Monday, March 31, 2008

XX v XY

I lived with just my mother and sister from age 10 onward. The classes in the schools I went to were 80% female.

Women are not now, nor have they ever in memory been, mysterious to me. I mention this because the blogosphere seems awash in dating advice (Ace) this morning (Althouse) and to me it is all so much hieroglyphics.

After 4-5 years of hormonal torment--some of which could have been disastrous had I acted on one set of impulses rather than another set--I decided that my best bet for happiness was to get my own self together and not worry about having a relationship with someone else. (In contrast with the times, and perhaps dysfunctionally, I was more interested in finding a life partner than a sex partner.)

A few months later, I became best friends with a girl. A few months after that, we started dating. A little while after that came marriage and not too long after that, children. I'm glossing over some of the messier details and completely eliding the romance; such things are hackery and puffery when you consider that the story arc I'm describing is pretty close to the way previous generations operated en masse (in situations where one was allowed to choose one's mate).

The stuff I read--the dating advice, the stories of dating, the game playing, the unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, the questing for some mythical other that will, one way or the other, keep a person from having to get his own self together--makes me think we made the right decision lo those many years ago. Life has had many challenges, to be sure, and to have gone through them together has created a shared experience that is really otherwise unattainable.

It gets really weird for me when Allah and Ace talk about alpha males. They paint a picture of the beta male that wants but cannot have because of the alpha male. I'm no biologist, but animals (specifically chimpanzees) who are beta defer to the alpha. They bow down, they appease, they propitiate. They essentially fear the alpha male, and this keeps their behavior (and presumably their weak-ass genes) in line.

The beauty of being a human--especially one in a society without governmentally-backed royalty--is that you never have to defer to anyone. Right? Isn't that what all those old westerns were really about? A Man for All Seasons? Horton Hears A Freakin' Who? They talk about being beta as if it were their genetic birthright, but if you're a man, isn't it really always a choice? (A choice with some occasionally hugely horrible consequences, like beheading or being made into beezlenut stew, but if it were easy, it wouldn't be particularly admirable, would it?)

Maybe I'm oversimplifying. It's worked for me.

Something In Common

What do these people have in common?

Philosopher Rene Descartes, "golden age" porn starlet Vanessa Del Rio, Presidential candidate Al Gore, author Nikolai Gogol, schlock producer Robert Lippert, Japanese avant-garde director Nagisa Oshima and actor Christopher Walken.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fading Stars

IT IS interesting to me while watching TCM to note which of yesterday's stars have faded from memory, and which seem (in retrospect) to make you think "What was the big deal?" versus which oversights seem tragic.

Jean Arthur, in the latter category. A silent actress who made the transition to talkies, and starred in such classics as Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (and reprised virtually the same role in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington), and later in her career, Shane.

It's probably because she was never a sex symbol and retired early. Whereas, say, Katharine Hepburn worked and was fairly visible well into recent years, and, say, Rita Hayworth was a sex symbol.

I thought of this because Warren Beatty is 71 today. Over in the Althouse bad movie thread, we were talking about Ishtar, which probably deserves to go in the "forgotten mediocrities" category rather than the "greatest disasters of all time category".

Despite the negative pre-press (which was extensive, including absolutely vicious attacks on Elaine May), the movie opened at #1, probably due to the staggering drawing power of Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. (I can't even tell if I'm being facetious at this point.)

However, I gotta believe that Warren Beatty's drawing power at that point was limited to those who remembered his break-through role in the late '60s (Bonnie and Clyde) and his few notable other films through the mid-'70s.

Those whose earliest experience was the pleasant (but not astounding) remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan confusingly titled Heaven Can Wait--and the original, classic Heaven Can Wait was on TV often enough for that to happen even among younger viewers--or worse, the 3-and-a-quarter hour commie-love epic Reds were unlikely to be turning out in force for Mr. Beatty.

At some point, movies and movie stars fall into the category of "old". It has less to do with their age and more to do with their activity level. Like Mac Culkin could be seen as "old", as could Pauley Shore or even, to a lesser extent, Haley Joel Osmont. Any of these guys could come back and start a new career that put them (and intriguingly, their old movies) back into the light, like, say, Virginia Madsen or John Travolta (several times!) but if not, or when they get past the point of no return (say, by dying, as even Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy had a revival in the '80s that brought their older movies back into the light), then they just become answers in the big book of movie trivia.

I think Warren Beatty's window was really quite small. He really appealed to a segment of the Boomer population for a few years, and that carried him through for the next couple decades of turning out the occasional, largely forgettable flick. And a lot of that "carriage" may have been due to his sex symbol status, and probably tons of favorable press generated by his politics.

Compared to, say, Jack Nicholson, whose 71st is coming up in a few months, and whose drawing power has been considerable for 30 years. It seems likely that in a few decades, both will fade from the consciousness, though hard to imagine that Beatty will be more of a footnote, and Nicholson's penchant for delivering memorable movie moments ("You're not gonna pull that hen-house shit today, are you?", "Honey, I'm home!", "You can't handle the truth!") will keep him elevated above Beatty.

But you never know. Jean Arthur should be better remembered, shouldn't she?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another Day, Another Dumb-ass List

Here's a list from Popular Mechanics of the 10 Most Prophetic Science Fiction Movies Ever (via Instapundit).

I really need to get me one of them jobs where you get paid to write crap. (I do get paid to write crap for tech 'zines from time-to-time, but it's crap that takes a whole lot of research and time.)

The best thing about this list is that a great many of the ones that he picks are simply movies that reinforce his current prejudices. His #1 pick is GATTACA.
Genetic engineering is still centuries away, but the opportunity to decimate free will, by way of well-intentioned genetic early warnings, has already arrived.
Proposals to intern "likely criminals" go back long before GATTACA. Genetic analysis is just the latest in the series of excuses used. And genetics, of course, was the justification behind Hitler's happy fun-time camps. What's different now? Oh, right, we have the science to actually identify genetic markers. Except of course, we don't really.

In other words, it's still science-fiction. Just like Minority Report's cumbersome user interface.

Santana would be rolling over in his grave with his pick of Soylent Green. Climate Change is a reality, while overpopulation isn't? But we had computer models of overpopulation proving there would be 40 million people in New York! SCIENCE!!

In fact, the big irony is the use of today's junk science to proclaim the hits and misses of yesterday's junk science. Blade Runner gets high marks for the constant rain, apparently. (It's going to make New York a perpetual summer but L.A. a perpetual rain forest or something.)

Once again: Bah.

Gray In L.A.

When it's gray in L.A.
I sure like it that way
'cause there's way too much sun around here

I don't know about you
But I'm so sick of blue skies
Whenever they always appear


That's Loudon Wainwright III singing from the Knocked Up soundtrack. Not his best work, but I cut the guy some slack. He's written over 200 songs by now and there's very little duplication. (I've seen him respond to fans who point out that one song is like another by saying "Yes, all of my songs are the same." Still, how should one respond to something like that? I suppose I'd say, "It's good enough for Vivaldi, it's good enough for me.")

Anyway.

It's gray today here in the city, which is sort of a relief. The heat here has been almost summery (in the '90s!) and it was unbearable to think we were going to go the next six months with nothing but blue skies and heat.

Thank you, Global Cooling!

Ikariam Goes Pro

I've been playing Ikariam all month and sort of wondering the whole time whether or not I actually enjoy it. As I marveled here, the fact that it was free amazed me.

A few days ago they upgraded to version 0.20, which included a new "ambrosia" feature. Ambrosia is a thing with wondrous powers, and it costs cold hard (real) cash to get. So there's one mystery solved.

At the same time they did this, they introduced a bug which makes the game nearly impossible to play. And a dubious feature that made it harder to expand (and expanding was hard any way).

An unfortunate bit of synchronicity.

Greatest Talk Show Guest Ever?

Michael Baden on Red Eye.

He's not entirely comfortable, sitting upright in his blue suit. But he clearly finds it amusing, and it must be a nice change from constantly being asked about corpses.

He's funny, too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Worst. Movie. Ever.

Althouse has a post up about bad movies, featuring a quot from someone who has very specific ideas about what it takes to be worst.

"Bad" is interesting. Take, for example, the After Dark Horror Fest. If you asked a group of people who saw the movies, they'd agree that some were quite good and some were among the worst movies ever made. This IMDB thread for Lake Dead illustrates it quite nicely.

For me, it's all about the boring. I'm never bored in real life. Not since I was a kid have I been bored. Even in "bad" movies, I can usually find something to entertain me. So Lake Dead was almost unbearable because there was so little original in it.

But others have different criteria. For example, a movie that is undeservedly (in the critic's eyes) popular seems to irk people enough that it earns the sobriquet "worst" for some people. For Trooper York, the mere presence of Robin Williams will do it, while others feel that way about Hugh Grant or Barbra Streisand. Reader_iam cringes at the thought of John Wayne playing Genghis Khan, so in her case, mis-casting is the worst.

There isn't anybody I hate enough to allow ruining a whole film for me (not even Robin Williams, who ruined the otherwise sublime Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Barbra Streisand, who ruins everything when she's not singing).

Mis-casting can also be highly amusing, as can bad acting.

A movie's message can kill it for others, including me, but I can overlook a bad message if the movie is otherwise entertaining. Conservatives have to do that a lot. I suppose liberals have to do that with, I dunno, Heinlein, or something. Actually, Heinlein's a good example of someone I can't read at all because his message (which is something like "everyone should have sex with everyone else") intrudes on otherwise good storytelling.

So...what punches your buttons? What pushes something into the "worst" category for you?

Correction

In my previous page-filling rant I said I hadn't heard of any of Scottish movie producer Hamish McAlpine's movies.

That's not true. He did a film in the mid '90s with Chris Walken and Joan Chen. I've even seen several scenes of it, though it didn't grab me.

Also, his "Funny Games USA" (a horror movie!) was actually playing locally last week. I almost went to see it.

We at the Bit Maelstrom regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Based On A True Story

The "Based On A True Story" scam is an old one. Ed Wood used to figure it would give his films "gravitas", I'm sure, having Criswell speak in sonorous tones of how "future events such as these may affect you in the future". (I prefer Futurama's tag line: "You can't prove it won't happen!")

Lately, though, these have been taking a particularly scuzzy turn, as with Wolf Creek. The "meat" of Wolf Creek is, essentially, torture porn (and not the good kind). But the "true story" it was based on had one survivor, who isn't around when the torture is going on, and the bodies of girls were never found. (To the point where the lone survivor was a suspect.)

WTF? So, the producers just made up the middle stuff?

Possibly worse is Open Water, where the entirety of the movie takes place between two dead people. I'm sorry but how is this "based on a true story"? It's, like, "two people drowned and this is how we imagine they spent their final hours".

Worse still is the sequel, which I mention below, because it features six people, and dramatizes all sorts of little scenes between them. Once again: No survivors. (Or at least none that can talk.) I'm guessing this one is "based on a true story" like Plan 9 From Outer Space was based on the sworn affidavits of the poor souls who survived it.

Bah, I say!

What's Worse Than Having Your Life Story Turned Into A Horror Movie?

...having your life story turned into its sequel.

Introducing: The Flower

The Boy has a sister. A six-year-old girl we shall call The Flower.

She is the target demo for the Disney channel. If a movie has "Enchanted" in the title, it's going to be something she wants to see. In between coming up with interior design schemes and assorted inventions, she enjoys beating the tar out of The Boy. She's great at basketball (especially on defense) but won't do anything she considers rude.

The Flower loves flowers, naturally, unicorns, faeries...and Dr. Seuss. No blog can contain the Flower's excitement at the prospect of a Dr. Seuss movie.

And that is how it came to pass that I saw Horton Hears A Who.

An Elephant For All Seasons

The primary problem with converting Dr. Seuss into a feature length film is that Seuss's stories are a distillate of the very essence of drama: A stranger comes to town and changes the characters' world views (Cat in the Hat); a curmudgeon finds spiritual redemption (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas); a bitter war is waged to the ultimate destruction of both parties (The Butter Battle Book).

A part of his greatness was his ability to play out these dramas in a short space. Even the classic Chuck Jones specials can seem stretched thin, and they run 26 minutes according to IMDB (and I think that's an exaggeration). The prospect of stretching it out for 88 minutes is not promising, if for no other reason than everything added is not Seuss, and that's usually painfully obvious.

Imitating Seuss is a common phenomenon, but nobody does it very well. Even Seuss can be said to not add successfully to his own material (as with the extra verses in the TV version of Grinch which he wrote). As a result, you get the abomination that was the live action Grinch, where the Whos lose their pure spiritual goodness and become horrible things that created the Grinch. (I've never been able to watch that movie past the first few minutes.)

The next tactic for padding out the source is to fill it with gags. But that's not easily done, either. Seuss books are really about the essential drama. They're fun, but they're not really "jokey". And they're never scatological or sexual (another crime of the live-action Grinch). The physical comedy of the cartoon Grinch is probably one of the best approaches, and even that's more Jones-y than Seuss-y. (For the record, Ralph Bakshi's The Butter Battle Book is the purest interpretation of Seuss.)

As fraught with peril as the task is, wise men would refuse to take it on. Horton's directors, Pixar alumnus Jimmy Hayward and Robots art director Steve Martino prove shockingly worthy of the task, fools though they may be.

Poor Horton (Jim Carrey) finds himself custodian to an entire world in the form of a tiny speck that only he can hear the inhabitants of. The if-not-quite-evil-then-meddlesome Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) makes it her business to squash this Horton's fanciful imaginings, with the help of Will Arnett (as a vulture) and of course, the evil purple monkeys known as the Wickershim Brothers.

Let me say up front that the Wickershims are way scarier and freakier in the Jones cartoon than they are here, despite being pretty similar. (They get a lot more screen time in the 'toon, and seem irremediably evil there. Plus, they sing in the Jones version. No singing in this one till the end.) Nonetheless, the Flower grabbed my arm a couple of times in fear.

Meanwhle, down in Whoville, the Mayor (Steve Carell) has to save a world that doesn't believe it's in any peril, with the help of Isla Fisher as the wacky Who-scientist and Jonah Hill, who plays the tiniest Who of them all.

Most of this film works quite well: Carrey is on a tight leash. In fact, the whole movie shies away from zaniness and super-broad comedy. It's fairly straight action, for a cartoon. The required length is achieved by having Horton take a long-ish journey and the Mayor having to deal with disbelief in his world.

What doesn't work that well is the sub-plot where the Mayor doesn't "get" his son (which isn't terrible, just not very Seussian) and particularly a little segment of animé, where Horton imagines himself as a ninja (which is thankfully short). In what constitutes an hour's worth of padding, that's fairly impressive.

Anyway, The Flower liked the movie a lot. (She was particularly excited when the dialogue actually included some real Seuss words, which didn't happen much: "I meant what I said and I said what I meant: An elephant's faithful one-hundred percent.") The Boy was not displeased, which is high-praise since, in his own words, he has "a low tolerance for the kind of broad humor they usually put into" these things.

Of course, someone's always trying to co-opt Dr. Seuss. The Wikipedia tries to draw parallels between the Wickershims and Joe McCarthy ("citation needed"), while anti-abortion groups have tried to see it as an anti-abortion tale ("a person's a person no matter how small").

But they miss the point: It's the conflict that's universal, not the particulars. Horton is like a more heroic Thomas More. He's told up-front to either give up what he knows to be true or suffer the consequences. Similarly the mayor.

You could apply the particulars to terrorism, global warming, or whatever you wanted.

That's why Seuss is great.

And these guys are to be commended on preserving that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Which I Defy The Unending Demands of Pointy Breasts

Seriously. Guys. It was just a lark. I was watching Touch of Evil one night and noticing that Janet Leigh could poke someone's eye out. Now I'm #3 on Google for "pointy breasts". And probably half the hits I get come from someone looking for pointy breasts.

