-once series, and it's showing the vulnerability of the format.

Hemlock Grove is set in Pennsylvania, which seems to have the same look as every town on CW shows. There are werewolves, along with other supernatural fauna. There's some class warfare and murder mystery stuff going on there too. The show has the big name draw of Eli Roth. It's what you'd get if you crossed Teen Wolf with True Blood and then treated the material like serious drama. On paper, the plot and character summaries are fun and meaty, which is probably how the show got picked up.

First the good stuff: there's some solid acting (by some), some interesting writing (in places) and some decent effects (once in a while).

Now for the bad: Bill Skarsgard needs acting classes (so many vampires in that family), some of the writing is clunky, some of the effects are cheesy... and the pacing kills everything that the show had going for it. The editing feels as though they shot enough for 30-minute episodes, but then decided to stretch them to hour-longs. There's too much space at the beginning and end of scenes, space that doesn't add dramatic tension or an artistic feel. The dialogue is also slowed down in the same way: there is too much time between one character speaking and the next, making the conversations feel unnatural.

At first I almost liked the odd pacing. The first episode felt very Twin Peaks, like they were messing with the audience on purpose. Now that I'm four episodes in, though, it's just grating.

This exposes one of the vulnerabilities of a release-all-at-once show. A traditionally released show does shooting and post while the first episodes are airing - with some shows, only one or two episodes will be in the can when a season starts. This lets networks cancel or fix shows that don't perform well with minimum losses. For the viewer, it means there's real hope that a show will "get better." When a show releases all-at-once, there's essentially no hope for change; Hemlock Grove is done already, so we can expect the same uneven editing for at least the first whole season.

Netflix is in a bind, too. With any release-at-once show, they've invested the vast majority of their money already by the time something looks bad going through post. I can believe that watching dailies from Hemlock Grove, anyone would think the show was going to be good. But once Netflix discovered the clunkiness, they had a choice: nix the show with big losses or risk the brand by airing something they knew wouldn't review well.

Hemlock Grove has a distinct advantage in its favor: genre. A certain percentage of the critics always hates supernatural/horror fare regardless of inherent quality, which means that Supernatural/horror fans are more apt to ignore critics. And because of the very small number of scripted horror on TV, viewers have been forced to lower standards. It's a perfect storm that's giving Netflix a pass.

Will Netflix learn from this? It's hard to say. They've had a hit with House of Cards, a bit of a misfire with Hemlock Grove... perhaps the decider will be the Arrested Development revival.

(And yes, everyone just pretends that Lilyhammer never happened. Sorry, Little Stevie.)

Writing update

Almost immediately after finishing DMQZ, I started smashing my brain up against the sequel. I'd planned the Dormouse books as a trilogy, and since I had finished one, I was ready to move right on. The sequel is currently evolving under the working title U.S.S.

Of course, it's never quite as simple as you hope it will be. You often hear about two camps of writers: those who plan like fiends, and those who "just write" and let the story and characters guide them. I fall somewhere in between. I don't write outlines or have maps or a wall of sticky notes, but I do need to have a basic idea of where the story starts, finishes, and what the main beats will be. The process of ironing those main plot points out is sometimes called "breaking the story."

I started writing U.S.S. with the story only half-broken. While DMQZ follows just one main character, U.S.S. is a split narrative, following two. When I started writing last year, I only had one narrative's story figured out. I started that one, but when it came time to switch at a chapter break, I hit a brick wall.

Yesterday, though, I finally broke story two. Sometimes, cranking up a mix with a lot of Bear McCreary while cleaning the apartment just does the trick.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

99 Cent eBook of the Week: Wool 2

Hugh Howey's first Wool serial is a short piece that compels the reader to consume until satisfying finish. It reads very much like a short story, and the prospect of a series follow-up is an exciting one: we don't have to leave the world just because one story is finished.

(For more on Wool Part I, click here.)

Wool 2, then, has some big shoes to fill. While the first Wool is free, the second part of the series costs real money ($0.99, granted, but there's a big distance from $0 to there). It needs to justify its existence, engage the Wool reader for the series' long haul, and measure up to part one.

