March 31, 2008

"Dark Star" DVD Review (2.5/5) - Jeremiah

Well, my first official Three Geek Marathon is coming to a close. This post will conclude my “Director Of The Month” series. My only regret is that my choice of movies, and shortcomings as a reviewer, have caused us to go out with a whimper instead of the much-anticipated bang. I hope you've enjoyed this little series. I hope to do it again in future months. If you've enjoyed it drop us a line or just comment on the blog. For you see, in addition to my conductive hearing loss, I was also tragically born without psychic powers. Sarcasm aside, without further ado I give you my mediocre best.

John Carpenter's "Dark Star" isn't necessarily a bad movie; it's just not a good one either. I spent most of the film with my head cocked to one side and my mouth slightly agape in awe and confusion as to what I was watching.

It took me a few minutes to realize that it was a parody. It's played so straight that if you're not careful you would mistake it for a really low budget sci-fi movie. Oh it is one, don't get me wrong, but the deal breaker is that they know it. Most of the comedy comes from the realistic way the characters are portrayed.

These are not the brave, intrepid explorers of Gene Roddenberry's universe. These are guys who are bored, have hankering to blow up a planet and will not flinch at whining, telling a superior to shut up or yelling at alien lifeforms to leave them the hell alone. In fact, one of the characters is not really authorized to even be an astronaut. He's an fuel maintenance worker who, through darkly bizarre circumstances, ended up on the voyage by mistake. The monologue which he gives to describe how he happened to arrive there, followed by footage of his past personal journal logues, are one of the few reasons that this film got as high of a rating as it did.

"Dark Star" has some good ideas, they just, for whatever reason, never really had the chance to voice themselves. It has moments, as I've said before, it's just that they weren't good enough to justify my recommending this movie to you.

As far as Carpenter movies go, this is one of his worst. I feel I should be really harsh -- trash it, mock the poor acting and cheesy special effects -- and yet I can't. He tried, god bless him, he tried. That's why I love the man. With all his movies he at least tries. Sure he fails; he's not a demi-God. But at least he puts forth the attempt. Even in the beginning he was scoring, editing, co-writing and co-directing his works. If anything, he's guilty of overreaching, which is actually quite laudable, in my opinion.

So, in spite of being torn between recommending this movie or not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to lean towards not. It's not terrible, but unfortunately it's also not good enough for you to spend the 83 minutes it requires of you. Carpenter fans only, and even those people should take caution.

2.5 out of 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


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March 26, 2008

The Best Music You Never Heard: Splashdown -Richard

Every once in a while you get sick of the radio. You reach for a CD case or iPod, but nothing seems to jump out as you thumb through your music collection. You want something new, something that you haven't heard on the radio every hour for the past week. You want something MTV doesn't have in their 30 minute music rotation. You want...


For me it was listening to 105.9, The Laser, in Middle School. It is where I discovered Radiohead and Ben Folds, years before "Karma Police" and "Brick." The Laser was a semi-college station out of Lawrence Kansas, and the Quazi-Pro DJ's could play most anything they wanted -- so they did.

A few years later it changed, then went away altogether... like all great Alternative stations. Still, I had my older friends and their older siblings who were in college and they always seemed to have the best new and retro music. They showed me bands like The Flaming Lips and showed me what I was missing in Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Johnny Cash.

Pretty soon I was making my friends listen to The Ditty Bops and Muse before they hit it big stateside. As well as this band...


My ex-roommate Dave introduced me to Splashdown my Junior year of college. Normally his taste in pop-rock was atrocious, but something about Splashdown worked. Splashdown was fronted by the incredibly talented Mellisa Kaplan on vocals and piano with guitarist/bassist Adam Buhler and Kasson Crooker doing all of the programming (i.e. drum machine). The trio managed to combine the catch of pop with the rawness of grunge and the harder alt. rock of the '90s. This is most prevalent in their second LP, "Blueshift."

"Blueshift" starts off with the harder pop-ballad "A Charming Spell." It's not the most unique piece in the world, with obvious influences by Garbage and Frogpond at times. Next is the R&B/Jazz song "Presumed Lost" which shows off Buhler's playing and Kaplan's amazing voice. Other tracks of note include "Iron Spy" which suffers from a little post-grunge angst, but shows off the much darker side of the band; "Waterbead," a pop song that rocks out in the middle for no reason, making it all the more cool; and my personal favorite, "Mayan Pilot."

