Monday, June 14, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

When We Left Earth
     Throughout my entire life, I've always been drawn to space and stories about NASA and their missions, as I'm sure many others have. Anyone in their right mind would want to find out more about the incredible universe we live in, instead of chalking it up to some "being" that created us all (though many theists would claim that God created everything we find in the great unknown). The Discovery miniseries When We Left Earth satisfies plenty of these small curiosities. Recently, President Obama has come under significant scrutiny from scientists and astronomers due to his position (to cut the budget) on space exploration. Yet even more recently, he has countered those arguments with a few solid goals: to make asteroids and Mars a realistic destination for the future. JFK challenged Americans to reach the moon by 1961. According to the New York Times, Obama's vision is a bit different--it was a "call for private industry to innovate its way to Mars, rather than a call for a national effort to demonstrate American predominance." I can't say that I disagree: eventually, not in our lifetime or our children's lifetime or our grandchildren's lifetime, Earth will no longer be a safe and reliable home for human beings. 
     When We Left Earth is a 6-part miniseries consisting of hour long episodes about the general history of NASA and its missions. Part 1, entitled "Ordinary Superman", deals with the Space Race and the failures and successes of the Mercury program; Part 2, entitled "Friends and Rivals", deals with Project Gemini and the first American spacewalk; Part 3, entitled "Landing the Eagle", details the Apollo program with great interviews and views of the first Lunar landing; Part 4, entitled "The Explorers", deals with five other successful moon landings, including the Apollos; Part 5, entitled "The Shuttle", shows the Space Shuttle and the ill-fated Challenger mission (the video of which still gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I witness it); Part 6, entitled "A Home in Space", deals with the Hubble and the International Space Station and the failed Columbia Mission. All of the episodes are intriguing, entertaining and well worth watching. My only hope is this: in thirty years time, we will have another incredible and inspiring mini-series to view, probably titled When We Arrived, pertaining to more successful missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Splice Review, Or How to Watch Adrien Brody Bang a Freak Humanoid

     What is it about freaks that draws the attention of most any curious, self-absorbed man? Flip through the channels on any given week night and one is bound to find a show on TLC or Discovery that deals with conjoined twins connected at the cock or some 1,400 pound man suffering from retardation and a tendency to hoard. There's even a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (well, there are many actually) that deals with freaks, including a picture book with freaky photos, John McEnroe, and the one-legged Heather Mills. It's not that most people want to make fun of them--it's about the fact of witnessing something that you don't see in the tediousness of everyday life, something that's abnormal and unknown. That's why films such as Freaks ( a 1932 film about sideshow performers [starring real people with real deformities]) become such a cultural phenomenon. It's also why Splice, the new film starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, showed up on my very wide movie radar. Splice, though, has a different type of freak: one that has advanced characteristics of many differing species. The scientifically-advanced creature in the film, named Dren, has all of the great things that make a perfect creature: lungs that can breathe underwater, wings that shoot out from the skin like a bird, a stinger as a self-defense mechanism like a scorpion, and, namely, a woman's breasts and vagina.
     The story of Splice is complex yet very simple at the same time. Two scientists (the aforementioned actors) become mildly famous by splicing together the DNA of various animals. They want to take their experiments to the next level: by using human DNA in the mix, they could create incredible breakthroughs in science and medicine. The company they work for is opposed to this idea, due to the moral and ethical boundaries that will be pushed to the limit. So they decide to conduct the experiments on their own, in secret. What they create changes their lives forever, and it deals with issues of parenthood, love, discipline and the morality of creating a brand new species that threatens to leave their controlled environment. To give away more of the plot would rob the viewer of some entertaining twists and surprises.
     This film was a big hit at the festivals lately, yet it barely made an impact to this past weekend's box office. Part of the problem is the marketing of the film. If you watch the trailer, it seems to be a Species-like horror movie about a genetically-altered creature wreaking havoc across the land. Although there are disturbing scenes of violence and medical procedures, the film should be taken as more of a Frankenstein-esque tale of a creator's love and personal moral questioning of the ethics of creating a fully-functioning human-like creature in a science lab, and then watching it discover the outside world. Should they treat their creation like a child? Like an animal? In Adrien Brody's character's case, he treats it like a lover at one point in the film. This is where Splice will polarize many of it's potential viewers. It raises the question of loving something that isn't quite human and isn't quite animal. The film's insightful about it's characters psychological motivations and the possibility that the creators are the ones that are the freaks, not the creature itself. It's creepy, it's intelligent, and it raises questions in the viewer's minds about the societal implications of working with DNA and the motivations and choices of parenthood.     (B)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                 Hard Knocks: New York Jets
     In years past, I never really cared that much about NFL football, just as I still don't give two shits about the NBA or the MLB. Only one thing sparked my interest for the 2009 season: fantasy football. Never could I have imagined the entertainment and strategy of "owning" players and managing a roster, all culminating to the precious day of the week where I would go to Church and come home to beer and NFL Sunday coverage (minus the going to Church part). Fantasy football has become an extremely popular phenomenon, and more than 27 million players set their rosters every week. According to Wikipedia, the average "owner" spends about 9 hours a week on their rosters and strategy. Last season--my first season--was the wonderful time in my life when I was unemployed and collecting money from our great government (Thanks, Obama, for the extra $25 a week); I probably spent 20 hours a week on reading articles and making minor and significant changes, not including every Sunday (and Monday nights) where I would watch football from 12 noon to 11 at night. What does this all have to do with the HBO annual series Hard Knocks, about the training camp of yearly-revolving NFL teams, you may ask? Well, my friends: come late summer, when this season's focus on the New York Jets hits our airwaves, it will mark the very beginning of my defense of the fantasy football championship.
     Hard Knocks has been airing on HBO since 2001, though I never cast my eye upon it until last season's look at the Cincinnati Bengals. It's a very entertaining show (even if you're only mildly interested in Football), as it focuses more on behind-the-scenes looks at the team during training camp. It covers preparations for the upcoming season along with an inside look at the jokes, pranks, fights and injuries that occur in such a trying time for the players. Rookies and undrafted players also play a major role: how they respond to getting cut or making the roster and the toll it takes on their family and friends. These names minght sound familiar when they have a successful game early in the season and I easily beat you to the waiver wire to fill an empty slot on my team.
     The main reason why this season will be worth watching more than any previous is because of the man in the picture to the left: morbidly obese fat blob of a man Rex Ryan--also known as the New York Jets head coach. As you can see, he is polite, shy and quite a looker. Without such sarcasm he is an asshole, very outspoken and repulsively disgusting. Grade A Entertainment, in other words. He will say what he wants and do what he wants, all for our viewing pleasure. The other cast of characters is intriguing too: Hot Dog-eating Quarterback Mark Sanchez, Wide Receiver-destroying Darrelle Revis, and Electric Slide-grooving LaDainian Tomlinson. What it do, indeed. We couldn't have asked for a more pertinent set of personalities for some must-see T.V. Coming this late summer, I'll be watching and taking mental notes. You'll want to be watching too, so you wont have to succumb to the rape and pillaging of your fantasy team, courtesy of me, on a weekly basis.