by Ben P. Duck
Not to put too fine a point on it, but science fiction has never been what you would describe as the manliest of genres. It tends to have people dressed in funny and non-manly ways (check out Sean Connery wearing a Red Diaper in Zardoz if you don't believe me), involve extended nerdiness, and advocate social positions which are the antithesis of mainstream male-ness in early 21st century America. When you find a seriously manly "sci-fi" movie, it is usually in one of those crossover genres like horror or fantasy (or both, it's hard to get much manlier than Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness). But there are a few paragons of the Manly in any genre, and so I thought I would go ahead and select "The Purple Duck's Manliest Science Fiction Movies of All Time."
At first the list seemed surprisingly long, but I quickly was able to disqualify many movies. All the fantasy stuff had to go, this was going to be a purely science fiction list. That cut out such gems of man candy as Highlander and Conan the Barbarian (I almost gave it a reprieve when I realized it exactly parallels the Governator's career). 2001: A Space Odyssey was too cerebral. Solaris was too Clooney. Starship Troopers was too crypto-fascist. The Matrix was too Zen plus it has the silly clothing problem (manly movies do not feature heroes who wear Nehru jackets, sorry). Blade Runner has a lot going for it, but Rutger Hauer spends the final sequence with Harrison Ford wearing nothing but Black Speedos and holding a dove (manly in Holland, but right out in the U.S. Similarly, Enemy Mine featuring Lou Gossett and Dennis Quaid as implacable enemies stranded on a small planet was doing great until Gossett becomes a mother. When the dangerous alien becomes a warm and loving mom, that just sucks the virility straight out of the movie (a vengeful and people-eating mother is fine, however). Remember, these aren't necessarily good movies, just manly in that they embody something essential about the American male.
10. Predator (1987) - The only movie I considered featuring two governors, it is, however, really more muscular than manly. It has one of the key features of many manly movies: tough guys camping with other tough guys (insert Brokeback Mountain joke of your choosing). They do tough guy things like chewing tobacco, shaving without moisturizers, fighting aliens and telling dirty jokes.
9. The Thing (1982) - This is another immensely manly movie built around camping, only this time in the Antarctic and starring Kurt Russell. Tough guy things include playing with dogs, blowing things up and dressing in a variety of winter clothing. Unfortunately, it is really more a horror than Science fiction movie (see the Campbell Exclusion above) or it would be number 1 or 2. There is no manlier final scene in all of movie history than Russell sitting across from another man (possibly an alien) with a bottle of booze in one hand and a flamethrower across his lap waiting to see what will happen next (which is also an adequate description of the barbecuing that I am planning for this weekend).
8. Species (1995) – Two things make this a manly movie. One is the sexy yet deadly alien, and the other is Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs fame. He is so masculine that your city becomes more masculine when he visits it. The whole movie is essentially a big metaphor for men's fear of commitment and having kids. It elevates this need to avoid these things to the level of global emergency, as the heroes attempt to prevent the alien woman from achieving any type of sexual satisfaction. Sad, but sadly in line with the goals of many men.
7. The Omega Man (1971) – Charlton Heston is the last man on Earth!!! He starts off as a doctor fighting the plague and ends up a bare-chested hero fighting zombies. What else need I or indeed anyone say.
6. The Terminator (1984) – Another classic theme. A tough guy on a deadline runs afoul of those who don't want to see the project completed (also the theme of my work at the office today). In this case, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a mindless machine of destruction who, coincidentally, plays a mindless killing machine. The much underappreciated Michael Biehn is our hero trying to save Sarah Connor, whom he secretly loves. This is the antithesis of Species in that it's about how important it is to commit to just one woman and your child with her (okay he gets out of the relationship, but he has to die to do it, and he still gets to know his son when the son becomes his mentor years later. Okay, this would be ranked higher but time travel makes the manly sci-fi fan's head hurt).
5. Pitch Black (2000) – You know that horror movie where the car breaks down and the chainsaw/ax/machete-wielding mutants start coming out of the woodwork and people start dying? This is basically that movie, but the car is a star cruiser and the mutants are alien monsters who emerge when all three suns set. Not exactly a promising setting for a vigorous man-hero (more for the edible horny high school student), but Vin Diesel makes it his own. Perhaps the baldest and baddest manly man currently roaming the Sci-fi landscape, Diesel apparently graduated from the Bruce Willis Die Hard School of Acting, where he received the "Yippee-ki-yay, m*********er" Award for One-liners and honors in grimacing.
