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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

State of the Blog
Hard as it may be to believe, this blog is coming up on its 11th anniversary. In other words, I've been blogging for more than a third of my life, and all of my adult life. Of course, the blog has seen varying levels of activity over the years, but has remained remarkably consistent over the past few years, largely due to my Sunday/Wednesday schedule. Anywho, I thought I'd take a look at the past year of statistics and see what that shows me. Some generic stuff:
  • 36,815 Visits
  • 54,408 Pageviews
  • Approximately 75% of traffic comes from search engines (approx. 62% of total site traffic comes from Google)
  • The remaining 25% are split between referring sites (13%) and direct load (12%)
Now, I have set up my analytics software to ignore me, and this is mostly successful, though there are definitely times when the cookie gets cleared somehow, so I'm sure some of the above is me. But you're not seeing the full brunt of my obsessive site-checking.

So what are the most popular pages?
  • Weblog main page is obviously the biggest winner here, with 18% of pageviews
  • Time Travel in Donnie Darko seems to be the most popular single entry on the blog. Google seems to be the biggest referrer, though I do frequently see people coming from facebook.
  • Samoas vs Caramel DeLites is also quite popular. The interesting thing about this one is that it only really gets traffic in January, February, and March (i.e. when Girl Scout cookies are sold). Facebook and other referring sites seem to make up a bigger percentage of the referrers for this one...
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Lessons Learned, Sorta is a funny one to be popular, as I suck at that game. It's what's known in the biz as a "PC ass PC Game", meaning that it's ridiculously complicated, with a huge learning curve and a crappy tutorial. Apparently this post has a great google ranking for people looking for a guide to the game (of which the post really isn't).
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Ending is also a popular post, presumably because I'm so brilliant.
  • A Reflexive Media gets a bunch of traffic as well, usually from folks looking to understand Reflexive Documentaries.
  • Bear Pajamas gets a ridiculous amount of traffic given the trivial nature of the post (about how a character in an Anime wears Bear Pajamas)
  • Neal Stephenson Category Archive gets a nice amount of traffic, which isn't all that surprising.
  • Interrupts and Context Switching gets some love too, which is reassuring, as it's one of my favorite posts.
Mind you, those are only blog posts I'm referencing. Older stuff from the pre-blog days still gets a lot of traffic too, most notably my in-depth review of Hitchcock's Rear Window and my Guide to Isaac Asimov (which I wrote when I was a teenager and should probably revise at some point, as it's pretty embarrassingly bad).

I've definitely settled into a bit of a groove on the blog, and I can tell you that I spend less time writing posts these days. I have mentioned a few times that I need to shake things up a bit, but I have had limited success with that. I've generally noticed that my posting goes in waves. Sometimes I'll be inspired and have no problem writing new, interesting stuff. Other times, not so much (which is when you get simple posts like a link dump or something). Yeah, this isn't exactly an earth shattering observation, but still. In reality, I tend to be pretty hard on myself when I'm in the midst of writing - I'm usually not super happy with a post when I publish, but if I revisit later, I'm often surprised by what I wrote. I usually like it a lot more after the fact. Go figure. In any case, the blog must go on, even if it does get stuck in a rut every now and again (hopefully, it's at least an entertaining rut!)
Posted by Mark on June 29, 2011 at 07:32 PM .: link :.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tasting Notes - Part 4
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:

  • Game of Thrones - The season finale aired last week, and I have to say, I'm impressed. My usual approach to stuff like this is to let it run for a couple of seasons to make sure it's both good and that it's actually heading somewhere. At this point, the book series isn't even finished, but friends who've read it think it's great and they say the books get better, so I gave the series a shot - and I'm really glad I did. It's a fantastic series, much more along the lines of swords-and-sandals (a la Spartacus or Gladiator) than outright fantasy (a la Lord of the Rings). People talk about magic and dragons and whatnot, but most of that seems to be in the distant past (though there are hints of a return to that sort of thing throughout the series and especially in the last minutes of the season). Most of the season consists of dialogue, politics, Machiavellian scheming, and action. Oh, and sex. And incest. Yeah, it's a fun show. The last episode of the season doesn't do much to resolve the various plotlines, and hints at an even more epic scale. Interestingly, though, I don't find this sort of open-endedness that frustrating. Unlike a show like Lost, the open threads don't seem like red-herrings or even mysteries at all. It's just good, old fashioned storytelling. The worst thing about it is that I'm all caught up and will have to wait for the next season! Prediction: Geoffrey will die horribly, and I will love it. But not too quickly. He's such a fantastic, sniveling little bastard. I want to keep hating him for a while before someone takes him down.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Doctor Who - Most of the semi-recently rebooted series is available on watch instantly, and I've only just begun to pick my way through the series again. I vaguely remember watching a few of Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor episodes, but I never finished that first season. I'm not very far in right now - just saw the first appearance of the Daleks, which should be interesting.
  • 13 Assassins - Takashi Miike tends to be a hit-or-miss filmmaker for me. Fortunately for him, he is ridiculously prolific. His most recent effort is a pretty straightforward Samurai tale about a suicide mission to assassinate a cruel and ruthless evil lord. Seven Samurai, it is not, but it is still quite engaging and entertaining to watch. It starts a bit slow, but it finishes with an amazing 45 minute setpiece as our 13 heroes spring their trap on 200 enemies. Along the way, we get some insight into Japanese culture as the days of the Samurai and Shogunate faded, though I don't think I'd call this a rigorously accurate film or anything. Still, there's more going on here than just bloody action, of which there is a lot. An excellent film, among the top films I've seen so far this year.
  • HBO has a pretty great lineup right now. In the past couple weeks, I've revisited Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and How to Train Your Dragon. All of these films have improved upon rewatching them, a subject I've always found interesting. Scott Pilgrim, in particular, has improved it's standing in my mind. I still think it's got some problems in the final act, but I also think it's a dreadfully underappreciated film.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Transcendent Man - I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it's an interesting profile of Ray Kurtzweil, a futurist and singularity proponent. I don't really buy into his schtick, but he's an interesting guy and the documentary is worth a watch for that.
Video Games
  • I'm still playing Mass Effect 2, but I have not progressed all that far in the game. I've found this is common with RPGs lately - it takes a long time to get anything accomplished in an RPG, so I sometimes find it hard to get started. Still, I have liked what I've seen of this game so far. It's far from perfect, but it's got some interesting elements.
  • Since I had to hook up my Wii to get Netflix working during the great PSN outage of '11, I actually did start playing Goldeneye again. I even got a Wii classic controller, and that made the game approximately 10 times more fun (but I have to say, plugging the Wiimote into the classic controller to get it to work? That's just stupidly obtuse, though I guess it keeps the cost down). Since I could play it in short 30 minute chunks, I actually did manage to finish this one off in pretty short order. It's a pretty simple FPS game, which I always enjoy, but there's nothing particularly special about it, except for some muted nostalgia from the original.
  • The Black Keys - Brothers - This is a pretty great album. Lots of crunchy blues guitars and catchy rhythms. I'm greatly enjoying it.
  • Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil - Another hipster rock album, but I rather like it, especially the song Secret Mobilization. Good stuff.
  • I've been cranking my way through Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novels, of which there are many (and I'm actually quite glad, as they're all great fun). I've covered the first few novels in SF Book Reviews, and will probably have finished enough other books to do a Bujold-only edition in the near future. I'm currently reading Ethan of Athos, which seems to me to be a kinda spinoff/standalone novel, but an interesting one nonetheless (and we get to catch up with a character from one of the other books).
  • I also started Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, but have found myself quickly bogging down (it doesn't help that I have, like, 10 Bujold novels sitting around, begging me to read them) almost from the start. It's not bad, per say, but there's something about the style and scope of the book that bothers me. There are some interesting ideas, and Diamond admits that his methods are, by necessity, not that rigorous, but it's still seems extremely speculative to me. I would normally be fine with that sorta approach, but I'm finding something about this grating and I haven't figured it out just yet...
  • If you count the aforementioned Guns, Germs, and Steel, I'm down to just 4 unread books from my last Book Queue, which is pretty good! And I've only really added the Bujold books and Fuzzy Nation since then. I'm actually at a point where I should start seeking out new stuff. Of course, it probably won't take long to fill the queue back up, but still. Progress!
The Finer Things...
  • I've managed to have some pretty exceptional beers of late. First up is Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40, an imperial porter aged in 40 year old Highland Park casks. It's an amazing beer, though also outrageously priced. Still, if you can get your hands on some and don't mind paying the premium, it's great.
  • Another exceptional beer, the legendary Pliny the Elder (currently ranked #3 on Beer Advocates Best Beers on Planet Earth list). It's a fantastic double IPA. Not sure if it's really #3 beer in the world fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless.
  • One more great beer, and a total surprise, was Sierra Nevada Boot Camp ExPortation. Basically, Sierra Nevada has this event every year where fans get to go to "Beer Camp" and collaborate on new beers with Sierra Nevada brewers and whatnot. My understanding is that the batches are extremely limited. Indeed, I never expected to see these, but apparently there were a few on tap at a local bar, sorta leftover from Philly Beer Week. The beer is basically a porter with Brettanomyces added and aged in Pinot Noir barrels. This is all beer-nerd-talk for a sour (in a good way) beer. I'm not normally big into the style or Brett, but I'll be damned if this isn't a fantastic beer. I loved it and unfortunately, I'll probably never see it again. If you see it, try it. At the very least, it will be an interesting experience!
And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on June 26, 2011 at 06:22 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Link Dump
Yeah, it's Wednesday and I didn't realize it, so here are some links:
  • This Guy Has My Macbook - So this guy's laptop is stolen, but he has some sort of tracking app on the computer, so he puts up a website with all sorts of pictures, etc... of the guy who stole his laptop. The site goes viral, ends up on Good Morning America, who calls the police, who eventually contact the guy, find the thief, and return the laptop. Heh.
  • Hey You! What Song are you Listening to? - This vid of a guy accosting people on the street in NY and asking them what they're listening to has been making the rounds, but since a 5 second clip in the video led me to download a Black Keys album, which I'm really enjoying, I guess I should link the vid.
  • The 500 Mile Email Problem - A heroic tale of sysadmin troubleshooting:
    "...But why didn't you call earlier?"

    "Well, we hadn't collected enough data to be sure of what was going on until just now." Right. This is the chairman of *statistics*. "Anyway, I asked one of the geostatisticians to look into it--"


    "--yes, and she's produced a map showing the radius within which we can send email to be slightly more than 500 miles. There are a number of destinations within that radius that we can't reach, either, or reach sporadically, but we can never email farther than this radius."
    It turns out that the users weren't as stupid as it seems. Refreshing.
  • My Drunk Kitchen - So you remember when you discovered Iron Chef, and you're like, wow, I have no idea what half those ingredients are, but I really want to try all that crazy food their making. Then you see the EpicMealTime guys, and you're like, Wow, that's kinda awsome, but I don't know if I'd actually want to eat it. Then there's My Drink Kitchen, which looks fun, but yeah, I would never want to eat anything made on that show.
  • Restroom Video Game - Dammit Sega, this is why you can't have nice things. Then again, I'd play this.
  • We bought EVERYTHING in a store - A bunch of hipsters buy out a corner grocer in NY. Reading the story behind it is actually pretty cool, though almost insufferably artsy-fartsy.
There. Enjoy.
Posted by Mark on June 22, 2011 at 10:11 PM .: link :.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Adventures in Brewing - Beer #4:Saison
Last time, I mentioned how my next batch of homebrew would probably be a saison style beer. I've been drinking a lot of saisons lately, and it's quite a broad style. What I wanted to go for was something along the lines of Saison Dupont, but in looking around at the various homebrew kits out there, I didn't see anything that really came close. So I picked up a book called Clone Brews, which has a recipe for a Saison Dupont clone (amongst many others). I ended up finding a Northern Brewer kit that was for a really weak, session strength saison that had enough similarities that I could buy that, then augment it with some additional ingredients. The recipe used below is a sorta hybrid between the recipe from the book and the Northern Brewer kit.

Brew #4 - Saison
June 19, 2011

0.5 lb. Belgian CaraVienne (specialty grain)
3.15 lb. Northern Brewer Pilsen LME
3 lb. Muntons Extra Light DME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
1 lb. Light Belgian Candi Sugar
2 oz. Styrian Goldings hops (bittering @ 4.6% AA)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (flavor)
0.5 oz. East Kent Goldings hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Saaz hops (aroma)
0.5 oz. Bitter Orange Peel
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast

To make sure I wasn't throwing the recipe completely out of whack by adding extra malt/hops/whatever, I played around on Hopville's Beer Calculus thingymabob. It turns out that I was a little low on bittering hops, but I had enough other hops left over that I was able to adjust the recipe just fine (part of the problem is that the packaging for the Styrian Goldings hops says they're 4.6% Alpha Acids, while the recipe from the book has them at 5% - so by adding extra, I probably screwed it up and made myself a very bitter saison). I did save the recipe in case you want to see some more stats on it. Note that they let me add this - which basically tells me to take most of the recipes on there with a grain of salt! Also, I had to use "Munton's Light DME" instead of "Extra Light", which I presume inflated the OG a bit.

Anyway, my last batch turned out kinda weird. It tastes ok, but it's also not much like a Hefeweizen. It may continue to work itself out in the bottles, but basically, the light wheat flavors one expects out of a Hefeweizen are nowhere to be found. I think one of the big problems was that I used too little water when I did the boil, thus leading to a bit of caramelization of the malt, which kinda destroyed the delicate wheat flavors. There are probably some other process things I can improve as well. This saison recipe is a little more complicated than the last one, but it's not particularly difficult either.

So I start with steeping the Belgian CaraVienne grains in 2 gallons (or so) of 150°-170° water for around 20 minutes (surprisingly, the temperature was rising quickly, so it was probably a bit less than 20 minutes). I've never done this before, but I slowly removed the grains, put them in a strainer, and sparged with another half gallon of hot (not boiling) water. At this point, I removed from heat, then added the malt extracts and candi sugar, stirring vigorously to make sure the candi dissolved in the water before putting it back on the heat (again, don't want to caramelize the sugars - this is supposed to be a light colored beer). At this point, I estimated about 3.5 gallons of liquid in the pot, maybe even more.

Settled in for the long wait for it to boil. I put the lid on the wort to start, but I made sure to remove it once it got to boiling temperatures. One of the things I may have done wrong on my last batch was to keep the pot partially covered for most of the boil. This helped me maintain a good boil, but apparently during the boiling process, bad chemicals are released in the steam, and if you're covering the pot, some of it can't escape and you get off flavors in your beer. So despite my pitifully weak electric range, I tried keeping it uncovered for the whole boil. It actually wasn't that bad - perhaps the summer climate is more conducive to brewing...

Once it got to boiling, I added the bittering hops and started the timer. 45 minutes later, added flavor hops, bitter orange peel, and Irish Moss. 10 minutes after that, added the aroma hops (I had some extra Saaz hops from the kit, so I made a last minute audible and added an additional 0.5 oz. of hops for aroma). 5 minutes later, and it was off to the ice bath, which continues to be a challenge. Got it down to a reasonable 110° or so, and strained the wort into my fermenting bucket, pausing to clear out my strainer several times (all those hops were clogging it up). It filled up about 2.5 gallons of the fermenter, meaning that I had boiled off at least one gallon. Filled the rest of the bucket up with cold water, bringing the temperature down further (maybe a little more than 70°). Stirred vigorously to aerate the wort.

I mentioned last time that I was struggling with the yeast for the saison. If I really wanted to make a true Saison Dupont clone, I would have used the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, which, rumor has it, is based on Dupont's house yeast. However, it's also infamous for getting stuck at around 1.035 during fermentation, unless you maintain really high temperatures (like, upwards of 85°). Given that my brewing skills are still fledgling and that my ability to control temperature is lacking, I decided that I should try something else. At first, I was looking at a bunch of Abbey and Trappist yeasts, but then I found the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast. Near as I can tell, it will give me a similar feel, but without the trickiness of the 3724 variety. I had smacked the Wyeast packet early this morning (couple hours before starting the boil) and it had swelled up as the yeast became active. After all was ready, I pitched the yeast, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.060 (approximate). This is a bit low according to my calculations, but adjusting for temperature and imprecision at reading the hydrometer, you can maybe fudge that up to 1.062. Assuming reasonable attenuation, this should result in an ABV of around 6.5%-7%, which is right around where I was aiming. Hopefully it won't be overwhelmed by hoppiness...

Timewise, it took about 3-3.5 hours (including the cleanup), which is about average. I'm a little bit worried about temperature control here, but I should be able to keep it at around 70°-75°, which is towards the upper range of the yeast's comfort zone, but I'm hoping that will be ok. There are some doubts about this batch though. Between the extra hops and the temperature and how my last batch turned out, I'm not sure it will turn out well. But then I did correct some things about my process, so hopefully this will make up for any problems.

My next batch will probably be something a bit darker. Apparently these are a bit easier to brew for extract brewing. Perhaps a Belgian Style Dubbel. Or maybe just something a little more amber, like an IPA or something.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Posted by Mark on June 19, 2011 at 08:39 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Horror Class of 1981
So a bunch of horror movie websites are collaborating on an examination of horror films from 1981. Six sites, 5 films each, 30 films total. When I found out about this from Brian Collins' post on BAD (Collins is the man behind Horror Movie a Day), I quickly put together a top 5 of my own. I'm clearly outclassed here though - all of my films, even the obscure ones and honorable mentions, are featured among the 30 featured films.

In any case, 1981 was a surprisingly good year for horror films. Folks who follow my 6 Weeks of Halloween posts know that I'm a big fan of slasher films, and in 1981, slashers were at the height of their popularity. You apparently couldn't go a week without a new slasher film being released. Most were horrible, I'm sure, but the year wasn't limited to slashers either. There were also a couple of the finest werewolf movies ever made released in 1981. There were psychics and ghosts and demons and even killer piranhas. A banner year for horror, which is surprising because the 80s don't exactly have the best filmic reputation for horror (especially having just come after the excellent 70s horror).

