Friday, February 29, 2008

More on DVD vs. VHS

Searching through the referrals (a lot of you seem to come here because someone linked from an e-mail, which makes me feel oddly self-conscious), I saw someone linked to the VHS vs DVD post.

That lead me to this anti-DVD post. Now the post is about seven years old, but it's interesting nonetheless. The main four points he brings up are:

1. DVD vs. VHS picture quality.

In absolute terms, there's a point here. A perfect VHS tape was pretty good visually, and Beta was even better. But we all had experiences with less than perfect tapes.

2. DVD vs. VHS sound quality.

The guy (wrongly, I believe) claims that DVD sound is not (potentially) better. I'm pretty sure you can't get surround sound out of VHS, but I think that's a matter of no spec being available.

3. DVD vs. VHS longevity.

In a vaccuum, DVD will last longer. But nobody lives in a vaccuum.

4. DVD vs. VHS special features.

The guy trashes these because he doesn't like them, which isn't really relevant. Some folks do like them. They are "value added" material just obviously based on the fact that people buy them. And skipping around on a DVD is way easier than it was on VHS.

None of this is as compelling as the DVD hawkers would have you believe, and of course they're trying--far less successfully--to sell people on high-definition DVDs. But at some point "more" just isn't compelling; there is such a thing as "enough".

Movies from Books

There are certain axioms that "everyone knows" about movies: Sequels suck, remakes are never as good as the original, and movies based on books are never as good as the books they're based on. None of these are true, of course. While I'm defending remakes over at the Retromedia forum, the topic of movies based on books came up over at Ace's on the discussion of the Iron Man mvoie.

Here's what I wrote:

Silence of the Lambs. Good book, better movie.

The Amityville Horror. Crap book, slightly less crappy movie.

The Da Vinci Code
movie, as bad as it was, was probably not as bad as the book.

When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds, and for that matter The Time Machine are all genre classics--talking the George Pal movies, now. Ballmer and Wylie's book was very good (and holds up pretty well) but not the classic that the movie is. It's been a while since I've read Wells, but his stuff is pretty dry.

You get into questions of what it means for one work of art to be "better" than another, and in this case, two works of art in different media. Books are a different experience from movies, and very rarely do you get a Silence of the Lambs, where the movie adheres faithfully to the book and manages to become a classic, where the source material (while very good) is unlikely to achieve the same relative respect.

Most often, the movie will diverge from the book somewhat to make something more watchable (see Spielberg's removal of the rape scene from the opening of The Color Purple) or completely reinvent the idea (James Whale's Frankenstein). Unfortunately, if you don't have a Spielberg or a Whale (and sometimes even if you do) you end with crap.
I can come up with better examples than the ones I did, too. This was top-of-my-head stuff. But look at the movie Wizard of Oz, iconic and culturally huge in ways the book series never was (and the book series was and is popular).

Basically, people tend to confuse the experience of reading a book with the experience of watching a movie. If they've read the book first, they want the movie to make them feel like the book made them feel. But a book is a completely different experience from a movie, and it can evoke a kind of experience that a movie simply can't.

Not to say that books are "better" than movies. Just different. That's why a Silence of the Lambs is so rare. Or, to go back a few years In Cold Blood. You can't put as much stuff in a movie, but when you cut large relevant chunks off, you lose a lot of things that made the books special. It takes more talent to adapt a novel in such a way as to create a truly engaging movie than t does to just make stuff up that sort of reminds you of the premise of the novel (e.g., any movie adaptation of a Dean Koontz novel).

That's why the latter is done so much in Hollywood.

But it's easy to forget Sturgeon's Law. If 90% of everything is [crud], then that's going to apply to movies adapted from books. And it's a common mistake to generalize from that any of the three axioms I mentioned above.

Savages You Can Count On

In 2007's The Savages, Laura Linney turns in an Oscar-nominated performance of Kenneth Longergan's Oscar-nominated screenplay about a sister whose tragic childhood scars her and her brother well into adultho--

Wait. What? That was 2000's You Can Count On Me?

Oh, right. Sorry.

In The Savages, Laura Linney turns in an Oscar-nominated performance of Tamara Jenkin's Oscar-nominated screenplay about a sister whose tragic childhood scars her and her brother well into adulthood.

Snark aside, the movies aren't that close. In the older movie, Linney has adjusted pretty well and is sort of a rock for her brother, Mark Ruffalo, who is much less stable. About all she can do for him is be there.

In Savages, Linney and Hoffman are both maladjusted, with Linney somewhat more adrift, but neither able to grow up. You know, the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the trailers make this out to be sort of whimsical. There are some humorous moments--especially punctuating what would otherwise be overly heavy-handed scenes--but this isn't a movie with a lot of yuks.

In fact, I thought at first the movie was going to be a real slog. Linney's character thrives on melodrama, and she's happy to lie to get a reaction she wants. Hoffman's character is flat--not his acting, but his character, I know some of you hate him, but I liked him in this--and dull, not given to open expressions of emotion, which in this case means his emotions emerge in weird ways.

When the movie starts, their father, played by Philip Bosco, is being kicked from his house, apparently as his dementia worsens. Although they haven't talked to him in a long time, as his family, the responsibility of taking care of him falls to them. The back story, not terribly fleshed out, is that he was abusive and their mother simply ran off. Somehow they survived and while they must have relied on each other--they talked with each other even though they haven't talked to their father in 20 yers--they're not exactly warm to each other.

Anyway, it's a (perhaps not so) curious thing. They are likable, even with their flaws. I'm not sure, for example, in that situation, whether I would feel any particular obligation to take care of an abusive parent. But they never challenge it for a second. Linney's character even feels guilty about the quality of the home (which is functional but not wonderful).

You realize pretty soon that this isn't going to be a "reconcile with Dad" movie (a la Tim Burton). Dad's a MacGuffin. He seems to have no awareness of his past sins. (It is suggested at one point that his father was abusive, but this isn't really a cathartic thing.) He's basically there so that his kids can figure out how to let go of the past.

It's an indie movie, so there's no big "happily ever after," but there's a nice bit of hope. As contrasted with You Can Count On Me, where you know the brother's going to be a screw-up for the rest of his life, in this film, you have reason to believe that the two will get past a least some of their dysfunction.

This movie's been floating around for three months now and probably isn't going to be released widely (can it really have wide appeal?) but it'll be on DVD within two months, I've heard. Hollywood's put me into this quandary, though: They're not really turning out the quality fluff these days. I love independent and foreign films but come on: A guy's got to have desert, too!

Anyway, Laura Linney kicked ass as the CIA chief in Breach. Enough of the dysfunctional sisters, I say!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas

Observation: There's something fitting about a Scotsman (Gerard Butler) playing the King of Sparta (Leonidas).

That is all.

Book Bind

Instapundit linked to this cool essay on books and, more precisely, bookshelves.

It's in response to a couple of people whose views on bookshelves are, let's say, disparate from mine. One holds that books are a presentation to the world of who you'd like to be. In my view, putting books up for show is probably the lowest form of status-seeking pseudo-intellectualism, and the only people I've known to do that were people who never read any books, ever.

The other, however, holds that all books in the bookshelf must have been read!

I've actually had that situation. When I was a kid. I would bring home six or seven books and read them that afternoon. (They were kids books, after all.) Then I would be bored until the next month's Scholastic catalogue came around. I haven't had that situation since--well, since someone gave me a book I didn't want to read. But there was a time when it was hard to find a book on my shelf I hadn't read.

For a few years, I taught martial arts at a rec center on Saturdays. The rec center was located next to a library, and Saturday was book sale day. I started bringing home bags full of books, at a pace even my younger, single, childless and unemployed self would have had a hard time keeping up with. The only criterion for me was whether the book had a $1 (or $0.25 or whatever the book cost) chance of being read.

Because to me, the bookshelf is like a library you have at home. Interested in Mechanical Engineering? I have a book on it. Maybe some sci-fi? Lots of that, and horror and fantasy fiction. The classics? Got those. Biographies of historical characters or celebrities? Check. Warfare throughout the ages? Sure thing.

If I want to read something right now, there's a good chance I have a book that fits into the cateogry. This, rather shockingly, does not prevent me from buying more books. I have eight full bookshelves in the house (after two collapsed from the weight) and several in the garage, and boxes more. One current project is to clean out the garage and store almost all the books there (for earthquake safety reasons).

One wonders if I could read them all at this point. I mean, I don't wonder that very often. I'd consider myself fortunate if I had that opportunity.

But I also have movies in my video collection I haven't watched. Music in my music collection I've never heard (or maybe only heard once). I've tons of games I've never played.

Not that, in the long run, this doesn't say something about me. But I'm not trying to make a statement (nor trying not to make a statement), just looking for storage.

When it rains....

The new server is ready and sitting with an Ubuntu installation on it. I've got to move the mail, chat and forums over to it.

Meanwhile, kingdomrpg is getting a new Star Trek game, and I have to import their existing games into a new installation.

The MythTV machine just needs a few tweaks. I found another driver quirk. Then I've got to document, and do a few dry runs, to see: a) how long it takes (me) to make one of these machines; b) how long it takes others reading my instructions to make one; c) how many variants I can produce and at what price. Then it's time to set up the site, build the store, and cross my fingers. (And with my fingers crossed, I start working on satellite and fiber optic.)

Oh, and I have a replacement notebook that needs setting up.

Another New Blogroll Entry

I've added another blog entry to the roll: W.C. Martell's Sex In A Submarine

I "met" Bill around the time the "Sex In A Submarine" story occurred. His script Crash Dive had just wrapped for HBO. The movie takes place on a submarine but they wanted a sex scene. A straight sex scene.

He's very cool, and very upfront about the business. He should get more work.

Anyway Bill writes more than any non-endeavoring screenwriter can read, but it's still fun to check it out--comments, too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Blogroll Entry

I've added "Rain In The Doorway" to the spare, lonely blog roll over on the right.

He's commented over in the "Smartest Show Ever" entry and managed to create a post that combines Theodore Sturgeon and Dave Allen.

All we need now is to get him hooked on Thorne Smith.

Also, Kelly has a new book giveaway at Loaded Questions. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Die Mönefachers: The Counterfeiters

Die Fälscher won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language picture and happens to be the only one of the nominees to actually make it to a local theater (a few days) before the ceremonies.

You can't ever get enough WWII stories, apparently. This shows us yet another angle we've never seen: Nazi counterfeiting rings. (Well, at least not in this detail.)

This is the story of a Jewish counterfeiter who's captured by the Nazis and placed into a concentration camp where he manages to survive by doing portraits of various representatives of the Master Race long enough to be enlisted into the Nazi's scheme to fund their war effort and bankrupt the allies by forging pounds and dollars.

The movie gets off to a bit of a slow start, but builds nicely as the counterfeiter (Karl Markovics, whose oeuvre I'm unfamiliar with, though there are familiar faces from Das leben der anderen and Downfall) goes from a near sociopathic state to something a little more human.

It's not an easy transformation: The counterfeiter (Saloman) is constantly forced to act in self-interest to survive. The world is telling him to act as he's always done, but he doesn't like the world that this creates. By the time he's confronted with the reality of funding the Nazi war effort or dying and letting his fellow concentration camp inmates, he's clearly conflicted. Intriguingly, he has one code (don't squeal) that he holds on to when almost everyone else is surviving at any cost.

The movie is nicely bookended with Saloman visiting Monte Carlo with a briefcase full of cash.
You have a different view of that at the beginning than you do at the end.

I don't know if it was the best foreign movie of the year, but it was the best of the five I've seen.

That Gary Busey/Jennifer Garner Clip

Here's that Gary Busey clip from the Oscars on YouTube. All the kids are watching it.

It doesn't seem that remarkable to me, but Busey is more of a presence in person I guess.

Later tonight: The Counterfeiters review.

Monday, February 25, 2008

HD-DVD Post-Mortem

Andy Marken has google-doc'ed his latest "Content Insider", this one on the death of HD-DVD.

It's not really a glowing endorsement of Blu-Ray (nor should it be) nor is it a rose-colored prediction for the download market (nor should it be).

Andy hits the nail on the head when he says:
The stability of a single format may help push sales up but consumers as economists delicately say are still …price conscious.

Convince me that I should pay $29 for a high-def version of I Know Who Killed Me instead of the $6 version that's in the bin at Wal-Mart. Anyone?

He uses Raiders of the Lost Ark for his central movie reference, but to me the a propos line comes from Men In Black, when Tommy Lee Jones looks at this new storage format and sighs:
This is gonna replace CD's soon; guess I'll have to buy the White Album again...
Unfortunately, the big guys have made a business model out of selling us the same stuff over and over again. But critical to being able to do this is:
  1. Buy Congress to keep extending copyright
  2. Never actually sell anything to anyone
Old Walt Disney's 40 years dead, but his corporation controls Mickey Mouse to this day. (Keep in mind that copyright has, as its sole purpose, the fostering of creative works. It's been well perverted to prevent that.)

#2 is one near and dear to my heart. I pay huge sums of money to get a cable signal into my house. I'm forced to pay to get what I want, because I can't get just what I want, I have to get everything that my cable company needs to satisfy their business model. Meaning I pay for hundreds of channels I never use.

But despite paying for that signal, the cable companies go through considerable effort to make it so that you can't do with that signal what you will. The signal coming through the cable is encrypted, sometimes in defiance of law. Even if you have a cable box and run things through that, they'll encrypt the signal coming out of the Federally-required-but-often-not-activated firewire port.

In short, you can plug that cable into your TV or into an "approved" recorder, most likely one that they lease you. Don't like it? Tough luck. You get what you're given. Don't like it? Bitch to the FCC. (They might respond.They might not.) Just because you pay for it--and handsomely--doesn't mean you actually own anything. Not even the right to view things when you please, like you used to with VCRs.

Though, if you're lucky, you can get a reduced quality version of your cable box's output.

How's that for a mixed message? We want you to demand high-definition stuff! But, uh, we don't really have the capacity (or the drive, it seems) to give it to you the way you want it. So, here, have crap.

If history holds true, technology will break their backs, and they'll get rich as a result. And then, when the next big tech thing comes along, they'll fight that to the death, as well.

(Click on the HTPC links to see my efforts to build a fully-functioning hi-def Home Theater PC.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

7 out of 9

Well, 7 out of 9. Not bad. Kelly hit the best costumes (not realistic, she says, but nice) and I got the animated one.

We both missed best actress and best supporting actress. Go figger.

Did you watch it? I don't bother any more. It's a long time to spend for something that is, in turns, embarrassing, vacuous, awkward and hollow.

I don't begrudge the Academy the self-congratulatory thing. Every industry does it. I sense irritation borne of jealousy from those who refer to it as such--because nobody in the world cares when other professions hand out awards. But they do.

Learn to deal.

Oscar Predictions

The whole Oscar thing sorta snuck up on me.... Remember when it used to be in March? That was great, you couldn't even remember what films they were talking about....

Off-the-cuff predicitons.

Best Picture: No Country For Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Julie Christie
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem
Best Supporting Actress: Cate or Ruby? Sentimentalism or transgenderism.... Ruby Dee.
Best Director: Coens or Anderson... Coens.
Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Best Adaptation: Coens?
Best Animated: Ratatouille--I don't think the Disney hate (by Disney insiders who are pissed at Pixar) can lift Persepolis to the award.

Last year I picked 10 out of 12, and only missed the animated feature one because I didn't realize that Happy Feet was an anti-human movie. "Humans bad" is always good for an edge over gas-guzzling Cars. I missed the foreign language film--I'm not even guessing this year because I've only even heardof one--and even in retrospect, I'm a little surprised that Das leben der anderen beat Pan's Labyrinth. Not that the former wasn't excellent.

This year I'm not as confident. Cate could take it home for playing Bob Dylan, the Academy eats that stuff up.

CELEBRITY GUEST BLOGGER PICKS! Kelly at LoadedQuestions gives her predictions here:

Best Picture: I am going to go with No Country but I don't think it's a clear win.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Julie Christie (Although I wish it were Ellen Page.)
Best Supporting Actor: Benicio (B: Heh...Benicio? K: Benicio is a lock! B: Benicio? Benicio Bardem? Javier del Toro? K: Oh. Sorry. LOL. )
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Director: Coens
Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Best Adaptation: Coens
Best Costumes: Elizabeth

Neither of us are impressed by the "original songs" category this year.

UPDATE from K: Oh LORD! A very intoxicated Gary Busey just grabbed a very nervous Jennifer Garner on the red carpet and kissed her neck.

You know, I'm not even gonna watch.

The BVo Proceeds Apace

I haven't mentioned it in a while, but th B-vo (the Blake version of the TiVo) is humming along pretty nicely.

It takes more hacking than I'd like (as I hope to produce a lot of these) but the main items (viewing almost-live TV, recording, ripping and playing DVDs) and a lot of the peripheral items (weather, web browsing, slideshow viewing, etc.) are also sweet.

