Thursday, August 29, 2013
This concerns you.
Your system collapsed and your revolts assassinate: in fact you
destroy only that which you don't understand.
We know that you also will be destroyed.
Our music is for the beauty that you wish to ignore and for the
hatred of your damnable evolution.
Out beyond space and time, a planet awaits us, Kobaia.
We have known this world since the day we opened our eyes,
millions of years ago.
May all those who suffocate here below follow us.
But may the hypocrite hope for nothing!
You are already no more than oblivion.
The Magma universe began with a concept. Magma, a French band, pictured above, also ushered in a new hybrid form of music known as zeuhl, but to my ears sounds similar to fusion jazz more than anything, although there's influences of opera (in the singing at times), and Canterbury (which is also another form of progressive music deriving out of the area of Canterbury England). So it's hard to pigeonhole, but that's one of the things I like about it, the complexity and diversity. I've also heard it described as, what the Klingons might have sounded like if they'd made a rock album, which might be facetious, but is also a somewhat apt description.
The Magma universe is carried out thematically over several recordings. It was originally conceived as a nine-album opera by their leader Christian Vander, who is also their drummer, however, that never came to fruition. Mostly is defined in their first three albums. It chronicles the deterioration of Earthly civilizations and colonization of planet Kobaia by a tiny group of humans who left Earth to establish a utopian society, based on the concept of universal harmony (not to far from the 60's hippie ethic). A couple of other bands at the time also came out with a similar utopian concept of fleeing earth and establishing their own societies, one that comes to mind is the American band, Jefferson Starship, who recorded the Blows Against The Empire album. Gong, the UK,French band, is another example perhaps, but their concept is less defined, looser in concept, so it remains nebulous at best, but some great music too, if you enjoy their sound.
The Magma/zeulh journey began with their first self-titled album in 1970. To say the music was challenging is an understatement. Most people didn't know what to make of it at all, I would think, and I'm sure I wouldn't have either had I encountered it at that point in time. Rolling Stone magazine rated it worthless: a record that never (or should have never been created) and sounds as if undergoing a bout of colitis. Not exactly a glowing review. The style lies somewhere between some maybe King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the vocals are sung in an operatic style in a fictitious guttural language, known as Kobian, that was invented by Vander (the Klingon reference). On the first album, Earthlings travel across time and space to discover Kobia and develop a highly technological society. Years later they rescue another Earth ship that malfunctioned. The rescued space travelers relate their tale of how Earth was struck by a string of catastrophes. The Earthlings convince the Kobians to return to Earth to share their new knowledge with their former home world.
The second part of the story continues with their second release, 1001 Centigrades (1971), and opens when the Kobians arrive on Earth. Unfortunately the powers that be on Earth feel threatened by these new aliens and their message of universal harmony and imprison them, but are eventually set free when the Kobians threaten Earth with annihilation with their technology, and vows they'll never return.
The third album, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (1973) concludes the trilogy when a troubled Earth receives a savior, Nebehr Gudahtt, who attempts to right the wrongs. As with most messiahs, the prophetic words of Gudahtt are not welcomed by the masses and he is crucified.
All in all the band and their concepts are complex, alien, but interesting if you are up for challenging music. I'm not saying I listen to this all the time, I enjoy my pop music as well, and Magma's music is a bit brooding and intense at times, but it works well for me at night. I had to read about the concepts to these albums through magazines and the web due to it being in a totally made-up language. But I have to give Vander and his group credit for even attempting to pull off this avant garde concept, and to be able to perform this stuff on stage--I can't imagine learning an alien language just to sing a song.
If interested in exploring the band's music, I'd recommend their Live Hhai (1975) album first, recorded at the Taverne de l'Olympia in Paris. Better yet, there should be plenty of clips on Youtube to discover and listen to, and you could make up your mind if this might be your cup of tea or not. What's amazing, however, is that Magma influenced many other zeuhl bands, some of these bands includes: Guapo, Ruins, Bondage Fruit, Setna, Universal Totem Orchestra, Pseu, Xing Sa, Ga'an, Masal, Koenjihyakkei, and many others as well.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
In keeping with the post apocalypse theme back in 1975, Roger Corman came out with Death Race 2000. From an unauthorized biography I have on him, simply titled, Roger Corman by Beverly Gray, she writes: "Corman's biggest film by far of the mid-1970s was the outrageous Death Race 2000. This began as his attempt to scoop up some profits from Rollerball (1975), a much hyped, expensive United Artist production starring James Caan, in which a futuristic society is dominated by a lethal game." (Also worth watching if you haven't seen the original film.)
Gray spoke with Paul Bartel, who was to direct the film. He elaborated that Corman wanted to be a David against the studio Goliath, and make a cheaper version that could be marketed along the same lines as some megaproduction. First Corman had to purchase the The Racer, a story by science fiction writer Ib Melchior in which drivers score points by running over pedestrians. Ib Melchior had also scripted other SF fare like Reptilicus, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Journey to the Seventh Planet, but he achieved fame with Death Race (which he didn't script). Supposedly he got the idea from attending the Indianapolis Speedway, sitting with the wives with some of the racers. There was a disastrous wreck and one of the drivers was killed. The woman Melchior was seated next too was the dead racer's wife. He saw how the crowds began to push, shove and hold up their field glasses and gawk at the grisly sight, which haunted him for years. Melchior meant the story as a comment on people's mindless fascination with violence.
After a few false starts, Chuck Griffith wrote the script. David Carradine signed on to play the masked national hero named Frankenstein, and Bartel was hired for about $5,000. to direct his second feature.
What attracted Bartel to the project was its implicit black humor, which I think it still retains. The problem was that Corman wanted a serious action film. Supposedly in its original cut, described by Joe Dante as a real pop art masterpiece, that is until Roger got back the controls of it. A lot of the gags were removed from the original cut by Bartel and were replaced with additional gore. However, I think its the gore and the some of the other outrageous facets of the film that makes it still an entertaining film.
Now if you rent Death Race 2000 don't expect something all that serious, even though that might have been Corman's intentions. I still view it as a SF black comedy of sorts. It's an oddball film, not really a comedy, yet it's so over the top, it's hard not to laugh at some of the craziness. In 2008 they remade Death Race 2000, but just titled it Death Race with Jason Statham. I still prefer the original however, because what is missing is the craziness and charm. Also in 2008 they did a prequel called Death Race 2, which I haven't seen, and it tells the story of Carl "Luke" Lucas, a cop killer who is sentenced to infamous Terminal Island where his driving skills in the prison's car races earn him the nickname "Frankenstein."
Thursday, August 22, 2013
I guess I'll have to eat some crow here, as I had blogged previously about how I'd not seen The Hunger Games movie, and the premise of it didn't seem all that novel or fresh to me, and that I wasn't that excited to watch it (which that part is true). However, I saw it over the past weekend, and have to admit, I enjoyed it a great deal. There was somewhat a controversy at the time it came out as to whether or not the author, Suzanne Collins, had gotten the idea from the novel, Battle Royale, which was later turned into a manga, and then the live action movie. She claimed she'd never heard of it. Battle Royale has a very similar premise about young children being picked lottery style, to participate in a gladiator-type game to be shown to an post apocalypse audience. Personally, I couldn't say one way or the other, however, I do think the story plots are amazingly similar, and yet, I won't say it's not impossible either.
Short story: Back around '87 or so my brother and I was going on a trip to Austin. Personal home computing was just getting started and he'd given me one of his used computers. He was getting his computer science degree at the time, and home computers and all that stuff was in its infancy more or less. I remarked during our trip that wouldn't it be cool if they made something like an Etch A Sketch, and you could plug it into your home computer or had a chip like a digital camera, and you could upload books and stuff and read them on some sort of portable device. Think how it might change the industry/society. It would be great for people on the move, and all the books people have to use like in a lawyer office or where a personal library is needed. He said, wow, that's a great idea, and it died on the vine of my thinking because I know nil about computer science, electrical engineering, patents, and whatnot, but now we have the iPad, and other such reading devices.
