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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Link Dump
Just a few links to stuff I've enjoyed recently:
  • What If Greedo Really Shot First?: It doesn't get much geekier than the Star Wars fan outrage over Greedo shooting first in the special edition Star Wars films, but somehow this IO9 post manages that feat with no problems (via Batrock).
  • The Farewell Dossier: I'm always fascinated by those Cold War espionage stories, and this one's a doozy. Essentially, the Soviet Union needed some software to run their newly procured oil pipeline hardware. The US had such software, but wouldn't sell it to their rivals, so the Soviets simply stole it... not realizing that the US had sabotaged the code.
    The orchestrated subterfuge was one of the most successful US inter-agency efforts ever undertaken, and it was executed with such skill that it was never detected. Some condemn the deliberate explosion as thinly veiled terrorism given the lack of an open war with the Soviet Union, while others insist that ill-gotten goods are the plunderer’s problem. In any case, it clearly demonstrates that software piracy can have very serious consequences.
  • A little while ago, Yahtzee reviewed inFamous and Prototype, two similar games, by comparing them to one another. In the end, the two games ended in a tie, so Yahtzee suggested a humorous and presumably rhetorical tie-breaker: "which of the two studios could produce the best image of the rival game's main character wearing women's lingerie." Amazingly, the two game studios in question complied. The results are... funny. Take a gander.
  • Speaking of inFamous, the developers apparently released a series of interesting statistics and fun facts about the development cycle for the game. A couple examples:
    • Number of babies born: 10
    • Number of diet Coke cans consumed: 17,472
    • Number of diet Pepsi cans consumed: 13,104
    • Number of trips to Starbucks: approximately 18,200
    Once again, Coke beats Pepsi. Score. There are some other interesting stats included as well
  • How to Hack Your Brain: This is apparently part 1 in a longer series... this one focuses on sleep and how inefficient our standard schedules are (most of the time spent in a standard 8 hour sleeping session is not spent in REM sleep, which is the most important part). I would love to try the extreme Uberman polyphasic schedule, which calls for a total of only 2 hours of sleep a day (but evenly spaced in 20 minute increments throughout the day), but it does not seem feasible in a normal working schedule. I suspect there's something more to this subject though and it probably warrants closer examination.
  • Asian Poses: I'm not sure a lot of these are uniquely Asian, but then, some probably are. I particularly enjoyed Nyan Nyan. (via Kottke)
Posted by Mark on July 29, 2009 at 08:21 PM .: link :.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

When it comes to video games, I've usually described myself as a "casual" gamer. The whole "casual" versus "hardcore" gamer debate has become somewhat tired of late, but in modern parlance, "casual" is usually code for "moronic" while "hardcore" is code for someone who likes "adult" games with lots of violence, etc... But my notion of a casual gamer is someone who plays games and enjoys them, but doesn't get all that carried away with them. The hardcore would be someone who borders on obsession. And not just a short term obsession either. Most gamers get engrossed in various games from time to time, but it's rare for the obsession to last much longer than a few weeks (if that). But there are people who keep going, perfecting their performance to the point where (for example), they could complete Super Mario Brothers in 5 minutes (there's a whole site full of these Speed Demos for all sorts of games).

I suppose I have some tendencies towards the hardcore. In particular, I'm a fan of probing, or exploratory play. I like to probe at the limits of a game, just to see what happens. I've written about this before:
Probing is essentially exploration of the game and its possibilities. Much of this is simply the unconscious exploration of the controls and the interface, figuring out how the game works and how you're supposed to interact with it. However, probing also takes the more conscious form of figuring out the limitations of the game. For instance, in a racing game, it's usually interesting to see if you can turn your car around backwards, pick up a lot of speed, then crash head-on into a car going the "correct" way. Or, in Rollercoaster Tycoon, you can creatively place balloon stands next to a roller coaster to see what happens (the result is hilarious). Probing the limits of game physics and finding ways to exploit them are half the fun (or challenge) of video games these days...
In short, I like to see what will happen. This will sometimes keep me playing a game long after others have gotten tired of a game. To me, this is the fun part. To the people who do speed demos, it's all about skill. I don't particularly care about skill (more about this later), and one of the ways Nintendo has been courting new gamers is to embrace the sorts of games that do not require hardcore skill in order to complete. To a lesser extent, PS3 and XBox games seem easier these days than things were back in the NES days. So there's a lot of tension in gaming these days between making the game easy, making it more difficult, and making it friendly to new gamers.

A few months ago, Nintendo patented a system that sought to address this situation. The point was to allow them to make a difficult game, but give an option to us helpless casual players who aren't interested in sharpening our skills for dozens of hours at a time just so we can make a particularly difficult series of jumps. Their idea was to allow players to let the game play itself through the difficult parts. So you get to a particularly difficult boss fight and instead of playing it a hundred times, you can just let the game know and it will play and defeat the boss for you.

There have been a variety of responses to this idea, mostly negative. Shamus calls it ungaming:
The problem is that the demo mode solution isn't a solution at all. It's a refusal to even address the problem. New players need a way to engage a game at their own skill and frustration threshold, and making a game play itself doesn't help. Demo mode can't turn a newbie into a gamer for the same reason watching Miles Davis won't turn you into a trumpet player. You can't learn to play if you're not playing.
Sean Malstrom has an interesting take on how this functionality detracts from the skill based aspects of gaming:
I’ve been thinking about this frequently, and the answer I come up with is ‘mastery’. The old school gamer says, “I have finally got to level five!” The new school gamer says, “I am twenty hours into this game so far!” The old school gamer’s statement implies mastery. The player had mastered the game to such a level in order to reach level five. ... The new school gamer’s statement implies intoxication, not mastery.
Malstrom brings up the various cheats from the NES era. In Super Mario Bros. there were Warp Zones that allowed you to skip ahead a few levels. The infamous Konami Code was indispensible for Contra players. Indeed, cheat codes became very popular in that era, to the point where even stuff like the Game Genie (a third party piece of hardware that you plugged into the game - it had all sorts of crazy cheats you could apply to almost any game) became popular.

