Christmas Movie Review: Chupacabra vs. the Alamo

December 23, 2013

Spoiler alert: It sucked.

Since it premiered on SyFy in March of this year, the Erik Estrada vehicle Chupacabra vs. the Alamo has been lurking in the shadows, waiting for its moment to pounce. Today it sprang from its hiding place, cinematically ripping my throat out and leaving me a lifeless, tattered corpse.

I finished watching this movie 20 minutes ago, and I can honestly say I remember absolutely nothing about it.

As mentioned, the movie starred Erik Estrada who played….whose character was named….I think that he was in some sort of government job that let him wear leather, carry a shotgun, and ride a motorcycle. He was surrounded by characters who worked high school Spanish into every other sentence, though the computer-animated chupacabras were more convincing than most of their accents. Some of the characters, I believe, were younger than Erik (who am I kidding, they all were), but some especially so, and so I think those were supposed to be some sort of offspring or something.

Estrada’s character, we were assured, was not the complete asshole that he was. His family had been torn apart, not by chupacabras, but by death and crime. Estrada’s character is a widower and his kids are wayward. The boy child has trouble with the law, running in a gang of some sort. The other, the she-child, has trouble with mild parenting.

The movie opens with four drug dealers…apparently smuggling illegal things out of the US to Mexico via a tunnel. As the smugglers (or as I like to think of them, “coyotes without mange”) prepare to send the duffle bags full of, oh, let’s say dirty laundry, they are attacked by unseen chupacabras who first disarm them and then gnaw on their carotid arteries. This, for some reason, is Erik Estrada’s character’s problem, and he shows up on the scene to be vaguely sexist and unlikable. He, of course, has a new partner. We’re not told what was wrong with the previous partner, but I think that suicide is likely.

So, imagine the scene. Estrada is standing in someone’s lungs, which have been ripped out by an unknown animal. His partner, whose name is unimportant, finds a huge animal apparently dying of bullet wounds, and when she suggests that perhaps this animal might be related to the entrails seeping into Estrada’s socks, our hero is all like, “whatever,” and proceeds to be the worst investigator in the history of whatever agency he was supposed to be working for. Instead he goes to have some sort of family drama.

Or something.

So, it turns out that the chupacabras are sneaking into the country through the drug tunnels and taking jobs from mangey American canids. They maraud about San Antonio eating the occasional 30-pack of horny teenagers and commandeering large abandoned industrial sites, where they arrange police ambushes. At some point, the unlikable cop guy teams up with hoodlums, and the movie takes on dimensions of Future War. Instead of large flannel wearing gentlemen, however, everyone has bandannas and the special effects are so bad I longed for forced-perspective dinosaurs. In the climactic scene, the uneaten hooligans and the cop and his family somehow lure all of the chupacabras, which also have rabies–did I mention that they have rabies? they all have rabies– into the Alamo. Then they blow up the Alamo. The end.

Everyone involved with this cinematic war crime should be placed in front of an unconvincing green screen, tied to a stake, and have digital flames inserted onto them in post. I demand an apology.

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (3 Sept 2012)

September 3, 2012

The summer has almost ended. In the morning, I teach my first class in Wisconsin. I’m teaching two different syllabi this semester, the first time I’ve done that in a while. I’m teaching 2 sections of “Conspiracy Theory” and a section of “Extraordinary Claims.” The extraordinary claims course will be for more developmental writers, but it is still a seminar class, which is fun.

As you might imagine, I have been rather busy over the last few days, getting things together for the class and so on. Add to that the fact that my smart phone (where I first pick up most of my leads for this feature) committed suicide this week, and you will see that my offerings are somewhat limited. Nevertheless we persevere!

Is this the end of cover up establishment Warren Commission Puppet Arlen Specter? http://t.co/XACbCEkx – Jason Bermas (@JasonBermas)

Headline of the Week:

That gem was closely followed by this one from the Village Voice blog:

Twits of the Week: 

Not only does Obama’s birth certificate not exist, OBAMA DOESN’T EVEN EXIST. #eastwooding — Paul Fidalgo (@PaulFidalgo)

Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox)
8/30/12 5:33 PM
Uh, the Ron Paul people are putting on black armbands.

(Unfortunately, it was later reported that Ron Paul was in fact still alive and healthy.)

That’s all for now, people! Now, where do I pick up my big government shill check?

FYI, we have another edition of the Virtual Skeptics coming up this Wednesday at 8:00PM Eastern in our Google+ On Air hangout. As far as stories go, we’ve scooped the most popular skeptic podcast two weeks in a row. We’re going for a three-fer!

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (19 February 2012)

February 19, 2012

Just got back from Alabama (no banjo on my knee), where Eve was giving a talk about creationist interpretations of Beowulf to the Alabama Freethinkers. It was a rollicking good time prefaced by a spicy sausage potluck.

