Friday, May 30, 2008

Bunch Of Commies

For work, I'm reading the study materials for INS 21 - Property and Liability Insurance Principles. Here is an actual question from the study guide:
Social Security is a federal government program that (among other benefits) provides a base-level income to beneficiaries who reach the age at which they can collect benefits. Justify the need for this program to be administered by the federal government.

Obviously, my personal, honest answer would be, "I cannot justify it, because I do not believe that such a need actually exists," but I don't think that's the answer they're looking for.

This is just one example of a trend I have noticed in the study materials: Wherever there is any discussion of federal or state regulations or insurance programs, the authors automatically and silently assume that such things are (A) desirable and/or necessary, and (B) cannot possibly exist except through government action.

Geeky Cool

This guy has some really cool customized action figures. In particular, because I'm a sucker for both Star Wars and alternate-universe type things, the Steampunk Star Wars and Star Wars 1942 collections caught my eye.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Those Young Whippersnappers With Their Weird Hair and Loud Music

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge says "You will never achieve in a video game. It is not really success."

Leaving aside questions of the nature of "achievement" and "success" in different pursuits, my favorite quote from Mr. Rogge is "We need to hire more young people. If they have baggy pants and pink hair, that's OK."

Mr. Rogge added, "Hey! Get off my lawn, you hooligans!"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reviews

First: This is difficult, but... OK, I'm just going to say it: The recent/current series of Doctor Who are actually better than even the Tom Baker years. Yes, I know, Tom Baker was the Doctor during my personal golden age, so I am naturally supposed to look on those episodes with such nostalgia that nothing could possibly measure up, but there it is: The new ones are better.

In the old classic Who, good as it was, you'd never have seen them do something as daring as the episode "Blink", where the Doctor and his companion are barely even present in the story. In "Utopia", when the twist involving Derek Jacobi became clear (which I won't spoil here, in case anyone reading hasn't seen that episode), I sat bolt upright in my chair and yelled, "Holy shit!" The voiceover from the alien fiend at the end of "Family of Blood", where he talks about the "wrath of a Time Lord" in downright mythic tones, was brilliant. If I had a criticism, it would be that I wish they could find a way to resurrect the rest of the Time Lords, because frankly, the "I am the last of my kind" whinging is beginning to get a little tedious, and I did like the concept a little better when he was a renegade/outlaw, anyway. But that's nitpicking. Solid, solid show these days.

And the spin-off, Torchwood, by the way, is just as good, kind of like a cross between The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But with more sex: I have a theory that one of the as-yet-unstated effects of the Cardiff Rift Energy is to turn everyone near it into an insatiable (and bisexual) sex maniac.

Next: No Country for Old Men - Amazing, as you should already know. All I really have to say about it is that it makes a very interesting companion piece to Fargo. They share some similarities, but where Fargo ends on a note of hope, No Country is much bleaker, more nihilistic.

Finally: Hard Candy - Good, not great. Ellen Page gives a very good performance. A better movie on a somewhat similar theme was Under Suspicion.

As always, beware of spoilers below. Plus, some of my comments about the ending may not make sense unless you've seen the movie anyway.

The basic idea of the movie is the same as the basic idea behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What if the innocent waif you think is the prey turns out to actually be the predator? In this case, Page plays Hayley, a teenage girl who allows herself to be lured back to the home of Jeff, a "fashion photographer" she met on the internet. But just as it looks like he's going to get her drunk and molest her, she drugs him, ties him up, and proceeds to punish him for his sins.

There are some definite plot problems: Much of what happens only makes sense if Hayley is uncertain about whether Jeff really is a pedophile or not, and is searching for either evidence or an admission, but the ending makes it clear that she actually already knows the answer to that question. Also, he periodically does things that seem to foil her plan, only to turn out to be part of her intricately plotted scenario. For example, part of the girl's plan requires that Jeff escape from where she has tied him up, at a certain time, but not earlier. His getting loose cannot have been unintended, because her real goal, her planned ending to everything, requires that he chase her up onto the roof, which he couldn't do while tied to a table. On the other hand, if he had extricated himself earlier, she wouldn't have gotten to try out her castration skills.

I thought Hard Candy could have used a better ending. As it was, it was ultimately a kind of one-dimensional child-molester vigilante-revenge fantasy. We, the audience, are pretty clearly meant to cheer the girl on, especially when she delivers lines like "Who am I? I'm every girl you ever took pictures of/molested/fantasized about/etc." I kept wanting the guy to respond with something like, "No, you're not. You're you, doing this to me, for your own reasons, because it makes you feel good. No. You don't get to be an avenging angel, the personification of all my sins; you're not a personification, you're just a person."

So, following are my suggestions for better endings:

1) Leave the ex-girlfriend out (because having her show up just unnecessarily complicates the scene I'm about to describe). After driving Jeff to confess and hang himself, Hayley goes downstairs and packs up her things. A TV on in the background shows a breaking news story: They've found the missing girl, Donna Mauer, alive, and the man who kidnapped her is in custody. Jeff actually was innocent, as he had originally claimed. With this ending, you've made an interesting point about revenge, and about the reliability of confessions obtained under torture.

2) Similar to the last one, but insert the news report shortly after the scene in which Jeff stabs one of his pictures repeatedly while saying, "This is what I am. Thank you for helping me see that." Have him go on to say, as he stalks Hayley with the knife, that he really has always been attracted to young girls, but that he never had the balls (heh) to act on those urges before. But she's helped him, and now he's going to start with her. That can play out any number of ways - she could shoot him, for example - but now you've made another interesting point about revenge, and about violence breeding violence.

3) For a real shock: After Jeff gets loose from the table, reaches down and discovers the castration was faked, he goes into the bathroom and finds Hayley in the shower, where he joins her, and she embraces him. They're actually lovers*, and this whole thing was acting out his castration fantasy (yes, there are men who are into that sort of thing). Perhaps he might compliment her on adding the videotape, to imply that this is not even the first time they've done this. This ending wouldn't make any interesting points about revenge, but it would blow the audience's minds.



*If that's the right word for a relationship between a grown man and a teenage girl. Although, you could also put something in here to suggest that Hayley is actually older than she appears to be - perhaps she just dresses to look younger as part of the fantasy scenario.