So whether or not Collins knew about Battle Royale, who knows? The main thing is, it's not exactly an original concept, but the storytelling is where it gets its power. I remember reading Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, back in high school. Other similarly themed movies have also come along, which have a game show theme, but vary with their plots. The ones that come to mind are: Death Race 2000, taken from the short story, The Racer by Ib Melchior, Roller Ball, taken from the short story, Roller Ball Murder, by William Harrison, The Running Man based on a Stephen King novel, and also Battle Royale. They all differ here and there, some don't deal with a lottery type system, but they have a similar vibe--to me anyway. Most of them are worth watching too if you haven't seen them before, and enjoy SF genre.
But Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are the two that share the most common similarities. It's been a while since I've seen Battle Royale, but if I recall correctly they both deal with totalitarian states that have this lottery, and if chosen from the lottery young school age children are stuck on an isolated world for a combat-style sport game where they are supposed to kill the other contestants or tributes. There's only suppose to be one victor. I didn't think either film brought out very well why these games were fought or how they kept the populace lulled into servitude. Perhaps if you read the books that would be more spelled out, but I think it's one of the plot devices or suspension of disbelief hurdles you just have to accept and move on to get involved with the story. Also between the two films, for me anyway, I preferred watching The Hunger Games. I thought there was more a back story to the characters and their lives, which helps the viewer to empathize more with their plight. Also there were smaller details to the story that kept me engaged like the SF elements of the space craft, the futuristic look of the gaming operation, which gave some insight on how the games were constructed and manipulated, the costuming and set designs, and some other details.
What I liked about The Hunger Games was the way Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss Everdeen. She was a strong character, who sacrificed herself as a substitute for her sister. She willingly takes on the mantel for District 12's tribute (along with a male that is also picked from her region). I think the anguish portrayed by the male lead upon getting selected was done well. His facial expression is one of dismay and shock, knowing that this is more than likely a horrible and brutal death sentence. Katniss goes into the game not knowing what to expect other than trying to survive. At the same time, you feel she doesn't want to participate and hurt or kill someone, but how is she supposed to accomplish this and win?
When they are sent to the city aboard the bullet train, (I enjoyed the way the train looked). They meet their mentor, played by Woody Harrelson. At first Katniss is so opposed to her fate and repulsed the way society has gone she rebels, but slowly realizes she'll have to acquiesce just to survive. Once the train arrives we get to view a bit more of this totalitarian society and how it works. There are orders of hierarchy, we also get to see the game show host, and each contestant is prepped and interviewed, before the actual game begins.
I'll let you see the movie to see how the rest plays out. So what is the subtext to this book and movie? I'd guess Collins is saying something about the violent times we live in, how we are desensitized to violence in our daily lives with violent video games, music, and the evening news. Perhaps she is saying something about the nature of humans--why can't we just get along? Are we that much different from the Romans and their gladiator games? It offers up food for thought.
There is one violent scene when the game begins, but it is cut in a way so that it is not a full on gore fest, which I can appreciate and not needed. But at the same time you might want to consider this and whether or not it's age appropriate for your family and younger children. Although The Hunger Games comes from a Young Adult book, some of the scenes are fairly graphic, so you might want to consider that. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I watched it a couple of times while I had the DVD at home, and was curious how this was going to play out. I might just have to go to the cinema for the next chapter.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
This is a webcomics update. Mostly to spotlight a few webcomics I've been reading lately, and in case you are interested, point you to their web site as well. They are free to read. Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether is by Greg Rucka, who is currently writing the Lazarus comic for Image. He's also written novels, and other comics. I read his comic White Out, which was made into a movie. I've not gotten around to watching it, and to tell you the truth, it didn't get great reviews, but I enjoyed the comic. The art on Lady Sabre is by Rick Burchett. It's sort of a space opera, mixed with steampunk, mixed with sword fighting and sort of reminds me of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Here's a link.
Gravedigger: The Scavengers by Christopher Mills and art by Rick Burchett. Is a crime thriller comic.You might note that the guy on the cover, Gravedigger McCrae, the main character, might look like actor Lee Marvin, and you might be right. If you have seen the movie Point Blank with Lee Marvin or read the Donald Westlake books that inspired the film, or enjoy stuff like Pulp Fiction, Jim Thompson novels and so forth, you'd probably enjoy reading it. One other influence on Christopher's writing, which I was unaware of was the manga graphic novel, Golgo 13, written and illustrated by Takao Saito.