It was a rather slow week for conspiracy, truth be told. I saw a lot of leftover speculation about Whitney Houston’s death, all of which was as dull as it was predictable. Don’t try to confuse us, conspiracy theorists. We know that she is living in Bahrain with Michael Jackson, away from the prying eyes of the world.

VH1
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
Tel. 212-258-7800
Fax 212-846-1753

Conspiracy theory item of the week:
This is more of a conspiracy than theory, but the documents leaked from the Heartland Institute suggest that they are actively seeking to discredit the science of global warming, over which there has long since ceased to be debate among knowledgeable experts. I thought this might get picked up by Science Friday this week, but alas! Maybe next week, because this is important.

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

This week’s winner came from Weird Al Yankovic, who I know from going to one of his shows can totally rock a peacock outfit:

Al Yankovic @alyankovic:
Why do they not make urinal PIES? #CakeConspiracy

Please sign the Weird Al at the Superbowl Half-Time Show Petition. I would actually watch the Superbowl again. The NFL needs to make this happen. I don’t do a lot of advocacy, but this is the defining issue of my generation.

That’s it for now. I’m working on a write-up about a pretty nifty little topic. I hope to have it ready in the next week or so.

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (11 February 2012)

February 13, 2012

In the beginning, it was a dark and stormy night, so you can call me Ishmael. Or Al. Doesn’t matter.

Lemme tell you, as I start this post, it’s unpleasant in Atlanta, kids. The wind was pretty impressive this evening, as was, not coincidentally, the amount a certain tree near my apartment can bend without breaking and my sudden desire to purchase renter’s insurance. But not even 2 tons of wood accelerating at 9.8 m/s/s through my roommate’s bedroom would stop me from bringing you the week in conspiracy.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

  • I don’t know what this is…but I like the idea…Space Nazis!:

That’s it for this week, folks. No conspiracy theory of the week. Oddly, nothing struck me as absurd enough. I hope that doesn’t mean that I am building up a tolerance. I’ve started working on a story about UFOs in the Renaissance. I may try to peddle it to, well, Ben Radford. We’ll see. Take it easy! Also, Eve, who has been a little AWOL lately, is working on something utterly hilarious. I hope that will be up soon.

RJB


Skeptical Book Review: Reading Outside of Your Discipline, or A Psychologist, a Magician, and an Archaeologist Walk Into a Bookstore

February 8, 2012

If a very literate thief were to break into my apartment, I like to think he would take a moment to browse and appreciate my bookshelves. It’s a varied collection, which includes a massive collection of cheap paperbacks I picked up for my masters and doctoral exams, a huge number of obscure lit books by well known authors which are only ever read by professors, books of theory and poetry, a lot of science books, a collection of primary sources photocopied at cost from the finest archives around the world, a shelf of WWII memoirs and histories, a pony-load of anthologies, rhetorics piled out the wazoo, and a heap of books that can only be described as “flaky to the nth degree” (think of the ouvre of Jenny McCarthy). This ne’er-do-well, just before my cats mauled him beyond recognition, I like to think, would be slightly confused by my collection, which serves the bastard right for breaking into my apartment in the first place.

Our thief, as the cats flayed him alive with their razor-sharp, serrated tongues, would in his dying moments probably wish that I would come home from my vacation, but in all likelihood I’d be too busy playing tourist. I’m as pleased as punch to wear a stupid Hawaiian shirt and wander the streets of an unfamiliar city gawking. I also like to pick up souvenirs when I travel, specifically, I like to buy a book in each town I visit. It gives me something to do during downtime, and I can always recall what I was interested in at the time I was traveling. For instance, the last time I was in New Orleans (CSICon excluded), visiting the D-Day Museum with my grandmother, I bought the collected short fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald at the airport bookstore. That’s presumably when I started using the phrase “a _____ as big as the Ritz” in everyday conversation.

Anyway, my recent trip to CSICon in New Orleans was no exception. Not only was the solar-fusion yellow Hawaiian shirt in full effect, but I also returned with three more books than I arrived with. What struck me about this particular collection of reads was the variety of disciplines they touched on. At the CSICon book display, I picked up The Truth about Uri Geller, the classic work of flair-trousered debunkery by magician James Randi, and 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jon Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein. (Scott, I should mention, was my conspiracy theory session’s chair.) Down the street from the conference hotel, at Crescent City Books, I picked up Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, 6th ed., by Kenneth L. Feder.

These books, together, only make sense on a skeptic’s bookshelf, which is one of the reasons I am so attracted to skepticism as a methodological framework for scholarship–it gives one a large set of tools that can be applied to widely divergent areas of study. While I have chops in a couple of disciplines, I also have the flexibility to begin to assess the contents of novel claims, even if I am not an authority in all areas.