Where 1 felt like a vignette, 2 feels like a chapter in a book. Much of the structure of the story feels designed to give the reader a tour of Wool's silo world and how it works. This isn't necessarily bad; the reader gets a good look at Howey's world-building, and a better picture of why and how things happened in part 1 - but the shift from the deft interweaving of world building into plot elements (a hallmark of part 1) to more forced exposition is jarring.

The story itself is also another departure from 1; where 1 was fueled by tight plotting, 2 is a character study. Again, not necessarily a bad thing. The reader comes to know and care about the characters more this time around.

So does it measure up to part 1? No, but it doesn't let down, either. Importantly, for the readers who are newer to science fiction, 2 creates a realistic world that functions. It fleshes out the universe to create room for more stories to grow.

And yes, I'll probably just turn around and get Wool 3.

Update on free book day

If you're reading this now and you didn't download DMQZ for free, then that means that you missed free book day. Don't worry! It's still only $0.99, which is literally the least they would let me charge without making it free.

For those of you who did get free copies while they were going Monday (Pacific time, which meant into my Tuesday), I hope you enjoy!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Free book day tomorrow!

April 15 is tax day. I hate tax day! So my book, DMQZ, will be free tomorrow.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Beware Room 237: Failing Calumet-spiracies

The new film Room 237 claims to have new, exciting, and intriguing theories about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Kubrick mad a film that is narratively confusing, different from Stephen King's source material is strange ways, and visually entrancing. The Shining hints at deeper meaning with ambiguous, haunting images that are never explained, so it's not surprising that we've gotten a movie that tries to do so.

The media campaign is probably the most compelling part of Room 237. It's great: there are posters with the hypnotic Overlook Hotel carpet, keyholes filled with garden maze, and the now-infamous Calumet baking powder cans. The previews are perfectly done as well: they use Kubrick's original footage rearranged for maximum effect.

I was excited enough about Room 237 that I watched The Shining in advance. I even wrote an article on this blog with a new conspiracy theory about The Shining. I hold a soft spot in my heart for conspiracy theory movies, like JFK in this article's title image, even when they can be completely bananas. There's something compelling about the idea that there is hidden meaning beneath the surface of what we know that draws us to movies like this.

But unfortunately Room 237 is a letdown. It's not that there aren't some good theories. Rather, the theories a) aren't explained well by the narrators (who we never see) or b) aren't supported by evidence in the film itself.

First off, the narrators are nuts. Not that you would be able to find multiple, super-coherent experts to talk about their theories on such a specific subject - but it would have been nice to get at least one. The narrator with the most interesting, compelling ideas is also very evidently high, or is so frequently high that it has permanently changed his laugh into a stoner laugh. When the narrators "explain" theories, they do so with such a cursory, broad approach that the ideas seem completely unsubstantiated - or they are so specific that the theory is too broad an extrapolation. And there are such huge logical leaps taken that rather than going from A to B, the trip is from A to W, and there's no way for the audience to connect the lines.

Worse, there are several times when a narrator will swear that we'll see something in the footage - and then it isn't there. Room 237 will show the footage, and the thing that the narrator promises doesn't exist. This happens multiple times. In other cases, the footage will actually show something completely contradictory to what the experts are claiming. This would be amusing if Room 237 claimed to be a film about debunking crazy people's theories about The Shining.

Spoilers from here on in as we delve into real content. Reading below will totally spoil the movie for you.

There are a few neat things that Room 237 does talk about. I'm going to spoil them for you now so that you don't have to see the movie:

  • There's an impossible window, which based on the layout of the hotel, should not face the outside (but it does).
  • There are a variety of continuity errors (a vanishing chair, a morphing typewriter), which could be hinting at deeper meaning if they are intentional. While I don't necessarily think they aren't purposeful, if they are I would guess it's more likely that Kubrick was using them to make the viewer feel uncomfortable.
  • Jack Nicholson is reading Playgirl while he's waiting for his new boss in the lobby of the Overlook.
  • The wreck on Hallorann's drive up to the Overlook is that of a red beetle, which could signal Kubrick's disregard for Stephen King's source material.