Perhaps because a lot of newer games don't have much of this, I've realized lately that I really enjoy cheating. Not for every game, but I did like my Game Genie. I like God mode and I like cheats that give me all the available weapons, etc... Why? Usually because it makes it a lot easier to explore the game world (i.e. to probe). One game I distinctly remember was called Rise of the Triad. The game was not especially fantastic. It was one of those FPS games that tried to amp up the violence and ridiculousness. I was almost immediately bored with it... until I found the cheat codes. The game featured some pretty neat weapons (in particular, I enjoyed the one that shot a wall of fire). There were a couple of cheats that I particularly loved - they let you change the gravity or even fly around the levels. A probing gamer's dream. So I ended up enjoying the game quite a bit, despite not being very good at it in terms of "skill."

I think this is why I don't like Nintendo's proposed system. It's not that they let you get past the difficult part without having any skill that's the problem. As I've established, that doesn't bother me at all. It's that the act of bypassing the hard part is completely passive. I like probing at the limits of the system, not watching someone show me how it's done. I don't want to do it the way it's supposed to be done. That's just plain boring. I say bring back cheating. Cheating is much more fun than watching someone else play, let alone watching the computer play. Of course, all of this is speculative. Companies patent stuff all the time (and as Shamus notes, it's kinda ridiculous that some of these things are being patented at all, but that's another discussion) and there's nothing real to base this on, but it's an interesting subject.
Posted by Mark on July 26, 2009 at 05:09 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Noir: Initial Thoughts
I am slowly making my way through the Anime queue I posted recently. I'm currently watching Noir and am a little less than halfway through the series. In no particular order, a few thoughts on Noir:
  • The series follows Mireille Bouquet, a pretty blond assassin. Her professional career seems to be going quite well... until she is contacted by a young Japanese girl named Yumura Kirika, who asks Mirelle to take "a pilgrimage to the past." Yumura is quite talented as well, though she also seems to be afflicted with Jason Bourne Syndrome (apparently a common condition among assassins). Together, the two seek to solve a mystery involving an ancient, myserious group called Les Soldats. As of yet, it's unclear what role the girls play in the plans of the Soldats, but after a slow start, things seem to be unfolding at a good pace.
  • Mireille takes contracts under the name "Noir." She has built up a good reputation, but there are several hints of old hits that could not have been accomplished by Mireille, leading me to think of Noir as a sorta Dread Pirate Roberts of the contract killer world. Later in the series, Mireille and Yumura meet someone named Chloe who refers to herself as "The True Noir." Chloe is an intriguing character, and one that has only just been introduced, so I'm expecting much more to happen with her (and her guardian at the vineyard). The word "noir" is French for "black" and is often used to describe dark stories featuring morally ambiguous characters. Film noir was a phrase coined by French film critics to describe Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s. So far, I would not say that this series follows any sort of Film noir conventions, but it's something I've been keeping an eye out for...
  • So the girls are racking up quite the body count. 12 episodes in and I think they've already outpaced legendary murderers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. It seems that every episode features the girls taking on and killing dozens of armed minions. Apparently the regular appearance of 20 or so dead men is a common feature of French society (the series takes place in France). Nothing to get worked up over, even when the dead men are cops.

    Yumura dodges some bullets
    Yumura dodges some bullets...

  • Also intriguing about the people of France as portrayed in the series is that they appear to be bloodless. Of the hundreds the two assassins have killed, apparently no blood was shed. Either their bullets are not very effective against them, or the French have invented a blood substitute that is far superior to our own (but provides no apparent benefit, except for easy cleanup).
  • As assassins, it seems that the only tool in their assassin toolkit is a pistol. Apparently no long-range weapons like a sniper rifle, no hidden attacks like poisons and no "accidents" (unless, I guess, the accident involves someone falling on a bullet with a lot of force - an explanation I suspect the French police would accept). Still, the large amount of gunfights makes the series quite entertaining, though they never quite approach the balletic beauty of John Woo's double-fisting pistol showdowns... though I suppose we still have 14 episodes or so to rectify that. Also, despite Yumura being much younger, she seems to be more effective than Mireille. At one point, the pair are trapped in a large casino. Their enemies turn off all the lights and wear night-vision goggles. Mireille is largely defeated by these tactics, while Yumura just closes her eyes and uses apparently superhuman auditory prowess to locate enemies and kill them (a neat trick). I guess it's worth noting that Chloe eschews the pistol and uses all manner of knives instead.
  • So far, the series has posed some intriguing questions. Who is Noir? How does one become Noir? Who are the Soldats? And how do the Soldats relate to Noir? There appear to be factions within the Soldats, which could lead to some interesting developments. I haven't gone into it much, but there is a lot of tension between Yumura and Mireille, and there are a lot of questions about why the two are cooperating and what will ultimately happen to them. From all appearances, these are questions that will be answered later in the series, and from what I can tell, they are answered in a satisfying manner. It's easy to create intriguing questions and a lot of series manage to do so (*cough, cough* Lost *Cough*), but many series fall apart once they reach the the resolution (the jury will remain out on Lost until it ends, but I will say that I was quite disappointed with the end of Battlestar Galactica.) So I look forward to the rest of this series!
A few more screenshots and commentary in the extended entry...

The girls take out some mafia henchmen

The girls take out some Mafia henchmen. Apparently the Mafia was created in part by the Soldats...

A real live Soldat

A real live Soldat. You can tell because of the accent and the mustache.


This is Chloe. She's quite effective with knives. She's only been in a couple of episodes, but she does get one to herself that emphasises that she has some sort of honor code. I like the character and am intrigued to see how she fits in with the rest of the series.

Chloe and the girls have some tea

In one of my favorite scenes, Chloe stops by while the girls are having tea. Yumura invites her to join them. It's an interesting scene.

That is not how to hold a gun

Every now and again, you see the girls use this stance. It's not quite the ridiculous sideways gangster style, but neither is it a proper way to hold a pistol. A total nitpick and one that could have a visual language meaning (oblique angles in a frame typically emphasise instability and uneasiness), but it was something I noticed.

Mireilles computer screen

This is Mireille's computer screen. As you can see, she is using one of the ugliest interfaces ever devised. She must be using a linux distro (*zing!*).


Just another shot of Yumura, because I felt like it. That's all for now. Should be finished with the series in a week or two.
Posted by Mark on July 22, 2009 at 09:09 PM .: link :.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Professor Severus Snape's Sorcerer-tastic, Muggalicious Midsummer Movie Quiz
Every so often, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog posts a long movie quiz filled with tough questions. I've been playing along for a few installments now, and he even included several of my answers for the last quiz in a series of recap posts earlier this week. Amusingly, he often chose to include the answers where I whined about having to choose between two actors/actresses I didn't know. I'm not sure if he did that because he was amused or if I should be embarrassed or something, but whatever. I really enjoy these quizzes, so now that there's a new one up, I'm going to post my answers here:

1) Second-favorite Stanley Kubrick film.

