Wednesday, October 31, 2012


A ways back I posted about The Vandertramps, a "band" I'd been listening to and enjoying for its early-90s-indie-rock-throwback kinda sound. To be honest The Vandertramps were just a multi-instrumental buddy of mine from high school who put together some really awesome tracks (almost) entirely on his own. I still find myself listening to the EP he put out back in 2009 more often than I'd ever admit to him, but unfortunately he's been busy and hasn't had nearly enough time for music over the last few years.

Now though he's back in the form of an album/band (?) titled Deliluh, and it's available online here. I've just started listening to it myself but so far I love what I'm hearing. It's got the same indie-rock foundation but with a bit more country behind it. Give a listen to "The Things We Need" in this player below, and if you like what you hear then check out the rest of the album over at the bandcamp page. His last set of tracks still isn't stale either so give that another listen if you're so inclined.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Russians Make Quitting Smoking Easy in 4 Minute Video

I found the video below on reddit thanks to user spif. In it a Russian YouTube user does an experiment to see just how much tar comes out of cigarettes when we smoke them, and the results are quite jarring. Nothing in the video is likely to be "news" to you in this day and age, but the shock of seeing the raw tar at the end is extremely effective. If you've ever wanted to quit smoking then this video presents a good visual incentive to do so immediately:

Monday, October 22, 2012



After months of silence and an embittered post about the quality of summer movies in 2012, along came Looper to answer all my cinephile woes. One disappointing film after the next had me positively exhausted with film criticism, but Rian Johnson's latest has me back on the wagon. Looper isn't perfect, but it's an original, intelligent, and engaging science-fiction/time travel movie that's also accessible and affective (which is more than I can say for some other flicks in the genre).

I liked Looper a lot, that's the short version of this review. What follows will be a more in-depth discussion that will include spoilers. Steer clear if you haven't seen Looper yet, as there are some legitimate surprises in store for you.


Ok, let's just get the big negative elephant in the corner out of the way: the time-travel mechanics of Looper only kinda sorta work at best. This movie is not a scientific examination of multiple timelines (ala Primer) or conversely a postulation on cyclical inevitability (ala 12 Monkeys). Rather, Looper is an adventure film about agency that uses the concept of time-travel to underpin its thematic structure. This is never so clear as in the film two weakest moments, namely the cheeky, fourth-wall-cracking "I don't want to talk about time travel" diner conversation, and the sepia-toned "I saw how it would happen" montage during the climax. These moments demonstrate that Looper puts its heart before its brain and desperately wants the audience to follow suit. Unfortunately in doing so they lead the viewer by the hand to the "point" of the film, and are the most inelegant moments in Rian Johnson's career to date.

Nevertheless, Looper is an incredible and worthwhile experience. It melds aspects of the Terminator franchise (only in reverse) with Akira of all things, and kept me guessing for most of the movie. Although it might be intellectually-light on time-travel as a whole, that torture sequence is burned in my memory as one of the most original and visceral takes on the concept that I've ever seen. It showed us everything but all the while adhered to the old horror-film adage that the scariest monster is the one we don't see.

Additionally, the film's defiant moral ambiguity in refusing to have a real villain is a convention-busting turn that we don't see very often. I know, I know, Bruce Willis kills children in cold blood, but the fact that he and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are the same character complicates the matter. We literally can't just write-off Willis as the bad guy because he's the same character as Levitt. The character is a profoundly selfish one but that's not the same thing as being evil. By all traditional measures Willis is actually better than Levitt: he's reformed from the murder business, off the drugs, and has suffered a sympathetically tragic loss. We can't entirely root for one over the other because they both frustrate our moral instincts and yet are fundamentally two sides of the same coin. That's part of what makes Levitt's choice at the end so effective, both for the character and as a sci-fi conceit.

The definition of sci-fi is a contentious subject, but I subscribe to the idea that the genre presents strange worlds to encourage reflection on our own. The ways in which sci-fi settings differ from reality are precisely what create this interrogative reflex, as their strangeness forces us to consider the ways the real world is different and (more importantly) why. In the case of Looper, the qualities that set its world apart let us consider the meaning of choice and repercussions (apt for a time-travel movie).

