Paranormal Activity

Halloween being here it was a good time to take in a scary flick. So it was off to the theaters to check out PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. What I really liked was how subtle it was. It seems like most of the horror flicks nowadays are over the top gore fests. This movie got the entire audience to jump in their seats from a door slamming.

I want you to roll that around in your head for a bit.

The movie does fly in the face of every other horror flick to come down the pipe recently. This isn't a super slick production. This isn't CGI every other frame. It's certainly not gory, in fact there's very little blood throughout the entire movie.

So why is it scary? PARANORMAL ACTIVITY does an excellent job of making the viewer believe that this is really happening to someone and it could happen to you. It makes you question the sounds you hear at night. There's been a lot of comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT which are fair considering the style in which the movie was shot. The great thing here and what sets this movie apart is the camera work. It doesn't bounce all over the place. You can easily follow what what is going on.

Too often with horror and action films the directors recently have been using a quick cut style. It give a sense of the chaos that is going on within that scene. That's not done at all here. With the quick cut style the audience is left having to decipher what they saw. "What the hell just happened?" Here it is clear but still makes us engage. "I totally saw that! What the hell is it?" Both make our imaginations fire up.

It does get a bit over the top in the closing scenes, but I forgive it. It was a very memorable movie. There's been a lot of reports of people not being able to sleep after watching it. Well, I slept quite well last night, thank you very much.

Although I did get a bit of a jolt when the fitted sheet on the bed came loose and thwipped against my hand.

Gang related?

Some people just shouldn't hang out together. I didn't think I'd consider the Justice League in that category. Lately it seems that separately these characters are really great and ready to go out and fight crime and save the world. However teaming up means either someone is going to die, our some member is going to get in trouble that affects the rest of the team, or something else dumb and angsty. Instead of saving the day, they spend more time saving their asses. The latest issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA is another example. The heroes just get together to act all emo until Despero attacks, which had me thinking "Thank God, something interestng" but unfortunately it just gave them excuses to act even lamer. I know this is supposed to be a set up for the roster to change, but I'm pretty sure these characters are capable of functioning without the Hal Jordan/Ollie Queen Bromance to lead them. I don't think I'll be reading this title much longer, which will be the first time since 1996.

Has the culture of victimhood spread to the point that we want our heroes to be victims too? Do they have to be angsty and just suffer through pointless crap for us to identify with them? I don't want to think this. I don't want to think that superheroes being pathetic targets is the paradigm when Grant morrison just got done throwing out that rubbish of Batman being a coping mechanism for wounded child and embracing it being the end result of a person taking a personal tragedy and turning it into an incredible triumph. I don't want to go from the Miracle in Crime Alley to crying twits in spandex.

Super teams need to be super again. The Super Young Team has done more world saving that the Justice League and the Teen Titans combined in the last six months. Quit boo hooing like a bunch of shmucks and save the world already!

Back on the perch

Spent the majority of yesterday roofing, which despite sucking turned out to be the highlight of my day. That's a fairly telling statement as to how the rest of my day went. Yes, swinging a hammer until my hand blisters and toting seventy pound bundles of shingles up a two story ladder for hours on end was the most enjoyable part of my day. Something's wrong here.

Still, there was a few things that made the day of hard labor worth it besides the pay.

Working at the beach so I could be a pod of dolphins making their way south.

Watching a tri-plane flying overhead like he was the Red Baron or something. It was a red plane too. It flying overhead actually brought the job to halt because honestly when do you even see those things anymore outside of an airshow?

Having a "what the hell was that?" moment when a brief roar consumed the usually sounds of the morning and then seeing that the base was shooting missiles at submarines again.

Much preferable to the rest of the day.

Marty versus the Apocalypse

When I was in eight grade I had a history teacher, Mister Humphries. He was a good teacher and an interesting guy. The interest did not come solely from his astonishing resemblance to Santa Claus, but in that this guy was a really weird dude and every so often he'd inflict the weird on the class. We ate it up. On Halloween he showed up in a robe with a staff looking somewhat like a stout Gandalf and told us all about things like witchcraft and urban legends and things that go bump in the night. Of course this would get him fired today. He also brought in his Civil War reenactment gear and watched us squirm as we sat outside the school in the yard and he, in full costume, waved an old pistol around. The kind you had to stuff the powder into to. The thing worked too. Of course that would get him fired today too.