My only concern now is with my TV. I'm not usually "cutting edge" with technology. That may seem funny coming from a programmer but it actually fits in pretty well: I'm happiest when I can sit down and program. When I'm fiddling with environments, dubious hardware interactions, network issues, etc., I'm not programming. So I generally wait until the kinks in a system are worked out before messing with it.

It's been a lot of work to put this together, especially for someone as lazy and easily bored as I am. But I can sell the fruits of this labor, I hope, and refine the hardware into something really slick as time goes on.

I've got, for example, a guy who can build custom cases. (Right now the B-vo is a not a pretty thing.) The ultimate goal is to make a small, sexy thing, like a Wii, that's completely quiet (the B-vo is very quiet, with just one small fan).

Probably about the time I really get rolling, Apple will work out the kinks and legal issues with their Apple TV system and shoot my business all to hell, so I'm already looking at little twists and turns that will make the system more fun than theirs.

It's been a while since I've had my own business. It's time to start again....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Weird Coincidence

Ace co-blogger Jack M. linked to this collection of "Star Trek" clips set to Jefferson Starship's "White Rabbit".

Meanwhile, on TV this commercial came on.

But of course, this is the definitive version. (That's Nixon's head from "Futurama".)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Juno, Romanian Style

I went to see the Romanian flick 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days before if vanished from the local cinema. I didn't take The Boy. He already hates commies and like Das leben der anderen, this film isn't going to enamor anyone of communist regimes.

This is not a movie for everyone, as I'm fond of saying, because it's an ugly story and it's paced like a Kubrick movie, without the long tracking shots. Think Schultze Gets The Blues, only devoid of humor and life. And, actually, Schulze sets up a shot and the characters move through it, but in this film, the camera sits there and the central characters barely move at all.

The premise of the movie is simple (and if you want to go in blind, you shouldn't read this): It's 1987 Romania and college1 student Gabita is pregnant. She uses her roommate to help her get an abortion. This results in unexpected costs. and nearly two solid hours of bleak despair.

The director is remorseless in this regard. The movie--the events of the movie--could be cut down to 40 minutes easily. There are long shots where no one talks and very little happens. This heigtens the uneasiness, the awkwardness, and the general discomfort--but also made it hard for me to stay awake during the climactic scenes.

Actually, the movie this reminds me the most of is Caché, even though that movie is a metaphor disguised as literal events, where this movie is a very literal series of events which could be seen as a metaphor. But Caché has the trappings of a mystery, which it isn't, and if you watch it that way, you'll be bored. This movie incorporates a lot of the elements of a thriller, but never carries through (and would be an entirely different, and less real, film if it did). You might still be bored, depending on how much you appreciate the restrained, tense acting that is center stage for most of the film.

It's really a treatise on the banality of evil. The characters are trapped in this oppressive state, where corruption is so integral to every day life (black markets, bribery, surveillance), that the only time Otilia (the main character) seems awakened to what they're actually doing, is when she must confront (and dispose of) the evidence.

Like Juno, Mar ardento, and other movies that handle controversial topics well, a commendable thing about this film is that it doesn't take a side and beat you to death with it. You could argue that it's pro-choice, for example, especially given the passing reference to the young women's periods being monitored by the dorm mother. On the other hand, it offers no romanticization of it. It's clearly anti-oppression and anti-corruption, but those are hardly controversial points.

But it's a disturbing film, and slow, and contains a particularly shocking scene. This makes it hard to recommend.

1. Forgive the imprecision. She's at a school, she's college age. I don't know if they called them universities, or polytechnics or what.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video Game Redux

The poor sap who watched 24 hours of video game movies has posted his experiences here. He was inspired by Eli Roth's 24-hour horror marathon idea (meh) and asked what others would consider for a 24-hour movie theme.

First of all, 24 hours of anything is a lot. 24 hours of movies is ... almost unthinkable. My mom used to do a Shogun marathon, where she showed the entire 10-hour saga in one day. That was craziness. I've sat through a few double-features in my day, but mostly short movies. (Two back-to-back Charlie Chaplins, for example, is a cakealk. I saw War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide on a double-feature as a kid and that worked all right.)

The After Dark Horror Festival was a lot to endure (my recap here) and it was only eight movies (far short of 24 hours) spread out of three days! And with 40 minute breaks between each film, during which The Boy and I were pretty active.

But say one was going to inflict a 24-hour film festival upon one's self. I don't think I'd go with a genre theme. Too tiring. (The exception might be westerns, since there have been so many of them made, you could have horse operas, melodramas, musicals, romantic comedies, horror, and even sci-fi and porn.) But in general, no genre.

Instead, go with a person. I saw a great film series of movies shot by James Wong Howe (40 years as a cinematographer). Or Mel Gibson (action, comedy, drama). Hitchock would be easy. You could do a Judy Garland theme, but you'd want to watch them chronologically backwards so that you could end with high-energy optimism instead of increasing depression over what Hollywood can do to great talents. How about Jack Palance? (Shane, Batman (1989), City Slickers, The Professionals (1966), Without Warning, Cyborg 2, etc.) Get even more obscure, like using the late Charles Lane who was in over 100 movies.

Or go abstract. You could do a Kevin Bacon type thing and figure out what movies you wanted to watch, then connect them in improbable ways. You know, like, "24 Hours of Movies That Won't Make Me Homicidal By The Last One". Just a thought.

The System Works! Yeah?

I did my taxes a couple of weeks ago. I made substantially more money (about 1/3 more) than in 2006, so I paid substantially more in taxes (double or triple).

So, the system works.


Here's a fun bit of snark on the black market most of us deal in from an anarchy site.

I wonder if blogging qualifies as part of the black-market. There are professional commentators after all....

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Smartest Show Ever?

Granted, my list was off-the-cuff and not meant in any way to be definitive, but this blog points out an omission of grievous proportions in my top ten "smart" shows.

"Rocky and Bullwinkle".

And I was thinking a lot about putting "The Powerpuff Girls" in there, which was a very smart cartoon.

It also points out that the guy claims to watch 10 hours of TV a day. For a smart guy, he's an idiot.

Randal Schwarz Talks Squeak/EToys on the XO

Randal Schwarz, Perl expert/Smalltalk convert, talks about Etoys running on the XO (the One Laptop Per Childmachine) over at Lab With Leo.

Randal runs through the moving a car/steering a car warhorse--which, if you've seen a demo of Etoys, ever, that's the one you've seen--but this is a very good quality video and sound, and a nice energy.

Emphasis is on tech, naturally, so it probably won't help to stem the tide of "What do third world kids need computers for?" challenges, but he does mention that you can steer a car on someone else's computer. That I'd like to see!

Mensa's Top 10

Red Eye is talking about the "smartest" TV shows, according to Mensa President M. R. Knowitall. The list is uninspired. I liked these shows,but "M*A*S*H" wasn't smart so much as reinforcing a particular political point of view. (This can be applied to several shows on the list.) I mean, for a show about war, it was phenomenally stupid about how war is actually conducted. And "CSI" uses science slightly less rigorously than "Star Trek" did.

Of course, I have to wonder how someone claiming to be so smart could also have a broad enough experience with The Vast Wasteland to put together a truly authoritative list. It takes a moron who has destroyed his brain with countless hours of TV viewing to do that.

And with that in mind, I'll throw out a few "smart" shows. But first I'm going to exclude science, history and other non-fiction programs because duh. "Cosmos" was great, and smart, but being about science, it could've sucked and still been smart, being about science and all. I'm also going to stick to American programming, if for no other reason than to keep things manageable. ("Doctor Who" gets an honorable mention anyway.)

Dennis Miller Live. So smart even he didn't get his own humor.

Mystery Science Theater 3000. You heard me. The beauty of the show was the way it jumped from the highly intelligent to the wonderfully juvenile and back in seconds.

Playhouse 90. Brilliant writing that survived horrible butchery in the form of sponsor censorship.

The Simpsons. The early seasons in particular not only referenced highly erudite material, but was one of the great social satires ever written.

NBC News Overnight. News programs--network news shows with TelePrompTer are almost unrelentingly stupid--but this one was an exception that not only looked at stories with a bit more depth, it didn't treat the audience like they were stupid. I lost a lot of sleep as a kid the summer and fall when it was on.

Futurama. Steeped in science and physics with two codes (so far) embedded into the program for interested cryptographers.

Northern Exposure. This comedy was smart enough to get an Emmy for best drama. Which I guess means more that the Emmy voters were stupid. (Or was it Golden Globes?)

Deadwood. This was a challenging show on a lot of levels. The dialog was a mixture of obscenities and pseudo-victorian-cant that often required several viewings to parse and then several more to actually comprehend.

