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Posts published in “Film & TV”

Fuck you, Event Horizon.

I first saw Event Horizon theatrically way back in the late 90s (remember those?). I was with some friends, probably Deegan, and I remember walking out after the film thinking that it was the biggest piece of shit I’d ever endured. But time eases such pains and since 1997 I’ve heard from someone whose opinion I trusted that it’s actually an all right film. I thought that perhaps I’d judged the film too harshly. Perhaps I had missed the obvious brilliance within the film. Perhaps some of the subtext had flown right over my 15 year old head.

I threw the film onto my Netflix queue and it arrived yesterday in the mail. After doing the dishes while listening to Hall & Oates and making myself a sensible dinner, I sat down to give Event Horizon a second shot. I am nothing if not a giving man. I placed the blu-ray disc into the PS3 and waited for my mind to be blown.

Well, if you have taken anything from the title of this post, my mind was not blown. I mean, the movie blew, but my mind remained entirely unblown. Event Horizon has to be one of the most formulaic pieces of crap I’ve ever had the extreme misfortune of forcing upon myself. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me ruin it for you.

It’s the future! People live in space! A few years ago the government sent a super secret spaceship to the far reaches of outer space and it disappeared! Zip forward to now, which is still the future, and a small, rag tag group of ethnically-diverse soldiers are on a spaceship going to investigate a distress beacon on the far side of the solar system! A scientist rides along with them! Uh-oh! After they get out of hypersleep or whatever they call it, the scientist tells them, in a feat of unrivaled expository pseudo-science, that the distress beacon belongs to the Event Horizon! The ship was a super secret experiment in faster-than-light travel and on its first trip out, it disappeared! What happened to it?! The rescue crew boards the ship and all sorts of really spooky things start to happen! Hallucinations! The lights flash on and off! Bloooooooodddddd! Soon after boarding things start going to hell—literally! Turns out when the ship’s experimental drive punctured the fabric of the universe it went to hell and came back alive and evil! Really! That’s the actual plot point! The original crew is all dead! Scary! The scientist along for the ride who, coincidentally built the fancy engine thing, gets pulled into the evil will of the ship and then starts to sabotage their efforts to escape! Oooooh! Then the captain and the scientist have a stand off and the scientist gets sucked into space! But the ship brings him back to life! Convenient! Then they have another stand off and end up traveling through the darkness dimension but we never find out what happens to them! The end! It actually says “the end”!

I think I can sum up the whole film and my feelings about it with one photo and a related caption.

Oh no! Your eyes! What happened?! Oh, you saw Event Horizon? I understand.

Indulging in every stupid horror cliche, Event Horizon is so mired in banality that I couldn’t even see through to the positives that it does have. It’s a well designed film, to be sure, but that’s not enough for me to get past just how fucking awful the script is. Every single word made me cringe. And I LOVE bad science fiction. It’s great. But this is bad science fiction trying to be GOOD science fiction and GOOD horror and it just doesn’t have the chops to do either. It just plain sucks. Every time there was a dramatic pause before one of the characters revealed something…. dramatic, I wanted to punch the TV in the face. I wanted to fly to England, grab Paul W. S. Anderson, and punch him in the face over and over and over. And then I want to punch him in the face for the Resident Evil films, for Mortal Kombat, and for the rest of his fucking trash body of work. It’s like he’s taking other, better films, distilling them to their common beats, making those beats dumber, and then making the movie over again ineptly. Just terrible.

Do yourself and favor and never see this movie. I’d ask for my two hours back, but I’d only waste them.

Tyson (2008)


Last night Juli and I watched Tyson, a documentary on the legendary and oft reviled boxer, Mike Tyson. It was quite an illuminating experience and really helped flesh out the character of Mike Tyson in my brain. Before the film, all I really could have told you about him could easily be summed up in the following list.

  • He was a boxer.
  • He went to prison.
  • Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.
  • Don King.
  • Robin Givens.
  • Face tattoo.

Comprehensive, right?

