Friday, October 03, 2008


You know, I've just got to say....

The internet isn't just weird. It's weirder than weird. It's at that level of weirdness beyond what you or I could have possibly imagined as the maximum, epitomizing level of weirdness. Beyond what any mere mortal could describe, it would take a poet of great genius to even approach an accurate description of the weirdness, and even then, it would only be a faint reflection of the reality. That's how fucking weird it is.

Damn. Why did I ever think that greater understanding would be a good idea? Just give me the fucking blue pill already.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Attention, SG-1 fans

Space rock on a collision course

From the article:
engineers and scientists say they are monitoring an asteroid named Apophis, which has a one in 45,000 chance of striking Earth on April 13, 2036.
Emphasis added. :)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Movie Comments: Dreamgirls

I saw Dreamgirls a little over a week ago.

Is there anyone other than me who felt that this movie isn't really as great as it was supposed to be?

I had three main problems with it. I'll dwell on those, and skip over almost all of the good parts, because you can read raves about those all over the internet.

First, I don't think this film really works as a musical. This is surprising, considering it's based on a musical. But here is what I mean: In a "musical", you have people singing and dancing in inappropriate places and at inappropriate times. This is how you know for sure it's a musical, because when they do that, it feels like a musical (actually, it feels damn weird at first, until you get used to it). In Dreamgirls, all the singing in the first half of the movie (roughly) happened in situations where singing would have been pretty appropriate--singers on stage, for instance--so it didn't feel like a musical, it felt like a normal movie about musicians.

Then, all of a sudden, there's a scene where one character (played by Jennifer Hudson) starts singing in a completely inappropriate situation. This would be perfectly normal in a musical, but since we haven't been given any obvious "this is a musical" cues up to that point, it ends up being an extremely jarring moment in the film. Seriously, even knowing in advance that the movie was supposed to be a musical didn't help me here. It just feels wrong, flat-out wrong, and that was the point when I started downgrading my opinion of the film, which I had felt was pretty superb up to that point.

In order to have prevented this situation from happening, there should have been at least two scenes like this earlier in the movie, preferrably with one of them right at the beginning. This would have established the "this is a musical" mindset right away. Alternatively, they could have just transformed the whole thing into a straight drama, with lots of realistic musical numbers. Either way would have worked, although I think a full-blown and correctly set up musical would have been the better choice. What they did in reality was try to straddle the midline between these two choices, and it didn't work. In a straight drama, people don't burst into song in the middle of a conversation. And in a straight musical, they typically doesn't let realism get in the way of the music.

Second problem: A lot of the raves about this movie are pointed at singer Jennifer Hudson, and in fact, just earlier today, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She may deserve that Oscar, for her acting. But what I want to talk about is her singing, which has everyone acting all impressed, except for me. When she was singing the lead part in the trio, in the first section of the film, then I was impressed. But after she started in with the solo numbers, I quickly realized that here was someone with a really great talent, who really needed some sensible guidance on how to use it. The problem is most definitely not her voice, which is fabulous and powerful, but her style of singing. I kid you not: I had never heard of Jennifer Hudson prior to seeing this movie, so I had no idea who she was, and knew nothing about her background. Nevertheless, at one point during the movie, I found myself thinking, "She sounds just like an American Idol contestant." Imagine my amusement when I discovered that's exactly what she was.

What I mean is that she tends to lay on the drama a little too thick, which makes the song tiresome instead of exciting. I have to wonder if she's infatuated with the power of her own voice, and is making the mistake of thinking that more is automatically better. The truth is that too much power actually has much less of an impact.

The most amusing analogy I can think of to explain this concept is that of a teenager who is mightily impressed by the power of the word "fuck." Being infatuated with that power, the teenager proceeds to use the word about twenty times every minute, not realizing that the result is more ridiculous sounding than impressive. To retain the its power, "fuck" must be used in some moderation, at which point it becomes one of the more useful and versatile words in the English language.

To bring this back into the realm of music, imagine if Beethoven had written a symphony that called for the orchestra to play fortissimo for about 85% of its length. Critics would quite rightly call it trash, regardless of any obvious talent he might have displayed in its composition. Or, imagine if Charlie Parker had played nothing but really, really fast notes, all the time showing off his mad fingerin' skillz. He never would have been considered a jazz great if he had played like that--rather, he would have been considered an idiot savant. Good musical performance requires an amount of restraint on the part of the performer, in order to not spoil the climaxes of the song, which aren't going to seem very big if the whole song is big. It's a matter of contrast, not a matter of absolute volume.

With a little experience, and hopefully some constructive criticism from people who care, Hudson has the potential to become a first rate singer. I hope this happens, because then I can buy her CDs (or, okay, download her songs from iTunes). She should also seriously consider pursuing ensemble work--with a couple of really good backup singers, for example, like in the first half of this movie. No lie, that was some good stuff. Just make sure she sings lead.