America/Fernwood 2 Night. They mentioned this on Red Eye. I'm going on largely positive memories that I have. After 30 years, it might not seem as smart as it did at the time.

I would give the guy Jeopardy, but it's not really any smarter than, say, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The questions are harder, sure, for some definition of "hard", but I actually think, if you're going to include game shows, the smarter ones--in terms of challengng the viewer--are things like "Wheel of Fortune" or "The Price Is Right".

'cause, look, if you don't know the name of Alexander the Great's horse, you don't know it. (It was Bocephalus. Go look it up!) But you might be able to figure out the "popular catch phrase" with one more letter, or make a strategic guess about the price of a reclining armchair, even if you haven't gone shopping lately or seen "Saturday Night Live" since it was funny.

So, I'm gonna round out my ten with Maverick. Interspersed amongst the gun fights and fistfights was a character who would go out of his way to avoid both, and it often had plots that kept you guessing often enough that you were surprised when the plot was resolved with some sort of violence.

These shouldn't be confused with "best" shows, either, although they were darn good, and many of them are going to appear on some folks' top ten lists. And I can think of a few other really smart shows, like "Moonlighting", and a whole boatload of shows that started smart and ended stupid. ("X-Files" anyone?)

But hey, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blake's First Rule Of Prognostication

I used to be a pundit, of sorts, of technical matters. I wrote an back-page editorial for a German magazine for years in which I talked about various issues and how I saw the tech world unfolding.

I was very bad at--and soon stopped attempting to--see the future. However, I have observed that some people can make lots of money and press by pretending to see the future. And I see what my major error was. I was always trying to predict details about what was right around the corner. What was going to happen in the next six, twelve or eighteen months. You can't do that, of course, because it makes it too easy to check on your results.

If you want to be a successful fortune teller (and get the money and PR for it), you have to predict the big things that are going to happen, and they should be about 20 years out. Seven years is bold, but still pretty safe, and 100 years is too far to care.

So, my first rule of prognostication is this: Successful fortune-telling requires seeing things far enough into the future that you can avoid being checked on.

Indeed, most of the environmental "terrors" I've seen in my life have been predicted twenty years out. In the 1990s, we were supposed to be out of raw materials, most especially oil. There were supposed to be 20 billion people on the planet. And the new ice age was to be upon us.

The exception was nuclear winter, which required a hypothetical situation that virtually guaranteed no one would be able to check the results.

Heh. I got so to ranting I forgot what made me think this. (Via Instapundit.)

Human-equivlaent AI predicted by 2029 [link to BBC article].

We needed a new AI prediction because the last time I recall such a prediction was 1989. Now that everyone's forgotten that one, we can move on to the new prediction.

There is a segment of Christians, I'm sure, that has been predicting the Second Coming, every generation 100 times over. My dad used to do some (data processing) work for Morris Cerullo, who was predicting it in the early '80s.

But some would have you believe that only the religious believe in false prophets.

The Diving Bell in the Sea Inside

I can't help it. Mar adentro was my favorite film of 2004, so naturally, when I see another movie about a paralyzed guy, I'm going to compare. (I think Murderball, about paraplegics was an awesome documentary I saw in the same year.)

This isn't a right-to-die movie (and, really, neither was Mar adentro, but it revolved around that philosophical quetion), and the real Jean-Dominique Bauby actually did dictate his memoir by freakin' blinking his one working eye. So there's that.

While one has to be amazed that the Spanish made a compelling movie (Mar adentro) where the lead character could only move his head, it's almost one-upmanship that the French made a movie around a lead character who could only blink his eye.

The imagery is much the same, of course, but the motivations are different. Where Ramon Sampedro (Mar) has no hope of recovery, Jean-Do (Butterfly) has a slim hope that he ultimately works toward (when not engrossed in self-pity). Neither story offers any reason for the injury: Ramon is painted as a proud, physical man, while Jean-Do's only sin seems to be having left his wife (and his children, though he visits them) for another woman and treating her rather callously--even when his mistress (who he's broken up with prior to his "event") hasn't seen him once while he's been hospitalized.

This is as it should be, no doubt. Moralizing would be a ham-handed attempt at manipulation for some ulterior purpose. I would have liked a different ending to this film, but that was out of a human desire to see a miracle rather than feeling cheated by someone trying to make a "serious" film.

Now, obviously, this film isn't for everyone. I didn't find it depressing--I don't find movies with sad cirumstances to be depressing, just movies that celebrate nihilism--but it's not (as one might reasonably worry) dull. If you found Mar adentro worth watching, you'll probably enjoy this one, too, as its reflections on mortality and morality are much different.

As a postscript, I have to say that I love the way French films I've seen show women, particularly older women. The women are shown with scars and wrinkles, and otherwise less than flawless skin, but they're still portrayed as being objects of desire. And Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Jose Croze, Anne Consigny and the others are all quite lovely.

This Just In: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Fidel Castro has resigned, apparently, according to Fox News.

You know, The Motorcycle Diaries is really an excellent film, but you have to forget what Che Guevara grew up to be. It'd make an interesting double feature with Andy Garcia's The Lost City.

Anyway, yeah, Castro. Worker's Paradise. Best pal of a lot of Hollywood stars. Creator of a nation-state so great, people float over shark-infested waters on doors to escape it. Go figger.

For myself, I think Cuba would make a great 51st state. But I'm just imperialistic that way.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Trees are more important than soldiers..."

Explanation given to The Boy (by his peers) at the wealth seminars as to why a paper-saving device was a better product idea than a drone recon/mini-attack helicopter.

He's inclined to believe his peers are all hippies.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cloverfield: Gojira Redux

I don't rush out to see (or quickly post reviews of) the big movies. You can get that lots of other places. Unlike, say, my keen insight on the latest movies about the Middle East.

But we did go out to see Cloverfield. The Boy pronounced it "the best monster movie I've ever seen".

Well, okay.

Monster movies are inherently a dated thing. Alien--the horror movie of my generation--to him is like Frankenstein was to me. It's perhaps weird to think of exploding chests in the same category as stiff-legged golems, but it's not so much a matter of gore, I think, as a matter of what seems more real.

And Cloverfield does a good job selling itself. In a nutshell, this is a Godzilla movie with the emphasis on a group of people who are unfortunate enough to be at Ground Zero when "it" arrives. A plot contrivance forces them to go toward the monster rather than away, which gives us opportunities to see the the beast major as well as all the little beasties that drop off it like lice.

This contrivance takes about 15-20 minutes to set up which had me saying "Thank God!" when the monster finally arrives. (At another point, when the characters have spent lots of time and risked themselves horribly to save another character who appears to be dead when they find them, The Boy leaned over and said to me, "Well, that was time well spent.")

I'd heard some bitching about the monster, but I liked it and the boy proclaimed it "perfect". The shaky cam didn't bother me much and of course The Boy barely noticed it. (I have a theory about that: I think kids today are well-exposed to shaky-cam stuff so their brains automatically stabilize images internally in a way that older folks have to work at, if they can do it at all.)

It's fun without being campy. Exciting without being too preposterous. Mysterious without being obscure. It's actually a very old school style movie, with the monster not introduced until well into the movie, and not really shown clearly until the last act. It's surprising that it works at all, but it does.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

The New Old "Star Trek"

I'm not a Trekkie (nor Trekker) but I do have an essay on the joy of "hams" lurking in my head.

However, I do like the new special effects enhanced "Star Trek". They were very smart about it: Flat mono sound cleaned up and given some depth, lighting made a little more vivid, exterior space ship shots cleaned up and smoothed out--but nothing (or very little) apparently added or redesigned. It's all '60s futurism in all its dated glory.

I suppose it wouldn't have fit Lucas' vision to do this with Star Wars, but it's a nice compromise: less than a complete overhaul and more akin taking the scratches out of your old LPs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Working for the Weekend

One of many songs I never heard in the '80s. It wasn't until it appeared on a "greatest hits" twenty years later that I heard it.

But I digress. The Boy, unlike his parents or any one in his family (going back 3-4 generations) is something of a mogul. We sent him to take some classes on money over the summer, but the best these guys had was "Open an IRA and don't buy anything. 50 years from now, you can retire!"

So, we decided to send him here. And that's pretty much taking up this weekend. I'll try to get the Cloverfield review up tomorrow, though. And I'll put up my thoughts on the class, too, for those who are interested.

Enjoy your weekend!


PopSci is bitching about Inkjet refills. The linked article says that ink jet ink can cost up to $8,000 a gallon. The good news is that the free market has responded by providing a cheaper alternative, in the form of prints from drugstores and other traditional photo finishing places.

