California Literary Review

The Weekly Listicle: Assuming Direct Control!

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May 26th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

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MUHUAHAHAHA I have assumed control over your regularly scheduled Listicle!

There is nothing wrong with your computer. Do not attempt to reload the page. I am controlling the upload. I control the image files. I control the embedded videos. I can make the following topic incomprehensible, or bring it into crystal clarity. For the next Listicle I will control all that you watch and read. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to reach into the deepest,weirdest listicle yet!

Who am I? I am Adam Robert Thomas, that’s who! I normally write the video game reviews and blog over here at the California Literary Review. But today, using technology I’ve acquired from underworld contacts, I’ve reached over and claimed this branch of the site as mine, and mine alone!

The topic at hand?

Well, assuming control over the airwaves of course! What else would this be about? It’s only fitting!

You know the moment in the movie where the heroes (or the villain) somehow manages to take over all of the world’s media, and broadcast a message to anyone paying attention? I’m composing a list of THOSE moments in film and television!

Why? Because I’ve gone MAD WITH POWER! HAHaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

(Also it might be a bit funny)

Behold!

ADAM’S PICKS:

Frisky Dingo – Episode 1, Season 1 (Adam Reed, Matt Thompson, 2006)

Usually, there are two ways this trope works. The first one is straight forward: someone menacing shows off their absolute and total power by hijacking the airwaves to deliver some vast announcement to a large populace, preferably everyone on Earth, or at least America. Maybe they know if they tell just America we will just pass it along to the rest of the world? Usually it’s to let everyone know they’re doomed or demanding ransom on threat of doom. Somehow it’s always doom related.

Enter Killface.

Just look at that chair! Stylish AND evil.

A super villain that’s pale as a sheet, larger than life with his skull-like visage, overwrought musculature, burning red eyes and taloned feet, Killface greets America. He informs them of their impending doom (see, doom related) once he activates the Annihilatrix, a fusion engine that will drive the Earth into the sun! He finishes with the ominous, “. . . and look upon my works ye mighty, and despair.”

But then the camera just stays there. After a bit, Killface looks away awkwardly, his malevolent glare more casual. He takes a sip of water, then asks if they should do it again.

Asks whom? The two USC Film School Graduates he’s kidnapped and hired to direct his message of doom that’s of course!

The entire first episode of the show outlines the realistic problems that would arise when trying to address the entire country (let alone the world) for someone who isn’t Rupert Murdoch. Mostly it comes down to cost. Sure filming the thing wouldn’t be too bad – it’s usually just the villain speaking directly to the camera – but the logistics to take over every broadcast tower are nightmarish when you don’t have an army and your primary technical field is in making nightmare arsenals rather than computer hacking. Plus, when you’ve already sunk most of your funding into your doomsday weapon, paying for the airtime via a “media buy” is prohibitively expensive.

Needless to say, Killface doesn’t take this news very well, killing his snotty film-school grads in violent rage. Leaving only their assistant Valerie to suggest a much more cost effective medium as a harbinger:

A direct mailing campaign of postcards! Complete with a coupon for the local dry cleaner!

Though later, in season 2, he does bring back some of the concept in his bid to run for president (it’s kind of a weird show like that).

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Aside from the fact that one of the funniest shows ever to grace Adult Swim’s line-up spun off from this concept, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that someone decided to tackle the almost insurmountable problems that come with trying to address an entire country. Oh and if you haven’t seen this wonderful show, all I have to say is . . . BOOSH!

Gamer ( dir. Mark Nevaldine, Brian Taylor, 2009)

Ken Castle

Ken Castle wants to control your mind! MUHUAHAHAHA!

Castle (no . . . a different “Castle” from the one you’re thinking of), the above villain of the under appreciated Gamer circumvents Killface’s problems of having to buy airtime because at the end of the film, he’s not the one to hijack every television in the nation, it’s the heroes.

This is other kind of big public address we see all the time in film: the big public revelation! Here the good guys will somehow take control over every TV station at exactly the right moment to show the villain that the public otherwise thinks is decent (or at least not puppy-slaying heinous), is in fact borne from the same stock as Hitler, Stalin and Osama Bin Laden combined. Usually, how this is accomplished is only vaguely explained, but what always gets me is the precision timing of it. How are they so sure that the bad guy isn’t just taking out his laundry or watching The Jersey Shore?

