Gen X Movies in Perpetual Redux

Transformers: Age of Extinction is hitting theatres last weekend and despite its title, the profitable franchise is likely nowhere extinction. Even if it did die, it would only be a matter of time before it was reincarnated as a “reboot.” It’s happened before —those of a certain generation will remember the original “Transformers: The Movie” from 1986. Those of another generation might bemoan the sad fact that it was also the last film of Orson Welles, who is credited with voicing Unicron, “also known as the Lord of Chaos, the Chaos Bringer, and the Planet Eater,” and is “dedicated to consuming the multiverse.” Yep, Welles was typecast again.
This week, In its apparent mission to revisit everything previously experienced by Gen X, the entertainment industry has revealed plans to remake hacker cautionary tale WarGames. In the original, a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick hacks his grades, hotwires a payphone with a beer can pull-tab (two technologies that faced their own age of extinction) and nearly starts World War III with PC leftovers found while dumpster diving.

Hollywood trade blog Deadline.com reports that Arash Amel has been tapped to write the techno-thriller redux, though his most recent scripts include a Princess Grace bio-pic and the forthcoming war-time action-romance Seducing Ingrid Bergman, which suggests the new WarGames will likely have crossover appeal to your grandmother.

Prior to its 25th anniversary DVD release six years ago, the seminal cinematic hacker homage was screened at selected big screens throughout the nation for a single night. The re-release was actually a gambit to enhance the film’s brand equity, which MGM hoped to leverage for the release of WarGames: The Dead Code, a straight-to-DVD sequel that starred Matt Lanter of ABC’s Commander in Chief as a “feisty and troublesome computer hacker.” But, you know, with abs.

WarGames, the “original recipe,” returned to the big screen courtesy of digital distribution and theoretically could’ve been (should’ve been!) hacked but somehow the low-hanging fruit didn’t inspire any real-life hackers – or anyone for that matter. “Shall we play a game?” was answered with a resounding “No.” I suppose the will to mess with Gen X movies dissipates after they’re remadeDungeons & Dragons and the futility of the endeavor proves just as angst-making as the first time.

Hollywood is also planning to bring fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons to the big screen. Coming to a theater near you – hopefully after we’ve had enough time to recover from the collective fangasm and/or morbid shame spiral of 2015’s Star Wars 7 – Warner Bros. will roll out the first flick of its official D&D franchise.

And a generation sighs. They’ve already remade Ray Harryhausen’s 1981 sword and sandal epic, Clash of the Titans (a spiritual cousin of D&D), so why not go all the way whilst raiding the childhood’s of generation? Revenge of the Colorforms, anyone? Where are the CGI tentacles of Suckerman?

After Warners acquired the D&D’s film rights it set upon retrofitting an existing script which was based on another game that, according a Deadline report last year, “was also hatched by D&D designer Gary Gygax.”

This original script, by David Leslie Johnson, is presently called Chainmail (probably because Son of a Lich is too “sixth grade”) and will be produced by the same team behind the forthcoming – dig this – The Lego Movie, which was a huge hit. Why make a D&D movie? Same reason Mallory had for climbing Everest, I suspect – ”Because it’s there.” That, and the backend money.

When you think about it, there’s a lot of “there,” lurking in the back closets of America’s 40-somethings that could be excavated for the silver screen. Like the electronic memory and mimic game SIMON. When will Hollywood dust off that hunk of hardware and make it into a movie? The slogan from its late 70s advertising just begs for cinematic treatment: “Simon’s a computer, Simon has a brain, you either do what Simon says or else go down the drain.” Now, imagine Vincent Price saying that.

The vibe anticipates both WarGames and Skynet from Terminator (also getting a reboot) and yet it’s somehow creepier. Granted, SIMON is no Dungeons & Dragons but consider this: Its gameplay is just like the studio development process – first you watch, then you copy.

Someone please buy me artist and musician Jeremiah Palecek’s brillaint WarGames painting here.

Minor League Baseball, Marin Style

Triple A minor league baseball. Like being in a Robert Altman film in the 70s – braiding plotlines, rapt crowds, patriotism and dread. Though the last two might be one and the same, depending on who sings the pre-game anthem.
Spied the Sonoma Index-Tribune’s managing editor Bill Hoban in San Rafael, clicking off shots at a San Rafael Pacifics vs. Sonoma Stompers game in San Rafael last week, and got the impression that he didn’t recognize me out of context. In our case, is namely within emails. Though I try my best to look like a dhowell@dhowell.com, I’m not actually that symmetrical in real life. Nor are the pairings of teams in our minor league baseball games: The Stompers are a physically imposing wolf pack of recently sprung jailbirds (I suspect) that made the comparatively lean Pacifics look like ectomorphic effetes tripping over their ascots. Miraculously, the Pacifics won if only because the Stompers chewed up their own mits like ferral canines on a rawhide jones.

Best Minor League Baseball Names

Chase Fontaine vs. Jayce Ray vs. Sausalito Sausage

Despite their loss the Stompers presented a formidable challenge, not least of which in the “best baseball name” category. Not in terms of team names, mind you – both are wanting to my ear – but the names of individual players. The Pacifics have a winner in Chase Fontaine, who has long enjoyed the best nom de le baseball in the league. That said, the Stompers’ Jayce Ray sounds equally convincing. If he doesn’t become a baseball star, he’s a lock for space opera superhero. Can’t beat monosyllabic, assonant rhymes.