The value of these books, to me at least, is how each contributes to my mental map of my own limitations, which is important to know if you want to avoid making unwarranted, unsupportable and silly claims. The subjects of these books span the range of topics from deliberate deception, in the case of Geller, to inadvertent yet pervasive misinformation, in the case of popular psychology.

James Randi’s The Truth About Uri Geller is a skeptical standard, as is anything written by James Randi. Besides being a magician, Randi also has to be a bit of an acrobat, one the one hand laying bare that Uri Geller, the 1970s spoon bending Israeli, was little more than a stage performer, all the while protecting the secrets of the craft and so forth.

Much of the book is documentary, culled from sources reporting on Geller’s rise to prominence in the US. Randi spends a lot of time showing how the media was fooled, and how misremembering and misreporting fed into the Geller myth. Occasionally, Randi illustrates precisely how a trick was accomplished by publishing evidence of Geller’s mistakes. My favorite was Geller’s attempt to take a “psychic photograph” on a camera that still had its lens cap on. This “test” of Geller’s abilities was performed in a private residence, and illustrates how a patient and talented performer can multitask. In this case, he said that the photograph had been taken (it had not), but then later in the test, he had his test administrators leave the room to write something on a slip of paper. While they were out of the room, he removed the camera and snapped a photo. Randi can confidently assert this because Geller did not realize that the lens had an extra-wide field of view and caught his FACE in the shot, thoroughly debunking himself! Randi replicates effect, and the conclusion is undeniable.

You walk away from the book admiring Geller’s skill as a magician and manager of illusions, but with no respect for him as a person. Geller’s talent for peeks, distraction, and causing confusion is undeniable. But his trickery, which seems inexplicable to the untrained eye, withers under the scrutiny of his technical equals and moral betters.

Next is Kenneth Feder’s Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. I read the sixth edition. Feder provides a general guide to distinguishing good archaeology from not-as-great archaeology. Feder pays special attention to a number of hoaxes and sensational claims about civilizations past. In doing so, he builds up models of how archaeologists treat and interpret evidence.

Personally, I think that much pseudo-archaeology, including ancient alien hypotheses and so-called biblical archaeology (which seeks to establish that one’s own literal interpretation of the Bible is the correct one), do not meet nearly enough informed criticism in the popular press. Feder lays bare what we would expect to find if these extraordinary claims are found to be true and how news evidence fits into a much larger body of evidence about humanity’s past.

The most important warning that Feder delivers, it seems to me, is to be especially wary of those claims that give you exactly what you most expect or hope to find. Many of the hoaxes and instances of scientific fraud Feder takes the reader through, like Piltdown, succeeded because people embrace agreeable finds. While it may seem staggeringly obvious in hindsight, the satisfaction of expectations and justification of prejudices seems to be especially compelling to the public. At the same time, those most memorable, earth-shattering claims are the most likely to be repeated in the media and repeated. An understanding of the standards of practice and the process of archaeology is an important safeguard against embracing impossibilities. Critical thinking exercises at the end of each chapter drive home the important points and encourage readers to consider the implications of issues raised in the chapters.

As questions at the end of chapters usually do. (Sigh.)

The final book that I brought home from New Orleans was 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by…a whole lot of psychologists. Fine, I’ll type them all out: Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Jon Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein (abbreviated to  “L.L. RuBe”). L.L. RuBe looks at a large number of popular popular misconceptions about how our minds work. The topics covered, from the idea that we use only 10% of our brains to the idea that people commonly repress traumatic memories, are those sorts of things that have seeped into the culture. Again, the explanations for why these ideas are popular vary, but often they seem to patch over gaps in actual knowledge, and L.L. Rube does an excellent job filling those in with solid science.

An interesting and unexpected feature is a list of topics that the authors, numerous as they were, simply did not have time to cover. At the end of each chapter, they remind you that they have only scratched the the tip of the volcano. Uhhh… That metaphor slipped away from me like a slippery thing. I can easily see using this book in my writing about science and pseudoscience class as an invention source for first-year research questions, for instance.

Review Questions:

1) Can you tell where Bob forced together two versions of this post? If not, check to see if you have a lobotomy scar.

2) At what point did Bob simply run out of steam?

RJB


Masala Skeptic Reviews Twilight, Readers Make Funnies

November 22, 2011

Yeah, I’m just going to let you read this one by Maria Walters, who specializes in searing critiques of Twilight. This one is “Twilight: Breaking Wind.” And please be sure to pay attention to the comments and the guy who really pierces the heart of literature. Repeatedly. With a machete.

Also, enjoy Buffy vs. Sparkle Tits:

RJB


Happy Nigel Tufnel Day!

November 11, 2011

Today goes to eleven!!!

This is for Eve:

(With thanks to Brian Gregory, whose list, I trust, is getting shorter.)

RJB


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