Episode 108 – Get LOST

April 15, 2011

There’s two shows that people have repeatedly been at us to do an episode on since we started this podcast. One is Dr. Who and the other is Lost. No matter what we’ve said in the past, we honestly had no intention of doing either.

Then a series of fortuitous events occurred in which Lost made its way onto our TV-on-DVD pile in the basement. First, Elton McManus of the Rethinking Lost podcast sent us an audio comment which obliquely referenced Lost. Then the next day we saw Season 1 in the previously-viewed discount bin at our local Blockbastards. It was almost as if some malevolent force was manipulating our destiny.

Anyway, we watched the first six episodes (five by Mandi’s count) before recording our thoughts. Not to spoiler our own episode but we basically decided it’s a bad show that’s fairly entertaining despite being as ridiculous and subtle as starting a bonfire with jet-fuel. Perhaps I should actually say we found it fauxly entertaining.

What I mean by that is I’m not convinced it’s genuinely engaging. The writers are very good at keeping the audience guessing with intrigue and coming up with addictive cliff-hanger crack.

On one hand, you could ask what more we need to keep us engaged—if we want to watch the next episode, isn’t that the proof in the pudding?

But on the other hand, I would reply there’s a difference in being ensnared by matinée serial gimmicks and being genuinely engaged by a sophisticated, cohesive plot and rich characters who come to life on the screen.

It’s like the difference between masturbation and sex. Or a delicious slice of pizza from a street vendor and a 5-star gourmet meal. There’s something to be said for both options, but when people treat the former like it’s the latter, that’s where I begin to take issue.

Let’s be honest, Lost is street-meat (I’m going with the food analogy, not the sex analogy here). It’s tasty, it’s filling, it leaves you wanting more. But it’s also empty calories.

The characters—stereo- or arche- types depending on how forgiving you are—have little substance in themselves, but have been seasoned with so much dramatic-MSG they explode in your mouth. The situations they find themselves in look like a genuine chicken breast, but you know they’re made out of pressed-meat slurry. The plot is constantly being driven by characters’ bad decisions and random crises which superheats the ingredients like a microwave oven—a technique exploited by the similarily tiresome Battlestar Galactica. (Speaking of tiresome, this food analogy is getting out of hand).

Entertaining? Yes. Engaging? no. Just like that craving for another hotdog, once you wait it out, you’d rather have something more substantial instead.

So, yes we’ll be watching Season 1 to its fruition, but we’ll probably skip further servings in favour of something with less delicious, salty grease and more nutrients.

Episode 107 – TIM BURTON

April 8, 2011

When I was seventeen or so, I don’t think there could have been a director as hand-designed for me as Tim Burton. First he introduced me to my highschool celebrity crush, Winona Ryder, in Beetlejuice. Then he made Batman dark and interesting again. Then he topped it all in 1990 with Edward Scissorhands where her plumbed the misfit, underground alterna-goth psyche and produced a film that defined a generation of freaks.

Though Winona was (unfortunately) blonde this time out, 21 Jumpstreet’s 2nd-rate bubble-gum heart-throb, Johnny Depp, unexpectedly mezmerized us with his Robert Smith-meets-Frankenstein take on the titular role. And with Breakfast Club nerd Anthony Michael Hall playing a beefed-up, meat-head jock, it was a signal the ’80s were over and the ’90s were going to wash away the Reagan-era glitz and reveal the grungey underbelly of our consumerist society.

In 1990, in bummed-out bedrooms across the continent, you were guarunteed to find three things. A Jane’s Addiction tape, a Cure poster and a 2nd-generation VHS dub of Edward Scizzorhands.

So, for years afterwards, if you asked me if I liked Tim Burton movies, I’d say, “Yeah, I love Burton.” I say it without hesitation, without even thinking about it.

Bossom (and urethra?) buddies, Depp and Burton.

Then something funny happened. I thought about it. And I realized I kind of didn’t like Tim Burton movies. I could appreciate them for their uniqueness—the Tim Burton brand remained very defined and very specific over the years—but I couldn’t honestly say I enjoyed them much.

