Author Archives: Ilan

Tainted Love: Soap Opera in Space Opera in Iain M. Banks’ Excession

Sometimes in the big picture, it’s the little detail that grabs you. Sometimes amidst the biggest imaginable backdrop of intergalactic war, it’s the boneheaded love between two people that sets events in motion.

ExcessionExcession was the fourth book released in Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” science-fiction setting. The Culture spans the galaxy, and is united by very little except for technology, and, very loosely, attitude. It’s anarchic, mostly laissez-faire, almost completely dedicated to the individual freedom and pleasure of its mostly-humanoid members. And as a result, there’s almost no limit to this freedom and pleasure: physics and biology are completely understood at the sub-atomic level. Culture citizens can change their appearance, their gender; they can live for centuries, or enter occasional “Storage” and spread their time over millennia. Fun is almost unlimited. So a decision to settle down for life and have kids means… a lot.

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31 Days of Horror – Cosmic Horror In The Buffyverse and Angel’s “A Hole in the World”

Joss Whedon’s triumphant summer of Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers follows a line of thought that leads all the way back to the good old “Buffyverse”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all about the inversion of horror conventions. A diminutive blonde cheerleader is chased down a dark alley by a monster… only to pause, turn, raise an eyebrow, pull out a sharp object, and invert the monster’s conventions directly. In that vein, Angel takes the question in another direction: he *is* the monster, fighting other monsters, trying to make up for more than a century of chasing blonde cheerleaders down dark alleys.

Obviously, Buffy isn’t invincible. Lots of things can challenge Buffy: high school politics, standardized tests, the Patriarchy as represented by the Watchers. Eventually, these are overcome by the use of force, the support of friends, and a firm belief in one’s self. Angel uses a similar approach, though he is also conveniently immortal, and consequently emotionally insulated by 200 years of insight into the human condition. What is horror to a vampire?

This is obviously a question Joss Whedon asked again and again, but in the fifteenth episode of season 5 of Angel, “A Hole in the World”, he may have found the definitive answer.

Find out more after the jump!
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31 Days of Horror: At the Mountains of Space Madness – Prometheus as Lovecraft

Science-fiction horror has had a rocky ride. It’s a genre filled with classics like The Thing and Pitch Black, and clunkers like “Doom”. But even if opinion on its artistic success was ultimately divided, Prometheus was a highly-anticipated movie from a number of perspectives. Long-time movie fans clutched the edge of their seat waiting to see Ridley Scott’s first epic science-fiction movie since the days of Blade Runner and Alien. Spectacle-seekers waited wide-eyed looking at the scope and beauty of the movie’s visuals. Art direction geeks were hooked by the return to the aesthetics of H. R. Giger.

One person was frustrated before it even hit the screen, however: Guillermo del Toro.

Find out why after the jump!
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Back To the Strangest School Of Them All! Wolverine and the X-Men Volume 2 Reviewed

BiffBamPop is not without affection for Wolverine. Canadian, opinionated, possessed of undeniable magnetism — it’s safe to say we feel a kinship. And the X-Men always give readers lots to enjoy. And part of the X-Men’s appeal has always been how easy it is for high schoolers to relate to them.

Wolverine went back to school in the first collection of Wolverine and the X-Men, as the founder and headmaster of the newly-opened Jean Grey School for Exceptional Youngsters, on the site of the old Xavier School. With the undeniable resources of the cream of the X-Men as instructors and staff (Iceman the accountant, Kitty Pryde as Vice-Headmaster, Beast as science teacher, Rachel “Phoenix II” Summers/Gray as telepathic instructor), hundreds of years’ worth of his own life savings, and the “Angel” Worthington fortune, it looked like things might just go their way.

Writer Jason Aaron knows that he can’t let things get too easy, though.

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Big Ideas On The Big Screen – Phillip K. Dick In Hollywood

Words like “imaginative”, “mind-bending”, and “psychologically unsettling” are often applied to the science-fiction novels of Phillip K. Dick. He wrote stories with big ideas.