So without further ado, my top 5 1981 horror films (in alphabetical order):
  • An American Werewolf in London: John Landis' werewolf opus holds up pretty well, even to this day. There's something about the setting and the way humor is injected into the film that really balances well. Plus, it's got the best transformation sequence in all of werewolf cinema (the only real contender is 1981's own The Howling). I could have sworn I've written about this on the blog before, but apparently not... It's a classic horror touchstone.
  • The Evil Dead: I have to admit to being more taken with the sequels to this film - how often do you hear that! - but that's not to diminish the effectiveness of the film that started it all. Unlike its sequels, this film plays the premise straight and mostly does not waver from it's earnest depiction of an evil presence in a small cabin in the woods. It's ultra-low budget and derivative plot don't really serve it well, but Raimi manages to evoke a lot of tension and creepiness out of the proceedings, not to mention some of its more controversial elements. Again, not one of my favorite films ever, but it's definitely an important milestone in horror cinema and worth watching for that fact alone.
  • My Bloody Valentine: Of all the imitators that sprang up after the success of John Carpenter's classic slasher Halloween, this one is the most important. I don't know about the business side of the film (though I do know of the infamous neutering of the film's gore at the hands of the MPAA), but I'm a little baffled that it never spawned any sequels. More details in an old 6WH writeup. Among the throngs of slasher films, this is one of my favorites.
  • The Prowler: Another slasher, and a somewhat more obscure one at that (if I was going to pick a film not part of the featured 30 films, this would have been the one). I actually don't have that much to say about it - it's pretty standard slasher fare, but it's way above average in its execution. A solid backstory and special effects from Tom Savini are what really elevate this one above the other imitators.
  • Scanners: David Cronenberg's tale of dueling psychics is quite entertaining and very well crafted. Perhaps most famous for it's exploding head sequence, it's got a lot more going for it. However, I did revisit this film somewhat recently, and I have to say that it wasn't quite as tightly plotted as I had remembered... though it still holds up reasonably well, and Cronenberg's script touches on a bunch of other genres that we don't normally see within horror - like espionage and computer networking stuff (pyschic hacking!). It's a surprisingly effective and memorable film.
And some honorable mentions include Ghost Story, Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Burning, and the James Cameron directed Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (ok, so he was fired from the movie, but you can see some of his touches here). I suppose I should also mention Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror - the tremendous oddity of which I covered on the blog a while back.

And for reference, here are the links to the aforementioned sites' (much more comprehensive) writeups: So there you have it - more than you ever wanted to know about the horror movies of 1981.
Posted by Mark on June 15, 2011 at 09:24 PM .: link :.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fuzzy Nation
In recent years, Hollywood has been remaking or rebooting nearly every property it could get its hands on - including franchises that are only a few years old. Some have speculated an unhealthy obsession with branding and marketing, others just call it a result of Hollywood's creative bankruptcy. This sort of thing happens frequently in other forms of art as well. Indeed, it's a hallmark of Theater - every night, a new remake! You don't hear people complaining about yet another production of Macbeth, do you? And covering songs is quite common as well. In both of those realms, the remakes are outnumbered by original works (well, maybe not in theater), though, which is probably a good thing.

One area that doesn't seem to see too much in the way of remakes is literature. Enter John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation. He calls this novel a "reimagining of the story and events in Little Fuzzy, the 1962 Hugo-nominated novel by H. Beam Piper." Not having read the original, I can't speak to the fidelity or necessity of the remake, but I am confident in calling it a fun, entertaining take on several common SF tropes.

Our tale begins with Jack Holloway, an independent contractor working for ZaraCorp, prospecting and surveying the planet Zara XXIII. ZaraCorp is apparently a company that basically strips down planets for all of their useful materials - metal ores, oil, and a rare mineral called sunstones. Not much time is spent mentioning how planets are discovered, but once they are, a team of specialists attempts to determine if there's any sentient life on those planets, and if there isn't, then ZaraCorp (and/or its competitors) are given a license to "exploit" the planet. Holloway, a former lawyer, has just found a huge cache of valuable sunstones. It will take years to exploit and even Holloway's measly 0.25% share will garner him millions, if not billions of credits.

Not long after that, Holloway goes home and discovers that a small, catlike creature has snuck into his house. These ridiculously cute creatures begin to act suspiciously intelligent (incidentally, while I like the cover art, I have to say that the Fuzzy pictured there does not seem as cute as they do in the book). And from here, I'm guessing you can figure out several of the central conflicts in the book.

