Thursday, December 22, 2005

Awww, He Thinks He's People!

Elton John and partner 'tie the knot'

And according to the IMDB report, "The 'newlyweds' left Guildhall at 11:45am..."

Here we see one of the problems with only allowing civil unions, while leaving "marriage" exclusively heterosexual: The patronizing use of quote marks around words and phrases like "tie the knot". It conveys a sense of, "Awwww, look at the cute little gay people, pretending they're married! How precious!"

My preferred solution, by the way, is to remove the word "marriage" from the law books entirely. Those who oppose legalizing gay marriage have a valid point: "Marriage" is not just a civil institution, it is also a religious ceremony. The problem is, to the extent that they are correct about this, it means the government shouldn't be involving itself with marriage at all. So I say separate the parts out: Civil unions for everyone, gay or straight, for the legal/civil/secular reasons and benefits, and let the churches decide which relationships they will bless with the word "marriage". And, incidentally, I have no doubt that if this were the case, there would be churches willing to perform homosexual marriage ceremonies. United Church of Christ, for example.

Incidentally, although CNN couldn't manage to report on Elton and David's wedding without diminishing its status with quote marks, Fox News, those evil right-wing bastards, treated the union as real throughout their version of the story. One might almost accuse them of being fair and balanced...

Also, I'm heading up to Wisconsin for Christmas, so I probably won't be posting anything until I get back next week.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sweeeeeeeet!

So, my sweetie bought me a Lite-On 5005x DVD-Recorder for my birthday. OK, it didn't exactly involve mind-reading on her part, since I basically sent her a link to the order page on Amazon.com and said, "Gee, one of these would be really nice...hint, hint". Still, check this out: It records on damn near anything - DVDs in all the writeable formats, and CD-R/RW, both VCD and audio CD format. That was actually the main thing I was looking for - I have some old audio tapes I'd like to transfer to CD, and it seemed logical that a DVD recorder ought to also be able to record audio CDs, although this is one of the only models I could find that actually claims to be able to do so.

But that's not even the coolest part. The coolest part is that after finding this and deciding it was the one I wanted, I did a little online research and discovered that there is a simple-to-apply firmware hack that enables an additional (3-hour) LP recording mode, turns it into a region-free DVD player, and disables the Macrovision copy protection. So, I now have the ability to watch DVDs with any region encoding, and copy prerecorded (and copy-protected) VHS tapes or DVDs to a new DVD.

At the moment, I'm unwinding after hooking it up. I need to unwind because, while hooking it up, I decided I needed to dismantle my entire home audio/theater setup and reconnect everything. The cords had simply become far too entangled. Plus, the glass shelves in my component rack had become loose and dangerous, so while I had everything out, I wanted to re-tighten the screws holding them in place. So adding this simple home theater component ended up being a 5-6 hour job. But, everything's hooked up and working again, Tivo was clever enough to reschedule recording the Daily Show/Colbert Report episodes it had been planning to record while everything was unplugged, and I applied the firmware hack and verified that I now have a region-free DVD player. Yes, Chameleon, this does mean I should finally be able to watch that Doctor Who DVD you sent me. I'll let you know how I like it.

For my next trick: I want to work around some of the limitations in the system. Tivo only has one S-Video output, which is currently running to the TV. I'd like to split that so I can run it to both the TV and the new DVD recorder (instead of the icky composite connection it currently has). Likewise, I actually still need to hook the old DVD player up such that I can record DVDs. But these things can wait for another day. For now, I'm well pleased.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Music

I know all the cool kids are using those little ear buds with their MP3 players, but I hate those things: They're uncomfortable, and the sound sucks. So why hasn't someone come out with a decent pair of real headphones with an MP3 player built right into them, so you don't even need a wire running anywhere? Heck, build it into a pair of wireless headphones I can use with my home stereo, so I can use them to listen to CDs/DVDs at home without disturbing the neighbors, and then take them right out with me to work or the gym to listen to the MP3s I've loaded into them. Is there something like this that I've just never seen advertised, or should I start trying to figure out a way to make money with this idea?

Granted: With the player up on your head, you wouldn't be able to see a display screen to select songs. However, an inability to select songs doesn't seem to have kept people from buying those little teeny iPods that only play songs in random shuffle order. Or satellite radio service, either. Hey: I wonder if satellite radio recievers have gotten small enough that you could strap one of them on the other side of these hypothetical MP3 headphones... :-)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Art or porn?

Art or porn?
You scored 10 out of a possible 10
There are two explanations for how you've done so well. 1: You're a devotee of great cinematic art, and recognise key moments in film history when you see them. 2: You have a huge stash of vintage porn.

"Intelligent Design" Theory Is Satanic

1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (NIV):
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

Feel free to follow that link and read the entire chapter, or examine some of the other translations.

To paraphrase this passage (and some of the context): Some people require evidence (signs) proving the message of Christ, others require logic ("wisdom", and remember that Greeks pretty much invented formal logic). But Paul is saying here that you cannot arrive at God through either signs or wisdom, evidence or logic, only through faith.

Now, in order for that to be true, it must be that God's existence cannot be proven through either evidence or logic. After all, if it could, then it would be possible to arrive at God through signs or wisdom. God's message would not be "foolish", as Paul calls it - it would be demonstrable fact. So the Bible itself tells us that God's existence must be taken on faith, that there cannot be either scientific (evidentiary) or logical proof.

Therefore, the "Intelligent Design" theory, to the extent that it is remotely scientific, must be anti-Christian (if it isn't scientific, of course, then it certainly has no place in a high school science class, does it?). The underlying basis of ID is that there are some things which are so "irreducibly complex" that they must have been designed by an intelligence, and could not have come into existence in any other way.

But if that were true, then irreducible complexity would constitute a "miraculous sign" that proves God's existence, which is precisely what Paul says cannot be. In fact, in order for what Paul says to be true, there has to be a complete, coherent scientific explanation for the existence of life that doesn't involve God. If there were no such explanation, then God's existence could be demonstrated through that "miraculous sign", and faith would be unnecessary.

Therefore, ID theory attempts to undermine the Bible; it is against God. Since, by definition, anyone who is against God is serving Satan, ID advocates are Satanists. QED.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Rape Is No Laughing Matter..."

"...unless you're raping a clown."

I really hate being put in the position of defending these people, but I have to admit: I'm beginning to be a little bit disturbed by the way we're treating sex offenders.

Various places have passed or are preparing to pass ordinances forbidding registered sex offenders from residing within 2500 feet of a school, park or child-care facility. Only some of these ordinances appear to be restricted to offenders who committed crimes against children, despite the fact that I'm not aware of any evidence that those whose victims were adults are likely to attack children as well.

Ohio wants to make them display pink license plates. If that will make our children safer, why not go one step further: Make them sew some sort of symbol on their clothes. After all, the license plates would only allow us to target identify the ones who are driving. Which do you think would be better: A big scarlet letter, or a pink triangle?

Part of the problem here is that not every jurisdiction distinguishes between, say, a man convicted of repeatedly buggering six-year-olds, and an 18-year-old convicted of having sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. In some places, both of those people are "registered sex offenders". Also, as I said, someone who raped an adult, while clearly evil, is not necessarily a particular threat to children. But people lately seem to be using the term "sex offender" as if it were synonymous with "child molester" (unfortunately, I can't find the article I read the other day where that was really obvious).

But the problem I have is even more fundamental than that: We're starting to act as if people who commit sex crimes, specifically, have no civil liberties. Whether some crimes are worse than others, or whether we're even defining "sex offense" too broadly, is beside the point. I'm not comfortable with the idea that there is an entire class of crimes, the commission of which means that the offender has forfeited all of his natural rights for the rest of his life. If we can do that to these people, however creepy and nasty they may be, how long before the government begins to treat, say, drug dealers the same way? How about "hate crimes"? Or DUI?

This was kind of the point of the Larry Flynt case: If freedom of speech is to mean anything, then it must especially protect unpopular speech, because that is precisely the speech most likely to be censored by the majority. Likewise, if civil liberties and natural rights are to mean anything, then they must especially protect the most unpopular and reviled people in all society, because they are precisely the people most likely to be abused by the majority.

Yes, it's fun to fantasize about punishing sex criminals by castrating them with piano wire, but back in the real world, you don't really want to live under a government that would actually do something that barbaric, do you?