There was another thing that stuck with me. He showed us a documentary on Nostradamos, the ancient prophet. You probably seen his name in some of the check out lines at the grocery store while glancing at the tabloids. We watched this video in 1988. I couldn't tell you when the video was made. In this video, going by the writings they figured as near as they could that something was going to come out of the sky and strike most like likely New York City in perhaps 1994. It also said a man in a blue turban would play heavily into this. Pretty freaky stuff to see when you're 13. Keep in mind that I was viewing this in the twilight of the Cold War so the assumption was Russia nuking the Big Apple. I do admit to having the contents of that video in the back of my mind during a good chunk of 1994, only to make it 1995 and felt some relief.

I don't have to remind anyone what happened in 2001.

Now fast forward to yesterday's newspaper in which it reports on the front page that 2012 theory is gaining followers. For those who don't know, the Mayan calendar runs out around the Winter Solstice in 2012, and people are thinking that means the end of the world. That's right. The people who didn't have enough sense not to dump the bodies of their human sacrifices in the same river which they got their drinking water out of were able to predict the end of the world over a thousand years later. That's right, the calendar is over a thousand years long. Most likely the folks making the calendar died or got bored or something.

I swear. This is like Y2K all over again.

There's reports of planetary alignment also going on around the same time, so obviously all the planets lining up will destroy us all. Do I need to go into how stupid that is? THEY'RE MILLIONS OF MILES AWAY! Yeah, it cool that planets line up, but eclipses are cool too, and unless you're watching HEROES they don't mean nor do anything aside from getting us to look to the sky and say "wow".

Maybe the Mayans knew about man made global warming. OMG! AL GORE IS RIGHT!

Perhaps the Earth's magnetic poles will switch. There's some solid science stating that this does happen. It would get pretty bad if this happened, but it's survivable, especially with our knowledge and know how. This is science the Mayans did not have, so the chances of a Pole swap going down when the calendar ends is pretty thin.

Ooo, what if it's the Second Coming? The Rapture and all that. Could the Mayans have divined the time table of the events of Revelations? We're still relatively close to the year 2000. People get freaked by big numbers. They thought Jesus was coming back in the year 1000 too. There is some interesting Biblical prophesies that are currently coming into play, but the odds of these two things being relayed are slimmer than my lotto chances.

Remember when I mentioned that the calendar ends on the Winter Solstice? That's the longest night of the year. That's some pretty easy to figure out even in ancient times. It also makes a pretty solid spot to start and end a calendar year. They made a calendar over a thousand years long. Isn't that long enough? Can't we cut them some slack. I'm sure they had lives to, albeit short ones with those dead bodies in the river.

You know what I do when my calendar runs out? I buy another calendar. Next year's might have Batman on it!

X marks the nostalgia

Kristie is making me watch THE X-FILES. She sent me the DVDs. From Hawaii. This is part of something interesting. She has organized a mass viewing of the television. Episodes will be discussed via the internet weekly in four episode blocks. It's like a book club for television.

You see, before the internet people would get together, pick a book and then everyone would read that book. They would meet on a regular basis in group member's houses and discuss the book often over tea, coffee and cake. I'm not even sure if this practice even goes on anymore. So what Kristie has put together is actually something fascinating on multiple levels.

First: we have the case of looking at television differently. Seasons of TV shows are now collected in nice, neat box sets. On the surface this just means you can watch the re-run of your choice anytime you want. But look at this exercise that I'm talking about. We're treating television like we would treat a novel. Is this a case of younger generations being uninterested in reading or has television gotten to the point that it demands to be treated as literature? I'd argue the latter. I spent tonight watching a television show that is at this moment seventeen years old. I remember when it first aired. For me it's nostalgia. Will my great grand children look upon THE X-FILES season one the same way I look upon Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN? Can television stand the test of time in the same manner as literature?

Second: we replace the intimate setting of a living room with looking at a computer screen. We lose much of the personal aspect of the book club. However, we now are not limited geographically in whom we may discuss things with. This mass viewing will include people from multiple time zones and countries. That's pretty cool, although it doesn't make up for lack of coffee cake.

Onto the show itself.

I'm not a huge fan of the show, but that's not the show's fault. When it originally aired, I was quite busy with school. I did make time to watch THE X-FILES but at that time my focus was elsewhere, mostly school work. After I finished school there was the "winter of discontent" in which Friday nights were spent watching that show and MILLENNIUM followed by playing RESIDENT EVIL on my Playstation in the company of the Scorer. My memories of the show are dim during this time, again not because of the show itself. The Scorer and I were drinking heavily at the time. It was not uncommon for us to go through a fifth of rum and a fifth of whiskey in two days. So you have two guys in a house in the middle of nowhere watching scary television and playing scary video games and impossibly drunk. I barely remember anything about the show.