4. The Road Warrior (1981) – Remember when Mel Gibson was more interested in bloodshed than being an auteur (no, no, before Passion of the Christ)? That was the time of the Road Warrior. The greatest manly camping sci-fi movie of them all (tough guy activities: playing with a dog, chaining up Australians, and car maintenance) because it features the ultimate opponent to camping, the obnoxious campers one site over. In this case, the Mohawked and leather clad motorcycle barbarians of the Great Humongous. It also features something that truly manly science fiction loves, women as tough as the men (sadly, all are killed, but what are ya gonna do).
3. Aliens (1986) – Speaking of tough women, the two manliest characters in this movie are both women (obviously Sigourney Weaver but also Jenette Goldstein playing Private Vasquez). Yet, this movie is near the pinnacle of all good things about manly science fiction. The characters foolishly enter into a situation that they are sure they can handle, and spend the remainder of the movie trying to shoot their way back out. Better still, it ends with Sigourney Weaver in single combat with the Mama Alien (remember vengeful and people-eating mothers are okay), and she does it while driving a giant robot. Single combat and giant robots, sublime.
2. Blood of Heroes (1990) – This also happens to be the best post-apocalyptic sports movie ever made. It features a violent contact sport of the film-makers invention played in the landscape of post-apocalyptic destruction. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:
"I've broken juggers in half, smashed their bones, left the ground behind me wet with brains. There's nothing I wouldn't do to win. But I never hurt anyone for any reason other than putting a dog's skull on a stake."
Did I mention the ball in this game is a dog skull? Rutger Hauer is at the height of his powers as Sallow the disgraced sports star, a "jugger" in this movie, who must redeem himself and lead his team back into the league. Hauer is utterly unironic and red-blooded as he strides about the movie dressed in bits of tires and boxing gear. Did I mention his eye-patch (the manliest of all fashion accessories)? Silly, manly and fun (and can you really want more).
1. Planet of the Apes (1968) – Features the Manliest movie quote of all time,
"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"
This quote can be used at anytime and under any circumstances in which you need to make a strong point. Although take it from me, you might want to skip it in the airport security line (I'll never visit Minneapolis again).
There is a scene in this classic in which Heston and his fellow astronauts are surveying the humans eating fruit in a field. One of the astronauts says "In six months, we'll be running this place" just as the ape hunting horn blares, and they are overwhelmed by the attacking gorillas. A better metaphor for modern American life I could not name. We are beset on all sides by the brutes but discover in the end it is a world of our own making. The Simpsons said it best in their Planet of the Apes musical, "OHHHHHH, You’ve finally made a monkey out of meeeeeeeeeeee!" Manly on an obvious level and encapsulating the fundamental conflicts of modern life.
More untenable positions can be found at: http//sirpurpleduck.livejournal.com/
What was it about the early 1980's that seemed so full of despair in light of making snowballs during a nuclear winter, and yet brought us MTV and silly TV shows that we are embarrassed to have even watched? Growing up during this time I, like many of my school-mates felt the awesome sense of the futility of life after we saw The Day After. And if Ronald Reagan and the Soviets didn't blow us up, well then we always had to look forward to computers doing it for us like in Wargames. So many of us developed the attitude that if the world was going to blow up, why were we wasting our time at school? It's not like things got better the next year with the first (big) PG-13 movie Red Dawn, even less of a reason to be at school. Especially if our hopes of freedom lay in the hands of Patrick Swayze.
However we had New Wave music, the growth of Rap (remember the Fat Boys?), The Brat Pack, oh I could go on. Throughout this time there was a general sense of the world being chaotic and disaster looming overhead. But I also remember this sense of innocence and silliness that I don't see today. Being a kid back then, tattoos, piercings, and sexual openness were very rare things. Look at the youth of today and they have been exposed to so much more that affects them and their thinking in a more direct way. I suppose one could argue that everything is relative, but if that's the case how much farther will kids go twenty years from now? In the 80's parents worried about their daughters being influenced by Madonna -- look back at how girls who loved Madonna dressed -- Now compare that with how mom's dress and how their daughters emulate Christina, Brittany, Jessica & Paris.
Ah, the innocence of the 80's gave us such sophisticated TV shows as Square Pegs, to help us deal with the Fast Times. Or Whiz Kids for those of us who were afraid of the War Games being played by the politicians. Technology was continuing to grow and this weird Science would even give birth to the Misfits of Science. I couldn't even imagine such TV shows being given the green light these days.