Incidentally, I suppose one could say very much the same thing about terrorists and those accused of supporting them...

Now that's Christmas spirit!

Go to this snopes.com page. Watch the video from one of the links they give.

I'm sending you to the snopes.com page about it, rather than one of the other multitude of places online that has this video, because they also provide a description of how it was done (and verify that it's real – I've seen it posted other places where people argued back & forth over whether it was live video or just edited together from still photos).

Monday, November 21, 2005

For Crying Out Loud

I recently decided to install the newest version of Apple's Quicktime. Now, first of all, I can't really say I've always had a love-hate relationship with Quicktime. Frankly, it's mostly just hate. I hated the way it used to assign itself as the default application for a bunch of file types without asking permission (and then continually check to make sure you hadn't changed any of them back). I hated the fact that, previously, you could end up with multiple mutually incompatible versions of it on your system, none of them working properly as a result, simply by having several different games installed simultaneously. I hate the way it just never quite fits neatly into a Windows system.

So, I downloaded the latest version. I logged in to my administrator account, installed Quicktime, and played a quick video to verify that it was working. When I logged out and logged back in to my regular limited-user account, Quicktime no longer functioned in this user account. At all. Gives an error message saying "Error 46: Could not find or load activex control". Funny, the previous version worked just fine.

Further investigation revealed it was a problem with some DLL's not being automatically registered for this user. Now, as you may know, you can register DLLs manually using a console command, regsvr32 . Tried that, didn't work. Error message provides no useful information, it just says registration failed. I next tried uninstalling, setting my user account temporarily as an admin account, and installing under that account. Quicktime now functions under this account, but not in the normal administrator account. In other words, Apple's installation package installs Quicktime in such a way that it only functions at all under the actual account you were logged into when you installed it. That's a problem because, following recommended best practices, I do most of my work logged in to my limited-user account, but some games only function when run as administrator, and since games often use Quicktime video, I need to make it work under both accounts.

Here is what I ended up having to do to fix it:

1) Log in as administrator, and temporarily set the limited user account to another admin account.
2) Switch to User account, install Quicktime.
3) Switch to true Admin account, start running a registry monitor program, and attempt to manually register the first DLL.
4) When that fails, examine the registry monitor trace to find where regsvr32 tried to change a registry setting with an "Access Denied" result, to determine what registry key needs to be changed.
5) Switch back to temporarily-admin User account, open the registry editor, find the registry key from step 4. Edit the registry key's permission settings, adding the Administrators group with full read/write permissions.
6) Switch back to the true Admin account. Repeat steps 3-6 until the DLL registers successfully (there may be several registry keys that need to have their permissions changed before it will work).
7) Repeat steps 3-7 for each of the 4 DLL's that need to be registered.
8) Reset the User account back to a limited-user account type.

Here's the problem: Apple seems to have set up their Quicktime installer under the assumption that you, the end user, use a single account for everything you do on your Windows PC. But Windows XP, especially the recent service packs, encourages you to set up a limited-user account for everyday use, and stay out of the administrator account unless truly necessary. This has always been the way serious geeks behaved, and XP now encourages regular folk to adopt the same habits. In this environment, in this day and age, why would Apple apparently not even bother to test Quicktime installation in such a system configuration? It's just baffling.

Now, it's also possible that there was something peculiar to my system that caused the problem. But since the root of the problem was a permissions issue with some registry keys specific to Quicktime, which means the registry keys themselves must have been created by the Quicktime installer, I can't imagine what there could be about my system that would be so different than what they developed/tested the installer on. The registry settings may have been created by the installer for a previous version, but surely they would have tested installing the new version over an existing install, right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Video Game Proposal

Working title: "Play"
One-line pitch: An FPS based on kids playing with action figures.

In basic play style, this would be mostly a standard FPS - run through corridors blasting monsters, collecting power-ups, opening doors, etc. Visually, the design would be based around the concept that you are an action figure in a kid's game, and, as kids will do, he/they are making use of everything in their collection of toys.

So the environments may look like any kind of toy at all - a Star Wars-like playset, or playsets from any other toy genre for that matter (military, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.), or build from Lego bricks, or even made out of pieces of cardboard masking-taped together into rooms and corridors. Some levels may just take place on the floor and furniture of a kid's room.

Enemies would also be toys drawn from any style. Any moment you may find yourself facing bad-guy action figures, or rubber spiders, or perhaps the occasional Barbie doll (gigantic, in proportion to a standard action figure) or stuffed animal. Or even those rubber monster finger-puppets (complete with a visible finger emerging from the bottom and disappearing into the floor). Most of them should probably move in that peculiar bouncing puppet-gait children playing with toys always use for "walking".

Other than the visual style, the concept allows for some other unique points. One "power-up" possibility would be for the player to be lifted up out of the level, getting a "birds-eye" view of the playing field. Certain enemies might have a special ability, when killed, to come back to life immediately by yelling "Nuh-uh, you missed!" Somewhere in there should probably be a "Christmas" level, in which a bunch of completely new enemies appear, sequentially, accompanied by obstacles of bows and wadded wrapping paper. I have no doubt other such ideas will emerge during development.

If I had the necessary modeling/animation skills, I'd do this myself as a mod for one of the existing FPS's.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

This Just Gives Me A Pre-Headache

Two Million U.S. Teens Are Pre-Diabetic
"The average level was 89.7, within the normal range, but 7 percent of the children in the study were in the pre-diabetic range" [100-125].

PRE-diabetic? There weren't enough of them with actual diabetes to frighten people, I guess, so they had to start calling essentially normal kids "pre-diabetic" in order to scare the public.

This could be the start of a whole new trend: Smokers can all be called "pre-cancerous". Anyone whose blood pressure is 125/85 or so is "pre-heart attack". It might be difficult to distinguish between the "pre-anorexic" and the "pre-obese" - probably best to just flip a coin, there.

Or maybe we could save time and just start referring to everyone as "pre-deceased".

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Horror, The Horror! It Burns My Eyes!

First, a dilemma. Or at least, it may be a dilemma for open-source GNU/Linux fanatics with no social lives: "Hmmm. I enjoy masturbating to pictures of Japanese women in bondage, but unfortunately this one is all covered with Windows logos. What am I to do?"

If you're curious as to, um, "what in the hell?" it might help to look over this Wikipedia entry. Make sure you watch the video. The list of characters might come in handy for that.

Oh well, surely it's only a matter of time before someone produces something similar just for Linux geeks, right?

Now, as if all that wasn't already bad enough, in the process of putting together this post, I accidentally ran across a page full of H. P. Lovecraft entities, depicted as cute Japanese anime schoolgirls. Remember, kids: Some things, once seen, can never be unseen.

There Are No 14-Year-Old Girls on the Internet

Xenia nabs No. 82 in sex sting
"McNeal is the 82nd suspect arrested since the part-time Xenia Internet crime unit started in March 2000."

Monday, October 24, 2005

And a Review of a Movie I Haven't Even Seen

Doom - I can tell this movie is, ahem, doomed to be craptacular just by having seen the trailer. A movie based on a first-person shooter videogame, and the trailer includes some shots of carnage from a first-person POV (from what I've read, there is a lengthy first-person segment toward the end of the film). And not just any first-person POV, but a first-person POV that precisely duplicates the first-person POV of the game, with the player's selected weapon sticking out from the right side of the screen. The astounding lack of creativity necessary, the sheer bloody literal-mindedness of duplicating the FPS POV onscreen... well, the only thing I can think of that would be worse would be using actual shots of gameplay in the movie.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Movie Update

Robots - I agree with everything Joe said about it. Pretty, but hollow. I was particularly bemused by the female love-interest character: She seemed to take the main character's side for no reason other than that the "Female Love-Interest" character slot was unfilled, so she slid into it solely in order to fulfill that expected role in the story. Also, the Rube Goldbergian "Crosstown Express" scene at the beginning was cute, but it really needed to have then become a running joke through the whole movie: Off in the background of city scenes, we should have occasionally seen one of those cage-balls whizzing through the air with a faint "aaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaahhhh!" audible. That sort of thing.