"Mayan Pilot" has the best bass riff since Yes's "Roundabout." It's a mix of Funk bass, melodic vocals and a touch of Latin guitar. Vocally reminiscent of Nora Jones, it's the swan song of the album.

Sadly, Splashdown never broke into the mainstream and broke up over label issues just after they got the song "Karma Slave" on the "Titan AE" Soundtrack. Still, the band welcomes downloads of their material. Almost all of their material can be found Here

Just follow the link and enjoy.


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March 24, 2008

"John Carpenter's The Thing" DVD Review (4/5) -Jeremiah

I hate it when aliens have the unmitigated audacity to crash land on our planet and attempt to mimic our form. It's just a pet peeve of mine. Concurrently, I love it when people like Kurt Russell make it their mission to a) Snoop out who the counterfeit person is, b) Eradicate the hell out of them and c.) Do their damndest to stop the single-minded shape shifting baneful aliens from conquering our little space-rock.

Which is why "John Carpenter's The Thing" is, I believe, his best work. It has all the typical Carpenter ingredients, but in rare form. While the plot is still the Carpenter-esque recipe of a band of friends stranded in an isolated location forced to deal with an unabated evil, he managed to put together a top-notch ensemble cast.

With a dozen essential parts, he does a precise job of framing and coordinating his actors. His pacing is in rare form as well. We move at a leisurely pace, not zooming heedlessly through the movie, as another director would be prone to do. Instead, Carpenter is more interested in the psychological aspect of the story. "Are you you, or am I me?" Alliances form, are questioned and disintegrate. It's high-quality suspense.

He is assisted in this effort by his phenomenal cast: MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David), Gary (Donald Moffat), Norris (Charles Hallahan), Clark (Richard Masur), and Copper (Richard Dysart). There are some others, and their work is fine as well, it's just that I had to stop. It was becoming too much like a grocery list.

The actors rise to the occasion, particularly Brimley and Moffat. Russell is reliable as usual, as he brings his rugged demeanor and all the same Russellness that we love him for. Brimley and Moffat, however, seem to be playing a different game. Their eyes betray certain anxieties and fears before the alien even shows up. Their performances impressed me the most. Masur manages to have the most haunting eyes of the cast, though. A sort of forlorn longing that peers out of Carpenter's shadow in a way that's just a touch disturbing.

This may be Russell's best performance, sans “Death Proof.” From the first moment we meet MacReady, we're on his side. What makes his performance so good here? It could be his natural charisma, his swagger or his full and manly beard.

I'm guessing it's how he wields a flame thrower.

Also, few things are as fun as watching Wilford Brimley coming unhinged and swinging an ax at large control panels. Russell's beard and Brimleys raging insanity alone are practically worth the price of the DVD.

The film balances itself perfectly with gore, dialogue, music and plain old anticipatory tension. Sometimes the special effects are so good they are in danger of stealing the show, but Carpenter manages to offset this problem with the story. The movie is, in fact, not a re-make of the Howard Hawk's original -- although Carpenter does pay some homage to it. It's based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr. Which is a sort of hodge-podge of an Agatha Christie/sci-fi story.

What the movie shows us is Carpenter, the master of low-budget film making, is at his best when he has a budget. It's weird; it's like it completely disproves everything I've talked about.

Long story short, “The Thing” is a great movie. Sure to have you guessing and jumping at the same time.

4/5 Stars

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


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March 22, 2008

"Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" Book Review (4.5/5) -Thaddeus

There's something about a great title.

As a supposed writer, I've found titles to be even more elusive than those confounding opening lines that have me bloodying my forehead on the laptop keyboard. The right title can tie everything together and if you have one out the gate, I've found, it makes whatever world you're weaving feel more stable as you build it. And when uncertainty strikes, when you find yourself asking "Where the hell am I? Where do I go from here?" it's comforting to have that signpost at the top of the page. Like the American flag on the moon.

You look up and say, "Oh, right. I'm on America's moon."

What? It's ours. We put a flag in it.

"Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" is maybe the best book title ever. I was nudged in the direction of this volume by an English professor who understood my hunger for noir and unfathomable weirdness. I was sold on the title alone -- anyone who put that right on the door was worthy of my attention.

