Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Paper 2: Just Topia

Just Topia

My story is presented more in a short story format as I got a little too into it while writing it.  I feel the story represents the idea well enough to lend itself to a film adaptation.  Some context not explicitly stated in the story I’d like to go over to turn this into a more comprehensive treatment is as such.  The story is most definitely taking place in fairly present day in a purposefully non-descript moderately sized city in the United States.  The collection of characters briefly described is a small group of adults in their mid to late twenties of various backgrounds.  Most likely a group of friends brought together through school, past jobs and mutual acquaintances.  The important part of their relationships with each other is that they don’t build their friendship off of the usual exchange of life experiences and quality time spent together but rather the draw of common interest in a select few activities.  The point that in “real life” they wouldn’t all get along, due to clashing ideologies and personalities, is paramount.  They get together solely for the purpose of enacting these ritualistic practices, engaging in versions of the same debates, watching iterations of the same bad movie, falling into their own tropes. 
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It may not be a basement, per se, but it might as well be.  I think it is technically a sunroom but we haven't allowed the sun in since I can remember.  This group, our group, is about what you would expect.  Or maybe not. I don't even know what the cliché is anymore.  We go to our respective jobs, interacting within normal social parameters until we get to come here.  In any other circumstance we probably wouldn't be able to stand each other.  Conflicting political, social, spiritual ideologies but in this space those things are beyond secondary.  I feel like people try to define and distinguish nerds and geeks and the losers of our kind but it doesn't matter.  We share the obsessive compulsive devotion to these things and feed off of each other.  The worst thing would be to try and explain it to someone else.  I don't know how to justify the continual and monumental waste of time that occurs when we get together.  I'm not going to defend it either.  But I'm here again.  In the dark sun room with the same people about to have the same conversations.  But not the painful elevator small talk co-worker babel that I can often feel sucking the life force out of me when I get cornered in the break room or get stuck with an overly chatty cashier.  These discussions may be repetitive but they are the only ones that make me feel alive.  The ones that make me feel close to another human being.  I'm not that distant of a person, I don't have overarching social problems.  This is just where it is comfortable.  

And as I settle into the same couch divot that I do every Friday night I am overwhelmed with conflicting feelings of relief and dread.  I know exactly what is going to happen but I almost look forward to it.  Juan and Victorian gave me a causal glance of recognition when I first came through the door but it isn't until I assume my readied stance do they actually talk to me.  Nothing of note is exchanged as we know we'd just have to fill anyone else in as they arrived.  Headlights reflect through the room as a car pulls into the drive.  
"TJ" I mutter before Victorian even has the moment to ask who is next to the ritualistic party.  His car has a very distinctive whine every time he pulls up.  That or I am just hyper observant or painfully optimistic.  But it is him.  He lingers outside, finishing his cigarette, before he finally comes in.  We are never overly excited to see each other.  There is no surprise of relief.  We all know we are going to be here.  Again we kill time with work updates and family matters.  These are the real life topics we don't mind missing if we're late.  An occurrence that always happens to Brendon and Rena.  Last to arrive but always the ones to kick things off.  They always arrive together, as they are never apart.  They aren't married but even if they were it would fall short of describing their relationship.  Co-dependant sounds so condescending.  I wouldn't consider it necessarily a bad thing.  But then again I have adapted to quite the opposite.  Now that we've all assembled Brendon places his hand firmly on the table and asks "Well what first?"

The night spirals out into match ups of card games and video game tournaments.  When our cognitive processes no longer allow us to make intelligible decisions we collect around the couch and begin the arduous process of browsing Netflix.  Between our collective viewing history, TJ's aversion to subtitles and Brendon's downright refusal of half of the content for looking lame it regularly takes us a full theatrical run time to come to a decision.  Through the course of whatever awful B-movie we ended up on this time Victorian leaves, Rena and Brendon fall asleep on the couch and I have a full internal meltdown.
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It didn’t come all at once. This has had to have been brewing in the recesses of my compulsive behavior for a long time.  I just can’t understand why now.  It was just another stupid movie.  I fail to remember the details, the plot, any character of note.  I’m just overcome with resentment.  Why isn’t this my life?  The simplicity of what Hollywood lets us know the future will hold.  Sure halfway through the movie everything goes to hell and the robots take control and we all die but before that.  The establishment of the utopia.  I am suddenly grappling with the meekness of what we have been presented.