Perils on Planet X is also by Christopher Mills with artwork this time by Gene Gonzales. If you enjoy space opera in the tradition of say Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, or some of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books, you'd probably enjoy it. I've been reading Christopher's blog for a few years now, ever since I stumbled onto it, and I know he enjoys all sort of genre, but is also a big SF fan. Also over at his blog you can find links to these webcomics along with other links and interesting articles and artwork. He also writes a movie review blog called DVD Late Show and has a blog dedicated to 1970's science fiction called Space: 1970. If you have an interest in either movies or SF from the 70's era you might want to check those blogs out.
The other night I watched a movie called Bernie. It starred Jack Black as the main character, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey among other actors. It was directed by Richard Linklater. It was a black comedy taken from a true story that happened in Carthage, Texas, which is close to where I live in East Texas. Supposedly Linklater got the idea for the film after reading a Texas Monthly article on Bernie. The movie was pretty whimsical and, although not laugh out loud funny, kept me amused with all the stereotyped, redneck and small town characters. If you've ever seen the movie, Waiting For Guffman or any of those other Christopher Guess mockumentaries, then you'd have an indication of what's in store for you with Bernie. Jack Black does a good job of acting, and even a bit of song and dance to give Bernie the charm and good nature the character had in real life. Eventually Bernie starts seeing the widowed, Marjorie, played by MacLaine--an unlikely couple, but then everything about Bernie is a bit odd. After the movie was over I couldn't help but wonder what the real Bernie was like.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Limitless is a SF film that I saw recently, that either flew under a lot of SF fan's radar, or they just didn't care for it as much as I did. Some may argue whether or not it is SF, although I think it is. I don't think all SF has to contain robots or space ships to be SF. If the SF moniker bothers you apply the word speculative fiction, but it doesn't matter what genre you want to lump it into, it's a good movie, so check it out.
Basically the plot, I'll try and avoid spoilers or give away plot by plot details, involves the Bradley Cooper character Eddie Morra. He's a run of the mill type guy who is a writer by trade. He's been having a dry spell as far as writer's block, and can't think of anything new or different to write about. His publisher starts to bother him a bit expecting a new book, and he tries to appease the publisher. He goes home, which is when his day goes from bad to worse.
He goes out to a bar later and meets a friend (his ex-girlfriend's brother, if I remember the details correctly) who offers him a new experimental designer drug, NZT. The drug is suppose to expand one's mental abilities and give the user laser-like focus. At first Eddie, rejects the offer, thinking it might be dangerous, for one, and thinking it's overblown hype. However, he later succumbs to the idea--he's at the end of his rope, after all. That's when things get interesting.
The first thing he notices is that it improves his focus and recall. He can write better and starts his new novel. Things start to pick up now in Eddie's life and in the film as well. The film is fast paced, and has a dark edge to it, reminding me of something like Fight Club, if you've seen that film. The downside to the drug, is there are brutal side effects, also the supply to NZT is limited being a new, not-yet marketed drug.
Bradley Cooper is excellent playing the role of Eddie in the movie. The story is compelling, suspenseful, and fast moving. It seems to be a genre-blender of a film, part SF, part action, and part thriller. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a rental.
I ran across this post from a web site about Sci-Fi books that should be adapted to films. I'm not too much for remakes as I think the original films, unless a total failure (and I know it's a subjective call), but unless they're a total bomb, I don't care for remakes. Mostly because from my perspective, they almost never surpass the original film. I know with today's CG effects that they can make that part of the film updated and more modern, but I don't think that, in itself, makes the film any better. I sometimes feel that SF fans discredit a film for it's dated look, and overlook the story, the characterization, the history and style, how people lived in the past, or how charming, for lack of a better word, that older SF films can be.
At any rate the post goes on to say there should be a remake of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, and I think that the original film is perfectly fine as it is. If you have not seen it, I recommend giving it a watch. I would enjoy seeing what they could do with Joe Haldeman's Forever War, or The Stars My Destination, or maybe even it might be fun to see what they could do with Nova, by Samuel Delany or what about Ringworld by Larry Niven or his Long Arm of Gil Hamilton?
