I go out to the movies a lot. One of my favorite things to do. Occasionally, I talk to people who never do so. And I find this shocking. I can understand the one's who tell me "Oh, I can't afford it because I have three kids, so that's $50 for everyone just for tickets, much less snacks and so on". I have been there myself so yeah, sometimes practical concerns get in the way. But the people who say "I have a good entertainment system at home, so I just wait for movies to come out on Netflix and watch it there."
Those people, I don't get.
To me, there are lots of things that make a movie worth going to the theater for. For one thing, there is simply the fact of getting out of the house. I am a homebody and enjoy staying home. And I am not exactly a social butterfly. But sometimes it is nice to get out of the house but not really have to interact with people except maybe my wife. And movies are perfect for that. I can't explain it, exactly, but just having that...excuse...to leave my apartment is just a good reason to go.
Also, a movie theater (ideally) has far fewer distractions. When I watch a movie at home I have my phone, I have my cats, I have the sounds of my neighbors doing whatever the hell it is that they do. Occasionally someone comes to my door. And so one and so forth etcetera etcetera etcetera. But, barring the occasional misfortune of having rude people talking in the theater, I have almost no distractions in the theater. And even if I do get the occasional butthole who refuses to shut up during the movie, it's still less distaraction than my neighbors making their noise, one cat throwing up and the other cat insisting on walking in front of the TV.
Details. If a movie was originally shot to be seen on movie screen (as opposed to being straight to video), then there are often details that you just won't see on the TV unless you have have a pereption score of +28. "Ah, but I have a big screen TV" you say. And sure, your TV might be big but it isn't 20' x 50' big. I have seen several classic movies in theaters that I originally saw on TV and picked out lots of little details I never noticed before. Like in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George is talking to Mr. Potter. On TV, all I really noticed was that Mr. Potter had stuff on his desk. On the movie screen, I could pick out what that stuff was, like a skull shaped cigarette lighter. Kind of gave a little insight into him, in my opinion.
Even the downsides (and as with anything, there ARE downsides to going to the cinema) aren't what they used to be. I used to HATE going to movies I knew would be packed. I am a big, big guy. I don't like to be squished and i don't like to squish anyone else. And older style movie theaters, when packed, are like flying coach. Crammed into tiny, uncomfortable seats next to total strangers damned near sitting in your lap. Not fun. But newer theaters, or theaters that have recently remodeled, have bigger plusher seats. Big enough that my fat butt can plop downn in one and even if the theater is crowded and I have a stranger sitting next to me, neither of us is encroaching on the other's space. It's great. And trays. Some theaters have little trays on the seats now. And those are a godsend. I have gotten so spoiled since my usual movie house has them and yesterday I went to a show at a different theater without them and my first thought was "Where the hell am I putting my nachos and my drink?" which is weird since it's only in the last two years or so that there was any thing to do without them besides just hold them. So if you are one of those people reluctant to go to a cinema because they are crowded and uncomfortable, try it again. Might have changed.
Lastly, there is just something to be said to seeing a movie while it is still new, while people are still talking about it. Being able to see a meme someone made about it and being ble to say "Haha, I get that" instead of having to wait until months down the road when you finally see the film. Gives one something to talk about.
So all in all, while I do love watching movies on my big ol' TV, seeing them in cinemas (arguably the way they were MEANT to be seen) is still the better choice. And I will do that whenever I can.
King Pellinore dismounted his horse because he felt that the questing beast was nearby. He literally felt it. Pelias did not know how or why, but the creature somehow gave off this sensation, a sick feeling combined with the sensation of being covered in slime, whenever it was near. And that was exactly what Pellinore felt now. This wasn't the first time he had been close to the beast. He prayed, as he always did, that this time would be the last. It never was, but usually he only knew the beast had been in a place by it's grisly leavings long after it was gone. The mutilated corpse of animals or the occasional person was its usual calling card. But Pellinore had gotten close enough to see it before and he knew he was likely to see it again. He hoped against hope that this would be the last time.