In the case of Gamer it is a little bit more acceptable, as eccentric billionaire Castle (played by Michael C. Hall at his hammy best) already has a pair of popular games, “Society” and “Slayers”, that are already televised to an audience that loves watching them. These games by the way, allow the public to control actual other humans remotely via nanotechnology, (our generation’s version of the magical plot device that was radiation in the 1950’s). At the very least, the technical ability to hack into the video feed (and games themselves) of a resistance group called “Humanz” (yes that’s their actual name) is properly built up throughout the film, starting with minor interruptions of service early in the narrative, and progressively gaining more control and airtime as it goes on.

Castle’s big plan is over course . . . to take over the world(!) by infecting all of the key players in it (presidents, industrialists, Snooki etc.) with his “receiver” nanobots, since he can secretly control them all with his “projector” nanobots. This essentially turns him into the comic book villain Purple Man, but on a grand scale.

Yeah, Purple Man is basically a color-coded Dexter.

In the end of the film we’re treated to a delicious sequence where Castle uses his mind control to attack our hero Kable (Gerard Butler) first with a choreographed dance number featuring prison inmates under his control, and then with . . . the same prison inmates. Check it out.

Kable had been freed from the control of others earlier in the film, but this dance-core attack allows Castle’s techies enough time to regain control over Butler’s body again. Then despite having been shown that the Humanz have been all but wiped out and their base of operations destroyed, one remaining survivor somehow turns on the cameras in Castle’s house.

Wait? Why would he have cameras in his house you say? Oh the answer is that there is no reason at all? OK then. Oh and the way the audience is informed that the rest of the country/world is receiving the message? The classical shorthand of the big TV’s in Times Square of course!

If your message shows up on this screen, it means you are obviously talking to everyone in the world rather than tourists in New York. Naturally.

So yeah, it’s not too original in how this is conveyed, but what’s conveyed is at least interesting. Kable under almost direct control of Castle despite himself, plays a little psychological trick on his puppeteer: he knows that Castle’s thoughts control his actions so he suggests that Castle think about Cable stabbing him. It’s one of those things; the second someone tells you to think of something, it’s pretty much impossible to not think of it, at least briefly.

For example: try not to imagine an elephant after I mention it. You can’t Can you?

So via the technique of suggestion, the hero kills our villain and relative goodness wins the day. I like this moment not for its originality in how the heroes show the world, but for what’s actually shown. Like the rest of Gamer, it’s a rather interesting intellectual concept surrounded in the violent imagery that allowed most critics to assume there was little on its mind, when in fact it’s far more prescient than it ever should have been.

Seriously check out this movie, it’s a lot better than you would think.

Hackers (dir. Iain Softley, 1995)

If I had to name my favorite guilty pleasure movie from my misbegotten youth, I’d have to go with Hackers.

So sayeth the young: Hack the Planet!

Maybe it’s because the movie was so obviously trying to predict the next big underground social group to become popular and misread the future worse than those who thought the Y2K bug was a thing. Or maybe it’s because it brought the world the hottest (or at least youngest) version of Angelina Jolie to the screen. Or maybe it’s because it’s a lot of fun to hear (a then twenty-five year old) Brit Johnny Lee Miller try to play an American high schooler, and often stumbling with his accent in a delightful manner. Or maybe because it does accurately capture how geeks in the early days of the internet always gave themselves the most ridiculous “awesome” screen names, like “Zero Cool” and “Acid Burn”. Wait, did I say early days? This still goes on today- just ask BluntMaster420 and N00bPwner69!

But for all these reasons and more (Fisher Stevens gets a lot of screen time to ham it up) I love this terrible, terrible film. Like Gamer, the end of Hackers has a big world-wide announcement (complete with the screen at Times Square AGAIN) at the end to reveal the intentions of the villains and clear the names of the heroes.

The Sixties had the Rat Pack, the Eighties the Brat Pack, but this was the nineties, so meet the “Hack Pack”!

You see, the “Hack Pack” of Miller, Jolie, Matthew Lillard, and . . . some other guys, had used their uber skillz and a global coalition of international hackers to destroy the villain (Stevens) super computer and ruin his plot to steal millions while causing several oil spills around the world. Though heroic, what they do is pretty illegal and so most of the main cast gets arrested and no one knows the truth of their actions. Plus despite the fact that everything is theoretically traceable, the lead investigator (Bunk Moreland from The Wire) won’t believe their story seeing as they’re kids.

The Bunk don’t take no guff from some punk kids!

That’s when Lillard, AKA “Cereal Killer”, works with a pair of androgynous Japanese brothers to hijack broadcast towers and satellites and reveals the plot to the masses. What makes it stand out in my mind is just how truthfully awkward his address is.