So these episodes are new but not so new to me. I approach more of a skeptic than I was when they first aired. That the time I was used to weird stuff. There were crop circles in a field a few miles from my house. There's a lake where a compass won't work and people swear it's haunted. Strange lights were seen over the fields near where the crop circles were found and they came from an aircraft that made no sound at all. Sounds scary, but I know the real stories behind these phenomena. Fast forward to me watching the show now. This is after I've seen shows like FRINGE which THE X-FILES paved the way for. Does the show hold up?

It does to a degree. The writing was a bit shaky here and there. Mulder doesn't seem nearly as cool now. The episode leaves somethings a mystery, but reveals perhaps too much. We are shown from the start that there is indeed a conspiracy. I think that was a mistake. They skipped past having the viewers wonder whether or not there's an actual conspiracy straight to having to figure out what this conspiracy is hiding. Its a lost opportunity.

The show does feel dated, but not to the point where you can't identify with it. Its accessible still, but a good pilot should be. I do think now that it was trying a bit too hard to grab viewers and came off slightly over-the-top. The sexual tension get dropped upon us like an anvil off of a cliff hitting Wile E. Coyote, and I do remember the many discussion of when we thought the characters would finally get together romantically.

I'll probably watch a couple more episodes tomorrow, because I want to make sure I don't fall behind the group. I can't claim to be a "X-phile", but it's fun, interesting television, and in the age of things like Wendy Williams claiming precious airtime, television being fun and interesting is something to hang on to.

I want this on DVD now.

This is everything I want in a movie.

Bad ass fight scene that don't involve CGI? Check!

Stuff blowing up? Check!

Jet Li? Check!

Big guns? Check!

Funny one liners? Check!

FINALLY! A movie for me to be excited about!

Every/nobody's right/wrong.

Things are moving in an interesting direction concerning some characters over at DC. It was something that I was aware of, but had not thought too much about until Linda made mention of it. DC has had its continuity rebooted a few times. This allows some things to get cleaned up that were overly complicated and also allows some idea to get a fresh start. However it's getting interesting now in that there's a heavy nostalgia going on. Older characters that have been pretty much written off to obscurity or even killed off are getting a second chance to shine. Sometimes it works (Booster Gold, Nemesis) and sometimes it doesn't (Hal Jordan, Barry Allen). But there are other characters that have been altered with these reboots and taken in new directions. But with this wave of nostalgia the previous continuites are being considered again, and not just as a reference as to what went on before. The different takes on characters are all being considered in current usage.

The first to show this was Hawkman. Hawkman for a very long time was a continuity nightmare. At one point he was a reincarnated Egyptian King. Then he was from an entirely different planet. Geoff Johns married these two concepts quite well. This was back when he was getting a good reputation for plugging continuity holes.

Well, Johns is still doing this and most recently in the two characters that Linda made mention of: Brainiac and Toyman. These two Superman villains have had radically different interpretations over the years. Johns took the same approach with both characters. All the different interpretations have been minions or robots created by the "real" character. Not a bad concept, but it got used in the same comic twice inside of a year. Bad form.

Grant Morrison had a different take, and he laid the groundwork for it way back in his JLA run in dealing with Joker. That's when he introduced the notion of "super sanity" in which the character constantly reinvents himself on a regular basis as a response to the world around him. This is how we can have the same character be a relatively harmless mischievous prankster in one story, a criminal mastermind in the next, then a bad dog sociopathic killer, and then back to prankster. This makes every interpretation of the character from his creation decades ago a valid one.

Morrison did something similar with Batman, but that's less to do with the character and more to do with stories that he was involved in. Morrison went with the notion at every story every published about Batman happened. Everything from super villains, to mobsters, to weird rainbow creatures, to Bat-Mite.

This is an interesting difference. Johns took all the differences and tried to line them up to make them make sense together. Morrison took all the differences and accepted them wholesale. Of course this makes reading the Morrison stuff a lot trickier, but the payoff was worth it. It also served to keep the characters moving forward in interesting new directions and made for great stories.

Nostalgia's fine, but living in the past gets you no where. I'll be following the writers that drive new narratives, not the ones catering to those who think comics should be just as they were back when everyone wore bell bottoms.

Nasty gut feelings

I've been re-reading some comics and find it unnerving as to how much Gary Callahan reminds me of our Pop Star-in-Chief.

I read about a society whose police force rations food and performs ballistic retroactive abortions, and I think about how much government has grown since I was a child.

I saw the graphic novel adaptation to Fahrenheit 451 and thought about public schools.

I read about journalists that wanted to report truth and realized that's a really great work of fiction.

I re-read about the deconstruction of superheroes and found it depressing and not as great as I had once thought.

As much as I'm sick of the thought of 'realism' in comics means things being dark, grim and gritty I really detest the notion that fiction may be becoming reality, and not in a good way.

