Stranger Than Fan Fiction

August 12, 2016

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

Marvel SW cross

There was a time fanfic was a much derided form of writing. It was separated from professional writing by an abundance of mary-sue characters, pretzel-shaped soap-opera plots and continuity so shoddy that sharks were jumped on cyborg dragons even before the shark made an appearance. Some would argue that we’re still living in that time. I’d agree except it seems like over the last ten years, Hollywood has been completely taken over by fanfic writers and almost every recent genre flick is an elaborate fan film. Except by virtue of household names in the cast and high production values, it’s difficult to distinguish a mainstream cinema release from a fan-made homage based on quality alone.

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Episode 220: PokéBusters

August 4, 2016


Two pretty darn good things that haters are hating on. Resident haters Jakob and Mandi give Pokémon Go and the Ghostbusters 2016 reboot some love. Both well-made, charming additions to their franchises, what’s not to like?

Well, not mentioned in the episode but I (Jakob) find the whole premise of the Pokémon universe a little horrifying. It makes the capture and enslavement of small creatures seem like a light-hearted game. Especially when these cute little companions are not kept in humane habitats but in some kind of tiny stasis orbs. I mean, these cutely-named “pocket monsters” are kidnapped, imprisoned and then forced to fight in gladiatorial combat. Taken from their perspective, it’s essentially The Maze Runner or Battle Royale. There’s something seriously effed-up about the whole thing. Anyway… we don’t talk about that. Mostly about how people who hate on Pokémon Go are kinda dicks.

Actually, in this episode we mostly talk about neither Ghostbusters nor Pokémom Go.

Episode 219: Familiar Things

July 27, 2016


We liked Stranger Things so much we immediately did an episode on it highlighting some of its weaker points. That’s the normal thing to do, right?

Mostly we try to navigate the myriad of references to classic 80s sci-fi and horror movies (not tropes but actual scenes lifted from movies) in the show and decide if too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Watching an episode (or 4 in row) can be like falling into a sugar coma of nostalgia. Stranger Things is such a pastiche, it causes one to wonder if there’s substance beneath the style. Perhaps not. But, ultimately, that might not matter in the same way Eggo waffles are a pale imitation of actual food yet are delicious and satisfying.

Regardless, it can be agreed there needs to be a social media campaign to bring back fan-favourite character Barb Holland. #BringBackBarb #BARBLIVES


In typical “nuanced” Nerd Hurdles fashion Jakob comes off somewhat negative about the Stranger Things theme music (by S  U R V I V E) which is very similar, if not pretty much identical, to an album he recently released called Mind Thief. a snippet of which is heard at the end of the episode or can be streamed in full below. Jakob claims his poo-pooing of the John Carpenter-esque synth music in Stranger Things had nothing to do with grapes, sour, or otherwise.


Episode 218: Scandalous Scandals of Scandal

June 23, 2016


Having run out of quality shows to watch on (Canadian) Netflix, we get Scandalous with Shonda Rhimes frustratingly good/bad brand of addicting spray-cheese television.


Episode 217: Mimico Insane Asylum (Doors Open Toronto)

June 9, 2016


Jakob and Mandi take a trip to the tunnels underneath the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital (—aka Mimico Insane Asylum, aka Mimico Hospital for the Insane, aka The Police Academy, aka Humber College—during Doors Open Toronto.  They also talk about Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express, Midsomer Murders, London Spy and M:I Rogue Nation.

Mandi’s pictures from the tunnel tour:


Episode 216: Netflix Grab Bag

May 9, 2016


Jakob and Mandi talk about a totally random assortment of things they’ve been watching on Netflix. Mainly Daredevil Season 2, Downton Abbey Season 5, House of Cards Season 4 (well, the first 3 episodes), most of Poirot, and the Ender’s Game movie.

Episode 215: Love and Marriage

February 11, 2016


A Valentines Day special! Our good friends James and Nicole pop by to talk our fabulous wedding, their rad wedding, weddings we’ve been to that were maybe not so awesome and married life. Thanks to Joe Strutt for the very special easter egg (valentine’s heart?) so stick around after the credits.

And be sure to check out James’ book, Our Inland Sea.


Episode 214: The Force Awakens In Los Santos

January 4, 2016


We stopped sleeping on The Force Awakens and went and saw it finally. It took us a while to get out to the cinema on account of all the Grand Theft Auto V we were playing.

Post-Podcast Analysis

A friend recently posted a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of “As I get older, the biggest lie I tell myself is I don’t have to write it down because I’ll remember.”

Quite true, since as listeners will probably note there’s a lot of things we could’ve talked about regarding The Force Awakens but, well, we didn’t. I did however have a list of things I wanted to discuss but apparently my mental notes were erased once we hit the record button. I wasn’t even struggling to remember what I wanted to talk about, it was just poof, gone. Anyway, here are some of those things.

BB-8 is not Jar Jar Binks

When BB-8 made his first appearances in the trailers I was certainly one of the people who thought, I have a bad feeling about this. It struck me as the most improbable droid design and he seemed positioned to merely be overly cutesy comic relief. Perhaps he’d even provide Jar-Jar levels of tooth-grindingly hokey slapstick.

In the end it turns out he was comic relief, but in much the same manner as R2-D2 had been. In a way BB-8 is an improvement on R2 as his design allows him to actually keep up with his human counterparts in action sequences. That’s something they always had to fudge a little with R2. He’d be lagging behind in one shot and then suddenly he’d be caught up to the gang in the next. He could also traverse all manner of terrain his little wheels shouldn’t have been able to handle, like a forest floor and the loose sand of Tatooine’s dunes. BB-8 is more believable on most terrain (though Neil Degrasse Tyson disagrees).

Vincent from The Black HoleExcept for stairs. They even comically demonstrate BB’s problems with stairs in one scene, as he slowly crawls down into Maz Kanata’s bargain basement. Which I was happy to see since I’d been wondering about how he’d take on stairs since he first appeared on screen and assumed they’d just conveniently not show it. BB-8 did manage get down them, but slowly, Certainly this must be a huge problem for him and a massive design flaw by his makers. Or is architecture designed for accessibility more often in that galaxy than in ours? Only places like the Mos Eisley Cantina that don’t want droids don’t have ramps? It made me wonder why they don’t just give those droids the landspeeder hover technology. Sure, he’d end up basically being Vincent from The Black Hole, but Disney owns those rights anyway.

However, other than being cute, BB-8 pretty much lacks personality when compared with the Laurel and Hardy / Bert and Ernie snark of R2 and 3P0.

Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader

Kylo Ren meme

Click to embiggen

Lately I’ve seen a few memes that attempt to defend Kylo Ren’s supposed badassness. There seems to be a faction of devotees who really want him to be someone other than the character they saw on screen. They don’t want him to be the emotionally muddled and very human Ben* Solo but rather his one-dimensionally psychotic idol, Darth Vader. Wishing Kylo Ren to be more of a space-Nazgûl seems to me completely misses the point of his character. He has some strong hereditary Force power, sure, but he’s also incredibly unfocused and impatient.

On the podcast I claim that he turned to the Dark Side because he, like his uncle Luke, didn’t have the discipline to be a Jedi and was just kind of shitty at it. So he took the easy route and started indulging his fanboy cosplayer tendencies by creating a character who is essentially a corny parody of Vader. Ridiculous and, in Kylo’s case, completely pointless mask, a silly flaming broadsword and an odd penchant for capes. He’s just a little too cringingly pathetic to ever be truly badass—as is true for most villains and bullies. In the Potterverse, he’s the sort of disenfranchised adolescent who’d turn to the Death Eathers to make him feel like a man. Or, in our own world, he’d turn to DAESH. Not mythically evil, just a horribly misguided young man making poor life choices.

So Kylo Ren isn’t Darth Vader. But he is a lot like Anakin Skywalker from the Prequels—something I think his fans** might be in denial about.

Captain Phasma is Boba Fett

Kickass costume. Holds a blaster well. Essentially does nothing. Will probably get eaten by a large monster in Episode IX.

Jakku is Tatooine

Given all the other mash-ups and rehashing of elements from the Original Trilogy, why they hell aren’t the Jakku scenes set on Tatooine? Why are so many desert planets in this galaxy inhabited (by light skinned people) at all. Is it because the Empire and the First Order keep blowing up the habitable planets? But whatever the reason (it’s explained in various Force Awakens book and video game tie-ins apparently), why did they create a new desert planet that seems to be exactly like Tatooine in climate and society? Why not make this “Battle of Jakku” the “Battle of Tatooine”? There’d even be the nice continuity of that maybe the Millennium Falcon had been stolen or acquired by one of Jabba’s Hutt brethren. The whole set-up was a bit of a ham-fisted way for Rey and Han to meet up anyway, so why not? And instead of the sort of Jawa/Tusken Raiders mash-ups they had on Jakku, we could’ve had actual Jawas and Tusken Raiders. Given the films apparent mandate of nostalgia pandering, why pull that punch? I felt like Jakku was the weirdest choice they made in the film.