Now, the film struck me in two distinct ways. First is that is has humanized Mike Tyson for me. Where once he was this media icon, a person I heard about on the news but about whom I knew nothing, now I feel like after hearing his nearly incomprehensible, insane rambling for 90 minutes I understand him for what he really is: a frightened man-child who was thrown into a world he had no tools for coping with where people wanted to take advantage of him because he was able to dominate guys in a boxing ring. It seems clear that this man who can barely form a coherent sentence, nearly breaks down crying when talking about his childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and whose minds wanders wildly onto all sorts of tangents is ill equipped to deal with the world on any level, much less a high demand career surrounded by men trying to use him to fill their bank accounts. What Mike Tyson needed was a mentor and a hug, not managers and trainers and millions of dollars.

Of course, I’m not excusing his behavior. There is no doubt that he has done some terrible things in his life. He readily admits this, in fact, explaining his explosiveness after release from prison as being driven by the fear of never wanting to be back in that position of powerlessness again. Really, it is an extension of his childhood fears resulting from growing up in the ghetto and constantly having to fight physically and mentally not to get killed. You can see when he talks about it that he’s pretty messed up inside, confused, angry, uncertain. You can tell when his speech degenerates from his normal bumbling patterns of repeated phrases and half finished sentences to venom filled curses that he is, if nothing else, being honest about his feelings.

Tyson’s is a harrowing story of what can happen to people when the enter into a world of fame and riches without the grounding needed to cope. It’s really sad that this man who was indomitable in the ring was eventually brought down because, as a person, he was incapable of making sane, healthy decisions for himself. I know that sounds like a truism, but in Tyson’s case, it’s rather acute. The peaks of his successes and the valleys of his defeats are so much more extreme than what most people could ever dream of experiencing that his tale serves as almost like this abstract object lesson, this parable of how not to live your life.

Second, what struck me about the film was that it really doesn’t follow traditional documentary techniques. Based on Tyson’s clothes and the set ups, it’s like they had four or five days of one on one interview with the man and then used that interview SOLELY as the basis for the film. Where as other films might get interviews with people from his past, from his current life, director James Toback has used only Tyson’s words, along with a smattering or archival footage, to tell the story. It is incredibly effective. To enhance the sense that the inside of Tyson’s head is a jumbled mess, Toback overlaps sections of the interview both visually and temporally with bits of dialog coming in on top of each other and trailing off, a web of ideas and thoughts barely distinguishable from the next.

So, long story short, go see it. You have no excuse.

The Thing from The Thing’s perspective

Is John Carpenter’s The Thing the best horror film ever made? Well, don’t let me ruin the rest of your life for you, but the answer is, “Yes.”

Is it, then, any surprise that the best horror film ever has inspired the best piece of fan-fiction ever? One with perhaps the greatest ending line I’ve read in ages? No, no it is not.

If you’ve never seen The Thing, go. Do so. I’ll wait.

Ok. Wasn’t that good? I know. So awesome.

Now, read “The Things” by Peter Watts. It’s long, but worth it.

Go. I’ll wait.

A brief summary of Pineapple Express as experienced by me this evening

Perhaps I shall endeavor to watch this Pineapple Express film I have heard so much about. Oh, look, it is offered by Netflix for streaming. How convenient.

Joe presses play.













Well, that was certainly something. Perhaps I should share my impressions with my loyal readers on The Black Laser?

The Theme for 2010

After much thinking, I’ve decided on my theme for 2010 (twenty-ten, say it with me). It’s a hybrid of two themes I discussed in my previous post on the subject. I hereby announce that 2010 shall be…

The Year of 3 Music Videos and 12 Finished Short Stories

I figure that I will be better served by endeavoring on a cross-disciplinary path, much as I was this year by making photos and writing stories. It allows me not to get too caught up in just one mode. If I am feeling stuck I can switch over and work on something else for a while.