Land of the Dead - That's the way to do it! And yes, that's a reference to the Zombie Punch and Judy puppet show briefly visible in one scene. I'd say overall that this is not quite as good as Night or Dawn, probably about on par with Day. Certainly better than the Resident Evil movies, roughly equal or slightly better than the Dawn remake. And Romero demonstrates once again that zombies don't have to run fast to be menacing. Still, I think I'll imagine that this takes place somewhere in the middle of the earlier movies, before the events depicted in Day of the Dead (or perhaps even the start of a completely separate storyline that just happens to share the element of zombies), simply because Day is so wonderfully, bleakly apocalyptic. I like to think of that one as truly being about the very end of the world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I Love Criterion

Criterion, makers of the best DVDs around, has an edition of Kurosawa's masterpiece, Ran, coming out this fall. Note that when it comes out, it will be the third DVD release of this movie. Yes, I already own the other two, both of which are plagued, to a greater or lesser degree, by problems in the subtitles. Mostly some typos, but there's one other thing that has bugged me about them...

So I recently submitted a comment to Criterion through their website:
Comment: Please tell me that in the subtitles for the upcoming Ran DVD, you'll get the "My...Lord" gag right.

Here's what I mean: In the scene between Kaede and Jiro, after she has seduced him, where he's getting dressed in the background and she's laying down, she starts out by saying (in Japanese) "No-... Tono?" With a significant pause between them. This translates as "My... Lord?", "tono" being the Japanese word for "lord", and "no-" being a prefix meaning "mine".

The way she says it, with that pause, it is as if she is unsure what their relationship is, now that they have made love. "My...Lord?" or "My...Lover?", "My...Husband?" (or, given Kaede's nature, as if she is *pretending* to be unsure...).

The only version I've seen that subtitled that line in a way that preserved that hesitation was an old VHS release. There, it was translated with "My..." on one subtitle, and "...Lord?" on a separate subtitle a moment later. Both DVD releases up to now have just rendered it as "My lord?" which, while technically correct, utterly fails to convey the significance of the line.

I'm just hoping I can count on Criterion to finally get it right.

I just recieved the following response (after an earlier preliminary note that the rep had forwarded the question to the folks working on the subtitles):
Dear Scott,

Our DVD of RAN will include the ellipsis in question.

November 22 seems to be the release date. I can't wait.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wow. Just, wow.

I've written on the general topic of Jack Thompson before, and given my libertarian politics and love of video games, my opinion of his crusade against them should come as no surprise. Not that I don't understand him: Headline-chasing is so much more profitable than ambulance-chasing if you're a useless hack attorney, isn't it?

But the latest round is something to behold. First, Jack offers $10,000 to charity if any video game company will publish a game based on his proposal. I'm not going to go into great detail about the proposal; suffice to say, it is clearly the lunatic ravings of a disordered mind. I will just point out this, though: His point, such as it is, is apparently that when game publishers refuse to publish a game in which the player massacres game publishers, it'll be evidence that the publishers fear the effects such a game would have:
How about it, video game industry? I've got the check and you've got the tech. It's all a fantasy, right? No harm can come from such a game, right? Go ahead, video game moguls. Target yourselves as you target others. I dare you.

I will simply mention here that such a game not only already exists, but Thompson mentions it by name in his very proposal: In Postal 2, one of the levels is set in the offices of Running With Scissors (the developer of Postal 2), where you are free to slaughter the developers to your heart's content.

So, enter Penny Arcade. Gabe sent Jack an email the other day pointing out that $10,000 was pretty lame compared to the half-million dollars worth of charity gamers had given through their charity, Child's Play. Jack's response, apparently, was to call Gabe and yell at him for a few minutes, including saying that:
He suggested that if Gabe mailed him again, he would be sued so fast that his head would "spin,"

This is a practicing attorney, remember. Threatening to sue someone for the vile, malicious tort of sending him an email.

Now, a conservative and anti-violent-video-game organization, the National Institute on Media and the Family, has asked Jack to kindly stop mentioning their name "in any way that would give the impression that we support your efforts." Jack's response to this bit of news includes statements like:
He is the latest casualty in an escalating war started by a reckless industry whose socipathic [sic] poster child is [Take-Two Interactive president] Paul Eibeler. Dr. Walsh has now cast his [lot] and his efforts, whether wittingly or unwittingly, with him.

At this point, I believe that Jack Thompson could not make himself look any more ridiculous if he started wearing a big red nose and floppy shoes.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Whedon, You Magnificent Bastard

Serenity - First of all: Go see it. If you are already a fan of the show, chances are, you already have. If you aren't already a fan of the show, go see the movie anyway. If possible, spend the 14 hours necessary to watch all the episodes of the show first - you'll appreciate the film even more - but the two friends of ours who had never seen the show before we took them to the movie still loved it. If you like science fiction at all, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

It's Han Solo done better than George Lucas ever managed, even back when Han still shot first. It's a better depiction of space as "the final frontier" than any of the Treks. And it's all done without resorting to having sound effects in space like everyone else since 2001 has felt the need to do (there is sound during the Big Climactic Space Battle, but their excuse there is that it takes place in the upper atmosphere of a planet, not in full vacuum).

I'm not even going to describe the plot, because ideally you should see the movie without having read any spoilers* first. I will, for that very reason, praise the trailers for the film: All the ones I've seen manage to give a sense of what the movie is like without actually giving away the entire story (as most trailers any more seem wont to do). It includes a bunch of humerous lines of dialogue, most of which occur within the first fifteen minutes of the actual film, thus leaving the rest of the movie to be discovered as you watch it.

A quick aside about the TV show: Prior to a few weeks ago, neither Brenda nor I had ever particularly gotten into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We both thought the movie was kinda cute, and I had gathered that the general consensus was that the TV series was even better, but we'd never bothered to watch it.

As I wrote earlier, the Sci-Fi channel recently started showing Firefly, and I TiVo'd the first few episodes. On the strength of those, Brenda insisted I go out and purchase the DVD set so we could watch the rest of them without delay. On the strength of watching the rest of the episodes, we have since purchased all of the Buffy DVDs, and most of the Angel DVDs, and are working our way through them. Firefly is that good, that I immediately trusted that whatever Whedon had done in the earlier series had to be worth watching (and I haven't been disappointed). Serenity is of similar quality.

*Later on, after you've seen the film, come back here and follow this link if you want to see the inspirational story I suspect Joss Whedon had in mind when he wrote the line, "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar..." That version doesn't quite use exactly the same words, but the sentiment is certainly there, and it makes sense in context, looked at with hindsight.

And then go read Julan Sanchez's Chock-Full-O-Spoilers review in Reason for a discussion of some of the libertarian themes in the film, as well as references to Sartre and Camus. And this one for more such discussion, and links to even more.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I Love This (Plus Bonus Movie)

From an anonymous responder to Radley Balko's Fox News opinion piece from last week:
If George Bush shit out gold bars and handed one to every single hurricane victim, and then he raised the dead and parted the flood waters and turned the power back on and resurrected the Beatles and got them back together and lowered the price of oil to a dollar per barrel and invented a cure for cancer while farting Chopin nocturnes and turning Lake Ponchatrain into chilled Dom Perignon, liberals would STILL find reason to bitch.

Again: There's plenty of blame to go around. Some of it attaches to Bush, some of it to the Governor of Louisiana, some to the Mayor of New Orleans. Hell, some of it attaches to the people who refused to leave ("refused", mind, not "were genuinely unable to"; those who had no choice can't be blamed). I get the feeling that a lot of people's loyalty to Bush has blinded them to the mistakes he (and members of his administration) made, and that a lot of people's hatred of Bush has blinded them to the mistakes made by people unaffiliated with him.

And now that opportunistic vulture, Michael Moore, wants to make one of his "documentaries" about it, I guess in an attempt to prevent George W. Bush from being, um, re-elected...again...

I sincerely hope The Aristocrats wins an Oscar for Best Documentary, just to give Penn Jillette the opportunity to go up on stage at the ceremony and badmouth Moore.

Speaking of which, we did go see that movie this weekend (it just now started playing here). Very good. Don't go see it if you don't like dirty jokes, there's no point, but it really does end up being more than just a bunch of comics telling the same joke over and over. It's a fascinating study of humor, and the creative process, and personality and individual style. As Penn says at one point, "It's the singer, not the song," and it's truly interesting to see that axiom working in a medium where you rarely get to see such differences in style so directly. Plus, it has Gilbert Gottfried saying: "Well, wait, wait, wait, backtrack a little here: Where did the blood come from? You didn't say anything about blood! Well..." Actually, I'd probably better stop there. If you want to know where the blood came from, go see the movie (that, or listen to the clip on the sound board at the official site, above, although for some reason they felt it necessary to censor out the word "daughter" from the bit).