One also can’t beat the names on the snack bar menu, some of which read like the nicknames we had back at SF State. The “Sausalito Sausage” and “2nd Base” are standouts, particularly the latter, which is apparently a bowl of chili poured over pasta. Shame on you Marin. In Sonoma, that kind of culinary affront to the senses is actually illegal within 10 blocks of the Plaza.

As they say, “Baseball… Like it used to be.” Best $10 you’ll spend in a 40 mile radius.

Quantum Words

After “disruption” the most overused word in contemporary jargon is “quantum.” Once the province of physics, the word is applied willy-nilly to any concept in need of some pseudo-scientific sexiness. It’s basically a cognitive rocket engine that makes any word that follows sound like it’s the latest offering from the SyFy channel.
The granddaddy of words preceded by quantum is, of course, “quantum mechanics,” who are the grease monkeys that repair the Starship Enterprise. Since then, other quantum words have entered the lexicon with the speed of “quantum computing” (which will hasten the coming Singularity and enslave us all) or have made the “quantum leap” (abruptly moving from one quantum state to another until you turn into Scott Bakula) into our parlance.

From the Wimpy School of Economics comes the term “Quantum accounting,” which is “borrowing against future interest earnings with the intention of inventing a time machine and going back in time to make a deposit.” This is what happens when your nation’s economic policy is created by “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Certified Public Accountant.”

Deep thinker Deepak Chopra once made a case for a “Quantum Soul” that anticipates some of the notions floated in Dr. Robert Lanza’s popular if controversial Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe. The gist is that one’s consciousness doesn’t end at death so much as gets freed to roam the multiverse (probably in search of a new body – thus explaining reincarnation and multiple personality disorder). This is a better fate than the one faced by Johnny Depp in Transcendence, in which he dies, leaving his consciousness free to roam the Internet. Oh, and spoiler alert.

I’m presently working on a “quantum hangover” machine, which transmits the impact of my overindulgence to another version of me in a parallel universe (yep, that dude’s going to hate me). Perhaps he’ll try to offset his misfortune with a few cups of “quantum coffee” – a concept pursued by physics-savvy baristas who postulate the possibility of a “bottomless cup” that never runs out or grows cold. It was conceived as a means to avoid pouring refills. And it tastes like infinite angst.

Quantum of Solace. Does anyone remember the pre-Skyfall James Bond flick? It was sort of a footnote to Casino Royale and finds Bond out to avenge the death of Vesper Lynd who died because, you know, she was a woman in a Bond flick. Yeah, I don’t remember it either.

Alan Turing’s name has been bandied about lately due to the alleged passing of the so-called Turing Test, which judges an artificial intelligence’s ability to exhibit behavior indistinguishable from a human’s. The AI in question was able to fake its humanity by posing as a 13-year-old boy during a chat session and apparently nobody noticed that 13-year-old boys aren’t technically human. Before Turing devised this dubious exam, he described the “Quantum Zeno Effect” in which “an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay.”

Why no one has figured out how to bottle this phenomenon as an anti-aging beauty aid is beyond me. It’s sort of like Dorian Gray’s portrait but in the form of a mirror that you use to stare at yourself continuously, so you never decay.

Naturally, this would cause a “quantum disruption” of the beauty industry but I’ll save that rant for another quantum column.

What D-Day Means

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the seaborne invasion of German-occupied Normandy that proved a decisive Allied victory but with 4,414 confirmed dead. D-Day is called such for the same reason H-Hour has its name (and in print both look like a stutter). One might suspect there are also an M-Minute and perhaps an N-Nanosecond but alas …
According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the redundant abbreviation “designate[s] the day and hour of the operation when the day and hour have not yet been determined, or where secrecy is essential … When used in combination with figures and plus or minus signs, these terms indicate the length of time preceding or following a specific action.” So, for example, D-3 is when my column was due, but I filed it arrived on D-1.

Keeping with the WW II theme, I told my editor that the column was late because I drafted it on an Enigma encryption machine and then lost the decoder key. To wit, if you’re reading this in English, the code has been cracked. This is good since, existentially speaking, I have little idea what D-Day means, or really, anyday.

Drop Dead Legs

Today marks the 30th anniversary of my purchase of Van Halen’s final album with David Lee Roth, 1984. On cassette.
I was nearly 12 and freshly loosed into the hothouse of puberty; the psychic gulag of junior high loomed at the terminus of yet another endless summer and Van Halen was a sonic salvo. This was the year Orwell thought would be such a drag and yet here was some scissor-kicking, oversexed rodeo clown with a belting baritone and a blond mane that down to his assless chaps. David. Lee. Roth. Big Brother wasn’t watching us. He was covering his eyes.

Fast forward to the last song on side one: Drop Dead Legs. This big-bottomed walk-down that ably secures Roth’s status as the poet laureate 80s hard rock. The lyrics don’t sound “written” so much as improvised upon the notion of a woman’s legs, which, despite the song’s title, rate only a single mention. From this thesis statement, Roth digresses into a surreal monolog that references the undead, dentition and a beloved Depression era cartoon character. Sure, the lyrics don’t make any sense on the page but in the ear… Actually, they don’t make any sense there either. But Roth made it sound convincing.

The entire second stanza should be put through the Enigma machine — I suspect that lines like…

Dig those moves… Vampire.
Set me loose, get it higher

Throw my rope, loop-de-loop
Nice white teeth. Betty Boop.

…might actually be cipher for the Meaning of Life. Or at least the meaning of middle school. Worked at the time.