Writer Haruki Murakami has put together two seemingly unrelated worlds in this gritty tale of the world behind the world behind the world. The chapters alternate between the titular narratives: one follows a data encrypter drawn into conflicts he never knew existed, the other shows a man in a walled city with his shadow cut off along with his memories.

The voice, in the "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" sections is detached and cool. He knows about songs and food and books I haven't read, but not in a snobbish way; he's just like that. "The End of the World" is a heady blend of the mundane and the inescapable weirdness of fantasy.

The worlds float along, side by side, telling separately engaging stories with little connection between them at first. But things swish and swirl and are tied together in a whirlwind of madness.

It's the world the way I like to read it. Crazy as you like, with all the finicky details of everyday life.

I'll be looking for more by Murakami. You should look up this one, and probably any others you happen by.

-Thad out

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March 18, 2008

"Starman" DVD Review (3.5/5) - Jeremiah

Yes, it's an “E.T.” rip off. No, it's not as great as “E.T.” It is, however, one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. It's a very atypical Carpenter film, though: it has an actual budget, it's low on the campiness and the cast is full of solid performers. It was written by somebody else, and (gasp) the music was scored by another person as well. Hell, it's the only Carpenter film to have an Oscar nomination -- Jeff Bridges for Best Actor.

All that aside, it still feels like Carpenter. While he's not the film's composer, it still has a synthesizer track. And it still sounds like a Carpenter plot, even though he did not write it. It's filled with beautiful, almost western-like shots, which is very much Carpenter.

The alien (Jeff Bridges) crash lands in Wisconsin after being shot down by the military. He lands near a cabin inhabited by the gorgeous Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). He uses a strand of her recently deceased husband's hair to copy his appearance. Jenny is understandably disturbed by this thing in her house, this thing that looks like her husband, yet isn't. Long story short, they go a road trip to Arizona, all the while being chased by the military and a lone scientist, Mark Shirman (Charles Martin Smith), who hope to get there first.

Along the way, we get treated to something fascinating. Rather than make this a typical “Alien phone home” movie, Carpenter goes another direction. It's a road trip movie which evolves into a love story. Carpenter's deft hand is only part of the reason. The real saving grace is Bridges and Allen.

Their performance and chemistry is mesmerizing. Allen seems to be honestly genuine, which is rare to see in these types of movies. Her evolution of fright, to confusion, to uncomfortable acceptance, to compassion, and finally leading to all-out love is a joy to behold. Yet, it's Bridges that practically steals the show. His physicality is, simply put, brilliant. The way he moves, as if he is unaccustomed to all the joint, nerves, and muscle reflexes of humans is astonishing. He talks, almost as if there's a delay between the thought and the speech. The way he gradually eases into being human, while never fully getting a handle on all the simple motor functions is well worth the Oscar nod he received.

Carpenter wisely chooses to let the story unfold in the foreground, while the majestic landscapes in the background struggle to steal every scene. Sure, at times the film gets a little schmaltzy, but that's okay. It's a refreshing attempt at the Sci-fi genre, plus it furthers itself from the phrase, “E.T. Clone”.

Personally it's one of my favorites, even though it lacks the Carpenter staples. Maybe that's why I love it so. It was a bold attempt to try something different. Or maybe I should say try the same thing in a different way. Either way, it's a sweet movie with a wonderful underlying musical score and some gorgeous cinematography. Bridges will astound you and Karen Allen will remind you just how good she was never given the chance to be.

3.5 out of 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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March 14, 2008

"Rocketpack Dreams" -Thaddeus

There's a passage in the Bible where St. Paul writes: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

I hate that passage.

Now I'm sure, since I've never really read scripture, that I am somehow missing a greater context or symbolism or one of those other deep, meaningful things that I'm frequently too thick to pick up on... but the idea that what you are as a child isn't useful anymore when you're an adult is utter foolishness to me.

There's a place, in our hearts and our minds, where we go and while we're there we know that anything is possible -- that, with mere human hands, things of the imagination can be made real.

I believe in heroes because I believed in them as a child. I believe in flight and robots and aliens. I believe there's nothing we can't beat.


Dave Stevens died this earlier week.

Stevens created The Rocketeer. He did storyboards for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and for Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

The movie "The Rocketeer" is one of those things that stuck with me. Sure it wasn't a broad, commercial success, but it worked fine for me. Flight is one of those things that will win me over real easy. Flight and fighting Nazis.