Besides the time-travel and telekinetic powers that distinguish Looper's future from our own world, the movie's setting is generally familiar. Those two elements allow us to examine two characters in unusual ways: one at two separate points in his life, both as a youth trying to make his own way and as an old man who's lost everything; the other character is the boy with an incredible gift who doesn't yet have enough control of his life to determine what he'll become. Over the course of the film we're made increasingly aware of the pain and violence that both characters inflict on others as a result of their selfish choices. Ultimately we discover that each character's actions are precisely what inspire the other to lash out against them in an endlessly repeating pattern of revenge (in theory it's a two-timeline tiered cycle of violence, but again don't worry about the mechanics too much). The sci-fi aspects of the movie are what let us see the whole self-replicating "loop" (ugh) of selfishly-motivated choices and their repercussions. When Levitt joins us in seeing these puppet-strings he does the only thing that's needed to stop the cycle: he makes an unselfish choice.

Looper's central focus is understanding the consequences of our actions, and the time travel and telekinetic powers are simply the tools Rian Johnson uses to explore that concept. The moral ambiguity serves the same purpose as the sci-fi elements in that these narrative qualities flesh out the nature of each character's decisions. In the end there's no villain or hero, just people making choices that spiral out of their control into a self-perpetuating cycle. The fantastical differences between our world and Looper's are what allow Levitt to share the audience's perspective, to see the big picture and the role(s) he can play in it. Conceptual mechanics and plot holes aside, it's the stuff of classic sci-fi by my definition.

I had tons of nitpicky problems with Looper, ranging from the mundane (JGL's makeup may have been well done but damn was it ever distracting) to the fundamental (if they didn't make loopers close their own contracts then this whole mess could have been avoided). Overall though the film was greater than the sum of its parts, as the plot (holes and all) served to reemphasize the narrative's central theme. Looper is a fantastic sci-fi movie that showed me things I'd never seen before via a unique perspective. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes sci-fi or any of the talented people involved with the film.


Side note: If you're intrigued by my brief discussion of the definition of sci-fi, then I highly recommend you check out the works of Darko Suvin and Adam Roberts. My own take draws very heavily from Suvin's ideas of cognitive estrangement. They're both very interesting and definitely worth a read if you're so inclined.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Orca and Ripoff Flicks

I've acknowledged The Big Picture as one of my favourite web series before, and its best moments often come in October when "MovieBob" does an annual feature called "Schlocktober." For a full month Bob gives us episodes on "obscure and/or bizarre horror and monster movies," basically ensuring that Christmas comes an extra four times a year for horror/monster movie nerds. This year Bob has decided to feature Orca as one of his movie picks, and the results are fantastic. Give the episode a watch below (major spoilers for Orca):

This video brings up a long-time curiosity of mine: movies that were green-lit strictly to feed off the popularity of blockbuster hits. One of my all time favourite films, Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. Dan O'Bannon's script was approved for production largely by virtue of the fact that Star Wars was an unprecedented hit in 1977, leading movie execs to say "People love space!" and fast track potential contenders for said space-fans' money. But the story of Alien is a serious diamond in the rough type scenario, as more often than not these "ripoff flicks" end up as poor shadows of the films that inspired them. Just watch Moonraker and you'll see what I mean.

As Bob indicates in the video, the release of Jaws had a similar effect to that of Star Wars, and Orca was one of many attempts to steal Steven Spielberg's crown as the king of underwater horror (to date none have succeeded, IMHO). Another illustrious contender was Joe Dante's Piranha, a parody of the many Jaws imitations. It is notable both for being "the best of the Jaws ripoffs" in Spielberg's own estimation (source: Wikipedia), and because James Cameron made his directorial debut with the sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning. Also the hilarious 2010 remake, Piranha 3D, featured a 3D underwater nude ballet sequence that might be most exploitative thing ever filmed.

The ripoff flicks phenomenon has intrigued me for years because when things go right (see: all of the aforementioned examples besides Moonraker) it's the perfect confluence of the financial and artistic motivations behind filmmaking. Granted, things tend to go wrong more often than not (see: Moonraker), but the best examples make all of the worst movies worth it (others might not agree with me). Hell, the superhero film genre is itself an example of this phenomenon, and I'd watch Catwoman a hundred times if that's what it took to get The Dark Knight. I might revisit this subject in more depth in a future post, but for now it's enough to say that ripoff flicks present a more nuanced picture of the business side of filmmaking.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Human Sexuality in Under Four Minutes

Hank from VlogBrothers has put together a fantastic and concise video explaining the surprisingly complex subject of human sexuality. This is my first experience of VlogBrothers but it certainly won't be my last: this kind of clear and engaging discussion of difficult topics is the stuff that Internet legend is made of. It's a quick and worthwhile watch so without further ado I invite you to get to it below:

(Big thanks to Chelsey for the heads up)