Even with old Edward, nostalgia only took me so far. His movies had taken on a cloying juvenile quality, somehow saccarine in their darkness. And worse, the newer films had a bit of a cookie-cutter feel to them. “Burton” had truly become a brand, like Disney or Pixar, simply rearranging the same elements in a different order in each film (i.e., Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter). The Burton brand had, what I would never have believed possible in 1990, become populist and boring. Burton movies remain unique, but they’re no longer original.

Here is the Stand Up For Your Gay Friends video from Ireland we talk about near the end.

Giant Tim Burton reccuring collaborators table after the cut (from Wikipedia).

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Ultimate Hurdle Round 2: Tron Vs. The Matrix

December 24, 2010

I’ve always had a problem with The Matrix.

The premise is simply too absurd. I don’t mean the idea that reality is a digital construct. That one I can buy. But the idea the titular “matrix” was designed only to keep the brains of billions of comatose prisoners alive so they can act as power generators for a race of intelligent robots throws a monkey wrench into my suspension of disbelief machine.

Certainly the amount of power needed just to keep their life-support pods active would use up the paltry amount of electricity the human brain produces. I can’t even reasonably believe a person could power their own pod. I just can’t do it. It’s preposterous. I spent a decade arguing it’s the stupidest sci-fi concept ever committed to film.

But then I saw Tron: Legacy. It makes The Matrix look like Shakespeare.

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Episode 93 – State of the Hurdle 2010

December 17, 2010

Graphic by impartial third party: Nick Thornton

As we enter our third year of hurdling, we pause to take stock of our successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses and the future of the podcast. We also address the hopes and concerns (letters) of stakeholders (you, the listeners) and perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis as we develop a plan for Nerd Hurdles in 2011.

2011 will see some changes in the podcast. Most notably, a new theme song which debuts in this episode. Also, by (relatively) popular demand, Igor and The Banana will return as semi-regular contributors to the show. And along with them, 2011 aims to see more guests in the Hurdle Hut.

But if you’re like Mandi and you don’t like change, feel free to send us some Richard Dawkins style hate mail. We’re ready. Bring it.

What will not change in 2011 is our propensity to tangent. As evidenced by our rambling on about inappropriate pizza men, Artoo beer shirts, “Droidels” and “Mr. E.T.”

Scientifically brewed specifically for Normies in the nerd closet.

Also, don’t forget Rob (who sent in his “State of the Nerd 2010/11” address on the episode) has music on tape available from Arachnidiscs.

Episode 90 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Borings

November 26, 2010


Let’s be honest. The film’s a bit shit. From missed oportunities to pacing issues, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is probably the sloppiest of the series.

The polyjuice transformation you’re cheated out of actually seeing happen.

In this episode of Nerd Hurdles we spoiler the hell out of the HP7 as we try to get to the meat of where it fails. So if you haven’t seen the film, or at least read the book, heed that caveat before you listen. Heed this caveat as well, the list below contains spoilers for the podcast episode as well as the film. We’ve gone spoiler crazy at the hurdle hut apparently.

6 reasons why Harry Patter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 wasn’t a good film.

1. Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Voldemort in the previous films had me impressed with his shedding of the Ralph Fiennes persona and perhaps actually doing some acting. But apparently that was only achieved by the fact he had two, maybe three, lines in each of those films. Given a sizable scene Ralphie falls back on his wet-noodle impersonation. It’s tough being the Dark Lord, apparently. First your wand doesn’t work anymore and then nobody understands what you’re going through. At least that’s what I got from the few words I was able to make out of the stream of whingy blubbering he was doing under his breath.

2. When you read Deathly Hallows, during the Bathilda Bagshot/ Nagini scene didn’t you just think to yourself, “Self, this is going to be freakin’ HARDCOAR in the movie.” But no. Instead of a giant snake bursting out the mouth of an old lady, you get Obi Wan Kenobi’s empty robes falling to the floor. The scene also made no sense to people who hadn’t read the book. I know because I asked them. They had no idea Hermione found Bathilda’s actual mutilated remains while Harry was upstairs. For a scene that should have been creepy, suspenseful and eerie, it made almost no impact.