I'm terrible at picking favorites, so it figures that for a filmmaker where I actually do have a clear favorite (2001), you'd ask for a second-favorite. However, I am able to narrow it down to two: Dr. Strangelove and The Shining.

The Shining

2) Most significant/important/interesting trend in movies over the past decade, for good or evil.

The obvious answer and the thing that came immediately to mind was franchise reboots and remakes (this seems to be happening in the horror genre the most, but it is certainly not limited to that). But when i started thinking about this more, I realized that remakes and franchise reboots aren't all that new... So instead of that, I think one of the biggest changes has been the ascendance of the home theater. The past decade has seen the rather quick adoption of the DVD format, and along with it, steadily increasing quality of home theaters, from surround sound to larger screens, flat screens and HD. Blu-ray has had some setbacks, but it seems to be moving forward well enough these days. With any luck, we'll soon have huge HD on-demand archives available for viewing within the next ten years.

3) Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) or Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman)?

For this quiz, it appears that Mr. Snape is not satisfied with simply forcing me to choose between two actors, he'll limit it to two specific movies, further decreasing the chances that I'll be able to answer with any authority. Thanks a lot. As such, while I wouldn't call Bronco Billy one of Eastwood's better films, I will go with Eastwood anyway because I tend to like his films better than Newman (which isn't to bag on Newman at all, as he has plenty of great films to his credit).

4) Best Film of 1949.

The last quiz had a question about choosing a favorite Raoul Walsh movie, and I mentioned that I had not seen any, but that I put White Heat in my Netflix queue. I managed to watch it between then and now and it turns out that movie was made in 1949, so I'll put that as my answer, because I enjoyed it quite a bit (even though I think I might prefer The Third Man, a common answer to this question).

White Heat: Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

5) Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) or Oscar Jaffe (John Barrymore)?

*sigh* I'll go with Jack Benny on this one, I guess.

6) Has the hand-held shaky-cam directorial style become a visual cliche?

It's hard to say, though I do think it is overused and thus some of its potency has been lost. It's worth noting that there are several directors who are still producing excellent work in this style and I don't think it will ever really go away, but at the same time it's not as impactful today as it was, say, 10 years ago. Also, it seems to be a technique that is easy to screw up or abuse, and many films suffer from the choice to use this style. One frustrating trend I'm seeing is to use such shots along with quick-cuts in order to hide the fact that what happened onscreen isn't really possible or is highly unlikely (I'm looking at you, V for Vendetta).

7) What was the first foreign-language film you ever saw?

Well, it's impossible to pinpoint, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was either La Femme Nikita or The Killer when I was in my early teens.

8) Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) or Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre)?

Peter Lorre's Mr. Moto, though I should really see more of both franchises...

9) Favorite World War II drama (1950-1970).

Most of my real favorites fall outside of that date range, but Patton qualifies and would probably be my favorite. On the other hand, I do have a soft spot for Where Eagles Dare. It's a little unevenly paced and perhaps a bit too long, but I love the convoluted espionage twists and turns.

Where Eagles Dare

10) Favorite animal movie star.

Does Chewbacca count? I'm trying to think of other movies I love that feature animals in a prominent role, but I'm drawing a blank. Chewbacca it is.

11) Who or whatever is to blame, name an irresponsible moment in cinema.

I have a hard time condemning actual content in films (or art in general), even films that say things I detest or that trivialize things I find important. I guess I'm just not the censoring type, so the answer to this question would have to do with something irresponsible in the making of a film. The film that immediately comes to mind is Cannibal Holocaust, which is infamous for actual, on-screen killings of animals. Seven animals were killed, apparently only in the name of sensationalism and controversy. I'm sure there are lots of other, similar moments of irresponsible moments in cinema history (another two that come to mind: the helicopter accident that took the life of 3 people in Twilight Zone: The Movie and the untimely death of Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow).

12) Best Film of 1969.

Well, not especially one of my favorite years for movies, but it has both The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, each of which is a pretty great film.

13) Name the last movie you saw theatrically, and also on DVD or Blu-ray.

I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the theater last night. Enjoyable, but not as good as the book. On Blu-Ray, I saw Push, which had an interesting premise and was for the most part entertaining, though I don't think the ending was very satisfying. And on DVD, I saw Le doulos, a good crime film by director Jean-Pierre Melville.

Le doulos

14) Second-favorite Robert Altman film.

I have not seen a ton of Altman films (I know, I know, something I need to rectify), but the ones I have seen have all be at about the same level. In the interest of convenience, let's just say The Player.

15) What is your favorite independent outlet for reading about movies, either online or in print?

James Berardinelli's Reelviews is a site I visit quite frequently, and he is often the first reviewer I check out after having seen a film (often before even Ebert). Berardinelli has been seeing and reviewing tons of films every year for the past 15-20 years (this despite a day job and a rather lengthy commute to various theaters). The fact is that his archive of movie reviews is probably more complete than most professional film critics, which is an amazing accomplishment. He's a pioneer of online reviewers, and one of my favorite reads.

16) Who wins? Angela Mao or Meiko Kaji? (Thanks, Peter!)

I can't say as though I'm all that familiar with their filmmographies, but I'll say that Angela Mao wins, due to her appearance in Enter the Dragon. The only movies I recognize in Meiko Kaji's filmography are a couple of Kinji Fukasaku Yakuza flicks...

17) Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) or Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly)?

I'll go with Mona Lisa Vito. Tilly has been an actress that has always grated on me.

18) Favorite movie that features a carnival setting or sequence.

The obvious (and apparently popular) answer is Strangers on a Train. In particular, the first murder scene at the carnival (which you see reflected in a pair of sunglasses). However, in the interest of variety, I'll go with Tod Browning's cult classic Freaks.

19) Best use of high-definition video on the big screen to date.

I'm not sure if Zodiac counts, as I know he filmed some sequences with film, but the pickings are somewhat slim when it comes to this category - it's also hard to find a good, definitive list of films that used HD Video cameras.