I stopped buying inkjet printers a couple years ago, because what would happen is that I would buy a printer and it would be good up until the ink ran out. Then I'd drop the $40-$60 on new cartridges and the printer would still refuse to work.

Back in my school days, I got an Epson MX-80 printer. It saw me through high school and college, and in college I was printing out musical scores that literally required the thing to run for hours with most pins firing. (Dot-matrix.) I had it for about five years and you had a whole lot of slack about when to replace the ribbon.

I stopped using it when it caught on fire.

Subsequent printers have lasted for a year to a year-and-a-half at the most. A few lasted only six months. It didn't matter if I spent $40 or $180, they never survived. And they have huge operational costs.

My solution was this little baby. It's actually not that little. It's quite bulky, but it's a network printer so we just set it up in a corner of the ktichen.

I paid about $300 when it went on sale at Staples. There are a couple of key elements to this purchase. One is that the printer is a "business printer" and not a "home printer". Since the margins are so low on home products, most companies sell marginal products with no support.

Another is that it had, a one year full exchange warranty. Anything went seriously wrong that first year, they'd completely replace it. The printers had to be much more robust for that offer to work out for Oki.

Also it had 24/7 tech support. I called on a Saturday with a problem. And the tech support was in Canada.

So, what about the cost? Well, after three years, at $100 an inkjet printer, it would have paid for itself easily. But in those same three years, we've only had to replace the toner once. Now, replacement toner does cost $120 for all the cartridges, but in the same three years I would've replaced the ink jet cartridges at least six times and as much as ten times!

So, at the most pessimistic, the printer has been no more expensive than an inkjet, minus the hassle and frustration of having the inkjet break. A more realistic estimate would be that it saved me several hundreds of dollars.

The Oki is unfortunately weak under Linux. That's about the only negative. It was such a positive purchase, I was tempted by a Samsung printer I saw the other day that was very similar, also $300 purchase price--but did duplex printing.

See, that's the way technology is supposed to be: Tempting you to upgrade with new features, not being so shoddy that you're forced to upgrade and buy overpriced supplies to keep a dubious business model afloat.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The History of Religion

Cool site linked at Ace. One of these religions--only one--does not owe its expansion to violence.

I embedded the flash here, but it just spilled over into the right margin. Ick.

Unicorn Rips Another Tear

Rachel Lucas tears Gottlieb up over her ridiculous Atlantic article.

And she's dead-on right, and way more interesting than Gottlieb.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ed Emberley Interview

My Ed Emberley interview is up at Kelly's Loaded Questions blog. Check it out!

Here's a review I wrote for Amazon back in 2000.

When I was in first grade, I had an art teacher who tried to show us how to draw using circles, lines, perspective, and so on, and I remember distinctly the experience of knowing that I could draw circles (and to an extent, straight lines) but there was no way I could put them together in a way that would look anything like the teacher's work.

This book was my salvation. Within these pages you'll find instructions on how to draw all kinds of creatures, from the lowly ant to an elaborate dragon, all by adding easy shapes (traingles, circles, linnes) one-at-a-time.

There is considerable truth in this book (and the author's others, which I unfortunately didn't discover until recently). How simplicity can communicate. How you can tackle something big by working in small steps. How you can make something you imagine come to like.

To this day I can take pleasure in drawing pictures, even though they're simple and I've never taken an art class since first grade, and I attribute a lot of that joy to this book. And nothing compares to giving a frustrated five-year-old an Emberly book and watching his face light up as he realizes that maybe he can make his drawings more than just scribbles.

This book (and the others) cannot be recommend too highly.

Looks like another perfect day....

I got myself a convertible in December. In what is a remarkably "me" set of circumstances, the guy selling me the car totally ripped me off, yet I only paid $940 for the car.

More on that later. I actually just decided I needed a small car, so I grabbed this one and have been quite happy with it. It's just a coincidence that it's a convertible.

Since the weather has been inclement, I've had the top up since I got it. But yesterday, with temperatures hovering around 80, I decided to put the top down.

And it was fun.

I have, of course, ridden in convertibles before. And there's no doubting that this car is a piece of, uh, a piece of Geo, but it was a blast. A clichéd blast.

If the car lasts to the end of the year, it will have saved me money. Then, if it breaks down, I can just find another one....


The writer's strike is coming to an end and once again, it looks like the losers will be...both sides!

You know, a few years ago here, we had a supermarket strike. It was lengthy. And if you were the sort of person who shopped at the supers (I wasn't), you had to cross a picket line to do your shopping. Regardless of what side you might be on, a picket line puts you in the middle of a group of strangers' conflict.

Predictably, people were driven to other stores. (That is the point, after all.) But as the weeks--and then months--wore on, people found out that these other stores, why, they were actually better than the stores they were used to shopping at. For example, Trader Joe's is generally cheaper, less tricksy, more interesting, and better staffed than a supermarket. Gelson's has pricier high-quality stuff, but isn't actually as expensive as it's reputation would suggest, as long as you stay away from the high-priced European imports. And you never wait in line long there.

And, as I predicted at the time--as someone who has long hated the big supermarket chains--people would find it hard to go back to these stores. Four years later, those stores are still not recovered from what I can see. Trader Joe's can't open up stores fast enough.

When this writer's strike started, I predicted a similar thing happening to the big nets. It's the weekly demand for shows that makes the writers' strike so effective, but the upshot would have to be that people would be driven to other forms of entertainment. Once driven away--and current ratings suggest the damage has been real and substantial--people won't come back. Not all of them.

The whole system needs revamping, of course. It's archaic to demand that people organize their lives around pre-recorded video programming, to watch it on your terms. And when you have a delivery system as big as the planet, one has to wonder about the merits of using an intermediary at all. Because that's what the nets are: intermediaries.

And in the case of cable, satellite dish, and so on, even more so. HBO makes a hit show like "The Sopranos" but if you want to watch it you have to incur all these other expenses. (Cable or dish, with installation, basic service and some kind of descrambler box.) Why can't a person just go directly to HBO, Showtime, the BBC, etc., and just get what they want directly?

Of course, this, in turn, negates cable channels as movie distributors: Why go to HBO when you can go to its source, Time-Warner, instead. The incestuous nature of these companies is probably a big culprit in delaying the technology.

So, for the consumer, the strike is probably a good thing, though not in the way the writers intend. But by accelerating the decline of traditional distribution channels and methods, they will eventually force the development of new channels to make up for it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm So Proud Of Myself

I went through that whole post about lies we tell women without adding:

14. It's really ten inches baby. Your ruler must be off.

I'm so proud of myself.

Aw, crap.

Lies We Tell Women

Women get beat up pretty badly on Dr. Helen's site and advice column--well, for a number of reasons. And I think, in part, she's providing a counter-balance to the deafening drumnbeat of "Woman good, Man bad", so she may not be looking too hard at the fact that women hear the same drumbeat as men. And where men may hear they're not wanted, women may hear they're all precious snowflakes, irreplaceable and priceless. The latter is arguably the more damaging message.

I mention this because in the Unicorn post, the always insightful Synova points out that:
Women my age (dare I say 43?) have been told certain things our whole lives. One of them is that it works to plan to have a child who doesn't *have* a father.
And I hear similar things from other women. Indeed, like Synova, I grew up on the whole fish/bicycle/if-women-were-in-charge-there-would-be-no-wars claptrap as well. And so it occurred to me that there are a whole bunch of lies we, as a society, tell women.

I'm probably going to get into trouble here, but what the hell. Here's a few lies:
  1. Raising children is not the most important thing you can do.
  2. A father can do the same job as a mother.
  3. Anyone can do the same job as a father.
  4. A second parent is completely unnecessary.
  5. Single parenthood won't impact your career in any way more challenging than can be resolved by a couple of magazine articles and '80s movies. And it sure won't affect your child negatively.
  6. It's wrong to depend on a man.
  7. There's weakness in having a man around for the traditional reasons.
  8. Chivalry is a form of condescension.
  9. You can have sex with anyone you want whenever you want with no repercussions.
  10. That perfect guy--the one that you don't need at all, but whom you plan to bless with your companionship--isn't going to care about the previous item.
  11. Abortion is comparable to an appendectomy.
  12. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
This last one gets me because it's one of the great bumper sticker lies. Ladies, it's not men who threaten your right to an abortion, it's other women. To a guy, an abortion is a "get out of jail free" card. I used to do a lot of work (indirectly) for CARAL and NARAL, and every survey I saw showed that men were the majority in favor of preserving abortion rights, while women were the ones more likely to want to restrict them. This makes perfect sense, not just economically, but because an abortion is relatively abstract to a man.