3. Also lacking impact was the fumbling of the whole horcrux pendant episode. The teenaged trio wander aimlessly through the woods, sharing the load, and trying to evade the Snatchers. Who, by the way, aren’t really explained at all in the film. They seem more like random bandits than a nationwide terror. Nor is the significance of the underground radio station explained.

Anyway, I’m not griping about that, I’m griping about the horcrux right now. As we know, the horcrux makes the trio progressively more despondent and paranoid as they take turns wearing it to keep it secret, keep it safe. You know, just like Ring and Frodo. We know this because we read the book. From watching the film, you’d probably only get a vague idea of what was going on. And then only because you’d seen or read Lord of the Rings.

So of course Ron comes to believe there’s something romantic going on between Harry and Herminione and takes off in a huff. But unlike in the book, it seems to come out of nowhere since we barely see him wearing the thing. It also seems to happen after about fifteen minutes and not the slow burning tension in the book. Which might have actually been interesting to watch.

Instead it just felt like another scene marked off on a checklist. Which is what the whole film felt like, really. There was no time to give the appropriate treatment to scenes that needed a little breathing room because scenes that could have been cut (or drastically shortened) weren’t. As Mandi said, “Nothing happens but it felt rushed.”

4. Harry and Herminione slow dance (to Nick Cave of all things) in the tent after Ron takes off. Which does two things wrong. First, it suggests Ron was right to be jealous and it wasn’t all the horcrux’s fault. Second, there was no point to it if there isn’t something going on between them. And it also kind of sullies the whole Harry/Ginny thing.

5. The motivations of the Malfoys makes no sense. If you hadn’t read the book you might have actually been better off because I was trying to remember exactly why Lucius was suddenly hating on Voldemort and if they’d touched on that in the previous film. A little expository dialogue would have been nice.

6. The animated sequence when Hermione takes time (they can’t really spare) to read Harry and Ron the story of the Deathly Hallows from the Tales of Beadle the Bard was the best part of the film. It’s a bad sign when an entirely out-of-place vignette is the best part of your film.

Episode 88 – Diets

November 12, 2010


Garfield once said “Diet is just DIE with a T.”

But what’s the nerd perspective on diets? Eating a lot of “gamer goo” while playing 36 straight hours of WoW? That might not be the best weight-loss strategy.

It’s a timely topic since it’s time for NOvember™*, our annual post-Sugar Fest (aka Halloween) diet. It’s an easy diet to follow. Simply say NO to the following nasty foods.

  • NO refined sugar
  • NO dairy
  • NO processed meat
  • NO processed soy products
  • NO deep-fried foods
  • NO yeast
  • NO gluten
  • NO alcohol
  • NO caffeine

It’s actually not as hard as you might think to cut these foods out of your diet. Well, except for the last item (and this year we’ve been eating gluten in the form of wraps, but no other breads).

Another NO you might want to add is eggs. There isn’t on the list since I don’t eat eggs anyway (it’s a completely horrific concept), and the diet was designed to cut out the nasty foods I do eat.

I think next year I might go the full monty. Actually I should probably put salt on that list but let’s be reasonable. You have to draw the line somewhere and I’m drawing it at food still having flavour.

*Not to be confused with Movember, which is also a good thing to do.

Episode 87 – They Call Him Bruce

November 5, 2010


Sometimes they call him Brisco. Sometimes they call him Autolycus. Sometimes they call him Ash. But mostly people call Bruce Campbell campy, though that has nothing to do with his surname.

Kathie (from our episode on Internet Dating) joins us to talk about the man, the myth… the chin.

Episode 83 – Battlestar GalacTALKa Series Finale / True Blood

October 5, 2010

Those who’ve listened to the episode already know that we didn’t GalacTALKa about the finale very much. Perhaps not as promised, but pretty much as expected. It wasn’t our fault though. For one thing True Blood is a lot more interesting to talk about. Those are some characters you can sink your teeth into.