20) Favorite movie that is equal parts genre film and a deconstruction or consideration of that same genre.

The movie that immediately comes to mind is Scream. It's a movie that parodies and comments on the slasher genre, then subverts everything about said films. In an unusual twist, this movie seemed to reignite interest in the slasher film, which had been out of style for several years at that point.

21) Best Film of 1979.

I'll go with Alien, which is one of my all time favorites. Another, more inexpicable favorite of mine from 1979 is the cheesy but still effective and creepy Phantasm.

22) Most realistic and/or sincere depiction of small-town life in the movies.

I don't know about realistic, but both It's a Wonderful Life and To Kill a Mockingbird seem like ideal answers to this one. It's a hard choice, as there are tons of movies that take place in small towns, but aren't necessarily about that. More recent favorites include Groundhog Day and State and Main (both of which show small-town life through the lense of city folk).

23) Best horror movie creature (non-giant division).

So this one wound up being very difficult for me. The question itself throws out giant creatures of the Godzilla variety, but I also didn't want to choose something that was primarily human (i.e. vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc...), but that might have been too limiting. In any case, what I ended up choosing was the creature from John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing. Sure, it takes the form of a human for a portion of the film, but there are several sequences where it transforms into bizarre lovecraftian monstrosities. In particular, the sequence when it is discovered in the dog cage:

The Thing

24) Second-favorite Francis Ford Coppola film.

I'm surprised at how easy it was to narrow it down to The Godfather: Part II (with the first installment being my favorite). I also quite like The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, but neither really approaches those first two Godfather movies...

25) Name a one-off movie that could have produced a franchise you would have wanted to see.

This is a difficult one because sequels are often so bad that it's hard to want one for a movie I love. For example, Blade Runner seems ripe for a series (prequel, perhaps), but I don't actually want to see that. Does Serenity count? Because I'd totally be up for more of that. Some interesting choices from other commenters include Zero Effect (a great choice), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (which would make sense given that there are a series of books to pull from), and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (of course!)

26) Favorite sequence from a Brian De Palma film.

My first thought was the CIA computer heist sequence from Mission: Impossible, an interesting homage to (if not outright theft of) Jules Dassin's classic heist films Rififi and Topkapi. For the best sequence from a terrible De Palma film, I'd go with the opening long shot from Snake Eyes... alas, it was all downhill (and fast) from there.

27) Favorite moment in three-strip Technicolor.

The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy first opens the door to Oz and the film transitions from black and white to color (and Pink Floyd starts playing Money).

28) Favorite Alan Smithee film. (Thanks, Peter!)

I have a distinct memory of going out of my way to see Hellraiser: Bloodline in the theater when it came out. There were about 4 people in the theater on the opening weekend (including me and a friend of mine). The movie was, of course, horrible, but I have a soft spot for Clive Barker mythology and the Hellraiser series does have some interesting ideas, so I found myself enjoying some of the non-standard horror moments. The film took place in three main time periods - the past, the present and the future - following several generations of puzzle makers and architects. It was an interesting idea, but the film got bogged down in pedestrian horror sequences that were more boring than scary.

29) Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) or Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau)?

Hey, two movies I've seen and two actors I'm familiar with! As far as the characters go, I'll go with Morris Buttermaker, because everyone loves an underdog.

30) Best post-Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen film.

Do I really have to? I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen to start with, and limiting it to this time period is rough. I guess Bullets Over Broadway.

31) Best Film of 1999.

Back in the day, I had The Insider and Fight Club at the top of my list, and while my opinion of some of the other films on the list has changed some, I still like those movies the best. Oh who am I kidding? The best movie of 1999 is unquestionably Varsity Blues. I don't want... your life.

32) Favorite movie tag line.

This is a no brainer: "In space, no one can hear you scream." from Alien.


33) Favorite B-movie western.

I think I'm going to have to take a mulligan on this one, unless spaghetti westerns count (and I'm pretty sure they don't).

34) Overall, the author best served by movie adaptations of her or his work.

This is a really challenging question, as I can't think of any author that has unanimously great movies adapated from their work, but there are several interesting candidates. Elmore Leonard has done well at the cinema (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and 3:10 to Yuma spring to mind, though there have certainly been some misfires). Stephen King has a lot of awful adaptations, but several good to great films too (Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, Stand By Me, Christine, Carrie, The Dead Zone, etc...). Phillip K Dick seems to be one of the more popular SF authors in Hollywood, with several successful adaptations (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly). Somehow I doubt I'd know the names Mario Puzo or Peter Benchley if it weren't for adaptations of their novels into superior movies, but at the same time, they've only ever really had one or two movies that did so.

35) Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) or Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard)?

Tough one, but I guess I'll go with Susan Vance/Hepburn.

36) Favorite musical cameo in a non-musical movie.

The Dan Band in Old School, a brilliant moment in cinema history. I also thought of Otis Day and the Knights in Animal House, who are great in both scenes.

The Dan Band in Old School

37) Bruno (the character, if you haven’t seen the movie, or the film, if you have): subversive satire or purveyor of stereotyping?

Neither. Or maybe both. Both satire and stereotyping take a back seat to the need to provide shock value, which Bruno does with reckless abandon and limited success. Alas, once the shock wears off, there is little else to say about it.

38) Five film folks, living or deceased, you would love to meet. (Thanks, Rick!)

I had a hard time with this, as I'm not really sure how much I'd really want to meet these folks. I'd probably be reduced to the Chris Farley show style conversation. Kubrick and Hitchcock come immediately to mind, after that it gets a little hazy. Joel and Ethan Coen seem like they'd be awesome to hang out with. And Rosario Dawson, because she sounds awesome (and for more obvious reasons).
Posted by Mark on July 19, 2009 at 11:32 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Changes to the Academy Awards
A few weeks ago Ganis announced some changes to the Academy Awards cerimony. The most notable change is the expansion of the Best Picture category from 5 to 10 films. Some other, smaller changes were announced as well, including moving "honorary" awards to a separate ceremony in November. I found the announcement a bit surprising and am tentatively excited to see how it works out.

The change is almost certainly a reaction to last year's batch of Best Picture nominees, which was notable for the absense of two films: The Dark Knight and Wall-E. Both are excellent films and both were amazingly popular with audiences, and their absense from the Best Picture category was probably felt. Ratings for the Oscars have been falling for years... last year had a small bump over the previous year, but it's still relatively low compared to most recent years... including a little over 10 years ago, when the enormously popular Titanic won Best Picture and 57 million people tuned in (compared to last year's 36 million). Even before last year, the disconnect between nominees and what people actually watched was pretty wide. A frequent lament heard during Oscar season is how people haven't even heard of half the nominated movies, let alone seen them.

