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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Moar Podcastery
So now that I've more or less exhausted the archives of my other recent discoveries, I'm looking for some new blood. Here's a few that I've checked out recently, though I'm pretty sure only one or two will become part of the regular rotation:
  • Hollywood Babble-On - One of Kevin Smith's Smodcast network shows. I long ago lost interest in the general Smodcast (around the time Smith started smoking pot a lot and refused to talk about Zack and Miri Make a Porno) because it was a little too meandering and often boring. It sounded like this one had a little more structure though, so I thought I'd check it out. Unfortunately, it made a horrible first impression. I feel like the entire first half of the show (40 minutes or so) was devoted to reading fan letters, which was excruciating. It's also a show that's recorded before a live audience, and it's pretty clear that they're playing to that audience and not the podcast. Once the show starts, it gets a little more interesting. I'll probably give this another chance, but I'm guessing it won't be something I look forward to every week.
  • Doug Loves Movies - This is a podcast from comedian Doug Benson (of Super High Me fame) and is also a little on the meandering side, especially at the beginning. Oddly, it's another show that is recorded with a live audience, and that shows through at the beginning of the show. Fortunately, that doesn't last 40 minutes, and Benson does have some defined segments, most notably including the The Leonard Maltin Game, which is awesome and a lot of fun. He also seems to be pretty good at getting solid guests to appear (I really enjoyed the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Kate Micucci episode, for example). I've only listened to a few episodes, but this could be something I grow into.
  • NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour - This is very much like the Slate Culture Gabfest, so if you like that, you'll probably like this. It's basically the same format: the hosts talk about two major topics of recent pop culture, then talk about their favorite things of the week. Again, I've only listened to a few episodes, but I can already tell that I'm going to burn through these archives rather quickly and make this into a weekly listen.
  • How Did This Get Made? - Another comedian show (notably lead by Paul Scheer), this one is pretty interesting. It basically revels in the glory of bad movies, which is something I actually find endearing and fun... but only really when I've also seen the movie they're talking about. Fortunately, I'm a huge movie nerd and have actually seen a reasonable portion of the bad movies they're talking about. Some of the stuff they pick on is mainstream, but there's also some real obscure gems and Weird Movie of the Week caliber films they talk about too. Fun stuff, but not something I can really rely on...
And that's all for now. At this point, I've actually got a pretty good stable of reliable podcasts to look forward to every week: And there are a few others that I hit up every now and again. Still, every so often, I find myself out of compelling stuff to listen to, so I'm always on the lookout for new stuff.
Posted by Mark on May 30, 2012 at 09:22 PM .: link :.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Weird Book of the Week
After reading the following post, I'm expanding the Weird Movie of the Week franchise to apply to books:
In her book on writing, The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand said no fiction writer should ever use real people or contemporary events. She said her original draft of The Fountainhead included Hitler, but she later cut him out because she wasn't sure anyone would know who he was in 10 years. While she was obviously wrong, the principle stands, and today we're seeing why.

... a book recently sent to BW for review called The President's Vampire by Idaho author Christopher Farnsworth, opened with Bin Laden's assassination—by a vampire who stuffed a grenade in his mouth and then threw him over a cliff so he exploded in midair. Also, Bin Laden was actually a giant lizard, genetically modified by a vast international conspiracy of reptilian humanoids.

I gotta say, that sort of grabs you right out of the gate.

But now ... well, it just doesn't seem as plausible.
Issues with plausibility aside, I think I'm going to read these books. This is exactly the sort of thing I'd take a chance on because of Kindle, though now that I look at it, the Kindle version is more expensive than the hardcover, which is absurd. Anywho, this series of novels is apparently based on a true story:
....he discovered an odd factoid in American history: a sailor who was convicted of killing and drinking the blood of his crewmates, then inexplicably pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. So Farnsworth provided a reason: The vampire sailor had taken an oath to serve the nation. The ideas for a series of novels were quick to follow.

"I just thought it would be really cool if Jack Bauer were like a vampire," said Farnsworth.
Well, yeah. Of the Bin Laden incident described above, Farnsworth had this to say: "That was my Captain America punching Hitler in the mouth moment." I rather think he one upped the stakes there, and that's saying something.

Incidentally, this marks the second occasion I've linked to the freakin' Boise Weekly, an Idaho "alternative newspaper". I blame one of their staff writers, Josh Gross, who seems to have a knack for this stuff.

I'm still going to file this under Weird Movie of the Week, because really, this needs to be made into a movie.

Update: The audio version of the first book in the series is narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Bronson. Pinchot.
Posted by Mark on May 27, 2012 at 08:35 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Link Dump
Apologies for the extended absence from the blog, but there were technical difficulties that have since been resolved and tonight was a busy one, so here are some fun links I've run across recently:
  • 15 Thought-Provoking Discussion Questions Every Book Club Should Ask Themselves - I'm totally going to steal some of these for my next book club meeting at work. Sample awesome:
    Do you think it signifies a lack of imagination to picture characters as popular film and television actors? Sometimes there are a lot of characters to keep track of, or you're really tired from a long day of tax law, and can't picture one in your head so you just go, "Okay, Sir James is Tom Hardy." And then later when they describe Sir James as tall, with flaxen hair, aren't you like "Noooooo, ignoring! Tom Hardy" ?
  • Pixar Studio Stories - Apparently some of the recent Pixar blu-ray releases have had these awesome anecdotal stories from pixar on them, and they really are wonderful stories. Well worth your time.
  • Pentagon Declines to Loan Joss Whedon a Fighter Jet - Apparently Whedon wanted to get some military assistance for the Avengers, but the Military had some questions: "“To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything..." Seems fair, but as Josh Gross puts it: "And any comic fan will tell you, that's a dumb reason with an obvious answer. S.H.I.E.L.D. answers to Nick Fury, and Nick Fury answers only to his optometrist. Duh." Brilliant.
  • How To Survive A Robot Uprising - Handy guide.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on May 23, 2012 at 10:26 PM .: link :.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

SF Book Review, Part 11: The Vorkosigan Saga Ends
The last time I wrote about the Vorkosigan Saga books, a commenter noted that the best books were ahead of me, and indeed, I think they were. In fact, the run of books starting with Mirror Dance and concluding with A Civil Campaign is as good as any series I've ever read, and the series as a whole represents quite a feat. It is not so bogged down with continuity that you have to read all of them - most of the novels are complete stories in and of themselves. But on the other hand, when you read them in order (as I have done), a lot of value is added. This makes some of these later books in the series difficult to judge. Memory might be my favorite novel in the series, but is that because of what happens in the novel by itself, or is it reliant on previous installments for that heft? And is that a bad thing? Personally, I don't think so... but it may make an interesting topic for another post.

Below are short reviews of the last five novels of the series (with a bonus short story thrown in for good measure). I've tried to avoid any real talk about the plots of each, but there might be some minor spoilers on a macro level. That being said, I knew a lot of this stuff was coming before I read it, and it did not diminish anything. Half the fun is Bujold's style, which is not ornate or flowery, not showy, but perhaps deceptively effective and downright compelling. These are page turners, but ones of unusual sophistication. While I have finished the series, I don't think this will be the last I blog of it. Indeed, I already have a few ideas for other posts, but they will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, here's some mixed thoughts on the last five books of the series:
  • Memory - I think this may be my favorite novel of the series. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have nearly the same impact if you started here. This book is a culmination, a real turning point for both the character of Miles and the series as a whole. Up until now, Miles has led a dual life, and for the most part, he's gotten away with it. But the chickens come home to roost in this novel, and Miles has to make some hard choices. Like all the best Vorkosigan novels, seemingly nothing goes right in the first portion of the story. I keep thinking to myself: This is wrong! Or No, you idiot! Fortunately, Bujold knows what she's doing. Miles falters in the beginning, but starts to pick himself back up, and watching him grow, watching him finally accept and acknowledge his identity, his true identity, makes for a wonderful story (this is primarily why new readers might not wholly get it). Oh sure, there's lots of intrigue and conspiracy and of course Miles is in the center of it all, but that's the norm for him. What's new is that he doesn't retreat to his normal crutches (er, not after the beginning anyway), and instead forges a new path for himself.

