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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Link Dump
Yet more links plumbed from the depths of the internets:
  • An Author’s Sweet, Helpful Takedown Of A Kid Trying To Cheat On His Homework - Some kid didn't feel like doing his assigned summer reading, so he turned to the paragon of truth and honor on the internet: Yahoo! Answers. At this point, it came to the attention of the author of the book, who actually wrote a pretty helpful response to said cheater. Sample awesome:
    I'm not going to sit here and act like I didn't sometimes not read assigned books for class in high school. Even though it's referenced once in my book, the book you're avoiding reading, I've never actually read "The Scarlet Letter." So I'm sympathetic to your plight. But I think you'll find there's a ton more sex, swearing, and drugs in my book than anything else you have been or will be assigned in high school, and I don't mean in the way your teacher will tell you "You know, Shakespeare has more sex and violence than an R-rated movie!" I mean it's all there, in terms you will readily understand without having to Google them. Plus not once to I refer to anything as a "bare bodkin" or anything like that.
  • PigGoatBananaMantis! - From the idontknowwhatthefuckisgoingoninthisvideo tag of my delicious account. I could go for some gravity pickles right about now.
  • Three Neal/Neils - A picture of Neal, Neil, and Neil.
  • Bat Man of Shanghai - One of a series of Batman shorts set in a 1930's era Shanghai, this clip is pretty darn awesome. Not sure if the Cartoon Network/DC Nation will be producing a lot of this, but it's quite stylish and well produced...
  • "Scary Smash" - Written By A Kid Ep 1 - So basically, these guys ask a 5 year old kid to tell them a story... which they then went ahead and filmed, getting Dave Foley and Joss Whedon to star in it. Fantastic.
  • Some Boats in a Race - So some Irish dude took it upon himself to provide his own color commentary to the Olympic sailing race. I'd have posted this earlier, but the IOC keeps getting the videos taken down. This copy seems to have been up for a little while, but check this out and make sure you watch all the way until the end. There's a twist!
That's all for now...
Posted by Mark on August 29, 2012 at 09:57 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Director Joseph Kahn has only made two movies, but they're both impossible to categorize. Oh sure, Torque is clearly a Fast and Furious clone, but Kahn made it his own. It's a movie that "so bad it's good" doesn't even begin to describe. Back in the day, Nick Nunziata did as good a job as possible describing it:
When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer's night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I'm referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film's many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.

It scoffs at The Fast and the Furious, a film that not only made this film possible but one that looks like a Cassavettes flick in comparison. Let that sink in. I'll wait.
I can't say as though I truly enjoy Torque as much as its cult following suggests, but Kahn's latest film, Detention, is something I fell in love with right away.

Within 5 minutes of Detention, I was on board. And, judging from the reviews (and even audience reactions), most other folks wouldn't be. But that's ok. This isn't a movie for everyone. It's a movie for the information-overloaded internet and texting generation (you could consider me on the outside of that, I think, but not so far outside that I can't appreciate what this movie is going for). Referential, manic, kinetic, goofy, this thing makes Scott Pilgrim look like an Ozu film. Smash cuts, whip pans, excessive cross-cutting, flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, on-screen text, and did I mention how referential this movie is?

It's not a subtle movie. You could say that's a bad thing, but for me, it's rocketed past unsubtle and into some sort of transcendence. This is a movie that makes hyperbole seem inadequate. You could say that this is a movie that's trying to hard. It could feel like an exhausting experience, an endurance test, or maybe a seizure-inducing bomb. It seems like everything that I think is great about this movie could equally be considered a flaw by detractors. But while I can see why people would feel that way, I quite enjoyed it.

The story, inasmuch as you could say it has a story, is about Riley Jones, a high-school "loser" who runs afoul of a slasher-inspired killer. Er, sorta. It's like a demented mixture of John Hughes and Donnie Darko and Freaky Friday and countless horror films. Kahn is riffing off of current horror movie trends, notably torture porn, but fusing it with references from the 80s and 90s. In fact, the 90s references seem to be about on par, if not more prevalent, than the 80s references.