Snoke is not Palpatine

Mostly what I mean by “Snoke is not Palpatine” is “the name Snoke is not as good as the name Palpatine.” Snoke has got to be, by far, the dumbest name in Star Wars. Ever. Which is a god damn achievement. It sounds like the name of a Congressman from Delaware. Re-elect Gordon Snokes (R) in 2016! So, actually, the name Snoke is the weirdest choice they made.

J.J. is not George

Which is a good and a bad thing. Lucas was recently quoted criticizing the film’s creators for not being innovative enough and rehashing his ideas. Or, as one parody site put it, making a film that was both popular and enjoyable. The Force Awakens is no Episode 1.  On the other hand, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens won’t be the innovative, game-changing juggernaut that George Lucas’ A New Hope was (read this defense of the man). Star Wars was actually the second time Lucas’ changed the game, having re-written the teen comedy template for the ’80s with American Graffiti. The same as Star Wars gave us Battlestar Gallactica, where would John Hughes and Cameron Crowe have been been without American Graffiti? That’s two films whose style affected almost everything we saw for a decade and beyond.

But though more of an innovator than Abrams, Lucas wasn’t wholly responsible for the triumph of those films either. Lest we forget, and most people have as pointed out by this NY Post piece, Marcia.  When Episode 1 came out and people said, “How could the person who made A New Hope have made this piece of bantha poodoo?” My response was, “Because she didn’t,” and people said, “WTF you talkin’ about?” And we all chalked another one up to the patriarchy’s revisionist history.

The Force Awakens is not Star Trek

To me, and many others, the tone of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film was entirely wrong. It’s essentially the same bro-ish tone that’s used in The Force Awakens, but it’s a tone that more or less works in the Star Wars universe. While it seems everyone else is trying to nit-pick holes (and more holes) in The Force Awakens, I’m willing to more or less let it be what it is—a slightly ridiculous, action-packed buddy movie. That’s all a Star Wars film should be and that’s all it is.

Unlike an overblown, pretentious movie like Prometheus, finding fault in The Force Awakens provides little pleasure. I do wonder if I’ll enjoy The Force Awakens once it makes it to the small screenThough I didn’t agree with the tone of Abrams’ Trek reboot, I did honestly enjoy it in the theatre. When I tried to watch it on DVD later, I had to turn it off—removed from the larger-than-life spectacle of a cinema screening, it was utterly unwatchable dreck. I was actually shocked at just how bad a film it is. Curious to see how The Force Awakens holds up in a few months time.

* Seems a little weird to me that Leia and Han named him after Obi-Wan. In A New Hope, you didn’t really get the impression Leia knew him personally so much as knew of him. And Han pretty much straight-up didn’t like or respect him in the two or three hours he knew the “old fossil”. It’d made sense for Luke to name his offspring Ben, but Leia? If Ben didn’t look so much like Han, I’d be tempted to suggest Luke and Leia’s incestual relationship didn’t end with that kiss in the Hoth infirmary.

** I don’t know if she’s a fan per se. But when Kylo removed his helmet in the Rey interogation scene, the pre-teen girl beside me gasped and said, “Ooooh, he’s so good looking!” I guess the Sorting Hat would put her in Slytherin.

snape kylo



Episode 213: Watching The Detectives

December 24, 2015


Detectives. Private Dicks. Gumshoes.  Lately, it seems we’ve been watching shows about private eyes. Jessica Jones, Poirot, Father Brown, Death In Paradise and the like.

Spoiler warnings: This episode contains spoilers for Jessica Jones Season 1, Death In Paradise Season 3 and Bones Season 10.

Not The Sequel I’m Looking For

October 23, 2015


Probably the only other sci-fi film that’s been looked forward to with as much rabid anticipation as Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But because of Episode I, fans are looking forward to it with both ecstatic anticipation and creeping dread.