So will doubling the nominees help? In theory, sure... but I keep wondering about that. This could certainly backfire. Everyone is assuming that the extra slots will be filled with commercially popular films, but that's not a certainty. How annoying would the Oscars be if you haven't seen or heard of any of the 10 nominees? That's probably unlikely, but you never know. On the opposite end of the spectrum, what would happen if the extra 5 nominees contain subpar movies? That could end up devaluing the Oscars even further. The Academy has been mentioning that this increase to 10 nominees is not unprecedented. Apparently the Oscars had 10 nominees regularly in the 1930s and early 40s. Of course, Hollywood's output back then far outstips our current output. During that era, a major studio would put out at least 50 films a year. These days, 20 films in a year would be about as high as it gets. On the other hand, there were about 300 eligible films last year, and picking 10 of those seems reasonable enough. The other issue is that some of the smaller categories like Best Animated Film and Best Foreign film still exist, which means that while such films might get a Best Picture nod, they'll almost certainly lose (because they'll be winning their other award). If the Academy truly wanted to get a diverse set of movies and give then an equal chance to win, they would get rid of these other categories.

All of that nitpicking aside, I think it will be a positive thing. I'm an unabashed fan of genre films (horror, sci-fi, etc...), and the Academy is infamous for avoiding such films, especially in the Best Picture category. The Academy is also infamous for avoiding Comedies. The last Comedy to win Best Picture was Annie Hall. And how did that manage to win? It's main competition was a Science Fiction film. So I'm hoping that this change means we'll get more than your standard drama, historical drama, or drama films that usually get nominated. Maybe a horror movie, SF movie, or even a comedy will make it on the list. So there's a short term benefit here in that more films people like watching might actually be nominated.

Of course, being nominated doesn't guarantee anything about the winner... but if a genre movie has a chance of being nominated, perhaps studios and talented filmmakers will be encouraged to embrace such genres instead of constantly chasing after the Academy's idiosyncratic notion of a "good" film. Removing that stigma would be a good thing overall. Also, as the economy shrinks, major studios have become more risk-averse and are spending less money on independent films (indeed, most stuidos have closed or severely cut their independent divisions). If more independent films could become more successful, we might see an increase in quantity and quality. So the potential for long-term benefit is also there.

The strange thing about this change is that it probably should have been made last year, when the most successful movies at the box office were also among the best movies (i.e. the aforementioned Dark Knight and Wall-E). This year (so far, at least) sees less of a convergence between box office and quality. Can you imagine Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen being nominated? Not that it will, but still. What movies stand to benefit this year? Up will almost certainly garner a nomination thanks to this change. After that, things get less certain. Other children's fare, such as Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are might even benefit. I'm betting The Hurt Locker will be nominated (but that might have made it anyway). Other indie possibilities include Moon and The Brothers Bloom. More mainstream fare like Star Trek might even make it. As for the rest of the year, I'm not sure. This change might bode well for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Scorsese's Shutter Island, and James Cameron's Avatar, all of which are genre films that the Academy doesn't typically reward. More traditional Oscar fare like Eastwood's Invictus and Soderbergh's The Informant!, among many others I'm sure I'm forgetting, will certainly garner attention. All of this assumes these movies are good, but one can hope. It will almost certainly make my annual liveblogging less of a chore.
Posted by Mark on July 15, 2009 at 08:06 PM .: link :.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

SF Book Review, Part 3
I probably should have written this about half a year ago, but better late that never, I suppose (check out Part 1 and Part 2 for more SF). No real theme to the list of books, but a couple were recommended by readers (and both were quite good).
  • Downtiming the Night Side by Jack Chalker: Recommended as an "offbeat suggestion" by Steven in a previous post, this is a rather strange time travel tale. I'm a fan of time travel stories and one of the interesting things about them is how they seek to get around the messy paradoxes that are inherent in such stories. In this book, Chalker gets around paradox by pretty much embracing it. Time travel is possible, but when you travel back in time you "leap" (Sam Beckett style) into another person who is native to the time period in question. The catch is that your personality is mixed with the native personality, and if you stay in the past too long, you'll "trip" and become that person. Furthermore, while in the past, you can change the course of history (Back to the Future style) and in the course of this story, history certainly changes. A lot. At first, I was put off by this time travel theory, but by the end, things had worked out well enough. The rules Chalker set up for himself seemed arbitrary at first, but once things got going, I began to see what he was doing a little better. Quite frankly, I'm not sure I followed every twist and turn, but it sure was an entertaining ride and towards the end, Chalker drops a couple of serious bombshells (said bombshells are no doubt controversial, but I don't want to ruin it for any readers - suffice to say, they are quite unexpected). It's Chalker's willingness to embrace the time travel rules he set up and drag his characters, kicking and screaming, through to logical extremes that makes this book work.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: I read this at the recommendation of long-time Kaedrin reader and friend Sovawanea (who has been very patient!) and enjoyed it quite a bit. The story centers around a single human envoy named Genly Ai who visits an alien planet in an attempt to get the planet to join a coalition of worlds called the Ekumen. The planet is called Gethen and it is similar to earth except that it has a particularly cold climate, often leading people to call the planet "Winter." Genly visits the planet and both of the major nation states, Karhide and Orgoreyn. The planet seems to have technology roughly equivalent with 20th century earth, except that their focus seems to be on other things (i.e. survival gear seems more advanced, while transportation doesn't - which makes sense on such a "cold" planet) and the natives are androgynous for most of their lives, except during a period called Kemmer, when they can become male or female and mate (as such, any person could choose to become pregnant or to be the male). One of the seemingly unique things about the planet is that they haven't ever had a war. Genly speculates this may be because of the hostile environment or their sexuality, or both. In any case, it seems that tensions have been mounting between the two nations, and Genly may be caught in the middle. I got a very distinct Communism vs Capitalism vibe from the two nations, though it isn't an exact comparison. It is an interesting setting and it seems like it would be a fertile ground for a much more in-depth exploration than I'm giving it. One other thing to note is that Le Guin has a much better way with words than most of her contemporaries. I think folks like Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov are better storytellers, but they do so with straightforward prose. Le Guin has more of a flourish to her language, which I appreciated. Also, I don't mean to belittle the story here - it's quite good and it even has a few action set pieces (I particularly enjoyed the long trek two characters make from one nation back to the other). So I enjoyed this enough to put Le Guin's The Dispossessed in the book queue (though I'm not sure when I'll get to it).
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: This is one of a few important milestones in the military SF subgenre. In many ways it is a response to Heinlein's Starship Troopers (and you'd be much better off reading this than watching Paul Verhoeven's atrocious criticism as adaptation of Starship Troopers), yet it stands on it's own as a superb SF novel. It shares many similarities with Heinlein's earlier work, but Haldeman takes things in a different direction. Both novels follow a young recruit (in Starship - a volunteer, in Forever an educated student drafted into compulsory service) as they make their way through the military ranks in a war against aliens. Both feature powered armor suits, but in Forever the suits are almost as dangerous to you as they are to your enemy. The endings diverge more significantly. Haldeman's novel seems to have more of a plot than Heinlein's, and he also seems more interested in relationships. Both novels feature an integrated military, with both men and women serving side by side. I think the biggest issue with Haldeman's novel is the way he treats sexuality - in this novel, the military doesn't just tolerate fraternization, it encourages and forces it. Besides this compulsory heterosexual coupling in the military, Haldeman later puts his characters back on Earth at a time when nearly everyone is a homosexual. From a thematic standpoint, it sorta makes sense - it's a way to emphasise the isolation the protagonist feels - but from nearly every other standpoint, it doesn't work. This book was written not too long after Le Guin's aforementioned Left Hand of Darkness, which had a very sophisticated understanding of sexuality, and several of Haldeman's contemporaries were also breaking new ground, so Haldeman's attempts seem somewhat paltry or naive by comparison (much to his credit, this is something he has apparently acknowledged himself). But the novel also features a nice enough love story between the two main characters, and the SF is top notch and quite thrilling at times. The effects of time dilation (where our main character ends up hundreds of years in the future while he has only lived 30 or so years himself) caused by long range space travel are particularly thought provoking. The battle at the end of the novel is very effective and the tactics of the characters are sound, making for a solidly entertaining set piece. The ultimate ending can be a bit of a downer as you find out how misguided things got on the strategic level of the war, but the ending remains satisfying because the two main characters are fulfilled. The differences between this novel and Heinlein's novel are most likely due to the respective backgrounds of the authors - Heinlein was a WWII vet, while Haldeman was a Vietnam vet. When viewed from that context, the novels differences make a lot of sense, and reading both is a must for anyone interested in this subgenre (then, when you're done with these, move on to Old Man's War).
  • The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn: I first became aware of Zahn when he wrote the first modern Star Wars books (early 90s Thrawn Trilogy), and this novel seems to bear a superficial resemblance to a Star Wars type space opera. It's about a smuggler and his alien partner who troll around space ports (he doesn't use the phrase "wretched hive of scum and villainy" but he might as well have), take a job transporting cargo, and get caught up in a galactic conspiracy, etc... This isn't actually a bad thing, but the book is much more of a page turner than anything else, and it works very well. There are perhaps a few too many scenes where the main character attempts to reason out what is going on with the story by reviewing what's happened so far, but the various plot points are well laid out and interesting enough. The characters are likeable, the story is entertaining, and the conclusion is appropriately tense. Of the books listed in this entry, this was probably the most fun to read and I probably read it the quickest (despite it being longer than some of the others).
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Have you ever seen that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is dating the woman who never laughs? Whenever Jerry tells a joke, she smiles and says "That's funny," but she doesn't laugh. Well that's how I felt reading this book. I would often find myself reading something and thinking to myself "That's clever and funny," but I don't think I laughed out loud once. Maybe I cracked a smile a few times. On paper, this book sounds quite interesting. The one line pitch might be that it's a snarky parody of The Omen, where a series of accidents and incompetant evil deeds prevent the anti-christ from being able to or even wanting to fulfill his role in the apocalypse. Irony is abound throughout the story - demons from hell want to avoid the apocalypse because they like screwing around on Earth, while Angels from heaven are fine with the apocolypse because they know they'll win. And so on. I appear to be in the minority on this though, as I have read countless professions of love for this book all over the internet. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for British humour or something, but this book never really clicked with me.
That's all for now. Given what I'm currently reading, I probably won't get around to most of the SF books that are in my queue for a while, but when I do, I'll post about them here...
Posted by Mark on July 12, 2009 at 12:14 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Notes from the Infinite Summer, Part I
It's been about 2 weeks since I started reading David Foster Wallace's epic novel Infinite Jest. According to the schedule, I'm about a week behind (thanks a lot, GitS:SAC 2nd Gig). Anime viewing aside, I've been making steady progress and wanted to post some of the stuff I've found interesting so far:
  • The book is reasonably accessible and easy to read. To be sure, it's not something I'd want to read with lots of distractions around (i.e. not on a plane or at the beach), but it doesn't require the sort of intense concentration something like Gravity's Rainbow needs.
  • There appear to be a ton of characters. It seems like every other chapter features a new set of characters, and even 100 pages or so into the book, I'm not sure if I've even come close to meeting everyone yet. So far, the narrative seems quite disjointed, in part because of the breadth of characters, but there are some parallels and connections that are beginning to develop. Some connections are more complex than others. Some are simply thematic similarities between two different sets of characters. For instance, at one point, we're introduced to a medical attaché who starts watching a movie and becomes transfixed by it. Later, in one of the endnotes (actually, it's a 9 page endnote that includes footnotes of its own), we see the filmography of another character and one of the movies sounds awfully familiar and is surely what the medical attaché is watching (or maybe not, it hasn't been confirmed just yet).