Lillard acts like a complete stoner acts whenever they get onto the local news. He rambles on revealing the scheme, grinning as if he’s got a desperate case of the munchies, and singles out those responsible, including a very surprised Lorraine Bracco (another appearance by someone HBO would later make a household name). Near the end, he actually comes to realize though, that he’s talking to the entire world and gets a bit self-conscious about it, even remarking to his handlers that he “kinda feels like God dudes.”

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The fact that someone is actually suitably impressed with having a world-wide audience, is what gives this scene its charm. Heck, this earnestness is really what gives the entire film its charm. Watching it today, it’s difficult not to laugh at the implausibility of a lot of it (there’s a Virtual Reality gaming device, remember when those were popular? Oh wait that’s right, never!), and the fashion sense is abhorrent, but the music is the best of mid-nineties electronica and the performances are genuine while the plot (a retread of the Superman 3 Richard Pryor scheme) is at least told in a unique fashion.

Seeing as film producers really haven’t become any more tech savvy over the years (remember how Swordfish was basically Hugh Jackman yelling “Firewall” at random intervals?) I think its past due for a sequel to this wonderful film. Maybe they can use it to cover some current events?

Then of course I’d like to bring your attention to-

Wha? I’m losing the signal! NoooooooooOOO-

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Oh hey! Sorry about that. Don’t know how he got on our listicle. We’ll have to reinforce our security I suppose. We had a whole thing planned about- well, hey look at all the stuff already up so far!

Almost seems a shame to waste that much effort.

Alright, how about the rest of you guys? Want to jump in on this list?

*The Regular Listicle Crew nods their heads in acknowledgement*

Alright, let’s forge on ahead! Shall we?

JULIA’S PICKS:

“True Blood,” Season 3, “Everything is Broken” – Russell Edgington loses his s*(% on live television

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HBO’s “True Blood,” based on a series of supernatural romance (I can’t even believe that’s a genre) novels by Charlaine Harris, is bloody good TV. It’s not perfect, it’s certainly cheesy, and the Sookie Stackhouse of the novels is far, far more palatable than Anna Paquin’s version of the character. But creator Alan Ball knows what he’s doing. The series features one of the best gay characters on TV in Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette (just as Ball’s last show “Six Feet Under” did before with Michael C. Hall’s David Fisher). It has vampires, werewolves, fairies, werepanthers, witches, shapeshifters, espionage, raunchy sex, muddled religious fanaticism, and totally over the top drama and cliffhangers.

A few years after the vampires have “come out of the closet,” humans and vampires coexist uneasily. Bon Temps, Louisiana, has seen its fair share of bizarre creatures, not the least of whom are the townspeople themselves. Unbeknownst to our protagonist Sookie, her beau Bill has been spying for Sophie-Anne, Queen of Louisiana (played by Evan Rachel Wood, who’s less annoying than usual in the role). After Vampire King of Mississippi Russell Edgington forces Sophie-Anne to marry him, he becomes default King of Louisiana. Russell, whose calm, pleasant demeanor masks a manipulative and downright terrifying interior, is three thousand years old. In his early days as vampire, he murdered Eric Northman’s (Alexander Skarsgard) human family. When Eric figures out this tidbit, he decides to repay Russell in kind by killing Russell’s lover and progeny Talbot. At this point, Russell totally loses it. In terms of worldwide broadcasts of villainy, Russell’s trumps many of them.

True Blood Russell Talbot urn

Yeah, that’s an urn full of guts. Vampires are wacky.

Basically, Russell undermines the whole charade vampires have been trying to keep up for the humans’ sake. “Let’s face it, eating people is a tough sell these days,” he says after brutally murdering the newscaster. Why yes, yes it is. The only viewer we see in the sequence is the vampires’ PR maven Nan Flanagan, but as you can see in the trailer for the 4th season, Russell’s actions do not go unnoticed by the general public. Even if not everyone tunes in to the live broadcast, we live in the future. Within an hour, the whole world was aware of the actions of one grieving vampire…and it affects the entire series. The fourth season starts June 26, and as Nan Flanagan says, “It’s a post-Russell Edgington world, people.” Like I said, brilliantly overdone, fantasy TV.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (dir. Robert Wise, 1951)- First Contact

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I’ve written about The Day the Earth Stood Still before, but it bears repeating: this movie is amazing. It is the prototype for Independence Day and the most important film Tim Burton lampooned with Mars Attacks. ID4 (yeah, remember how it was called that on the posters?) features that rousing Bill Pullman speech after the aliens attack our major cities, and to this day I’ll vouch for the series of scenes where kids drop their basketballs and taxi drivers step out of their cars to watch the ships enter the atmosphere. But The Day the Earth Stood Still did it first, and better.