Moving on to my final issue: I felt there was a substantial problem with the dramatic arc of this movie, specifically the problem of trying to maintain a good emotional pace when the primary story concerns a trio of women who start out with a fabulous sound, only to turn into a mediocre pop trio when Mr. Dumbass Producer Guy (Jamie Foxx) first demotes the lead singer to backup, and then throws her out of the group entirely. The music suffered from these transitions. It became much more pedestrian, the pop music I heard repeated endlessly on AM radio in the 70's until I could hardly stand it anymore. This is a problem because, in a musical, the music obviously plays such a central role that it is the primary source of drama. So, when the film goes from really excellent music to music that isn't all that spectacular, you end up with a dramatic arc that starts out very strong, and then fizzles out into a long, tedious anti-climax. It doesn't work, and I found myself getting fairly bored towards the end. There was what was supposed to be a big, climactic number to finish things off, but I didn't think that final song was nearly strong enough to overcome the malaise that had occupied the previous 45 minutes. (Hudson didn't sing lead in this song--a fact which was realistic within the storyline, but which really had a detrimental effect on the impact of the song. I guess this is yet another example of how the movie didn't quite work as a musical. As I have said, a full-blown musical typically doesn't let realism get in the way of the music, and they really went for realism at the expense of music in this movie. Obviously, this realism would have been a tremendous asset, if only they had decided to make the movie a straight drama, and here we come back full-circle to my original objection.)

This is sounding like a pretty negative review, but please realize that what I've written here are the only problems I've been able to find with this movie. I think these are significant enough so that I am in complete agreement with the Motion Picture Academy, who failed to nominate it for a Best Picture award. However, that doesn't mean that it's not worth seeing, because it most definitely is. I may even give it another look, if I have time--the beginning parts are absolutely worth seeing multiple times, and perhaps a second look will give me a fresh perspective on the rest of the film. (Also, you've just got to see Eddie Murphy in this movie. Here's a guy who really does deserve that Oscar nomination...which he got, earlier today.)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lens Lust

A page all about the Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 lens, which is apparently the largest telephoto lens in the world currently "in production" for 35mm and digital SLR cameras. I put "in production" in quotes because they only make these on special order, and there are supposedly only 12 of them in the entire world. They cost as much as a cheap house and weigh about 40 pounds. Heavy duty tripod included, when you buy one. How nice.

The linked page shows the lens hooked up to a video camera, which is kind of a bummer. I'd kind of like to see it hooked up to one of Canon's Digital Rebel series cameras. :)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Movies: Best of 2006

I've always wanted to do a "Best of Year" list like this. Unfortunately, I didn't really get organized about keeping track of which movies I saw until November, so all the earlier months of the year were what I could glean from poring over my Yahoo movie ratings. Some may be missing, I am not sure.

In any case, here are my top movies for the year 2006 (in alphabetical order):
  • Blood Diamond
  • Cars
  • Casino Royale
  • Clerks II
  • The Departed
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • The Fountain
  • The Illusionist
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • V for Vendetta
I was just barely able to come up with ten movies for this list, which I guess proves that 2006 wasn't exactly a bumper year at the multiplex. As for which one ranks the highest....heh. Good question on that one--most of these are solid contenders, and there are such radical differences among them all (try objectively ranking The Departed and Clerks II, for instance) that I find it quite difficult to say. If pressed, I'd probably go with Casino Royale, believe it or not. My reason? I saw it three times, and enjoyed it each time more than the last. That's very, very rare in a movie. The Departed would be a close second, though, and The Fountain most likely in third place.

Honorable mentions: Art School Confidential, Imagine Me and You, Marie Antoinette, The Matador, The Quiet and Thank You for Smoking.

I did also want to mention a few others, in various categories:

In the "So Close, and Yet So Far" category, signifying films that could have been great if they hadn't fucked themselves over in some significant way, I put The Black Dahlia, Lady in the Water, and The Descent. I also have a special "Domino" category (in honor of Kiera Knightly's 2005 movie of the same name, which was itself a trip and a half down weirdness lane), in which Crank is the clearly insane winner, with Slither and Snakes on a Plane in the runner up positions. These movies are always fun to watch, whether they're any good or not--and Slither was actually a pretty damn good representative of it's own particular sub-genre. Then there's the "Worst of the Year" category, which is unfortunately fairly crammed full this year, featuring Beerfest as the all around loser, but also including Mission Impossible III, Pulse, Superman Returns, The Covenant, Ultraviolet, and Underworld: Evolution. And those are just the ones I saw. Then, some movies that I enjoyed probably more than I should have: School for Scoundrels, Flyboys, John Tucker Must Die, Take the Lead, Deja Vu and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Well, that was fun.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book comments: "You: On a Diet"

I stopped in the local corporate clone bookstore this afternoon and checked out this "You: On a Diet" book that's apparently a bestseller right now.