At the same time, his novels have been almost uncomfortably fertile ground for adaptation into big-budget Hollywood films – some faithfully, and some very, very loosely. And while we’re on the subject of Total Recall, let me mention Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”. The story of a quiet, unassuming man who tries to book a virtual vacation only to find out that it’s actually happened has become a massive, explosive, ultraviolent action movie not once, but twice.

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The Secret is Out – Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live Rereleased on Blu-Ray

The concert film is a tricky proposition. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing – witness Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads film “Stop Making Sense” – you’re essentially watching a concert without the experience of being there, live. There’s got to be something very intentional about the experience to draw the viewer in. Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live, re-released on Blu-Ray today, is such an immersive experience. But in part it’s the concert’s lack of contrivance that makes the difference. Read more after the jump!
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Titanic Teams/Saturday At The Movies: The Mystery Men

Sometimes a team only works because they’re a team.

Take any of the Mystery Men on their own – Mister Furious, say, or The Shoveller, or Invisible Boy. Not a one of them would be anything other than a punchline to a weird non-joke. The Spleen. The Blue Raja. The Bowler. (Okay, maybe The Bowler.)

Originating as supporting characters in the bizarre, absurdist Flaming Carrot comic, the Myster Men were adapted into a bizarre, garish late-’90s action comedy with an aesthetic that was one part Lorne Michaels, one part Batman and Robin. Bright metallic colours, moulded plastic, sarcastic sketch-comedy one-liners.

But they were amazing.

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March Madness – Charlie Kaufman’s Weirdest Movie Yet

Even by Charlie Kaufman’s standards, Synechdoche, New York is a weird movie.

Charlie Kaufman made his big splash writing Being John Malkovich for Spike Jonze, and followed that up with the even more bewildering meta-movie Adaptation, a movie about writing a movie based on a New Yorker article. Adaptation featured a device wherein Charlie, a character in the movie based on the writer, grapples with his (possibly imaginary) brother Donald’s much more “mainstream” sensibilities, even as the movie itself veers in the direction of Donald’s inclinations to normality.

Synechdoche shows no such compunctions.

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March Madness: TV Conspiracy Theory – The Last Five Minutes of St. Elsewhere

“The last five minutes of St. Elsewhere is the only television show, ever. Everything else is a daydream.”

Tommy Westphall (courtesy St. Elsewhere)

So explains the late, great, comic and animation creator Dwayne McDuffie, introducing one of the great television conspiracies of all time. But who is Tommy Westphall, and why does he turn almost all of television into a single, overarching conspiracy theory?

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Biff Bam Pop’s Favourite Couples – Wolverine and Phoenix

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and those of us who indulge in the pleasures of pop culture tend to like our romantic fantasies with an edge of latent tragedy.

So on the subject of doomed love, why not take a look at the pairing that comic book writers have spent decades trying to convince us wouldn’t work. From the moment the compact, rough-hewn, cantankerous Canadian mutant Wolverine was introduced to the X-Men by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum in Giant-Size #1 (in all its leprechaun-fighting silliness), he and the telekinetic Jean Grey found themselves in a protracted, broken love triangle. As they struggled with their feelings, X-Men writers (and for a while, that meant Chris Claremont) seemed to be telling readers that the conventional pretty-boy Scott “Cyclops” Summers was forever and always to be Jean’s one-and-only, only to be undone time and time again because of the characters’ natural chemistry.

Movie audiences knew it without needing to be told

And yet they would never really bridge that gap and enter into a relationship, at least in “mainstream” continuity.

It’s hard to say why they make such a compelling couple. It’s not just that they look like Fred and Wilma Flintstone (or Peter and Lois Griffin, or even Barney and Miriam Panofsky). But from the first time the characters meet, you see a spark of emotion – something primal and undeniable. There’s fire there, but there’s also something unspoken. Somehow there is a personal connection. And with Jean and Cyclops together in a conventional, “Bye Bye Birdie” sense, it’s also sort of transgressive, and dangerous.

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