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Remembering Robin Williams

robin-williams_1I got the news through social media in the late afternoon, Monday August 11. Comedian and actor Robin Williams was dead, an apparent suicide in his home in unincorporated Tiburon. I was stunned, devastated. It seems odd to say I felt devastated by the passing of someone I’ve never met, never seen in person. But, that’s the only word that came across, devastated. I cried most of the next two hours, feeling sad not only for the loss which robbed us of the funniest man of the last half century, but also for the pain that Williams must have felt, the darkness he must have been surrounded in, that he would risk oblivion to escape it.

Yet, I asked myself, why am I feeling this? Why does this one hurt so much? 2014 has been a dreadful year for celebrity passings, but this wasn’t just a celebrity. This was Robin Williams, and he was like family.

I was born in 1983. By then the TV series “Mork & Mindy” was already in re-runs, and Williams was emerging as a movie star. I remember as a young child watching Williams’ manic Mork bounce around the TV screen, a cartoon character come to life. There was nothing else like him. He radiated energy of pure joy. I can remember thinking he was so child-like it was as if we were already friends. I remember my parents laughing too.

Through the years, Williams was a brother who cracked jokes with you, a cousin who lead you on adventures through never land and Arabian nights alike. His rapid delivery and stream of conscious conversations on late night talk shows really did make him seem otherworldly, and his endless energy always felt like it was transferring, through the screen, into a part of me. He inspired so many, lifted so many people across the world with that energy.

By the time I was a teen and Williams was still doing family movies, I guess I left the imaginary childhood friend behind. Then I began to see his other work, films like Awakenings, and then in 1997, Good Will Hunting, for which he won the Academy Award. He was such a true talent, pouring out that same boundless love in dramatic fashion as well.

A lot of the outpouring of love I’ve read over the last day has been stories of brief encounters that people had with the man over the years. How a simple 10-minute conversation or even a wave has changed people forever. I wish that universal love could have saved him, convinced him to go on. In my grief, I feel responsible somehow, like I should have done something, been there for him somehow. If you know of anyone in your life suffering through sadness or depression, call them. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell everyone. If this tragic passing can serve as anything, it should be a wake up call that depression is real, it kills, and it’s not going away if we ignore it. If you are struggling with depression yourself, there is help. The North Bay Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24 hours, 7 days a week at 855.587.6373. Please call.

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My Take on “the Five Sci-Fi Films You Must Share with Your Teen”

Yesterday, I read a list on the fantastic web site sciencefiction.com about the five sci-fi films to share with your teen. While the list is a great compilation of the best films of the last fifty years, I could not agree with a single entry on the list. Not one. It’s a list that unfortunately takes personal preference over what an actual teenage human would want to watch or even care to sit through. Here I offer my rebuttal: The five films I would share with any teen to actually get them to love science fiction movies.

 

Their list: 2001: A Space Odyssey – This movie will likely kill any teenager who tries to watch it with boredom. I myself, a film buff who loves sci-fi more than most, couldn’t get through 2001 when I was a teenager, no matter how hard I tried. The film is simply too complex, too slow, too abstract to show to a teenage mind. They will hate it.

My choice: Akira – If you’re going to confuse the teenage mind with crazy visuals and an abstract ending, I’d recommend Akira. There’s a lot to speculate about the what actually happens, but trust me, teenagers will respond to the young characters trying to find their way in a world that has nothing to offer them much more than they will to apes and astronauts in business suits. Teenagers will also like the anime style they are used to seeing from late nights on Adult Swim and the freaky musical score. Most importantly, the pacing is far more on their level, especially in the first half of the film-as compared to the silent floating spaceports and slow monotone computers of 2001.

Their list: Alien – A great film, yes. No doubt. But a teenage mind will only really grasp onto the gory chest burst and the “old school” creature design. Teens nowadays don’t appreciate the latex costumes and practical effects the way we do. They’ve seen too much computer effects, even of the same alien creatures from this film. They also won’t sniff a whiff of the feminist undertones; they will simply see another monster movie in space. They’re teens, what can you do?

