October 31, 2011

Terrorism, 24, and Showtime's Excellent New Series "Homeland"

It's no secret that the good folks over at This LA Life loved the hell out of 24. For 8.5 seasons we got to see terrorist destroyer Jack Bauer save the by any means necessary, and when I say any means necessary I mean crazy torture, wild violence, and a whole lot of self sacrifice. Yet, when the show left the airwaves in 2009 it left partly because our national appetite for terrorist killing had dimmed with the election of Obama and the hope of change. Simply put, Bauer was banished to the Bush era past, the one full of Abu Ghraib torture, color coded attack alerts, and water boarding.

But the war against against terrorism didn't end with an election did it? With Bin Laden taken out in a daring raid, drone strikes continuing overseas, and shady Iranian bombing plots, the world of counter-terrorism is alive and well. So where's Jack Bauer? He's starring in a pseudo spiritual show about a magic child. It's all good though because now we have Showtime's Homeland, which could be the best show about terrorism that I've ever seen.

The core plot line focuses on CIA agent Carrie Matthieson (Claire Danes) as she investigates a terrorist threat to America. She believes a key component of the threat is Nicholas Brodie (Damian Lewis), an American POW who she thinks has gone full "Manchurian Candidate" after being helpt captive in Iraq for 9 years. The show focuses on both her investigation of the threat and Brodie's adjustment to his domestic life after being locked away for so many years.

24 worked because Jack Bauer  was so captivating. He was a terrorist hunter Jesus figure, saving our freedom but paying deep  personal costs for it. It's no surprise then that Homeland, which comes from 24 producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa also features characters that are mentally damaged by the war of terrorism. Both Brodie and Carrie are not hiding from their peers, their jobs require them to be interacting with people on a daily basis, Brodie as a spokesperson for the Marines, and Claire as a lead analyst at the CIA. Internally though they both are seriously screwed up. Carrie is taking medication secretly for some psycho-disorder and we learn she forgets to eat and seemed to have a habit of screwing her superior officers. Brodie can't connect with his wife, has intense nightmares and hallucinations, and has secretly converted to Islam during his captivity, but hasn't told anybody. Everyone is processing the effects of terrorism on this show, which is captivating, because as nation we are doing the same.

And while it has all these deep themes working with it, the whole terrorist hunting plot is just as dope as it was in 24. There are dubious legal maneuvers, a mysterious network of villains, intense surveillance details, and plenty of secret allegiances. Since it's on Showtime the violence is more visceral, the language dirtier, and the themes even darker. Yet, even with all this show still feels realistic, and avoids the action movie violence that permeated 24. I mean, we're five episodes in and the body count is hovering at two! Two! At five episodes into 24 we'd be at at least 15!

As Americans we've always craved media during wartime as a way to understand. We hunger for fictional narratives to be applied them, and Homeland is a perfect example of it.  The opening credits feature audio, video, and photos from notable real life parts of the war against terrorism and features references to real life events, something 24 never really did.

And just how real life counter-terrorism politics have evolved, so has the methods on the show. In the most recent episode, the interrogation of a suspect who had been been snatched up in Pakistan and brought do the US under extraordinary rendition, seemed terrifyingly real. Carrie and her team subjected him to sleep deprivation, made promises about saving his family, and in a very un-24 moment, didn't lay a finger on him. The icing on this cake was Carrie's response to an inquiry if the suspect would be tortured Bauer style, her response: "We don't do that here."

It's a strange feeling because the 24 fan in me expected for Carrie to say that and then promptly go snap some fingers and start getting answers. But the key part of that line is the "here" part. Sure you won't do that "here", but maybe you'll do it somewhere else. Somewhere else that isn't in the news and exists in a gray area of counter-terrorism politics. And that is the area that Homeland thrives in. Leave Bauer and company where they belong, gone but not forgotten, somewhere in our patriotic past.

October 27, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Trailer Looks Seriously Awesome

I gotta say, this has looked awesome since the first trailer. I don't know if I'm ready to load it onto the TPG hype train just yet, but I'm starting to seriously consider adding it as inventory. The hating on Tom Cruise ship has sunk a while ago and he's working with The Incredibles director Brad Bird and a great cast. My brother and I are planning on taking my young cousin to see this in IMAX (The Dark Knight Rises Trailer that will run with it is a nice incentive) and I'm expecting both of us to enjoy it thoroughly. 

October 26, 2011

Spherical Flying Robots = Our Future Overlords

You seeing this shit? I mean c'mon son! I was tipped off to this via Scientific American and watching it, I got an immediate sense that I've seen this hovering sphere before. So before these things take over the planet, let's take a trip down memory lane and see some of the places this thing pops up.