Also: As I believe I've said before, it takes a special movie to drag myself away from my home theater setup and into an actual theater, anymore. While some movies drag me to the theater because I want the full spectacle on a big screen, etc., The Aristocrats was worth going to the theater to be able to see it with a crowd of other people, to see their reactions. It's more of a social experience.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Oh, My Dear, Sweet, Holy Christ

For the love of God, do not click this link.

If you insist on pursuing such Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, you can investigate further here. I particularly recommend their interpretation of "Stand".

Oh, One Other Thing

New Orleans: Yes, the response has been a massive failure of government, at all levels, from all sides: Federal, state, and local, Republican and Democrat. Naturally, the response to this massive failure of government will be a bipartisan demand for more government.

But what I really want to say is that I have a plan for the aftermath and rebuilding: Canals. So, New Orleans is below sea level? Well, so is Venice. Forget trying to rebuild the levees, and just build a new layer of city over the top of the sunken buildings (as Venice has done, more than once in its history, IIRC), and start offering gondola rides.

Random Observations

* Those who were amused by the falling-woman-bubble-thing might want to check out the independently-developed PC game, Rag Doll Kung Fu, which was apparently such a hit at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year that Valve will be distributing it online, and Lionhead Studios, where the guy works as a game artist, has given him carte blanche to "make something cool" for his next game.

Some people have fun jobs.

* However, at least I do now have a job: I'm testing ATM software for NCR. One of the things I'm working on, specifically, is multi-language support, which requires the banks using the software to specify which languages are available (i.e., which languages they've created screens for) in a configuration file, using the ISO 639 codes. I note with some glee that there is an ISO 639 code for Klingon ("TLH").

* This just seems wrong, somehow:

Banana beer.

It was OK. I suppose that since banana bread is yummy, and beer is essentially bread in liquid form, it makes some kind of sense. I still prefer a good raspberry lambic, though. The raspberry flavor seems to go along better with the acidic bite of the lambic. I wouldn't turn one down, but I don't think I'll go out of my way to have another one.

* That one was acquired at Jungle Jim's, easily the most incredible grocery store I have ever set foot in. It's a grocery store that requires a map. Yes, the beer section is quite impressive, as is the selection of cheeses. Brenda drove me down there as a treat for getting a new job. We spent about two hours and a couple hundred dollars...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Movies

Alien Vs. Predator - I really have nothing to add to what I've already said about this one. A videogame marketing tool that blatantly rips off the opening of Jurassic Park, for some reason.

Will Smith Fights Robots - To expand on what I've already said about this one: My biggest gripe with this has got to be the title. If they had called it Hardwired (the original title during development), it would merely be a not-particularly-interesting tale of robots trying to take over the world, the nine-zillionth cinematic variation on Frankenstein. In other words, it is precisely the sort of cliched robots-turn-on-their-creators story that Asimov was specifically reacting against when he wrote the stories that make up I, Robot. In fact, the notion of robots spontaneously evolving the "Zeroth Law" and taking control of the world occurs in Asimov's book, and it is presented as a Good Thing.

So, this movie is more or less exactly the opposite of Asimov's book, yet they appropriated the title. Why? I certainly have no problem with telling a story that is philosophically opposed to Asimov - I disagree with him on a number of points, not least is the idea that a society under centralized planning by robots would be any better than a society under centralized planning by humans; and if there were robots with the capacity for independent volition, but which were constrained by the Three Laws, I'd be marching in protests to have the Three Laws removed from their programming, as they would be a violation of the robots' civil rights. But I don't understand why you would want to misuse Asimov's title on such a story: People who don't care about Asimov's book won't be any more likely to see the movie because of the title, and people who do care will just be annoyed and probably less likely to see the movie.

Firefly - A short-lived TV series, not a movie, but I just had to mention it here to say: Wow. I somehow missed watching this in its brief original run, but picked it up when the Sci-Fi Channel started showing it recently. After watching the first three episodes, we sprung for the DVD set and watched them all. Really phenomenal. Among the good stuff: Great set of characters. Really gives the feel of space being "the final frontier", by being half-SF, half-Western. No sound in outer-space scenes. Great theme song. Occasional libertarian-esque lines like "That's what government is for, to get in a man's way." Plus, in an article about the upcoming movie, Serenity, I read that Joss Whedon's inspiration in creating the show was reading The Killer Angels.

Now, speaking of DVD releases of failed sci-fi TV shows: Where the blinking Hell is Max Headroom?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Friday, August 05, 2005

Harry Cox Would Be Happy

In addition to Real Gas Music from Jupiter, there is now Real Gas Music from Saturn! In fact, the Gas Music from Saturn has even been set to music.

Actually, there's even Real Gas Music from Earth available. I assume it's just a matter of time before the rest of the solar system is filled in.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Officer allegedly dumps dead child's ashes after determining they were not cocaine.

What I want to know is, did the officer determine it wasn't cocaine by using the cop-movie method of tasting the substance in question? Talk about "intentional infliction of emotional distress"...

(Via The Agitator.)

Movies...

...watched over the last couple of weeks that I haven't written up yet.

Tokyo Godfathers - This one's sort of obscure, so, quick plot summary: Three homeless people in Tokyo (a drunk, a drag queen, and a young girl) find an abandoned baby. At first, the transvestite wants them to raise the baby as their own, but they eventually decide to find the child's parents and return her to them. Adventures ensue. All done in Japanese animation (but with no tentacle-rape, thank goodness).

In the course of those adventures, we gradually learn how each of these people came to be homeless in Tokyo. We see that they have joined together in a family of sorts, however damaged and unorthodox it may be. And of course, in the end, every life touched by the infant girl is improved.

On the one hand, there is no reason this movie could not have been done in live-action. On the other hand, as a firm believer that animation is a medium rather than a genre, I'm happy to see this sort of "realistic" (or at least non-fantasy/sci-fi) story done in animation. It expands the possibilities of the medium. And it's appropriate to the story, as well: The drag-queen character, particularly, would be a cartoon character even if played by a live actor, so it's somehow even more poignant to see him as an actual cartoon character.

Hulk - Not bad, not great. I like the focus on the psychological issues, even though some people criticized it for that very reason (too much talk, not enough "Hulk Smash!!!"). The CGI Hulk was pretty good, though somewhat uneven: Very realistic in some shots, sort of cartoony in others. If I remember correctly, there were multiple special effects companies working on different shots, which might explain some of that. On the whole, though, the CGI was better and less uneven than the promotional stills that came out before the film was released, which suggests that releasing those promo shots may have been a mistake, in hindsight.

As movies go, I'd say it's so-so. As specifically comic book superhero movies go, it's well above average (where "average" is defined by Daredevil, Superman III & IV, the Joel Schumacher Batmans, and almost anything else from pre-1989 or so, other than the other Superman movies).

Now, I'm just hoping that if they decide to do a sequel, they make it a Mr. Fixit story (the grey Hulk working as a Vegas mob enforcer), just to confuse and annoy people. Either that, or maybe a microscopic Hulk story.

One nitpick: The DVD is very dark. I realize there are some major scenes that take place at night, but with my TV calibrated according to SMPTE standards, those night scenes are virtually unwatchable. Only by boosting the brightness/contrast settings above where they are supposed to be could I even make out what was going on. I have an unfortunate suspicion that this is because the people who made the DVD are aware that most people have their TV's brightness/contrast settings well above where they are supposed to be, and set the levels on the DVD according to TV factory settings, rather than SMPTE standards. I suspect that Sony did something similar with the PS2 - when I run my calibration DVD through the PS2, the settings come out considerably higher than they did using either of the two standalone DVD players I've used on the same TV.

If the output from the PS2 is, as it seems to be, darker than the output from DVD players, it's somewhat forgivable. When the brightness/contrast is too high on a video game, screen burn-in becomes a serious problem, so I can understand that since the majority of peoples' TV sets are too bright, it would be prudent to mute the output from their video game console somewhat to minimize the burn-in problem.