The movie is so fast paced that I suspect it will reward multiple viewings. It's packed with references, not only in the dialogue, but also in the visuals and conceptual design. For instance, there's a movie-within-a-movie slasher franchise called Cinderhella, and our main character, Riley, is walking around with one shoe for most of the movie. So while this film is ostensibly hitting you in the face with a sledgehammer (in the form of editing and writing), there are some subtle touches when it comes to stuff like this. The references are widely sourced; not just movies, but also music and fashion and probably stuff I didn't even come close to picking up on... If you get it, it's awesome, and if you don't, you might not like it. On the other hand, this is a movie made for the internet age. In interviews, Kahn suggests that he expects the audience to pick the movie apart and look up references on the internet. Indeed, I can see this movie gaining a big cult following who will go on to cultivate a wiki or something that would catalog all of the myriad references. Is this a good thing? I guess that depends on your perspective, but I'm glad someone is playing around with that sort of thing for this new generation. Referential art is certainly not a new thing, even excessively referential art.

Kahn is pushing the boundaries of information processing. Consider how fast the on-screen text is displayed. which is clearly calibrated for a younger, texting-obsessed audience. Other folks might be tempted to tell this movie to get off their lawn, and that's ok too. I will admit, the movie is all over the place. That might trip it up some in the second and third acts, but it ultimately holds together well and I suspect that some of the seemingly goofy plot machinations that emerge later in the movie fit together tightly. For a movie featuring time travel, angry Canadians, alien bears from the planet Starclaw, and copious amounts of vomit, this is quite the feat. Again, I think repeated viewings might be necessary to break the code.

This is bold, audacious, adventurous filmmaking at its best. Sure, it's totally bonkers, but it's got a manic energy that's hard not to like. A part of me, the part that tries to overanalyze and nitpick everything, doesn't really know what to make of it, but on a pure entertainment level, it's something that really appeals to me. I suspect you'll be hearing more about this movie when it comes to Kaedrin awards season... (Incidentally, I tried to take some screenshots from the BD, but it appears that BD's copy protection means I can't actually watch it on my PC, despite having a BD drive and "approved" player. Yet another instance of DRM making it hard on those of us who want to support filmmakers.)
Posted by Mark on August 26, 2012 at 06:34 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tweets of Glory
There's some great stuff on Twitter, but the tweets just keep coming, so there's a fair chance you've missed some funny stuff, even from the people you follow. Anywho, time is short tonight, so it's time for another installment of Tweets of Glory:

I have to admit, hatewatching The Newsroom has actually been pretty entertaining, but I'd much rather watch this proposed feline-themed show.

Yeah, so that one's a little out of date, but for the uninitiated, Duncan Jones is David Bowie's son.

(I love the internet)

Well, that happened. Stay tuned for some (hopefully) more fulfilling content on Sunday...
Posted by Mark on August 22, 2012 at 09:54 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Final Girl Film Club: The Initiation
It has been far too long since I've joined in on the Final Girl Film Club, so I'm rectifying that situation with this month's pick: The Initiation. It's not quite the cheesefest of some slashers, but on the other hand, it actually acquits itself reasonably well. Definitely a second tier effort, but well worth watching for fans of the sub-genre.

Things get kicked off, as they often do in slashers, with a tragedy in the past. A young girl awakes in a room filled with decapitated dolls (this is brought up again later in the movie, though never really explained). She hears strange noises, so she goes to investigate. As she approaches her parents' room, she glimpses them knocking boots in the mirror. Naturally, she takes this opportunity to stab her father in the leg... at which point, some strange man bursts into the room. The father grabs a bottle of liquor and attacks, but he only succeeds in dousing the man in alcohol. Stunned, he falls backwards into the roaring fireplace, whereupon he immediately bursts into flames. All pretty standard slasher tragic history stuff here, but then the twist: It's all a dream! (This sort of cliched "twist" is a recurring theme in the movie.)

It appears that this is a recurring nightmare for Kelly, a college freshman played by Daphne Zuniga. She's probably most famous for her work in Melrose Place, but to me, she will always be Princess Vespa. Here, she's pledging a (not at all creepy) sorority, and the head of the sorority informs her (and her sisters) of the typical 80s college movie prank they must carry out: they're to break into Kelly's family's mall and steal the security guard's uniform. Delightful.
But don't get your hopes up yet, because it'll be another hour or so before we get there. Instead, we take a detour to a sanitarium (never seen that in a slasher before, eh?) where we see a Nurse Ratchet wannabe sticking it to the inmates, including a dude with burns all over his face and a penchant for gardening. This in no way foreshadows anything, right?

Checkov's Gardening Implement
Of course, Ratchet wannabe girl is murdered during a daring sanitarium escape scheme in which numerous crazies have gone missing... including someone Kelly's parents are afraid of!

Meanwhile, Kelly's got the hots for her dream analysis professor Peter, who thinks he may be able to help her interpret her recurring nightmares. He takes her to "The Dream Factory", otherwise known as the basement, whereupon he hooks her up to all this fancy equipment, with the help of his wacky aid, Heidi. We immediately trust Peter because he's super intelligent, as demonstrated by his repeated references to Freud and Jung. Also: Science! Anywho, we find out a little more about Kelly and her dream as well as a childhood accident where she fell out of a treehouse, slipped into a coma, and then emerged weeks later with amnesia. As Heidi speculates, that ain't no nightmare man, it's a memory! Heidi will later perform quite the Scooby sleuthing on Kelly's past...
There's a lot of meandering in the second act, but it nevertheless manages to maintain momentum and entertainment value. For instance, there's the typical slasher party sequence, complete with cheesy 80s live band music and a bonkers theme - everyone dresses up as their "favorite suppressed desires". This generally manifests as girls wearing slutty costumes, but there's one dude who dresses up like a giant penis. Of course!

Elsewhere, people are mysteriously dying, courtesy of the aforementioned gardening implements. This relatively short list of victims includes Kelly's father, who is beheaded on his way to see his mistress. In one of the film's more brilliant and retrained comedic touches, Kelly's mother notices that he forgot his glasses, and runs outside, only to find his car driving off (this is presumably the killer covering his tracks), and exclaims "Sometimes I think that man would forget his head if it wasn't attached!" This, again, is just after he was beheaded.

Next up, we finally get to the aforementioned mall prank... but it appears that our killer has gotten there before our heroines. There's a lengthy sequence in which the porn mustachioed security guard who doesn't know how to button his uniform shirt and wears cowboy boots is stalked by the killer, eventually succumbing to yet another gardening implement. Not sure who this guy is, but he clearly thought this was his prestige moment and gives a full-throated scream as he dies. I believe he was nominated for an Academy Award that year, but didn't win.
Finally, the girls get to the mall and devise a plan wherein everyone splits up to find the security guard and separate him from his uniform. Naturally, the other sisters in the sorority have contracted out with the frat boys to give the girls a good scare (classic 80s prank twist), and of course, they get picked off one by one in a series of increasingly odd sequences that, nevertheless, never quite reach the levels of insanity or gore you want out of a good slasher. Sure, there's a basic level of competence here, but there's nothing here that you haven't seen before.

It's ultimately all good fun. There are a series of obvious twists and turns in the final minutes of the movie, again carrying forward the theme of cliched plot devices. This movie really does check off the slasher boxes pretty well. It's got everything. Past tragedy, suppressed memories, Freud, Jung, sanitariums, burn victims, evil twins, awkward revelations of child abuse, lots of T&A, obscure tools that are nonetheless common weapons in slasher movies (most notably the speargun), bad 80s music, faux-science, the list goes on and on. Pretty much every thing about this movie, every kill, every plot development, every character is derivative of other slashers... and yet, it works. It works pretty damn well, actually.

That is the paradox of slasher movies, I guess. They're so formulaic and so derivative, and yet, so comforting in their sameness. It's like horror movie comfort food. Like putting on a warm sweater on a cold winter's night. As slashers go, I'd put this in the upper portion of the second tier. It's clearly not top tier stuff, but it gets the job done well, and there's a lot of nice little touches. This movie essentially represents a really nice appetizer for my upcoming 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, which I now cannot wait for...

Some more screens and commentary below the fold, though not a ton, as it's a pain to take screens off of Netflix's streaming.

Death by Garden Tool
This is Kelly's father, played by Clu Gulager, who I actually kinda love because he's in a lot of movies, and his son is the lunatic director from season three of Project Greenlight (the best and most kooky season of that unfortunately long defunct series).
Part 2 of Kelly's father's death is a beheading done in shadows! Yet another common slasher trope.
Yep, it's a penis costume. Not sure what "suppressed desire" this tracks to for this guy, but whatever, I think... this is probably a good place to end this post.
Posted by Mark on August 19, 2012 at 08:05 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

BFI Greatest Films Meme
Minor controversy in the film nerd world broke out recently when the once-a-decade BFI film poll unseated reigning champion Citizen Kane in favor of Hitchcock's most personal of films, Vertigo (Kane had held the top spot for 5 polls... 50 years is still a pretty impressive run though). Personally, Vertigo is a middle tier Hitchcock film (lesser Hitch?), as there are at least 5-10 other Hitchcock movies I'd put ahead of that one. But on the other hand, I'd probably opt to rewatch Vertigo over Citizen Kane (though I agree that both movies are pretty darn good!) In any case, all the cool kids are showing off their filmic bona fides by listing out which of the top 50 BFI movies they've seen. Sad to say, I've probably seen less than I should have, but here's what I've got (typical meme rules apply - bold the film if you've seen it):

1. Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958
2. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, 1941
3. Tokyo Story, Ozu Yasujiro, 1953
4. La Règle du jeu, Jean Renoir, 1939
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, FW Murnau, 1927
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968
7. The Searchers, John Ford, 1956
8. Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer, 1927
10. 8½, Federico Fellini, 1963
11. Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein, 1925
12. L’Atalante, Jean Vigo, 1934
13. Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard, 1960
14. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
15. Late Spring, Ozu Yasujiro, 1949
16. Au hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson, 1966
17= Seven Samurai, Kurosawa Akira, 1954
17= Persona, Ingmar Bergman, 1966
19. Mirror, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974
20. Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951
21= L’avventura, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960
21= Le Mépris, Jean-Luc Godard, 1963
21= The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, 1972
24= Ordet, Carl Dreyer, 1955
24= In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
26= Rashomon, Kurosawa Akira, 1950
26= Andrei Rublev, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966
28. Mulholland Dr., David Lynch, 2001
29= Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979
29= Shoah, Claude Lanzmann, 1985
31= The Godfather Part II, Francis Ford Coppola, 1974
31= Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese, 1976
33. Bicycle Thieves, Vittoria De Sica, 1948
34. The General, Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1926
35= Metropolis, Fritz Lang, 1927
35= Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960
35= Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, Chantal Akerman, 1975
35= Sátántangó, Béla Tarr, 1994
39= The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, 1959
39= La dolce vita, Federico Fellini, 1960
41. Journey to Italy, Roberto Rossellini, 1954
42= Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray, 1955
42= Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder, 1959
42= Gertrud, Carl Dreyer, 1964
42= Pierrot le fou, Jean-Luc Godard, 1965
42= Play Time, Jacques Tati, 1967
42= Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990
48= The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966
48= Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard, 1998
50= City Lights, Charlie Chaplin, 1931
50= Ugetsu monogatari, Mizoguchi Kenji, 1953
50= La Jetée, Chris Marker, 1962

By my count, that's 20 out of 50, not a particularly impressive number, though nothing to be embarrassed about either. Still, there are a few on the list that I really should have seen by now (I'm looking at you, Metropolis! I'm coming for ya!) I think perhaps I'm also due for a French new wave marathon of sorts, as that's one area of film I'm not particularly familiar with...
Posted by Mark on August 15, 2012 at 09:47 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Nitpicking
I watch a lot of movies and thus it follows that I also consume a fair amount of film criticism, mostly through the internets (reviews, forums, podcasts, etc...) One thing I've noticed recently in a few high-profile movies is that many reviews resort to long lists of nitpicking. I'm certainly not immune to this tendency - I tried to minimize my nitpicks in my Prometheus review, but if I were so inclined, I could probably generate a few thousand words picking the nits out of that movie. I really disliked that movie, but were the nitpicks the cause? Another movie I could probably nitpick to death is The Dark Knight Rises... and yet, I really enjoyed that movie. We could quibble about the quantity and magnitude of the nitpicks in both films, but a recent discussion with a friend on both movies made me start wondering about nitpicks again. It's something I've seen before, though I don't think I've ever really written about it in detail.

The origin of the term comes from the process of removing the eggs of lice (aka nits) from the host's hair. Because the nits attach themselves to individual strands of hair, the process of removing them is tedious and slow. You could shave all the hair off and later, chemical methods of treating lice infestations became available. But the term nitpicking has lived on as a way describing the practice of meticulously examining a subject in search of subtle errors in detail. In the context of this post, we're talking about movies, but this gets applied to lots of other things.

When it comes to movies and TV series, nitpicks can go either way. Some will claim that the existence of nitpicks are evidence that the show or movie is sloppy and poorly made. Others will claim that the nitpickers are missing the forest for the trees. Nitpickers just don't "get it" and are taking the fun out of everything. In fairness, there's probably an element of truth to both sides of that argument, but I think they're both missing the point of nitpicks, which is this: Nitpicks are almost always emblematic of a deeper problem with the story or characters. Oh sure, there are some people who can't turn their brains off and nitpick because they're just analytical by nature (one definition of engineer's disease), but even in those cases, I think there's something to be said for a deeper dislike than the nitpicks would seem to indicate.

Nitpicks are the symptoms, not the disease. I didn't dislike Prometheus because, for example, their spaceship was in a constant state of thrust at the beginning of the movie or because there was no explanation for how the ship maintained gravity in space. But both of those things were immediately obvious to me, which tells me that I wasn't really immersed in the story that was being told. As the movie unfolds, a number of breathtakingly stupid plot developments were continually taking me out of the story. Perhaps if the movie wasn't so stupid, I may have overlooked those initial observations, but as the nitpicks mounted, it became harder and harder to overlook them. I don't go into a movie hoping that it will suck. There's a certain amount of goodwill that a movie has to wear away at in order to ruin immersion, and for whatever reason the quantity and magnitude of nitpicks with Prometheus wore out that goodwill pretty quickly. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, didn't bother me nearly as much. In fact, as I mentioned in my review, most of the nitpicks I have with that movie came to light after the fact. It's what Hitchcock calls a "refrigerator" movie: something that makes sense while you're watching it, but falls apart under critical examination (while standing in front of the refrigerator later in the night). That being said, for lots of people, that wasn't enough. And that's perfectly understandable.

In general, it seems that people are perhaps less objective than they'd like to think. One of the great things about art is that the pieces that move us usually aren't doing so solely on an intellectual level... and when it comes to emotion, words sometimes fail us. Take, for example, a comedy. The great thing about laughter is that you don't have to think about it, it just happens. Different people have different tastes, of course, and that's where subjectivity comes in. But for whatever reason, we don't like to admit that, so we try to rationalize our feelings about a given movie. And if we don't like that movie, such rationalizations may manifest in the form of nitpicks. None of this is absolute, of course. Most art works on both intellectual and emotional levels, and as you gain experience with a given medium or genre (or whatever), you will start to pick out patterns and tropes. One of the interesting things about this is that what gets labeled a "nitpick" can vary widely in scope. Nitpicks can range from trivial mistakes to serious continuity errors, but they all get lumped under the same category. As such, I think it can be difficult to discern what's a nitpick and what's the root cause of said nitpick.

A few years ago, I was discussing John Scalzi's book Old Man's War in an online forum. I (and a number of other forum members) enjoyed the book greatly, but one person didn't. When asked why, she responded that it was disappointing that, during one scene earlier in the book, a doctor spent time explaining how some machines worked to his patient. This is a nitpick if I've ever seen one. What she said was true - it was somewhat unrealistic that these two characters would stop what they're doing to have a discussion about how certain technologies operated. But I was wrapped up in the story by that point, so I barely even noticed it. Even after it was pointed out, it didn't ruin the book for me. She was not invested in the story though, so that scene was jarring to her. After further discussion, it turns out that this was a specific manifestation of a larger issue she had with the book, which was that it lazily introduced concepts through awkward exposition or dialogue, and never followed through on any of it. I don't particularly agree with her on that, but I can see where she's coming from.

I think the lesson here is that when people are nitpicking a movie to death, it's not necessarily the specific nitpicks that are so bothersome. Perhaps, in some cases, it's the combined weight of all the nitpicks that causes an issue, but I suspect that even in those cases, the nitpicks are merely the most obvious examples of a deeper problem. I think both critics and defenders would do well to recognize this sort of thing. It's fun to list out nitpicks or examples of something you don't like about a work of art, but that's not really what criticism is about. I don't mean to say that you can't or shouldn't do this sort of thing, just that it would be useful at some point to look back at that list and wonder what it was about the book or movie or whatever that inspired you to meticulously chronicle minor errors or whatever. This is probably easier said than done. I can't say as though I succeed at this all the time, but then, I'm just some dude wanking on the internets. Ultimately, all of this is somewhat superfluous, but it's something worth considering the next time you find yourself cataloging trivial errors in detail.
Posted by Mark on August 12, 2012 at 06:38 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Web browsers I have known, 1996-2012
Jason Kottke recently recapped all of the browsers he used as his default for the past 18 years. It sounded like fun, so I'm going to shamelessly steal the idea and list out my default browsers for the past 16 years (prior to 1996, I was stuck in the dark ages of dialup AOL - but once I went away to college and discovered the joys of T1/T3 connections, my browsing career started in earnest, so that's when I'm starting this list).
  • 1996 - Netscape Navigator 3 - This was pretty much the uncontested king of browsers at the time, but it's reign would be short. I had a copy of IE3 (I think?) on my computer too, but I almost never used it...
  • 1997-1998 - Netscape Communicator 4 - Basically Netscape Navigator 4, but the Communicator was a whole suite of applications which appealed to me at the time. I used it for email and even to start playing with some HTML editing (though I would eventually abandon everything but the browser from this suite). IE4 did come out sometime in this timeframe and I used it occasionally, but I think I stuck with NN4 way longer than I probably should have.
  • 1999-2000 - Internet Explorer 5 - With the release of IE5 and the increasing issues surrounding NN4, I finally jumped ship to Microsoft. I was never particularly comfortable with IE though, and so I was constantly looking for alternatives and trying new things. I believe early builds of Mozilla were available, and I kept downloading the updates in the hopes that it would allow me to dispense with IE, but it was still early in the process for Mozilla. This was also my first exposure to Opera, which at the time wasn't that remarkable (we're talking version 3.5 - 4 here) except that, as usual, they were ahead of the curve on tabbed browsing (a mixed blessing, as monitor resolutions at the time weren't great). Opera was also something you had to pay for at the time, and a lot of sites didn't work in Opera. This would all change at the end of 2000, though, with the release of Opera 5.
  • 2001 - Opera 5 - This browser changed everything for me. It was the first "free" Opera browser available, although the free version was ad-supported (quite annoying, but it was easy enough to get rid of the ads). The thing that was revolutionary about this browser, though, was mouse gestures. It was such a useful feature, and Opera's implementation was (and quite frankly, still is) the best, smoothest implementation of the functionality I've seen. At this point, I was working at a website, so for work, I was still using IE5 and IE6 as my primary browser (because at the time, they represented something like 85-90% of the traffic to our site). I was also still experimenting with the various Mozilla-based browsers at the time as well, but Opera was my default for personal browsing. Of course, no one codes for Opera, so there were plenty of sites that I'd have to fire up IE for (this has always been an issue with Opera)
  • 2002-2006 - Opera 6/7/8/9 - I pretty much kept rolling with Opera during this timeframe. Again, for my professional use, IE6/IE7 was still a must, but in 2004, Firefox 1.0 launched, so that added another variable to the mix. I wasn't completely won over by the initial Firefox offerings, but it was the first new browser in a long time that I thought had a bright future. It also provided a credible alternative for when Opera crapped out on a weirdly coded page. However, as web standards started to actually be implemented, Opera's issues became fewer as time went on...
  • 2007 - Firefox 2/Opera 9 - It was around this time that Firefox started to really assert itself in my personal and professional usage. I still used Opera a lot for personal usage, but for professional purposes, Firefox was a simple must. At the time, I was embroiled in a year-long site redesign project for my company, and I was doing a ton of HTML/CSS/JavaScript development... Firefox was an indispensable tool at the time, mostly due to extensions like Firebug and the Web-Developer Toolbar. I suppose I should note that Safari first came to my attention at this point, mostly for troubleshooting purposes. I freakin' hate that browser.
  • 2008-2011 - Firefox/Opera - After 2007, there was a slow, inexorable drive towards Firefox. Opera kept things interesting with a feature they call Speed Dial (and quite frankly, I like that feature much better than what Chrome and recent versions of Firefox have implemented), but the robust and mature list of extensions for Firefox were really difficult to compete with, especially when I was trying to get stuff done. Chrome also started to gain popularity in this timeframe, but while I loved how well it loaded Ajax and other JavaScript-heavy features, I could never really get comfortable with the interface. Firefox still afforded more control, and Opera's experience was generally better.
  • 2012/Present - Firefox - Well, I think it's pretty telling that I'm composing this post on Firefox. That being said, I still use Opera for simple browsing purposes semi-frequently. Indeed, I usually have both browsers open at all times on my personal computer. At work, I'm primarily using Firefox, but I'm still forced to use IE8, as our customers tend to still prefer IE (though the percentage is much less these days). I still avoid Safari like the plague (though I do sometimes need to troubleshoot and I suppose I do use Mobile Safari on my phone). I think I do need to give Chrome a closer look, as it's definitely more attractive these days...
Well, there you have it. I do wonder if I'll ever get over my stubborn love for Opera, a browser that almost no one but me uses. They really do manage to keep up with the times, and have even somewhat recently allowed Firefox and Chrome style extensions, though I think it's a little too late for them. FF and Chrome just have a more robust community surrounding their development than Opera. I feel like it's a browser fated to die at some point, but I'll probably continue to use it until it does... So what browser do you use?
Posted by Mark on August 08, 2012 at 09:23 PM .: link :.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Obscure Movie Corner
I always hate it when I see a list of "Movies you've never seen before" or somesuch on the internets. It just seems so... presumptuous and conceited. Like all lists, sometimes they're good, sometimes they stink, usually they're somewhere in the middle. Well, recently a friend of mine asked me for some recommendations for movies he might not have seen (based on a discussion in meatspace about Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, a movie he had not seen). "Go deep," he says, so I did. This all happened on twitter though, and that 140 character limit is a bit chafing. Plus, it seems like an interesting topic for this here blog, which will also let me bloviate about these movies at length. I always enjoy highlighting the offbeat or obscure movies out there on my blog, and one thing you'll notice about some of the below recommendations is that a lot of them have shown up on the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards or Top 10 lists (2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006) or elsewhere on the blog. But sometimes I think they get buried and again, I always like an opportunity to shine a light on obscure movies that folks don't talk about much... So here we go:
  • Following - Might as well start here, since this is what inspired the list in the first place. It's Christopher Nolan's first film, and you can very much tell that it's from the same director as the breakout Memento. The premise is that a young writer starts following random people he sees on the street. The point is to get ideas for his writing, but of course, he eventually follows the wrong person and hijinks ensue. It's a small movie, told asynchronously (though not quite as mindbending as Memento, it's still a pretty interesting exercise in editing and storytelling). It's actually something I'd like to revisit sometime, but if you haven't seen it and you've enjoyed Nolan's work, it's worth tracking down. And it's on Netflix Instant, so it's pretty easy to find!
  • Fish Story - This is the first movie that came to mind when tasked with obscure movies someone might not have seen. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura has been slowly gaining a cult following amongst film nerds of late (I became aware of him at last year's Fantastic Fest), and with efforts like this, it's easy to see why. I don't really want to say much about this - it's pretty rare in this day and age that you get to sit down and watch a movie without knowing anything about it. Not that knowing basic premise is all that damaging to the viewing, but still, I had a really nice experience in part because I didn't know anything about it going in... Also on Netflix Instant, so definitely something to add to your queue and watch ASAP. Alas, not much other stuff from Nakamura is available in the US (but if you get the chance, A Boy and His Samurai is also great).
  • The Mission - The first of three Johnny To movies on the list, this is one that doesn't seem to get a whole lot of attention, but I really love it. To gets overshadowed by other Hong Kong action directors like John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Ringo Lam, but for my money, he's the best director working in Honk Kong today. This one is a relatively straightforward gangster tale, but it demonstrates To's distinctive style well. Woo is known for choreographing beautiful, almost balletic action. To seems to have a more meticulous, intricate, chess-like strategy to filming action that is really quite striking. This movie features a lot of it, where you see a team of bodyguards take up positions, and To films it in such a way that almost all of them are on screen, despite the fact that they're well dispersed around the area. Really striking stuff. Not available on streaming, but readily available on Netflix DVD...
  • Breaking News - Another Johnny To movie, this one included mostly for the opening action sequence, which is absolutely astounding. I actually mentioned it a while back in my post on long takes, and this thing is really quite well done, and again demonstrates To's ability to stage intricate action sequences. The rest of the movie is solid, though it never quite reaches the heights of that opening again. Still worth checking out. Again, available on DVD.
  • Mad Detective - The last of the Johnny To movies, this one is quite a bit more wacky than the preceding films. It's got a strange, supernatural element and a sorta elliptical storytelling style that I think is quite striking. There's not a ton of action here, but To's knack for intricate staging still plays a big role. [Full Review]
  • Hard Candy - I'm not entirely sure how obscure this one is, but people rarely seem to bring it up. It's one of Ellen Page's breakthrough movies, and a well deserved one at that. Be forewarned, it's got some heavy stuff in it - it's about a pedophile and features only two characters and one major setting. It's difficult to describe, but it manages to generate a lot of tension, and quite strangely, your sympathies sorta shift around as you're watching. Not everything is what it seems! Worth watching.
  • Brick - Again, not really sure how obscure this one is, but this mashup of high school and film noir is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it. Also a good idea to catch up with director Rian Johnson's early films before he hits it big time with Looper. Speaking of which:
  • The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson's sophomore effort is perhaps not as tight as Brick, but it's still a blast. It hits all the con movie tropes while still managing to carve out an identity of its own, and while the ending isn't quite perfect, it's still better than I was expecting. It's a lot of fun, with a neat, twisty plot and some great performances (particularly Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi, who are just delightful in this movie).
  • Timecrimes - Best director name ever Nacho Vigalondo's intricate time travel tale that illustrates a chain of consequences that result from a mistaken, 1 hour trip back in time. Cascading paradox avoidance and a light tone, though it doesn't shy away from its darker side. Really wonderful little film, and I can't wait to see more in this vain from Vigalondo. In the meantime, you should also be able to check out his other film:
  • Extraterrestrial - More of a romantic comedy than anything else, it is set on the backdrop of an uneventful alien invasion, giving it an interesting vibe on what could have been a simple retread. May disappoint fans of Timecrimes, but I had a lot of fun with it.
  • The Man from Earth - Definitely among the most obscure movies on this list, it's also a very low budget movie that mostly takes place in a single house, featuring a bunch of conversations by some academics and their buddy, who's moving on. For a film that is very talky, there's a pretty well established dramatic throughline, and some interesting twists and turns. Well worth a watch.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil - A neat little movie that turns the Hillbilly Horror subgenre on its head. It's a ton of fun, especially for folks acquainted with horror tropes. By the way, don't watch the trailer for this, as it gives away a lot of the jokes. I've sung the praises of this one for a while now, and I know I've turned at least a couple people onto it... why not check it out yourself?
  • Gambit - Near as I can tell, this is hugely obscure, and I don't know why, as it's quite spectacular. It's something of a heist film, starring a very young Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine... It's got an unusual structure, but that only serves to keep you off balance, and things never quite go the way you'd expect. Unfortunately, it's no longer available on Netflix Instant, and they don't have the DVD either. But it is available on Amazon Streaming (for purchase). I really wish this were more widely available, as it's a really wonderful addition to one of my favorite genres (the heist film). If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up.
  • Blood and Black Lace - Ok, so probably not that obscure for Horror genre hounds like myself, but if you haven't had the chance to check out the Italian Giallo films, this is an excellent place to start. It's one of the few films that can lay claim to birthing the slasher sub-genre, though it doesn't feature any of the excess that sub-genre is known for. Still, it's got a body count and a masked killer, but it's impeccably filmed and well worth watching for any student of the horror genre.
  • M - Alright, so this one is definitely not obscure by any stretch of the imagination, except insofar as people from my generation tend to be somewhat ignorant of films made before the 1960s (ok, unwarranted sweeping generalization, but I think you can see my point). If you've ever hesitated about this movie, don't, it's exceptional. Fritz Lang's classic tale of a serial killer (of children, no less) who runs afoul of the local criminal element (in a beautifully ironic twist, the police get so frustrated that they can't find the killer that they crack down on the typical criminals, who quickly get sick of this and resolve to find the killer themselves so that they can get back to business as usual). Lang's brilliant expressionism, along with great performances and photography, make this film an absolute classic.
  • Martin - This might be my favorite of George Romero's movies... and it's not even a zombie movie. It's about vampires. Sorta. It's actually a pretty unique and modern take on the vampire, much more interesting than a lot of contemporary takes. Seek it out.
Well, I could probably go on like this for another 10 or 20 movies, but I'll leave it at that for now...
Posted by Mark on August 05, 2012 at 08:40 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Link Dump
I'm on vacation this week, so here we've got some links I slapped together on Sunday. Actually some good stuff here though.
  • Trading Places: How Winthorpe and Valentine Pulled It Off - Trading Places is one of my favorite movies of all time, but I never quite understood what the heck was going on at the end of the movie. Of course, it works well enough, but my nerdy mind is constantly trying to figure out the exact mechanisms that were driving the price of FCOJ up or down. I never quite understood how Winthorpe and Valentine were selling at the beginning of the session, but buying later on. It's sorta the opposite of the buy low, sell high paradigm we're all familiar with. As the linked post explains, it turns out that they're selling short - selling contracts they don't yet hold. This would be risky, as they have to buy contracts later on to fulfill their short sell obligations... but since they knew the crop report, they knew the price would be significantly lower, so they made out like bandits. It's estimated that they made $250 million. Interesting stuff, and of course, there's a bit of Hollywood exaggeration going on here, but it's still nice to know what's going on at the end of the movie.
  • If The Movie "Inception" Happened In Actual Dreams - One of the big complaints about Inception is that the dreams don't really feel like real dreams. I never really cared about that - real dreams get kinda boring pretty quickly - but this comic is a pretty great parody of the concept.
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate Video Game - The worst movie of all time made into a 8-bit video game? Sure, why not. This is apparently real, and will be coming to the iOS and presumably other devices soon. It actually looks about a billion times better than the movie.
  • Amazon Yesterday Shipping - A hilarious parody of Amazon's recent drive towards same day delivery (which will be a game changing development if Amazon can pull it off... retailers are quaking in their boots about this).
That's all for now!
Posted by Mark on August 01, 2012 at 10:44 AM .: link :.

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