Recently, one of my friends found a collection of "Rocketeer" comics. I read them and I watched the movie again and it was still magic.

We shouldn't let go of adventure, of our dreams, just because we're taller and have to buy our own food now.

Dave Stevens was a guy who gave me more to wish for and dream about, and so, in his honor, I'm telling all of you to take some time this weekend to look back at the things that lit a fire under your own imagination.

-Thad out

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March 12, 2008

"John Carpenter's They Live" DVD Review (3.5/5) - Jeremiah

Aliens have arrived on Planet Earth and disguised themselves as members of the Upper Class. The only way to see them, the subliminal messages they put out through advertising -- television et al. -- and their flying robots... are with pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. It's helpful to start saying that out loud, so you realize what you're dealing with.

Buried deep within all this absurdity, there lies, barely breathing, a message. “The Rich get richer and the Poor get poorer. Well no more! Eat hot molten lead, Alien SCUM!” It takes the movie about half an hour before it devolves into the classic Carpenter movie. But this doesn't take away from it; it's still hella-enjoyable.

How can you hate the movie with the first-class line: “I've come to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum!” The line is one thing by itself, but it's Roddy Piper's oddly syncopated delivery that immortalizes it.

On top of that, it has one of the best fight scenes ever. It's a bare knuckle fist fight between Nada (Piper) and Frank (Keith David), in an attempt to get Frank to put on the sunglasses. The fight lasts something like ten minutes. At first it's cool, then funny, then the longer it goes on the more entrancing it becomes. It's a scene where testosterone is wholly unleashed upon the screen. Never before have two men fought so hard, for so long, for so little. I mean, just put on the damn glasses.

Of course, the scene is a metaphor for how Nada only wantsFrank to wake up from his dream and see the truth... with a bitchin' body slam in the middle of it.

The glasses allow the wearer to see beyond the bombardment of subliminal messages in advertising. When Piper puts on the glasses, the screen goes to black and white. This effect is both cheap and really effective. All the billboards, and magazines say things like “Obey,” “Submit,” “Marry and Reproduce,” “Sleep.” My personal favorite was when he looked at a hand full of money with the glasses, and you see blank strips of paper that say, “This Is Your God”.

The aliens look just like you and me, until you put the glasses on, then they look like something of a medical book. They have watches that allow them to communicate with one another, and also allows them to teleport -- of course, they're Rolexes. One of the shortcomings of the movie, is that it never fully elaborates on where the Aliens came from. How do they look like us? Are they like chameleons? Are they a parasite of some sort? The movie glosses over this to get to the action. Which is mainly Piper and David hurtling one liners at people they are about to mow down in hail of shotgun shrapnel.

The idea is really cool, and sadly more relevant today than it was in 1988. Of all his movies that have been re-made, none of them cry out to be more so than “They Live.” In a society that has raised a non-entity such as Paris Hilton to it's highest echelon of celebrity, we are in desperate need of a wake up call. Our consumerism and our resilient belief that those who have more are better than us is even more outrageous than it was during the Regan era.

"They Live" is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Carpenter movies. Even his usual synthesizer music is almost non-existent. Oh it's there, let's not kid ourselves, but he decides to throw in some harmonica, giving the whole musical score a bluesy feel. It sets the mood to a pitch-perfect degree. His camera work, as per Carpenter, is taught and lax at the same time. Just watch the infamous fight scene; it's filmed and edited extremely well. You can give it all the crap you want about how it's so over the top manly it makes you wanna puke. But you can not deny the precision of the pacing of that scene.

This movie surprised me. I went in hoping I was going to be able to rip it a new one and, true to form, Carpenter won me over. He always does. The man is a bastard like that.

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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March 10, 2008

"Hotel Dusk: Room 215" Nintendo DS Review 4.5/5 -Richard

There has been a trend, on the Nintendo DS, of bringing back the point-and-click games of the NES days -- games like "Deja Vu" and "Maniac Mansion." This is evident in the "Phoenix Wright" and "Trauma Center" games of the past few years, but none are as blatant as Cing's game "Hotel Dusk: Room 215."