Friday, August 09, 2013
This past week I slept weird, I guess, and pulled some nerve in my back, so I haven't been very industrious, or at least, that's what I'm blaming my laziness on this week. I'll have to think of another reason for next week. Such is my life. But I have had this sharp pain under my left shoulder, which has limited my movement and motivation.
I just read Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's, Lazarus 1 and 2. It is the beginning of an interesting SF comic, which has the potential for an interesting movie adaptation if the series can maintain the same caliber. It's a dystopian tale where society has broken down into several kingdoms (more or less) ruled over, not by governments anymore, but by wealthy families. The families have protectors, that are stem cell modified, known as a Lazarus, and Lazarus of the Carlyle family is known as Forever (she's the female on the cover). The Lazarus is similar to the character, Wolverine, in that they are hard to kill, have a fast healing factor, and are more fit and powerful than normal people. This is about all we know by the second issue.
The comic is interesting on a lot of levels. On the surface it's an adventure SF story, but like a lot of well made SF, there are subtext underlying the surface as well. When I read the comic I would think about all sorts of things. Not to get too political, which I can be at times, I remember during the last presidential elections, I had a friend, who I felt had drifted off into the deepend, which was sending me all this Ron Paul propaganda by way of this web site known as Infowars.com and prisonplanet.com run by conspiracy wingnut, Alex Jones.
Now Ron Paul may be a shrewd and savvy politician because like musician Frank Zappa told Alice Cooper, any free promotion is good promotion (when the rock press was writing about Alice Cooper stomping chickens to death on stage when his band first started out, which was not true, by the way). At any rate, one of the conspiracies that Jones and crew were putting out is the Bilderberg Group conspiracy. In short, it's about a bunch of super wealthy people who want to take over the world. Now if it were just this one conspiracy, the Alex Jones site might actually sucker in a few more converts, however, if you dig deeper, they also believe in tons of other conspiracies, like UFOs, big foot, to George Bush having a hand in the 9-11 incident, and a lot other crackpot ideas.
The only thing about the whole promotion for Ron Paul thing was, I felt, if you associate yourself with crackpots, what does that say about you? I tried to win my friend back over from the darkside with simple reasoning, but I doubt I had much success. Neither here nor there. One of my arguments though was: If you were this wealthy, wouldn't you want to maintain some semblance of an ordered, non-violent society to some degree? After all, you live on earth too, and either you would have to send messengers out for you and your family, or you'd have to go out into the world to get groceries and supplies after a while. Also unless your entire family lived together under one roof (sort of unlikely), you'd be worried about the other parts of your family in such a dystopian world. You'd want some order in getting your daily water supply, road maintenance, and many other facets. The idea opens a pandora's box of worms.
One of my other arguments is: How wealthy can you be? I know it would be nice to be a billionaire, or even have ten billion, how about a hundred billion? When do you stop? Eventually your going to die sometime anyway, and you can't take it with you, so why have all this crazy wealth if you're going to just live in this deplorable hopeless world? You certainly don't need even a billion dollars just to have a life of leisure to sit around on your ass all day and drink mai tai cocktails by the pool. I'd ask him these questions, and either he'd evade the question or his answer would be, because they want power.
At any rate, this is the sort of world that is being built in the comic, Lazarus. The world has broken down into a few wealthy elite people. They've formed more or less a NATO alliance to maintain a certain amount of peace and order, however, as in the first issue we see that there are power struggles and corruption with that world. There are a lot of ways Rucka and company could spin their tale. What part will Forever, and the other Lazarus have within the story (they are almost similar to the constructs in Bladerunner). Will Forever betray her family for the greater good of society? It's a good beginning with a lot of potential.
While on a similar note, Elysium, the movie starts this weekend. Its plot, from what I've read, is similar in tone, except, the elite live aboard a space station in earth orbit. To me, that's even more risky than living on earth amongst all the waste, but I'm still planning on seeing the film. These are the plots and plot holes of science fiction, and they are all interesting ideas to think about.
