Month: July 2013

Movies Made Better: Pacific Rim

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Dimensional Rift Discovered in Pacific Ocean

By PHILLIP MASON

Scientists are shocked to report that a “portal between worlds” has opened up somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A research team first became aware of the rift due to the strange sonic readings from the area, but it was quickly discovered that objects, seemingly extra-dimensional in origin, are emerging from the portal.

In a twist that officials some have called “highly ironic” and others “just a regular old coincidence, thank you very much,” the only objects discovered thus far are copies of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim on DVD. The alien nature of these DVDs was first hypothesized based on the professional-style packaging.

“In our world, Pacific Rim was just released in theatres,” said one unnamed expert, “But all these DVDs are too good-looking to be pirated… our immediate conclusion was that they came from a universe where the movie was released roughly four to six months earlier.”

The release date isn’t the only thing that’s different about these alternate Pacific Rims: out of the four that have so far been discovered, none of them follows the same plot as the one from our universe (hereafter referred to as PR Prime).

A crack squad of film critics was called in to analyze the movies, and what they have reported back is shocking. Each of the alternate movies is unique, though there are some broad similarities. None of the alternate Pacific Rims include the five-year jump that follows the prologue in our version, and none of them make any mention of “the wall”, a plot point so nonsensical and inconsequential that readers would be forgiven for forgetting that it ever happened at all.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #1:

The first alternate Pacific Rim (PR) focuses on the opening years of the Human-Kaiju war, instead of breezing through it in a prologue. The very first scene is from the point of view of a young Asian girl (later revealed to be Mako), visiting San Francisco with her parents at the time of the first attack. We see the monster from her point of view, immediately establishing the sense of scale and giving us a personal investment in the devastation.

Some critics derided this plot as “obvious,” tossing around the term “destruction porn” without care. Still, few can deny that the spectacle is enthralling. With each subsequent attack, the death toll grows, and the governments of the world get more desperate, leading to the development of the Jaeger program. It’s thrilling and even a little uplifting to see so the people of the world put aside petty differences in race and creed and band together to save the planet. In this version of the film, the first Jaeger/Kaiju fight is built up to for nearly an hour, but when it comes, it is satisfying and exciting. The movie treats it as a spectacular event, from a technological standpoint and a humanistic one, as opposed to the “just another day at the office” tone of the first battle from PR Prime.

While the first alternate PR ends after a climactic victory that turns the tide for the humans, it ends before the war is actually won; a blatant sequel hook, according to critics, and widely regarded as this version’s biggest flaw.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #2:

The second version focuses on humanity’s last-ditch effort to defeat the Kaiju. In many ways, this version is the most similar to ours: the prologue explaining the opening years of the war is still intact, though it omits the confusing and unexplained details about how the humans “got good at winning” and turned the Kaiju into some sort of joke.

In the second alternate PR, Raleigh is still a washed-up pilot, agonizing over the death of his brother years earlier. Instead of leaving the Jaeger program, he continues to work within it as a technician. Mako works alongside Raleigh as a test pilot in this version, but Raleigh gives her little notice until he discovers that she lost her family in a Kaiju attack.

In PR #2, non-familial drifts are considered impossible; Dr. Geiszler is the only person to propose that two unrelated pilots could work together. Raleigh senses that his and Mako’s shared tragedy might give them the bond they need to drift successfully, and he gets a chance to put his plan into action when a surprise attack leaves Chuck Hansen and his father in critical condition.

In the beginning, Raleigh and Mako are terrible partners. Their first drift re-opens old wounds and leaves them both crippled with guilt and fear over their lost family, and they nearly trigger a nuclear meltdown because of it. Only when they accept each other’s companionship and trust are they able to work as a team; their victory over depression is tied directly to their victory over the Kaiju. Critics note that this plot point, while overly sentimental, does create emotional stakes for the characters not present in PR Prime, and allows the audience to better connect with their struggle.