The dull ache

I mentioned in the last post about my brain atrophying. It seems the problem isn't just mental. Over the years I've put my body through considerable abuse both work and recreation related. These problems add up, but haven't been an issue due to me maintaining a certain level of physical fitness. Well, I haven't been doing that lately, and problems have started. Aches and pains are become prevalent and common for no reason. Being sore from a hard day's work is one thing. That's accompanied by a feeling of well being and accomplishment. Being sore because you've become soft and rickety is not something I'd recommend to anyone.

This being the case it seems I'll have to do things to stimulate my body as well as my mind. If anyone needs me, I'll be reading Voltaire while doing push-ups.

Brain drain, not 190 grain.

I have been told, and have repeated the sentiment often, that kids make you stupid. This isn't to say that they possess some sort of anti-logic rationality impairing virus that they spread by their very presence. No, that would be too simple. You could probably get a shot to take care of that. This is much more insidious.

It started with massive sleep deprivation. I was able to counter a lot of this through vitamin supplements and fish oil tablets. Still, there was a notable drop in my ability to think straight. A well rested brain is a well functioning brain. So there I am having to keep up with two children that are dependent on me. I'm the source of their intellectual stimulation, and they do indeed suck things up like a sponge.

Well, maybe more like a leech. See, while as a parent I'm working hard to provide positive stimulation for their intellectual development, they're providing soiled diapers and lots of crying. Hardly a fair trade.

After a while a person can only do so much, so they turn to Sesame Street. A street with monsters on it that enjoy counting and saying the alphabet and such. The residents of this street all go along with this and all the really freaking weird stuff that goes on there because I fully believe that if they don't the monsters will go on a rampage and kill them all horribly. That aside, the show and other programs geared towards children are all fine and dandy. They help teach counting and spelling. They often have cute songs. The kids eat it up.

Then I discover slowly but surely that I'm enjoying this. And there's a problem here. This problem is one that not only applies to TV, but in daily activities. The stimulation I'm receiving on a regular basis is the same as that of a child. Sure I can stay up late to watch movies and stuff and get a fix, but there's comics to write and draw, and sleep to be blissfully claimed. You see the problem?

What is stimulating to a small child doesn't do an adult a whole lot of good. The brain is like any muscle, if you don't use it, you end up losing it. I'm experiencing atrophy on multiple levels. This isn't good. I've managed to compartmentalize the bits I need to keep writing the stories I'm doing and keep drawing. However, outside of that the rest of me is going straight to hell. My karate has been suffering. I can barely hold a coherent conversation. It's pitiful. The only exception is when I'm discussing my projects since that portion of my brain is, for now, firewalled from the entropy that is slowly consuming my once stellar thought processes. This is A Flower for Algernon taking place over the course of decades!

There's only one way I can think to counter this. I'm going to have to force my kids to be smarter. No more Veggie Tales, we're moving on to Masterpiece Theater.

Writing Tutorial with Marty: Teen Titans

Today we're going to learn step by step how to write a story featuring DC Comics own Teen Titans! Ready? Let's get started!

Step 1: Pick any Titans character past or present. If you're having difficulty choosing, pick Raven.

Step 2: This is the hard part. You have to decide whether the character you've chosen will have their past come back to haunt them or will they turn on their teammates. Choose carefully.

Step 3: Make sure to reference a few other characters that have either turned evil or died horribly.

Step 4: Have whichever character is team leader, or if they're unavailable the character that's been on the team the longest, remind all the other team members that the Titans are more than a team, they're a family.

Step 5: Now all the characters are going to save they're teammate (possibly kill them thus saving them from a fate worse than death like being written by Chuck Austin), whom they all care deeply for. This caring adds dramatic weight to your story.

Step 6: After the battle make sure to have have a tease for your next story which will threaten a different character. Just make sure you don't threaten the same character twice in a row.

Now you're all ready to write a Teen Titans or Titans comic book! Go get 'em, champ!

So, what got me to do this little bit here? Well that would be TEEN TITANS #75 which brought forth a new writer Felicia Henderson. It's not a bad issue, really, but it hits every step on the list. Superteam books in the DCU have been having a serious problem in that the teams aren't in the business of saving the world, they're too busy being targets for everyone they've ever fought since the beginning of time. The TEEN TITANS comic since it's latest relaunch has fallen hard into this category. There's nothing new for the team face in the book. They've battled all the major Teen Titan villains from the previous stories. They've fought multiple incarnations of evil Titans. Its gotten pretty tiresome.

Well, I was going to drop the title, but I'm going to give Henderson a shot. Hopefully we can get back to heroes being heroes again.