My choice: John Carpenter’s The Thing – All the tension, all the paranoia, all the claustrophobia and dread of Alien, but the effects of the Thing surpass in terms of sheer gore and horror. This film even has its own chestburster scene if that’s what you really wanted your kid to see, but, if you remember, this one is a bit different; in that one dude’s chest opens like a gaping maw and literally eats another dude’s hands before a head falls off, grows spider legs and crawls away. The kids will love it.

Their list: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – WHY HAVE YOU NOT ALREADY SHOWN YOUR CHILD THIS MOVIE???  What are you waiting for? If your kid is a teenager by the time they see freaking Star Wars, its too late for them. Just abandon hope of making them a geek, because it’ll never happen. You blew it. Kids, both boys and girls, should know all the words to this movie by the time they are ten years old.

My choice: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – This movie rules, but the ear worm scene in the beginning is way too heavy for kids. Trust me. I still get the willies thinking of that scene and I’m 31 years old. But, by the time your kid is a teen, they’ll love Khan’s smooth yet menacing villainous tones and they’ll instantly get the humor behind Captain Kirks infamous “Khaaaaan!” More importantly, they’ll learn everything they need to know about friendship and altruism from Spock’s selfless actions at the climax, and it’s a lesson so dearly needed in our times. (And, yes, Star Trek Into Darkness does a lot of the same stuff but it fails to convey the same emotion or impact.)

Their List: Blade Runner – Again, this is a near perfect movie, one of the best ever to be sure. But, these kids today, they don’t respect the classics like they should. And this one is just a little too… how do I put it? It opens with a conversation about a turtle on its back. Throughout, we are presented with a bunch of creepy animatronic dolls, weird synth jazz music and Harrison Ford (their hero from Star Wars, which they’ve already seen a million times, right?) getting rough with a woman. Not sure that screams “sci-fi is cool” for todays generation.

My choice: Children of Men ­­– I really shouldn’t have to say anything. This is the best sci-fi dystopian film of the last twenty years, hands down. It’s gritty and gripping–from the opening blast, to the long takes of street warfare, to the haunting images of lost art delicately hanging in the background. This amazing film feels more real than anything else on this list,  and it’s one that any teenager can instantly obsess over.

Their list: The Matrix – The author of this list himself starts off this entry with “Let’s get this out of the way: Keanu Reeves is not a good actor and the Wachowskis are not good directors.” Okay, let me stop you there. The Matrix is a cool idea splattered on screen by a slop bucket of a production that never feels real or authentic, and is only further embarrassed by unwatchable sequels. The at-the-time revolutionary bullet dodging effects will be ho-hum to any teen today and the whole thing just feels dated, like the trench coats these “hackers” all wear.

My choice: Dark City – This film is both sublimely directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow), and amazingly acted all around by the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt, with leading man Rufus Sewell delivering the performance of his career. This one is probably most responsible for my love of sci-fi as a teenager. I saw it when I was 15 and it’s still one of my all time favorites. The film sets such a perfect noir mood in a sinister city that literally bends to the will of mysterious entities. There is not one single minute of Dark City that is not immensely satisfying and unbelievably intriguing. It’s the kind of film that allows your own mind to wander through the black horizons of imagination, searching out that one perfect day at Shell Beach.

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Character Study: Five Easy Pieces

Released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces is a film of it’s time, with a protagonist as difficult to like as he is fascinating to watch. Of course, from the poster you can tell this protagonist is played by Jack Nicholson, and this is one of his earliest films, following a breakout role in the previous year’s Easy Rider.

In Five Easy Pieces, Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, an oil rig gruff somewhere in the southwest. He lives with his waitress girlfriend Rayette and slums around with his buddy Elton. He’s a simple man, wants to be left alone for the most part and acts dismissively towards everyone, including Elton and Rayette. It’s obvious he doesn’t love her, but  it’s something the matter with him, not her. Bobby is a loner out on his own, trying to make a way for himself. He’s an isolationist and vehemently rejects his world and it’s expectations.