Also in this version, the plan to drop the Jaeger’s core into the rift is a last-minute improvisation by Dr. Geiszler, who returns from his movie-long mission just as the final battle reaches its peak. Up until this point, no one has figured out a way to destroy the rift, thus adding suspense to the climax and not rendering Geiszler’s mission essentially pointless, as it was in PR Prime.

Pacific Rim Alternate Version #3:

The third and final version to be discovered thus far has the most radically different plot from any other PR. Instead of focusing on a single man’s fall and redemption, the plot concerns a group of people that come together from different backgrounds to join the Jaeger program and defend the Earth. Raleigh’s character is completely removed, as is Chuck Hansen’s father. Greater development is given to Sasha and Alexis Kaidanovsky from Russia and the Wei Tang triplets from China.

Chuck takes on most of Raleigh’s role, though he receives less screen time. As in PR Prime, he is presented as arrogant and unlikeable, though the death of his father in the prologue lends him a degree of humanity. He is paired with Mako (a competent if untested pilot in this version, as opposed to the bumbling, simpering character from the original film) for the first half of the movie, but when two Kaiju attack at once, his inability to works with the others leads to his own death and the destruction of much of the base.

In the end, Stacker Pentecost partners with Mako for the final battle, their father/daughter relationship providing emotional depth that isn’t present in PR Rime’s under-developed love story. Stacker sacrifices himself to destroy the rift and protect Mako, while the Russians and the Chinese fight off the Class-5 Kaiju with their Jeagers instead of setting off a bomb.

When the rift-destroying explosion does come, both remaining Jaegers and the Kaiju are caught in the blast. The Kaiju is destroyed, but it’s not clear at first if any of the pilots made it out in time.

Mako’s escape-pod/life-boat surfaces and she looks around. For a moment, she is completely alone in the middle of the ocean. Almost on the verge of tears, she sees an escape pod surface, followed by another… then another… then three more in rapid succession. Mako is thrilled that her fellow pilots survived, but she’s obviously disappointed that Stacker didn’t make it. However, as Tendo Choi reveals, Stacker’s escape pod entered the rift moments before the explosion, leaving his survival doubtful but ultimately ambiguous.

Sociologists have been particularly fascinated by this version of the film, coming as it does from a society so different from ours, one in which the default point of view in popular culture is not that of the heterosexual white man.

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The Forty Ounce, Episode 18: You Murdered Those People, Batman

Forty Ounce back in the house again/podcasting from our couch again.

After (another) longer hiatus, Jason and Daniel are back with an all-new episode of the (somewhat) revamped Forty Ounce!

This time, Jason and Daniel try to tell stories about their personal lives but end up talking about Pitbull, Icona Pop and Batman. The boys also check in with a couple of new friends who are sure to delight and infuriate in equal measure… but we’ll let you decide for yourself.

This time, we consciously tried to veer away from talking about pop music but spent two-thirds of the podcast doing just that. The real meat of our “personal lives” discussion got pushed back to the next episode, which will be published just as soon as I can stop cringing about how weird I was in high school.

(also, this episode opens with a pretty dumb, out-of-nowhere, extended joke, which I’m saying now just in case you’re not familiar with our podcast)

Dispatches From The Mainstream: 7/22/2013

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Avril Lavigne – Here’s To Never Growing Up

Don’t-give-a-whaaat Ke$ha-style partying by way of Taylor Swift’s pseudo-countrified pop. Is this what it’s come to? I thought you were better than this, Avril! Actually, no, I didn’t, but seeing someone clinging to relevancy this desperately is sad, unless it’s someone truly heinous, which Lavigne never was. Did you know she’s 28? I’m not saying that to make you feel old—she’s too old to sell this kind of bubblegum and too young to get any pathos from the concept. It’s not surprising that she’s chose this path: while most of her music is general adult contemporary, “Girlfriend” is her biggest and brattiest song. Never growing up isn’t so much a lifestyle for Lavigne as it is a marketing ploy.

