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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Taking my cue from Ben
, I'm browsing Netflix to see what it's recommending for me. Of course, I can't actually watch this stuff on my nice big-screen TV because PSN is down due to a super-fun security breach
and for some reason they won't let me watch Netflix movies without logging in. Thanks, Sony. Anyway, first up, their "Top Picks for Mark":
- Before Sunset - A weird suggestion, considering I've never seen Before Sunrise, but I do believe I have that first film in my queue somewhere, so it's not the worst possible suggestion.
- Boyz n the Hood - I have no idea why they're recommending this for me, but it's a movie I'd like to revisit at some point, so not a terrible choice.
- The Passion of Joan of Arc - My queue is full of Criterion releases and a little while ago, I also threw a ton of silent films in my queue (as that's an era of film I'm not terribly familiar with), so this isn't really a surprise.
- The Man Who Never Was - The first really interesting choice from the list - I've never actually heard of this one, but its description is: "Based on a true espionage story, this World War II drama follows Lt. Commander Montagu (Clifton Webb) in an operation to fool the Nazis into believing that British forces plan to land in Greece." Added to queue!
- The Crazies - The recent remake starring Tim Olyphantastic. I've actually heard good things about this, and I'm always up for some horror, so this is actually a decent recommendation.
- Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 - French crime epic? Not a bad idea. Another sequel (kinda, I think both movies are supposed to be seen together) where I haven't seen the first movie, but it's still a decent recommendation.
- Marwencol - Relatively obscure recent documentary about someone who survives an accident, but suffers from brain damage and deals with that by making an absurdly detailed 1/6 scale model of a WWII-era town. I'd heard of this, but have no idea what to really make of it. Probably an interesting recommendation on Netflix's part though.
- Hoop Dreams - I've always meant to watch this, as I hear it's one of the best documentaries of all time, so a pretty good recommendation here.
- Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures - Another not so bad recommendation, though I haven't watched much in the Wallace & Gromit catalog, I'd like to check some of them out.
- The Wages of Fear - Interesting. Another Criterion pick, probably also chosen because I really enjoyed Diabolique (same director).
Some weird picks there, but a pretty solid list! Let's see what else is showing up on the page. They break things out by various categories that they think I like, so let's see what they've got:
- Raunchy Showbiz Movies - Apparently based on my interest in one of the Kevin Smith Q&A DVDs and a documentary called American Grindhouse that I don't remember watching, but which I apparently rated 4 stars (out of 5). Perhaps not the worst category possible, but the top 4 recommendations? A Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner (fleh), Finding Bliss (no idea what this is), The Amateurs (again, never heard of it), and I Want Candy (I got nothing). Strangely, 3 of those 4 are, in some way, about adult films. What are you trying to tell me, Netflix? Can you see my browser history or something?
- Sci-Fi & Fantasy - I'm sure you're all surprised by this one. Top 4 suggestions: TiMER, Adventures of a Teenage Dragonslayer, Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus (it stars Urkel!) and Hunter Prey. So basically, SyFy original caliber films here. Bleh.
- Mind-bending Crime TV Shows - Ok, I can go along with that. And look, the first one is something I'd actually like to watch from start to finish: Twin Peaks. Someone lent me the first season DVDs a while back, but that set didn't include the Pilot episode, so I was totally lost. The other recommended shows are not quite as good: Medium, Life on Mars, and Persons Unknown. There might be something there, but I'm not overly enthused.
So there we have it. Maybe I'll actually watch some of this junk someday. Or maybe not.
Posted by Mark on April 27, 2011 at 06:16 PM .:
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Tasting Notes - Part 3
Another edition of Tasting Notes
, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:
- Community is actually a pretty fun show. In a lot of ways, it's standard sitcom fodder, but the inclusion of the character of Abed redeems most of the potentially overused cliches. Abed is a pop-culture obsessed film student who appears to be aware that he's a part of a sitcom, and thus his self-referential observations are often quite prescient. The cast is actually pretty fantastic and there are lots of traditionally funny jokes along the way. Honestly, I think my favorite part of the episode are the post-credits sequences in which Abed and Troy are typically engaging in something silly in a hysterically funny way. I've only seen the first season, but I'm greatly looking forward to the second season (which is almost complete now, and probably available in some form, but I haven't looked into it too closely).
- Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The X-Files - It looks like the entire series is available. I watched the series frequently when it was on, but I never realized just how many episodes I missed. I was never a fan of the alien conspiracy episodes (in part because it was difficult to watch them in the right order and I never knew what was going on), but I've always loved the "freak of the week" style episode, and now that all of them are at my fingertips, I'm seeing a bunch that I never knew even existed. The show holds up reasonably well, though it's a little too on-the-nose at times (especially in the early seasons). In the context in which the shows were being produced, though, it's fantastic. From a production quality perspective, it's more cinematic than what was on TV at the time (and a lot of what's on today), and it was one of the early attempts at multi-season plot arcs and continuity (technology at the time wasn't quite right, so I don't think it flourished quite as much as it could have if it had started 10 years later).
- Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is a lot of fun, though you can sorta tell that it was a near launch game. I actually mentioned this a while back, and because it was my first Ratchet & Clank game, I didn't suffer from most of the repetitive and derivative elements (which I gather is what disappointed old fans). Some minor usability issues (constantly changing weapons/tools is a pain), but otherwise great fun. I particularly enjoyed the Pirate themed enemies, who were very funny. I enjoyed this enough that I'll probably check out the more recent A Crack in Time, which I hear is pretty good.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops - It's another CoD game, so I got pretty much exactly what I expected. The single player game actually has a semi-interesting story, though the animators fell in love with the overly-hyper cutting and shaky-cam style that is already overused in film, and which is mostly unnecessary in video games. Don't get me wrong, the story is kinda hokey, but it's entertaining in its own way. And, of course, the combat is very well balanced and fun (as every game I've played in the series is...) The game ends with one of the most gleefully manic sequences I've ever played (much better than, for example, the airline thing at the end of CoD4). The multi-player is not particularly noob-friendly, but I got a few hours out of it and even managed to win a round one time. The kills come so quickly that it's pretty rare that you'll escape anyone once they start shooting (the way you can in some other games). This is both good and bad though. All in all, it's a good FPS for console.
- I've started playing Mass Effect 2 for the PS3. I have no idea what's going on with the story (I thought there was supposed to be some sort of PS3 intro thingy, but I didn't see it when I started the game), but I'm having fun so far. It's not something I've been playing a lot though, perhaps because I don't have a ton of time to dedicate to it...
- Remember when i said I would play more Goldeneye for the Wii? Yeah, I still haven't unpacked the Wii from that trip, which is a pretty good expression of how I generally feel about the Wii these days. I guess it's a good thing Nintendo is announcing their next console soon (though I have to admit, the rumors I'm hearing aren't particularly encouraging).
- James Gunn's comic book spoof Super continues the trend towards deconstruction of superheroes that's been going on recently in comic book cinema (though things look like they're about to revert a bit this summer). As such, it's semi-derivative at times, but it sticks to its guns (or should I say, Gunns!) and never flinches at its target. It's also not afraid to embrace the weird (such as, for instance, tentacle rape). It's extremely graphic and violent, and some of it is played for laughs, but there's at least one unforgivable moment in the film. One thing I have to note is that there's going to be a lot of teenage nerds falling in love with Ellen Page because of her enthusiastic performance in this movie. She's awesome. The critical reception seems mixed, but I think I enjoyed it more than most. I wouldn't call it one of the year's best, but it's worth watching for superhero fans who can stomach gore.
- Hobo with a Shotgun does not fare quite as well as Super, though fans of Grindhouse and ultra-violence will probably get a kick out of it. If Super represents a bit of a depraved outlook on life, Hobo makes it look like the Muppets. A few years ago, when Grindhouse was coming out, there was a contest for folks to create fake grindhouse-style trailers, and one of the winners was this fantastically titled Hobo With a Shotgun. Unfortunately what works in the short form of a fake trailer doesn't really extend well to a full-length feature. There are some interesting things about the film. Rutger Hauer is great as the hobo (look for an awesome monologue about a bear), the atmosphere is genuinely retro, it actually feels like a grindhouse movie (as opposed to Tarantino and Rodriguez's efforts, which are great, but you can also kinda tell they have a decent budget, whereas Hobo clearly has a low budget), and the armored villains known as the Plague are entertaining, if a bit out of place. Ultimately the film doesn't really earn its bullshit. Like last year's Machete (another film built off of the popularity of a "fake" trailer), I'm not convinced that this film really should have been made. Again, devotees to the weird and disgusting might enjoy this, but it's a hard film to recommend.
- Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: The Good, the Bad, the Weird - Kim Jee-woon's take on the spaghetti western is actually quite entertaining, if a bit too long and maybe even a bit too derivative. Still, there are some fantastic sequences in the film, and it's a lot of fun. Jee-woon is one of the more interesting filmmakers that's making a name for Korean cinema on an international scale. I'm greatly looking forward to his latest effort, I Saw the Devil.
The Finer Things...
- In my last SF book post, I mentioned Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor. I really enjoyed that book, which was apparently the first in a long series of books, of which I've recently finished two: Barrayar and The Warrior's Apprentice. I'll save the details for the next SF book review post, but let's just say that I'm fully onboard the Bujold train to awesome. I put in an order for the next several books in the series, which seems to be quite long and varied.
- Timothy Zahn's Cobra Trilogy is what I'm reading right now. I'm enjoying them, but it's clear that Zahn was still growing as a storyteller when writing these. Interestingly, you can see a lot of ideas that he would feature in later works (and he would do so more seamlessly too). I'm about halfway through the trilogy, and should be finishing it off in the next couple weeks, after which, you can expect another SF book review post...
- I've also started Fred Brooks' The Design of Design, though I haven't gotten very far just yet. I was traveling for a while, and I find that trashy SF like Zahn and Bujold makes for much better plane material than non-fiction. Still, I'm finding Brooks' latest work interesting, though perhaps not as much as his classic Mythical Man Month.
- The best beer I've had in the past few months has been the BrewDog/Mikkeller collaboration Devine Rebel. It's pricey as hell, but if you can find a bottle of the 2009 version and if you like English Barleywines (i.e. really strong and sweet beer), it's worth every penny. I got a bottle of the 2010 version (which is apparently about 2% ABV stronger than the already strong 2009 batch) recently, but I haven't popped it open just yet.
- My next homebrew kit, a Bavarian Hefeweizen from Northern Brewer, just came in the mail, so expect a brew-day post soon - probably next week, if all goes well. I was hoping to get that batch going a little earlier, but travel plans got in the way. Still, if this goes as planned, the beer should be hitting maturity right in the dead of summer, which is perfect for a wheat beer like this...
- With the nice weather this weekend, I found myself craving a cigar. Not something I do very often and I really have no idea what makes for a good cigar, but I'll probably end up purchasing a few for Springtime consumption... Recommendations welcome!
That's all for now. Sorry about all the link dumps and general posting of late, but things have been busy around chez Kaedrin, so time has been pretty short. Hopefully some more substantial posting to come in the next few weeks...
Posted by Mark on April 24, 2011 at 06:36 PM .:
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Weird Movie Synopsis of the Week
There are weird movies, and they will often have a funny plot synopsis on IMDB or Netflix, because weird stories become even weirder when condensed. Then there's La moustache
. The synopsis from Netflix:
Marc (Vincent Lindon) has worn a mustache all his adult life. One day on a whim, he decides to shave it off. Certain his wife will comment on the drastic change in his appearance, Marc is baffled when neither she nor friends notice at all. Even more disturbing is that once he calls attention to it, everyone insists he's never had a mustache.
It is, of course, a French film.
Greek philosopher Epictetus is often attributed with saying something to the effect of: "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." And so I ask you, gentle reader: when you read that plot synopsis, how did you react? I, of course, added the movie to my Netflix Watch Instantly queue at position #1. (hat tip to Boobs Radley
, who is awesome. See also: this
Posted by Mark on April 21, 2011 at 12:49 AM .:
Sunday, April 17, 2011
As usual, a few links to interesting stuff:
- Build Your Own Chopper - Step by step guide.
- How To Use the Bat Signal - Or, more accurately, how not to use the bat signal.