    Another example: the book starts with a high school student interviewing with a college. He's a quiet kid, but apparently quite gifted, and when he speaks, we can read the dialogue fine, but we later figure out that the characters he's talking to couldn't understand a word and also think he's insane. Later in the book, we meet a chronically depressed girl who is being interviewed by her doctor after a suicide attempt. She seems to have issues explaining her condition, and the doctor thinks something offhand: "Classic unipolars were usually tormented by the conviction that no one else could hear or understand them when they tried to communicate." Does that mean the original character is unipolar? Or, because the original character doesn't have the "conviction" that no one could understant them (indeed, he seems to think he's doing well, and we the readers can see that he is as well), does that mean he's the opposite? Or maybe I'm just reading too much into this and trying to connect the unconnected - perhaps that's just how I'm dealing with the breadth of characters and settings. Another reason it seems disjointed is because the story appears to be jumping around in time.
  • Speaking of time, the story appears to take place mostly in the future. Is this science fiction? One of the characters contributed to the invention of "cold annular fusion" which has helped the U.S. and its allies to achieve "approximate energy independence." When Wallace talks about phones, he refers to them as "consoles." People seem to watch "cartridges" that are manufactured with lasers of some sort (or perhaps delivered via a laser-like system of fiber optics or something, I'm not sure). At some point, years went from being incremented numerically to being sponsored by corporations (i.e. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, Year of the Whopper, etc...). Conceptually, this last one is kinda funny, not just because of the concept but because of the actual names of each year. This is also somewhat tricky, as it obscures when the story is actually taking place, a choice that is probably deliberate. Also amusing: This system is called "Subsidized Time" and the years we're all familiar with (i.e. 1996, 2009, etc...) are referred to as "Before Subsidization" or B.S. Do you think it's a coincidence that B.S. is something that already has a meaning?
  • There seems to be a lot of talk about drugs in the book. I'm not sure why, but a lot of books like this seem to fixate on drugs for some reason. I generally tend to find drug talk kinda boring, but Wallace at least manages to keep it interesting enough...
  • Wallace uses single quotes when doing dialogue. No idea why, but it seems like a deliberate choice. Or maybe not.
So far, I'm quite enjoying it. It's not a book that tickles my exact eccentricities (like Cryptonomicon does, for instance), but it manages to do well enough. More posts to come.
Posted by Mark on July 08, 2009 at 09:31 PM .: link :.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig
I always find myself coming back to Ghost in the Shell. The original movie was among the first anime movies I'd seen, and I revisited it near the start of my current Anime watching regime. As I (slowly) progressed through various anime series, various parts of the GitS series would pop up. I saw the second film, Innocence and eventually moved on to the first Stand Alone Complex series. This past week, I burned through the second series. Perhaps it's because I didn't like Trigun so much, but I found myself pouring through this series at a rate I never have for an anime series. In the end, I found it entertaining and satisfying, though perhaps not as much as the first series or movies. Still, it hit the spot just right.

Public Security Section 9
Public Security Section 9

In all honesty, I don't have a ton to say about the series, and I don't have many screenshots either, but here are some assorted thoughts on the series:
  • Like the first 1st Gig, this series touches on many of the same existential issues as the films, but in a less direct fashion. The burning questions of identity and the nature of humanity and machinery seem content to simmer beneath the surface of a more straightforward narrative, though "straightforward" in the GitS universe can still be quite obtuse. All throughout the series of films and shows, I've speculated that at least part of the confusion has to do with something that is lost in translation. I think that's still a part of it, but I also think that the show's creators aren't afraid of leaving questions unanswered or allowing viewers to work out various plotpoints or themes for themselves (this despite semi-frequent info-dumps and philosophic ramblings by various characters throughout the series). In any case, even though I'm still not sure of every detail in the series, it's easy enough to follow at a high level and quite entertaining. The one thing that frustrated me was the Netflix's watch online service had the last three episodes in the wrong order, so I missed one before watching the final episodes.
  • Thematically, this series follows the first series Laughing Man story with a story about what's called the Individual Eleven. The Individual Eleven is another Stand Alone Complex (a series of copies without an original), similar to the Laughing Man, but different in some subtle ways. The first film focused primarily on the consequences of humanity relying too heavily on computer communications and merging with machinery. The second film plays off the first, pondering how machines could become more human. The 1st Gig series explored the concept of the Stand Alone Complex and how groups copied something that never actually happened. The 2nd Gig explores the same stand alone complex ideas, but it adds a wrinkle or two. The stand alone complex is initiated and manipulated by one character seeking to exploit a political and sociological situation to overthrow the current Japanese government and move on to something different. The 1st Gig seems to focus more on groups, while this series seems to focus more on individuals.
  • Individuality seems to be a key theme in the series and there are some interesting new questions raised here as well. What happens when individuals connect their cyber-brains to a network of other individuals? Are they still individuals? One of the key episodes about this is the second episode. It's more of a stand-alone story that doesn't really contribute to the plot of the series, but it follows a disgruntled war vet who dreams of assassinating his boss. The episode clearly takes it's cues from Taxi Driver, though this man never really acts out his impulses. When the Major and Batou investigate (by going undercover), they find that he is "just one in the long line of pitiful souls who fantasize about fulfilling the goals they can never accomplish." This idea of how an individual can make a difference in the world is something that is explored in this series and also in the later Solid State Society movie (which is something I plan to cover in a future post).
  • The GitS world has always featured its share of politial organizations and maneuverings, but this series seems more reliant on such elements than previously. A lot of the history of the GitS universe is explore here, namely the two World Wars that took place between current day and 2030, one a nuclear war (whose long term effects were mitigated by the invention of radiation scrubbers) and the other being a non-nuclear war often referred to as the Second Vietnam War. At the end of WWIV, a number of refugees from all over Asia sought to move to Japan, and the tensions between these refugees and the Japanese government are the primary driving force behind the plot of the series. This is clearly a series that was influenced by the post 9/11 world, and there are lots of little references to real world analogs, though nothing particularly overt (the US military shows up in the film and the series isn't especially flattering). While politics has always played a role in the series, it is more of a focus in this series.
  • Like the 1st Gig series, there are several stand-alone episodes mixed in with the continuity episodes, and in a lot of cases you get some backstory on various characters in Section 9. In my review of the 1st Gig series, I mentioned that the closing credits featured lots of shots of Section 9 staff just hanging around, shooting pool or playing cards. I had wanted to see more of that in the series, and we get a little of that here. For instance Saito plays poker with some new recruits and talks about how he first met the Major (in a sniper duel - though I'm not sure I buy that). Other side characters, like Pazu and Togusa get their own episodes as well, which is something I appreciated (and would like to see more of, as most of these characters are interesting in their own right). You find out more about the Major's past and how she came to become a full replacement cyborg, though there are some things with this that they try to tie into the main storyline later in the series which struck me as being a bit contrived, but it worked well enough, I suppose.
  • The Tachikomas are back and also get their own episode as well as a rather heroic moment later in the movies (a good cavalry moment). Also, at the end of each episode there are these 1 minute shorts called Tachikomatic Days that can be kinda funny (apparently they were part of the 1st Gig series as well, though I never noticed them...)
  • One of the things that always seemed strange about the first series was the way the Major dressed (her non-combat uniform seemed to be a one-piece bathing suit, thigh-high stockings, and a leather jacket). I was apparently not alone in this assessment, with some people going so far as to call her Major Cheeks. In comments, Steven Den Beste came up with a half-satisfying explaination for the outfit, claiming that perhaps as a full-replacement cyborg, the Major likes to express her sexuality in such ways, if only to remind herself that she's human. In this series, you get much more variety, including some more explicit stuff and some actual sensible outfits (though I still don't think she'll live down the Major Cheeks nickname). Her standard ensemble from the original series seems to have been updated with pants and a different (though still somewhat improbably) jacket, making it less obtrusive (and actually, more attractive - at least to me).