But the real issue here is that name-drop at the front of the chorus. What Radiohead song do you know that’s suitable to be sang at the top of your lungs? Ms. Perry’s “The One Who Got Away” raised similar questions last year, but Lavigne throws hers right into the refrain and forces you to really grapple with it. Which Radiohead album are these ladies listening to? Is “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” appropriate music for a Mustang make-out session? Is it even possible to sing “Kid A” at the volume Lavigne suggests? I have more questions than answers, obviously.

David Guetta – Play Hard (feat. Akon & Ne-Yo)

EDM is the musical equivalent of empty calories, but even by the standards of modern dance music, David Guetta’s work is dumb with a capital ‘d’. Moreso than Calvin Harris, David Guetta’s music is derivative and comically unsubtle, and some accuse Harris of making the same song over and over again, at least he’s doing it without ripping off Afrojack. Although, D. Guetta and Afrojack have a working relationship, so… maybe Mr. Jack is cool with it?

I don’t want Guetta to be a plagiarist because despite his obvious flaws and the role he played in transforming the charts into an across-the-board synth-fueled bacchanalia, I like his music. It’s big and loud and you can jog to it, and on occasion, it’s fantastic. (See: “Without You”). “Play Hard” doesn’t have a lot going for it aside from that famous synth line in the chorus, but at least this time Guetta credited the original artist.

“Play Hard” is dull—Akon can really suck the energy out of a verse, huh?—but it’s worth a listen just to hear the sound of pop music eating itself in some kind of substance-free Ouroboros scenario. “Better Off Alone” came from a different time, when electronic music was a rarity on the charts, sung by unknowns. Now it’s everywhere, with big-name artists of all genres ready and willing to jump on the train. Alice DeeJay is remembered fondly for their one big song; when David Guetta finally runs out of steam (around the time he samples the chorus from “Castles In The Sky”), he’ll be looked back on with exhaustion and annoyance. Alas, the perils of success.

Capital Cities – Safe And Sound

Here’s the argument against Guetta-style hedomism. This falls somewhere between “alternative” and “dance,” but wherever you place it, “Safe And Sound” is a great reminder that the synthesizer has more settings than “hedonism.” Even in pop music, it doesn’t have to be all build-up and release. Electronic sounds can be more soothing and inviting than a six-string if you use them right.

It would feel a little silly to call this minimalism, but it’s simple, for sure. All I can make out is a synth, a drum machine, a horn, and two guys singing—maybe a little guitar on the bridge, but only for accent. And it works! So much Top 40 is overstuffed to the point where you can’t identify the individual instruments, so it’s nice to hear something this basic.

It’s a bit repetitive and there’s one real groaner of a lyric—“hurricane of frowns”—but the message of the song is so uplifting that it feels more like a mantra, something you chant in order to encourage positive thoughts. The music just goes along with that: the synth line is warm and smooth, and the horn, oh, the horn. The horn is the great under-used instrument of modern pop music. It’s almost cheap how easily a horn signifies triumph, hopefulness or just sheer exuberance, but it’s used so sparingly in “Capital Cities” for what a major part of the song it is. I say we give them a pass. In fact, I say we give everyone a pass. Let’s throw a horn into every pop song we can until we’re all sick of it.

I Myself Can Not: Savoureux

imyselfcannot(in which Jason and Kate finally finish up their season-long look at Hannibal, miraculously getting their final review logged before the second season begins)

JASON: Well, gee, Kate: where do we go from here?

I’ve talked before about my expectations for Hannibal and how they were quickly dashed when the show turned out to be a moody, intelligent, well-shot crime drama with an endearingly dark obsession with death and mutilation. But I formed another set of expectations when Bryan Fuller described the season’s arc as “the story of a man losing his mind” (or something to that effect). I figured Will Graham would slowly drift away from reality, only to be pulled back at the last minute before something really terrible happened. I expected that Hannibal would clean up his mess and move forward with the rest of the world none the wiser to his true nature… and I thought we might end the season with an ironically emotional moment cementing Hannibal as Will’s only true friend.

And that’s sure not what we got!