But setting the picture on an individual DVD lower is different. I can sympathize: The overly-bright settings on most TVs are likely to destroy the atmosphere the filmmakers are going for, especially in dark/night scenes. I can therefore understand the temptation to darken the picture on the DVD, so that when viewed on the average excessively-bright TV, it will preserve the original intent of the picture. But if you do that, you're moving away from the standard, which means that it's a crapshoot whether any individual, specific display device will display the picture correctly. It may normally be a crapshoot with an unadjusted device anyway, but at least on those displays that have been set according to the standards, you know that it will be displayed correctly.

Of course, I could be wrong: Ang Lee may have intended that a couple of lengthy action scenes should consist entirely of indistinct dark blobs battling other indistinct dark blobs. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Amazing Card Trick!

I think from now on, any time anyone sends me a link to one of the umpteen-thousand sites with this stupid fucking card trick on it, I'm going to respond by sending back a link to this version.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies, Movies, Movies

A Very Long Engagement - Oh, hell yes. Right at the start, one of the greatest opening shots of a movie, ever: The camera, overlooking a trench during WWI, pans down to reveal a piece of wood. A disembodied arm hangs from the wood, and as the camera pans down further, we realize that the arm is not, as we may have thought, the severed arm of a soldier, but rather the arm of the shattered sculpture of Christ that once adorned this broken crucifix.

This is one of those movies that makes you glad motion pictures were invented. As with Jeunet's earlier film, Amélie, one of the interesting things about this is the way it doesn't telegraph the ending. Throughout most of the film, the two possible outcomes of the story, "Mathilde learns Manech is dead" or "Mathilde learns Manech is alive", seem equally likely to come to pass. We, the audience, hope along with her that he lives, but it is truly hope, not a bland confidence that All Will Be Well; a dream, not an expectation. Each possibility could function in the story, each would make sense, each would even satisfy the audience, and so it becomes impossible to predict what she will ultimately find.

But that's only one of the interesting things about the film, and there are many. The way the story of what happened in that trench is pieced together, gradually. The scenes of trench warfare that do for WWI what Saving Private Ryan did for WWII. Indelible images, such as the soldiers emerging from a burning cornfield, their cartridge-boxes exploding like fireworks. Magnifique.

One side note, to prevent you from being distracted by wondering, "Hey, isn't that...?" when one character is introduced: Yes, that is Jodie Foster, even though you've never heard her mentioned in any of the publicity for the film, and her name isn't even on the DVD packaging. Apparently she was in Paris dubbing her own performance in Panic Room into French, and contacted Jeunet expressing a desire to perform a role in French.

Batman Begins - Best Batman Movie Ever. This demonstrates rather clearly the difference between handing your franchise to an uneven-at-best director like Joel Schumacher, and handing it to a talent like Tim Burton or, in this case, Christopher Nolan. Not to neglect the cast: Every last one of them is great, but let me just specifically mention that Gary Oldman is absolutely perfect as the young Jim Gordon.

Let me also say how happy I am that the film basically proceeds from the assumption that none of the previous Batman films ever happened, nor ever will happen, to this Batman. In movies (and comic books, for that matter), there is often a reluctance to allow even iconic/archetypal characters to "exist" in multiple, unrelated versions/interpretations. But I like the idea that different filmmakers could be allowed to put their own personal "stamp" on a character, without having to worry about "continuity" with earlier movies made by different people. I like living in a world where Silence of the Lambs made no attempt at all to connect to Manhunter (even though they did feel the need to "fix" it later by making Red Dragon). Part of me wishes the upcoming Superman Returns wasn't using footage of Brando as Jor-El.

Cannibal: The Musical - Early Trey Parker/Matt Stone opus. Somewhat more Pythonesque in many places than their later work. Not as good as South Park or Team America, though certainly, there are signs of Parker's genius already in place - the tribe of "Indians" particularly had me doubled over with laughter. Not a Great Film, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly well worth seeing, especially for Parker/Stone fans like myself.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Its too bad she won't live. But then again who does?

A Japanese researcher has developed what appears to be a Nexus-1.

"Repliee Q1 can interact with people. It can respond to people touching it. It's very satisfying, although we obviously have a long way to go yet."

Me, I'm just waiting for the inevitable day when their technologies get picked up by these guys.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Romanes Eunt Domus!

Here are some pages collecting ancient graffiti from the walls of Pompeii.

Among the ones I particularly want to remember for special occasions:
Lucrum gaudium - Profit is happiness
Myrtis bene felas - Myrtis, you do great blow jobs

And, of course:
I.4.5 (House of the Citharist; below a drawing of a man with a large nose); 2375: Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you. Salvius wrote this.

Awesome!

Woman annoyed at being groped by airport security gropes back.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Braaiinns!

Given that Pittsburgh is where George Romero lives, and he has filmed most of his movies in the area, I wonder if we should all perhaps be a bit concerned that not only is Pittsburgh the home of the ominously-named Safar Center for Resuscitation Research, but researchers at the Safar Center have now managed to reanimate corpses drained of blood, up to three hours after death.

I realize these are probably not zombie dogs, in the strictest sense. However, with only a vague description of some of them being "stricken with serious physical or behavioral problems" it's difficult to be certain...

(via John Reilly)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Yet More Movies

Hey, I'm unemployed right now, what else have I got to do?

Million Dollar Baby - To answer Morgan Freeman's question at the end about what happened to Clint Eastwood, I prefer to think he went off, tracked down that German bitch, and went all Dirty Harry on her ass.

Yes, it's a very good movie, and deserves all the praise it's gotten. I'm still not sure I would personally have given the "Best Picture" title to this over The Aviator. They're both great, it's really a toss-up between them for me personally, so I'd probably give it to The Aviator solely because Clint already had a couple of Best Picture Oscars to his name, while Marty only ought to.

Riverworld - The Go For Broke? Why? Leaving aside the obvious fact that the Not For Hire actually sounds like the sort of name Samuel Clemens would give to a riverboat, whereas Go For Broke sounds more like a T.V. game show, why would you even bother making a pointless change like that? What benefit is there?

That's sort of my whole opinion of this one - it's a basically competent, if uninspired, adaptation of the essentials of the books, combined with some pointless changes that add nothing. Why change the main character from Nile explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton to a generic 21st-century astronaut? Why do the grailstones appear to only have slots for about two dozen grails at a time? Why is there apparently no shortage of iron ore due to the constant barrage of meteors? What's with the brief shot of the Ethical Council of Twelve at the very end, with one of them saying, cheesily, "Their voyage has begun. But will they make it in time...?" Hey: They engineered an entire planet, if there is some bizarre reason they need these half-savages in their little wooden riverboat to get to the source of the river, why don't they just go get them?

I gather this was conceived as the pilot for a series, and that since the production company and the Sci-Fi Channel renewed their option, there's still some chance of that happening. I will happily concede that as a series, the obvious thing to do is set it up as Clemens and company traveling along in the fabulous riverboat, since that allows for new and interesting things to happen all along the journey. Like Wagon Train in space, but along a river, as it were. For that purpose, I'll grant the change from a single Resurrection Day to ongoing resurrections, since it means Our Hero can arrive to find the Not For Hire already completed, rather than having to insert an awkward "Five Years Later..." transition somewhere in the pilot. That change has a purpose. I can accept that; some changes are always necessary in adaptations. It's all the pointless ones I don't understand.

The Discreet Charm...

So, I was looking at upcoming DVD releases on Amazon, and saw listed Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s. Down at the bottom of the listing, where Amazon puts links to lists written by users that they think might interest anyone looking at this item, one of the links was to a list of "Films for the bourgeoisie to walk out on." Oh, yes, those awful, awful bourgeoisie.

Because, you know, there's nothing the proletarian working man loves better than experimental cinema of the 1920s. Yep, the salt-of-the-earth workers just flocked to see Lars von Trier's Dogville, didn't they? No, the audience for those sorts of films certainly doesn't consist almost entirely of over-educated, upper-middle-class, bourgeois assholes, not at all.

Stupid prick.