"Hotel Dusk: Room 215" is the successor to Cing's 2005 DS game "Trace Memory" and follows the same basic principal. You control the main character with the stylus, clicking on items to examine or collect them as well as to talk to other characters and collect information. After doing this, you use the items and information to solve puzzles and advance the plot. The difference is that you are no longer a little girl searching for her father, but an ex-New York cop working as a traveling salesman while trying to find information about your ex-partner.

The controls are straight-forward, but tend to be a little tedious at times. You never know what in a room is interactive until you move the styles over it. Still, the game does not suffer much because of it.

The music is your typical multi-channel midi arrangement that you see in most DS games, but they go an interesting route with primarily jazz arrangements, which really fits the Noir feel. Sound effects are almost non-existent.

The game has a great storyline, but what sets it apart are the characters. You have the jaded, middle-aged hotel manager and owner, a Latino maid and cook who keeps everything running, the ex-con bartender/bellhop and a plethora of interesting guests, each with their own intricacies and secrets. Every character is tied together; some have very obvious and open relationships and others are hidden and closely guarded.

The game is broken down in to chapters that take place between set times. One chapter might be 9:30PM-10:00PM while the next is 10:00PM-11:00PM and each chapter is broken up into three parts. Before you can advance to the next part, or time, you have to complete a series of objectives. This adds an element of real-time, or as close as you can expect. Some things may take you an hour or more to figure out, while the game has progressed only 10 minutes. Meanwhile, another section may require you to talk to someone which takes 5 minutes in real life, but progresses the story another 20 minutes. Still, this is a unique idea that plays very well.

The pros of the game definitely the plot and characters, while the cons are the controls and replay value. Once you play through the game the mystique is gone, and that is the main value of the game.

It may be a little hard to find, but if you do it will only run you $25 to $30. If you enjoy puzzle games or Noir stories, it is highly worthwhile -- a solid choice.

4.5 out of 5

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March 07, 2008

"John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13" DVD Review -Jeremiah (3.5 out of 5)

“In the meantime, I got this plan. It's called “Save Ass.” And the way it works is this – I slip outta one of these windows and I run like a bastard!”

You just don't get dialogue like that anymore. Hell, you could say the same thing about “John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.” Campy, low-budget, yet competently made movies are, sadly, a thing of the past. Nowadays, if they are low budget, they aren't made with a hand anywhere near as sure as Carpenter's. (sigh)

For being only his second film, it was actually pretty decent -- at times masterful, yet still falling short of being a masterpiece. All the Carpenter staples are there: from the wonderfully bad acting to the simplistic yet effective synthesizer music, With stops in the middle for an assortment of strangers flung together by fate to battle a rarely seen and impetuous evil.

The story is clear... sort of. Even Carpenter admitted some of the elements were “murky” on the DVD commentary. Ethan Bishop (the marvelously named Austin Stoker) is keeping a watch over a police house in the process of being decommissioned. With him are two sectaries/switchboard operators, Julie (Nancy Kyes) and Leigh (Laurie Zimmer). A Prison transfer bus stops by, because one of their prisoners is sick. While they are waiting the station is assailed by a gang. Killing all but two of the new arrivals. There is the nefarious Napoleon Wilson (with the prodigious name of Darwin Joston) and a prisoner known only as Wells (mundanely christened Tony Burton). Among the casualties are the warden, Starker ( the divine alliteration of Charles Cyphers).

Now you may be asking, “Why is this gang attacking this police station?” That's a perfectly fair question. Let's see if we can figure it out. It's either a.) One of their members was killed by Lawson (the blandly titled Martin West), the man who ran into the station. Granted, he shot the gang member because the gang member shot his little girl, Kathy (Kim Richards). So apparently this chain of events caused this gang to just charge our hapless heroes en masse. Or there's b.) Sunspots.

(stifling laughter) I love John Carpenter.

The acting is crap-tatic all around. The best performances come from Burton and Stoker. They manage to bring some energy, while everyone else seems to sleep walk through their roles. Yet the standout is Darwin Jotson. He is phenomenally bland, so much so that he becomes fascinating to watch. It's the Uncanny Valley Effect, which is essentially the theory that says once something reaches a certain point then becomes the opposite of what it is.