I picked music videos because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I think it’s going to be fun and challenging and I’m pretty excited about it. It will give me an opportunity to flex some muscles I haven’t used in a while. I intend to pick three songs I like and make low to no budget videos for them. The songs can be anything since these are spec videos and using them like this is covered under my fair-use rights. The videos can feature anything at all, only limited by my ability to plan and my technical skills.

Astute readers will notice a change in the language regarding the short stories between the original conceptualizing post and this announcement post. Specifically, I added the term “finished” to differentiate the scope of the short stories for 2010 (twenty-ten) and the scope of the stories for 2009. This year, the point was just to write a lot without revisions or thinking too much about what I was doing. Just getting things did. Next year is about creating things that have real thought and effort behind them. The scope is grander, so the output will be lesser, but in terms of having finished work to share, the ultimate effect is much more significant. 12 solid, finished short stories is a collection at the very least, and, if they all work together, a book. That would be a nice thing to have.

Keep your eyes peeled for the remainder of my 5000 photos and 50 short stories for this year followed by a wrap-up post in the first week of January. Then it’s time to get the next year’s work going.

Thinking about the Theme for 2010

December is upon us and about to crest, leading us into the descent of 2009. This means the end of the first decade of the 21st century, an utterly meaningless metric, but one that has provided me with no fewer than four “Greatest Metal Albums of The Last Decade” lists. Not bad. Everyone seems to like Mastodon’s Leviathan, which I’ve never really listened to. I’ll have to give it a go.

And with the fading of 2009 another year’s theme comes to an end. The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories, though not yet through, has been a success as far as I am concerned. With the express purpose of getting me to be consistently creative and come out of the year with some work done, the year has been a resounding success. While I am not yet at my quota for either task, I am confident that within the next few weeks I should be able to make it. 50% of the stories are finished at 92% of the photos. Pretty good. I have a lot of writing to do and a few photos to take, but we’re in the home stretch and I feel good about it. Let’s not also discount the film I am cutting right now and all the time and effort poured into this site for my 10 readers. I love all of you.

With three weeks left in the year, it’s time to think of my theme for 2010. In my statement for the Theme of 2009, I discussed some previous years and the efficacy of those choices. I’m not going into it again here, but I’ll sum it all up and say some were hits and some were clear misses. Last year I described a good theme as being “broadly applicable with recognizable short term goals”. I still think this is a good way to evaluate a potential theme, but I’d like to add that the theme should have demonstrable results, that is, I should be able to show something for my efforts. The best way to improve myself is by doing. All the thinking about something in the world won’t make you better at it. You have to get out there and get your hands (proverbially) dirty. It’s old wisdom, but true.

Another aspect of my yearly theme is that once complete the theme should continue into the next year. I intend to take another 5000 photos and write 50 more short stories next year and to keep a counter of those on the right hand side. But since they’re a secondary goal, I won’t be killing myself to get them done. My primary focus will be the Theme of 2010, of course.

But what is the Theme of 2010? I don’t know yet, but I have some ideas.