The so-called questing beast was his family curse. The story he and his family would tell to others was that it was a family quest, passed down from father to son, to capture or kill it. But the true reason was that some ancestor had used foul magics to call the thing here, from where Pellinore did not know, and every generation felt it there responsibilty to send the foul thing back. So far, none had succeeded and many people had died painfully as a result. It had an appetite for human flesh
In 1981, Canada and America got together to prove that animation was not just for kids and made the movie "Heavy Metal". I was in High School at the time but loved the magazine on which it was based. The magazine usually consisted of a series of science fiction and fantasy comics with some seriously graphic adult themes, language and scenes. Great stuff and a real antidote to the pablum that the Comics Code was forcing mainstream comics to print at the time.
The movie was pretty much the same thing, a series of short animated sci-fi and fantasy films, every one of which would have been perfectly at home as comic strips in the book. At least one of them ("Den") had actually originated as a series there. Each story was a little masterpiece IMO. And though I am not the most musically oriented person (I confess that to me most music is just background noise) it had a soundtrack that even I ejoyed.
The framing story is probably the least interesting bit, but still has some great animation. It has a green orb called the "Loc Nar" being brought home by an astronaut and it then comes to life and terrorizes the astronauts daughter by telling her stories of how it has caused terror in the past and of course each story is each of the segments of the movie. Meh, not a great start but it go soooooo much better.
The first segment is a kind of a futuristic film noir story about a cab driver in a dystopian future New York City who ends up stumbling upon a plot by gangsters to get some world shattering artifact which, natch, turns out to be Loc Nar. I have always wondered if The Fifth Element drew some inspiration from this segment but I don't know. It did an excellent job of portraying a hell hole NYC and mixing noir elements with sci-fi.
Next it moves on to "Den" was one I remembered reading in the magazine at the time and the art style of the comic was well captured in the animated version. It is basically about some huge nearly naked barbarian guy with the mind of a 20th century nerd. This serves as kind of an origin story (it may well have been in the comic, but as I was poor and only could read the magazine infrequently, I never got to see the early adventures of Den) wher the Loc Nar hurls said 20th Century nerd across space and time and turn him into the muscle bound freak of the stories. As a whole, the story gave off a very Conan vibe, so I think people who love one will love the other and ditto for those who hate either of them.
Then on to "Captain Stern", an egotistical spaceman in some future society is on trial for a variety of crimes. Imagine Zap Branigan from Futurama if they had a similar episode. A witness, one Hanover Fist, is on the stand prepared to exonerate Stern of his crims when the Loc Nar intervenes and mutates the witness into a muscle bound brute (kind of a theme going on here, now that I think of it) who not only spits out a litany of crimes stern has commited but proceeds to chase him around the space station where the trial is taking place. Probably the weakest entry other than the unnecessary framing story, in my opinion, because 90% of it is just Fist chasing Stern around yelling "STEEEERRRRNNNNN!", which gets kind of boring after a while.
Then the Loc Nar ends up in WW2, as a tiny meteorite that falls from the sky and into the hull of a B-17 Bomber in the middle of an air raid. This mutates the crew into zombies one by one until a single survivor from the craft parachutes out and lands on a deserted island (making the segment take place in the Pacific Theater of the war, I guess) filled with the wreckage of all kinds of ships and craft from various eras...and infested with the zombified remains of their crews. This is my favorite bit in the whole film and I can't pin down why, exactly. I am kind of "meh" on zombies, but the way these ones were drawn made them look genuinely scary. But this is the closest the film gets to a straight up horror story, so I think that's why I like it so.
The we are treated to kind of a comedic segment with some space slackers landing on the pentagon in their space ship and abducting a stenographer. The Loc Nar connection is weak in this one, it is now a piece of jewelry worn by the ill fated abductee. It's basically a short stoner comedy, but the stoners are aliens. It is most notable because one of them, a robot, is very clearly voced by John Candy.