The walk home is excruciating.  Nothing fills my mind but the failure of the human race.  We can’t solve any of our own problems.  Have we really matured that far beyond the days of caves and fire?  We can’t cure anything, people die by the hundreds of thousands from the same diseases.  Cancer mocks us for the primitive beings we are.  We don’t know our own world so how could we possibly earn the right to explore others?
There was a time, there around the sixties maybe, where this seemed possible.  We had suddenly breached our own atmosphere and actually touched the infiniteness of space.  If we just could continue down that path.  If science wouldn’t keep telling us that warp speed impossible, life in zero gravity impractical and food replicators improbable.  The sting of the night air doesn’t even faze me until now.  I’m several blocks off course as I have been far too in my own head.  The familiar glow of a convince store brings me in and gives me a moment to breathe.
A pack of cigarettes and a cardboard cup of stale coffee later my heart rate has returned to normal.  Again outside I peel the cellophane off the box.  It sticks to my fingers for a moment before being carried off to roll with the other sidewalk refuse.  I lean back onto the cold glass storefront as I light a cigarette.  The first draw reminds me why I don’t regularly smoke but the second reminds me why I always come back.  The inhale gives me a moment of peace.  I extend my arm out to watch the smoke curl off the tip when the noise shatters my calm.  That sound bring back everything I just repressed, everything I was coming to terms with.  But there it is, the automatic sliding door of the convenience store, mocking me.  This is the extent of the progress we’ve made.  It isn’t even one with a motion sensor.  It has the God damn pressure sensor in the pad on the ground.  This isn’t what I asked for.  I’ll argue all day against flying cars but where are the sleek jumpsuits of the future?  The solving of food shortages and outbreaks of whatever.  I’m not even sure what I’m mad about anymore but I know I’m not letting it go.
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The whole point of the progression is that after all these years of watching what the future should have become we are stuck realizing that we haven’t come that far.  The model homes of the future dreamt up in the fifties never happened.  What people thought the year 2000 would look like falls so very short.  We are still plagued with many of the same systemic problems society has dealt with.  My idea for the progression of the story leads down the proverbial rabbit hole when you stop accepting the status quo.  Not in the revolutionary sense, just from the angle of a frustrated nerd who has consumed too much media promising something so much better.  The automatic coffee maker, the self-check out at the grocery store, automated customer service.  This won’t be tolerated any longer and the mental breakdown that brings this along is subtle and obsessive.

Outside Film review 2: This Island Earth/MST3K

The movie This Island Earth is a classic low budget 1950’s sci-fi film.  It has become a cult classic due to its B-movie terribleness.  It has its own following for good reason but what I really want to talk about is Mystery Science Theatre.  I am hoping you are familiar with the show but on the off chance that you aren’t they would find old crappy B movies to lampoon over.  During the success of the show they did a theatrical release movie and they chose This Island Earth as their subject.  What I find to be so important about this is that in their making fun of “bad” movies they have widened the audience for such a genre.  I can’t tell you how many obscure old sci-fi films I have watched because of Mystery Science Theatre.  Movies I would have never wasted my time on due to their age and genre.  But in between laughing at their jabs at the gaping plot holes, terrible acting and sub-par sets you are seeing pieces of cinema history.  Some of these films were very popular in their time and have just haven’t aged well.  Some of these movies are so bizarre they explore totally different ways to look at sci-fi.
This Island Earth doesn’t break too many molds.  It was well received during its release and was one of the first major science fiction films to be made in Technicolor.  But it should have been a movie to disappear into obscurity as bigger films of note took their place in sci-fi history.  But it hasn’t, with the riffing of the Mystery Science Theatre crew it has a cemented place in the discussion of what sci-fi was and what it will be.  Any movie MST3K touched has become a part of the curated timeline of cinema.  I may sound preachy but seriously, who would ever watch The Beast of Yucca Flats or Eega if there wasn’t a goofy gag reel to go along with it.  But by making fun of them they are exposing them to a much, much wider audience.  All hail Joel, Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. Amen.

Outside Film review 1: Galaxy Quest

I am still sort of surprised we didn’t watch this movie.  It would have fit in so well with Fan Boys and Trekkies.  I think a lot of the brilliance of Galaxy Quest comes from a lot of the same things that make Starship Troopers so great.  The ability to comment on an entire genre while being a self contained thing is just brilliant.  Galaxy Quest has the whole meta thing going for it, being about a sci-fi television show that is mistaken as real life.  The depictions of the characters at the convention, reprising their roles for the rest of their lives, fit right in with Trekkies.  After appearing in the cult phenomenon of a show they can never break away from that character professionally.  And to the aliens these actors are the characters they portrayed.  Tim Allen’s character obviously lives for this while Alan Rickman is haunted by it.  Much of this has happened to the cast of Star Trek in real life, forever recognized as their characters. 
Being able to openly acknowledge the tropes of a sci-fi show like Star Trek gives Galaxy Quest a lot of depth.  Sam Rockwell’s character is so paranoid of dying due to the propensity of no-name red shirt characters to be killed off the show.  The Omega 13 device was built because it just happened to be in the TV show.  And the crew of super fans headed by Justin Long having an obsessive and extensive knowledge of the show ends up saving them in real life.  I think it is interesting to note that the events of the movie and the fanaticism of the convention goers leads to the show being rebooted at the end, much like the fate of Star Trek launching the Next Generation series due to such fan devotion.