    Also notable here is the setting of Barrayar, which becomes more complex and real to me every time I see it. Sometimes it seems like every science fiction planet has their own monoculture (or monoclimate), but Barrayar is fully realized, with distinct differences between rural and city areas, and multiple political factions, etc... It helps that the planet is populated with a veritable plethora of familiar and likeable side characters (another reason the book probably wouldn't resonate with new readers). In particular, it's fun to see a different side of Illyan, who up until now has been something of an inscrutable spymaster (though we do see him when he's much younger too). There's even a callback to my other favorite Vorkosigan story, The Mountains of Morning - Miles visits Silvy Vale again, to find that things have changed there, in no small part because of his previous efforts. It's a turning point for Miles in this story, and thus a turning point for the whole series.
  • Komarr - In this book, Miles and one of the Emperor's other Imperial Auditors visits one of the other two planets in the Barrayaran Imperium to investigate an engineering disaster. It looks pretty straightforward at first, but seeing as though Miles is involved, things get hairy pretty quickly. There are a few things that really set this book apart, and one is that half the book is written from Ekaterin Vorsoisson's perspective. She's the niece of Miles' Imperial Auditor colleague, and she's married to a minor Vor lord and administrator on the planet. This is a relatively new direction for the series, which has often relied on Miles as detective, but this time, it's his official role. I won't say much about the mystery in question, except that it's pretty well plotted and interesting. The real strength of this book is Ekaterin, who's in a pretty rough situation, and things get worse for her as time goes on. Miles and Ekaterin actually develop an interesting relationship here, and there's a moment about halfway through the book where they have a minor adventure when shopping, and it forces Miles to have flashback to his Dendarii days - it's actually a callback to one of the novellas from Borders of Infinity, and it totally explains something that I never quite got when I was reading that story. It's one of those moments when all the pieces unexpectedly come together... for something you never even realized was an issue. It makes me wonder about the degree to which Bujold had planned out the series. In any case, this is an interesting book. I wouldn't say that it's better than Memory, but it's solid in its own right, and it's an interesting direction for the series. Miles is still growing into his new role, and finding that his Impsec habits die hard (and that's a good thing, too, as his many varied experiences serve him well in his new job).
  • A Civil Campaign - You wouldn't think a book whose centerpiece is a (disastrous) dinner party would have very high stakes, but, well, here we are. Oh, and the conclusion of the story hinges off of... a democratic vote. Yeah, from the outside, this doesn't seem like much, especially in a series that has previously centered on military action and espionage, but it's actually quite involving because it's a big character piece. The points of view in this book expand from Miles and Ekaterin to also include Mark Vorkosigan, Kareen Koudelka, and even Ivan Vorpatril. Like Memory, we're on Barrayar here, so there's a huge cast of well established side characters making appearances, along with a bevy of new ones, including even some folk of the Vorrutyer clan who have been villains in previous books, but this time around, there are a couple that are, uh, maybe not good guys, but certainly better than the alternatives! It's another change of pace for the series, and the Romantic angle which has been building since Memory seems to have picked up a lot of steam. The books starts a bit on the slow side, but once you get to that ill-fated dinner party, which is hysterically funny by the way, things pick up considerably, making this among my favorite of the books in the series. Actually, the grand majority of the book is funny, probably making this more of a comedy than previous books in the series. Where Memory was all about Miles, this book seems more about Ekaterin. Her character underwent a lot of changes in Komarr too, but she's really the one that is driving everything this time around. This book really does a lot, but Bujold manages to juggle all the various storylines well, and make it all seem natural and balanced. Excellent book.
  • Winterfair Gifts - This is a short story that depicts Miles' wedding on Barrayar. The Dendarii mercenaries (sans Elli Quinn, for obvious reasons) have arrived for the wedding, but Lady Ekaterin has mysteriously fallen ill... The story is told entirely from Armsman Roic's POV, which is a neat touch. We've seen him a bit in the previous novel, but he really gets a chance to shine here. Indeed, there's even something of a romantic subplot with him and Taura, the 8 foot tall, genetically modified Dendarii mercenary with fierce, catlike features. Roic, being a Barrayaran, has a prejudice against women soldiers and "mutants", of which Taura certainly qualifies. But he quickly reverses position. It's not really the focus of the story, and it was pretty clear that nothing much would come of this because of Taura's unnaturally short lifespan, but it was a nice touch. The mystery the two of them solve is pretty neato too. All in all, it's a really pleasant story, and it was really nice to get updates on the Dendarii folk, who had been pretty absent from the recent books. If you're reading the series, don't skip this one because it's "just" a short story. It's a lot of fun.
  • Diplomatic Immunity - As I tweeted when I was reading this, I tried really hard to resist the "urge to constantly scream the title like the South African guy from Lethal Weapon 2". Of course, I failed miserably, and yes, I just kinda screamed it right now. Anywho, after the previous four books in the series, which were all superb, I think this one probably represents a bit of step backwards. Not bad at all, just not quite at the level of the previous few books. It does take a little while to get started, but once the nature of the conflict starts to become clear, it becomes incredibly tense and thrilling. Unfortunately, a fair amount of the conclusion happens "off screen" as it were, and we find out that Ekaterin saves the day in Miles' stead (I'd like to have seem more from Ekaterin's perspective in this one). On the other hand, we do get to hang out with Bel Thorne again, which is awesome, and Bujold's writing is still wonderful and absurdly funny at times. I don't want to talk much about the plot here, as it is interesting (you'll probably have to have read Cetaganda before this one for the ending to really have a good impact) and despite not being my favorite Vorkosigan book, it's still better than average SF mystery! It's one of those weird things. Miles manages to foil a galaxy-wide conspiracy plot that could have potentially lead to war... yet it seems like there is less at stake here than in A Civil Campaign!
  • Cryoburn - Like Diplomatic Immunity, this one suffers a bit from reduced stakes. Bujold manages to work around this by adding the POV of Jin, an 11 year old kid at the heart of the conspiracy that Miles is uncovering. But the book takes place on Kibou-daini, a planet that we've never heard of before (most of the other planets in Bujold's universe are mentioned and foreshadowed in other books before a story gets set there), and the only familiar face we run into is Armsman Roic (who is indeed awesome!) A few others show up later in the story, and we see some communiques from Ekaterin and Gregor and the like, and we hear a little about Miles' kids, but for the most part, it's all new characters. Fortunately, the new folks are pretty great in their own right, and the story here is also rather interesting, which I think elevates this above Diplomatic Immunity, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of some other installments. Ironically, despite being the latest novel published (and the latest in terms of the chronology), this might make a decent entry into the series, which is rather strange, and of course, everything you'd read after this would be prequel, so I wouldn't recommend it, but I suspect that's why this managed to garner a Hugo nomination... Anyway, I had a ton of fun with this, but there was something about it that felt strange. Not bad, but it's like Miles has become so powerful in his old age. He's done all the growth he's needed to do. It's like he's maxed out his levels in an RPG and so most enemies don't really represent a threat to him... so while I enjoyed the story, I never quite feared that he wouldn't manage to pull it all off in style, which, of course, he does. There's nothing really wrong with that, and again, I really had a lot of fun with the book, it's just another that isn't really top tier stuff (though Bujold's writing is tight as ever). The very end of Cryoburn, after the story proper has been resolved, seems a bit rushed for what it represents. There's a bit of a tragedy there, but not an unexpected one, and indeed, Bujold laid the hints on pretty thickly in the preceding chapters, though I didn't quite recognize that for what it was. It makes for a fitting end to the series, though I'm sure there are plenty other stories that could be told as well (and indeed, Bujold has written a tale centering around Ivan that will be out later this year).
Whew. There are only two books in the series that remain for me, one that takes place a couple hundred years in the past and is mostly unrelated (Falling Free) and one that is forthcoming (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which can't get here soon enough - I think withdrawal pains are starting to set in already).
Posted by Mark on May 13, 2012 at 04:28 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Link Dump
Is it time for more links? Yes, I think it is.
  • Magic Burger Crystals - Amazingly weird but fascinating video depicting a product with a bunch of plastic molds and packets of crystals. If you follow the instructions, you end up with a tiny meal - two burgers, some fries, and a soda. I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be eating a burger (including bun and cheese) that was grown out of microwaved wet crystals, but apparently it is edible and tastes like a real burger. It is, of course, from Japan. (via Chizumatic)
  • More on DRM and ebooks - After Charlie Stross's last musings on ebooks, in which he recommended that publishers remove DRM in order to compete with Amazon's monopolistic position in the market, it seems that Tor books announced that they will be removing DRM in order to compete with Amazon's monopolistic position in the market. Ok, they didn't actually say that, but it was an encouraging move, and Stross goes into some more detail about DRM and ebooks. As always, an interesting read.
  • Biometric Passports Make it Harder for Undercover CIA Officers - An interesting and probably unintentional effect of requiring biometrics when people enter your country. Technologies like iris scanners are cleaner than fingerprints, and they work faster, and they hurt spycraft: "For a clandestine field operative, flying under a false name could be a one-way ticket to a headquarters desk, since they're irrevocably chained to whatever name and passport they used." Huh.
  • In Comfortable Retirement, and Getting Tired of It - Trevor Pryce played in the NFL for 14 years. He's now 36 years old and retired. And bored. I always wondered what these folks do after their (usually shorter than 14 year) career has ended, and I guess this is the answer. I also wonder if I would fall into the same category if I were to retire in a couple of years. My fear is that I'd be a little like Peter from Office Space and be happy doing nothing. I suspect I'd figure something out though.
  • Wanderlunch - College Humor sent someone to Dubai so they could eat that disgusting looking Pizza Hut thing with mini cheeseburgers in it. I don't know whether to applaud this or do a facepalm.
  • Alternate Movie Posters - Most of these are really beautiful, Mondo-quality posters.
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on May 09, 2012 at 09:09 PM .: link :.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sister Clodagh's Superficially Spiritual, Ambitiously Agnostic Last-Rites-of-Spring 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, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, and Dr. Anton Phibes, are also available... This time around, Sister Superior Clodagh "has fashioned a quiz organized loosely around themes of religious belief and representation in the movies", which, now that I think about it, isn't a particular specialty to me. Perhaps it's my 16 years of Catholic schooling (and exposure to actual nuns) that has caused me to neglect religious filmmaking, or maybe it's because most films examining religion aren't particularly sympathetic. Whatever the case, here are my answer's to Sister Clodagh's quiz:

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns

I had a tough go on this one. There are a lot of movies with nuns, but few where the nuns are actually prominent characters. My first thought went to Two Mules for Sister Sara, a movie I don't even remember that well, except that I remember enough to know that it doesn't really qualify for this question... I've actually not seen this quiz's namesake in Black Narcissus, so that's a no go. Looking at the other answers at SLIFR, I see one that works for me though: Sister Mary Stigmata (a.k.a. The Penguin) in The Blues Brothers. The nuns I've come into contact with never contained mystical powers, nor did they smack their students with rulers, but I grew up in the namby pamby 80s. I've heard stories, though. (Oh, and in the course of one of the other questions below, I found Dead Man Walking - which is a great movie featuring nuns... among other things.)
The Penguin
2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

I'll go with Ronin (with The Manchurian Candidate being my favorite), but while I've seen at least 5 or 6 other Frankenheimer movies, I probably should also take a look at Seven Days in May and Seconds (which would be the punniest answer to this question, tee hee).

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

Hell, I don't really know who either of these people are... But looking at their filmography, I see that Scott Brady was in Gremlins, which is pretty awesome. Then again, I can't even picture him in that and William Bendix is in a few movies I'd like to catch up with at some point: Hitchcock's Lifeboat and William Wyler's Detective Story. But not having seen those movies, I guess this one goes to Brady on a technicality.

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

I have certainly never done so in real life (though I do seem to recall a huge line stretching around the block for Return of the Jedi in my youth... I don't remember how long it took to get in, but I'd be surprised if it was six hours). At this point in my life, I can't imagine doing that for simple entertainment purposes - heck, I get annoyed when I have to wait more than a minute or two to buy a ticket these days. But I suppose that if someone invents a movie that will confer some sort of powers (or immortality or something) to its audience, I'd be willing to wait the six hours for that. I'm not holding my breath though.

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though perhaps I have seen an episode of The Twilight Zone that he directed (if so, I have no remembrance of it). I have done an exhaustive ten-second analysis of his filmography though, and shall thus declare Death Takes a Holiday a movie that interests me. So there.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?

Peggy Cummins, because I've actually seen movies that she's in... and I even recognized her name. Poor Ann Savage... but it's hard to compete with Gun Crazy and Curse of the Demon.

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child

As if I needed a reason to question the reliability of human memory, this question hurts. The first movie that jumped into my head was The Terminator, but that came out way too late to be my first movie, and I know I've seen others before it. As previously mentioned, I remember the line for Return of the Jedi, but my memories of that showing must have been superseded by the dozens of other times I've watched that movie. I do remember watching Dumbo at some point. I have no idea how old I was at the time, but I'd put that at around 4 years old, as that age is where my mind points to as containing the first real, concrete memories (including a distinct memory of asking how old I was - I may have done that before, but I was 4 years old when I started actually keeping track of my age).

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?

I can't say as though I've ever wanted to do that. I can only remember walking out on a movie once, for Tank Girl, which was emphatically not what I wanted to watch at the time. I do remember getting sick in Cloverfield - and I'm not typically prone to motion sickness either - but instead of bolting from the theater screaming, I simply closed my eyes until my body was able to establish some sort of equilibrium.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?

Robert Mitchum, hands down. I mean The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear (both of 'em), and Out of the Past... heck, even Scrooged. Tough to compete with Mitchum's filmography.

10) Best movie Jesus

This is a tough one, as most of the obvious choices are from movies that I'm not that big a fan of... I honestly can't think of a truly great performance as Jesus. Dafoe's Jesus is pretty good, I guess, except that's not really the Jesus I know. I've never seen Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and from what I hear, the movie ain't particularly good (though he's apparently good in it). Honestly, the best answer I've seen for this one is John Turturro from The Big Lebowski....

11) Silliest straight horror film that you're still fond of

There are probably dozens of answers I could give here, as I tend to enjoy silly horror films, but the only real possible answer for me is Phantasm. Granted, I does still strike a nerve at moments and can be genuinely compelling, but it's low budget and horrible acting sometimes make the film laughable. In particular, the sequence where the Tall Man's finger turns into a bug is a masterpiece of silly cinema. It's a movie that I've always loved though, perhaps because it is earnest, but silly.
The Penguin
Greatest Special Effects Ever
12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?

Emily Blunt by default, as I've actually seen movies she's in. This is mildly unfair though, as I'm much more familiar with the filmic period of Blunt than the filmic period of Gray (who was most active in the 30s and 40s).

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular

Ben-Hur, hands down my favorite Biblican spectacular, probably because it only touches on the Bible peripherally. Most of the other Biblical epics struggle to compete with the minds eye from having read the Bible from a young age. Ben-Hur is based on a novel and had multiple film adaptations before the Charlton Heston, William Wyler take that I love so much, but it still feels like an "original" story, something I value more and more in these days of remakes and marketing-driven films.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor

The obvious answer is the "I hate sand" monologue from Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, but I wasn't really laughing at the time because I actually wanted those movies to be good. I don't really have a list of unintentionally hilarious cinematic moments, but I could probably come up with hundreds of examples if given enough time. Another few that just came to me: several moments in The Happening are just cringe inducingly funny (I'm thinking about the scene where Marky Mark pleads with his students to care about the bees, or the scene where he tells this completely off-the-wall story about how he went to a pharmacist or something), and then there's the scene where Miles Dyson dies in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is just hysterically funny in a moment that is supposed to be deadly serious.

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?

Michael Fassbender, though again, we're hit with two different time periods, and I'm much more familiar with Fassbender's work than Farrar's... Also, Fassbender is pretty fucking awesome.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie

I had a hard time with this, then the ideas just kept pouring through to the point where I can't pick a favorite. I'll start with a pair of Christmas classics: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, then move to more modern times with Field of Dreams and one that I saw in the SLIFR thread that I would have never thought of, but which fits: Groundhog Day.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism

People seem to take different stances on agnosticism, so this question will definitely provoke different sorts of answers depending on how you define agnosticism. Some think it's all about doubting or questioning the existence of a deity, and their answers indicate such (including snarky ones like "anything directed by Michael Bay makes me question the existence of a god"). Personally, I tend towards the notion that agnosticism is really about the difference between belief and knowledge - I think we are all agnostics of a sort, even if we call ourselves Christian or athiest or Muslim or whatever. The movie that comes to mind here is Contact, which explores the subject at angles. I don't think the movie is perfect and some aspects haven't held up as well as I'd like, but I do love the conflict at the heart of the story. Science versus religion, fact versus faith, knowledge versus belief. I have not read the book, and from what I understand, the film stops short. But judging on the film itself, I think it makes a certain sorta sense that aligns with a lot of my feelings on the myriad subjects tackled. In essence, I don't see the conflicts described as being all that conflicting. Science and religion sometimes struggle with the same questions, but their approaches are so fundamentally different, and the questions so impenetrable and that I think both are necessary...

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical

I generally hate musicals, so I have no idea, but I'll choose the most obscure thing that comes to mind, which is a song from Stingray Sam that consists mostly of the two parents' names and their offspring's name, which is a portmanteau of the parents' names - for example, Fredrick and Edward produced Fredward. It's a brilliant song. Here, watch it:

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie

The Big Sleep, with His Girl Friday being my favorite, and Rio Bravo being my second favorite. In all honesty, the answer could be any of those three, depending on my mood, as I love them all. I also have an affection for Sergeant York, but that's a more sentimental and personal thing...

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?

I'm going to have to take a mulligan here, as I'm not really that familiar with these actresses' filmographies. I've frequently observed that I need to get better acquainted with the silent era, though I've not made much progress in that direction.

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?

Most recently seen in the theater was The Cabin in the Woods (which I loved), though after tonight, it will be The Avengers. On Blu-Ray, it was The Thing remake/prequel/reboot thing (pun intended) that strikes me as being an object lesson in how CGI effects are inferior to practical effects. Also, it was a fine, but pretty unnecessary movie that doesn't really come close to the classic Carpenter version. On streaming, it was Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a documentary about the Filipino exploitation scene in the 60s and 70s (this will come up later in the quiz).

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion

I have not seen Life of Brian in many years and thus don't remember much about it other than it was funny and surprisingly thoughtful.

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?

Yeah, so I don't really know either of these guys. Skelton sticks out in my head, but I don't really know his filmography that well. And Phil Silvers was in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which I remember enjoying despite the fact that it's a bit overlong.

24) "Favorite" Hollywood scandal

Not much of a scandal follower myself, so I can't really think of many, except perhaps the Hollywood blacklist stuff, but even then, I'm not too interested in that sort of thing. I'd rather watch movies than gossip about actors and actresses, thanks.

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)

This was surprisingly difficult, as most every religious movie I've seen seems to involve Christianity in some way or another. The Wicker Man came to mind, but that's not really a serious exploration of paganism, and much of it is played off of the Christian leanings of the main character. A Serious Man is a great movie and it's got a lot to say about Judaism. I've got to give credit to the guy who answered I Walked with a Zombie, which also brings to mind The Serpent and the Rainbow, both of which (superficially) involve Voodoo. It's been so long since I've seen Gandhi that I'm not sure how religious it really was... Jeeze, this question is harder than it should be.
The Wicker Man
26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)

Erm, yeah, once again I'm not terribly familiar with any of their work, but I'll go with King Hu for his work with the Shaw Brothers and his work on Wuxia Pian pictures.