I think there’s some wisdom to this guy’s argument that The Force Awakens is bound to leave hardcore fans feeling let down. Not because it’ll inevitably suck, but because (let’s just use me as an example) that at 43 years old, no matter how good the movie is, I’m not going to be filled with the same heightened state of wonder I had at age five. I’ll just be literally incapable of it from a physiological and psychological standpoint. It’s a natural part of aging that probably keeps the world from being a much more bonkers place than it already is. Though it could be argued the world actually is being run by people disengaged from reality living in a constant childlike state of make-believe. That would explain everything from America’s reluctance to embrace gun-control to whatever’s going on in the Middle East with robots bombing children.

The inability for The Force Awakens to inspire that same childlike wonder is also a natural part of addiction. Trying to attain that original high is the reason Star Wars merchandising is such a huge industry. You keep mainlining new sculps of Boba Fett figures but you just end up feeling numb inside.

And I think some fans are going to be letdown only because it’ll be the end of speculation. They’ll know if director J.J. Binks actually pulled it off. They’ll know if Luke has really gone over to the Dark Side. They’ll know if blah-blah character is blah-blah thing from blah-blah-blah. What’ll be left to care about?

But I’ll go further in saying that The Force Awakens isn’t even a sequel to Star Wars.

At least not the Star Wars from my childhood. The one that was not called A New Hope when I saw it (see above). I’ve come to realize mine is a very specific perception of the film. So specific that I’m open to the possibility I’m alone in this perception. My Star Wars has little to do with five out of six of the existing films and absolutely nothing to do with the batshit free-for-all that’s the Expanded Universe (of which I’ve only read, in graphic novel form no less, the arc that continues from the end of Return of the Jedi where Luke really does turn to the Dark Side in order to defeat a reincarnated Emperor clone and one shark is jumped after another).

One thing I am sure of, my dislike of the Prequels isn’t specific to me. For fans of the Original Trilogy, it surrounds us, penetrates us and it binds us together. I’ve heard from some that Episode I even ruined, or at least dampened, their enjoyment of the whole franchise. But the reason for my dislike might be more unique. The Prequels specifically ruined my enjoyment of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Not because how spectacularly bad the Prequels are tainted everything they touched, it’s that they made me realize the universe in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is divergent from the one I personally experienced in (for the sake of clarity I’ll call it) A New Hope. This is something I already knew on some level, but the Prequels really hit the point home.

Even when I was a kid The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi left me cold. More so than I would admit to myself. At the time my blinding love for Star Wars prevented me from understanding exactly what it was I didn’t like about the films. I chalked it up to being mildly disappointed my hero and role model* Luke didn’t get the girl or that Empire ended on a WTF cliffhanger or that the Ewoks were unbearably cheesy. It was something more fundamental.

In the universe I experienced watching A New Hope, Obi-Wan and Vader were the last two Jedi. There was no Yoda, there were no Sith, Luke and Leia were obviously not related, and the Emperor wasn’t some kind of space-Sauron but just some dude. Sure, an “evil” dude by all accounts—something between Hitler, Stalin and whoever the worst Ceasar was—but just a man. Which is somehow much more truly evil than a guy in a nappy black robe who’s controlled by some kind of cosmic black magic.

For example, in  A New Hope Vader is a brutal and undeniably scary nemesis, but Grand Moff Tarkin is a much more chilling villain. You get the sense Tarkin really believes he’s acting morally, for the greater good of the Empire and its citizens. He’d probably admit he’s detached and unsentimental in the expedient way he deals with the Rebels, but he sees the Rebels the same way the Oval Office sees ISIS. His Death Star is America’s drone strikes. In this film you get the sense he’s an extension of the Emperor (since the Emperor is too busy to show up on screen, all you get is a sense) and the Emperor is a similarly pragmatic and unflinching colonial bureaucrat more than a psychopathic tyrant.

The film is shockingly low in expository dialogue about what exactly the political situation in this galaxy is. By way oblique comments and the way people react to the presence of Storm Troopers in Mos Eisley, the audience extrapolates the Empire is a totalitarian regime (Owen and Beru’s fate pretty much solidifies this impression). But exactly how the Empire operates, how it treats citizens, what restrictions on freedom and what level of taxation it imposes is never stated. We assume it’s pretty dire since there’s apparently a significant rebellion underway. Clevery, Lucas made the officer’s uniforms look a bit like Nazi uniforms so we immediately have visions of concentration camps and genocide. It’s an effective short-form, the Hollywood “black hat” updated for 1977.