Star Wars - This thing is totally either Luke's Jedi training device or some type of Viper Probe Droid. Now before you go calling me a Star Wars nerd like I'm JP or something, I found all this intel on wookiepedia.

343 Guilty Spark - Straight out of Halo 1, this little guy was a hovering orb computer who eventually sells out the humans because what he really wants is global annihilation via the ancient Halo Ring (I didn't need Halo Wiki to know that).

Wheatley - This guy is just like the 343 Guilty Spark except he's a little more snarky and British. A major character in Portal 2, he's beloved by hipsters and video game nerds alike.

Your Nightmares - Whoah, that's not a movie TPG! That's right, but if you check out the article above this thing is wild. It achieve speeds of 30mph and can hover in place. In addition to it's airborne capabilities it can also roll of the floor. Simply put it's hard to hide from.

Your Nightmares....pt 2 - Imagine how this thing is gonna work when it's got a whole gang of robots working with it. Last year this video of robots autonomously building structures gave us a glimpse of what is to come and now that we have an orb army, everything is falling into place.

Where the hell is Neo?

October 17, 2011

Why Do We Love Zombies So Much?

Call me a deranged psycho but that photo up there looks like a good time. I mean who wouldn't want to take a fire ax to a zombie's head? If you answered "no, not me, that sounds awful," you're a saint and you're in the minority, congrats, because a lot of other people are in the gore splattering group. With the "The Walking Dead" back on TV, zombies are so hot right now and the reasons for this are slightly disturbing.

Hold up, hold up, all you doubters out there who still don't believe zombies are popular. Consider that megastar Brad Pitt is shooting a huge end of the world zombie flick right now, zombie video games continue to sell, World Zombie Day was October 8th, and zombie novels get mad love on NPR. It's easy to see that people are really into the flesh eating hordes.

But being a zombie would suck right? You just walk around all day aimlessly with no soul, only living to eat (I'm still waiting for someone to equate being a zombie with being wicked drunk/high and craving pizza, but that seems like a stretch.) Compared to vampires which basically are super powerful violence/sex machines and werewolves which are ferocious beasts, zombies are pretty bland.

Which makes me believe that people aren't into zombies, they're into the circumstances that accompany them. And that first circumstance of the zombie narrative is the crumbling of society. This appeals to us because it's the ultimate test? How long could you really hang without your Iphone? Are the escape plans you bullshit about with your buddies really that good? Do I really have some ancient hunter-gather power in DNA waiting to be released? In the face of the dead rising from the grave with brain munchies, how do I stack up against everyone else? Forget facebook friend counts and twitter followers, this is the ultimate validation! Would I go down like a rookie or would I be leading the resistance chopping off undead heads?

Ahh, chopping off heads, that's a a part of it. When watching any gory zombie tale, I find myself thinking, alright alright, keep talking, just get to the zombie slaying. See the thing with killing zombies is that you're killing human bodies without consequence. Kill a human you're a murderer, kill a "zombiebified" human you're a hero. It would be be different if the zombies had green blood or something, but they always bleed red. To sum it up, zombie violence is just a twisted excuse for crazy violence on your fellow man (even if he's half dead).

Will this concern make stop watching "The Walking Dead" and playing zombie video games? No, but it will make me approach zombie-mania with a little more trepidation. I'll let these zombie maniacs obsess over their shows and games, meanwhile I'll be stocking up on supplies and training with my axe. After all, I really need to be the hero when "Z" day comes.