Day the Earth Stood Still

Klaatu Barada Niktu.

In this clip, an announcer tries to soothe the public, assuring them there’s nothing to be concerned about. Just, you know, an alien ship. In Washington, DC. As the apparently seamless ship opens, children rush to the fore with cameras and people of all shapes, sizes, races, and occupations look on in awe. Despite the alien Klaatu’s (Michael Rennie) assertion that they come in peace (this line has become ingrained in our psyches over the years), our stupid skittish army pulls guns and shoots. That’s how we roll in ‘murrica. Before we know it, the massive robot Gort is dissolving said weapons and scaring the living daylights out of everyday citizens. And of course it’s all captured on TV. We didn’t quite live in the future yet in 1951, but we were well on our way there. The world knew within a matter of hours, via newspaper and television, that we’d been visited by aliens and that it didn’t go so well.

BRETT’S PICKS:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Don’t panic.
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When earthling Arthur Dent wakes up one fateful morning in Douglas Adams’ legendary sci-fi comic novel (that was later turned into a BBC miniseries in 1981 and a 2005 feature film starring proto-Jim Halpert, current-Watson, and future-Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman), he must come to terms with the fact that his quaint English house is about to be demolished to make way for a new highway. He then learns that his best friend (Ford Prefect) is an alien. And, soon after, that Earth itself is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspatial express route.

Our entire world learns about this unfortunate happenstance from the voice of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council, as it booms from every television, radio, and trash can lid across Earth. Although the GHPC announced this event over half a century prior, our technologically non-advanced society failed to make it to the planning department at Alpha Centauri where the notices were posted, despite it being only four light years away. We missed every deadline to file any complaint or grievance (because if we can’t look out for our own interests, then who will?) and thus the demolition beams start up. This is why we need the space program refunded or turned to the private sector. That and HD footage of the lunar surface.

Prefect and Dent make it to outer space before the destruction and go on a five book trilogy learning about life, the universe, and everything. 42.

V.

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When you have the ability to cross thousands of light years without problem, overcoming our puny communication systems will probably cause no difficulty. If a bunch of teenage hackers can do it, so can an advanced race of super lizards that have the abilities of blue energy, red sky, human suits, bliss, and horrible CGI interior decorating. Take that DTV transition.

In ABC’s 2009 reboot of V., Visitor Leader Anna (Firefly‘s Monica Baccarin) announces her presence and her race’s benevolent intentions through the power of media. Not just content to take over our television sets and that giant Times Square screen that’s shorthand for this topic, she also projects her visage on the sky of every country, giving well-wishes in every land’s native tongue. Of course, their plans are less than noble and it’s up to the relatively incompetent Fifth Column to try and outwit the group. At least until the network canceled it a few weeks ago.

Superman: The Movie

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The Donner Lex Luthor (played originally by Gene Hackman in three of the first four films and later, in 2005’s horrendous Superman Returns, by Kevin Spacey) is a curious creation. At times a super genius at other times a blithering re—moron, in the first film, Mr. Loo-thor managed to defeat Superman and nuke California and New Jersey before the Blue Boy Scout cheated and turned back time. (I don’t care that he saved the country, it’s still cheating.) Yet he also hired Otis (Ned Beatty) and Miss Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine) in the 1970s and made the same mistakes by hiring Kumar (Kal Penn) and Kitty (Parkey Posey) in the … late-1980s/2000s? (Superman Returns is set five years after the events of Superman II so I guess it took place around 1987 despite Metropolis boasting nothing but modern computers.

I guess Superman could have provided insights into science like he does with S.T.A.R. Labs, but he left soon after stopping Zod and no one presumably knew where the Fortress was and the movie made no reference to S.T.A.R. Labs so… Whatever. It’s nearly impossible to reconcile the two movies.) Nevertheless, these two fulfilled the same exact roles as their ditzy predecessors. You obtained the knowledge of Krypton, had no qualms about killing police officers, and artificially constructed a Metropolis-razing island, Lex. Hire better people and get off your stupid real estate fixation. You’re better than that.

Anyway, in the first film of the series, Luthor took over the airwaves– to an extent. Instead of communicating to the entire world, he sent out a message via every television and radio station (and I do believe he used the giant Times Square screen in MetropoYork) directly to Superman and dogs. Aware of Superman’s super abilities, he told Kal-El where and how to find him by broadcasting at a higher frequency than us humans can hear or see. A clever plan, but not smart enough to overcome the sheer stupidity that hampered the character(s). Hopefully in the Snyder-reboot, Lex be allowed to be an intelligent, untouchable, publicly beloved, Machiavellian menace and not a buffoon with a few good moments. And, for that matter, let’s not have a stalker date rapist Superman this time.

DAN’S PICKS:

They Live (dir. John Carpenter, 1988)

They Live (1988) - The Famous Obey

The one image you definitely remember. Or else.

One of John Carpenter’s last efforts to be embraced and loved by almost ALL his fans, They Live is a supremely strange and un-subtle satire of the good old cash-ridden 1980s. I have long considered it part of an essential 80s trilogy along with Wall Street and Robocop, two other delightfully scatching meditations on the themes of greed and MONEY MONEY MONEY.

Briefly, They Live concerns the woes of the Los Angeles working class, unemployed, and other assorted poor, who unbeknownst to themselves are being held down by mind-controlling aliens in the guise of society’s upper crusts – politicians, celebrities, and effectively the entire white-collar work force. The world around us is filled with gigantic subliminal messages which diffuse such cut and dried sentiments as “CONSUME,” “WATCH TV,” “MARRY AND REPRODUCE” and above all, “OBEY.” The screenplay came from a Ray Nelson story entitled “Eight O’Clock In The Morning.” I always thought it had more than a touch of Harlan Ellison to it as well.

They Live (1988) - Final Sequence, Newscast

They also report.

Roddy Piper (yes, that Roddy Piper) stars as a massive but good-hearted drifter trying to get a break. In his travels he stumbles upon a secret underground movement trying to expose some big secret. One of their artifacts is a very special pair of sunglasses, which allow him to see the world as it really is – black and white, painted with slogans intended to produce conformity, consumption, and calm among the lowly humans. Did I mention that our alien overlords are hideous skeletal people who believe themselves perfectly disguised?

Roddy tries to get the word out about the aliens, but it is no easy task. The biggest challenge is to convince his new pal Keith David to put on the sunglasses and have a look. The ensuing fight is now legendary among film geeks. Such a prologoned and gratuitous ass-kicking you never saw, or enjoyed so much. South Park paid tribute to it in their well-known “Cripple Fight” episode.

They Live (1988) - Final Sequence, Alien Bar Patron

This guy should have “buy me a drink” written all over his suit.

Through much investigation, infiltration, betrayal and misadventure, the two big dudes make their way to the giant transmitter whose beacon has the human race hypnotized. Rather than sending their own message out (as a supervillain generally would), these working class heroes must only shut the transmission off to wake the world up. The result, as you might expect, promises to be mass disillusionment. Very literally. I say no more, since it is the very end of the film. It is quite good. You can probably find a clip online somewhere, thought it does contain lots of swears, violence, middle fingers and even some nudity. Go get yourself a copy and watch the heck out of it.

The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan, 1988)

The Dark Knight (2008) Heath Ledger as The Joker

I’ll burn the world and laugh with you…

It may not have Cesar Romero’s jaunty good humor about it, but the Joker’s climactic series of pranks on Gotham City in The Dark Knight hearken to the very roots of good old-fashioned supervillainy. Though he gets the ear of the public several times in the film, mostly to bait Batman out of his cave, it all comes down to a no-win standoff on the two Gotham city ferries. One contains a load of dangerous convicts, and the other a cargo of ordinary folks.

Heath Ledger’s much-lauded Joker – who does not make a conventional appearance in the scene – charges the two sets of passengers to blow one another up. Each is given a detonator, supposedly to destroy the other boat. Naturally, if both sides refuse to murder one another, everybody dies. Of course, whether or not the Joker’s terms are truthful is an important question unlikely to be answered except by costly trial and error. Predictably, some of the “innocent” civilians begin inciting their fellows to the cowardly destruction of the convicts, while the convicts prove astonishingly noble.

The Dark Knight (2008) Gotham City Ferry

Alas, the Penguin and his flippered submarine are not the surprise twist in this scene.

Though most of us were predicting and hoping for a more cold-blooded plot twist – didn’t we all assume that the average joes would choose to blow up the cons and be blown up themselves as a grim lesson? – the scene does offer a sliver of hope for humanity after all the rough stuff. How they might have done without Batman’s intervention… well, best not to imagine.

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AHA! I’ve regained control! Now it is time for my ult-

Aw man! Look at that. They went and finished the list without me. Nuts.

Alright. I’ll go!

Just know Listicle writers, that I, Adam Robert Thomas, can strike anywhere, at any time! We will most certainly meet again!

MuHUAHAHAHAHA!

. . .

Alright. I’ll go now. Please stand by.

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