Monday, August 05, 2013
I got back from Dallas on Sunday sometime in the afternoon. It was HOT there. I guess it's hot all over Texas this time of year. Summer is not my favorite time of year due to the Texas heat. The other seasons though are okay, depending on where you live.
At any rate, when I arrived in Dallas, I went directly to the Plano Friends of the Library Book Sale. For whatever reason, I didn't find a lot there and it seemed sort of picked over, however, that said, I did find a couple of things. Plus it was super chilly inside the venue with the air conditioning, so looking around in it was fun to do.
I found a hardback copy of Jeff Smith's Bone called Rose for a couple of bucks. It's actually a prequel, a story of Gran'ma Ben, from what the inside cover jacket says. It's about a dragon that attacks a small town in the Northern Valley. I believe she's aided by the red dragon on the cover, who assures her she can prevail. The book is illustrated by renowned illustrator, Charles Vess. Jeff Smith illustrates the regular series of Bone, and he is very good in his own right, so having Charles Vess step-in as the guest artist is a bonus.
Also I found a paperback collection of Batman: Black and White. That cover is by Alex Toth. It's a collection of different writers and artist exploring the further adventures of the Batman mythos. There's a Joe Kubert story in it called The Hunt that gets my attention, a Chuck Dixon story, illustrated by Jorge Zaffino, a story written and illustrated by Kent Williams, a Brian Bolland story and so forth. It should be fun to read.
I also ran across this Best of Martin Denny: Exotica! CD. It's music that is influenced from tropical landscapes and has this odd Polynesian vibe to it. It was popularized in the 1950's, when that type thing seemed exotic and mysterious. It came with a small booklet detailing the music and a bit of history. It goes on to say that the roots of Exotica can be traced back a decade earlier, when , in 1948, James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific became a Rogers and Hammerstein's musical (and movie) smash South Pacific. Polynesia, so recently the scene of bloodshed and terror from Guadalcanal to Midway, was now enshrined as Paradise. I don't listen to this style music all the time, and it's a bit kitschy. But it's fun to hear at times as it reminds me of the TV series, Mad Men, and something from that era, when say, a swinger might have put something on to impress the girlfriend at cocktail hour. The little booklet should be fun to read too.
I went and got a haircut after the library sale, and then dropped my luggage and stuff off at my brother's house. I took a bunch of books by Half-Price Books in Frisco, and looked around for a bit, while they tallied up the stuff I brought in. They had a small DVD sale going on, which was cool to look through as they did their thing. I ended up buying a few of the DVDs. Most of the were in pretty good shape and hardly had a scratch or smear on them.
I found a copy of The Shadow, which I'd been wanting for a while. It's taken from the pulp novels and starred Alec Baldwin. Perhaps not a great movie, but it's fun and gets the feel of the era.
I picked up The Lives of Others about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and how the East German police (Stasi) would monitor and wire tap phone conversations. It's a political thriller, and won an Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2006. I've had it on my Netflix queue for some time, so I went and ahead and picked that up.
I found a copy of an odd DVD I'd never heard of called, The Decade You Were Born: The 60's. It's nearly four hours long, and just details the decade of the 60's. It goes into some of the history of the 60's, politics, entertainment, and pop culture. It talks about gasoline being just twenty-five cents a gallon back then, and the minimum hourly wage at $1.60. Since I grew up through that decade it should be a blast of nostalgia.
Glastonbury, is a 2 - disc musical DVD. It's filled with musical performances from bands like Radiohead, Coldplay, Massive Attack, Paul McCartney, REM, David Bowie, The White Stripe, and others.
Kung Fu Panda is the animated DreamWorks film starring Jack Black as the panda. Fun film, if you've never seen it.
Liveforce is a Sci-fi film. I remember watching it back on one of the cable networks back in the day, but I've forgotten the plot, so it should be fun to revisit.
Dark City is another Sci-Fi film, which I saw in the cinema when it was released. I've sort of wanted a copy of this film as I'd seen it on cable some time back and wanted my own copy of it. It has a neat noir-type atmosphere.
At any rate, all those DVDs cost a buck each, well, except for the one on the 60's Decade. The check out guy wanted $3. for it, and I wasn't in the mood for dickering the price. All in all though a good deal.