On to the wonky stuff. There are several over-arching themes that Room 237 tries to apply to The Shining:

  • The Shining is about the holocaust.
  • The Shining is about the plight of the Native Americans. (This is the Calumet can theory.)
  • The Shining is about how Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing footage.
  • The Shining is meant to be played backwards over itself, and we can learn things about it by doing this.

The first two ideas are only marginally interesting, not well explained, and not well substantiated by the evidence that the narrators use. The last one is a great idea for something creepy to do for your next Halloween party, but not very informative as they never explain what the heck the overlaps between forwards and backwards mean.

The Stanley-faked-the-moon-landing idea is the best fleshed out. Sadly, it's also the worst undercut by the zaniness of the narrator. Just when you think that he's making a valid argument, he talks about his friend who says that there are aliens on the moon. And then when you think that he's going to explain how he knows that the footage was faked using a certain technique, he doesn't. And finally, he says that the "Room No 237" label on the key hanging from a lock clearly labels it as the "moon room." This is because the letters in "Room N" (he disregards the third "o" because it's not big) can only be arranged to spell "moon." Sadly, using the "r" that he discards without explanation, we get the more appropriate "moron."

There are convincing arguments to be made for nearly all the theories that are espoused in Room 237. Room 237 doesn't make any of the theories sound convincing. There's still the opportunity to write the definitive documentary on The Shining conspiracies, and I sincerely hope that someone makes that movie.

I don't advocate the recreational use of drugs as a rule. That would be reckless. But if you're of age, and are going to watch Room 237, watch it drunk. And if you're in a state, country, or province where weed is legal, watch it high. The best viewing of this movie is a stupefied, non-critical one where you can wonder at the cool ideas without thinking about them.

Room 237 Spoiler-free Short&Sweet Review

Is it good?
It's disappointing.

Is it technically good?
The movie is made up entirely of footage from other films (more than just The Shining) accompanied by voiceovers. The voiceovers are unevenly leveled, but the footage is, for the most part, well edited together.

What does it promise - and does it deliver?
Secret conspiracies and cool theories about Kubrick's The Shining - and while it gives you the crazy, it's 99% stupid.

If you liked these, you'll like this: listening to some old guy talk about the time he watched The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's the Wall playing over it (but not actually watching the Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's the Wall playing over it).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wool: the fabric of e-fiction to come?

Hugh Howey's Wool series is one of e-publishing's breakout hits. It's also in a format that normally never graces top seller lists: a serial, made up of short, shared-world segments. And it rides a new trend in serials: rather than being tethered to a magazine, Howey publishes independently on the ebook platforms.

Serials hit right in the sweet spot between a novel and a short story. They're quick and digestible, unlike the novel - but world can be returned to, in a way that it can't or won't be with a short story (or at least, frequently isn't; exceptions like Asimov spring to mind).

Publishing independently of magazines is really what makes the new e-serials a new kind of animal. Because they aren't dependent on the magazine to carry it, they're also not tied to specific timetables. An e-serial author could publish every week, every month, more or less frequently, depending on market demand. It puts less Dickenseque stress on things like deadlines and word counts. And readers are only paying for what they want - they're getting their serials a la carte, instead of having to pay for all the other articles a magazine might have. A $0.99 serial e-book is cheaper than any magazine that a reader would buy.

The serial is also ideally positioned on the ebook marketplace. Shorter length means more frequent publishing and lower price points - so though per page 5 serials might cost more than a full novel, there's lower "risk" for the reader buying the $0.99 first part of a serial than the $4 book. Sales for one part of a serial lifts sales for the rest, a more dramatic version of what happens with a book series.