Enough! Here:
That, of course, is the lovely Jane Russell, who was so well-endowed, her breasts were an actual barrier to Howard Hughes' flawed Western The Outlaw being released. (Oh, the MPAA had some "technical" reasons. But I guarantee they wouldn't have been as pronounced had Hughes used Lauren Bacall for the part.)

Large breasts really can't be very pointy. Ms. Russell had a bra engineered for her to, heh, enhance her bustline for The Outlaw. Apparently they never used it. (Why gild the mammary, eh, what?)

This is SURE to stop me from getting pointy breast hits! I just know it!

Thought of the Day

Teachers spend children's time like government spends citizens' money.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Open Dialogue on Race

I've been hearing a lot about us needing an open dialogue on Race. And here at the Bit Maelstrom, we're not afraid to court controversy, so I'm going to invite all comers to express their feelings about this sensitive topic.

I'll start.

Frankly, I think Race was straight, and just very committed to the boys and Dr. Quest. I think this sort of pomo evaluation of this person or that person as being gay is just revisionism. Further, I'd like to think we'd moved beyond the point where the occasional "experiment" or supportive cuddling results in childish name calling.

OK, you're up.

On a related note, the new Pink Panther movie...

...was not helped by inserting cheesy disco-ish drums into Henry Mancini's classic score.

Why The Wicker Man Remake Doesn't Work

I just saw the remake of The Wicker Man. Sort of. I wasn't paying that much attention. It didn't seem to require that much.

I consider myself a fan of the original, though I think it has limited appeal. It is a 2 hour shaggy dog story, more or less.

But it works because Edward Woodward, representing the forces of law and justice and goodness, is such an insufferable prig, his fate seems fitting. You have little empathy for him, despite how you're "supposed" to feel. It is, essentially, a subversive movie--but truly subversive, not fashionably chic peace-love-and-understanding subversive.

The remake doesn't touch that. The pagan society has been replaced by a matriarchal society, and that's barely even controversial. (Just ask Sally "There would be no wars" Field.) Far worse, though, is that Nic Cage is motivated by love for a woman who treated him badly and concern for a child he's never met.

His fate not only seems less than fitting, it seems mean. It becomes a slow moving horror film that's not really redeemed by the ending. (The original was a slow moving suspense film that turned into horror/black humor.)

I'm still not sure why they wanted to remake it in the first place.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Bank Job

I wonder if Jason Statham gets tired of playing roguish burglars and assassins. If so, that's too bad, since three of his next four films have him doing the same schtick over and over again. Well, he's good at it, and I suppose not much different from other action heroes in that regard.

In The Bank Job, he's a lower class swindler--a used car salesmen in debt with the local loan shark--who is tempted by the very tempting Saffron Burrows into pulling a heist on a Baker Street bank.

Pretty ballsy, if you ask me, to knock over a bank four blocks down from Sherlock Holmes.

The movie is based on an actual heist that occurred in 1971, news of which was suppressed via a D-Notice, which is apparently something you get when you don't have a First Amendment.

Anyhow, the filmmakers posit that the gov't had a "black power" radical cold for drug smuggling but couldn't bust him because he had compromising photos of Princess Margaret so they needed to steal those photos without looking like they were stealing those photos, and hence used an outside crew. (This is all made relatively clear in the first time-bouncy-10 minutes.)

As it turns out there's lots of other bad stuff in the vault, and our bank robbers end up under the gun of a lot of unsavory characters. Many of whom are employed by the crown.

There's probably as much reality in this as there was in, say, Murder by Decree. But it was well acted and paced nicely. There was some confusion (at least in my mind) about Jason's relationship with Saffron. The crew finds their way into the vault and decides to break then to sleep. (It's a little far-fetched, but they had been up for 36 hours by this point.)

Anyway, the two end up meeting in the vault and having a romantic interlude. Are we supposed to, at that point, think that they had sex? It seems improbable, but a later scene with the wife suggests that is what happened.

A minor nit. This is a fun '70s-era flick--without all the ridiculous costumes that are usually omnipresent in a movie based on this time period--that keeps the suspense up till the end. More sex (mostly implied) and nudity than your average heist flick, I thought, though it all related back to the (rather involved) plot.

But eventually, we're gonna wear out on these types of roles, Handsome Rob.

The Band's Visit

One of my favorite comedies of recent years is the German film Schulze Gets The Blues. It's not for everyone: It's statically filmed, slow-paced and, naturally, plays a bit on German sensibilities. But it works for me because it taps into the love of music and how it can motivate people to leave their "comfort zone".

The Band's Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) is an Israeli film which might seem to have similar premise: An Egyptian police band (classical Arab music) ends up in a small town in Israel by accident, and all kinds of wackiness ensues. Or at least amusing, human episodes.

This film cleaned up at Israeli film award shows.

But, in the end, I have to say, I didn't really get it. It seemed aimless to me. And the idea that people can get along--even Arabs and Jews--strikes me as not all that revolutionary (from the comfort of Hollywood, CA). Where Schulze's slowness was usually a setup for some amusing tableau, like a silent movie, The Band's Visit seemed to let the characters brood for extended periods of time. (Not dissimilar to the movie 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days.)

Unfortunately, I have little insight into what they're thinking.

Ronit Elkabetz was pretty hot, though, and Sasson Gabai brings an odd "warm distance" to his role that makes his character believable.

But I suspect that 80% of this movie's resonance is parochial.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Page fillers and the horror movie

Long before blogging became popular (or even possible), there were magazines and newspapers. (Unless you're eight, this should not come as a surprise to you.) Anyway, these printed materials were constrained by certain physical limitations. On the good side, they forced writers to be concise, to not ramble, to get the point across quickly. On the bad side, they forced writers to leave important information out.

On the really bad side, they mandated numbers of pages to be filled. You can't have an odd number of pages. And you really wanted to keep the runs to the same size to avoid certain costs. And if you went over X pages, it cost a whole lot more, but if you were under Y pages, well, that was bad, too.

In this environment, the filler was invented. The filler seems to say things, but doesn't, in fact, say anything that isn't bleedingly obvious--unless it was wrong. Actually, most printed content probably falls into this category.

The filler has survived the physical, tragically, and carried on into the virtual.

I bring this up because of this Times Online article on horror movies. subhed is just awful:

The glory days of Blair Witch and The Exorcist are behind us. Who can save the horror film, asks our chief film critic

What? You have to begin by wondering who the hell considers Blair Witch and Exorcist part of the same tradition. And who thinks that the years from, what, about 1973 to 1997 were devoid of any quality horror. And who thinks Blair Witch was comparable to Exorcist in terms of social impact. (The last is at least debatable.)

The article begins by positing that what scared you as a kid probably still does.

Nah. Sorry. I saw Nosferatu at a pretty young age but I have gotten over it. It seems true that people remember old scares fondly and forget the cheesiness often associated with same. It's probably also true that we perceive things a lot more quickly than we used to: A lot of modern films (horror and otherwise) would probably look like soup to our great-grandparents. Whereas the "short glimpses"--like the technique used to show Pazuzu in The Exorcist--are way, way too long for today's audiences. I mean, it's a chick in some fairly innocuous makeup. (Reminds me of "the brain guy" from the last seasons of MST3K.)

The Boy was positively bored during The Exorcist. He thought Alien was pretty good but he was by no means scared.

All right. We'll cut the author some slack here. But then he gets real stupid:
But the paucity of fresh ideas in the horror genre is now a genuine issue.
No, it's not. Or, at least not any more than the paucity of fresh ideas in any genre. And for any time period. IMDB lists three versions of Frankenstein between 1910 and 1921, just for example.

Besides, nobody cares about "fresh ideas" but jaded film critics. Halloween spawned, I feel comfortable saying, thousands of movies about slashers killing young adults. And they all had the opportunity to be profitable. (I assume most were, in fact, and that's what kept them coming.) He then goes on to suggest that his thesis is proven by the appearance of two foreign-language films in the market. (The Orphanage and Rec.)

Huh. So, does the appearance of, say, two foreign-language dramas, war movies or comedies suggest the same thing of those genres? Or is it really just that some distributor thinks enough people will turn out to see these particular foreign-language films and therefore ponies up the money to send some cans around?

I suspect the latter.

I haven't seen Rec, but The Orphanage isn't particularly novel. (If the article is to be believed, it's novel for a Spanish film, since there is no horror tradition in Spain.) It's pretty standard haunted house/obsession fare, with considerable similarities to the recently discussed Crazy Eights, The Others and the Japanese Dark Water.

Rec is about a group of people locked in a tenement with a flesh-eating virus on the loose. It sounds thematically similar to David Cronenberg's early work (like Rabid and Shivers) but one only has to go back a couple years to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever to realize, it's just not very original.

This is not an insult, mind you. It's just a fact of life: There aren't a lot of fresh ideas anywhere. It's part and parcel of having a 4.5 billion year old planet.

Usually, around the mid-point of a filler article, the author will say something that completely undermines his entire premise. In this case, the money quote comes from Scottish movie producer Hamish McAlpine:

“Horror has basically run out of track. It is repetitive, boring and profoundly unimaginative. It does well at the box office because a lot of kids have not seen the recycled horrors first time around.”

Translation: "People are going to see crappy horror movies other people are making rather than the crappy horror movies I'm producing! This suggests something fundamentally wrong with society!" In fairness to McAlpine (shouldn't that be MacAlpine?) I don't know if his horror movies are crap since I've never seen or heard of any of them.

A quick look at IMDB, however, reveals that three of the ten movies in his credit listing are about real-life serial killers (Ted Bundy, Ed Gein and the Hillside Strangler), while a fourth is a remake of a home-invasion type movie of the sort that were so popular back in the '70s.

So, maybe not your go-to guy for complaining about a paucity of "fresh ideas".

But here's the real thing about that quote: "It does well at the box office...." OK, so, if the movies are "doing well" at the box office, whence the supposed crisis? I don't wonder if critics in the '50s looked at the Hammer studios Dracula movies and said, "Bah! Kids today! Give me Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff over Lee and Cushing any day."

But the Hammer movies offered color, including blood, cleavage (and ultimately nudity when they wound up in the early '70s), and modernization. On top of that, some of them were quite good! (The 1958 version of Dracula is well-regarded, for example.)

I liked the 1979 version of Dracula--which isn't generally well-regarded--but which seemed less cheesy at the time (and had top-notch acting, good effects, and a great John Williams score) than earlier versions of the film. But kids in the '80s didn't turn out to see it, and therefore we didn't get a run of "Dracula" movies like we did in the '40s and the '60s.

The piece just gets goofier from here on out. Here's another priceless quote (Sean Hogan, one credit wonder on IMDB, is being quoted):

“But if the industry does goes bust it's not going to stop the horror,” Hogan continues. “They are dirt-cheap to make. You don't need famous actors. The only difference is that there will be infinitely more crap.”
Forgive me if I scratch my head trying to figure out what industry is going to be producing the horror movies after the industry goes bust. "Infinitely more crap?" Oh, I don't think so, I imagine Sturgeon's Law will hold at around 90%, as always.

This article's cred isn't really bolstered by The Orphanage, which is a solid, well-made film, but not going to set the horror world ablaze. Nor that it references, e.g., the disastrous One Missed Call at the end--but that's probably just a heads-up, not an endorsement.

The takeaway from this article is that horror movies are mostly crap (true), that this is a new-ish thing (false), that new ideas are needed (false: execution trumps ideas), that the only new ideas in horror over 25 years were The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project (which really defeats the notion that the author's discontent is new), and that the horror genre is danger of going bust but this will not mean that horror movies stop getting made or making money.

Is that about it?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paul Scofield

Back in the days of Beta vs. VHS, I tried to impress my girl (or at least momentarily entertain her) with great movies she hadn't seen. One of those was A Man for all Seasons.

But when we put it in the player it just didn't seem quite right. It was...okay. Not great. Kind of cheap. Charlton Heston wasn't very good.

Wait, Charlton Heston? WTF?

Recently, we watched the right version with Paul Scofield. So, all is forgiven.

Made the same damn mistake with The Cabinet of Caligari. (Correct version here.)

Today on "The Boy vs the HBO series 'John Adams'"...

"Actually, only six of the soldiers were acquitted. Adams got the other two off on a technicality."

The Post Racial candidate...


...is Rosario Dawson.

Seriously. Think about it.

She played Valerie Brown in Josie and the Pussycats. So. Black, right?

Then she was Will Smith's love interest in Men In Black II, which again would lead toward the "black" theory. Hollywood doesn't usually like to complicate its romances with mixed races--but wait, she was actually an alien. So, that doesn't count. Can't really be "black" if you're from a different planet, any more than you can be "white".

In The Rundown she was Brazilian. In Sin City, it doesn't come up--but I think the comic book character she was playing was white. Hard to tell, though, since it's basically a black-and-white comic book.

Now, Clerks II had her in a heated situation with Wanda Sykes, who was offended that Jeff Anderson used the term "porch monkey" (ignorantly but insistently). At no time was there any indication that Becky would or should take the term personally! So, clearly either not black or post-racial.

Lately, in the Death Proof half of "Grindhouse", probable rapist Jasper says to Abernathy (Rosasrio's character), "Who's Kim? The colored girl?" As imprecise and crude as Jasper most assuredly is, can we assume that he'd say that to a girl who was also--in his words--"colored"? I think not.

Granted, if faces are not my forté, races are even less so. I spent the first half of Grindhouse wondering if why Rosario Dawson had changed her looks so drastically, only to realize I had mistaken her for Vanessa Ferlito.

Some might wonder why I don't figure He's Got Game into my calculus, given that Ms. Dawson even appears topless in it briefly. I don't, because it's unfair to hold against an actress things that she's done early in her career to gain exposure, like star in Spike Lee films.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

You Know Your Homeschooling Program Is Going Well....

...when your kid identifies John Dickinson on the HBO series "John Adams" strictly from his dialogue.

Damn. I'm not smarter than that fifth grader. (OK, seventh grader. But still.)

EDIT: On the other hand, when he's worried that George Washington is going to kill someone with a bat...

EDIT: On the third hand, it's a little spooky when he looks at the young Adams boy and says, "Oh, yeah, that's Charles Adams. He was a total loser. Dies an alcoholic. Costs Adams the 1800 election."

Traci Does The News

On an IMDB discussion of Crazy Eights, Traci Lords came up. Traci and I have a "special" relationship, though she's not aware of it. I had never heard of her before she was exposed as a minor. (Porn stars were not really part of the mainstream awareness back then. There really wasn't an analogue for, say, Jenna Jameson.) The local NBC affiliate screamed her name across five nightly newscasts.

Obviously the hot ticket for the week. At the end of some of the longest days of my life, this was what passed for news of the outside world. (I'll talk about my relationship with newspapers later.) Here was the thing about the Lords story:

Every night, they changed the number of movies she was in without comment or reference to previous nights. First it was "over 200", then "nearly 200", then "over 100"...I think they closed with "nearly 75".

A lot of other things said or implied made no sense, either. She controlled her own mega-media empire racking up millions upon millions of dollars. On the other hand, she was a victim of the exploitative porn industry.

But just the changing of a simple, basic fact over a period of five days as if the audience had no memory told me everything I needed to know about what the nightly news guys thought of their audience. Or of facts in general. I've never watched a nightly newscast since.

So, thanks, Traci!

It's sort of ironic that, to this day, I actually don't know what her story is. I tend to doubt seriously claims of a highly polished machine kidnapping kids off the streets of LA and forcing them at gunpoint to have sex on film. (Linda Lovelace's claims--er, the second set of claims she made, reversing the first set of claims--seem outright absurd.) I do not doubt there are many sleazy individuals working to take advantage of girls who are down on their luck in the first place, though.