    Major Kusanagi
    Major Kusanagi

    On several occassions she puts on quite attractive and revealing outfits, but they're more appropriate to the situations at hand (a couple of these are in the extended entry section of this post). She does still retain that odd cyber-sexual ambiguity though, at one point joking around with Section 9 about how if they don't get an assignment, she'll take them all out to the nudie bar, or later in the series when a teenager asks her if she can still have sex (her behavior during this sequence is actually kinda strange given that she's of an indeterminate age and he's presumably much, much younger, but nothing actually happens, which I think is how she wanted it anyway). In any case, I've always had a thing for the Major, and this series certainly delivers on that area.
  • In the end, I enjoyed the series quite a bit, though I think I may have watched it a little too fast, as my thoughts on the series are still a little disjointed. That or after 2 movies and a series, I'm starting to repeat myself. Who knows, I may have more to say about it as time goes on.
  • I suppose I should also note that Yoko Kanno is back, and as usual, the soundtrack for this series is great. It's not quite Cowboy Bebop, but it fits the series well.
  • I watched the series mostly off of Netflix's watch online service, though this time around I installed the PlayOn media server so that I could stream the video to my PS3 and watch it on my 50" screen whilst sitting on my couch (much better than watching the series on my monitor while sitting at my desk). Unfortunately, it wasn't quite an ideal experience. The substandard quality of the Netflix video (perhaps combined with the additional steps the video had to take to get to my TV) really looked poor at times on my HD TV. Sometimes it was fine though, and it was still easier to watch from my couch than at my desk. The other major issue was that the service was somewhat unreliable, though this may have more to do with Windows Media Player than PlayOn. Still, I was frequently interrupted by "The Data is corrupted" errors and DRM failures, which means I probably won't be buying the PlayOn software (but I suppose the free trial is worth checking out, if you have a PS3). At this point, I'm hoping that the rumors of Netflix's PS3 (or even Wii) support are true, and that we'll get something workable soon.
A few more screenshots (though not as many as usual) and comments in the extended entry...

Boma and Pazu
Boma and Pazu

As mentioned earlier, some of the bit players in section 9 get more screen time. On the left we have Boma, who is apparently an explosives expert but is mostly seen helping out Ishikawa with online information gathering and the like. He at least gets a chance to disarm a bomb later in the series. On the right is Pazu, rumored to be former Yakuza and apparently he sleeps around a lot (as evidenced by his episode).


Batou and the Major
Batou and the Major

Batou and the Major enjoy some time on the Section 9 equivalent of the Holodeck whilst reminiscing about their cat burglar escapades earlier in the episode. Batou clearly still has a cyber-crush on the Major and it's even kinda referenced at some point in the series, but of course nothing comes of it. Still, I always liked the interactions between these two...

The Major

Another of the Major

And finally, just a couple more shots of the Major, because I feel like it. I like these better than the faux-lingerie outfit from the first season...

And that wraps it up for now. Again, I may have more thoughts later and I'll definitely have another post soon about the Solid State Society movie, which picks up a few years after 2nd Gig.
Posted by Mark on July 05, 2009 at 03:53 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Link Dump
A few interesting links I've run into recently:
  • Easy Solutions #1: This is easily the most brilliant yet demented thing I've read in a long time. My favorite part is the subtle ways in which the devious story you concoct are supported by longstanding film franchises. For example: "If she questions this flaw in your time travel logic, because you cannot change the past, simply reference Back to the Future."
  • Eternal Monsters of Filmland: Devin Faraci makes an argument that the current rash of horror movie remakes is not new and is indeed indicative of a modern set of eternal monsters, placing Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Kreuger alongside such horror mainstays as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy (this classic trio has literally hundreds of movies to their name, including dozens of remakes and reboots). The big thing holding back the modern trio? Copyright. An interesting idea.
  • KHAAN! The Greatest Syllable Ever Told: This article about a "15-minute meticulously re-spliced creation in a never-ending loop" of William Shatner's infamous cursing of Star Trek villain Khan features a 2 minute excerpt from the film that is mesmerizing...
  • What does "The Usual Suspects" mean?: The ending of The Usual Suspects is generally a topic of contention in film nerd circles, but this interview with writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer adds a new wrinkle to the debate:
    McQuarrie says only after finishing the film and preparing to do press interviews about it did he and Singer realize they both had completely different conceptions about the plot.

    "I pulled Bryan aside the night before press began and I said, 'We need to get our stories straight because people are starting to ask what happened and what didn't,' " recalls McQuarrie. "And we got into the biggest argument we've ever had in our lives."

    He continues: "One of us believed that the story was all lies, peppered with little bits of the truth. And the other one believed it was all true, peppered with tiny, little lies. ... We each thought we were making a movie that was completely different from what the other one thought."
    I think I've always considered it more of a mostly true, peppered with little lies, but the neat thing is that it probably works either way...
  • 50 Films You Can Wait to See After You're Dead: Perhaps a bit harsh on Death to Smoochy and The Boondock Saints, but otherwise an interesting list. On the other hand, why subject the dead to such horrors?
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on July 01, 2009 at 08:53 PM .: link :.

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Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Harry Potter
Hugo Awards
Link Dump
Neal Stephenson
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Science Fiction
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Video Games
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
Green Flag

Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.