Popatopolis: the Jim Wynorski story (Netflix)

I was waiting for a pizza yesterday and had a brilliant idea for a B-movie: The Pizza Guy. “Prepare to die… in 30 minutes or less!” So there I am, in a B-movie mood, looking for something to watch on Netflix while I ate my pizza. Lo and behold I discovered a documentary about B-movies that I somehow hadn’t seen yet. (My favorite of the B-movie docs on Netflix is Machete Maidens Unleashed, which is better than the movie I’m discussing here; it’s about a period in time that exploitation movies exploited The Philippines.)

Popatopolis is about director Jim Wynorsky’s quest to make The Witches of Breastwick in three days. He’s the guy who gave us Chopping Mall (starring Barbra Crampton, my all-time favorite scream queen) and the sequel to Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing. It’s a pretty pleasant documentary with a few laughs and a lot of breasts. Unfortunately it would have been better had it been about his older movies rather than his recent foray into softcore pornography.

If you’re not a seasoned B-movie nut, I’d suggest starting with Corman’s World. The rest of you though should probably check out Popatopolis. Wynorsky turns out to be an angry but oddly likable guy. Too bad the B-movie is dead these days.

Bonus video: Barbara Crampton and other scream queens at a horror convention in Atlanta. Amelia Kinkade of Night of the Demons fame appears here, too; you may also remember her going full retard as The Pet Psychic (I shit you not).

Scientific American points out that many liberals can be anti-science, too

Scientific American has the article.

From the article:

….progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities. The underlying current is “everything natural is good” and “everything unnatural is bad.”

One comment points out what I thought was a worthy distinction: maybe the right are more likely to be anti-science while the left tend towards anti-technology.

I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.

Pop quiz, hot shot: you stumble upon a pair of sunglasses that, like a forgotten episode of The Outer Limits, allows you to see the subliminal messages and disguised aliens of an Earth invasion. What do you do? If you answered beat the shit out of your best friend and shoot up a bank, you would be absolutely right. 

Sometimes you just have to ask yourself: What would JC do?
I once said on this blog John Carpenter is the only movie director whose work I can enjoy on a completely mindless level. This did not mean that the majority of his works require you to leave your brain at home (unless you’re talking about The Ward, maybe). I was simply trying to justify the fact that any other director in the world couldn’t have sneaked Ghosts of Mars or Escape from L.A. past me on style alone. Carpenter did. I fucking love those movies. I don’t care if what I say about those films seems at odds with what I say about other films. If other bloggers my age can swoon over Ninja Turtles and Transformers just because it was integral to their childhoods, then damn it, I can do the same with JC movies. Because let’s face it—even when I was a kid I didn’t get up early enough to watch action figure cartoons.
 
John Carpenter’s movies are the only form of art so ingrained into my nostalgia that I can’t hold it to the standards by which I judge absolutely everything else. A JC movie to me is as comfortable and recognizable as riding a bike or the crunch of snow underfoot. I still own the VHS of They Live that I’ve owned for as long as I can remember. 

Speed 3: Better than most Michael Bay flicks

Long story short: Speed 3 is an amateur short film video about a bomb on a roller coaster. It’s cut together faster than any MTV video ever made. Read the long story made long, from Roger Ebert himself:

No favorable review I’ve ever written has inspired more disbelief than my three stars for “Speed 2.” Even its star, Sandra Bullock, started mentioning in interviews her disgust with herself for agreeing to star in it. It’s frequently cited as an example of what a lousy critic I am. All the same, I’m grateful to movies that show me what I haven’t seen before, and “Speed 2” had a cruise ship plowing right up the main street of a Caribbean village. (Note well: Siskel also gave it thumbs up.) 

In the spring of 1999, at the University of Colorado’s Conference on World Affairs, I argued that movies like this weren’t as easy to make as it might appear. In a moment of madness I announced in self defense a contest for a new “Speed 3.” The rules were: It should be on VHS, no longer than five minutes long, and must involve something that cannot stop moving.

Read the rest of the story here on Ebert’s blog. For the record, he’s right about the finale in which the ship crashes at the end of the movie. That scene was so awesome it knocked my socks off. The rest of the movie, however… chainsaws on a cruise ship. Not one. Plural. Seriously.

Half-Life 2: Episode 4 (yes, four)

In case you’ve A) been living under a rock or B) just don’t play video games, Half-Life 3 is the most anticipated video game in history. Period. Half-Life 1 was a great game. Half-Life 2 said, “Fuck being great, that ain’t good enough,” and melted most of our eyeballs right out of our skulls. Developer Gabe Newell is the Akira Kurosawa of video games, the Dostoevsky of video game technology. The reason I never give a scaled review of any games I write about on this blog is because Half-Life 2 is a ten and any other game ever made doesn’t ever get higher than a nine—it’s that good.

screenshots/test footage from Half-Life 2: Episode 4?

Soon after Half-Life 2 Gabe Newell promised us that instead of a fully fledged sequel we’d be getting episodic content. There was Half-Life 2: Episode One (I personally thought the main game was, technically, the first episode, but what do I know? I am not the genius-god known by many fans as “Gaben.”) and shortly after that there was Episode Two, which ended on one hell of a cliffhanger and was no less remarkable than the gameplay before it.

Then? Nothing. And that was five years ago.

Today it’s generally believed that Episode Three has been scrapped and we’re going to get that full fledged sequel after all. But in case that’s not the case, well, I’ll refer to a possible (though unlikely) Episode 3 as Half-Life 3 for the sake of simplicity. So every other month or so I get an itch that can only be scratched by Googling the recent news for “Half-Life 3” and I leap into the usual rabbit hole of rumors and all-around made-up bullshit (the latter of which can be quite funny, actually), but today I was pleasantly surprised to find what at first seemed like a joke, but isn’t…

It’s concept art from Half-Life 2: Episode Four. FOUR! (See video above.) If you’re wondering what happened to Episode Three bear with me. Valve always planned to make Episode Three—that part is undisputed unless you also believe the Earth is flat and aliens populated the planet. And to presumably make their episodic content come out even quicker they enlisted outside help to work on the game while they developed Episode 3 in-house.

If you want to know more then a good place to start is Half-Life Wikia. Personally, I think I need to stop searching for Half-Life 3 rumors and get a full life… or just go to bed and repeat the search in the morning. It’s getting close, I tell you. I can feel it….

I just couldn’t put Old Man’s War down

John Perry is a likable old man from Ohio who joins the army of the future for a shot at a second life. In typical Heinlein fashion, military recruits derive benefits unavailable to everyday citizens. See, if you join the army on your seventy-fifth birthday you receive the luxury of a brand new body, which is more physically fit than your original body ever was. From there you’re shuffled off to boot camp on a remote planet where you’re likely to learn that disgusting, evil-looking aliens are humanity’s allies while the pleasant-looking, dear-like aliens are most likely among your worst nightmares.

old people review Old Man’s War

That’s nearly half of the book, but I haven’t given too much away. The fun isn’t so much what happens, but how it happens. Remember Kick the Can? It was the episode of The Twilight Zone (remade as a segment in the movie version) in which a group of elderly people learn how to be young again. That’s what Old Man’s War reminds me of a lot of the time. It’s as if a large group of seventy-five year olds relive their first day of school on an intergalactic scale. For a long, opening section of the book it’s a whimsical fantasy. At the beginning of the second section, however, it turns dark, but manages to retain its charm.

Although I frequent his blog more than most I haven’t gotten around to reading any of John Scalzi’s fiction until now. I bought Old Man’s War a long time ago after reading Scalzi’s candid introduction to The Forever War (one of my all-time favorites), but it was one of those books that got lost by the bed in my ever growing “To Read” pile. I should know by now that the book I plan to read is never the book I read at the time. Every time I finish one novel, instead of going to the next in line, I go through my unread pile and read first sentences at random. A Dune sequel wasn’t doing it for me. Neither was The Wheel of Time or Consider Phlebas. So with a sigh I picked up Old Man’s War and read:

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

Now you should see why I was hooked. Openings are the most important and perhaps hardest part to get right. Scalzi does it in a little over a dozen words.

Heinlein’s stamp is all over Old Man’s War in a pleasant way… and I’m not the biggest Heinlein fan. Scalzi is a Heinlein fan and isn’t ashamed to draw inspiration from the SF maestro. Old Man’s War is a casual read, though not at all shallow, and you can’t read it in the same house anyone’s sleeping in—it’s far too funny for that. An early scene in which John visits an army doctor had me howling.

I think it’s worth noting that Scalzi originally self-published Old Man’s War on his blog, where it became so popular Tor eventually picked it up. It just goes to show that the science fiction portion of the publishing industry is relatively fearless of trying new things, not to mention particularly proud of finding new talent. In a matter of a few short years Scalzi went from being a self-published science fiction writer to the head of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Oh, and Paramount optioned Old Man’s War into a movie. Sure, options are a dime a dozen—I’m still waiting for a Repairman Jack film—but I imagine Old Man’s War: The Movie has a good shot of being made if Ender’s Game performs well at the box office (it will).

I assumed John Scalzi was one of those guys who lucked out. I realize I was wrong. The guy’s got the talent to back it up. I don’t remember the last time I became so enamored with a writer after reading only one of his novels. Check out the user reviews. I’m far from being the only one with such high praise, even if two of the three people in the video above disliked it.

I don’t plan on reading any of the sequels next, but that’s only because I never read the books I plan on reading.