None of this is meant to diminish Howey's work, either, which is well-written and craftily plotted. The world-building is done naturally, the characters are empathetic and multi-dimensional, and the story covers a lot of ground - not a light achievement in the amount of time he takes to do it. And he's successful: he's created a world that I want to return to. I'll be downloading Wool 2 now.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

eBook of the Week: Wool - Part One

While originally designed to be just for 99 cent eBooks, I figured it's time to read the eBook that everyone else has already read: Hugh Howey's Wool. Starting this week with Wool - Part One, which is actually free on the Kindle store.

Howey has become one of the most talked-about success stories in the self-e-publishing world, so I'm curious to see what's drawn so many to read his books. Back next week with a review!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

$0.99 eBook Review: Time and Again by Matt Curties

Downloading my first 99 cent eBook, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. One reads accounts of the varying quality of works on the Kindle store: books with formatting problems, spelling errors, and serious editing problems. In the Wild West of Amazon self-publishing, no middleman might mean no quality.

Thankfully, Matt Curties' Time and Again doesn't suffer from those kinds of errors. It's a clean, brisk read. Internet myth busted.

Time and Again follows the time-traveling exploits of Lex, a disgruntled geologist who finds a mysterious "time wand" in the desert and uses it to go back to the Old West. Lex plans to use time travel for his own profit, and, well, you can guess how that turns out.

And that's the main problem with Time and Again: it tells a story you've heard before without adding enough to it. There are hints at another, more supernatural angle involving a shaman staff, but this is never explored. The time travel mechanic also creates a troubling second-level paradox that may not have occurred to the author.

Time and Again's prose also doesn't enhance the material. It's very straightforward and uses some cliche phrasing. The writing approaches the quality of some popular authors at points, but without a novel enough story hook.

All this sounds like I was dissatisfied with my reading experience, but at 99 cents it's really, really difficult to complain. Time and Again would be about 40 printed pages, a short novella, and it took me two commutes to read. It was a light, cheap snack of a read, kind of like a 1995 episode of the Outer Limits without the second twist at the end.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Evil vs Evil

The review of any reboot is inevitably about how the new compares to the old, and not really about the inherent qualities of the new film. Reboots are at inherent disadvantage this way; they have to justify their existence and have a built in bar to pass. Any change and fans of the original will be mad. No change and fans of the original will be mad and there wasn't any point in rebooting. Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead (2013) has a tough act to follow. Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead (1981) is a classic horror flick that managed to be scary with claymation and stands the test of time. One doesn't watch Raimi's movie and say, "Oh what a dated 80s movie." One watches it and says "This is great. Why was Spider-Man 3 so bad?"

Spoilers abound below!

The immediate disadvantage Alvarez has is casting. Raimi hit gold when he got Bruce Campbell in the original, and those are very big shoes to fill. Alvarez handles this well, though: all the kids in the cabin are new characters, and none of them is a clear copy of Ash. The male lead, David (Shiloh Fernandez), dresses equivalently, gets thrown against walls, and has a workshop moment. But he doesn't give off the right vibe, and you can tell from the first minute he's onscreen that he won't be saying any one-liners. Part of the problem is our unfair expectations: we want a mash-up of all the best Ash from all three original movies (the sweetness of Ash 1, the insanity of Ash 2, and the wisecracking of Ash 3).

Luckily Mia (Jane Levy), David's sister, gets a second chance at the end of the film. She's definitely the best actor in the movie, and she more than compensates for  David's lameness when she turns the tables in the film's finale. I'll watch the inevitable sequel to see her kill deadites.

Casting/acting: while the new series has room to grow, still a win for the original.

One of the things that makes the original Evil Dead distinct when you watch it is Raimi's camerawork. He's all about the moving camera, and frequently the completely insane moving camera, monster POV. Raimi also does something very interesting: he makes brightly-lit horror. Yes, the sun kills deadites in Evil Dead 2, but even when it's nighttime in the Raimi trilogy you're never not sure what you're looking at because it's dark. And it's still scary!