  • The Year of 3 Music Videos – In September, I wrote about building a body of motion work. Amongst my various bodies of work, my film & video work is easily the most poorly represented. I have plenty of photos to share and fewer but still ample stories, but how many pieces of motion work have I posted here that I have done? If you answered “Zero”, you’d be correct. And it’s clear I like music videos and the music that supports them. The only real drawback to this theme is that each video is a big project in itself and to get behind would certainly spell doom for this theme. There are a lot of steps involved though, so perhaps it could still fit the pattern of work posting I’ve established with The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories which would help me stay on task and stay honest.
  • The Year of 12 Short Stories – “But, Joe,” you say, “didn’t you just do The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories? What’s with cutting the quota down so much? Are you lame or something?” No, I’m not lame. Instead of writing 500 word chunks, these 12 short stories would be much more finished pieces, actually receiving—GASP!—revisions. These would be multiple-sitting efforts. I think the one per month pace would allow for some breathing room, and let me think about the work more. In terms of length, let’s call them somewhere in the range of 5,000 to 15,000 words. This year the longest thing I’ve written is about 3000 words. It was the first thing I posted for this year’s theme. The Biker Kills a Mexican. That one took me a few nights at the computer, but received no revisions. I’m proposing 12 stories of at least double the length. It’s a good amount of work, I think, but manageable.
  • The Year of the Novella – Here the idea is to write the longest single thing I’ve ever written. I like the novella, it’s like a long short story, or a baby novel. I suppose it depends on which direction you’re coming from. It would be an exercise in developing something more thoroughly than I ever have before and sticking to it. The SFWA defines a novella as a piece between 15,000 and 40,000 words, but other definitions go as low as 10,000 and as high as 70,000. That’s certainly a fairly broad range and suitable for work throughout the year. Maybe this could evolve into The Year of 2 Novellas in order to keep me busy. If I wrote 500 words a day, my current per-day volume of work, then 70,000 words would take 140 days. Average in some days without writing, and we’re still looking at barely half a year. Just something to keep in mind.
  • The Year of 3 Screenplays – It has been a long time since I’ve written for screen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something I still care about. Writing is writing. Writing 3 feature length screenplays of roughly 120 pages each would be a great way to get back into it. I’ve got some ideas boiling around the back of my brain that would be great for films. I just need to get them out and onto (electronic) paper.

I think that in those suggestions, somewhere, lies the theme for 2010 that will make the year a great one. Perhaps I combine Short Stories and Music Videos, or Music Videos and Novella, or Music Videos and Screenplays, or Short Stories and Screenplays? The cross disciplinary approach worked well enough for me this year. When I didn’t write, at least I could take pictures. When I could take pictures, at least I could write.

Anyway, food for thought. I need think about this a little more. What do you all think out there in Black Laserland?

The Descent

20071018175740_the_descent fin

Last night after Juli had gone to bed, I watched The Descent, a film which I had passed off as total “meh” when it first came out in 2006. Oh great, another stupid Hollywood piece of shit horror movie, I thought. I passed it off as nothing. Then, earlier this year when I was in Minnesota with Mikey W we got to discussing films (as we do) and The Descent came up. He recommended it to me wholeheartedly, noting that my preconceptions about it were wrong. Always willing to give a film with a solid recommendation a chance, I threw it onto my Netflix Queue.

I’m glad I did too, because it’s a fine example of what can be accomplish on a smallish budget when you’ve got a super tight script, concept, actors, and production team. Working with not that much, director Neil Marshall turned out the best new horror film I’ve seen in a few years that doesn’t rely on a gimmick (Cloverfield, I’m looking at you).

The film is about Sarah, who lost her husband and child in a grisly auto accident a year prior, and a group her friends, led by the headstrong Juno, embarking on an adventure into a cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. They climb down into a giant hole in the ground (that’s the technical term) to do some spelunking and Sarah starts to see shadows moving. When they becoming trapped by a cave in, Juno reveals that this isn’t the cavern they were supposed to be in and then it all goes down hill. I won’t spoil it any further. You should see it.

The Descent is truly masterful at building a palpable sense of dread. As much as everyone subconsciously wants to go back to the womb, no one wants to be trapped in a cave with two miles of rock above them and with no way of getting help. Really, this film, for me, breaks into two kinds of scares. The first is the base human dread of being trapped alive with no hope of escape, which seems like a most horrible way to die. Claustrophobia is this film’s friend and confidant. Taking clear cues from Ridley Scott’s Alien, The Descent utilizes its setting to enhance the dread we feel as we imagine ourselves in the place of the women struggling desperately to escape into the light. The second, which is less interesting, is the jump-out-at-you scare. I am not a fan of these types of scare, not because I am susceptible to them, but because I find them often to be cheap. Being startled because something jumped out and the music suddenly got very loud is not being scared. Sure, it causes me to jump, but it’s nothing compared to the dread you feel when something is really scary. Now, I’m not begrudging this film the use of the jumpscare (a term I read somewhere that I like) because it’s one of the horror genre’s most common tools. I just think it’s cheap, but that is a genre-wide complaint, and not specific to The Descent.

