“You’re Quite A Good Chicken Strangler As I Recall”

I cannot watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope without being fascinated by the cityscape of New York City (1948) in the background.

The clouds move slowly by, the lights flicker off and on, and it’s hard to believe that it’s just an elaborate model. (Yeah, it looks like an extremely elaborate model, but Technicolor is like that.)

I mean that tonight you’ve made me ashamed of every concept I’ve ever had about inferior and superior beings. I thank you for that shame.

The Pauline Kael “Nobody I Know Voted For Nixon” Award

Even though it’s pretty well established that she didn’t actually say it as it’s commonly reported, like fictitious suicidal lemmings and boiling frogs, Pauline Kael will be forever known as saying nobody she knew voted for Nixon, and symbolizing the New York City dweller’s out-of-touchness with the rest of the country (which voted for Nixon in one of the great electoral and popular massacres of American history).

I therefore institute the Pauline Kael Award for Insularity, and make its first nominee yet another NY Times writer, Dan Ariely, for his article “Eyes off the Price”.

Mr Ariely suggests that it’s the very act of watching the price go up that makes us more sensitive to price increases there than other places. That we don’t notice the other prices going up because we don’t spend the money in the same way.

Really? If you’ve got a bunch of kids and they go through a gallon of milk a day, you think you don’t notice the price going from $2.99 on average to $4.29 in six months–as happened between January 2007 when the ethanol push started, and June 2007?

You don’t notice the weekly food bill going from $250 to $350 over a year? You don’t notice the water and power bill when it spikes?

Five years ago gas was under $2 and today it’s over $4, which makes the increase considerably greater than the increase in milk prices (albeit less condensed).

That’s why we notice.

The people who don’t notice price hikes in other items are people with lots of disposable income they’re not paying much attention to. (I suppose you could be someone without a lot of disposable income whose not paying much attention to it, too, but eventually it’ll up and slap you in the face.)

I dunno, maybe I’m off-base. But not everyone drives. Most everyone eats. The food price spike probably hurts a lot more.

Graphic Nouvelle

In the Dark Knight Consterns post, Trooper brings up one of his favorite points: That comic book movies are good now because the people doing them are people who understand and like them.

To which I would only add: And technology makes possible reasonable approximations of the graphics in those comic books. You can’t make a movie about The Human Torch if you can’t come up with a reasonable looking man-on-fire effect. You can’t do a Superman movie unless you can reasonably make it look like one or two normal sized humans can incidentally trash a large city.

Another issue, however, is costumes. What comic book artists do is draw naked human bodies and color in where the costumes would be. Real life costumes, of course, hide definition. Take, for example, Superman.

Besides the bicep definition and the pronounced ribs, he’s impossibly barrel-chested. Compare to Chris Reeve, who bulked up for his role as The Man of Steel.

He looks almost scrawny, doesn’t he? This is a still, so he’s in the best light they could put him in. In the movie he almost looks slender. Probably few, if any, humans actually have even an approximation of that form.

And Brandon Routh’s not much better. Although obviously in superb condition, there’s no way to create a fabric that doesn’t hide definition.

Batman, on the other hand, started out pretty slender, and ultimately grew into Frank Miller’s monstrosity. Miller, of course, is not what you’d call “naturalistic” in his styles. The angrier The Batman gets in The Dark Knight Returns, the broader and squarer his jaw gets. In this picture, here, he’s actually dwarfing the horse he’s riding on.

There were early actors who wore Batman’s gray suit, culminating in Adam West–100% pure West. But by the time Keaton rolled around, they were adding fake muscles to the suit. Bale’s Batman outfit is, at least, supposed to be bulletproof, giving some justification for the articulated look.

Meanwhile, if you take a bodybuilder and paint a costume on him, the look is much closer, though without the exaggerated V-shape of the torso, and of course without the scale alterations. (Comic book artists change the size of the hero for dramatic effect, which is a little dodgy in live action.)

(You knew that, right?)

Curiously (heh), the X-Men movies go this route for Mystique who, I believe, is usually depicted as wearing a long dress (though split on both sides to the hip). Rebecca Romijn hardly needs clothing, however. Does she look like a superhero? Who cares. We haven’t seen hot blue chicks since the original Star Trek.

The X-Men movies made a lot of successful visual changes from the comic books. Could we take even Hugh Jackman (that guy’s ackman is huge!) seriously if he were in yellow-and-blue spandex with giant eye-flarey-thingies? (Seriously, what is up with those?)

Another X-Men character is Dark Phoenix. Here’s an inspirational photo.

Here’s the lovely Famke Janssen in that role, though looking a bit less provocative.

And lastly here’s our friend with the camera and models who like to be painted. Stirring, no? This guy’s flickr page has a set of superheros, including higher-resolution versions.