To recap: after Hannibal force-fed Will a piece of Abigail’s ear, he was able to pin Will for her murder and several other murders that Hannibal himself committed this season. It looks like Will might FINALLY get the medical attention he needs, but due to Hannibal’s meddling, it won’t account for the time he supposedly killed all those people. Will gets locked up in a facility for the criminally insane, but not before he finally realizes that Hannibal isn’t what he appears to be.

Actually, so maybe we should back up a little. We haven’t discussed this show in three weeks, after all.

In a way, these last three episodes all function as one big finale, bringing back characters from previous episodes and tying up their stories. It was especially nice to see Abel Gideon show back, after the show seemingly dropped the Chesapeake Ripper plot, a storyline that impacted all the main characters to some degree. The culmination of Gideon’s storyline was mostly about Graham and his deteriorating mental state, though Jack Crawford’s past failures drove his obsession with the case and informed every action he took, even if we weren’t overtly reminded of it. In fact, the culmination of the entire season ended up being about Will and Dr. Lecter, which is the way it should be… but still, Laurence Fishburne’s version of Jack Crawford was so entertaining, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get any more from the subplot about his wife’s cancer. I’d like to seen him get even more material next year.

Then there’s Abigail… I guess we should have seen it coming, but it was still chilling to see the walls close in on her like that. Before I throw it to you, Kate, I’d like to say that the final scene of episode 12 was my favorite of the entire season, specifically the moment where Abigail asks the question that we’ve been asking all season: why, Hannibal? What drove you to warn Garret Jacob Hobbs of his impending death and then to become so invested in his daughter’s life? The answer: curiosity. It was the obvious answer, but to hear Dr. Lecter say it so matter-of-factly was chilling.

KATE: I agree. Hannibal seems like such a psychopath that it would be folly to try and hash out his motivations, although many will theoretically try and fail in the episodes to come. And yet…he’s astonishingly simple. Hannibal is a psychiatrist. He’s interested in human behavior and motivation, so why wouldn’t he be curious to see what people do when put into certain scenarios? If you throw in the fact that he’s an avid cannibal and all around psychopath, then it makes almost perfect sense. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less chilling, which is why the show works as a series and why Hannibal is a great character.

Alright, now that I’ve effectively praised the show, who’s in the mood for some crackpot theories? I thought so! I can’t tell you why, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Abigail isn’t dead. Yeah, Will coughed up one of her ears and yeah, the floor of the Hobbes’ house is smeared with a mysterious blood like stain…but that doesn’t mean anything! I’ve always been a firm believer in the TV convention that if the audience doesn’t see a body, the character probably isn’t dead. This show invested so heavily in Abigail, both as a plot device and motivation for the other characters to develop and grow. She wasn’t a one episode guest star like Lance Henriksen or Molly Shannon. Why would they kill her? Pure shock value? If Hannibal was trying to frame Will as the copycat Chesapeake Ripper, wouldn’t he have planted her body somewhere in some ornate, ceremonial fashion? If Hannibal did kill Abigail, do you think he ate her? That seems like something Hannibal would find rude, given their prior relationship. It’s one thing for Hannibal to murder a poorly trained flautist; it’s quite another for him to kill and eat someone he thought of as his daughter.

At any rate, all we know for sure at this point is that Abigail is missing an ear.  On the other hand, I may very well be grasping at straws in a vain attempt to convince myself that Hannibal isn’t over for the next year or so. What are we gonna do, Jason? What are we going to do without Hannibal?

JASON: I’d usually agree with you about the bodies, but in this case, I think we actually DID see a body–it was just in the form of veal! Abigail does seem like a major character to kill off, but I think it was meant to shock. Not a cheap, empty kind of shock, but the shock that comes with the title character of the show murdering his surrogate daughter after we spent the whole season becoming invested in her. I just don’t think there’s any way Hannibal could let her live at that point, and I think he ate her because… well, that’s kind of his thing. It also harkens back to the Hobbs family philosophy of “honoring” every part of the kill, which is something Hannibal could definitely get behind in this situation.