I thought that the most frightening point of the whole film was when Sarah is crawling through an extremely narrow passageway and begins to have a panic attack. She feels stuck and her friend Beth comes back for her, trying to calm her down. Then the passage starts to collapse and they have to rush through this narrow little hole as quickly as they can lest they be crushed under tons of falling rock. I was sitting on the sofa watching this with my body turned halfway away from the screen, my head cocked back, I found it so horrifying. No number of jumpscares could equal the slow dread of that moment for me. It reminded me for the first time in a long time of how as a kid I used to hide by the door during particularly scary parts when watching horror films so that if I needed to I could get away and not have to sit through whatever was about to happen. It was that same feeling, except I wasn’t hiding by the door.

Regarding the effects in the film, I thought they were mostly spot on. The creatures were amazing. They were like Gollum, if Gollum was, you know, a real monster. The excessive blood and gore was a little silly at points, but never dissatisfying. The set design and cinematography was great with real moments of actual darkness. Not bullshit movie darkness, but real, old fashioned, ain’t-no-light-in-this-bitch darkness. There were a few comps that weren’t that great, where they felt like they were overreaching their capabilities, but overall it was a seamless effort.

My one almost-criticism, is that is nearly falls into the “Inappropriately Hot Chick” convention, which I will not describe here. Fortunately, it’s kind of ok here. Perhaps this is just a particularly attractive group of spelunkers. I don’t know. I don’t do a lot of crawling about in caves, but something tells me that we’re looking at a conveniently too-pretty group of cave divers. Expect further analysis of this convention in a future Black Laser post.

Niggles aside, if you’re a fan of horror flicks, check out The Descent. It won’t make you mad. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot, and I am glad I watched it alone because Juli would have hated it. When the chick gets the pickaxe through the throat? Awesome.

My least favorite TV/Movie convention – The Overheard Conversation

It is no secret that literature and cinema often use common themes and devices to propel a story. Some of these are very useful for opening doors for your characters or building drama. Indeed, Joseph Campbell’s entire career was based on the idea that the literature of the world, myth, repeats certain key elements and structures across cultures, geography, and time. They represent the human mind seeking answers to unanswerable questions through the use of imagery and symbol. If you’ve never read any of Campbell’s work, I highly recommend you do. It’s fascinating stuff.

But those are not what I want to write about here. Instead, I want to discuss a common dramatic device so lazy, so dastardly, so woefully incompetent that I cringe and immediately lose my ability to enjoy said film or show. I’ve never heard it referred to by anyone else so I have come to call it “The Overheard Conversation”. You’ve seen it before.

How about a quick example? Here’s the premise: GEEKY GUY has spent the entire film trying to woo the most popular, most beautiful BABE in school. He had been successful for a while, but then they got into a fight over whatever the hell reason and he stormed off at the big homecoming party. Later, feeling stupid, GEEKY GUY tries to find BABE who has been approached by her ex-boyfriend HOTSHOT GUY. But because he’s so shy, GEEKY GUY doesn’t approach them and instead hears a snippet of their conversation that he takes completely out of context. Like this.

EXT PARTY NIGHT – HOTSHOT GUY and BABE are on the edge of the party by the pool. He is drunk and making physical advances. She is rejecting him, but he is much stronger.

Get off me HOTSHOT GUY. I’m with GEEKY GUY now.

What do you see in that dork?

More than I see in you, jerk.

GEEKY GUY approaches HOTSHOT GUY and BABE where they are arguing by the pool, but he cannot hear them. He comes up toward them quietly and in the shadows and they do not see him.

Don’t you still care about me?

Of course I care about you, but…

HOTSHOT GUY kisses BABE forcefully and she is not strong enough to resist. Enter slow motion. Close shot of GEEKY GUY with tears welling in his eyes, and then rage blossoms. He runs off.

BABE pushes HOTSHOT GUY off and slaps him in the face.