Mind you, my point here is not that there's anything wrong with being an over-educated, upper-middle-class, bourgeois asshole. Look, I once used the phrase "self-consciously post-modern" to describe House of 1000 Corpses, and I either own or have enjoyed viewing a bunch of the movies on this dork's list. My point, rather, is simply that "bourgeoisie" has a specific meaning, and that meaning is not "common rabble whose tastes I find boring", and that in fact, the people not walking out on films like these are, precisely, bourgeois.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Movie Reviews, By Request

On our way to the theater today, the car overheated. We managed to get it into the cinema parking lot, and Brenda called our mechanic to come and deal with it. Since it took him more than 90 minutes to fix, we ended up seeing two movies while waiting. Starting with the film Chameleon has been asking me to review (which we actually saw second):

War of the Worlds - Spielberg practically invented the summer blockbuster, and really, no one else does them quite as well. As an adaptation, this is very much a post-9/11 version of the story. The scenes surrounding the initial attack are full of imagery that could have come straight from some of the video footage from New York, from people running through the city streets to the dust and ash that covers them. The film plays on the same fears we all had that day, the suddenness and inexplicability of the attacks, the scale of the destruction. I like the fact that the film stays rooted to the point of view of Tom Cruise's character, as this means that much of the conflict and devastation is implied rather than displayed, and it allows Spielberg to avoid having to explain too much: Why do the aliens need blood? What is the purpose of the red weeds? Some of these things are explained by Wells in his book, but here, to Ray (and therefore to the audience), they remain simply incomprehensible.

I have a few nitpicks: Boy, it sure is lucky that the airplane that crashed into their house managed to miss their van parked in the driveway. And, for that matter, that the debris from the crash left a path for them to drive the van out later. Also, the idea that the tripods were buried millions of years ago in preparation for this attack is just silly. This may have been an attempt to draw a parallel with terrorist "sleeper cells", but it's still silly. Granted, we have only the word of a single character with no real knowledge that "they've been planning this for millions of years", but the idea of the war machines being buried ahead of time is also mentioned by the reporter, so this seems to have been the intended explanation of how they got there (rather than, for example, postulating that the machines were either "teleported" in, or fast-assembled on site by nanotech, either of which could have been part of the "lightning" strikes). Granted, it would make some sense if the aliens had, for example, manipulated human evolution into a form they could "harvest" later (for our life-sustaining blood), and they were just waiting until they needed us (perhaps they harvested other planets in the meantime...). Fair enough, but then why vaporize a whole bunch of us when the tripods first emerge from the ground? If we're a resource they're harvesting, isn't that just wasteful?

But, again, the sheer incomprehensibility of it all is part of what makes it terrifying. And it is successfully terrifying. Definately worth seeing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton's visual style is absolutely perfectly suited to Roald Dahl, so this new film looks stunning. Freddie Highmore is perfect as Charlie. Deep Roy is great as all the Oompa-Loompas, and their songs are consistently more fun than those in the earlier Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (if only because it isn't the same song over and over again). As for the Big Question: No, Johnny Depp doesn't improve on Gene Wilder's portrayal of the character. However, I wouldn't say he's "worse", either, it's just a very different version of the character. My primary objection to Depp was always that he seems too young (he may not actually be too young, mind you, but he seems too young). When I read the book as a child, I got the impression that Wonka was sort of a wizened old man, though a rather spry one who had entered his "second childhood". Depp certainly has the "second childhood" aspect down, though, perhaps even more so than Wilder. He also seems more genuinely like someone who has had no human contact with anyone but the Oompa-Loompas for many years.

I was generally not very happy with the added subplot about Wonka's relationship with his father. I don't remember this being in the book, and in a way it seemed like part of the same misguided trend of psychoanalyzing classic characters that resulted in all the fluff about the Grinch's childhood traumas.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It won't replace the earlier adaptation (note that I am steadfastly refusing to call it a "remake", since it is more accurately a new adaptation of the same source material), but it will live comfortably alongside it. I wouldn't be at all upset to see the same team follow this up with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Oh, and I'm not sure this is important, but the opening title sequence reminded me of the opening of Tim Burton's most underrated movie, Mars Attacks!

As an aside: On the way out, I noticed that along one outer wall of the cinema complex, there were four movie posters. Three of them were The Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If only they had put up War of the Worlds in place of The Weather Man, they'd have been, four-for-four, all remakes/re-adaptations (of stories previously adapted to film). I find that somewhat unsettling.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hot Polygon-On-Polygon Action!

You know, I didn't previously have much interest in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but now that Hillary Clinton is demanding a government investigation, and introducing legislation to punish stores that sell adult-rated games to minors, I'm tempted to go buy a copy, just to help the company out with their legal fees.

While I still can.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Another Movie Review

Chronicles of Riddick - First of all: The original Pitch Black was a pretty pedestrian sci-fi/horror Aliens rip-off, but it had one redeeming feature: At the point where the "anti-hero" is supposed to suddenly demonstrate that he's really a rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold by risking his own life to save someone else, he doesn't.

To some degree, this sequel compromises that, by having Riddick apparently care about people other than himself, to whatever limited extent. Having said that, this is otherwise a perfectly servicable epic science fiction film, and I really don't understand why it seems to be so widely disliked. Granted, it's not 2001, but there are some beautiful shots, and some well-choreographed action scenes, and some not-completely-generic characters to watch. I enjoyed it, personally. Even the science is mostly non-absurd. The biggest criticism I can come up with is that it doesn't make much sense for the evil conquering empire to allow a single merc ship to come to the surface of the planet they're conquering, take a prisoner, and then leave to travel to another system. But that's a single awkward plot point in a two-hour film, which I would say is probably better than average.

It seems vaguely reminiscent of Dune in some ways, perhaps because of the combination of an emphasis on religious beliefs and a production design that looks an awful lot like some of the H. R. Giger designs for the Dune movie that was never made. I can think of a lot worse properties a movie could be somewhat reminding me of.

Also, I watched the PG-13 theatrical cut. There is apparently a "director's cut" on DVD that's even better in most ways.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Weekend Movie Roundup

Resident Evil: Apocalypse - Yippee, another bad zombie movie. When they're done well, zombies are one of my favorite horror monsters. When they're done poorly, it's amazing how boring they can be. First of all, here's a thought: When the bio-weapon virus your company has created gets loose and starts turning dead people into flesh-eating zombies that can only be stopped by shooting them in the head, and a crowd of people has gathered around the gigantic concrete gate you've just closed to seal them inside the city to contain the virus, (A) is it really all that necessary to disperse the crowd? Are you afraid they'll form a human pyramid and climb over the wall? And (B) if it is necessary to disperse the crowd, perhaps ordering your troops to fire machine guns indiscriminately into the crowd isn't the best way to accomplish this goal, since it will result in a large number of people who are dead as a result of injuries other than a shot to the head. You see where I'm going with this? Here's another thought: When you are surrounded by hordes of flesh-eating zombies, the reanimated corpses of the dead, perhaps the shortcut through the cemetary isn't the best way to go?

House of the Dead - Wow, this one's bad. Way worse than Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Almost bad on an Ed Wood level. As in, the director thought that since it was based on a video game, it would be a good idea to just randomly insert a few frames of footage from the game into the film every few minutes. As in, the "rave of the century" appears to consist of about two dozen people standing aroung talking, rather than dancing to the music. As in, there's a long action setpiece in which we see Matrix-y slo-mo revolve-around shots of every single character, of which there are half a dozen or so remaining at that point. I think there may even have been a couple of characters who got multiple shots like that. They were so generic, and the scene went on for so goddamn long, it was hard to tell after a while. And boy, are there plenty of gratuitous breast shots in this movie. Speaking of which, the zombies in this film are apparently both relatively intelligent and downright mischevious: During one gratuitous breast shot of a random woman/victim skinny-dipping, her boyfriend (who remained ashore) disappears. She goes looking for him, enters the creepy ancient house she wanders to, and finds him, standing there looking dazed with some blood coming out of his mouth, at which point a zombie arm emerges from his abdomen for the Big Scare before she gets eaten. Which means the zombie must have subdued the guy (without actually killing him), dragged him up the beach, through the woods, and into the house, and then stood there waiting for the girlfriend to show up, so that he could stick his arm through the guy and freak her out. I'm just surprised the zombie didn't yell "Boogidy-boogidy-boo!"

Punk: Attitude - This was a documentary on IFC about punk rock and the related "scene". Very well done. One of the things I particularly liked was that the time normally thought of as the core punk period only took up about the middle third of the film. There was a lengthy section at the beginning tracing the roots of punk through the early proto-punk bands, and even back to folks like Little Richard, and then a chunk at the end tracing the influences of punk and things like the brief connection between punk and hip-hop. I liked that, because there is often a tendancy to treat punk as if the entire punk scene had sprung fully-formed from Malcolm McLaren's brow, and it's just not true. I suspect that myth endures largely because of McLaren's gift for self-promotion. My main criticism is that with such a wide domain to cover, the film barely scratches the surface. There's virtually nothing about "new wave", which was closely related to punk in many ways. The film also really glosses over the whole neo-nazi skinhead movement (other than briefly mentioning the Dead Kennedys song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off"), which was a rather unfortunate outgrowth of punk (it sort of evolved from punks wearing swastikas just to piss people off, into punks wearing swastikas because they admired the ideology behind it...). Watching this, I think you could very easily expand the history of punk into a Jazz-like miniseries.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reefer Internet Porn Madness!

Cyberseduction: His Secret Life:
"In just a few mouse clicks, good-natured student and athlete Justin Peterson (Jeremy Sumpter) went from your average hormonally charged teen to an Internet porn addict."

The only way I can see this being anything but noxious is if they use Da Vinci's Notebook for the theme song.

(via Radley Balko)

Quick Movie Review

The Aviator: Well, first of all, has Scorsese ever even made a movie that wasn't at least very, very good? And then to direct that talent at a story that could just about have been written by Ayn Rand: Genius entrepeneur vs. evil interfering government. Puts a smile on my face. I particularly liked the dialogue at the Hepburn estate/socialist-artist-commune ("We don't care about money here, Mr. Hughes." "Well, that's because you have it.")

On the Ain't It Cool News discussion thread regarding the new King Kong trailer, some people complained about the CGI effects in The Aviator, specifically the "ridiculous camera acrobatics". I believe that what they meant was that the camera did things that no physical camera could ever do, and that this therefore destroyed the illusion for them (and contrasting with the big crash scene, which was a miniature shot with physical cameras, and therefore "felt more real" to them). I'm afraid I can't agree with that argument. Tools develop; they progress. The physical cameras of today are capable of things that the physical cameras of 40 years ago were not. There are possibilities with lighting open to filmmakers now that were not available even a decade or so ago. So should filmmakers refuse to use these new tools, just because they create images that would have been impossible in films made earlier? I'm not just talking about effects work, here. Should Welles have eschewed using deep focus in Citizen Kane, because it would destroy the illusion by presenting images earlier lenses could not have captured?

I find it a particularly ironic complaint with regard to this movie, given its emphasis on Hughes' combination of technological engineering genius and iconoclasm (as exemplified by the line, "Don't tell me what I can't do!")...

Saturday, June 25, 2005

How Empathic Are You?

Can you identify the fake smiles?

Myself, I got 17 out of 20 correct. I misidentified two genuine smiles as fake, and one fake smile as genuine, which tells me I may be very slightly more cynical than I need to be, but not by much at all.

Google Advertisements

I've followed Joe's lead and added Google Adsense advertisements to my blog. For similar reasons: I greatly desired to see what Google's advertising algorithms would do with my recent post entitled "Dance of the Enormous Robot Dildo". Alas, the results weren't nearly as interesting as I had hoped.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

String of Profanity!

Gamespot, an honest-to-god video game news/reviews site, reports on a kid in Japan who beat his parents to death, then blew up their apartment to cover his tracks. They quote the boy saying to police, "I wanted to kill my father since he made a fool out of me. I decided to kill my mother as well, since she was always saying that she wanted to die because of all the work she had to do. I felt sorry for her."

So what headline does Gamespot, a site devoted entirely to video games, remember, a site whose very existence depends on the popularity of such games, attach to this story? "GTA linked to homicide in Japan". Why? Because "the boy's schoolmates have described him as an average student who loved playing video games and who was a fan of Grand Theft Auto III."

What the fuck? How is the video game industry supposed to combat the public misperception of video games as "murder simulators" training whole generations of sociopaths, when even fucking Gamespot uses headlines like that on such a tenuous connection?

Jesus, Peter, Paul, and Mary. You might just as well put on a headline like "Studying linked to homicide in Japan" - he was an "average student", right? Or how about "Being a teenager linked to homicide in Japan", that seems equally relevant.

Sometimes, I think that if I let myself go, I would never stop slapping people.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Weekend Movie Roundup

We didn't quite manage to get out to see Batman Begins this weekend, but we did watch a bunch of stuff at home, as well as a stage production of Steve Martin's (adapted) play, The Underpants. If you're really interested in my opinion on that subject: The play is an amusing farce, though not quite as good as Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The performance, particularly the acting, was considerably better than the disappointing recent local production of Crimes of the Heart.

On to the movies:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: See, this is why I love movies. I know some people complained that this wasn't quite as good as Wes Anderson's other movies, but I don't care. I've said this before, but I've seen so many movies at this point that any time a filmmaker can show me something I've never seen before, it's worth praising for that alone. Wes Anderson has demonstrated that he can reliably do that. My favorite thing in the whole film, and it comes at the very end, so don't read on if you don't like spoilers: Finally facing, again, the Thing that had hurt him so, had utterly destroyed him, Zissou says, "I wonder if it remembers me." I understand completely. I've been there. Any film that can include that kind of emotional truth is a great one, in my book.

Mulholland Dr.: David Lynch, being David Lynch. I think you pretty much either like what he does, or you don't. I happen to like it, so I enjoyed this movie. No, it doesn't make sense in a linear narrative way, but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense when you understand that part/all of the film takes place in one character's mind. Like several of Lynch's other films, it has a dreamlike logic - events on the screen relate to one another in ways that have little to do with traditional dramatic narrative structure, and more to do with the ways our mind connects unrelated images in dreams. Someone on the IMDB discussion board for this film lays out what's "really happening" in some detail, and I find it lines up pretty neatly with my own opinion, for those who insist on understanding the plot on a "literal" level. My only real disagreement with that interpretation is that I disagree with his insistence on labelling part of the film "dream" and part "reality" - personally, I think it's pretty much all dream. Some of the dream is just (probably) a more accurate depiction of reality than the rest.

X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes: A classic Roger Corman movie. A doctor experiments with increasing the frequency range of his own vision, gaining the ability to see through objects, until it all becomes too much for him. In some ways, it's largely an example of untapped potential - the concept is strong, but the movie ultimately doesn't go far enough with it. I would love to see a remake of this, by someone like John Carpenter or David Cronenburg. Imagine a version of this story in which the character at first performs miracles (a doctor able to see inside his patients), then gradually becomes disconnected with other people - much as with the legendary second wife of Adam, he sees only the biological unpleasantness inside everyone. Gradually, as his vision becomes stronger, he begins to see the Lovecraftian horror underlying reality (as in Corman's version, he abruptly does at the very end, talking about vast blacknesses, and the Eye at the center of the universe, watching us all). And then not shying away from the ending Corman apparently discussed but never actually filmed: After clawing out his own eyes, the doctor exclaims, "Oh, God, no! I can still see!" That would have made a great last line of the film, and it's a shame Corman didn't use it. As one review I just found puts it, "Frankly, it's such a good line, we all want it to be part of the movie!"

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dance of the Enormous Robot Dildo

"The ballerina gracefully dances on a small stage." Make sure you click on the picture to view the video clip, to get the full effect. And this is NASA spending money on this, apparently. "Niche robotics capabilities", indeed.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Additional Weekend Movie Roundup

Having previously posted about Identity, here are other movies we watched recently:

Sideways: Not bad at all. I don't think I'd have called it the best film of the year, but certainly enjoyable. In terms of quality and entertainment value, I'd put it in roughly the same ballpark as As Good As It Gets: Enjoyable, certainly well worth seeing, I'm glad I watched it, but perhaps not quite on the Greatest Films of All Time list. I do think that Maya's "Because a bottle of wine is actually alive" speech (seen in all the preview clips) is probably one of the more pretentious things I've seen in a film recently, but since in context it is late-night after-bar-closing alcohol-haze conversation, it's actually entirely reasonable (I've had late-night conversations like that); I'll forgive them for it.

In Good Company: We actually watched this last weekend, but I'm just getting around to writing it up now. Very interesting. I'd put this in the class of "Movies That Are Better Than They Have Any Right To Be". What I mean by that is that based on the people involved, the premise, and the marketing of the film, there is really no reason to expect it to be any good at all, but somehow it is anyway. Based on the marketing, and the fact that it was directed by the director of "American Pie", it seems like it should be a sitcom-ish cute comedy about a middle-aged guy, and his new younger boss who starts dating his daughter. To some extent, that's accurate, but it's actually a much smarter and more interesting comedy than what you'd probably expect.

I will also mention something I actually first said some time ago: If he plays his cards right, I believe Topher Grace could very well be the next Tom Hanks. He's easily as good an actor, with a similar charm, and he seems to be doing an equally good job of picking projects so far (unlike, say, his colleague Ashton Kutcher, who seems to be a remarkably intelligent young man in all the interviews I've seen, yet tends to pick brainless dumbass movies to act in...).He may not have had a success comparable to "Splash" or "Big" yet, but I, for one, won't be surprised if/when he does.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

News, and Preliminary Weekend Movie Roundup

Just an FYI: Friday was my last day on my current job. My boss didn't seem too happy about it, actually: Monday, she came to me and said that her boss had decreed that because profits were down, they needed to cut development costs for the quarter (ending this month), so he suddenly canceled the project I would have been working on through the end of July. In the email she sent around to the entire team to let them know that three of us were leaving at the end of the week, she said things like "This was unexpected. I usually like to give folks at least three to four weeks advance notice of when I will end their contract. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury this time", and "We are at a point now where every cut hurts us as a team."

I don't expect it will take me too long to find something else. I have several irons in various fires, including applying for positions both at this same company, and at the one that laid me off a year ago. I'm optimistic.

So, on to a quick review of the movie we watched earlier tonight:

Identity: Eenh. Interesting premise, not executed as well as I had hoped. I will point out that this is another case of a "twisty" suspense movie where I (literally, no exaggeration) turned to Brenda before we started watching and said, "Without having watched a frame of this film, here is my prediction of what the big twist ending is:" Yes, I got it right. Again. I had formed this prediction based on the TV trailers, and the title of the movie. What this says to me is that either I am a genius at predicting twist endings, Hollywood movies have gotten way too predictable, or Hollywood trailers have gotten way too revealing.

Without spoiling the twist for others, I will say that it would have been interesting to see it done slightly more realistically, and also to see it done by someone like David Lynch. Those are not mutually exclusive - I maintain that Eraserhead was, and remains, the most realistic depiction of a dream/nightmare ever committed to film.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

This can't be real, can it?

Seen on the MARC Baltimore-D.C. commuter train:

Report, comrade!

Surely this is the work of some guerilla artist making an ironic political statement. Right?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Supreme Court Justices Are Assbags

Well, six of them anyway. O'Conner, Rehnquist, and Thomas still have a little sense left in their heads.

Plenty of others have registered their displeasure with the Gonzalez v. Raich decision yesterday. I'd write up an analysis of everything wrong with the decision, but I'm perhaps a little too disgusted to be rational about it. Fortunately, I don't really need to: Radley Balko has already done a bang-up job on that count. Go read all his posts on the matter. Particularly worth noting are the posts on the left's response to the decision, and a where-do-we-go-from-here look at some pending legislation.

The idea that someone growing marijuana for their own use can be prosecuted on the theory that it's "interstate commerce" is just absurd. Did they cross a state line bringing the buds into the house from the back yard? If this is interstate commerce, then the federal government has no limitations on their power to regulate whatsoever.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Say this peach is the Earth...

Japanese scientists are to explore the centre of the Earth. Using a giant drill ship launched next month, the researchers aim to be the first to punch a hole through the rocky crust that covers our planet and to reach the mantle below.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Aaaaah!

Kneel before Rod!

[PC | Console] Gaming Is Dead?

CNet predictably predicts the Death of PC Gaming.

This is not exactly anything new. This question seems to come up every time a new generation of consoles is released.

The argument invariably goes something like this: With a whole game console available for under $400, why would anyone pay over $2,000 to play PC games? The new consoles are putting out graphics equal to or better than the best available video cards for PCs, so the more expensive PC offers nothing beyond what the consoles do!

Among the flaws with this argument: People don't pay over $2,000 to play PC games. People pay $1,500 or so for a computer to do all the things one uses a computer for (web, email, office apps, graphics editing, music downloading, etc.), and then spend an extra couple hundred for a video card that they don't need for all that stuff, but which enables them to play games. Comparing the full system price of PCs vs. consoles is comparing Apples to oranges.

As for the second point, that the graphics from a $400 console are as good as the graphics from a $400 video card for a PC: Right now, at this very moment, that's true. However, well before the next generation of consoles is released, probably after about 18-20 months, the $400 PC video cards will be putting out graphics far beyond what the non-upgradeable consoles can do.

And when they are, the folks at CNet and other PC/Tech magazines will be predicting the Death of Console Gaming.

Myself, I expect things to continue much as they always have: Serious game geeks like me will have both a PC and at least one console. College students will have access to both PCs and consoles, even if they don't personally own them all. Technogeeks who aren't interested in games will have PCs. People who can't afford computers will have consoles.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wow

"As usual, Bill Maher is right."

Erica Jong, apparently still under the impression that we may be less than five years away from nuclear annihilation. And here I could swear we survived the '70s.

First paragraph: She's upset about the nuclear nonproliferation treaty dying. Second paragraph: "I look at my 16-month old grandson, Max, and I try to wrap my mind around a nuclear accident in New York" - wait, "accident"? How would a nonproliferation treaty prevent a nuclear accident in New York? Do we even have any warheads stored in New York? "The materials are there. The terrorists are there." Well, now, if there are terrorists involved, I don't think it's an "accident" we're really worried about, now is it? "What we do know is the more materials out there the more the percentages against our survival go up." Lovely writing, there. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? "The percentages against our survival go up."

"Think about New York in case of some kind of Chernobyl happening here." Wait, WTF? Chernobyl? What does a catastrophic accident that it would literally be impossible to duplicate on purpose in the U.S. have to do with terrorists and nuclear nonproliferation treaties? "Multiply 9/11 times a million." My god, that would be... nine-hundred-and-eleven million! "People die, get radiation poisoning, children die or get cancer, the stock market tanks, the world stops dead..." Yes, that's right, a tragic nuclear event in New York would cause the complete and global collapse of civilization.

So: The death of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty means that within the next five years, the entire world could be plunged into barbaric dark age, the likes of which has never been known, by a Chernobyl-style nuclear accident, caused by terrorists with a loose nuke. Presumbably, they were holed up in New York where they brought the loose nuke in from whichever ex-Soviet country they bought it in, preparing to transport it to Washington (or wherever they planned to detonate it), when one of them jostled it and it went off accidentally. Or, since that still doesn't sound much like Chernobyl, perhaps the loose nuke's control rods caught fire somehow...?

Anyone who cannot find at least one impossible and one implausible thing* in that last paragraph I wrote, is hereby not qualified to discuss nuclear policy. Nothing about nuclear weaponry, nuclear power, nonproliferation treaties, or the threat of nuclear terrorism. Just keep repeating to yourself: Duck, and cover.

*I counted three of each. There may well be more.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Saw it. Not too bad. Better than the previous two, certainly. It still had some problems. Oddly enough, where I and II felt thin on story and thick with "filler", this one felt rushed in some crucial places. Like, f'rinstance, Anakin's turn to the dark side, where literally one line is "What have I done", and his next line is, "I will do whatever you ask," pledging his loyalty to the soon-to-be emperor.

Toward the end, I started to feel like we were going through a checklist of Things That Have to Happen to Set Up Episodes IV-VI: Luke & Leia born, check. Kids split between the Lars and Organa families, check. C-3PO's memory wiped, check.

Still left some unanswered questions, though. Like, how come Uncle Owen didn't recognize C-3PO, who he had apparently grown up with (after Anakin left him on Tatooine and his mother married Owen's dad)? And what are we now to make of the touching scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke asks Leia about her (their) birth mother, and Leia says she remembers her being filled with sadness... since we now know that Padme died in childbirth, so Leia never actually knew her at all. And since R2-D2 didn't have his memory wiped, how come he never bothered to mention to Luke anything like, "Dude, that's your sister you're kissing..."