She's got a book. Maybe I'll read it. I do owe her that much.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

I often ruminate on how the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s can't be recreated in modern times. I've always assumed they couldn't be redone because, well, they never have been. When they try, we get things like The Money Pit or Legal Eagles which, whatever their merits, do not manage to capture the spirit of those films. Often, even good modern movies are hurt by trying to be like these old movies and failing.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, however, proves that it's possible. This film is so straight out of the '30s that it's absolutely obvious from the trailers how the outcome has to...uh...come out. You know the poor Miss Pettigrew has to hook up with the rich guy with the shrewish girlfriend just as you know that Delysia, the ingénue, is going to end up with her true love, instead of the guys who can advance her career.

Anything else just would have--to use a non-'30s expression--sucked.

This movie, which takes place in '39 (I think), touches on a lot of the tropes of the '30s-'40s with just the right lightness. It starts with Frances McDormand doing a bit of down-and-out nanny that reminds one (favorably) of Charlie Chaplin's "Tramp". That's saying a lot right there, though the scene never goes into full on slapstick (a good thing, I think).

When Miss Pettigrew and Delysio meet, you get the screwball, fast-paced dialogue of, say, a Howard Hawks, along with some zany antics as the two try to keep the delightful Delysio from the sort of social embarrassment that comes when one of your boyfriends walks in while you're having sex with the other. This sort of dialogue cropped up relatively recently in Joss Whedon's series Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Angel, and was a staple of The Gilmore Girls, but in this case, it's well choreographed with the action. Actually it reminds more of Leo McCarey than Hawks.

The modernization of the story shows up only a bit at this point. First, we get some Amy Adams cheesecake. Second, the girl in the '30s movies was usually playing with the men as opposed to actually having sex with them. There was usually a "plausibly deniable" out for the audience who didn't want to imagine the characters being less than pure.

This is one of the things that makes a '30s-'40s style zany comedy ordinarily impossible to remake. The audience rejects too much coquettish-ness but the character of the movie changes if it rubs your nose the characters' sexual indiscretions.

Somehow, Delysio remains charming despite her relatively libertine ways, which is in no small part due to the charms of Amy Adams.

Rounding out the pith-perfect cast is Shirley Henderson (best known as Moaning Myrtle from the Potter movies), Ciaran Hinds (late of the HBO/BBC series "Rome", as Julius Caeasar), and Delysio's three boyfriends (Lee Pace, Tom Payne and Mark Strong).

Is anything off about this film? Well, yeah: The characters are mostly too old to be who they're playing. Amy Adams is 33. I'm pretty sure ingénue age stops at 28, tops. Now, she's quite lovely, and the character can easily be on the high end of the age range (adding to her desperation), so only occasionally did I find myself thinking, "Hmmm, she's a little old for that."

One of those occasions was, however, when McDormand and Hinds respond to the younger people cheering at the airplanes flying overhead with "they don't remember the first one". The practical age cap for not remembering WWI when WWII started would be around 25, I think. (Keep in mind that Shirley "Moaning Myrtle" Henderson is 40, however young she looks!)

Still, the whole thing works well--surprisingly well.

The boy said "Tell them the boy is pleased."

And he was.

UPDATE: Kelly H. talks about the movie and source book in her "movies from books" series here. Turns out it is derived from a '30s book. It would be a good template to draw from if someone wanted to re-do Thorne Smith.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trying Neaira

If ever I had the idea that I wasn't boring, surely a book like this disabuses me of it.

Honestly, I loved it. I have to re-read the section about ancient Athenian jury pools, which sort of required you to build your own Greek Jury Poll-O-Matic device for selecting jurors (they numbered in the hundreds to the thousands per case! 30% of the population was on jury duty!) to follow along.

I'm just not that handy.

Anyway, this book is ostensibly about a non-Athenian prostitute on trial for being married to an Athenian. Along the way, we learn about Greek brothels, how slavery and freedom from slavery were negotiated in the ancient world, how trials used to work, how women--decent women, that is--were expected not to associated with any men other than their guardians, what happened when women who were supposed to be decent were found with men other than their guardians, why you shouldn't cross Apollodoros, and how the Athenians valued their citizenship.

Above all, we learn that the ancient Athenians may have been even more litigious than modern men.

The author Debra Hamel has a lively writing style that keeps the story interesting, particularly if you have some interest in the time (which I do, as I mention). She's up-front about what we know and what we don't know, and what can probably conclude given the somewhat sketchy nature of the surviving data. (A big portion of the data comes from the prosecuting attorney, Apollodoros, and it has to studied for negative implications as well as what was asserted to make the case.)

Definitely a fun read.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Andy Marken's "Content Insider"

Andy's got another post up at Google Docs.

It's all about storage. This is interesting to me because it dovetails nicely with some other thoughts previously expressed here.

It doesn't really make sense for everyone to store everything. Maybe it might if storage were--let's say--3 magnitudes more capable than currently. You know, intsead of going high-end for a terabyte you were going high end for a petabyte. That would be enough to store a few hundred thousand movies, all the music you could eat, all your photos. They could boost resolution to make even this untenable but if MP3s are good enough--and they seem to be for most people--I imagine the current (non-high-def) definition formats are probably also good enough.

The popular mis-interpretation of Moore's "Law" has it that processor speeds double every 18 months which, if it held for storage, would mean we'd be "only" 15 years from that kind of storage. I was going to say that it doesn't, but thinking back, 300GB (2008)->300MB (1993)->300KB(1978) works.

So, maybe it will happen. Still, if I were a content provider, I'd be focused on charging nominal fees to provide it to people and not worrying about what they did with it after I provided it. I'd just make my own service easier to use than a pirate's.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Server Madness

I've been replacing the old server with a new one, and it's been going pretty spiffy.

Lots of work, though. In addition to handling a mad work situation that popped up as if aware that I was starting a new business this month. I'm wrestling through my least favorite part of any business (paperwork) though. The product is fun and interesting, to say nothing of useful.

The only problem is, it could always be better. Initially I was approaching the situation a la the old Model Fords. One size fits all. But I can't mass produce them efficiently, anyway, so I might as well add the customizations. I realized last month or so that I was actually providing a service (that of installing powerful but particular software) and not a thing (the hardware it resides on).

Though I've already got plans to make the hardware better and cheaper than an individual building for himself could. But I gotta get things off the ground first.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Eyes Have It

I actually thought the recent "Eye" movie was going to be a remake of the "classic" 1978 flick "The Eyes of Laura Mars". And by "classic" I mean "not very good".

It was a good idea, scripted by John Carpenter, who I believe parlayed it into his first pro directing gig (or maybe his second). When people ask him how to become a director he said something to the effect of "write scripts and then use that as leverage".

Huh. Worked for Chris Columbus, I guess. (And they don't even have to be good scripts!)

I had forgotten that Tommy Lee Jones played opposite Faye Dunaway. And in 1978, Tommy Lee was actually fairly handsome. (I'm not dissing him; I know some chicks dig him. But he's not exactly a "pretty boy" these days.)

The supporting cast is great: Rene Auberjonois (from M*A*S*H and "Deep Space Nine"), Raul Julia, and "Chucky" himself, Brad Dourif. Director Irvin Kirshner would follow this up with (IMO) the best "Star Wars" movie (The Empire Strikes Back) and the weird Connery Bond redux Never Say Never Again.

Kirshner replaced Michael Miller on the job after a fallout with Jon "spiders are natures most ferocious killers" Peters. Michael Miller's work has been discussed previously on this blog. All-in-all, you can't help but wonder if they shouldn't have let Carpenter direct.

Good...Bad...Conservative...Liberal...I'm the guy with the gun....

Ace is in a bit of a--well, I don't know. It's not exactly a tizzy or a dither. He's agitated though. Highly agitated in a positive way because David Mamet has come out as a not-liberal. Now, like Mamet, I'm actually not particularly interested in politics; I do consider them a gross waste of time and resources. But between Ace and Mamet, and a few Althouse commenters, I see things that are familiar to me and encourage me to reflect a bit.