Now I would like to retract a statement from my previous essay. The statement was, "...he cannot resist the ever-fickle siren song known as the 'Casio keyboard.'" Upon listening to the DVD commentary and talking to some friends who are more musically inclined than myself, I realize I was in the wrong. When "Assault" was made, synthesizers were not as common as they are today. In fact, the recording process was such that you had to record one track for each chord, or something along those lines. In other words, while now we would just use a keyboard, back then it was a long and arduous mixing process. With this information it makes the movie's musical score all the more impressive. For while it sounds like the base line for a bad 80's dance song, it is, in fact, pretty good considering what he had to work with.

The movie has a wonderfully slow yet rapt pace to it. It is very much an urban western. Urban in setting and cast, but western in mood and style. In fact, Carpenter has cited "Rio Bravo" as a major influence. Indeed, the long pans of the local landscape and terse delivery of the dialogue only serve to prove that fact.

There is a scene I must mention, which stands out. It involves two prisoners trying to decide who goes on the suicide mission the group has come up with. They make the decision by playing an ancient hand jive game known as "Hot Potato." There's something uniquely entrancing about watching two grown men play this game. To give Carpenter his due: he manages to, in the midst of this absurdity, create a thin veil of suspense. Achieved through a mixture of cut-aways, slow zooms, and music. An early hint of his technical mastery.

The faceless army of gang members are seen as just that, faceless. They spend most of the movie obscured by shadows. Their reason for attacking our hapless heroes in a "kamikazi" fashion is loosely explained. They are trying to kill a bereaved father.

Yet can they really be that mad? Did they not expect some kind of retribution for killing a little girl? Especially from the father? Of course, there's always the "Sun Spots" theory. (smile)

There is a remake of, "Assault on Precinct 13". Unlike the remake of "Escape From New York," it is not by Carpenter. In fact, from what I've read it contains actual actors: the depressingly underrated Brian Dennehy, Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, among others. They have even given it a full blown plot, free of the murkiness of the original. Sadly, in the modern update there is no Napoleon Wilson.

What made the original soooo good was that it managed to be good in spite of itself. I guarantee the remake doesn't have anything half as original or bizarre as the "Hot Potato" scene, and that's a shame. Real plot, real actors... no fun. Talk about failure to understand the source material.

*** ½ out of *****

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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March 05, 2008

"How to Build a Robot Army" Book Review (5/5) -Thaddeus

We live in a world fraught with incredible dangers. Behind every corner, lurking within every shadow are unspeakable hordes of evil that threaten to tear down all that is good in the world and leave humanity as nothing more than a gored and shredded memory.

I've been saying this, loudly and often, for years now. And despite people decrying me as "unstable," "rambling" and "kind of a downer," I think I've found a kindred spirit in Daniel H. Wilson, Ph.D.

His latest book, "How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on Defending Planet Earth Against Alien Invaders, Ninjas, and Zombies," delivers a delicious mixture of technical information and entertainment. It's a primer on modern and future robotics, spiced with science fiction and pop-culture.

Aside from those threats mentioned in the title, Wilson also teaches readers how to take on mummies, pirates and the King of All Monsters: Godzilla (just to name a few), armed with nothing more than common, household robots (such as vacuums or toy dinosaurs) and stolen, military prototypes -- hey, if the world is crumbling around you, you can't afford to be burdened by useless and unweildly scruples.

Science is fantastic.

People forget that sometimes, but it's absolutely true... and it's absolutley essential to our progress as a species. That's why I highly recommend this book. It's informative and it's fun. Knowledge doesn't have to be dry -- you can enjoy learning things.

The slick illustrations by Richard Horne tie the perfect bow around the package; sharp, intelligent writing and a cool aesthetic... what's not to like?

Buy this book and read it. The future is here!


And, as a post-script, I give the same high recommendation to Wilson's previous books: "How to Survive a Robot Uprising" and "Where's My Jetpack?"

Though, if you're like me, you'll spend the rest of your life obsessing over the fact that we've had functional jetpack technology since the '60s... and whining to your friends about it... over and over.

-Thad out

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March 03, 2008

Director of the Month: John Carpenter -Jeremiah

What makes a director good, or even great? What defines a master of the cinematic craft?

There's no real answer. Different things work for different directors. What makes Kurosawa great, isn't what makes Wilder great. Herzog is different from Spielberg.

Every once and a while, I'll take a month and spotlight a director. For that month I'll only review movies by that director.

So the question you must be asking yourself now is, “Who's it going to be this month?”