But speaking of crackpot theories, I have one of my own! It actually has to do with something you mentioned a few weeks ago, but I never go the chance to address: the one time Freddie Lounds eats dinner at Hannibal’s, she specifically requests a vegetarian meal. As far as I remember, that makes her the only main character who hasn’t eaten human flesh (inadvertently or otherwise). That’s got to mean something, right? Either it’s a nice bit of irony that the most morally suspect character on the show is the only one not to indulge in cannibalism… or it’s a sign that Freddie Lounds isn’t as sleazy as we think, and that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge her!

It’ll come as no surprise to you that Freddie is my favorite character at this point, but I don’t want to make excuses for her. She’s fucked over more than a few people, and she’s (mostly) responsible for that cop’s death in episode two. Still, there’s something so pure in her self-interest and sleaziness… she’s like that grape Hannibal showed off in one episode–the same all the way through, from the skin down to the core. Hannibal is the exact opposite, a black-hearted villain in a “person suit”. Jack Crawford is awfully shifty in his treatment of Will, Jack’s wife lies about having cancer, Will is honest with others most of the time but never honest with himself, and Alana Bloom… well, I guess Alana’s okay. She IS the reason that Hannibal got involved in the first place, but that’s just because she was wrong, not because she was being dishonest. Maybe this crackpot theory is still more of a crackpot hypothesis.

I don’t know what we’ll do for the next year, Kate, I just don’t know! But what are you most excited about in the second season (besides the fact that it’s actually happening?) The prospect of seeing Mason Verger on television is almost too much to bear, and then there’s this little bit of news that I’m very excited to see play out.

KATE: Well now that you’ve told me that, I think I’m most excited about David Bowie! Will it really happen? Do we really have to wait a whole year to find out?  Have they announced the premiere date of the second season? I need to know how much longer I have to wait, Jason! I need to know!

Where is Mason Verger going to fit into all of this? In the novels, Mason is the only one of Hannibal’s victims to survive (albeit with half of a face). He also plays a vital role in putting Hannibal in jail, so where are they going? It’s actually a somewhat interesting prospect. Will and Mason (in the novels at least) are the two characters that experience Hannibal’s violence first hand while living to tell the tale. That seems like a workable angle for the television show to play off of, but will they really put Hannibal in a jail cell this early? He should be nice and incarcerated by the fourth season premiere, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m also curious as to who they will cast as Mason Verger. I have a hard time picturing Mason Verger as anything but a lipless Gary Oldman attempting a southern accent, but I have my hopes! Of course, they won’t introduce Mason already mangled…or will they?

JASON: I don’t know, Kate. I just don’t know! I guess they might introduce Mason Verger pre-mangled and then have his face-cutting incident happen during the season… boy, that’d be a sight to see on basic cable, wouldn’t it? You raise a good point about the parallels between Mason and Will, which I’m sure will not go unexplored by the show’s writers… although, the way things are going for Mr. Graham, it’s hard to say who comes out of the whole thing worse.

Actually, no, it’s not. Being a faceless pedophile is probably one of the worst things you can be.

No exact return date has been set for Hannibal, but I look forward to it with just as much frothing anticipation as you do, and I hope you’ll join me for another lively discussion sometime next year.

Say goodnight, Kate!

KATE: Goodnight Jason!

Movies Made Better: Oz, The Great & Powerful

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Glinda the Good Witch was in a lot of trouble.

Her father was dead. That was bad enough by itself—Glinda’s father was a good man and she loved him dearly—but it was especially traumatic because he was murdered. Worse still, the citizens of the Emerald City believed that Glinda was his killer.

Glinda’s father had been the King of Oz, so his death was more than a crime: it was a political upheaval. In the chaos following his death, a cruel and manipulative witch named Evanora took control of the city. Evanora had enough power and cunning to not only murder the King and get away with it, but to pin the blame on his daughter.