The Mamet piece is interesting. It refers to "brain-dead liberalism," which I read as "I am leftist because I am leftist and what I believe is beyond scrutiny." Indeed, it seems to be Mamet's willingness to challenge previously held beliefs on the subject of the government, corporations, the military, and the nature of Man.

Notice I switched out "liberal" for "leftist" there. The word "liberal" comes from the Latin "free" and it is the philosophy that makes the USA great. Let me borrow this from Answers.com:
A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.
This is important because both Mamet--and to a far greater degree, Ace--are sort of rejecting the "natural goodness of humans" part. But you'll notice that this definition has nothing to do with today's self-identified "liberals", who are statists (courtesy of an incredible PR campaign by the USSR that actually outlived the nation itself). They may believe in the "natural goodness of humans" but they sure don't care for them being autonomous, when autonomy includes things like making money, buying stuff, or turning sacred cows into double-bacon secular cheeseburgers (with a super-sized side of shibboleth fries or something). I cannot, in good conscience, associate those people with, say, John Locke (and the probably wouldn't want to be associated with him either).

On the contrary, the left today operates pretty clearly with the notion that there is evil in the world. And the world is happy to provide them with examples of such at the ranks of various top corporations. But they're not interested in the evil at the UN, for example, and apparently actively disinterested in the evil America opposes (fanatical jihadists). What's more, since disagreement is not allowed, leftists are pretty much convinced that a solid one-third of the US population is evil, or at least so stupid as to be indistinguishable from evil. Those people are called "Republicans"--on a nice day, anyway.

Politics is like soccer for the lazy, though, in that identification with a side is what makes the game possible. From far enough away, the two sides are indistinguishable, at which the game loses its meaning. (Althouse used to refer to an aversion to politics in her tag line and I have that in spades. I think she discovered it was a useful to generate vortex art.) This is how Reps and Dems can oppose something they supported only a few years, months, weeks, days, hours or even minutes before, and argue with a straight face that "No, this is different". It's also how penalties become greater or lesser based on the color of the player's jersey. (The play scales well, too: Political bloggers replicate the "gotcha" moments of their big league idols by catching each other in typos, misstatements, blunders, etc.)

Anyway, liberalism--the idea that people are basically good, and therefore the most capable of governing themselves--is the basis on which this country is founded and that which makes the country great. The conservatives of the 1800s at the time would be suspicious of such a notion, surely believing that certain men are more worthy than others to govern. Hell, the liberals of the 1800s surely believed the same thing. Landowning free-men were all created equal--and we'll see about the poor, the non-white, hell, the non-English, and don't get us started on women.

So, how do we reconcile this notion on the one hand this idea of inherent goodness with the badness in the world. Well, the left obviously does it by accusing the state of creating inequity, particularly by favoring the business world. And the state obliges happily by doing just that. But again, they ignore the fact that the state can only favor certain classes when it has been given the power to do exactly that--and having that power will inevitably be corrupted toward an unhappy result.

James Madison is famously quoted as saying in Federalist 51 that "if men were angels, there'd be no need for government". So, here is one of the most liberal men of the time admitted that government is only necessary because men are flawed. What gives?

I think it's obvious that the point of liberalism is not that men are perfect, but that they are better suited to controlling their lives than any government, and that everyone wins (on balance) when they're not interfered with beyond some basic rules of civility (such as not murdering and stealing from each other). It's actually a negative statement: Men are unscrupulous, unworthy, opportunistic, short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-serving and predictable, but that's peanuts compared to government.

Notice that the opposite of this is not "conservatism". Conservatism is muddled in its own quagmire of historical baggage and modern revisionism. Modern conservatism is much closer to classical liberalism than modern liberalism is. In this Althouse entry on McCain, commenter Paul describes conservatism this way:
Conservatives believe that there is a vast repository of knowledge in tradition and culture accumulated through millenia of trial and error, and that most of that knowledge is unconscious and transmitted from generation to generation through customs and behavior so ingrained and automatic as to be second nature.

They believe that no man or council of men can even begin to approach that vast body of wisdom through conscious thought or design and are thus very cautious in implementing radical social experiments, as the laws of unintended consequences will surely dictate disastrous results.
Note that this has little to do per se with government except insofar as it expresses resistance to change. America is, itself, a radical social experiment. You can love it and still entertain the notion that there might be better experiments to make out there. This was one of the principles of Federalism, right?

Federalism unfortunately sacrificed itself on the altar of slavery, first in the 1860s, then again in the 1960s, because there was no way (in this country in the 18th century) we were going to be able to start from first principles: All men are created equal.

A persistent human flaw bedeviling philosophers devising governments is an inability to separate a good idea from a bad execution. Like war, nation-building is done with the populous you have, not the population you wish you had.

But a lot of modern conservatism is actually pretty radical. "Conservatives" preach the notion of restructuring the tax system, for example. Ending the broad social programs we have. Using the power of the government to limit very private activities. Some of these--hell, maybe all of them--are good ideas (though I doubt it). But conservative they ain't.

Well, this has gone on a lot longer than I expected and it lacks the sort of focus I was hoping to bring to the topic, and I didn't even talk about where I was (philosophically) versus where I am now.

Basically, I'm for freedom. Free markets. Free people. Which sounds a lot like libertarianism. But everyone knows, those guys are freaks.

----

Fun Kevin Bacon footnote: Mamet's piece mentions Mary Ann Madden who was my first "chat buddy" and one of my favorite people in the whole world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oddities of IMDB

Every now and again, you get a movie at IMDB that seems like it should be good but the rating is rather low on the first few hundred votes--often the movie won't

I have a theory that this is from wacky experiments in test screening. They take a movie, say, Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day and then show it to a group of--people who will show up to a test screening, like an eight grader's slumber party, or local frat house. Lacking giant robots and boobs, they'll naturally rate it low.

As time passes and the movie's actual demographic goes to see it the rating will jump tremendously.

This seems to happen mostly with smaller films.

I'm going to test this theory tonight by seeing Mrs. Pettigrew, which went from a tepid 7.0 to a slightly less tepid 7.4 over the weekend. Still too few votes to get a bead on the mass IMDB opinion horde, and it could just be so-so.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Anti-Monologues

The late Richard Jeni had a funny bit about The Vagina Monologues which, if there were any justice in the world, I could link to here.

I have little to say on the subject of talking genitalia, except to say that the concept disturbs me. This bit from The Black Table, however, is funny stuff. Well written, and remarkably--well, "tasteful" isn't really the right word, but perhaps "surprisingly non-vulgar" would describe it.

It has the air of the sort of sensible folk who can't take anyone who defines herself by her genitalia too seriously.

Speaking of Revenge Of The Nerds

...is it not the most racist, sexist, misogynistic and bigoted movie made since Birth of a Nation?

Never mind the whole premise is to cast athletes as uber-villains against the benign nerds.

But they have the black guy actually chucking a spear. Their retaliation against the sorrority is to put in spy cameras everywhere and publicly humiliate them.

Dude, Louis essentially rapes Betty--and she likes it! Falls in love with him, wants to date him, etc. That's pretty messed up right there.

Of course, she'd been hanging out with Stan--and you know he was hittin' her and takin' what he wanted when he wanted--so I suppose Louis was an improvement. Still, you don't know what a sneaky nerd is gonna do if he thinks he can get away with it.

We won't even go into the intimations of child molestation, as when the young Harold goes looking for a place to live and encounters a much older woman who behaves very inappropriately toward him.

Or am I over-thinking this?

(Was this post overly-Althouse influenced?)

Guns

You know, if those nerds had guns in the beginning of Revenge of the Nerds, they could've shot the jocks when they kicked them out of the freshman dorm.

Of course, then they never would have experienced the journey that allowed them to ultimately conquer their poor self-esteem.

So I guess I'd have to come down against guns on campus.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

One o' them Internet Meme Things: Autobiography Title

Kelly over at Loaded Questions offers her "Sad Revelation Of The Day". In this case, that her ideal autobiography title is already taken. Amusingly enough.

