Thursday, January 14, 2010

Observatory -- a fridayflash

The hatch to the observatory opened up to the emptiness of the star field. The first time Heather had seen this view, when they making their way out of the solar system and gliding past Saturn hanging heavy in nearly the entire view of the room, she had gasped with delight and with the sudden, lurching sense of both awe and vertigo. But that was seven years ago now and the stars were nearly unmoving in their familiar patterns.

She settled into one of the chairs that ringed the observatory. The room was small, only a few feet across. Even so, the engineering to keep the bubble window intact was remarkable. No expense was spared on the creation of the Jormungand.

"Colonel, you look very tired." She looked over at the figure on the other side of the observatory. With the hatch closed it was pitch-black in the observatory, the seats all dark and everything shadows against the general blackness of space.

Heather settled back against one of the seats, the cushion designed to hold onto a body to keep it settled in the lack of gravity. "How are you doing today, Father?"

"I do wish you wouldn't put me up here. I'm able to help the crew in so many ways, yet here I am, discarded in the attic."

"You're here with three layers of aluminum silicate glass between you and heaven, Father. I would think you'd be pretty comfortable in this perch."

"Your romanticism of the situation notwithstanding, I'm built to provide crew services. As comfortable as you have become with this spiritual adviser role, I assure you that I do not 'feel' anything in particular about the situation one way or another, other than an unfulfilled desire to realize my function."

"You're doing just fine here, let me tell you," Heather said, leaning back and closing her eyes. "Everybody needs someone to talk to. We're all in close quarters, trying to coexist as peacefully as we can. We can come up here, be removed from it all, and have you as someone who only sees us from the outside. Impartial, capable, intelligent."

"I'm programmed for much more than playing ship psychologist, Colonel. My skeletal structure is much stronger than yours. I could conduct repairs, move equipment, help with the-"

"We can take care of the busywork ourselves. Do you know how long we've been out here?"

"Two thousand six hundred and seventy four days, three hours, twenty eight minutes, forty three ... forty four ... forty five, you get the idea. I could go further, but I'd be speaking too fast for you to properly process."

"You aren't here to be a smart ass, metalhead."

"Yes sir," he replied simply. Heather opened her eyes up and looked across at the shadow, a black blot among the infinite blackness behind. She only knew that it was there because she knew there was a line of stars in that direction that was being blocked off.

In her mind, she could remember what the automatic crewman looked like, his silver face with golden eyes and highlights along the brow and nose. His mouth with the infinite pieces that could change into various shapes to mimic emotion. She tried to forget that. He was here for her. He was the Father to which she would come and make confession. Like every week. Or whenever it actually was.

"What are you thinking, Colonel Warren?"

"That time around here doesn't seem to be bound much by the rigid structures of life back on Earth. You know, somewhere in the second year I really stopped counting it. Nobody seems to mind much, anymore. We exist on only the time between sleeping."

"Timekeeping and scheduling is one of my many functions, sir."

"I know," she said with a wave of her hand, dismissively brushing aside his programmed helpfulness. She couldn't see her own hand, but she knew that his sensors wouldn't miss it. "That's why you're up here. Everything below is so ... fluid. Time, movement, dreams ... we aren't the people we were. You know, three hundred years ago my family were builders. They cut rocks and used them to create buildings that reached into the sky. Can you imagine?"

"I am incapable of imagining anything, but I am aware of the history of-"

She didn't let him finish. "We were people of clay, Father. Man, born out of the dust. Ashes to ashes. You know the drill. And yet now we're people of the sky. Do you think we could return to clay, after this?"

"Your function is to seek out the target planet and activate the colonization programs, adaptation to an alien world is not an inherent part of your function."

"I know this. I'm just saying, here ... you have all the memories of what time is, of what Earth was like. Do you know how much time has passed since we left?"

"I haven't been privy to the navigation logs since you relocated me up here, so there could be some variance in the numbers due to local gravity wells and automatic unforeseen course corrections, but by my estimation the time on earth has progressed some nine hundred years, six months, seventeen days."