Conceptually, the diet itself looks like it could be worth trying. But the book itself is an absolute bitch to read--it's as if the people who designed it (and that word right there is a sure indicator that something is wrong--books should be written, not designed) were intentionally trying to insert as many annoying little distractions into it as they possibly could: semi-relevant (at best) little sidebars every couple of pages; entire pages devoted to what should have been in a footnote, or at least integrated more gracefully into the main text; lots of unpleasantly busy drawings and diagrams, possibly intended to clarify concepts, but which actually seemed to obfuscate whatever they purported to deal with; and, worst of all, these silly little "YOU-reka" interjections (complete with dumbassed cartoon-character-guy holding his fucking finger in the air), scattered throughout the text, as if I am too goddamned thick-skulled to notice simple, elegant boldface text or other more traditional means of emphasising key points.

I understand why they put all this shit in books these days. It's clearly aimed at the casual shelf-flipper, randomly browsing through a bookstore without any real intention of buying anything. To catch the attention of these people, they add all these visual bells and whistles to the books, shiny objects to attract the attention of the first monkey that happens along. As I was sitting there, I realized where I first saw this style of book design: in the "Dummies" books, and the "Complete Idiots" books. I also realized, as I was sitting there, that I have never actually managed to read one of those books all the way through. Never. I guess they're just too distracting to actually read, sort of like trying to concentrate while some dumbfuck waves a bright orange flag in your face and yells at you every thirty seconds.

Anyway, I managed to get through the first 45 pages of "You: On a Diet" before giving up in frustration (people yapping on their cellphones in a bookstore were also a factor, I admit). Somebody really ought to publish an alternate "readers edition." I'd buy it in a second.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Movie Comments: The Fountain, Casino Royale, Deja Vu

I've seen three movies recently, and all three of them have surpassed my expectations in one way or another. I'll list them, in increasing order of surprisingness:

1) The Fountain. This was wasn't exactly a surprise, but at the same time, it could easily have sucked. About all I'm going to say is that this is one of the most gorgeous films I've seen (DVD will not do it justice at all), and that Aronofsky really has a fascinating way of looking at things. Recall, this is the guy who wrote a movie which ended with a guy drilling a hole in his head. The Fountain is not intended to be disturbing like that, but it does have the same sort of cognitively twisted feel as his previous two movies. I was quite engrossed by it, and appreciated its quiet meditativeness and sensitivity.

2) Casino Royale. While I was one of those who felt that Daniel Craig was an inspired choice to play James Bond, what I had read of this movie in advance of its opening made me almost decide not to see it. But, in the end, my curiousity got the better of me and I went. It was a good choice, as I was quite impressed by what I saw. While I have always been a Bond freak, I found myself not missing the stuff I thought I would miss. Not at all. (Okay, I admit I did miss all the usual naked female figures in the opening title sequence, but I can't complain too much about that, because the sequence itself was absolutely gorgeous.) In fact, I was impressed enough by aspects of this movie that I went back to see it a second time last night, and liked it even better than the first time. I'll go out on a limb and state that this is not just a good James Bond film, not just "the best since Goldfinger", as some critics have said, but is actually the best James Bond film ever made, and that Daniel Craig is the first actor to play the role who may turn out to be as good in it as Sean Connery. It also holds up very well as a straight action movie--in fact, I can't think of an action film I've seen in several years that's as well put together as this. This movie is the polar opposite of Moonraker or Die Another Day, and you know what? It's a goddamn relief. I look forward to the next one. I also hope the producers have the balls to stick with what they've started here, and ignore the petulant whining of people who complain about "where are all the gadgets?" or "why is James Bond driving a FORD?!!?!?" The answer to these questions is, obviously, "because it makes sense in the context of the story." And they'll get over it, sooner or later.

I only have one big question about this movie: Who is that absolutely stunning brunette in the red dress? She doesn't appear to be listed in the credits at all. (Eva Green, on the other hand, definitely was. She was also fantabulous, by the way. Such a contrast to Denise Richards or Halle Berry, who, notwithstanding their individual qualities, never should have been cast in a James Bond film.)

Now for the really big surprise:

3) Deja Vu, produced by none other than that spawn of Satan, Jerry Bruckheimer. Just as a broken clock occassionally happens to display the correct time, I guess it was inevitable that Bruckheimer would, sooner or later, manage to produce an enjoyable movie, if only by sheer accident. I won't even attempt to explain why I went to see it in the first place. Okay, I lie: I was intrigued by the trailers, and figured maybe Denzel Washington would cancel out the Bruckheimer effect. Well, he just about did. There was a spot in the middle where the film got a little bit too heavy into the geeky-gadget-hype thing, something that should be avoided when your geeky-gadgets are totally made up out of thin air, as they are in this movie. But, on the whole, it had a heart and soul to it that I totally did not expect, and the lead-up to the ending was especially well-presented and suspenseful. Would I rate this as a "must see" in the theater? Possibly, although it's on the borderline. It's for sure worth a rental, unless you somehow despise Denzel Washington for some reason.

I shall now commence eating my hat, or whatever I must surely have said after seeing Coyote Ugly.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Our featured animal for the day:

The yak.

A fine and furry creature, no?

nice furry yak

(click on the pic to make it closer to yak-sized)