So, she's suggested--nay, demanded--I put my ideal autobiography title here so that someone can steal it. Here it is:

Does Not Appear To Be Working To Full Potential: The Story Of A Diligent Slacker

I suppose Fred Thompson will steal it for his forthcoming bio.

Boring Myself

Ever have that feeling? Where everything you say, write or think seems boring?

Nah, me neither.

I'm hip deep in servers and user errors and paperwork and to-do lists, all of which are interesting in context, but deathly dull in the wild. Details, the devil is in. God is in. Acedia is in....

I did finish reading Trying Neaira, which I'll write a bit about later, and (I hope) not too boringly.

Confession Time

For the record, I rather liked Sunshine. Not great, but with a lot of good moments.

I also like Sarah Jessica Parker.

I don't like alcohol. I don't like food cooked in alcohol if I can taste the alcohol (and I almost always can).

Madonna used to impress me. In the great pop music diva wars of the '80s, I placed my street cred on Cyndi Lauper (over Madonna) being a musical force into the future. After getting over being wrong, Madonna's persistence surprised me. But I'm back to thinking she's played out. (I hear she has a new CD coming, so who knows.)

Natalie Dormer
makes a far hotter Anne Boleyn than Natalie Portman. Portman is lovely but I can't see her radiating the sort of seductive sexuality that Dormer does on "The Tudors".

Virtually every director I loved as a kid and was excited to see more of petered out by the '80s. Not one has lived up to Howard Hawks or Alfred Hitchcock or Frank Capra. This is not surprising, but it is somewhat depressing.

On the Internet, No One Can Tell You're A Jerk...Oh, Wait....

It's no secret that the Internet brings the worst out in people. The prior candidate for the worst jerkiness you might personally encounter on a daily basis was the automobile. And people are still remarkably rude and belligerent out there on the road, suggesting that we really didn't have enough freeway shootings.

But the Internet is special. Just as no one knows you're a dog, no one can slug you for being a jerk. (Actually, they can, but most won't bother.) This is how people justify their shenanigans over at Althouse. Sure, they justify it by claiming she's a conservative but pretending that she's liberal, and therefore worthy of any punishment, but at some more visceral level, they justify it first by "can I get caught"?

I'm inclined to believe that the Old West was incredibly civil, in places.

Anyway, one particular subset of bad internet behavior is (mostly guys) dissing on (mostly female) celebrities. Recently, over at Ace's, he posted a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker. The usual crowd ripped on Mrs. Matthew Broderick--though, actually, on the scale of internet disses not that severely.

This sort of thing used to shock me. I've always found locker room talk amazingly vulgar, to say nothing of the callousness evident in people's attacks on celebrities. I've known a few celebs--grown up around a few, even and, as a general rule, they're people. (I'm not ruling out that some aren't, just none of the ones I've met.) They don't look much like their on-screen personae, and they're never like you'd imagine.

As a result, I tend to think, in this case, the reaction of various female bloggers is off. Not necessarily in reference to their own reactions--cause, duh, those are what they are--but to various other issues, like the internet being a public social area. I mean, it is that, but it is that like a port-a-potty is that, or a strip club is that, or a Star Trek convention is, if you like.

Internet destinations are ultimately self-selecting. The nastiest comments I've seen of this nature are on Fark. There's considerable self-knowledge amongst most (I hope) of said commenters: The "pointy knees" meme, for example, which suggests that it's perfectly rational for an ugly toad to reject a gorgeous woman on the basis of some trivial, probably imagined, flaw--this may have been posted seriously once but became forever after ironic. In any event, you don't deliberately go (and you can't be forced to stay) some place you don't like.

Ever few years, I visit Fark or (more frequently) Slashdot or various other sites, but ultimately I tire of the tone, and stop going for months or years at a time. I think the real issue here is that the women involved do (to some degree) like the sites in question. They expect better from them (for some definition of "better"). Ace has admonished against accusing any women of internalizing, but sort of amusingly, that's exactly how it read. Or if not internalizing, then generalizing.

Of course, there is a mixture of braggadocio, glibness, sour grapes and poor humor in a lot of these comments, as well as more than a bit of internet-empowered jerkiness. In fact, one defense offered by an Ace commenter is that these women hold themselves out as sex symbols and therefore can be judged that way with impunity.

In fact, looking at it, it's really no different from the schadenfreude that many women seem to enjoy in following celebrity news. It's just a different target.

'course, I have no intention of linking myself at any of these other blogs.

Springing Forward

I don't like entering daylight savings time. Yes, I get the hour back when it's over, but where's the interest? Seems like I ought to get an hour and five minutes back.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lileks does "Memento"

Funny bit by Lileks describing in reverse how it is he came to...well, just read it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Grindhouse: Death Proof redux

Oh, yeah. Way too long. It's 35 minutes before the first car scene, which is, like, five minutes, and then there's 50 more minutes to go. 15 minutes later...get in the car, bitches!

Sheesh. Finally!

The last 20 minutes are quite good. Quite good indeed.

I don't really know much about Tarantino. I've only seen this, the little bit he did in Sin City, and Kill Bill, none of which really clicked with me. (Well, maybe the Sin City bit; Clive Owen was great!)

I'm not sure why he thinks we want a grindhouse movie that's over an hour of talking. They had movies like that, but it was because they didn't have any money to actually film the action they wanted. Not because they actually wanted to pad the film with blather.

Not. Grindhouse.

The Boy started out thinking it was boring but not stupid, but in the last 20 minutes switched to thinking it was all out stupid.

This is (part of) why I didn't take him when it came out.

Update #1:Hey, is it just me, or does Mr. Tarantino actually create really shallow fantasy girl characters?

Update #2: Zoe Bell was great. But Kurt Russell makes the whole thing bearable. (And he's not in most of the movie, unfortunately.)

Update #3: I don't get why Stuntman Mike doesn't attack the girls in the car at the end. The gun would be disturbing, sure, but once they're back in cars, he should have the advantage.

Update #4: I do not believe that, at any time in the history of the universe, four hot 20-something chicks ever spent 10 minutes at breakfast talking about Vanishing Point. Period.

Update #5: I do love the QT fans on IMDB who maintain with absolute earnestness that if you find fault with this film, it is because you are a cretin devoid of intelligence. (Guilty!)

Grindhouse: Planet Terror Redux

I didn't take The Boy with me to see Grindhouse when it came out since I wasn't sure it was appropriate (and it probably wasn't at the time). Also, I wasn't sure he could relate. As he's older now and I've seen it (and it's on cable), we watched it together.

His reaction was much like mine during Raiders of the Lost Ark: I was okay with it up until Harrison Ford rode the submarine across the Atlantic. And it just got stupider from there. Not too long after, I realized that it was basically a kiddie movie, like Star Wars, and you can't really apply rules of logic or sense to it. (And as a result I enjoyed Temple of Doom a lot more.)

Anyway he was appalled by the stupidity.

I still think it was 20 minutes too long but I found the various film corruptions a lot more interesting in the re-watch. Rodriguez cleverly used the scratches, blurs and distortions to punctuate parts of the action.

Anyway, the trailers are still the best part.

Simsational

I've been fascinated by sims since I came across John Conaway's Life (play here) in one of David Ahl's "Basic Computer Games" books. It's interesting (to me) because it uses a very simple set of rules to create a seemingly infinite number of patterns.

It strikes me that you could layer a bunch life games with rules that were dependent on the other layers, and created a fairly lively ecosystem that was both robust and fragile (those are not necessarily exclusive). Check out the Gosper Glider Gun pattern in the second link. It creates a pattern that has static parts, and the static parts create a dynamic pattern; if you add a cell that can cause an explosion which results in the cell's extinction or creates a new static pattern or creates a new dynamic pattern.

But I was thinking of it today because of Micropolis, which is a port of SimCity for the OLPC. I have most or all of the SimCity games but I've never played them very long. I've always found them too rigid for my liking. (But I keep buyin' 'em.) I did like Afterlife, as mentioned on this blog before.