What we don’t know, however, is if there are concentration camps, or if the Empire is committing genocide, or why the Rebels are rebelling at all. For all we know the Rebels are radicalized jihadists trying to overthrow what was a relatively just and benign government that only abolished the Senate and built a Death Star in a last-ditch response to years of terrorist activity.

Now, that is a fan theory I am not seriously putting forward. But my point is the political situation in the galaxy of A New Hope is subtle and complex and has a ring of authenticity to it. The political landscape changes beginning with Empire Strikes Back, where it transforms into a dumbed-down good vs. evil struggle. The Emperor isn’t an off-screen character, we see him well enough to know he’s a creepy old Satanic looking wizard guy. By Return of the Jedi, the circle is complete and all subtlety and nuance is dead. He’s an evil space wizard. He has no complex human motivations, he’s just Evil—an embodiment of the Dark Side.

As well, before The Empire Strikes Back I had the sense the “Dark Side” was more of a metaphor. Simply a phrase the Jedi would use to describe people using The Force for nefarious gains and not a separate thing as it seems to have become in Empire.

Vader saying to Luke “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side” is a whole different kettle of fish than Obi-Wan describing to Luke how Vader had been “seduced” by the Dark Side. The former is literally making the pitch, “Hey, come and make a conscious life decision to be the living embodiment of evil. No justifications, no metaphors. Become literally evil. C’mon, son.”

In contrast, being “seduced by the Dark Side” is never believing you’ve become evil yourself but simply that you’re using this immense power you hold to more easily achieve your goals and, hey, what’s the big deal anyway? It’s not like you’ve become evil. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and all that.

Forget about the Prequel character Anakin for now. That name was never mentioned in A New Hope and Vader and Luke’s father really are two different people as far as we know. The idea that Vader was actually seduced by his own innate cruelty coupled with immense Jedi power is much more interesting than he’s fallen prey to something like an evil cosmic entity from Star Trek.

anakinoriginalAs it’s portrayed in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Dark Side is like a spell that apparently changes Vader’s entire personality (from what looks like, at the end of Jedi, a pretty affable guy full of joviality and without a hint of cruelty in him) and which Luke is able to magically remove at the end of the film with a little less effort than a Catholic exorcism. But it’s not even like it’s a spell that gets cast upon you, it’s a conscious opt-in (to become a tyrant’s henchman for reasons unexplained in the original trilogy) and suddenly opt-out of just in time to save your long lost son.

This is pretty muddy, having-it-both-ways storytelling and part of the reason the Prequels had no option other than to be even muddier in trying to explain Anakin’s conversion. Trying show his journey from irrepressible blonde munchkin to the hulking masked psycho who crushes a man’s larynx in his fist before tossing him like a rag-doll into the wall, then date-rape drug interrogates his daughter and amputates his son’s hand is a herculean task. It’s like watching Little Orphan Annie turn into Regan MacNeil.

It’s a nearly impossible transformation that would’ve been helped if Jake Lloyd had the Damien-like uncanniness of a Culkin brother. But, as we know, he didn’t**. And even if Jake Lloyd did have a touch of the Anti-Christ in him, his character’s turn to the Dark Side would still be muddy. The Dark Side is at turns either that evil cosmic entity that possesses good people to do really, really bad things—like slaughter children—and also a conscious decision to “turn” to the Dark Side—because who doesn’t want to choose to slaughter children?

But more importantly, once the Force evolved from a its Taoist roots (everything is connected, there’s light and dark within everything) to a simple Jesus/Satan allegory (the two opposing Forces of literal good and evil) the Star Wars tale became a very different type of story set in a very different universe. And that’s the universe of The Force Awakens.

That isn’t to say I’m going to skip the film altogether or that I’ve preordained I won’t enjoy it. Not at all. I’m even kind of looking forward to the possibility of Darth Luke. But I’ll be seeing it not as the continuation of the hands-down favourite movie from my childhood, but merely yet another sequel to a couple films I honestly only kinda-sorta liked when I was a kid.

* Luke is a pretty terrible role model. I’m pretty much convinced in the new movie he’ll be a bitter old MRA bent on destroying the galaxy because his sister friend-zoned him 30 years ago. The reason he’s not on the poster because he’s “gone his own way”.

** I clearly didn’t mean adult Jake Lloyd, who ended up being true freaky.

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