"No hours? Minutes?"

"I cannot judge that, no. The variances are far too great to give you an accurate prediction. Even at days, there is a margin for error plus or minus three days. Even I, sir, am not immune to the effects of our time away from our home planet's way of judging time."

"But you remember. That's enough." Heather sighed and looked up at the stars. "You know, we're seeing things that no human on Earth has ever seen before. Or at least hadn't when we left. We have no idea what they might be up to now."

"That is true."

"See that star?" She pointed up to a faint light, far distant, a pinpoint among millions. "That star went nova before we were crawling out of the oceans. Or ... I was. You were some minerals probably scattered all over the earth."

"I don't know the condition of my individual components in their native state."

"Regardless, that star is gone. Nothing but cosmic debris. Dead. But the rest of the universe doesn't know it. Hell, from where we are, it's still alive. The observer makes it true, right? Our star maps show this star as existing in this moment, when it doesn't. Which reality is accurate? Dead things aren't dead because we see them still, not the other way around."

"Are you getting at something, sir?"

"Nothing," Heather said with a sigh. "Just talking aloud. Can't talk to yourself around the crew, not when you're in charge. It's bad for morale." She hesitated, staring up at the unmoving stars. They were hurtling along at speeds so fast she had a hard time wrapping her mind around them, but from here it looked as though they were completely adrift in a sea of nothingness. Space indeed.

"As I said when you entered the observatory, Colonel, you look very tired today."

Heather didn't bother answering him. What was there to say to that? "What do you see out there, Father, with those eyes of yours?"

"I am rated to observe all manner of spectra, visible or not, and compile the information into an indexed overlay in order to-"

"No, no, I know your specifications. Give me something more. Give me the poetry. Tell me what it looks like to you. As a person."

"I am not a person," he said.

"Come on, you're supposed to be playing priest. Where's your damn personality routines when I need them? When you look out there, tell me what you see in words that I can imagine and understand. As a faithful woman coming to a holy man for advice."

There was a pause, but when he finally spoke Heather heard, or at least imagined, that some of the mechanical sound was gone from his voice. "It is all numbers, you understand. It's hard to put into words and loses much of its meaning. But there is an elegance to it all. What you see as blackness and faint stars I see as a swirling infinite reality of energies--existing, being created, being destroyed, all of it coming from everywhere. Up close it is all turmoil, but far away it takes on a simplistic elegance."

"Do you like it?"

"I find it fascinating. There is something to what is out there, some sense of the infinite, that I know to be untrue by my understanding of the universe. Yet, it seems like there are endless variations on what seems possible. In the years since I was relocated up here, I have never stopped finding things of interest."

"This is what my ancestors thought heaven was, up here among the celestial bodies."

"I'm not sure I believe in such a place, and it certainly has very little bearing on physical reality should it exist."

"You know, Father, for a religious official, you don't sound pretty convinced about this religious figure thing."

"I know only what I observe. I observe the cosmos. What more do you want?"

"That'll do, I suppose," Heather said as she leaned forward. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been three days since my last conf-"

"Two weeks."

"Two weeks?"

"Yes, I could break it down further for you, but you seem annoyed by that." There was another pause, and he spoke again. "You know, Colonel, you're the only one who comes to see me anymore."

"Time passes, people get lonely. Not many people have much faith anymore."

"But you do?"

Heather nodded in the darkness, the stars wheeled overhead. "I do."

"Then begin your confession."

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ... two weeks since my last confession..." The automated crewman that was serving as the Colonel's priest listened to her, trying to understand the sin from the noble act, the moral from the immoral. But she was right, things were fluid. His binary understanding of the universe, even augmented with psychological subroutines, had a hard time keeping up.

He let her speak and responded when necessary, but his mind wandered to the universe above him. Space, infinite space, was comforting in its patterns and lack thereof. In its uniformity and its boiling chaos. Colonel Warren looked for absolution from a machine. He looked for something ... something he couldn't even identify, out there among the universe.