I burned through the book in about two sittings, and probably could have read it in one big session if I timed it right. I'm not sure if that's simply to do with the length of the book (it's about 300 pages with relatively large type and spacing) or if it's Scalzi's knack for page-turning storytelling (something I've talked about before). As previously hinted at, there are several common SF tropes at work here (Big mean corporations! Planetary exploitation! Is it sentient?!), and while Scalzi isn't often breaking new ground or even exploring various ideas very deeply, I think there's something to be said for a very well executed trope. There are several times when you can easily predict what will happen next, though Scalzi does manage some genuine twists and turns later in the story. It's clear he's working in pure storytelling mode here, which is perhaps why the pages seemed to turn themselves so quickly.

I do want to single out one aspect of the story that I think is particularly well done, and that's the character of Jack Holloway. The story is told mostly from his perspective, and he's got a certain charisma that makes him a good protagonist, but he's also kind of a selfish prick. I don't want to give anything away, nor do I want to give the wrong impression - he's certainly not an anti-hero or anything, he's just a fully fleshed out character who makes mistakes with the best of us. Flawed characters can be difficult and often present stumbling blocks to otherwise good stories, but I think Scalzi manages to pull this one off well.

Again, I have not read the original Little Fuzzy novel, but I suspect that Scalzi has done it proud. I'm not particularly looking forward to other reimaginings of classic SF, but I think in this case, it worked well, and I actually think that Scalzi's choice, while not totally obscure, was old enough that he may be introducing lots of folks to Piper's original works (I believe there are a few other Fuzzy novels as well). Among Scalzi's novels that I've read, this one is towards the top of the list, though I don't think it's his best work. I do think that most of his novels would make good introductions to the SF genre though, and would recommend them. While Scalzi may be best known for taping bacon to his cat, I would argue that he should be better known for his novels! Fuzzy Nation would be a good place to start.
Posted by Mark on June 12, 2011 at 06:03 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Two (Bad) Movie Ideas
At lunch with some coworkers today, the inevitable topic of Palau came up. You see, we all work for a retail website and most of us live in Pennsylvania. Anyone in PA who has attempted to order online will no doubt recognize the pet peeve when filling out the Shipping Address: You enter your info, tab to the State field and press "p", expecting to see Pennsylvania come up... but instead, we get Palau.

This brought to mind a video I recently saw on the interwebs. It's from Jellyfish Lake in Palau. It's a surreal video, and quite dissonant if you're used to typical jellyfish, but these have apparently evolved differently: "Twelve thousand years ago these jellyfish became trapped in a natural basin on the island when the ocean receded. With no predators amongst them for thousands of years, they evolved into a new species that lost most of their stinging ability as they no longer had to protect themselves."

So my first movie idea was a killer jellyfish movie, filmed at Jellyfish Lake in Palau. Andy why not, they've done it for every other type of creature, even seemingly ambivalent ones. The video linked above is almost scary all by itself. You just want to scream, Look out, Jellyfish! Oh God, they've surrounded you! Run! Go! Get to the choppah! All we'd really need is a decent physical actor/actress, a good makeup guy (for the gore), and a camera that can operate underwater. Just imagine all the cool shots that could be in this movie. Indeed, the typically boring horror movie POV shot could be quite effective here - jellyfish have an interesting, irregular pattern of movement, which could make for a really good staling sequence. The great thing about this is that it would not involve any CGI - all practical effects, and in the case of the Jellyfish swarm, I apparently won't even need to do anything special. This could be a great (bad) movie.

Of course, the topic then shifted into Sci-Fi (sorry, SyFy) original movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. In speculating on the origins of Gatoroid, I stumbled upon my second movie idea. You see, I figure that our story starts with an alligator that has taken up residence in the sewer system beneath a popular gym. Like all gyms, there are lots of steroid abusing muscle-men in residence. But! One day, the police make a drug raid, and in order to avoid getting arrested, our juicing heroes flush all their illegal drugs down the drain... right to our hapless alligator, who unwittingly ingests said drug/sewage cocktail, thus ceasing to be an alligator and turning into Gatoroid!

Now, assuming that's not how it actually happens in Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, I think we're on to something here, but to avoid copyright woes, we may have to switch our monster from an Alligator to a Crocodile, thus making him Crocoroid.

Now all I need is a few million dollars.

Update: A coworker comments: "Why not make Crocoroid's achilles' heel be jellyfish? Then you only have to make one movie." I've made him an executive producer.
Posted by Mark on June 08, 2011 at 09:02 PM .: link :.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Professor Ed Avery's Cortizone-Fueled, Bigger-Than-Life, Super Big Gulp-Sized Summer Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

I seem to have read this question differently than everyone else. I thought it meant we had to give a cliché that, depending on our mood, we liked or didn't like. Others seem to have taken it as meaning your mood at the time of answering the quiz, pick a favorite or least-loved cliché (which is certainly a lot easier than the first one). Well, my cliché kinda/sorta falls into my original reading: I hate/love fakeout dream sequences. Most often seen in horror films, they can be very effective... but they're also overused, often even within the same movie. Some abusers of this include Event Horizon and The Descent (and yet, I really enjoy The Descent). The other thing that often bothers me about movie dreams is that they're so weird. I mean, that's sorta the appeal of dreams in the first place, but dreams in movies often just play out as special effects extravaganzas. And like most special effects, they need to be used to enhance the story. The trick is that the dream sequence needs to have some sort of purpose beyond the ability to mortally threaten the protagonist without actually mortally threatening them, or some other silly shock... Unless it's a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, in which case, all bets are off. Or, I suppose, the dream sequence in A Serious Man. So yeah, dream sequences. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them.

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I'm honestly having trouble coming up with one, which bothers me because I'm sure it's something I've done before...

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

Who? If there was ever a time for me to lie about having seen films, it would be these quizes!

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though I'm sure I'm quite familiar with his work on Looney Tunes (he seems to be a big Porky Pig director)...

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

Yes, but probably only because Kubrick earned his bullshit with other efforts. It's a good movie, though it is quite unpleasant to watch.

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

What an amazingly strange question! There really can't be that many qualifying films here, but I'll go with Sleepaway Camp and it's shocker ending. (One of the other commenters answers Psycho, but I'm not sure that really counts as dysphoria).

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

I'm not terribly familiar with her filmography, but I'm going with Melanie Laurent, based solely on her performance in Inglourious Basterds. Blake Lively is a fine young actress, but it's hard to compete with a film like that...

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far...)

According to my records, I've seen 15 movies thus far this year, and my favorite three are Rubber, Hanna, and I Saw the Devil (if I have to pick one, it would be Rubber)
9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

Do scars count as a deformity? If so, the first that come to mind are Harrison Ford's scar on his chin and Tina Fey's left cheek scar. I don't think it matters in either case though.

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

Why isn't pompous ass an option? Or all of the above?

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

I'm not overly familiar with either of them, but I'll go with Carey for his work with Kubrick on The Killing and Paths of Glory. Also, he was apparently on Airwolf.

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

This is an extremely difficult question. Writers are rather low on the totem pole in Hollywood, so it's difficult for most screenwriters to gain any lasting momentum after their initial break. And usually, critics are pretty receptive to those first big success films. Two people came to mind for this: Christopher McQuarrie (of The Usual Suspects fame) and Andrew Kevin Walker (of Se7en fame). Both have relatively small filmographies, but only because much of their work goes uncredited in films.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming

Theatrically, it was X-Men: First Class, and entertaining and fun superhero movie that actually seems pretty forgetable. On DVD, it was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, an unpleasant but very well crafted Peckinpah wester set in modern times. On Blu-ray, it was The Tourist (and hey, it's got a script by Christopher McQuarrie), which I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting (though I can see why critics were baffled by it). On streaming, it was Transcendent Man, a documentary about Singularity proponent Ray Kurzweil (very interesting and well worth a watch).

14) Favorite film noir villain

The first that came to mind was Orson Welles's Harry Lime, from The Third Man. Menace with a grin.
Harry Lime from The Third Man
15) Best thing about streaming movies?

The immediacy of deciding what to watch and then being able to watch it moments later. The biggest problem, of course, is that the selection isn't particularly great just yet. But someday hopefully soon, it will be...

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

Once again, I'm pretty unfamiliar with both of these, though France Nuyen was in one of those Planet of the Apes sequels!

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn't called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

I hate to go with the obvious answer, but clearly Paths of Glory is the winner here.

18) Favorite movie about cars

A difficult question because while the movies that keep coming to mind have memorable cars or car chases in them, they aren't really about cars. Some that I eventually thought of: Mad Max/The Road Warrior and Death Proof. And there are, of course, tons of popular choices that I've never seen...

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

I got nothing, though Marie Windsor seems to have been in a couple movies that I've actually seen, so I guess she wins by default.