Fear not, further talk on the BSG finale, Daybreak, will probably jump its way into future episodes. Perhaps if we ever do a Diana Gabaldon special. Because I will have even less to say about Outlander than Mandi did about the BSG finale. Or exactly the same amount: “It’s fine.” Except that would be a complete lie. I had to put it down at page 76 feeling that it is the antithesis of “fine.”

But in case we never get around to a real breakdown of Daybreak on the podcast, here’s a few thoughts we had.

1) Question: Why didn’t the fans like the finale? I’m not exactly sure I understand what upset people so much. It was, as Mandi said with a slight sigh of resignation, “Fine.”  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to their comments at the time it aired, trying to stay spoiler-free, but now I’m wishing I did.

Because for anyone who actually enjoyed the series for what it was, Daybreak had to be pretty much the perfect finale. Which means it was only “just fine” but still, what did people expect? Did anyone really think the show would suddenly stop being an overly melodramatic soap opera with massive continuity flaws and hackneyed, plot-driven writing?

Perhaps they objected to the completely pointless flashbacks to before the war that slowed the pace down to a near standstill. Those scenes could all have been removed to the betterment of the episode(s). They only served to be pretentious wankery and did little to shed any new light on the characters.

So Apollo and Starbuck almost made-out when Zack was still alive? Is that supposed to be a character revelation that suddenly puts their relationship in perspective? If so, it fails miserably. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about them.

Nor do Roslin’s ill-fated cougar episodes tell us anything more about her lonely, isolated personal life on Caprica. We got all that in the series, the way we should have—from her character development and in the subtext within Mary McDonnell’s portrayal.

Like any prequel, the flashbacks only served to weaken what was already there, not add a new layer of depth. Which is why they were probably so boring to watch. Perhaps, if you’d never experienced a single minute of BSG, they’d have been interesting interludes introducing you to those characters that added context for what was going on in the present. But if so, why the hell were you watching the series finale and not the debut miniseries?

2) It wasn’t nearly as religious as we’d been lead to believe. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it wasn’t religious at all. Instead it was purely mythological, a rehash of a thousand creation myths rolled into one. Based, again, on the outrage of fans at the time, I was expecting a heavy-handed Christian message tacked-on at the end or something.

But no, it was about as sci-fi as anything I’ve read or seen but with a lot less heavy-handed Christ imagery than something like Narnia, The Matrix or even Fifth Element.

Yes, religious beliefs do play a large role in the story for the characters. But religious beliefs play a major role for Bajorans, Vulcans, Klingons, Jedis, and Elves. There is clearly a “God” and “Angels” in BSG, but I expect it’s just some alien race like The Q.

But then, I’m an athiest and if I were confronted with a real life miracle, I’d probably think the same thing.

3) The opera house dream arc makes no sense at all. Well, it makes sense, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to working.

The strength of BSG is supposed to be the plot arc that sweeps over all four seasons. Which would be a great thing if it wasn’t painfully clear that they had no idea where they were headed from the start. The opera house/dream storyline highlights this best.

There is absolutely no point to Roslin’s or Gaius and Caprica Six’s connection to Hera. They don’t really save her. They don’t end up raising her, Athena and Helo are still alive. And beyond that, there ultimately isn’t even any point to Hera’s existence at all. She isn’t the one to point them to Earth, Kara does. Hera doesn’t convince Cavil and Adama to end the war, they more or less work that out on their own. If she doesn’t get eaten by a lion, Hera will probably just grow up to mate with a Neanderthal. Okay, great… So what? So is everyone else. After all the drama surrounding Hera, she ends up having no real significance? If there’s one thing the fans should have been upset about it’s that.

Of course, the writers and producers set themselves up to fail by, at one point or another,  alluding to almost every single character as being a possible Saviour figure. From Kara to Sam to Roslin to Gaius to Hera to Leoben to [insert character name here], they couldn’t all be the one who saves Humanity and Cylonity(?) from extinction.

Unfortunately, the writers didn’t tie the story up well enough so that they all played an equal part. Most of them were dead weight, dragging the plot down, by the time they finally reach Earth.