The point, of course, is that one medium (comic book art) uses tricks that don’t translate to other mediums.

Cthulhu ’08

At long last. The coveted Bit Maelstrom endorsement goes this year–as it does every year–to that Elder God of Unfathomable Evil, Cthulhu!I have to wonder: Can a guy possibly get elected President when all the focus is on the other guy. Love him or hate him, Obama’s got all the attention.

I loved this take off his logo, which you can buy on assorted merchandise at Cafe Press.

That Leftist Media

As mentioned, I prefer my entertainment politics-free, and would argue that the early Simpsons episodes were better in part because they focused on social satire rather than partisan clap humor. Springfield used to remind me of the classic tales of Gotham, in that it transcended cheap political points.

When the bias gets really deep, it comes through even when the writers probably don’t even realize they’re taking a side.

As a case in point, recent episodes of both The Family Guy and The Simpsons featured situations where the local government was going to do something really swell, and it was only going to cost a penny (or a nickel, or somesuch). The townspeople react with horror and hysteria.

Ha ha. The government, no matter how much money it has, never seems to have enough in some people’s view. (Back in the old days, there was often at least a nod to government corruption and incompetence. But now it’s just “look how dumb people are, they don’t want to pay more taxes”.)

Normally, not only do I not notice this stuff, but when I do, it doesn’t bother me because almost any story can be looked at as an individual set of circumstances. For example, our soldiers have done terrible things (in every war in our history), but those acts are outweighed by the everyday heroism–and the fact that they’re probably less inclined to do such acts for their demographic groups, all other factors controlled for.

But still, it’s legitimate to tell a story about bad behavior among soldiers. It’s when every story is about bad behavior that you begin to suspect the world view–or intentions–of the people making them.

Well, not really. A Hollywood writer being left wing is hardly man bites dog.

But I did think of it when I saw this over at Protein Wisdom.

California state government spent $145 billion last fiscal year, $41 billion more than four years ago when Gov. Gray Davis got recalled by voters. With all that new spending — a whopping 40% increase — we ought to be in a golden age of government with abundant public services for all.

So why does it seem like the quality and quantity of government is not all that different from 2004? How many of us feel like we are getting 40% more public services, 40% better schools, roads, parks and so on?

When the gov’t takes 40% more to deliver the same services, but threatens us whenever they get less money–and always from core services–I think the viewpoint of the public being stingy is about as funny as a “stoopid Bush” joke.

And as insightful.

Ugly Cartoons

I never got into “Ren and Stimpy”. It was my kind of humor (in parts), it was targeted at my demographic, even, but…it was ugly. I don’t mean content-wise, which was a combination of juvenille and surreal, but the actual graphics were.

But I blame it for the rash of ugly cartoons that have persisted to this day. Many use similar techniques that John K. pioneered (not all of them unaesthetically).

I shouldn’t say “blame”, since I just don’t watch shows like that. There’s a new one called “The Misadventures of Flapjack” which reminds very strongly of R&S.

I’m not sure where the line is or when I drew it. I love, for example, “Duckman”, though that’s right on the ragged edge. I watched the crudely drawn “Home Movies” faithfully, the Hanna-Barbera styled “Sealab 2021”, and I can even endure “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”. (Except for “Duckman”, these are all Adult Swim programs.)

Meanwhile, I can’t watch “Tom Goes to the Mayor” or “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!”, even though there are a lot of names I like associated with it. Same with “Metalocalypse”.

I used to watch Adult Swim pretty faithfully, but it’s to the point where 80% of the shows are just ugly.

Time Flies

It looks like I haven’t posted all week, but I realize now that’s because I started the post-apoco top 10 on Monday and posted it on Wednesday, but blogger kept the Monday date.

I was playing with that format a bit, too. It’s a fair amount of work. The pictures all link to Amazon, yet Amazon itself does not host the images. Those are actually on my server. I could’ve uploaded them to blogger, but blogger wanted to change the size. And I looked at uploading them to an image hosting site, but I didn’t see an image hosting site that would let me upload all 12 images at once.

So I just copied them to my local server. One day, the pictures may be gone, but they’ll still link to Amazon.

I was thinking of doing a “top 10 Old Dark House” movie list. This was a genre that had its heyday in the 19th century and devolved into camp in the early 20th century. This PBS site has Poe’s Usher as the first ODH, but I think you can trace the genre back to the Gothic novels of Walpole (like Castle of Otranto) and Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. (The beauty of 18th and 19th century literature is that you can read it for free online.)

As the link notes, Mary Robert Rinehart’s wildly popular play “The Bat”–the real life inspiration for The Batman, as well as Bruce Wayne’s inspiration for the Batman costume–was probably the beginning of the end for the ODH. The tropes used so permeated society–books, movies and tons of old radio shows–that they became mundane and impossible to fear. It became easier to play it for laughs than play it straight–and worry about getting the laughs anyway.