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

That's a tough one, if only because of just how many Stephen King adaptations there are. I'm not actually a huge fan of King, but I did really enjoy The Stand... and that TV mini-series was kinda lame (especially once you got past the first episode). I think IT, Salem's Lot, and Christine could probably use some updating, though each of those movies/mini-series has its pluses (though the recent Salem's Lot kinda sucked).

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

Does Johnny To count as low-profile? I mean, he's probably the most exciting action director working in Hong Kong today, but he still seems to be overshadowed by the likes of Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and John Woo. If he doesn't work, I also thought of Ti West (The House of the Devil) and Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), both of whom are young, but who have shown a lot of promise.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

I have to admit that I find Robert De Niro distracting in most movies these days. It doesn't help that the movies he chooses seem to be pretty bad these days (though I suppose I do enjoy a few of them).

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

I wish I had a better answer to this, but I can't really think of anything. There are a number of components here, but for me it would be a combination of technical matters (i.e. nice seats, unobstructed view, good video and audio quality, etc...) and a good crowd to watch movies with (i.e. a crowd of film lovers who won't interrupt during the movie, etc...) If there are theaters that consistently display these attributes, then I'd be all for them. There's not much around here that qualifies though. Perhaps, someday, an Alamo Drafthouse will show up!

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

No contest: Sterling Hayden. The Godfather, The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, Dr Strangelove, and many more make him hard to beat here.

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

I have, sadly, not seen any Ozu films. Perhaps I should pretend to have seen some and say Floating Weeds. Or something.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

The obvious answer is Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but since there's already been too much Kubrick talk in this quiz, I'll go for a less obvious answer: Bill Paxton's character from Frailty.
Bill Paxton in Frailty
27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Not being particularly familiar with Sensurround, it seems like a surround-sound type of audio system which would benefit a lot of horror movies, though no specific movies are coming to mind.

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

I'll go with Chris Evans here, as I think he's taken some more chances, though I think both of the actors are pretty decent.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

An interesting subject. There are a lot of "character actors" or "that guys" (or "that gals") out there - Filmspotting even did a top 5 on this subject just a few weeks ago, and it's hard to beat that list. However, the one that came to mind (that isn't on Filmspotting's list) was William Fichtner. A quintessential "that guy" in my opinion.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

30th Street Station in Philadelphia, most recently seen in Blow Out.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

Another mulligan needed here, as I don't think I've ever actually seen any of his movies...

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

Julie Adams, because her name sounds familiar, not because I know what I'm talking about.

33) Favorite Universal-International western

Yet another mulligan on this one. Not a genre I'm particularly well versed in...

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

I suppose 3D would qualify, though that ship has pretty much sailed. I now try to watch the 2D version if at all possible.

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

This would imply that I know enough of the silent era to answer, which I don't.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

I suppose that would be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, though once again, I have to note that I'm not terribly familiar with the man's filmography.

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

Let's see, for the best remakes, I'll say Ocean's Eleven and The Departed are worthy remakes (I'd include True Grit, but I haven't seen the original). The worst remakes category is a little harder, as I generally try to avoid bad movies! Nevertheless, I've seen some of the Platinum Dunes horror movie remakes, and most of them are pretty terrible.

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?

Ensure their equipment is functioning properly, and police the theaters to throw out unruly/obnoxious people. Moviegoers can stop being so unruly/obnoxious.

And that just about covers it.
Posted by Mark on June 05, 2011 at 03:31 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a Hitchcockian tale of mustache disappearance. This time, we've got a bloody, gory and supremely weird movie trailer:

Wow, I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Of course, creepy bunny suits have a surprisingly deep cinematic history, but this one goes a few steps further than normal. Devin Faraci has the lowdown on the film:
It looks kind of hackneyed and silly but also nicely shot - at least much more nicely shot than a movie featuring a bunny suit wearing chainsaw murderer should be. I did some research and at first got excited that this film was about a truly bizarre urban legend from Fairfax County, Virginia that has also spread to Washington, DC. The legend is about a maniac in a bunny suit who attacks people with an axe at a railway overpass. Supposedly it’s based on fact.
Wow. Considering that the film was made in 2009 and was apparently never released, I'm betting we won't even be able to watch this if we wanted. But according to the film's offical Myspace page (Myspace? Yikes.) there's a sequel in the works:
The little germ of a idea has sprouted into a full on 20 page treatment.... a full script is not that far behind. There seems to be a wealth of ideas as to how to continue the story with the characters of Bunnyman. What's really positive about this, is after watching the film, everyone wants to see more. The character has sparked interest, and people want to know what happens next.
Posted by Mark on June 01, 2011 at 09:11 PM .: link :.

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