Together they hurtled onward.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Movies of 2010 - things I'm looking forward to

So, with the year starting up in earnest finally, I figured it's time to get down to brass tacks. I'm trying to keep you up on things in my life this year, at least in part. One of those things is the big movies of 2010. Like my friend Elizabeth Ditty, I'm bringing to you a small list of the top movies that are really getting me excited this year. There are dozens more movies, but these are the best of the best, the ones that I can't wait to see. So, in no particular order, I bring you

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2010

Tron Legacy
Release Date: December 17

I'm not even the world's biggest Tron fan, but there's something about this movie that's captured my imagination in every way possible. From the retro cyberpunk set and production design, to the slick modern look to the effects, to the fact that DAFT EFFIN PUNK (!!!) is doing the soundtrack. Tron Legacy is probably my most anticipated of 2010. And so far away!

Shutter Island
Release Date: February 19

I'm actually kind of at the end of the hype train for this one, since I originally got excited for it back when it was supposed to come out in October. Thankfully, it hits next month and by all accounts it's fantastic. Scorsese going into full on thriller mode is something I can't wait to see.

Beauty and the Beast in 3D
Release Date: February 12

Beauty and the Beast is easily one of the best Disney movies I've ever seen, the movie that was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and helped advance animated movies as an acceptable art form in America. So the chance to see it again in theaters in a glorious rerelease is too much to pass up. I'm not sure how 2D animation in 3D is going to work, but I'm more than willing to find out.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Release Date: March 19

Look at that title. LOOK AT IT! Isn't it glorious? The story of a bunch of friends who find a hot tub that takes them back to the 1980s, this looks like a pretty awesome genre-bending comedy. John Cusack and Craig Robinson are the ones to watch here, I think. Love them both. And seeing Craig Robinson get bigger and bigger roles over time has been a pleasure.

Clash of the Titans
Release Date: March 26
One of the few remakes I'm genuinely very excited for. The original Clash of the Titans was the definition of a special effects movie and the update looks like it takes enough cues from the original and adds in all the scale and ability of modern effects work to create something that looks like it's going to be pretty awe-inspiring.

Toy Story 3
Release Date: June 18

The final Toy Story movie, ripped from the grasp of Disney's past mismanagement, looks like it's going to be a darker film than the first two. With heavy themes of abandonment and identity, the worst fears of the first movie have come true. Take that and wrap it around a prison break movie and you have what will likely be another Pixar masterpiece.

Release Date: July 16

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors working today. From Memento through to the Dark Knight, I adore each and every one of his movies in its own way. They're masterpieces of identity and madness. And the latest looks to be every bit as mind-bending. The teaser trailers look very much like the initial trailer campaign for the Matrix, but I have much more faith in Nolan, and whatever Inception is, I can't wait to find out.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Release Date: Summer 2010

I just recently read the first three volumes of Scott Pilgrim on recommendation, and I can't wait to read the rest of it. Scott Pilgrim is the perfect amalgam of webcomics-inspired storylines, music and video games and action and relationships into something really special. I can't wait to see this movie, even if it's a disaster.

The Expendables
Release Date: Aug 13

Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Rourke, Willis, Trejo, Schwarzenegger. If that (not even full) cast list doesn't have you wanting to see this on principle, then you haven't seen enough movies. The Expendables is hopefully going to be Stallone's ridiculous over-the-top action masterpiece. But even if it isn't, that cast alone is enough to get me excited.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Release Date: Dec 10

My favorite Narnia book is turning into a movie. I'm looking forward to this one quite a bit, even thought it seems like there's very little hype behind it. Ships and adventure are always great fun.