The reboot doesn't copy the original when it comes to filmmaking technique. As opposed to Raimi's straightforward-if-cartoony style, Alvarez is a slick professional. Everything is beautifully shot, in the dirtiest, wettest, ugliest way. Many scenes will make you think of Lars von Trier's Antichrist. And while Raimi is the king of the sped-up-handheld-POV, Alvarez is owns the uncomfortable close-up. He puts the camera right where you don't want to be, making the viewer feel trapped and unable to look away. A scene where Mia wades out of a sinking car gives all the sensation of almost drowning.

Cinematography: tie - the directors are going for different things, and both work.

Special effects are probably going to be a divisive subject about this film. They're brutal, they're good looking, and they're mostly practical effects but... there's nothing as insane as Raimi's creations. Sure, there was claymation in the original, and that takes you out of it a little, but he went for it. Alvarez's final monster is a little underwhelming, and there aren't giant hands or faces coming from other realms. Hopefully we're just saving that for Evil Dead Reboot 2.

F/X: win for the new. If only for the fantastic blood rain.

The plot of the new film is also a lot more character-based than the old ones. No more are these carbon stand-ins who die while Ash gets upset about it. (Except for David's girlfriend, who is forgettable save for losing limbs.) It's an interesting conceit: to have a real motivation for characters to do things, to have a real reason for not leaving that doesn't seem unnatural or manufactured. It's also an unexpected response to the riddle posed by The Cabin in the Woods, to be even more sincere in the face of satire... until doubling-back and Raimi-zanying the ending.

I have to admit at a certain point I was getting a little bummed. Everyone was dead but lame David. He was being really, really stupid and burying Mia instead of just burning her. A whole movie without really dumb decisions (save reading the Necronomicon), and now we're finishing up with one really dumb one. And then David does something that would have fit perfectly in with one of the Raimi films: he workshop-defibrillates Mia. Insane. And then not only does it work, but it doesn't trick you. She really is all better, not just temporarily-and-then-evil-again. And then lame David dies. It's great. And that's when the movie really starts to deliver. The finale of the film gives drag-out, crazy, super-gory old-school action with one-liners.

Overall, the score is a just about a draw, slight advantage original. Both the original and the new have their merits. The new movie brings a level of realism - character, emotion, special effects, cinematography - that the old didn't have, drawing you farther into the world of Evil Dead. The original had Bruce Campbell, and Jane Levy isn't quite there yet. But that's what Evil Dead 2 is all about.

Not dismembering Olivia or Natalie. Their pieces should have come back.
Too many sirens. It was practically Silent Hill.

Eric just won't die!
The whole end of the movie, from deadite Eric to the credits.

Thought would hate, but loved instead:
The new Necronomicon. No face, but better wrapped and it can't burn.
The "real story" and "characters." Who knew!

Evil Dead (2013) Spoiler-Free Review

Is it good?
Yes, it's awesome.

Is it technically good?
It makes gore and dirt pretty in a good way.
The acting ranges from serviceable to good - no one is terrible, and that's what matters.
The music and sound are good though a siren is overused.
The director, Fede Alvarez, makes good choices.

What does it promise - and does it deliver?
Scares, dismemberment, gore, and a little wackiness - and oh boy does it deliver.

If you liked these, you'll like this: Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2, Drag Me to Hell, other horror reboots.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Army of Darkness #livetweet imminent

Finishing up the original Evil Dead trilogy tonight with a livetweet of the last Raimi flick, Army of Darkness. Follow the stream at @quinnafleming on twitter, hashtag #armyofdarkness.

Update: livetweet now over.

Evil Dead 2 #livetweet

Evil Dead 2 livetweet coming up. Follow @quinnafleming with #evildead2 hashtagging.
Update: livetweet finished.

Evil Dead in a Post Cabin in the Woods World

A lot of the advance talk about the new Evil Dead reboot has been about how it will justify its existence "post-Cabin in the Woods." I liked Cabin in the Woods, which deconstructs much of the horror genre. My comment, leaving a 10:30am screening which had maximum 4 people in attendance, was something along the lines of: "that was f-ing awesome." But is the Goddard/Whedon flick earth-shattering enough to change the way we see horror films forever? If it is, is even the original Evil Dead safe?