Anyway, that's a very narrow set of what is basically a large group of lies being told for decades. And it's fair to have a degree of sympathy for women who end up hunting unicorns as a result.

Now, I tend to look at these things from an engineering perspective. (Granted, I'm a software engineer, so my results can't be trusted or duplicated, and will fail in leap years. Nonetheless.) There once was a set of male activities and female activities. When societies start, they carve these "gender roles" in stone and punish transgressors heavily. As survival becomes--or seems--more secure, the punishment begins to look cruel and arbitrary, and elements in society start to tear down those roles.

Shortly thereafter--in a civilizational time scale--the society collapses.

It would be nice, and I think entirely possible, to preserve the roles while not punishing "transgression"--nor even viewing transgression as such. I say this as someone who has seen enough baby girls gravitate toward dolls--not only without encouragement but with active discouragement going on. And seen boys turn flowers into guns and monsters.

It's just as wrong to force boys and girls to give up their traditional roles as it was to enforce them. Arguably worse.

And I've seen women shamed about being devoted mothers. (Devoted meaning that was what they did as their primary occupation.) Some women aren't cut out for it--but shouldn't that make the ones who do the job even more valuable? (They are, of course, even if they're not regarded that way generally.)

So how does this relate back to Miss Unicorn? Well, she's already squandered a lot of her prime market value (as the economics-minded put it), but one should never underestimate the value of a kind woman to a man. On Volokh, when they discussed this, there was an interesting sub-thread by a woman who absolutely refused to consider any offspring not genetically related as worthy of anything from her. (Wow, it was Daniel Plainview in drag!)

Fortunately, most people don't feel that way. So, what Miss Unicorn should do, is to assess what she brings to a relationship versus what she's expecting. This should be a humbling act. (We all need to do this from time-to-time: Look at what we expect of our significant others and be grateful for kindness received.) Fortunately, for children--and for wives and husbands--love is a valuable commodity.

It's all our kids can give us, at first, in the form of smiles, hugs, hand-crafted ashtrays, whatever. And it is, of course, the currency in which romantic relationships are built. (Sorry to slip into triteness again but it can't be helped.)

It's free. It's easy. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It's paid back with dividends.

But you can't do it if you don't feel the other person is worthy.

Newsflash: Breasts Always Good For Hits

I've been getting a lot of hits for "pointy breasts".

Not all that surprising, except that I'd forgotten I'd written that entry. So I was a bit shocked to see people coming here after googline "torpedo shaped breasts".

Thanks for the mammaries.

I joked with Trooper York about doing an ongoing series on breast shapes over history, but it'd be hard to deny I'd get more hits than I normally do if I went that route. Hey, Althouse created one of her most notorious posts by mixing breasts with politics. (I'm sorry, but I laugh every single time I see that picture.)

But I suppose if I said Warren G. Harding was a boob, I wouldn't get the same reaction.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cogs In The Machine

Here's an interesting bit on hiring called "Hunting the 5-pound Butterfly".

This is interesting to me because my resumé is ridiculous. I've been pruning it for years because listing all the tools I've worked with is absurd. It does get me some interesting job interviews but seldom any actual jobs. And I've lost out on jobs because I had a specific subset of skills, but wouldn't commit to having experience on a finer point that I was sure my interviewer didn't actually understand.

Yet I consider my experience a fraction of my worth. And perhaps this goes back to being easily bored. Even if employment goes on for years, any given job should, in my view, be temporary. In other words, if I'm hired to do X, I want to do X in such a way that it doesn't have to be done again, or in such a way that someone else can do it most of the time. Then I go on to do Y.

Often Y is something my employer never imagined me doing. Sometimes it's something they didn't imagine could be done. (I'm not suggesting any wizardry on my part, more a lack of imagination about how computers can be applied to problems.)

But 99% of employers--no matter how obsessed they may be with never ever bearing the cost for improving the skills of their employers--would not hire me (or anyone) on that basis. Nor on the basis that my free time tends to find me developing skills that will prove handy in my job. (My current boss is rather canny in that regard: He'll hire someone with a kick-ass work ethic to do something they're expert in, even though the project is relatively short-term. He knows his person will transition easily to new tasks.)

It's the cog-in-the-machine mentality. Employers want to hire the perfect fit even though they don't really know what that is. They think they do, for sure. Because they also figure that when job A is over, and job B pops up, they'll fire the guy doing job A and hire a new perfect fit for job B. And of course, at no premium.

One might think that the dynamism of the past 30 years would have educated employers: Adaptability is the key element for any employee. Adaptability in the form of a willingness to learn and master change.

But I guess I'm biased here.

Bureaucracy Enabled/Enhanced Irony

Do you find yourself wondering if your tax stimulus check will arrive in time for you to use it to pay your income taxes?

The Kickboxer vs. The Mime

Back in the glory days of the teen slasher and the martial arts film, someone got a wonderful idea. A wonderful, awful idea. "Let us marry," they said, blowing smoke rings into the already hazy room from a fat, hand-rolled cigarette, "the slasher film with the karate film."

Then, of course, they got the munchies and forgot all about it.

But the idea was out there now. In the zeitgeist, if you will. And somehow--Jung only knows how--the idea filtered into Producer Anthony Unger's head, or perhaps it was writer Joseph Fraley who saw it in a vision, and someone said unto them, "Hey, I know Chuck Norris."

And Silent Rage was born.

The premise is simple: Brian Libby (now one of the Frank Darabont regulars) plays a killer who is taken down by the inimitable Chuck Norris. In the morgue, some coroners (those scamps!) decide to bring him back to life using a serum that renders him immortal. (I think the idea is that he regenerates super-fast, like Wolverine or something.)

Now, this plays out like two films: The horror film where the killer goes around killing, and the Chuck Norris film, where Chuck Norris goes around kicking. And that's all I have to say about that.

But when they finally meet, it's actually a groundbreaking bit of cinematic goofiness I like to call bullets-can't-hurt-him-I-guess-I'll-have-to-kick-him-to-death. It may not be the first example of this, but it's the first I can recall. (I think the pinnacle of this kind of absurdity was probably Underworld: Evolution.)

Basically, after being shot, run over, dropped off a building, and set on fire, all that's left is for Norris to kick the crap out of him. He's slow moving, as all these guys are for some reason, so Chuck gets to wail on him a good long time before knocking him down a well.

Keeping in mind all that he's gone through up to this point, you'd say, "OK, board up the well. Or fill it with rocks. He's already fallen further and been fine. Surely you can't just walk away at this point. NOT NOW?!"

But indeed, the movie ends there, with Norris walking off arm-in-arm with Toni Kalem (late of "The Sopranos"), and the entirely predictable moments-later bursting out of the well by the killer. One of those, "Well, we had to end the film some time and this seemed as good a time as any."

Though unique (as far as I know) in its status as a genre-blender1, this move is actually very, very typical of movies of the day, and the two genres come off as oil-and-water.

Besides the aforementioned actors, the film features a number of familiar character actors, including Stephen Furst ("Flounder" from Animal House, who would go on to achieve stardom anew by being in and directing episodes of "Babylon 5") and the great Ron Silver, who really wasn't so great back in those days. (Though he's way better than he was in the '70s by this point.)

With enough action that you can watch it for fun, and enough goofiness that you can riff on it, if that's your mood, it's not a bad film to sit down with.

1. Friday The Thirteenth Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan has a short scene where a karate dude tries to kick Jason around and gets his head knocked off, but if that's an homage to this film, it's not apparent. The Buffy universe doesn't really fit in this category either, since it's not horror blended with martial arts, but martial arts in an occult universe, where the horror elements are window dressing. (Joss Whedon does the same thing in a sci-fi universe with Firefly.)

Woman Wants Unicorn, Now Almost Willing To Settle For Pony

I want to cut the author of this horror some slack, since I think there's a pressure to be entertaining and to crackle, and all that. I'd hate to conclude that I, you know, knew her after reading a single article she'd written (which may, as I said, have been engineered to fit the perceived audience rather than her own true self).

But, good Lord, I wouldn't touch a woman like that with a ten-foot pole.

The article is about "settling", specifically encouraging women to "settle" for men that don't meet all their expectations. And it's telling that she idolizes the relationship from the sitcom Will & Grace between the gay titular character and his roommate, as well. All some women seem to want is a man who won't make demands but will go shopping with them.

The money quote, to me, was this:
My long-married friend Renée offered this dating advice to me in an e-mail:
I would say even if he’s not the love of your life, make sure he’s someone you respect intellectually, makes you laugh, appreciates you … I bet there are plenty of these men in the older, overweight, and bald category (which they all eventually become anyway).

She wasn’t joking.

"She wasn't joking"? To suggest that a woman might do well to look for signs that a man loves her, rather than the state of his hairline or waist? Can you imagine what the reciprocal article in a men's magazine would be like?
Just because she's only a B-cup (and one of them is lopsided), not open to having sex with other woman, and reluctant to go ass-to-mouth, doesn't mean you shouldn't do her once or twice. A lot of less attractive women are quicker to have sex and more eager to please than their prettier counterparts.
Dude. That's hard for me to even write, and for all I know such articles have appeared in Hustler or Swank. (Not Jugs mind you, since a C-cup would be a minimum there.) I doubt it would get play in the Atlantic, though.

I guess that stage that most people go through in their adolescence--you know the one where they dress up funny, and don't bathe or get their hair dyed green and dress like a slob, so they can criticize society for being "superficial"--I guess that the author never went through that stage or did it without grasping that there is a lesson to be learned there once you get past the stridency.

The funny thing is that if you're in love, you don't feel like you're settling. The Other may annoy you, drive you downright nuts sometimes, and yet through it all, you see only beauty. You can have passion after ten, twenty, fifty years, even as the body slows down and becomes less urgent with its needs. Why? Because love really is in the mind. (As trite as that sounds.)

But you'll notice that this article is, in essence, about being effect. This woman has been waiting her whole life for someone to come along who creates a positive effect on her. But not just any positive effect: A solely positive effect greater than anything else she has experienced. Her role in this is limited to eliminating those who cast the shadow of a displeasing effect upon her blessed countenance. Her cognition is that she must be willing to accept, to some degree, an effect that might be negative--though her own role hasn't changed, just the parameters in which she performs her task of judging.

Even as she accepts that, however, she doesn't really, since she's added a "perfect father" head to the previous chimera of "perfect mate". She's merely transferred responsibility for her problem to her child. Where it used to be that she was too picky to find a mate, now it's that she's too gosh-darn responsible. (And notice that she uses the term "subpar" here, indicating that perfection is par.)

And the most damning thing? Not only does she never once refer to any personal flaws she might hypothetically have, nowhere, in four pages of writing, does she talk about what any poor sap who might find her attractive might get out of a relationship with her. There's no mention of fun or sex or laughter, cooking, holidays, shared hobbies, or even sitting on the couch watching trash TV--all the things that couples and families do that bring joy to what otherwise could become a grind.

Those who are in love, or have been in love, know that a huge part of what makes it good is being able to make the other person feel good--to make them see themselves in a better light than they've ever imagined.

Of course, if you already know you're perfect, you can't receive that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Where Are The Boys' Shows?

I've been exposed to a lot more of the Disney Channel than I'd ever hoped--although I admit the late night re-runs of Walt's original programming held a curious archaeological interest for me while it ran--and something dawned on me today: There is no boy's programming.

That is to say, there are no action shows, no adventure shows, no Davy Crockett, no Buck Rogers, nothing that says, "Hey, boys! You're gonna love this!"

Well, with the exception of the cute girls all over the shows. They've got that going for 'em (for the boys who are past the "girl icky" phase). But they incline feminine. The movies--largely about princesses, mermaids, and girl rock stars--more than incline, they're girl stuff.

There are boys, often major characters on the shows, don't get me wrong. And a recent time-traveling movie featured three boys as major characters. But even here, the feminine prevails. The boys don't go back in time to see dinosaurs or wrestle with pirates. They go back to correct social faux-pas.

Cute idea. But feminine.

Interesting, no?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Accentuate The Positive

Now that I've trashed every video game movie ever made--and believe me, I didn't even mention the very worst ones--I should say that I think that computer & video games are just as valid a source as books. There's no reason, for example, that Lara Croft couldn't have carved a name for herself alongside of Indiana Jones (whom she was obviously based on). Especially with Jolie in the role.

A good example would probably be the Mortal Kombat series. All things considered, they did all right by the property: 2-3 movies and a television series, if memory serves. And that's some thin gruel to work with.

I've played some games with good plots, though, and settings and characters that would be entertaining if brought to life on a movie screen.

The original Adventure game would be fun, and is based on a real place. It would have to be fleshed out.

Starflight had one of the best twists of any game I've ever played. It could be a good mix of Sci-Fi action clichés with some real originality to it.

Another single game with a great story is Planescape: Torment. However, this is a very D&D oriented game that might not be translatable to a general audience.

The Heroes of Might and Magic series has a great many quasi-medieval plot lines. The setting was supposed to have been that of a far future world that has collapsed into a barbarous ruin that looked very fantasy-ish. Fans ultimately killed an add-on that would've overtly introduced Sci-Fi to the game however. As a setting, and with a great many characters developed over many years, it could be well done.

Blizzard puts a lot of care into their stories, for guys who write games where the stories really aren't that important. Diablo, StarCraft, WarCraft--all fairly well developed.

These are just a few games off the top of my head, most of which would be at least fresher than what has been done. They'd all be expensive though, to do any sort of justice to.

I do think that we'll, eventually, see a great video game-based movie. The stories are not, in the big picture, so alien to the usual narrative ideas we see. But with the badness of what has come so far, it's going to be hard for anyone to take future endeavors seriously.

Trolling The Cinematic Dreck

Osver at Amazon's Game Room has agreed to subject himself to 24 hours of movies based on video games.

Now, I'm a gamer. I'm a computer gamer more than a video gamer. The Wii is the first video game console I've used since the Channel F because: 1) I learned early on that programming your own games is at least as fun as playing them, and 2) The sorts of games I like aren't usually available on consoles.

As a gamer, I'm fully aware that many games have better plots than many movies. There's a bell curve, Sturgeon's Law applies as always, and the marriage of gameplay and traditional notions of narrative, character development and so on is an uneasy one at best.

As far as I know, though, no game has ever been made into a movie that actually reflected the experience of the game, with the possible exception of Mortal Kombat. This, in itself, goes back to a more important premise: the selection of games that are picked to be made into movies borders on the insane. Borders? Hell, sometimes it goes into full-blown WTF-were-they-thinking mode.

Mortal Kombat is about best of breed: The game is about fighting. There's a plot, but there's no need to get invested in it. And it's mightily strained over the years. So you have some paint-by-the-numbers plot and characterization, some yucks, and a fair amount of fight scenes. It's still not very good, but as with all Paul W.S. Anderson films, it is what it is, and what it is is more or less what you could reasonably expect going in.

Uwe Boll has used this as an excuse for his more egregious outings. House of the Dead, for example, he defended as being "people shooting zombies" and "What did you expect, Citizen Kane?" No, Uwe, but we did expect some connection between the zombie shooting done in your movie versus the game. Uwe actually used clips from the game in the movie, I presume to remind you of the far more entertaining source material.

Before he got into making video game movies, he did a fairly entertaining rip off of Fight Club combined with a touch of The Sixth Sense called Blackwoods. I think he's a reasonably talented guy who--well, I dunno what's gotten into him, except maybe a lot of German tax money. Which he's managed to use to make himself the most hated man in the gaming world.

I'm not going to Boll bash here except to say that his films highlight the other problem: When a game with a story is picked, the movie doesn't reflect much of that story. This is pretty typical for Hollywood, but it seems to be the height of arrogance with game adaptations. "Well, you know, these game guys don't know what they're doing, so we'll do whatever we want and slap on a game title. They'll show up." Boll has proved there's a limit to that.

So, where Mortal Kombat fleshes out the bare story that's there, Doom touches on the superficial aspects of that minimal story to tell another one that's somehow even more trite. In the case of Doom, though, budget constraints were the issue. But without the budget, they shouldn't have made the movie. The game itself was a triumph of technology; if you can't preserve that, pick something else to make into a movie.

House of the Dead is a rails shooter--meaning you have no freedom of motion--which is essentially what a traditional narrative is. Now it's "All Your Base" level camp, and that's really the way Boll should've played it. But there are budget considerations again.

What you almost never see is a story-driven game made into a movie. Wing Commander is perhaps the sole exception, and is a good reminder that "good game designer <> good movie maker".

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is kind of a cheat: Apparently the Final Fantasy games are one-offs. There's a rough similarity between the universes that the games take place in, but they're not sequels. (In other words, there's no connection between FFI and FFII or FFII and FFIII, etc. FFVII actually has a sequel--and a movie!--but it's not FFVIII.) Spirit Within continued that by not being strongly related to the games. And it's actually a pretty good movie if you don't mind the uncanny valley.