Last but not least, we get to the one that provided the iconic art for most movie posters of the film (though some had "Den"), probably the image most people associate with the film of a half dressed woman wielding a sword and riding a pterodactyl like creature. In this story, the Loc Nar has become a huge meteor which crashes on some alien planet and mutates a bunch of the inhabitants into Totally-Not-Orcs (Because no one wants to be sued by the Tolkein Estate) and the aformentioned pterodactyl riding woman (a member of a warrior race called the Tarakians) is summoned to fight them and fight them she does. This one got a bit of an extra life in my mind because I played a lot of D&D at the time (still do) and upon seeing the movie, the Tarakians promptly became a home brew character class in my D&D games (basically Chaotic Good paladins)
All in all, the movie was the best movie ever to my teenage self, but is a bit hit and miss today. But when it hits, it REALLY hits still. And some things would be a bit cringey to modern audiences, but if any of you haven't seen it, I would recommend you do. And if you HAVE seen it, I'll bet it's been a few years, go take one more ride with Heavy Metal
16 people were dead and only Jake Harrigan knew why. They had been murdered. Only the authorities didn't recognize them as murders. They didn't even know they were connected. So far as anyone but Jake was concerned, 16 people in 16 cities, most of them under 20, died under mysterious circumstance. 16 tragedies but nothing to make anyone suspect that anything was wrong. And that was just the 16 Jake knew about, there were almost certainly more.
It had started with a puzzle. A handful of people had come across a site on the so-called "Dark Web" where nothing was posted but a series of images. they started innocuously enough, a few pictures of someone with a fearful look on their face (later determined to be pics taken by a serial killer before he murdered the woman), then they slowly got more graphic, sanitized pics of the dead in a Civil War battlefield, pictures of slaughterhouses, the famous pic of the Vietnamese monk setting himself on fire, graphic crime scene photos, and so on. Eah worse than the last and displayed like a slide show. Each for just a few seconds. The URL seemed to have nothing to do with the content, and instead seemed to be a challenge. It was "findthekey.onion". Onion, in this case, being a domain extension that was common to sites that were only accessible from certain browsers and were a common feature in the world of the Deep Web.
People, being what they are, began obsessing over the site. A subreddit was formed dedicated to it, unlocking who it was that had created it and why. Was it a weird art project? Some sicko just trolling? And what did "Find the Key" even mean? Key to what?
Jake got into it, not because he had any particular interest in gore but because he loved puzzles. He was 19 and was working on a business degree at Michigan State. He wasn't looking forward to being a corporate drone for the rest of his life, but he was a practical young man and figured that was where the money was. So in his spare time, he threw himself into puzzles as a way to stretch his brain. Sudoko, crosswords, logic puzzles, you name it.
He had come across a few oblique references to the site on the normal web and was intrigued. He found the subreddit before he went to the actual site. There was a lot of back and forth on the site about possible meanings of the pics, who owned the domain, what it could possibly be and whether the whole thing about the key was or was not just an elaborate troll. There even seemed to be some confusion as to whether the site showed the same pics in the same order every time, with some people claiming that they had seen different sets every time and others claiming it was always the same.
James visited the site himself, of course, He watched it for about five minutes as the pics became increasingly graphic and ugly. It left him with an unsettled feeling and his sleep that night was plagued with the images he had watched.
But despite a bad nights sleep, he was hooked from that point on. He joined in on the analysis of the pics. Looked for hidden clues, finding originals and comparing the pictures on the site to those, looking for differences, finding none. The pictures filled his dreams at night, but he took that as just a side effect.
It was an April afternoon, while skimming the subreddit that he noticed something weird. A fellow member of the subreddit going by the user name of "MountainMike" had said several weeks earlier that he thought he was close to deciphering the secret, to finding the key. But after that, MountainMike had never posted again. Then opped he thought about it, several other posters with whom Jake had collaberated had, in recent months, also abruptly stopped posting. No flounces, no drama, they had just stopped. Some of them too had claimed to be close to an answer, but in this forum, EVERYONE was "Close to the answer" all the time. It had even become a bit of a running joke. And this was the internet, people stopped posting on forums and subs all the time. It was nothing new. But somehow, in a way that Jake couldn't put a finger on, it was all too abrupt for many of them. They were frequent and enthusiastic posters on one day, then nothing was ever heard from them again.
To Jake, this was a new puzzle, and as he was getting nowhere on the original, perhaps he might get somewhere on this one. So, despite his sense of ethics telling him otherwise, he began trying to piece together the real world identities of MountainMike and the others who had disappeared. He backtracked through their posts, piecing together little clues to what cities they were from, what jobs they had, anything that could identify them. He finally got a "hit" on a poster named "JingleBalls69". He foound that JingleBalls69 was a kid named "Larry Ball" who lived in Galen, Nebraska and worked at a chain store there. Larry Ball was dead. Jake found a newspaper article from Galen, about how Mr. Ball was struck down at the young age of 22 by a freak heart attack.
Weird, having a heart attack at 22, Jake thought. But stranger things had happened. And over the course of the next few weeks Jake uncovered three more of his missing compatriots, two strokes and a heart attack. All over the country and all dead at an age far younger than people usually died of such things. MountainMike was the next one that Jake found, a 38 year old man named Micheal Collins. Collins worked for Google in Mountain View California and had died the very night that he posted his final post, of "unknown causes".
This was all very strange. All in all, over the course of six months, he uncovered 16 mysterious deaths. All people from the subreddit researching the "findthekey" site. All dead of vague causes that left Jake with the suspicion that their deaths were being explained by doctors and medical examiners who had no idea how these people died, just that they did and there was no real reason.
The dreams got worse during this time. Sometimes, they were so bad that he couldn't sleep at all. If he so much as closed his eyes, he began seeing images from that damned website. It had become an obsession and Jake knew it. He didn't want to visit the site anymore, besides the fact that it was intruding into his every thought, he was just sick of it. He knew every image by heart, he had spent hours there and the number of pictures seemed vast and never ending, yet he had seen so much of it that he knew what the next picture would be every single time. He watched it over and over and over again, hoping to find some clue, SOMETHING that would explain the deaths. He wanted to stop, but he couldn't. He literally couldn't. Even as he began ignoring his coursework and failing in school, from spending so much time on the site and on the subreddit, he could not stop. It had its hooks into him as surely as a meth controlled a meth addict.
One day, around Christmas, Jake flew out to California to find out more about MountainMike. Maybe, he thought, maybe if he could find out what lead Mike had been working on he could take that same path and figure out the secret too.
And then what? Die like the others? Jake had no idea how, but somehow this secret was killing people who got to close to it, possibly solved it but Jake didn't care. He knew the only way out of this was through it.
Jake found pretenses to talk to Mike's family and co-workers. He found little unusual about the man. He was a hard worker, loved his job at Google but had been acting oddly in his final days. Mike's girlfriend told Jake that he had stopped sleeping altogether, citing bad dreams. He had become obsessed with "some weird website" and in his last few days didn't even seem to be eating. From Mike's Co-workers he found that he was noted as a brilliant software engineer, though in his last days, his work had begun to slip and he seemed to be under a lot of stress. Most importantly though, they told him that Mike had been an expert in Steganography, the art of hiding information in something else. Especially including images on the internet.
Steganography, this was the key. The images themselves were unimportant, but maybe one or more, maybe even all of them, hid something else. When Jake returned to Michigan, he began studying the subject and analyzing the photos from the site on a deeper level, looking for something WITHIN them. an out of place pixel here or there, something compressed to ultra tiny size and placed into the photograph. Anything like that.
And he found it. Occasional yellow pixels that were close to none of the other colors near them. Just a handful per photo, and something that would never be seen by the naked eye. So he ran the sequence of photos through a program designed to find these and record their positions on a grid the same size as the photos. Bit by bit, pixel by pixel, an image resolved itself. A yellow symbol that had no meaning of itself, but it hit someting inside of Jake on a subconcious level. That he couldn't describe. He understood now. He understood everything...
It was days before they found Jake's body. His roommates had been away, and when they came back they found him. Slumped in his chair. His laptop was open, but off, so no one ever saw the terrible yellow sign that had resolved itself on his screen. The authorities ruled his death a freak heart attack and no one but those who found the body and the paramedics who dragged his body off ever saw what he had written on a post it note next to his computer "I FOUND THE KEY"
On Monday I talked about the different sorts of heroes, and what I thought made a good one. Today, I will go to the other side of the coin and discuss villains.
The most obvious thing about villains is the oft recounted piece of advice that no villain ever sees himself as the villain. This is true and almost a cliche unto itself, but it amazes me how often it is ignored. A good villain might see himself as a revolutionary, willing to break a few eggs for the cause. Or a hard nosed pragmatist who isn't going to let silly little things like morals get in his way. But still, they see themselves as...if not the good guy at least as not the villain either. People in real life are really, really good at finding justifications for their actions, fictional villains should be too. Lex Luthor for instance, at least in his more modern incarnations, thinks he is just taking extreme measures to protect the Earth from an unstoppable alien who everyone around him seems to blindly trust. In his own mind, he is the good guy, its just that no one realizes that.