Fair warning: spoilers ahead for both Cabin in the Woods and Evil Dead.

In preparation for going to the reboot this Sunday, I livetweeted a retwatch of the OG Evil Dead. First, let me assure you: it stands up - Cabin in the Woods won't ruin Sam Raimi's debut moving camera masterpiece for you if you loved it before. And despite the comparisons and the shared setting, Dead doesn't use a lot of the tropes that Cabin mocks:

- It doesn't fall prey to FGS (final girl syndrome).
- With two notable exceptions, no one "splits up." Those exceptions make sense contextually.
- There's almost a complete lack of sexploitation.
- With the exception of thinking an animal could open a cellar hatch, the kids aren't that dumb.
- The poor decisions that the kids do make are based on (almost) realistic human emotions.
- There are almost no jump cuts or cheap scares.

The biggest thing that the original Evil Dead has going for it is that it doesn't hold back. Raimi just goes for it. Everything gets crazier and crazier, until there are giant demon hands exploding out of people. It's not surprising that the sequel becomes horror comedy; there was nowhere else for the series to go.

Ultimately, there's a flaw in the argument that any piece of satire or parody "changes everything" for a genre. "Scream" didn't kill the slasher. In fact, movies like Cabin in the Woods often enhance our experience watching the movies they ostensibly skewer. They help us understand the original films better, almost in the same way taking a film class might... and there's no ruining movies as inherently awesome as the original Evil Dead.

Friday, April 5, 2013

OG Evil Dead #livetweet

#livetweet of the original Evil Dead coming up; follow at @quinnafleming on twitter, hashtag #ogevildead.

Update: now finished.

99 Cent Kindle Book of the Week 99CKBotW

Becoming one of the many new authors to publish my book without a publisher other than Kindle Direct Publishing, I've of course been sucked into a strange and curious world. To get a better sense of the other books that are in the same genre and price-range as mine, I'm going to be sampling and reading them. Hopefully one a week!

I'm starting with one that's around the same Amazon rank as mine, in the same genre and price: Time And Again.

Here's the book description:

When Gary Lex discovers a time-wand in the desert near an old deserted town, he realises he could make his fortune. However, things don't go quite to plan.

I'll be reading Time and Again this week and then writing up my impressions here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Replicants in the Overlook Hotel: Torrance/Deckard theory on the Shining

There are plenty of theories, conspiracy and otherwise, about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The Shining's hidden messages now have a whole film dedicated to them: Room 237. Both The Shining and Blade Runner are highly regarded, thematically complex, and nebulous in meaning - ingredients which make both ripe for speculation on multiple layers of understanding. And it just so happens that the closing shot of Blade Runner is (quite literally) the opening shot of The Shining. What if that isn't a coincidence - what if The Shining is the sequel to Blade Runner?

Spoilers for both movies here on out - although if you haven't seen one or both, you should make a point of doing so now.

Let's suppose for a moment that, unlike imdb tells us, that Scott only borrowed footage from the Shining for Blade Runner after the studio didn't like his original bummer of an ending. And let's ignore the fact that the movies were released out of order (The Shining first). Instead, let's consider that Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of Deckard, and that Harrison Ford was considered for Jack Torrance (also per imdb). Movies have long production cycles, and just because they finished at different times doesn't mean the directors didn't collude earlier in the process. And even what little we "know" about both movies, their productions, and their creators' intentions is inconsistent - one of the reasons conspiracy theories have room to grow and flourish.

Blade Runner ends with Deckard and Rachael riding away from future Los Angeles off into "the wilderness." That wilderness is the same that Jack and Wendy Torrance ride into at the start of The Shining, the two films' shared footage and the bridge between the stories. In between films, Deckard/Jack and Rachael/Wendy have a child, Danny - something that replicants shouldn't be able to do, but Rachael/Wendy is special already (as Gaff implies), having lived past her expiration date.