Black Swan
Release Date: TBD 2010

Darren Aronofsky's new film is a thriller about rival ballerinas starring Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman. Though knowing Aronofsky's work, I imagine that it's going to get a little crazy, and probably extremely sad. I've become a weird Aronofsky superfan lately, so this one is pretty huge on my radar. Unfortunately, this one's probably the least along, so I don't really have much else to share about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Rundown - January 3 to January 10

This was really supposed to be a bigger list, but snowpocalypse and workpocalypse and all sorts of other pocalypses kept me worn out and in the house when I would otherwise have headed to the theater. That said, what little I do have I'll offer up here. You guys are probably lucky you get a week off.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - ***

Anchorman, but for Nascar instead of the 70s. I don't really have much to say about this one, honestly. It was okay. I thought it'd be much worse than it is. But you already know if you're interested in what's being offered here.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man - ****

A super low budget Japanese cyberpunk thriller from the late 80s, Tetsuo concerns a man who runs over a metal fetishist, a man who inserts pieces of metal into his body in an effort to achieve some sort of organic-industrial hybrid. After killing the fetishist, the man begins a transformation into a metal monstrosity, absorbing and growing scrap metal. This movie actually reminded me a lot of Lynch's classic Eraserhead, except instead of the horror being directed at infants and parenthood, it's instead horror about modern life and its encroachment into our daily lives and selves. It's a great movie, frenetic and strange and surprisingly effective.

The Ten - ****

A series of short stories about the ten commandments. This was something I went into with some trepidation, as I recently saw one of the director's previous movies (Wet Hot American Summer) and left it feeling pretty unimpressed. That said, the short story format here works really well. The storytelling can be very brief due to how much is being told, and that suits the filmmaking far better than the lack of cohesion Wet Hot American Summer had. That said, the Ten Commandments stuff is really just a frame. Don't expect much in the way of religious farce here.

Night of the Living Dead - ***

Tom Savini's remake of George Romero's masterpiece is best summed up as 'more.' More action, more make up, more production values, more gore. That said, one of the things about Romero's movie that made it what it still is today is the understated nature of it, the commentary on people. Something that Savini includes with all the grace of a brick to the face. That said, there's an interesting twist on the ending of the film that is actually surprisingly satisfying, and enough to earn this a third star.

Full Metal Jacket - *****

Full Metal Jacket is amazing. But you probably knew that. I feel like I'm really late to the party on this one, Kubrick's take on Vietnam and the military and warfare in general. I had watched the first half once upon a time and lost interest once they got to Vietnam, but upon revisiting I'm kind of sad I didn't stick with it the first time. The story of what happens to a man when he's turned into a soldier, and what it means to see 'the shit' is depressing and frightening and feels real in a way that meant something to me. Could not recommend this enough. For now, my favorite Kubrick movie.

Bye Bye Birdie - **

I hate Bye Bye Birdie. I don't even know where to begin with this movie. From the lack of characters I could give a damn about to the over-reliance upon dated 50s stereotypes to the musical sequences that feel perfunctory more than fun. There's probably a great stage production behind this movie, but the movie itself feels old and worn and not particularly interesting. Some of the dance stuff towards the middle is pretty good, which is the only thing keeping this from rock bottom, but ... no thanks.

3:10 to Yuma - ****

I watched this finally after being a pretty big fan of the remake from a while back, and I was pretty impressed. One of the problems with American westerns from that era is that nothing feels particularly dangerous or emotional in any way. That has a lot to do with acting styles and presentation, I understand, but it's always been a negative for me. That said, Glenn Ford's performance as a captured outlaw just waiting to be broken out by his gang has a surprising amount of jovial menace to it. That said, I think the two films are pretty similar in quality, separated only by the eras they were made in.

Broken Arrow - **

It's telling that five days after I watched Broken Arrow I can't remember quite how it ended. I think John Travolta gets impaled on a missile. But I could be wrong. Look, if you want a dumb action movie with smarmy Travolta, go get Face/Off. It's just as dumb, but Nic Cage gets to play both hero and villain and it's one of my favorite Cage performances. Instead, for this movie you get Christian Slater. Not a fair trade, IMO.

48 Hrs. - ***

Perhaps the first buddy movie, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte are both sad reminders that they used to be actors and now one of them is crazy and couldn't become coherent enough to perform in a good movie if his life depended on it and the other is Nick Nolte. That said, this movie's pretty good, with a lot of menace from both of the leads. This movie makes Lethal Weapon look like a Disney production.