October 13, 2011

10 Ways The ACT OF VALOR Trailer Emulates Call of Duty

Since we never got to see the helmet cam footage of the Bin Laden raid or other special forces missions, we now are applying fictional narratives like one featured in the trailer for "Act of Valor" to as a way to understand our most elite special forces teams. By using "real" navy seal soldiers, the whole trailer has a "reality TV" vibe to it, meaning we are watching real soldiers "act" throughscenarios inspired by real life. It's kind of like "Jersey Shore," but with guns and killing. Besides the Michael Bay aesthetic to the whole thing, the entire trailer is clearly inspired by the popular video game series Call of Duty. Here are 10 examples that as a fan of the video game franchise and Navy Seals in general picked up on. All links take you gameplayer segments from the franchise.
  1. It only takes 45 seconds before we get our first person view of a SEAL rising out of the water. This entire sequence is straight out of Call of Duty Black Ops.
  2. Then right after that we get a first person sniper rifle shot, the bread and butter of shooter games, so popular it even is a sub-genre and a least one dedicated mission in Call of Duty game.
  3. Around the 56 mark we get our first taste of the night vision helmet cam action complete with the weapon in the middle of the screen. Another hallmark of the Call of Duty games.
  4. At the 1:22 mark we have our first drone footage of the troop team in action, which is copied out of the Blackbird mission from the most recent Call of Duty game
  5. We also are treated to our first indication of the plot, a line: "this thing is way bigger than we thought it was." Plots in video games are also intricate conspiracies, this film looks no different. See this Modern Warfare 3 trailer as an example.
  6. Around the 1:30 mark we get the underwater submarine action, another essential piece of any Call of Duty game.
  7. 1:40 Mark we get our truck chase.
  8. 1:44 Finally a video game like explosion and it's spectacular.
  9. All video games have villains or bosses that must be taken down at the 1:49 mark we get our man, a crazy Arab looking dude with his hand on a detonator.
  10. Finally at the 1:58 mark we get another shooting segment, this one involving a river boat with a mini gun, just like this mission
The website for the film is full of Call of Duty imagery including silhouettes of soldiers with guns and a familiar green type face on the bottom.

October 11, 2011

10 Things About The Avengers Trailer

  1. Who is going to get the final take down. I'm not seeing this thing completely be an ensemble, one hero is going to have to lay the final punch down on the villain. My money is on Iron Man since his franchise sacrificed the most to make "The Avengers" film a reality
  2. Successive explosions rank up in there with sword throwing as cool shit you can put on screen.
  3. There can only be one blonde Avenger, (This explains why Thor and Captain America are fighting)
  4.  While I'm excited to see The Hulk on screen every time I see Mark Ruffalo on screen I think about that chill brah dude from "The Kids Are All Right."
  5. Someone at Marvel knows that Samuel L. Jackson had to face his cinematic destiny and start firing bazookas all over the place
  6. Where are the aliens? (See the assorted nerd ramblings for more info on this)
  7. Based off Thor laughing at Iron Man in this trailer, can we assume that Thor didn't learn anything about humility in his first on screen outing. I actually hope that he didn't because seeing the two of them tear up Vegas in a super night of partying would be epic.
  8. Hawkeye could steal the show, I'm calling it now.
  9. It's still cool as hell seeing Iron Man flying around, doesn't really get old.
  10. Now that this trailer has dropped, the ball is in "The Dark Knight Rises"court to score some buzz.

October 10, 2011

TPG's Chemistry Class: Season Finale "Face Off"


DING! DING! DING! That is the "Holy Shit Got Dayummmmmm" bell ringing in my brain after last night's totally bananas season finale. I got multiple special guests contributing including the return of the REAL LIFE SCIENTIST and a new contributor JOHN MARSTON.  So let's call up Badger and Skinny Pete get some blue sky and get our river dance on with this finale!

1. This episode was called "Face Off" and right away I can think of multiple ways to interpret this title. The first obviously is that Gus Fring literally gets his face blown off. When he walked out of that room and I yelped because I thought he was alive and then the camera turned to show this. Cage and Travolta would have been proud. The second face off also pertains to a face getting blown off, but instead of literally like Gus, it's metaphorically, as in we know now Walter White's true face as a criminal mastermind. The third and final one is the future showdown that will be the final season of Breaking Bad. Jesse vs Walt, Hank vs Walt, Badger vs Skinny Pete, Gale vs Space.

2. Bryan Cranston appeared recently on the excellent WTF Podcast with Marc Maron where he revealed the whole plan for the show is to show how Mr. Chips becomes Scarface. We now are close to the end so if Scarface goes out in a hail of bullets, can we expect the same for Walter?

3. In addition to the deaths of Gus, Tyrus, Hector, and ambiguous henchmen, let's take a moment of silence for Gale's coffee machine. For all you coffee lovers out there, it was a real tragedy.

4. You asked for it, and now he's back, yes folks the return of the Real Life Scientist and he's hypothesizing and realizing shit that no one could have thought of, not even you Brandon (yes you!)
I'm sure you noticed that last week Walt spun the gun three times last week twice pointing at himself insinuating to kill himself and then to the plant! Also up for argument was whether big black took Jesse's cigs because some way Walt took the cigarette when he smoked it with Jesse which is why he only took a couple of drags. Also if you look at the paper being shredded, it looked like a school schedule, where someone wrote out Monday through Friday suggesting it was Brock's schedule and he was poisoned at school (WHAAT)
Dayum that's a mind melt with some blue sky crossed together with some Pollos Hermanos. Big thanks to the Real Life Scientist for all his insightful comments.