- Gymkhana - No, not the 80s action movie about a gymnast saving the world from the Parmistan threat (that was Gymkata, not Gymkhana), this video is all about crazy driving skills. Would probably make a fun video game...
- How to Piss In Public - Handy guide.
- This Year - A great idea for a blog. This is basically a guide to older podcasts, calling out the highlights and funny moments or insightful commentary for each year of the podcast. Right now, they're working on the old 1up Yours podcasts, as well as Adam Carolla's podcast and a few others. It seems to be a relatively new thing, but if they keep it up, it could be a great resource.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on April 17, 2011 at 09:54 PM .:
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Because my book queue
is not long enough*, it seems some of my favorite SF authors are releasing new novels in 2011. Yay**. Here are the three most exciting ones, in order of anticipated publication:
- Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi - It's actually been a few years since Scalzi wrote a full SF novel (and that book, Zoe's Tale, was a sorta rehash of an earlier book), so I'm greatly looking forward to this. I have not read any of the original Fuzzy series by H. Beam Piper, but apparently this novel is Scalzi's attempt at rebooting or reimagining the series. At some point, I considered going back to read the originals, but I'm confident that Scalzi's novel will be good as a standalone story, and I've really enjoyed all his SF novels. This one is set to be released on May 10, so I'll probably be picking it up soon...
- Readme by Neal Stephenson - This should be unsurprising to readers of this blog, as this has long been an anticipated novel here at Kaedrin, even back when it was known as Reamde (still no explanation of that - I don't really buy that it was a typo...) Details about the novel are still scarce (not even a cover yet, and the publication date seems to have moved back a week), but seeing as though Stephenson is my favorite author and all, I don't really need much to get in line for this one. Currently set to be released on September 20th, I'm very much looking forward to this one.
- The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge - The long-anticipated third novel in Vinge's loosely connected Zones of Thought series. I really loved the first two books in the series (A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky) and both of them have won major SF awards like the Hugo and Nebula. As such, expectations are high. Again, I've been avoiding details about the plot here, but my assumption is that it will only have a passing reference to the previous two novels (both of which only share one character and take place thousands of years apart). This one is set for October 11, so it looks like I'll have a busy fall, once again.
That covers the major releases that I'm looking forward to. There are, of course, some other books coming out that I might be interested in, but for now, I think the queue is full enough!
Also, just a quick administrative note, I'll be traveling this week, so probably no entry on Wednesday
. I shall return next Sunday. Have a good week!
** Not sarcasm!
Posted by Mark on April 10, 2011 at 08:35 AM .:
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Just some interesting links, as per usual:
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2011 at 09:41 PM .:
Sunday, April 03, 2011
So the NY Times has an article debating the necessity of the various gadgets
. The argument here is that we're seeing a lot of convergence in tech devices, and that many technologies that once warranted a dedicated device are now covered by something else. Let's take a look at their devices, what they said, and what I think:
- Desktop Computer - NYT says to chuck it in favor of laptops. I'm a little more skeptical. Laptops are certainly better now than they've ever been, but I've been hearing about desktop-killers for decades now and I'm not even that old (ditto for thin clients, though the newest hype around the "cloud" computing thing is slightly more appealing - but even that won't supplant desktops entirely). I think desktops will be here to stay. I've got a fair amount of experience with both personal and work laptops, and I have to say that they're both inferior to desktops. This is fine when I need to use the portability, but that's not often enough to justify some of the pain of using laptops. For instance, I'm not sure what kinda graphics capabilities my work laptop has, but it really can't handle my dual-monitor setup, and even on one monitor, the display is definitely crappier than my old desktop (and that thing was ancient). I do think we're going to see some fundamental changes in the desktop/laptop/smartphone realm. The three form factors are all fundamentally useful in their own way, but I'd still expect some sort of convergence in the next decade or so. I'm expecting that smartphones will become ubiquitous, and perhaps become some sort of portable profile that you could use across your various devices. That's a more long term thing though.
- High Speed Internet at Home - NYT says to keep it, and I agree. Until we can get a real 4G network (i.e. not the slightly enhanced 3G stuff the current telecom companies are peddling), there's no real question here.