We learn that this oil rig man is actually a classically trained pianist with a wealthy background, but that he walked away from it all. After his buddy Elton has a run in with the law and his sister tells him of their ailing father, Bobby returns home to the northwest, dragging Rayette along out of some form of pity or self-loathing.

It’s odd that Bobby stays with Rayette at all and is one of the more difficult aspects of the film, he’s just kind of a dick to her. You wonder if he is trying to punish or hurt her in a way, like his way to control her is to leave her in this lowly suspended state. I feel for Rayette the most in this film (played wonderfully by Karen Black, who received an Oscar nomination btw).

Bobby just never lets anyone get close, he never lets down his tough guy exterior, almost as if underneath he more fragile than he dares admit to even himself. But at the same time, it’s impossible to totally sympathize with him because he is so cold. It’s a really provocative duality that at once attracts and repeals the audience in a way few films can, and roof that Jack Nicholson was always a genius for being able to pull it off so well.

While on the road, they take on a couple of riders who broke down. In these scenes we glimpse Bobby’s personal disdain for society, for rules and restrictions. His riders talk of the terribleness of mankind and the problems of the world, and Bobby stays quiet. It doesn’t bother him. But when he can’t get some simple toast at the diner, watch out. He goes on a tear not unlike something Holden Caulfield would spout.

After seeing this film a second time, I was struck by just how funny this movie really is. Nicholson rants some great speeches and slings some classic insults. Most of the supporting characters are  a little odd, especially at the family home, making for lighter moments around the dramatic stuff. It’s another balance the film keeps, not letting either get too much a hold of you, never letting you completely relax either. Five Easy Pieces commands attention at all times, even the seemingly mundane moments.

At the family home, Bobby ditches Rayette at a motel and goes up to the estate alone. There his sister Partita and brother  Carl live with their ailing and mute father, his male nurse Spicer (dude is classic), and Carl’s piano student Catherine. Bobby instantly pursues Catherine while constantly belittling Carl, who is obviously unaffected by his brother’ bullying, and also vaguely avoiding the real reason he is there.

It’s all so childish to a point, like Bobby has stepped into his old life. There is even a scene where he plays Catherine a piece on the piano by Chopin, one she finds moving but he does not. He only played it because it was the first piece he ever learned and the easiest to play (cough*title reference*cough). Scenes like this throughout the film just paint such a vivid picture of this man, showing us rather than having to explain. It’s superbly done cinema.

Only at the end of his stay, Bobby finally has that heart to heart with the old man. He tries to apologize for his actions without really acknowledging their affects. It’s a strange monologue, one where where we can literally see Bobby’s exterior crumbling ever so briefly before he regains his composure. It’s heartbreaking, not only because of it’s brutal honesty and emotion, but because it’s not really the resolution that either man needs.

At the end, little has changed. Bobby is still alone in his own head. The world  and everyone is still full of Shit. He leaves the family and eventually Rayette in one last heart-wrenching scene that has to be seen to be felt. I won’t go into it now, but it cements his character in your mind.

Now, back in 1970, when this film came out, there was a lot of anger and a lot of resentment in the air. The 60’s were over, things were getting depressing and people felt like this, all of this around us, was crap. Five Easy Pieces is the expression of all that contempt. It’s about rejecting your status, your daily grind, everything around you that you know is crap.

At the end of it all, Bobby will still be moving along, not because he’s searching for something, but because he’s “getting away from things that get bad if I stay.” Sometimes though, it feels like all he’s really rejecting is responsibility. And that is the conflict that the film brilliantly presents us.

If you’ve never seen this film, watch it. It’s slow at times, it talks a lot, but it’s genuine and real. You may not like Bobby Dupea when it’s all over, but you’ll never forget him.

-Charlie

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Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010

Underground comic writer and all around gloomy guy Harvey Pekar died this morning at his home in Cleveland. He was 70 years old.

Pekar was a regular everyman working as a file clerk and collecting Jazz records, until a fateful friendship with the artist Robert Crumb gave way to Pekar’s brilliantly off-beat cult favorite American Splendor comic books.

Realizing that comics could tell real stories, written for adults, and writing what he knew about best, himself, Pekar created the  autobiographical style that paved the way for today’s slew of memoir and non-fiction comic book writers and artists.