5. I loved how at the end Hector, just like Walt was motivated by his family. The Salamanca portrait was goofy considering what the family became but it was bizarrely touching to see crazy ol' Hector look to the portrait before he rang in the spirit of vengeance.

6. You ever notice how everyone on the show is also nice ass jackets.

7. At the start of the season we saw Gus getting dressed up to ice somebody. Once again he put on his best clothes to kill as well. And while the death of Gus was WILD, I still hope we learn more about him, specifically his probably Chilean background in the military.

8. When those guys in the van grabbed Jesse I had a flashback to Lost and I thought for a second that they were gonna ask if Jesse was a candidate. BTW if you care:

  •  Walt  = John Locke
  •  Jesse = Sawyer
  •  Gus =  Ben Linus
  •  Saul = Jacob
9. I've been watching this season with "THE GUY" over at the excellent Lifting Fog blog. A major TV junkie I tracked him down at the car wash. Since he's an avid fan of the western genre and this season has had a particular Western flare to it, let's call him John Marston! Here are his thoughts on three potential "Breaking Bad" spin-offs for network television:

'Love Thy Neighbor': A game show wherein contestants are offered increasing amounts of cash/drug power to inflict potentially lethal harm on the people who water their plants when they're out of town. It's like that sociological experiment at the university that I heard about one time in some class. Milgram? Something. Anyway, it's on after 'Biggest Loser'.

'Nursing Home Hijinks': In an alternate outcome to Tio's bell-bomb, Gus survives…but has lost the majority of his motor skills, and for whatever reason is also 30 years older. Anyway he and Tio are now roommates in the Casa Bonita Retirement Home, constantly trying to kill and/or out-stare each other. They are all bottle episodes.

'Hank 24/7': In which we follow DEA agent Hank Schrader through every lead, computer search, and jovially gruff repartee as he attempts to decipher the connection between Los Pollos Hermanos and the Mexican cartels (and get fidgety Marie off his back, good grief!). Hank is the best, and deserves the best show on television (besides the show from which he's spun off, and of course 'The New Girl').

10. With Gus dead and Walt/Jesse seemingly out of the business, where does the show go from here? Well, there are couple tantalizing set ups for next season that I've been thinking about. Hank is gonna learn that Walt and Jesse were at the laundry before it burned up, expect him to be 100% healthy and 100% on the offensive next time. Jesse is going to learn about the flowers plot and about Jane's death at some point and it's going to be full on Jesse vs Walt. The FBI is not done with Pinkman, no way. What was Saul's involvement in the finale events, who's side is he on? How does Mike factor into the end of this story? Who's going to run Pollos Hermanos? How will anybody last until the show comes back for it's final season....this show is so dayummm goooooooooooddddd.

A big thanks to everyone who read the Chemistry Class this season. It's been fun to write and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much I enjoyed writing it. I'll leave you with this parting gift. Yes that is Bryan Cranston as Hector.

October 5, 2011

50/50 Is One Of The Best Films Of The Year (GO SEE IT)

50/50 is heart warming story about friendship, family, and how people respond to illness. It makes you laugh, tear up, and be grateful for what you have. And while it may surprise some of you to know that I enjoy that enjoy movies that don't have robotic ninjas riding dinosaurs to save the earth from aliens (that would be a dope action movie though), but in fact this is a touching comedy-drama really hits a home run.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a healthy guy in his mid 20's who is diagnosed with spinal cancer out of the blue. The film, originally titled, "I'm With Cancer" deals with how the diagnosis impacts him and the people around him. Those people include his buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen), his therapist (Anna Kendrick), his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and his mother (Anjelica Huston). Yeah, I get it, you don't really wanna see a depressing movie about a dude struggling with cancer, but an autobiographical script by Will Reiser keeps thing balanced with humor and heart. It's a tough mix but the group lead by director Jonathan Levine makes sure the flick nails all the right beats.

Rogen in particular seems to be playing the same dude he played in "Knocked Up" and "Funny People," but he's more confident and it comes across on screen. Levitt's performance is very moving and I hope it gets him some love from the Academy, but I don't think it will, cause that's just how the world works, I'm not to worried though because between this and "The Dark Knight Rises" he's well on his way to being a mega star.

Ultimately though the movie is effective because of just how emotional it is. Everyone has someone in their lives that has struggled with illness and this great story manages to tap into some of those emotions to really stick with you. It makes you appreciate everyone in your life from your parents, to your friends, to even your pets. It's like the opposite of "Drive", which is about the glorification of the individual (who stomps on faces). I highly recommend it, I'll be surprised if you don't enjoy it.