The first quarter or so of The Shining is very focused on two prolonged interviews that Jack and Wendy undergo. These interviews bear a striking resemblance to the Voight-Kampff tests administered in Blade Runner to determine if the subject is human: the questions and statements are delivered deadpan by the interviewers, are administered across a desk/table, and are designed to test the subjects' emotional responses. In Jack's case, he is interviewing for the job of caretaker and is presented with the fact that the previous caretaker killed himself and his family; Jack fails the test, reacting with a smile and nonchalance instead of concern (confirming that yes, Jack/Deckard is a replicant). Wendy, interviewed by the doctor checking on Danny, is asked to describe her son's accident. She is casual about the event, although true to Rachael's prior demonstrations, she still does better at pretending to be human than her husband.

Once in the Overlook Hotel, The Shining starts playing with ideas about past lives and memory. Jack feels as though he's been in the hotel before, Grady tells him he has always been the caretaker, and as we know from the end Jack really has been there before - the photo suggests perhaps in a previous life. Or more compellingly, maybe it's Jack's original that's in the photo, the one that Jack has been replicated off of. Jack's memories are that of the original caretaker, ones that have been written over for his purposes in his current Jack/Deckard incarnation. This is supported by the inclusion of Joe Turkel as the Overlook's ghostly barkeeper Lloyd - the same actor who played Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the replicants in Blade Runner. Perhaps his appearance is as a memory of the original Tyrell, while the Tyrell in Blade Runner was a replicant (something that the Blade Runner wiki indicates was originally planned). The Tyrell from Blade Runner is his own replicant, using the same process that he used to create Rachael using his granddaughter.

Then there are the striking similarities between Roy Batty's hunt of Deckard and Jack's hunt of Wendy and Danny. Both Batty and Jack regress to animal howls and mad raving - and iconically, they both break through a door/wall and stick their faces through the hole. Both fail in their chase and die slowly in the sitting position.

But why would Jack/Deckard end up like Roy Batty? Perhaps it's because of replicant's eventual inability to process their feelings; Jack is erratic with his wife and son, his responses incongruous with situations. Or perhaps it is just his nature as the kind of replicant he is: Jack/Deckard is a replicant built to hunt replicants, and he's finally giving in to his programming just as he couldn't resist the call to track down Roy Batty and the other Nexus-6. As Jack/Deckard tells Wendy: "Did you ever think of my responsibilities?!"

The two are certainly discrete movies, but in many ways The Shining is the unhappy ending that Ridley Scott really wanted for Blade Runner.
Just a quick update... I've fixed my first post so that the link to DMQZ now works. Science!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thoughts on TWD season 3 finale

It seems like everyone who has the stomach to watch a crowbar go through a zombie face watches TWD. And it also seems like everyone who watches the show didn't like the season finale. The season felt, to most watching, like it was leading up to something that didn't happen.
I'll admit I was in the camp hating the finale to begin with. But as the days have passed and I think back on the individual events that transpired - the governor's brutality, Carl's lessons from the post-apocalypse, and Rick's compassion - all of them seem better in hindsight. The show earned each of those storyline conclusions, and they all resonate well with the evolution of the characters.
There were three main problems with the finale: one, disorganization muted the impact of everything. The governor's freak-out came too soon, and it gave Rick too easy an in with Woodbury. Two, that Merle's swan song in the previous episode was too damn good - it raised expectations to an unrealistic level. Three, Andrea. I don't even know where to start with how sad the television divergence from her comic character is.
Overall, though, the finale feels better the farther it gets in the rearview. It may not have been the babykilling bloodbath people were hoping for, but it sets the pieces in place for an even better season four - and packs the prison full of potential zombie food.

Other thoughts and spoilers:

- Carl has transformed nicely from the least supervised child ever to the most likely to survive
- Darryl is still alive, and really that's who you care about
- Ghost Lori is gone (forever please?)
- Maybe next season will get a big enough budget to chop off Rick's hand and cgi erase it

Monday, April 1, 2013


Just got the book up on Amazon. Relieved, excited, terrified. Just the perfect recipe for making a first blog post. Most blog posts will =/= shameless self promotion.