Pekar endured a brief celebrity status in the 1980’s, but always rejected the offers for bigger money, never wanting to become co-opted or to sacrifice his integrity for anyone else.

Pekar continued to work as a file clerk until his retirement. He always wrote about his own life, even chronicling his battle with lymphatic cancer in 1990’s Our Cancer Year.

In 2003, the film American Splendor introduced me and a whole generation of kids too young to watch Letterman in the 80’s to Pekar’s honest and scathing perspective on ordinary life. He was a one of a kind and I bet even Dave will miss the old guy.

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Frank Frazetta, 1928-2010

Frank Frazetta, the renowned fantasy artist, passed away at the age of 82 after suffering a stroke.

Best known for his depictions of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, Frazetta’s work spanned generations and has influenced everything from comic book to heavy metal. He will be missed.

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Well, Captain America is Screwed.

No, there is no way this poster is official in any way whatsoever. It’s fan made, and I ripped it off of Topless Robot, but damn if this isn’t the closest thing we are going to get to awesome in the upcoming Captain America movie. It’s been hyped and followed, with rabid Cap fans coming out of the woodwork to drool over casting choices and any kind of updates they’ll toss our way. But we’re all missing the big picture here. And that is that this movie is doomed. DOOOOOMED! And here’s why:

1. The Captain’s film history so far does not bode well.

Whether it’s in the lackadaisical 70’s TV movies, featuring Captain America in a motorcycle helmet for a mask and tossing around a plastic shield, or the 90’s straight to video abomination that’s basically known only as the movie too awful to release in theaters, this just hasn’t been Cap’s territory. He’s a colorful character, and a boyscout to boost. And neither of these things are going for him.

It’s not like Superman, a character who is universally and instantly recognized as a superhero fighting for the American Way. Captain America is at once a more obvious character (as in Captain Obvious America) and cryptic. He’s not so universally known. And those who know him equate him with old fashioned. Plain and simple, he’s one of the most dated personalities around. And it’s going to hurt him in the long run.

2. Joe Johnston.

One of my favorite internet critics, the Cinema Snob, put it best while reviewing director Joe Johnston’s latest film, The Wolfman. It went along the lines of, “the phrase ‘I’m a huge Joe Johnston fan’ have never been uttered on this Earth.”

Now, the man is a pretty good guy, I’m sure. And he does have the credit of working on the original Star Wars trilogy as an FX tech. But his resume is not making me comfortable. Johnston is the man responsible for directing such stinkers as Jurassic Park 3 and Hildago. And his better films are all kids movies! Jumanji, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, all decent movies I suppose, but all are aimed at 12 year olds. The First Avenger: Captain America is going to be a WWII film, you know? With Nazi’s and a dude whose head is a skull? I just don’t want it to look like a fucking cartoon this time.

3. Chris Evans.

Sorry fanboys, but this is not going to go well. I know everyone was really holding their breath over this one, but the ever smug Chris Evans should not be playing Captain America. A) He’s already the Human Torch, and I hate hate hate it when the same actor is playing different dudes in the same film universe. Point is, he’s already taken. B) The man cannot headline a film. Evans is a decent actor, especially when he’s playing in an ensemble cast. He’s good in Sunshine, Danny Boyle’s overlooked sci fi film, he’s featured in movies like Push, and upcoming in this year’s The Losers, but you’ll notice he’s always in the crowd, in the background even. What’s even worse is knowing this means the movie will now have dozens of gratuitous scenes where Captain America isn’t wearing a shirt. I swear, if I have to see this guy in a fucking towel, I’m going to lose it. Lose it!

4. Bucky Barnes.

Seriously? Fucking Bucky’s going to be in this thing? Why? If film adaptations of comic books have taught us nothing else, it’s that we don’t care about the sidekicks. Especially the likes of Bucky over here. And especially in the main hero’s first film outing. And it’s not even like Bucky is all that well known. Again, Captain America is not as universal as we (ahem) Americans think he is. Cap and Bucky just don’t come together in people’s minds like Batman and Robin, or even Yogi Bear and Boo Boo for shit’s sake. At least they didn’t cast Shia Lebouf for it. Then shit would’ve gotten really ugly.