But here's the thing that struck me. If memory serves, SimCity is all about the laying down of various zones (residential, commercial, industrial). But that's a particularly American view of development, isn't it? I don't know, but I've heard that European rules are not nearly so strict--with the subsequent argument that our divisions fuel (as it were) our need for cars--and I have to wonder whether this sort of development isn't rather alien to the village kids who have received the XOs.

But I suppose the beauty of this implementation is that the kids can change the code....

The Inkblot Amendment

You didn't think you had that right, did you?


That ol' amendment is just an inkblot, anyway.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wisdom Gained From Watching The Trollish

You're less likely to beclown yourself if you aren't overeager to beclown someone else.

Incompatibilities with the Blogging Lifestyle

...having your job turn suddenly into a customer-intensive grind....

Ikariam

A little web-based game reminiscent of Settlers.

I don't know if I like it or not. The pacing of these things is quite slow which is a sort of mixed bag. You can check in sporadically and play, so you're not a slave to it. On the other hand, it's not exactly intense.

Looks good, though. It amazes me how things like this proliferate when no money is being made.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hell is an eternity In Bruges?

In Bruges is my kind of movie. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Very Bad Things, Wrong Is Right, Harold and Maude, S.O.B. and the original Wicker Man, it appeals to the part of me that thinks death is very, very funny.

This is somewhere in between last year's whimsical Death at a Funeral and, say, Shaun of the Dead which was a bit heavy-handed. In Bruges is a bit more likable than your average black comedy, as it's actually not cynical (as many films in the genre are).

Hitmen Brendan Gleeson (prob'ly best known as Harry Potter's Alastor Moody) and young cohort Colin Farrell (lotsa stuff, but I like his turn in Phone Booth the best) are in the picturesque Belgian city of Bruges after bungling a job. They're on orders to sight see until things cool down, and Colin Farrell's character is bored to tears of all historical richness. (Hence the title of this entry.)

The only thing to pique his interest is the morally dodgy Clémence Poésy who seems torn between her romantic interest and her inclination to roll easily duped marks. Adding a little bit of spice to the proceedings is Jordan Prentice (probably best known for playing Howard T. Duck). They meander through the streets of Bruges until Ralph Fiennes, their boss, tells them the real reason for their visit. (Favorite role ever for Fiennes, a low-talking, yet somehow likable, uber-violent thug.)

Ironically, despite the topic and the source of humor, this is a movie about honor and redemption. You're kind of rooting for these guys, hit men though they are. At the same time, you know it's not likely.

Anyway, lotsa laffs (if you can laugh at this sort of thing, which I can), and great acting all around. A refreshing change from the brooding, introspective stuff that dominated the award season.

Gary Gygax, RIP

One of the originators of the seminal role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, the venerable E. has Gary Gygax left the Prime Material Plane.

If you're a D&D geek, you already know this, most likely. If you're not, it probably doesn't mean much to you.

Take 20.

The Truth Will Out, Eventually

Nerd News Update:

Slashdot is reporting (via the New York Times) that, whaddayaknow, MS did some last minute shenanigans with the driver model for Vista that broke hardware like crazy.

This is interesting to me because when the initial problems with hardware were reported various Slashdot commenters tried to foist blame on to the hardware manufacturers. They, after all, had plenty of time to prepare.

During the days of OS/2 (Windows' only serious competition in the early '90s), MS used to send people out to pretend to be disgruntled OS/2 users. I later came across some of these professional trolls proudly admitting to their work, though I unfortunately can't find their boasts today.

But the purpose was served by pushing blame elsewhere before contrary evidence came to light. MS will now push its new version of Windows while maintaining that nothing was really wrong with Vista in the first place.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"My taste includes both snails and oysters."

Not mine, but Lawrence Olivier's as Crassus in Spartacus.

I didn't recognize him. The young Lawrence Olivier in Pride and Prejudice 20 years earlier, and the decrepit Olivier of Jazz Singer and Dracula--but this middle-aged one for some reason didn't trigger recognition.

I've seen something like a zillion different references and parodies of Spartacus but never sat down to watch it until just now. (I like Kubrick, but I have to be in the right mood. I've never been able to sit through 2001.)

I was going to wonder here why, unlike his former wife, the late Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis had gone into retirement, but then I see from IMDB that he hasn't. Huh. The best work I've seen him do, though, was in The Sweet Smell of Success. Not even a nomination for that. That year, Red Buttons one the Oscar for best supporting actor for Sayonara.

A Compiler For Every Child

Over on Yahoo (hat tip: CodeGear), Robin Raskin has an interesting inversion of "No Child Left Behind" called "All Children Move Forward".

The language "No Child Left Behind" evokes certain ideas. If you're familiar with the infantry rule of not leaving men behind, for example, you could see education as a battlefield with lots of wounded--an analogy that works on a lot of levels.

In any event, it's an inherently defensive phrase. The fact that you'd feel the need to emphasize not leaving children behind suggests that you are, in fact, leaving children behind. Lots of children. Enough for you to make a point out of stopping. (A tee-totaler doesn't make strong statements about how he'll never drink again.)

Anyway, the article's data point is on CodeGear's deal to authorize a million licenses to Russia. Good for them. Delphi is a great tool, and friendly enough for kids to grasp quickly while having depth they would be hard-pressed to exhaust.

Smart move, too, because those kids will grow up and whose tools will they be familiar with? (Delphi was released 13 years ago last month, which raises some other points of interest.)

What never fails to come up is that there's no one to teach these tools. (OLPC detractors make this point, as well.) It's doubtless true that a big chunk of children won't be able to--or will lack interest to--suss all this out for themselves. But the percentage that will is larger than zero. To the gifted outliers, this will be manna from heaven.

And the rest? Well, remember, there are teachers. Way more than ever before. The internet is full of them. No one really needs to learn much of anything alone these days. The more tools kids have, the better.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Radioactive Space Yeti!

Via SFGate (hat tip: Ace) comes the tale of Russian campers blinded and bruised and mysteriously running to escape God-knows-what and dying of exposure in the Russian winter.

This is known as the Dyatlov Pass Accident (though it has more of an "incident" feel than an "accident feel"--I mean, there's no indication that anything wasn't done deliberately).

The problem, of course, with mysteries like this is you have no way to know which of the various details is real and which is embellishment. The avalanche story sounds good but then you'd think that'd have been the official explanation. Plus, there'd be lots of snow right?

Something to chew on.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Close Calls In The World of Education

The Boy, when he was small (around 2-3 years old), had what the normal (so-called) "stranger anxiety" of toddlers. You know, you go up to a little kid, or just smile and wave at him, and he hides behind his parent's legs or something.

The Boy, however, had a different response. He would start to get scared, as kids do. But then, he would twist his face up into the cutest snarl and growl at the person. He sometimes then would follow up with a question like, "Are you a good guy or a bad guy?"

The salient point of this story isn't so much that The Boy was (and remains) an unusual individual, but more this: About one-third of the adults he did this to were frightened or unnerved by it. I can sort of see people being unnerved by the good guy/bad guy question, since a lot of good people wonder that sometimes, and toddlers have no social inhibitions keeping them from leveling that sort of question very forcefully.

But one of his first teachers was scared by him (and subsequently of him), and tried very hard to convince us that he was autistic. Having considerable experience with brain-injured children, we weren't impressed by this trained professional's opinion.

Despite this rather weird start, The Boy actually went through the rest of his traditional academic career beloved by his teachers. He'd come home with gifts all the time and we'd ask him if everyone got [whatever it was he had] and he's say, "No, just me." And we'd find out later that was true.

His traditional academic career ended when I realized he was somehow bluffing his way through tests. He was sufficiently charming to talk to and it sounded like he was answering the question, and it wasn't until I started grilling him on his multiplication tables that I was sure the B.S. meter was pinned to the right.

Now he's doing pre-algebra, which isn't bad for 7th grader. And he's genuinely informed about history, as well. (To torture him I can make him watch The Patriot and Troy.) But he could have easily gone through school without learning a thing.

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