In this first month, I'll be pleasing two masters: myself and, my fellow Three Geek member, Kloiber. He's been grumbling about how we've only been reviewing good movies. I don't see that as a vice really, but I understand where he's coming from.

The inaugural Director of the Month is John Carpenter.

I love Carpenter. He's on my Top 10 Favorites, but he's done some stinkers as well. “Ghosts of Mars” anyone? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

I love John Carpenter because, no matter what film it is, you can always tell that he's trying. He may be failing a lot, but you can just feel him trying. The man at least deserves an A+ for effort.

Carpenter is often cited for his success in merging science fiction with horror. I would like to add one more genre, one that he often mixes in along with science fiction and horror; that is the western. Look at “Escape From New York” or “Assault on Precinct 13”; the western element is so imposing that one wonders how this aspect of Carpenter's film-making is so often omitted.

He also exhibits a quirky obsession with stories where a small band of strangers are flung together in a remote location to do battle with an abrupt evil (Note: It may also be a group of friends, instead of the “strangers” scenario). But the constant plot staple is the group of people in an isolated area doing battle with evil, both unexpected and unseen.

Though he's one of my favorite directors, if you take any Carpenter movie and apply more than a grain of logic, the movie crumbles. That's part of the allure though. What fantastically ludicrous situation involving some random roving band of misfits will he come up with next!?

Technically, he's great. His minimalist style is reminiscent of Ford's or Hawks'. At times he channels Hitchcock. It's those damn actors that trip him up every time. He does wonders behind the camera, with lights and mood, and does a whiz-bang job in the editing room. But he cannot get a great performance out of an inexperienced actor or actress to save his life. They have to be established, or at least used to working with him to really turn in a good performance: Kurt Russell, Donald Pleasence, Wilford Brimley, Harry Dean Stanton (choirs of Angels sing), Jamie Lee Curtis, Jeff Bridges, Adrienne Barbeau (again with the angels), and so on.

If they're new, or the type of actor that needs help or some coaching of some type, then they're... well not bad, but Carpenter bad. They're charmingly bad. You watch them, and you kind of go, “'re so bad.” But Carpenter is also a master of statistics: nine times out of ten, you forgive them and just go with the flow.

That's his real genius: his ability to make you forget. He could probably find better actors, but instead he makes you savor what he chose. I'm positive it's some kind of weird, hammy, voodoo magic.

In addition to writing, directing and producing, he is also a musical composer. Carpenter seems enthralled by that ever fickle siren known as the “Casio keyboard.” His strange obsession with electronic overtures is another part of his charm. True, he misses more times than he hits, but when he hits we get simple masterpieces such as the theme from “Halloween.” His music is often very simple, yet, when done right, eerily effective.

Carpenter has a phenomenal talent for working on a shoestring budget. In fact, this is one of the few things that sets Carpenter apart from his peers. More than likely, he works so well with so little because of his minimalist style. His wonderfully conservative economy of shots, lean story elements and subtext-free dialogue.

To contradict his love of minimalism is his undying affliction with “the name-title” syndrome. I find it to be a cute little eccentricity. It's not just “The Fog,” it's “John Carpenter's The Fog.” It's his little nod to the old days. Or, some people might say, that's him being courteous and giving you a warning. But those people are called bastards.

He is considered by many to be a hack. I disagree. He can be great; most of the times he's good. Always interesting in some form or another. His overlooked “Prince of Darkness,” while not perfect (or really all that good) has one of the most unique plots in recent history. If he fails to deliver -- well, sometimes... that's Carpenter. That's part of the fun with him. It's like a crap shoot, “Is Carpenter going to suck tonight?” Who knows? Hell, he probably doesn't even know.

He seems to be surprisingly down to earth. Oddly accessible to fans, he can always be found doing a Q&A at some convention or other. His love for the cinema is matched only by his love for his audience.

Speaking of which, a Carpenter fan is liable to be an interesting conversation partner. They range from the “I love him, but he's done some real garbage” to the “Carpenter! He is my MASTER! I serve him and only him!” The last one you obviously want to be wary of... unless you're into that kind of thing. Whatever, I'm not judging.

In short, this month is going to be quite the adventure. I'll be watching some of his lesser-known works, as well as his most popular. A nice little mixture, I hope. The kick off movie will be, “Assault on Precinct 13”.

So... you ready to take the Carpenter gamble with me?

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


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