5. The movie itself, as we know it.

Let’s review some other known facts. The two screenwriters are the guys who brought us the Chronicles of Narnia movies. And nothing else! Shit. The synopsis says that Steve Rogers (aka Cap) is developed into a super soldier, but then deployed as a USO clown, hence the colorful costume. Sigh. Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier offered his services, but Marvel turned him down. Sorry Louie, Joe Johnston’s got this one. Take it away Joe!

There you have it. Over a year from theaters, and this one’s already in the toilet. Oh well, at least he’s not fighting the teabaggers.

That would be really silly, right? Right? Guys?

-Charlie

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I went to Las Vegas for Halloween…

And all I got was the stupid flu. Seriously. It’s been years since I got the flu, but when I go to Vegas for my friend’s wedding and fucking Halloween, I go down.

Good news is that I had a solid day and a half of revelry before my illness took over. In fact, it was probably the hours of continued drinking that did me in, but here’s a quick look at my first (and likely last) trip to Sin City.Blaire House

We originally had a reservation at the fabulous Blair House Suites, seen above. See it? The little sign in the corner? Shadowed by the golden towers? That one. I liked the name, it made me think of Linda Blair, which makes me think The Exorcist, which then leads to the idea of something good. It is not. Not good at all. The place was a joke, and beyond that a dirty, smelly, lumpy pillows and no cable kind of joke. Bye bye Blair House. We got out of there and joined our friends at the Hilton, a real hotel.

The first night out we kept it old school, visiting the classic strip casinos like the Sahara and the Riviera. We passed by an ominous looking Circus Circus, complete with giant clown and crazy calliope music, but some in our group were against it. So it’ll have to wait .The Sahara

No ifs, ands, or...

Bright Lights

The next day was Halloween, and I was still feeling good at this point. We had a great wedding ceremony for Ben and Nicole, who was given away by Elvis. Then we hit the strip. We travelled down to Paris, MGM Grand, New York, New York. All that crap. It’s the fancy new Disneyland-esque part of Vegas, where every casino is another part of the world. They also have Cesar’s Palace, Excalibur, and any number of other theme parks, I mean casinos, to take your money. What a town. It’s seriously just a giant amusement park for degenerates. Weird.Paris

New York

Lots of costumes. Mostly among the order of Sexy Cop or Sexy Prisoner. Vegas ain’t really the most original town for that. I must have seen two dozen ghostbusters, three dozen batman and robins, and God knows how many of these two guys…Mario Brothers

It was at this point I stopped asking people for their picture. All I was getting was gangsta poses and other ridiculous shit, so I gave up. What I went after instead was the coolest Vegas Slot machines I could find. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the nerd centric slots of Vegas…

star wars slots

There were Star Wars slots in every casino I ventured through. Most of them had only to do with the prequels, which hurt me to no end. But these beauties looked about as classic as I was going to get. Meaning they were from the original trilogy re-release editions. You can’t see it here, but the artwork on the side was such. Good enough for me.

alien slots

Fuck yes, an Alien slot machine. This little baby is maybe my favorite. I especially like the Alien Hunt and Egg mini games you can pretend you’re playing as you press the “repeat bet” button over and over and over .

star trek slots

This one is hard to see, but it is a Star Trek slot machine, complete with artwork of the original crew that almost looks like the actual actors. Ryan likes it anyways. There was actually a whole Star Trek Experience installation at this casino, or so I heard, but they tore it out recently. Still there were remnants like doorways and wall panels that I was too stupid to photograph. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

enchanted unicorn slots

Ummmmmmmmmmmm… No comment.

The next day was the day I caught this bug. I laid in bed all day and watched TV as my friends and Annie went out and lived it up. The next morning it was an early flight home and a welcomed return to Portland, the town that doesn’t need a gimmick to get dirty. God bless ya.

That was my weekend. Now it’s back to whining about movies and such. See ya real soon!

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