As a result, the otherwise effective The Cat and the Canary is ruined by Bob Hope’s quipping. (Or saved by it, depending on your point of view.)

The ODH persists, though it has mutated somewhat. Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster is a late attempt at playing the ODH straight. William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts are reasonably straight attempts. There’s nothing straight about Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the ODH influence is strong there.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. More later on.

Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Movies and TV Shows

Good Post Apocalyptic movies are rare. Every dime store wannabe Roger Corman (including Roger Corman) makes a post-apocalyptic movie because it’s cheap. All you need is a handful of actors and a desolate shooting location and, voila, it’s the end of the world as we know it (and I’m not feeling so good).

I didn’t count the Terminator movies since they actually take place, for the most part, in the pre-apocalypso. I also don’t count Planet of the Apes, since for all intents and purposes it takes place on a different planet. The same goes for Time Machine. In other words, if it’s so far post-apocalyptic that there’s nothing left of the original civilization, it doesn’t really count.

You won’t find that first serious post-nuke movie, On The Beach, on this list, because two hours of “Waltzing Matilda” makes waterboarding seem humane by comparison. And it’s really “mid-apocalyptic” like The Day After. And, for the record, Glass’s Einstein on the Beach defines “inane”.

So, the basic rule is there has to be a complete breakdown of existing society, but enough time for some new form of rudimentary society has to have risen that recalls and clings to the old but is fragile and primitive. Scope is usually large and time is usually from ten to a hundred years or so, but that’s not necessary (see the list).

Anyone remember Ark II? It was largely forgettable SatAM moralizing about the environment but I never did actually forget it, because the Ark itself was parked in a lot visible from the 101 as you head downtown. Also, they had a jet pack.

Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Movies & TV Shows
(With The Caveat That I Haven’t Seen More Than A Few Minutes Of “Jericho”)

1. Road Warrior: Mad Max 2

Can there be any doubt? The ‘80s were the glory days of action, and this movie spawned a horde of imitators. Italian teens in grungy armor running through warehouses and crap like that. But it’s a solid story, with action that really holds up.

The first Mad Max was so-so–make sure you don’t watch the version where Mel Gibson and the other Aussie-accented ones are dubbed–and the third one (Beyond Thunderdome) was pretty good, and arguably should be included on the list.

2. Wall-E

You know, you don’t get a lot of family-oriented “post apocalyptic” movies. “I know! Let’s make a movie for the kids about how the world has come to an end!” This is a unique accomplishment discussed twice on this blog already.

3. A Boy and his Dog
This is probably the only movie based on a Harlan Ellison work that actually captures the guy’s cynical, misanthropic, but highly amusing attitude. A young Don Johnson cavorts around the wasteland with his telepathically linked dog, until he’s given a chance to rejoin society, a weird midwestern small town ca. 1935 that happens to be underground. Jason Robards co-stars. The end features the worst pun in movie history.

You can watch this or download it free online here.

4. The Matrix

Over-rated and seriously tarnished by the two sequels, which played like movies done by people who had read and believed all the great things other people were saying about them. Nonetheless, a watershed action film that holds up well over time.

This is a somewhat dubious entry as post-apocalyptic because there is obviously a new order; it’s more “alien invasion” in a lot of ways. But the underground life of the surviving humans is very typical of post-apoco movies, and the Matrix itself assures that the previous civilization is never forgotten.

5. 28 Days Later

Return of the Living Dead did it first, but director Danny Boyle made fast-moving zombies fashionable. Bonus points for animal rights terrorists causing the end of civilization. Actually, probably the only film on the list that’s got a plausible post-apocalpytic story, made possible I think because it’s only a month after the end of the world.

Yes, I know, it’s only the British Isles that end but, while global apocalypses are the norm, any isolated area where civilization’s ability to intervene is highly limited can also work. (See #9 below.) You could argue, for example, that Lord of the Flies is post-apocalyptic, in a way.

6. Dawn of the Dead

Speaking of zombies, Romero’s second zombie film is still pretty funny and fast-paced, despite the heavy-handed social commentary that’s as dated as a tie-dyed shirt.

Night of the Living Dead–probably the grandfather of modern horror–is mid-apocalypse (and they don’t even know it). Day of the Dead and later movies get increasingly heavy-handed, resulting in things like the ludicrous Land of the Dead: A good movie with a ridiculous premise that we should learn to co-exist with zombies.

Nonetheless, Romero makes a good movie every now and again, mostly about zombies. (Knightriders is a solid picture, often overlooked.) And Dawn of the Dead is easily one of his best.