October 4, 2011

What Apple Missed During Their iphone Event

Now that the Apple press conference has revealed the new iPhone,  let's go ahead and take a second to stop worshiping at the the temple of the forbidden fruit and look at what wasn't announced but should have been. And in true thislalife fashion, let's turn to Hollywood for answers.

1. iSkynet or the iTerminator -It's only a matter of time before this happens, hell, it's probably already going on. Oh wait, it did, check out this article about ipads being used in combat and what we more we can see. So if that's the case I expect the isoldier to be announced at the next keynote and the itimetravel to be proclaimed at the keynote following that (after that there will be no more keynotes, only the resistance).

2. iMe - This basically the iClone, which when you think about it is really not that far away. Anybody who's seen the masterpiece* known as "The Sixth Day" knows that one day big corporations will build clones of arnold and XFL players

3. iF.R.I.E.N.D - Foret about Siri the personal assistant, anyone who has seen "D.A.R.Y.L" or "Josh & S.A.M" knows that the coolest friend that any kid can have growing up is a robot who can hack banks, drive cars fast, and steal Blackbird fighter jets. The sooner Apple quits playing games and starts making cool companion robots for kids, the better the world will be

4. Vigilante App - This is the most serious of all the things I'm proposed here. With a little programing by some Lucius Fox type persona, it's easy to imagine how the iphone could be used to fight crime. It could use geo tagging to find crime areas, sparks to terminate enemies, and social plug ins to keep up with your fellow Avengers/JLA members.

5. iCult - Kind of like "The Wicker Man" but people worship a device.  People love like their own child, it would be created by people around the world who slave away around the clock in conditions so tough they snap and kill themselves. Oh wait, that's all real, speaking of that, where's my iphone/imac/ipad/apple TV. I need it, my precioussssssss.

October 3, 2011

TPG's Chemistry Class: Episode 12 "End Times"

Who's dying? Seriously that's what everybody is thinking about right now. We have a finale coming up next week and that's on minds of all the Breaking Bad junkies out there. Cause, let's face it, that's what we are, we're hooked on tha "Breaking Bad" blue magic best TV show, takes over ya brain madness that is this show.

1. I find it interesting that in the opening scene Walt tells Skyler that she "doesn't know these people" which is ironic because she's in business and married to one of them. It also made reflect that for all his posturing about family, "Walt" is just as much one of them as Jesse. He's the danger, don't forget it.

2. One thing I really enjoy about the show is how realistically it deals with death. When people die, either their bodies get disposed of chemically, Mike the cleaner gets rid of them, or a police investigation is started. So I was surprised when Ted died last week and there was zero mention of it this week. Granted it probably had something to do with Saul getting ready to skip town, but I just thought there would be more.

3. Back in episode 9, some dude got his head exploded out of the blue and I was just waiting for it to happen again to some of the DEA agents/Walter's family. I was literally on edge the entire episode. Wild!

4. This episode was directed by series mastermind/chemist Vince Gilligan. Some of the shots including the the pan down from the laundry to the lab were just badass.

5. I really like Steve Gomez but his enhanced screen time this week makes me think he be singing russian karaoke videos next season if you know what I mean.

6. The metaphor of the chaos/violence of their actions totally permeating everyone's lives was on clear display with the guns on the table. First is the the .38 snub that Walter hung out by the pool, then it was the Modern Warfare 2 assault rifle pointed at the camera, and finally Jesse pushed that gun into Walt's forehead so much it left a mark. The violence that they created is just waiting to break in!

7. Let's talk about Gus baby. I don't think he poisoned Brock, it seems too evil/cunning even by his standards, but you never know. So if he didn't do it, then who did? Walt? Naw, he's evil but not that devilish. My money is on nobody, Jesse is just jumping to conclusions (see point 10). But from a writing perspective, somebody had to do it, because there is no way the Breaking Bad writers are sloppy enough to introduce some crazy plot out of the blue like this as the end approaches.

8. Also his crazy chicken sense not to get into that car confirms that he has some serious shady military dictatorship experience. When are we gonna learn this? When is his backstory really coming, not the "Gus Fring: Poolside diaries shit we got earlier."

9. Walter seemed to get his mojo back when he was explaining just how Gus could have manipulated Jesse to try to kill him. It was if, paranoia, power plays, and pistol marks on his forehead are boosters to his maniacal side.

10. You know Jesse's run of Mexican vacations and popcorn & video-games had to end some time. Still it's jarring to see him jump on the crazy conclusion train, I mean that's something that Walt has been conducting since Season 1.

11. Acting is incredible but you already knew that, so check this out. (Not sure what Skyler is doing there).