The movie shows off what a fan base ends up doing for a series.  As more and more media realizes that their relationship with the consumer is the most important aspect of being successful the more appreciation for the fan base you see.  The aliens in Galaxy Quest are the ultimate fans, structuring their whole existence over this show.  And it is due to their obsession that leads to the revival of the show, after you know, almost getting them killed but that is beside the point.  While being a cute/fun movie Galaxy Quest makes interesting note of the symbiotic relationship between fans and their media.  I mean, fans of the one season ratings flop Firefly were so die hard that they got the show a movie deal.  A show or movie that acknowledges and supports its fans is one that tends to have better success.  With the plethora of options in entertainment more and more studios are making specific efforts to connect with viewers to try and achieve that Trekkies level of fanaticism, even if only because in the end it means more money.  But it would be nice to think that some of the motivation comes from wishing to share in that cultural exchange.  


Now, I have seen Primer multiple times and I still can't say I know what's going on all the time.  It blows my mind that the movie was made on such a low budget and essentially just pieced together by the friends of writer/director/actor Shane Carruth.  Again, we are dealing with multiple versions of the same person.  How do you know which is the real you when you can splice through time like that?  What happens to you if the other version of you is injured?  Time travel comes with so many questions but this movie deals with them in a fairly realistic way.  It is funny to see of course the first thing they try and do is make money.  It seems to be human nature but we all know how that turned out for Marty McFly.  The way the movie was shot has that hazy feel of being a little disoriented and jaded which fits so well with the subject matter.  It is am awesome work of sci-fi by such a skeleton crew you can't help but admire it even if you are still scratching your head a bit.  I know I am.


I really like Sam Rockwell regardless but he really killed it in this movie.  His two versions of same are played so differently you can tell which one it is just by the way he carries himself.  I can understand why they had written this knowing they wanted him to play Sam.  The use of models of CGI gives an almost nostalgic feel to this movie.  The little rovers on the moon are almost cute but you can feel that empty feeling of space.  Did I not mention Kevin Spacey yet?  Oh man, his voice can give so much depth to a little robot with emoticon faces.  Just killer preformances in general.  The storyline is nice, playing right into the theme of duplicity that the last few films have been dealing with.  In regards to clones it is easy to see that they are individual people.  Even with the same genetics and memories they are two seperate people with different thoughts and ambitions.  Highly enjoyable and a great way to close out the semester.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Another Earth

This film was a bit of a mixed bag.  While definitely not falling to many of the sci-fi tropes it doesn’t read, to me, like much of a sci-fi film.  It used the backdrop of sci-fi to tell its story, some sort of drama, romance, independent film existential crisis story.  The film falls short of the opportunity to really explore the interesting idea of meeting your other self.  A planet of exact replicas of ourselves.  The movie focuses on the relationship between Rhoda and John, turning it into a downright uncomfortable love plotline.  Sleeping with the man whose family you unintentionally killed just doesn’t sit right.  I feel that so many movies with potential lose it due to the incessant need to add romance into every genre.  The film comes so close to dealing with the implications of other life in the universe.  Not just any life but the exact copy of our own.  The broken mirror theory proposed in the film is so incredibly compelling but is used as a plot device for Rhoda to redeem herself to John.  I would much rather explored the facisnating concept of getting to talk to not only someone that looks just like you, but has shared all the same life experiences that you have.  Once the two planets have discovered each other and subsequently traveled to one another what does that change?  Do the people no longer share that connection or are their lives so intertwined that one might lose their free will, succumbing to the same fate as their double?  Such a cool concept wasted on the relationship between the main characters.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Catching Fire

The second installment of the Hunger Games continues along many of the same lines as the first.  Katniss is a rare female lead character.  Many of the reviews we read praised the series for painting such a strong female role model in a film.  However, I always feel her character lacks the agency to be a true heroine.  Sure she is strong and independent but her character is chiefly concerned with other people, namely her two love interests.  While she doesn’t fall victim to the typical love sick teenager routine she still bases the majority of her actions around how it will affect her relationships with them.  She is not interested in being a leader or fronting the revolution that builds around her.  She would rather accept the status quo so long as her family and boyfriends are placated. 

Despite that criticism it still is a forward move for the fantasy/sci-fi genre.  She is a positive character, especially for young girls, capable of providing for herself and the ones she cares for.  And she does eventually join the cause, somewhat unknowingly.  She is fierce and stubborn and does not fit the bill of the majority of teenage female characters.