I told you already we’re done! I never want to see you again!

Stop me if you’ve seen this film before. Oh, you can’t stop me? Well, then I’ll continue.

From here, GEEKY GUY goes on a self-destructive/depressed/whatever bend. Eventually they reconcile when he confronts her about the night by the pool and she tells him the truth of what happened and he suddenly feels foolish and she forgives him for not just being forthright with her in the beginning and they live happily ever after through high school graduation. How romantic!

How many films can you name where some permutation of this has happened? Five? One hundred? A billion? It’s basically the plot device used in every stupid rom-com piece of trash spit out by Hollywood 50 times a year. Whenever I see this used, I imagine this conversation.

“Gosh! I can’t think of how to drag this Jennifer Anniston vehicle out to the bare minimum 90 minutes. Whatever shall I do?!” one writer says.

“Why not just have her walk into the room when her boyfriend is on the phone with his sister saying something she’ll take completely out of context because this is the only way to inject some ‘drama’ into this horrid piece of trash?” the other says.

“Brilliant!” the first one says. “I’ll get another Oscar for this one!”

It really must be the laziest cop out to burden the state of modern drama. It’s the Deus Ex Machina of modern cinema. How do we drag this out? Add some fake tension? Perfect.

What’s worse is that I cannot think of even a single time that this has happened to me or anyone I know in real life. Now, I’m not saying that all drama in films has to be absolutely realistic. Of course it doesn’t. I have zero issues with the Eye of Sauron being able to see Hobbits when Frodo puts on the ring. That’s awesome. Great. But if you’re going to be basing your drama on real life, then at least make it believable. Are you really expecting me to believe that GEEKY GUY, after spending the whole film fantasizing and eventually attaining BABE, would not just step in and be all, “What the fuck?” He would run off without, at the very least, waiting in the shadows to see how their conversation turned out? Pathetic. He doesn’t even need to be forceful, just, you know, let it play out a little. How about giving your girlfriend the benefit of the doubt? Has she betrayed you before? Do you have ANY reason to think that she’d not be faithful to you? How about asking her about it? Nah, instead you should just assume a bunch of untrue crap and then spend the next 35 minutes of screen time moping around being an all around asshole. Good plan.

Here’s how the scene should have gone.

EXT PARTY NIGHT – HOTSHOT GUY and BABE are on the edge of the party by the pool. He is drunk and making physical advances. She is rejecting him, but he is much stronger.

Get off me HOTSHOT GUY. I’m with GEEKY GUY now.

What do you see in that dork?

More than I see in you, jerk.

GEEKY GUY approaches HOTSHOT GUY and BABE where they are arguing by the pool, but he cannot hear them. He comes up toward them quietly and in the shadows and they do not see him.

Don’t you still care about me?

Of course I care about you, but…

HOTSHOT GUY kisses BABE forcefully and she is not strong enough to resist. Enter slow motion. Close shot of GEEKY GUY with tears welling in his eyes, and then rage blossoms. He steps out into the light startling the other two.

What the fucking fuck?!

Geeky Guy! This isn’t…

HOTSHOT GUY (interrupting)
Get the hell out of here, Geeky Guy. She’s my girl.

It’s not what you think! I didn’t mean to kiss…

GEEKY GUY hold up his hand to stop her.

It’s all right, Babe. I trust you.

BABE runs over and gives GEEKY GUY a big hug. HOTSHOT GUY fumes.

Now, I must deal with you.

What are you going to do, World of Warcraft me to death?

HOTSHOT GUY laughs. GEEKY GUY pulls out his lightsabre, but HOTSHOT GUY begins to mutate into a giant beast, like a cross between a lizard and a slug and a spider, all fangs and teeth and eyes, more than 10 feet tall.

See? Wasn’t that better? Doesn’t that sound like a better movie? It makes you wonder how many completely awful films could have been saved from their fate as utterly forgettable pieces of fluff if the writers had just spent another 40 seconds and avoided The Overheard Conversation. Truly sad.