7. The Last Man On Earth

Vincent Price in the original rendition of Richard Matheson’s tale, later to be remade with Charlton Heston as Omega Man, and again with Will Smith under its actual title, I Am Legend.

Omega is way too hippie, though. It has become camp over time. I Am Legend is a typically facile modern remake done up big budget with lots of CGI and not a lot of heart, riding on Smith’s charisma. And I’m sure I’ll feel that way even after I see it.

Yes, the Price version is very low budget, stagey and a little slow. I still prefer it. Make your own damn list if you don’t like it.

8. “Day of the Triffids” (1981 BBC TV mini-series)

Low budget, shot on video, but remarkably effective telling of John Wyndham’s story of alien plants run amok. Previously made in America with Janette Scott in a not very good movie, immortalized by the theme from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

9. “Twilight Zone” (various episodes)

TZ rocked so hard that they could have the pre-apocalypse, apocalypse and post-apocalypse in one episode. You know what I’m talking about: Burgess Meredith and his famous glasses. But there were other good pre-, post- and mid-apocalyptic shows. Arguably, the very first episode is post-apocalyptic. Then there’s “Two” with, I think, Elizabeth Montgomery. Etc.

The famous Billy Mumy episode, “It’s a Good Life”, where little Billy wishes people into the cornfield, actually fits pretty well into the post-apoco category. The town is completely isolated and the order is sort of a mockery of what it was.

10. Wizards

Wildly uneven, hippy-tastic, cheaply made and crude, Wizards is still one of my favorite films. In a post-apocalyptic world, the forces of good, represented by a magic wizard, hot faerie chicks and asian looking warriors, do battle against the forces of evil, represented by mutants and technology and lots of Nazi stuff.

Ham-handed? Sure. But it’s also ridiculously accurate about the desire of some for a world where magic makes technology unnecessary.

Besides which, it’s fast, funny, and–where it’s not terribly hard to look at because it’s so cheap–very fun to look at.

10. Death Race 2000
Sharing 10th place with Wizards is the campy ’70s flick Death Race 2000 with David (heh, put “Bill” there originally) Carradine and Sylvester Stallone as racers in a future where glory comes from a cross-country road race, where points are assigned by the number and kind of pedestrians you hit.

Paul Bartel’s film is not aging all that well, again having that sort of ham-handed hippy-esque anti-America feel, but maybe, for what it is–a $300K film with a relatively interesting premise made in the high ’70s–it’s aging pretty well after all.

Paul W.S. Anderson (whose Resident Evil series didn’t make the top 10) is remaking this movie as Death Race with Jason Statham and Joan Allen. ISYN.

Honorable Mention: Korgoth of Barbaria

There’s only been one episode of this funny, funny show, but it’s well worth watching if you can find it, and lack any sort of good taste. It’s basically a high fantasy setting, but it’s post-apocalyptic (ike Wizards, which it rather resembles) and has plenty of modern references for humor and plot reasons.

This brain child of Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Clone Wars) and Aaron Springer (Spongbob Squarepants) features over-the-top violence, dumb jokes and plain ol’ slapstick. Somehow, it all works.

Serious Examination of Alternative Energies

Before the Left made everything personal, it was possible to examine some issues from a purely scientific point-of-view. Steven Den Beste did a great post on his now defunct USS Clueless about what it an alternative energy source needs in order to be a major contender.

His recent recap is here. Here are the five bullet points, though:

  • It has to be huge (in terms of both energy and power)
  • It has to be reliable (not intermittent or unschedulable)
  • It has to be concentrated (not diffuse)
  • It has to be possible to utilize it efficiently
  • The capital investment and operating cost to utilize it has to be comparable to existing energy sources (per gigawatt, and per terajoule).

Then he gives the bummer news that only petroleum, nuclear, coal and hydro power meet all five criteria.

I think this stuff is important, because recent arguments about power tend to be abstract. If we could live on nothing but solar, I doubt anyone would be against that. But just in terms of how much energy actually hits the earth from the sun, we need a very, very, very large area covered with solar cells indeed. (Think in terms of, say, an area the size of the state of Georgia.) And that’s true even if we could get (an impossible) 100% efficiency. (You’d need something like 40 times the surface area of your car in solar panels to make it usable.)

Instapundit and Slashdot both regularly run features on improving solar technology efficiency, which is something I welcome (I think if it were about 10X more efficient than it is now, I could justify using it here), but you do come hard up against physics at some point.

This isn’t a reason to stop looking for better sources of energy–though I am a gasoline fan.

Freed from the constraints of engineering and physics, I can imagine a massive solar sail-like thing–bigger ‘n’ Texas–positioned somewhere above the earth that captures all kinds of solar energy and beams it down to a local power station.

How do we get that much solar material and how do we beam it? I dunno. I’m an “idea man”. The details I leave to you.