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat

This is a deceptively difficult question to answer, but I'll say dialogue, writing in general, and originality would be welcome in modern movies. Hollywood seems to be stuck in this weird marketing mindset which says that movies can't be successful unless they're based on an existing property. Hence the recent spate of remakes and reboots, along with the trend towards franchises that's been on the march for several decades now. It's not so much that this stuff is inherently bad as that it's seemingly pervasive these days, to the point where Hollywood is putting out movies based on board games (which I'd honestly not mind if they actually went out of their way to hire someone talented to write an interesting story - I'd love to see that sort of thing flourish, but from what I've seen, that ain't happening). Conversely, American independent cinema is running too far in the opposite direction, making unpalatable, aggressively insular, "personal" films that are often actively hostile to their audience. That sort of middle-ground where movies can be entertaining but still very good seems to have been lost.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie

Shocking confession: I've never actually seen a Federico Fellini movie. I should probably get off my butt and see , but I've heard so much about that movie and despite the praise, it never sounds even remotely interesting to me. Ditto for La Dolce Vita. Call me a philistine, I guess.

29) The Three Stooges (2012) - yes or no?

Sure, why not? I've never been much of a Three Stooges kinda guy, and I probably won't see this in the theater, but I'm not actively opposed to it either. This might just be my temperament though, as there's a question like this in every quiz, and I'm pretty sure I always answer "yes" because perhaps it feels like censorship to say "no" and who am I to judge what other folks like.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?

Boy do I suck at these. I don't really know either one that well, but I'll go with Patsy Kelly. Because I said so, that's why. Also, she's apparently in Rosemary's Baby. So there.

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory

I have no frickin idea what the "best" conspiracy theory is, but one I just ran across thanks to that Machete Maidens Unleashed! documentary is that one of the women who went over the the Philippines to film one of the many women-in-jungle-prison movies made there was never heard from again. The folks at SLIFR have identified a couple of other good ones though, such as the rumor that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings on the Universal lot and the one where Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist. But the best one is probably The Dark Side of the Rainbow....

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie

I'm going to go with The Godfather, for a number of reasons. The big knock against the film is that it's "romanticized" or "sentimental", but I think that completely misses the point. Like a lot of great gangster movies, The Godfather does show a sorta romantic aspect to the mafia of olden days, but it also doesn't shy away from the nasty stuff either, and the very end of the film is quite disheartening. There's also a lot to be said about the cycle of violence in the film that many folks seem to gloss over. I suppose a lot of this is arguable, but perhaps that's why The Godfather is a classic.

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise) I'm having a lot of trouble with this one, in part because it's either too specific, and I can't think of an example that matches that criteria, or it's too vague, and nearly any movie that makes me think would qualify. I lean towards that more general version, but again, that means that there are so many movies that could fit into the answer to this question that it would really be unfair to answer with one or two movies... and I don't have time to list out hundreds!

Well, that wraps up this edition of the movie quiz. I know I'm really bad at the actor/acress vs actor/actress questions, but I still love these quizzes and am already looking forward to the next one (which will hopefully be in the summer instead of skipping a season like this time)....
Posted by Mark on May 06, 2012 at 07:46 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Tweets of Glory
One of the frustrating things about Twitter is that it's impossible to find something once it's gone past a few days. I've gotten into the habit of favoriting ones I find particularly funny or that I need to come back to, which is nice, as it allows me to publish a cheap Wednesday blog entry (incidentally, sorry for the cheapness of this entry) that will hopefully still be fun for folks to read. So here are some tweets of glory:

Note: This was Stephenson's first tweet in a year and a half.

This one is obviously a variation on a million similar tweets (and, admit it, it's a thought we've all had), but the first one I saw (or at least, favorited - I'm sure it's far from the first time someone made that observation though)

Well, that happened. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) more fulfilling content on Sunday...
Posted by Mark on May 02, 2012 at 08:36 PM .: link :.

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