There’s no small amount of minutiae I could get into, but picking apart BSG’s minutiae is like shooting ducks in a barrel with Galactica’s cannons (which never really seemed to hit much, considering the continuous barrage of death they spewed). The above were the main points I noticed while watching the finale and, really, about all the consideration I wish to ever give the show again.

Perhaps in the future some nit-picking will emerge as we tangent off topic on another show, but for now we’re watching True Blood (which is like a really good Twilight fanfic).

Episode 80 – Pets, Peeves and Pikachu

September 3, 2010

Beans has no shame.

This is episode 80 in which we talk about pets. Or , to be a little more accurate, we talk insufferably about our own pets. We don’t actually talk about Pikachu much so don’t expect Pokemon talk.

I used to want a Bengal cat until I found out they’re more than a pretty face. They’re batshit crazy and will destroy your house if you don’t keep them entertained. This, of course, completely negates the whole point of owning a cat. The reason people own cats over something absurd like a Jack Russell terrier (or the even more neurotic Border Collie) is that they’re supposed to be less, not more, work than a two-year old human.

But also, why settle for a reasonably conventional pet when instead you could isntead go for the gusto and have something awesome like a Russian Fishing Cat. I imagine living with one is the Russian roulette of pet ownership. Only I think a better way to go out is with a bullet to the brain instead of having your face eaten off in the bathtub.

That’s a disturbing enough image, but it doesn’t compare to the freaky world of purebred dogs.

And even more disturbing…

Well, we finally got around to watching Disc 2 of Season 4.5. It sure starts off with a bang. I won’t spoiler it here, but whoa! The first two episodes are the best BSG in a long time. Actually, we don’t even spoiler (too) much in our discussion because we’re far too busy being bad at Cylon math. (There are, of course, spoliers as usual though).

Episode 68 – Free Masons From Conspiracy

June 4, 2010

Lots of people think the Freemasons are up to something. Probably because they make creepy websites like this one. But anyone who’s ever actually met a Freemason would realize they’re just a bunch of nerds who want a clubhouse. Check out the guy in this video. I don’t really get the impression he’s part of a world-wide plot. Unless hideous sweaters are a world-wide plot. Which, come to think of it, they kind of are. Open your eyes people!

People also don’t trust the Freemasons because they keep secrets. People generally don’t like people who keep secrets. Unless they’re keeping your secrets. In that case, they have character.

And by “character” I mean being a total square and not being around anyone even vaguely cooly-wooly for an evening (that’s what’s up with the compasses in Masonic imagery). Which is why “having character” seems to be what Freemasonry really is all about. Taking a good man and making him better.

Now, if that doesn’t make you vomit in your mouth a little, you might consider joining your local order. And I want nothing to do with you.

As part of Doors Open Toronto, Mandi and I had a chance to take a look around the Prince of Wales Lodge in The Junction. The first thing we noticed was blue. Blue everywhere. A very ugly shade of royal blue. Everywhere. And a lot of occult symbols. Blue. And weird bric-a-brac. And more blue.

The structure of Freemasonry (clicken to embiggen)

Also there were real live Freemasons answering questions. Sort of. If by “answering” you mean “hedging” and “being vague as fuck.” It made them seem a wee bit unecessarily creepy. That was clearly part of the fun for them. Because at heart they’re all big nerds.

Really, what do all nerds (sci-fi, sports, music, gaming, history, etc) have in common? A vast amount of esoteric knowledge to digest and to feel superior about being in possession of. It seems like the entire structure of Freemasonry is layers of trivia wrapped around an occult mythos. It’s nerd heaven.

Which is also why conspiracy nerds love them so much. Their secretiveness is a goldmine for people who want to believe the world is a little more interesting than the banal reality it isn’t steered by secret organizations. Something’s got to be controling everything, right? It can’t all just be random. Life can’t be that banal and meaningless, right?

Yes it can. Which is why dudes like this make videos:

And if that isn’t enough for you, check out the comments on this YouTube video about the Illuminati putting subliminal symbols and messages into movies. You’ll never find a more distilled supply of head-exploding, deluded ignorance.

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