Maybe it was that overwhelming sense of dread that allowed us to more fully enjoy the 80's in an innocent way that compared to today makes the 80's look like the 1950's. Oh and just in case you doubt that some shows made back then would never be made today, I present my last piece of evidence, the smoking gun if you will (and a show I did watch and enjoy) perhaps you also watched it?
First, and most important: many thanks to Billie for inviting me to be a guest blogger.
Warning: this contains spoilers for most of the Doctor Who Ninth Doctor episodes, including the finale Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways.
by Billie Doux
[Yes, it's a movie review. I don't write many movie reviews. And do I review some big summer movie? No, I review this tiny little independent film that was released a couple of years ago. Sorry about that.]
Aaron: "What's worse? Thinking you're being paranoid, or knowing you should be?"
Now, see, this is what you get when you're into sci-fi and you click on Netflix recommendations.
I rented a fascinating little movie the other night called Primer. It's about these two engineers who accidentally create a time travel device in their garage, and realize they can use it to get everything they've ever wanted. And of course, something goes terribly wrong, because something always goes terribly wrong.
Primer is a short independent film (only 78 minutes long) that was created for only $7,000. Yes, that's a seven with only three zeroes. I think it was pretty good investment, considering that it's a multiple Sundance winner and all. And it's a perfect example of something I bring up over and over again in my reviews; the primary ingredient for every really good movie is a powerful story. I don't think I've ever seen a really good movie, a memorable movie, that has a so-so story. Have you?
Other stuff helps, of course. The writing is very good and the acting and photography are also kind of amazing when you consider their budget. There's a reason for every line, shot, and scene. It has the feel of absolute realism, and that includes the time travel trappings, which isn't something you can say very often about science fiction. The two main characters come off as real guys, completely genuine. I used to work with engineers; I know guys like these guys.
It doesn't seem like there's much going on at first, but the story just pulls you in as it slowly increases in intensity and complexity. It edges so logically into the fantastic that it takes you along with it. At one point, it got so heavy that I started having trouble tracking what was going on, and that doesn't happen to me very often. I reached the end and just went, "Wow." I had to watch it again. I wanted to watch it again. (So did Dan.) I doubt if anyone can completely "get" this movie the first time. Although let me add that you really don't have to watch it twice to enjoy it and understand the basics of what is going on.
So. If you can handle a creatively filmed movie without big actors or special effects, you might like this one. I did.
Three out of four stars,
by Jess Lynde
For today's guest blog, I thought I'd do a little post-season reflection on how Lost, Season Two compared to Season One. But first, I'd like to thank Billie for asking me to be a guest blogger! It's an honor and a privilege.
Throughout the second season of Lost, I continually experienced a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Even though I usually found things to enjoy in each episode, overall something just felt off. I wasn't enjoying the episodes as much as I did in the first season. It wasn't until January and "The 23rd Psalm" that I felt we'd finally gotten an episode that was on par with some of the best episodes from the first season. After that point, the season got a little better with "The Long Con," "One of Them," and "Maternity Leave." Then near the end we had some episodes I thought were outstanding ("Lockdown," "Two for the Road," and "?"). But in general, when all was said and done, I just didn't feel that Season Two quite lived up to Season One.
Since the finale, I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly didn't work for me in Season Two. Some of it has to do with the pacing of the story versus the pacing of the scheduling. Given that the events of the story happened so close together (about 23 days were covered in S2), I might have enjoyed it more if it had unfolded over a shorter period of real time. But I think what it really comes down to for me is the shift in the second season from focusing on the mysteries of the characters to focusing on the mysteries of the island.
The Season One Approach
In Season One, the stories were about how the Lostaways dealt with the crash, with each other, and with their own demons. The characters are why I fell in love with Lost. I loved seeing their back stories unfold and watching how their past decisions affected their choices on the island. The ever-evolving dynamics between the characters were fascinating. Some weird island happenings were thrown in for flavor, but usually these mysteries served more as a means of exploring a given character's psychology and issues.
Take the hatch, for instance. Sure, I was initially curious about what the heck it was, where it went, and what it meant. But in retrospect, it quickly became a lot more interesting because of how Locke reacted to it. I didn't really need to know what the hatch was. I just enjoyed how it let us explore Locke's warped sense of destiny and how far he was willing to go to find his destiny. His actions served as a catalyst for Boone's death and brought to a head the Jack/Locke, reason/faith conflict. At the end of the season, part of me was hoping they'd show us what was in the hatch, but part of me was fine with not knowing. The important thing was that the hatch's existence had led to some great character exploration.
The Season Two Shift
In Season Two, however, the island mysteries moved front and center. The stories this year emphasized questions about the Dharma Initiative, the Others, and their relationship to the hatch and the island. Moreover, a whole world of information and possible clues started appearing in venues outside the show. It started with last summer's Oceanic web sites and progressed to more websites, Hanso Foundation commercials, novels written by characters we've never met, online interactive games, and appearances by Hanso Foundation "representatives" on late night television. I have to admit, I find some of this new information intriguing to a certain extent, especially when presented in a Lost episode. I'm certainly curious about many aspects of Mystery Island and why the Lostaways are really there. But I'm a bit irked that this shift in focus to the island seems to have come largely at the expense of good character stories.
In Season Two, the effect of all the island wackiness on the Lostaways and the way they deal with each other often seemed to get lost in the shuffle. At first it seemed like the "to push or not to push the button" issue would lead to more opportunities to explore Locke's and Jack's psychologies and their conflict. Instead, they spent half the season sitting around the hatch and sniping at each other. Locke was obsessed. Jack was angry. They fought about guns. There wasn't much more to it. Not until the arrival of Henry (more than half way through the season) did the effect of the button on Locke and others really came back into play. For awhile there, I was actually bored with the whole Dharma/hatch/button/Others thing because we weren't getting any new information and the island weirdness wasn't leading to any compelling character dynamics. Henry and his mind games definitely kicked things into a higher gear for the back half of the season.
Another thing I think hurt Season Two is that the character back stories just weren't as effectively integrated with the island tales. For most of the first season episodes, the character's flashback not only revealed something new or interesting about the character, but it directly tied into how they were behaving in the "present" and moved the story forward. In some cases, we got to see the characters grow, because when faced with similar circumstances, they were making different choices. The flashback/present integration didn't work for every episode, but it worked more often than it didn't. In Season Two, the opposite was true. In many cases, it felt like the writers wanted to answer some of the character questions raised in the first season, but couldn't think of a good way to tie that bit of past story into present actions. As a result, some of the best overall episodes for the season were those that focused on the entirely new characters (Ana Lucia, Eko) rather than our old favorites.
Maybe it was easier to do integrated, character-based stories in the first season, because we didn't know who anyone was or what their issues were. But after those first 44 days, we now feel like we know the characters and what motivates them. Or at least the writers must feel that way. Because we really didn't get any new insight into our core characters this past season. We've filled in some of the blanks in their stories, but we don't really know them any better and it doesn't feel like they've made any personal progress on the island. In fact, several of the characters feel like they are backsliding (Locke, Jack, Sawyer, Charlie) or stagnating (Kate, Claire, Hurley). Perhaps I shouldn't expect much personal growth over the span of 23 days, but after Season One, where we were treated to people facing their demons to a certain extent and growing a little, the Lostaways in Season Two felt a bit one-note.
I know for many viewers the island mysteries and possibly getting answers to those questions are the bread and butter of the Lost experience. So I imagine, for these folks, a season that brought a lot more information about the island and its mysteries was an improvement on the first season. (Or perhaps not, since it also brought a lot more questions.) But for me, the island mysteries are just icing on the cake, not the main course.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Season Two, and there were definitely some episodes that I'll want to re-watch repeatedly. I did get pretty excited by the black light map on the hatch blast door. And I can't deny that I'm curious about who the Others are, what their purpose on the island is, and what they are planning to do with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer.
Still, for Season Three, what I'm really hoping for is not so much answers to those questions, but stories that let us once again explore our favorite characters, what motivates them, and what fuels their current choices and growth on the island. If the Others and their actions provide the means to tell those stories in a compelling way, then bring on the island mysteries! Otherwise, I'm hoping the writers dial back a bit on the craziness that is the island and return to what made the show special for me in the first place: the characters.
by Ben P. Duck
I am pleased to be appearing for the first time as a guest blogger on Billie's Blog, especially since I was initially stumped about what to write about. The problem is a simple one, all too often I feel like Billie is reading my mind with her writing. We seem to agree on most science fiction and have for many years now.
by Billie Doux
I was writing an article on the end of Alias for @NZone, but somehow I ended up comparing Alias to La Femme Nikita instead. It must be hormones. I still have Roy Dupuis on the brain. (Okay, lower, but still.) Here it is.