But Evanora’s deceptions were constrained to the elite of the Emerald City, a vicious group of people, many of whom were already under Evanora’s sway before her act of regicide. Throughout the rest of Oz, Glinda’s guilt was a subject of much debate, and among a group of her most passionate followers, her innocence was never in doubt. So when Glinda fled from the city to a distant, rural area in the southern realm of Oz, she found a welcoming home.

If her father had been someone else, Glinda would have left it at that. He was an understanding man who wouldn’t have wanted her to risk her life just for the sake of clearing her name in the eyes of a foolish few. But he was the King, and he had no heir–for Glinda had always found the attentions of men less important than the betterment of the kingdom. In a less dramatic scenario, she would have been given temporary, semi-official control of Oz… but Evanora had fixed it so that she and her sister Theodra now ruled over the land. For her part, Theodora was naïve enough to believe that Glinda was guilty and she followed her sister’s lead reluctantly.

It wasn’t right and the people of Oz knew it wasn’t right. Evanora was as cruel of a ruler as anyone would have guessed and then some. The rest of the kingdom withered and died while those inside the Emerald City grew fat and rich. Unrest spread throughout the lands. Those who had been undecided about Glinda’s guilt now had all the proof they needed of Evanora’s treachery. The people began to speak of a revolution.

Glinda would have loved more than anything to lead the people—her people—in battle against Evanora. But she knew this could never be. Her reputation was too tainted by Evanora’s accusations: a revolution lead by her might look like an act of bloodthirsty revenge. Besides, the citizens of Oz would never accept a witch as a general.

Then the rumors began to spread of a prophecy. It had been foretold that a great Wizard would come to the land of Oz and free the people from their tyrannical ruler.

At first, Glinda rolled her eyes at this talk: if such a prophecy did exist, she had never heard it before now. And wasn’t it convenient that it was a man destined to free the kingdom?

But she changed her tune after Finley arrived. Finley, a flying monkey, was a rogue member of Evanora’s army. Sickened by her wicked ways, he had risked life and limb to bring Glinda a single message: the Wizard was real, and he had arrived in the Emerald City just days before.

Glinda was shocked, but she didn’t waste a moment. Accompanied only by Finley, she disguised herself and set off on a dangerous journey through the Dark Forest and across the occupied plains of Oz, where she met the China Girl, a victim of Evanora’s armies. Against all odds, the group of three made it into the Emerald City and attained an audience with the Wizard.

Glinda saw right away that the Wizard was a fraud, his magic nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors illusion that Evanora would gladly exploit to keep her people in line. The Wizard wasn’t without his flashes of intellect—he had already constructed a makeshift projector out of discarded materials—but he was hopelessly out of his element in the world of Oz, swept away by Evanora’s promises of power and riches. He was more than satisfied to spend his days lounging around the palace, being adored by the people and flirting with sweet Theodora.

But the people needed an icon, someone to rally behind. The Wizard was Glinda’s only hope to unite her followers and lead the revolution. Unfortunately, that meant kidnapping him and stealing him away from Evanora. It was a narrow escape, followed by an exciting chase full of near-misses and the threat of death… but they made it.

Once she had the “Wizard”–who was actually a con-man from Kansas named Oscar Diggs–back at her hideout, everything clicked into place. It took a little work to convince him that Glinda wasn’t the evil witch Evanora had made her out to be, but he eventually came around and agreed to help the cause.

Harder trials still lay before them: Theodora had fallen in love with the amorous wizard, and Evanora would manipulate her sister’s sorrow into rage and turn her into a stronger ally. The battle for the Emerald City would be a struggle for the ages, but with strength of her people and some trickery from the Wizard, Glinda would finally confront her adversary, avenging her father’s murder and deposing the usurper from the throne.

Of course, in the end, the Wizard would rule over Oz. He would gladly take Glinda’s council, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to share credit for the people’s salvation.

Glinda wouldn’t mind. While the Wizard grew older and more isolated, hidden behind the walls of the Emerald City, Glinda, accompanied by new friends Finley and the China Girl, could continue her work of helping the people. She was a Good Witch, after all, and she would take real magic over power any day.