The one possible exception to this I can see is a villain like The Joker. But even he, depending on which version of him we are talking about, thinks he is doing the world a favor in a way. Making them see how silly and artificial their morality is and how much better it would be to just go crazy.
Beyond that, I think a cood villain needs to be charismatic. He or she is doing awful things, they need something to make the audience like them. Though I enjoy most Marvel movies, far too many of them fall down on this point. Far too many of them fall into the trap of the villain just standing around looking menacing while occasionally snarling an order at an underling. Ronan from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Malekith from the second Thor movie (a complete waste of a perfectly good Christopher Eccleston, BTW), The Red Skull in the first Captain America film, etc. They really didn't do much and as a result came across as Boring Evil (which I think should be an official D&D alignment, but I digress). On the other hand, look at the villains they made that DIDN'T do that. Loki is a favorite character from the movies and it's almost entirely because the writers (and the actor) gave him this little thing called a personality. Sure, he tried to conquer the world and unleashed a horde of aliens upon it, destroying most of NYC in the process. But you can't help but like the guy because he's so damned charming.
Another good trait for a villain is that they are a dark mirror of the hero. Look at Professor Moriarity in nearly any version of Sherlock Holmes you care to name. He is really Holmes' equal in intellect, just turned to a different purpose. When one watches or reads a story with the two of them you know (or at least, I like to think I know) that if their lives had gone just a little bit different, they could have swapped places.
In the end, a villain makes the story as much as a hero. In fact, I would almost call them more important than the hero. Look at James Bond for instance. Bond is kind of a Mary Sue if you think about it. No flaws, all the women love him and all the men envy him. Blah blah blah. But his villains tend to hit all the right notes. This is why when I was a kid, I never wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be a Bond Villain.
It is good to have goals, after all.
Heroes make or break a movie. And there are all kinds of heroes out there. There are the traditional noble do-gooders, the reluctant heroes, the anti-heroes who are barely distinguishable from the villains and every assortment of heroic archetypes you can think of.
My personal favorite, believe it or not, is closest to the do-gooders. I like heroes who do the right thing simply BECAUSE it's the right thing. Like The Doctor in Doctor Who. He could easily just nope his way out of Dalektown if he wanted to, most of the time, but he does what he does because people will be hurt if he doesn't. And while it is easy to characterize this kind of hero as some bland knight in shining armor cliche, it doesn't have to be that way. The Maginificent Seven (both in its original incarnation and the terrible Chris Pratt vehicle from a few years ago) is a prime example of this. The characters are these badass gunfighters who end up helping protect a village from bandits in the original and an evil mining tycoon in the terrible Chris Pratt vehicle, for no real reward beyond a palce to stay and the grateful smiles of the people. And like the Doctor, it would be very easy for them to just say "we aren't being paid enough for this", saddle up and ride out of town. In fact, in the original, the bad guy gives them exactly that option. But they don't. They stick around and win the day, at great personal cost. I hope that if I were ever in a position to do such a thing, I would have that kind of courage. And to me, that is exactly the appeal of that kind hero.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have your anti-heroes. The kinds of people who are essentially doing the right things for the wrong reasons or possibly even doing good entirely by accident. In some cases, they aren't even necessarily doing good at all, just doing something bad to an even more obnoxious bad guy or some faceless entity. The latter is best epitomized by Oceans 11 (again, both the original and the remake. Though I prefer the original Sinatra version better, baby). They weren't really good people. They weren't protecting anyone. They weren't stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They were ripping off a casino in order to make themselves rich. Full stop. I find this kind of character interesting because (in my humble opinion) the writer has a hard job. They have to make people who are doing things that are normally reserved for the antagonists of a story seem sympathetic. So they have to take the things that make a character cool and interesting and turn it up to 11. Red Reddington from The Blacklist is an excellent example of that. He is an amoral criminal. Yet James Spader makes him so damned charming that you don't care. Frankly his character is the only reason to watch the show, but its such a compelling reason that I watch it anyway.
So Those are just a few of my thoughts on what makes a good hero. Maybe next week I will discuss what BREAKS an otherwise good hero.