Don't believe rumors that the Tomb Raider movies are good. The first one is watchable because of Jolie. She brings the role to life in an otherwise lifeless movie. The second one somehow manages to kill the magic, even with Jolie in fewer clothes.

So, where does that leave us? Mostly with a cynical smirk on our faces, looking at a pile of movies that were made solely to cash in on a property, with considerable contempt for the prospective audience. The Resident Evil series is not bad for what it is, and the last was fairly watchable if you can get past the premise--but I'm pretty sure the plots have long diverged from any source material.

Silent Hill was watchable as well, though at the end you might find yourself with a big fat WTF? on your hands.

But just out-and-out unqualified good? The only movie he's got on his list that qualifies is the engaging documentary, A Fistful of Quarters. And that, of course, is not based on a video game, but on video game players.

Technology enhanced/enabled irony

Clerks is on cable in High Definition (Surround Sound where available).

The-Quirky-Comedy-That-Could Backlash

It happens every year. Well, okay, maybe not every year. But most years. Some years.


A low-budget quirky comedy does well. Its box office breaks $60M or $80M or sometimes even $100M. Maybe it gets nominated for an Oscar.

Then comes the backlash: It was trite. Its characters weren't real. It was formulaic. It was sitcommy.

This year, it's Juno, which recently broke the $100M mark. You can read my review at the link, fi you like. I enjoyed it, in particular for the way the story played out differently than other similar stories have played out in the recent past. (Though I would probably note that, feature film-wise, except for the teen sex comedies of the early '80s that patterned themselves after Fast Times At Ridgemont High, the woman always keeps the baby, e.g., the mostly forgotten Lucy Arnaz/Craig Wasson '80s abortion-comedy movie Second Thoughts.)

Last year, of course, it was Little Miss Sunshine. This was hyped incredibly and then attacked for all the things I just mentioned. And, true, there was a predictability to it, as in any seasoned filmgoer knew just which cast member more-or-less had to end up dead by the third act. And the form that Olive's final dance number would take was equally predictable.

Yet, for a fun little summer comedy, that's exactly what it was: A fun little summer comedy. Just like Napoleon Dynamite. And just like Juno, except they released in the winter.

Instapundit has highlighted two negative reviews in the past two days. The first is from neo-neocon. She's put-off by a lack of, I guess you'd call it, vibrancy. The characters are too low key for her, too flat, ironic, sarcastic, etc. The second is from Kyle Smith, who regards it as a "hipster" movie.

As with complaints made against Sunshine and Napoleon, I wouldn't really disagree with the criticisms raised. (I would take issue with some of the more politically oriented criticisms, which object to the non-abortion solution to the pregnancy problem, but that's for another time.) I can't really address the "hipster" complaint, because I'm never really sure what that means. I mean, I know it's meant derogatorily, but the parameters of actual hipsterism evade me. It sounds like a code for "people who talk in a way that they probably think is clever but which annoys me."

As I've known a lot of people who talked and acted like the characters in Juno, I can't really find fault with their energy level (or hipsterism, I guess). And I could cover all the ways that the exact things these reviewers objected to actually worked for me. I'm pretty sure that doing so wouldn't reflect upon me badly as a human being (though note how often disagreeing with someone on a matter of taste is framed that way), just as one who experienced a movie differently.

I don't usually make movie recommendations to people in general, believe it or not. (And when I'm writing I tend toward a Joe Bob-esque "Check it out" sort of formulation, which Joe Bob Briggs wrote at the end of every movie review no matter how bad he thought it was.)

But honestly, I typically have to know a person very well before I can say, with any sort of assurance, "Yes, you will like this movie." And I try not to frame movie preference in ad hominem terms--but of course it's more fun that way.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Winnetka, not Illinois

This little suburb of Los Angeles, called Winnetka, is a rather tiny rectangle carved out of the San Fernando Valley. I've been told it has a hundred thousand people in it, which seems a bit high, given that the area is predominately single-family dwellings with a few apartment complexes along the major roads. (Correction: Recent census indicates 50,000. I may have gotten the 100,000 number from an over-zealous chamber-of-commerce estimate.)

It was named in the '60s by the same guy who named Winnetka, Illinois. That area of Illinois is vastly tonier, however. Winnetka, CA is a working class neighborhood filled with what Real Estate agents euphemistically call "starter homes". (For a while there, these "starter homes" were going for a half-million or more, mind you, but I expect that to crash down to the low 200s--or even mid-to-high 100s--in the coming years, as has always happened in the past with real estate price spikes in L.A.)

Other than its name, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this place. You could easily drive through it without knowing you had done so, and in a fairly short time. Its remarkable characteristics--Caucasian minority, a lot of swimming pools, a scattering of houses on larger properties that are from the days (not too long ago) when the whole area was orange groves--are pretty usual for the San Fernando Valley or even Los Angeles at large. A good many people who live or work in the city have never heard of it.

I do my shopping in Chatsworth or Encino, go to the movies in West Hills, go shooting in Reseda, my dojo was out in Granada Hills, I went to high school in Van Nuys and Canoga Park and College in Northridge, Woodland Hills and Westwood, and I've worked in Burbank, Hollywood, Culver City, Santa Monica and a bunch of other places. I've never worked in Winnetka (unless I was working from home), and this latest house is the first time I've actually lived here. I can't even think of a restaurant I frequent that's actually in Winnetka.

The division of Los Angeles, Orange and parts of San Bernardino into counties, cities and neighborhoods has always seemed particularly arbitrary. There is, essentially, an unbroken sea of developed area from the San Fernando Valley in the north to Pomona and points eastward, down past Long Beach in the south. (The Pacific Ocean being the primary barrier to the west.)

There are differences between actual cities, of course. Santa Monica is very left-leaning and is governed accordingly. It's one of our more third-world-ish areas, with more homeless people than I've seen anywhere else, wandering in-and-out of multi-million dollar real estate areas. Burbank has more lenient tax laws and is where the bulk of the media companies are (more so than Hollywood). West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are their own cities, like an island huddled in a sea of Los Angeles. Yet it's easy to pass between these strange municipalities and the surrounding areas completely unaware that you have done so.

The neighborhoods of L.A. city proper, while less well-defined than the boroughs of New York seem to be, do have different flavors. The west side is very rich--very rich, as is Bel-Air. Westwood is a college town. The San Fernando Valley has traditionally leaned conservative (and tried for independence a couple of times), though I believe it grows less so over time.

Even the Valley has its sub-areas. The Ventura corridor is fairly tony, with people who aren't quite rich enough to live over the hill, or who prefer less congestion. The Hispanic population--starting from around 100% a few hundred years ago--has slowly been encroached on by white people reluctantly spilling out from the city. A black person couldn't rent an apartment or buy a home here in the early '60s, until various laws made it illegal to discriminate.

There is no ethnic majority here now, with Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in about equal numbers. Our black population is still low, and we still have a few neighborhoods that are fairly segregated, but this is more economics than anything. Living in Winnetka (where three out of four people aren't non-Hispanic whites), I was taken aback at a recent basketball game which featured a team populated by blond-blue-eyed kids. Where'd all the white people come from? I wondered. Turns out they came from neighboring, wealthier Chatsworth (which abuts Winnetka on the northwest) where only about 15% are Hispanic.

A cynical person might suggest that the promulgation of neighborhoods here is simply realtor maneuvering to create neighborhoods that will tack $10,000 on to the price of a house. A cynical person or one who had observed that the latest neighborhoods (West Hills and North Hills) are predominately white non-Hispanic, carved out of areas (Canoga Park and Granada Hills) with much higher Hispanic populations.

There's no particular reason that this should happen here; that Winnetka should gain notoriety by being the first neighborhood to kill a SWAT team member. There were no homicides at all here in 2007. (I believe most homicides in Los Angeles are gang-related, and we have little of that here.)

No reason at all. And yet.


This is about a block from my house.

The noise woke up the dogs this morning. I heard the police chopper but since we keep everything closed up tight during the winter, the noise wasn't that loud. I just thought the dogs were nuts.

I've lived here all my life, and in this precise neighborhood for 10 years, and never heard of a burglary or assault, much less this kind of violence. I'm sure I've walked and driven by that house a thousand times.

My condolences to those who loved the victims of this assault.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How Quickly We Are Spoiled

There's a new kind of ATM in my neighborhood. When you deposit a check--already a screaming burden, but some people haven't heard of direct deposit--you're freed from the tyranny of having to put it in an envelope or entering an amount.

That's right: The machine scans the check, reads the amount, and all you have to do is confirm from the scan the machine shows.

I found myself at one today though that lacked this feature.

Now I know how the Jews must have felt building those pyramids.