- Cable TV - NYT plays the "maybe" card on this one, but I think i can go along with that. It all depends on whether you watch TV or not (and/or if you enjoy live TV, like sporting events). I'm on the fence with this one myself. I have cable, and a DVR does make dealing with broadcast television much easier, and I like the opportunities afforded by OnDemand, etc... But it is quite expensive. If I ever get into a situation where I need to start pinching pennies, Cable is going to be among the first things to go.
- Point and Shoot Camera - NYT says to lose it in favor of the smartphone, and I probably agree. Obviously there's still a market for dedicated high-end cameras, but the small point-and-click ones are quickly being outclassed by their fledgling smartphone siblings. My current iPhone camera is kinda crappy (2 MP, no flash), but even that works ok for my purposes. There are definitely times when I wish I had a flash or better quality, but they're relatively rare and I've had this phone for like 3 years now (probably upgrading this summer). My next camera will most likely meet all my photography needs.
- Camcorder - NYT says to lose it, and that makes a sort of sense. As they say, camcorders are getting squeezed from both ends of the spectrum, with smartphones and cheap flip cameras on one end, and high end cameras on the other. I don't really know much about this though. I'm betting that camcorders will still be around, just not quite as popular as before.
- USB Thumb Drive - NYT says lose it, and I think I agree, though not necessarily for the same reasons. They think that the internet means you don't need to use physical media to transfer data anymore. I suppose there's something to that, but my guess is that Smartphones could easily pick up the slack and allow for portable data without a dedicated device. That being said, I've used a thumb drive, like, 3 times in my life.
- Digital Music Player - NYT says ditch it in favor of smartphones, with the added caveat that people who exercise a lot might like a smaller, dedicated device. I can see that, but on a personal level, I have both and don't mind it at all. I don't like using up my phone battery playing music, and I honestly don't really like the iPhone music player interface, so I actually have a regular old iPod nano for music and podcasts (also, I like to have manual control over what music/podcasts get on my device, and that's weird on the iPhone - at least, it used to be). My setup works fine for me most times, and in an emergency, I do have music (and a couple movies) on my iPhone, so I could make due.
- Alarm Clock - NYT says keep it, though I'm not entirely convinced. Then again, I have an alarm clock, so I can't mount much of a offense against it. I've realized, though, that the grand majority of clocks that I use in my house are automatically updated (Cable box, computers, phone) and synced with some external source (no worrying about DST, etc...) My alarm clock isn't, though. I still use my phone as a failsafe for when I know I need to get up early, but that's more based on the possibility of snoozing myself into oblivion (I can easily snooze for well over an hour). I think I may actually end up replacing my clock, but I can see some young whipper-snappers relying on some other device for their wakeup calls...
- GPS Unit - NYT says lose it, and I agree. With the number of smartphone apps (excluding the ones that come with your phone, which are usually functional but still kinda clunky as a full GPS system) that are good at this sort of thing (and a lot cheaper), I can't see how anyone could really justify a dedicated device for this. On a recent trip, a friend used Navigon's Mobile Navigator ($30, and usable on any of his portable devices) and it worked like a charm. Just as good as any GPS I've ever used. The only problem, again, is that it will drain the phone battery (unless you plug it in, which we did).
- Books - NYT says to keep them, and I mostly agree. The only time I can see really wanting to use a dedicated eReader is when travelling, and even then, I'd want it to be a broad device, not dedicated to books. I have considered the Kindle (as it comes down in price), but for now, I'm holding out on a tablet device that will actually have a good enough screen for this sort of thing. Which, I understand, isn't too far off on the horizon. There are a couple of other nice things about digital books though, namely, the ability to easily mark favorite passages, or to do a search (two things that would probably save me a lot of time). I can't see books every going away, but I can see digital readers being a part of my life too.
A lot of these made me think of Neal Stephenson's System of the World
. In that book, one of the characters ponders how new systems supplant older systems:
"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive. ... And so I say that Alchemy shall not vanish, as I always hoped. Rather, it shall be encapsulated within the new System of the World, and become a familiar and even comforting presence there, though its name may change and its practitioners speak no more about the Philosopher's Stone." (page 639)
That sort of "surround and encapsulate" concept seems broadly applicable to a lot of technology, actually.
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Posted by Mark on April 03, 2011 at 07:42 PM .: