Spring Television Roundup 2: Two seasons end (1 on time, even!)

Chuck and friends
Chuck and friends

Chuck ended in dramatic and exciting fashion, with a nice cliffhanger/wrap up if the show doesn’t get renewed. I sure hope it does, though, as the end of the season revealed a plethora of new dramatic possibilities. A few more thoughts on the season:

  • I’m getting a little annoyed with the Chuck/Sarah drama. The history of television is fraught with the bad resolution of this very concern: maintain sexual tension over multiple seasons, or give in and destroy the show in a cataclysm of lame-duck romance?
  • I’m enjoying the continuing evolution of Morgan but it seems that he’s now been written out of the show, maybe.
  • John Casey continues to be my favorite. Adam Baldwin, how did you get so awesome?
  • The surprise appearances of Chevy Chase and Scott Bakula at the end of the season were, um, AWESOME.
Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica

I also just finished season 1 of BSG. The tricky bums who put together the DVDs faked me out, adding two hours of extras to the disc so that its “total runtime” was 3 hours, despite only having 48 minutes of Season 1 goodness on it. That said, the end of the season was quite delightful and dramatic. A few more thoughts:

  • I’m not very keen on the religious bent the show has taken. It weirds me out.
  • I’m angry with Cpt Adama for arresting the President. What a tyrant!
  • Starbuck and Blond Cylon lady got into a rip-roarer of a fight at the end of the episode. You know it’s a brawl when somebody has bloody teeth.
  • I just noticed that Helo is played by Tahmoh Penikett, who plays cranky fist-swingin’ FBI agent Paul Ballard on Dollhouse.

I’m intrigued to see where Season 2 will go. One can only wait and see. Except I could put the whole series on the front-burner and watch them all in a row. But I won’t do that, I don’t think. Probably. Maybe this summer.

Too Friendly, Too Dead

Too Friendly, Too Dead

Thunderf00t explains Swine Flu

One of my favorite YouTubers explains the basics of avoiding swine flu, with a bit of epideology too.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8pSPfZFysg]

More Information Than You Require

"More"
"More"

On Subjects As Diverse As: The Past (There Is Always More Of It), The Future (As There Is Still Some Left), All of the Presidents of the United States, the Secrets of Hollywood, Gambling, the Sport of the Asthmatic Man (Including:  Hermit-Crab Racing), Strange Encounters with Aliens, How to Buy a Computer, How to Cook and Owl, and Most Other Subjects Plus: Answers to your Questions Posed Via Electronic Mail, and: 700 Mole-Man Names, Including Their Occupations

by John Hodgman

The title of the book gives you a sense of its breadth and scope.  Hodgman’s book is truly a COMPENDIUM OF WORLD KNOWLEDGE.  There are lots of hilarious bits, but I’ll comment on just a few themes and ideas:

  • I love the continued numbering that puts this book in concert with the previous book, AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE.  The last book in the series purports to be forthcoming: THAT IS ALL.
  • Throughout the book, JH has “this day in history” almanac entries.  Here’s my favorite:
    August 7:
    1989, ATHENS: Archeologists discover that Plato’s famous allegory of the “Cave” was not just an allegory, but an actual cave where Plato had physically chained his students to rocks.  They then were forced to watch his amazing shadow puppets until they either died or mustered the strength to cast off the illusion of their senses and sawed off their own feet to escape.  Plato was a very sick man.
  • The number and breadth of the literary and cultural references at work in the book boggles.  There’s a JAWS joke referring to the nickname of the shark (Bruce), references to Goethe and other philosophers, and plenty of conversation about Mole-men.  JH regularly mixes fact and fiction to make a blend that’s just delightful.
  • One theme in this book is JH’s enormous wealth from his work as an Apple commercial personality.  He keeps referring to his contentious relationship with Emo Philips and his friendship with “feral American” Jonathan Coulton.  I would really enjoy moving in the circles JH does: among the people thanked at the end are Sarah Vowell, Ira Glass, Alex Bloomberg, Dana Gould, John Flansberg, Dave Eggers, and Dick Van Patten.

Overall, the book is pretty entertaining if you enjoy short punches of humor.  Or if you liked his last book.  Or if you have a sense of humor.

I, Zombie

I, Zombie
I, Zombie

I, Zombie makes an early stab at a theme that would be quite popular in the most recent slate of zombie films.  It’s most clear descendants are movies like American Zombie, Zombie Honeymoon, and Zombies Anonymous.  All three films follow I, Zombie‘s lead in thinking about what it would be like to  be a conscious zombie.  In some ways, this film explores that issue more intimately than do the later films.

The film follows Brian, a graduate student who gets bitten by a zombie and finds himself turned into one.  He has an uncontrollable hunger for people and is slowly rotting as he hides away from the world.  It’s a grim tale of desperation and sorrow, with lots of lingering shots focused on Brian’s painful life hiding in his flat. A few other thoughts:

  • While the film contemplates the question of what it would be like to become a zombie quite well, it veers quite far from the recipe necessary for an enjoyable zombie film.  There’s not much tension as Brian never seems in any sort of danger.  A persistant detective (ala Zombie Honeymoon) would have made the story a bit more exciting.
  • The gloomy desperation and haunted narrative reminds me a lot of An American Werewolf in London, which also considers the spiritual tragedy of becoming a monster.
  • This movie has one of the more horrifying consequences of rotting I’ve seen in a zombie film, made much worse by the emotional depth of the scene in which it occurs.
  • There’s not a whole lot of action or excitement in the film.  Instead, its matter-of-fact cinematography and shallow narrative arc short circuit most of the horror-pleasure that one finds in these films.  In so doing, I could see it being pretty unsatisfying for people looking for more conventional fare.  That said, I think it makes a fine companion to those other films I mentioned above.
  • The makeup effects and dream sequences are impressive and solid.

Overall, it’s worth seeing, but  more recent films do the same work in a more entertaining way.

2009-04-26 Tweets

  • Victor Frankenstein explains the challenge rational minds face: “The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact.” (48) #
  • Not what I expected to see on FoxNews: http://is.gd/u9cT #

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Exhumed

Exhumed
Exhumed

Brian Clement’s Exhumed presents three short zombie movies that revolve around a mysterious object (loosely connected to Lovecraftian mythos) that can raise the dead.  The three short stories are pretty entertaining and skillfully made, especially given the ultra-low budget background of the film company.  Like Call of Cthulu, I appreciate the skill in making movies on low budgets.  A few other thoughts:

  • “Shi No Mori” takes place in feudal Japan, following two warriors as they battle zombies in the forest.  The film feels very Japanese, with excellent imitation of classic horror style (it felt like one of the segments from Kwaidan).  Especially effective were the titles and the choice to use Japanese (rather than English).
  • “Shadow of Tomorrow” brings the film to the 1948s in classic noir style.  The lines are delivered at a quick clip, and the mise-en-scene evokes classic B noir.
  • “Last Rumble” takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which vampires and werewolves battle each other and some sinister human faction bent on maintaining their stranglehold on the world.  I think.  The style of this last film seemed, at first, to evoke the exploitation action movies of the 70s (like Human Tornado), but as the short progressed lost that flavor.
  • All three films mix these styles with the expected low-budget practical special effects.  In these, Clement makes good use of quick shots and some striking images–particularly in part 3.  One sequence in which a soldier’s face gets ripped off is striking and amusing.

All three shorts are amusing and entertaining, though they work better as objects of art and style than as coherent tales.  The complicated story weaving between the segments gets a bit confusing, but not so much that the film is hurt by it.  The shorts use atmosphere and clever plotting to work well within the limits of the production.  As such, they’re pretty satisfying.  Overall, Exhumed is worth watching for fans of indie film and horror, but probably not satisfying for people expecting high-budget production values or vast armies of zombies.

My 10 Favorite Characters in the History of Movies (part 3)

Wrapping up the meme Brian sent me…

7. Martin Brody

Chief Brody
Chief Brody

Roy Scheider plays Brody with a hangdog tenacity that gets me every time. I love the sequence when he makes faces at his youngest son, the zoom-in horror on his face during the attack on the beach, his stoicism as Alex Kinter’s mother slaps him, his zeal in the face of the doubting city council (in Jaws 2), and the careful rage he brings to bear on the mayor in the hospital.

Most of all, Scheider gives Brody a sense of heroic nervousness rarely seen in our heroes. I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’ army guy in Saving Private Ryan, who hides his shaking hands and struggles through the horrors and madness ahead of him. You see the same thing in Brody’s march down the dock to board the Orca.

I also love the small moments he has with Ellen (a relationship much more enjoyable than the one from the novel, in which Ellen and Hooper are old friends who have a quick affair behind Brody’s back), the conversations and loving smiles. It makes him human and awesome at the same time.

8. Nigel Tufnel

Nigel Tufnel
Nigel Tufnel

The members of Spinal Tap are almost equally clueless. It’s Nigel’s extra cluelessness that really sings. The sequences between Nigel and Marti Di Bergi (the guitar with the really long sustain, the Bach/Mozart “Mach” musical composition, and of course the equipment that goes to 11) stand out.

Nigel gets the best bits of stupidity. My favorite line comes when they consider the reason their album cover was rejected: “It’s a fine line between clever and stupid.”

And the end of the film, Nigel ponders opening a “chapeau shop.” In this as in other scenes, Guest gives Tap’s lead guitar a wide-eyed innocence out of sync with the debauched lifestyle of a touring hair band. The interview in the diner stands out in this way as well: David and Nigel reflect on the history of their partnership, giving Guest and McKean a chance to imbue the characters with a depth that makes the humor that much more effective.

Since then, Guest has become a master of mixing humor and sincerity. But Nigel still stands out as the best of these.

9 & 10. Nick and Nora Charles

Nick and Nora Charles
Nick and Nora Charles

The Thin Man is one of my favorite movies.  Unlike other detectives of their day, Nick and Nora aren’t badass noir misanthropes with barely a shred of humanity or an unexplained weakness for the downtrodden.  No, no.  They’re filthy rich, and they enjoy it.  They shock the sensibilities with their rampant sexual desire and vigorous capacity for drinking.  They’re the jazz age, the epitome of the dictum that Depression Era movies served as an escape.

But their background is even better.  Nick was a rough and tumble detective (who worked for the Pinkertons, I think) and is as beloved as The Shadow.  Nora is a socialite with money from a coal mine who marries him (presumably because he can hold his drink).

Nora: How many drinks have you had?
Nick: This will make six Martinis.
Nora: [to the waiter] All right. Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here.

Movies with this quality of banter make me wish life came with a screenwriter.

My 10 Favorite Characters in the History of Movies (part 2)

Continuing with the meme Brian sent my way…

4. Virgil Tibbs

Virgil Tibbs
Virgil Tibbs

I first saw Sidney Poitier in Sneakers, and sought out other movies to get a better sense of the man. The first one I watched was In the Heat of the Night. Charged with a kind of overt racial tension rare in more recent films, Night played to my sensibilities really well, mostly through the unerringly brave and resolute character of Virgil Tibbs.

The righteous rage he brings to bear when he growls “They call me Mr. Tibbs” is not to be trifled with. Not to mention the scene when he returns the slap a plantation owner gave him. My favorite, though, is the beginning of the arresting scene. The doofus police detective comes in with Tibbs in tow and drops him into the seat, then the detective finds Tibbs’ police badge. The outrage on the Sheriff’s face and in his voice when he shouts “Awww yeah. YES.” Tibbs carries the day.

It was difficult for me to pick a single S.P. film, but this one most embodies the dignity and authority the actor was so well known for. Plus, the interaction with the sheriff is pretty amazing.

What appeals to me most about the men SP usually played was the depth of character they showed. The certainty of clear moral purpose really gets me.

5. Elwood P. Dowd

Elwood P. Dowd
Elwood P. Dowd

Kind of like Forrest Gump, Dowd sees the world through rose-colored glasses. His companion, the eponymous giant-rabbit pooka, brings out the best in him. Even when the people he meets are trying to lock him up for his insanity, he’s nothing but charming to them. The sequence when he meets the nurse and the doctor for dinner and shares with them that there’s nowhere else in the world he’d rather be than right there with them. “I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.” It’s priceless and perfect.

I get to quote Harvey occasionally now, because the middle three digits on my office phone number have changed: “Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should want to call me, use this number. This other one is the old number.”

Lastly: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

6. Ellen Ripley

Ellen Ripley
Ellen Ripley

I think I’m one of the few people who loves all the Alien movies (discounting the AvP movies, of course). More than any other series I’ve seen, each film has its own flavor and taste. They are directed by different people, often with several years between them. Yet in each, Sigourney Weaver scythes through the films, making Ellen first a bold stand-in for late-70s feminism (depite the infamous underwear finale), then a womanly action hero to stand next to Bruce, Arnold, and Sly. It’s not insignificant, I think, that James Cameron directed Aliens.

Then, Alien 3 has a whole different level of character despite its crappiness; the emotion tied into the loss she feels after the trials of Aliens and then her discovery that she’s been infected are all pretty stunning for an action series. And Fincher plays those up better than we might have expected. Alien Resurrection is even more interesting in that regard, as Weaver gets to play the character AND change her vastly.

The depth of the character puts her in a different realm than other female action heroes of her era. We can definitely see her influence in the Joss Whedon heroines. Don’t forget that JW wrote the screenplay for Alien Resurrection.

Throughout the series, she’s a badass without being cold or vicious. Fantastic.

My 10 Favorite Characters in the History of Movies (part 1)

Brian tagged me with the “10 Favorite Characters In The History of the Movies” meme a while ago, but somehow I missed it in his blog. I’ve been working on this since the 19th, writing a bit each day. Like Brian, I offer the caveat that this is provisional on my mood.  I’ll post this over three days.  I’ll tag the next folks now, though.  Roger, documentary site, Andrew, Rob.  Go!

1. Hawkeye Pierce

Hawkeye Pierce
Hawkeye Pierce

Hawkeye is the kind of man I would want to be (I’m more of a Radar, I’m afraid). While I try to live up to the moral certainty that he shows, I can’t lampoon authority the way he does. I can’t spit in the eye of the hurricane, and doubt that I would be able to survive the rigors of war with such aplomb. Hawkeye embodies the best of the spirit of the 60s, the whimsy that Ken Keasey and his Merry Pranksters dripped from that day-glo bus. But he’s also the rational man in the irrational world. And for that I like him an awful lot. Plus, there’s that awesome whistle.

Hawkeye has been on my mind lately as I recently learned that a friend from high school who paid his way through med school in ROTC has just been deployed to Afghanistan. I’d like to imagine my friend keeping his sanity in the face of war, perhaps with the same cool Hawkeye does.

It’s hard to see Southerland’s Hawkeye with the same perspective that we can see Alda’s. Southerland doesn’t get much opportunity to show the heartbreak that the series allowed for. There are moments, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the prankster that we remember from Altman’s film, while the world-weary clown that stands out from the series.

2. Fred Gailey

John Payne
Fred Gailey

Miracle on 34th Street‘s idealistic lawyer stands in, for me, for all idealistic lawyers. As a consummate law-and-order man, a rule follower, the idealistic legal eagle strikes the chord that resonates in my heart. I could easily have picked Atticus Finch or The Rainmaker‘s Rudy Bailor or Mr. Smith who went to Washington, but Fred appeals to me on an emotional level deper than those others.

I love the way he takes Kris on his own terms, engaging without a moment’s hesitation a man who claims–in all seriousness–to be Santa Claus. There’s a sense of empathy at his core I aspire to.

In bringing a wink and a nod to his approach to life, in defending “people who are being pushed around,” Gailey stands directly opposed to the crass commercialism flowing around the rest of the characters in the film. Despite my pose as a rational man, I like Gailey’s idea of faith — believing in things when common sense tells you not to. He has a strong sense of justice and whimsy.

Plus, the way he arrows out of the living room to “check on the meat” under Doris’ whithering stare makes me laugh every time.

3. Mrs. White

Mrs. White
Mrs. White

It’s hard to choose a Madeline Kahn role for this list. Mrs. Munchnick from Mixed Nuts, Lilli Van Schtupp from Blazing Saddles, Mrs. Frankenstein. All are genius. In each, Kahn shows a remarkable talent for brilliance among an ensemble cast.

“Someday, Wadsworth, when we’re alone together.”
“No man in his right mind would be alone together with you.”

When she’s frustrated she blows a raspberry.

She does a little screech after Wadsworth uses his lights off trick. It’s perfect.

Regarding one husband: “Someone cut off his head and his, well, you know.”

Regarding another husband:

Wadsworth: Your husband disappeared
Mrs. White: Well he was a magician
Wadsworth: But he never reappeared
Mrs. White: He wasn’t a very good magician.

But Mrs. White stands out. She’s icy and cold, but funny. She wields her sexuality like a gun.

Dead Tyres

I noticed this a while ago, and it just occurred to me that I forgot to post it.  The character Tyres from Spaced appeared in zombie form in Shaun of the DeadHere’s a pic from a Spaced forum:

Tyres the zombie
Tyres the zombie

And here’s one that’s all over the web:

Tyres the zombie 2
Tyres the zombie 2

Tyres is the guy with the yellow hat.  I posted a vid of him last time I wrote about Spaced.

In which I am cited as a creator of words

A contributor to the Arcana wiki (who’s also a friend of mine) recently added my neologism, popfinition, to the aforementioned archive of role-playing-game-ready conspiracy and history information. Have you added it to any archives yet?

Bloodhounds

Bloodhounds
Bloodhounds

by Peter Lovesey

My mystery book club read Bloodhounds in March, but I missed the meeting (and was thus slow to finish the book). I’m glad I did finish it, though, as Lovesey’s procedural was interesting and delightful. The story turns on a locked-room mystery in which a member of a mystery book club (himself a locked-room mystery enthusiast) was murdered in, you guessed it, a locked room. Lovesey weaves this somewhat goofy idea into the modern police procedural of the Inspector Morse stripe. I haven’t read any other Peter Diamond mysteries, but the book fits the model of that subgenre. A few other thoughts:

  • The members of the book club are pretty eccentric — each seems to have dark secrets and/or strange habits. One wonders if any small group of people would look similar under the harsh light of police scrutiny. Gosh I hope not.
  • The interviews, the center of Lovesey’s book, are generally well-crafted. He gives us insight into the detective’s motives (sometimes a bit too heavily), and the characters come off as distinct and striking. Particularly amusing are the moments when the detectives knock aside the facades their subjects have erected and glimpse the true nature of their subject. Like many British mysteries, it turns out that the true nature of the small-town person is to be creepy.
  • The rivalry between Diamond and the other detective (Wigful) works pretty well too, though you feel bad for the other guy, since he’s not the protagonist and is doomed not to be the victor.
  • I was a bit disappointed that the artist didn’t use mysteries in the pile of books shackled on the cover. In particular, the John Dickson Carr book The Hollow Man has a section on Locked Room mysteries (and becomes part of the story). It should have been in the pile.
  • Speaking of which, when my colleague, Peter Christiansen, retired this year, he gave me his collection of Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr novels. I’m going to have to dive into them (there are roughly 100 here in my office).

Qimo for Kids

Memory
Memory

Avery’s spent about a month with Qimo 4 kids, and I declare it a success! A few thoughts:

  • There are a smattering of games of widely varying difficulty. The easiest are the puzzle games and the memory games, which focus attention and develop mouse skill. She seems to like the puzzle games best as they have the biggest on-screen pieces to futz with (easiest to mouse to).
  • There are a number of letter-based games that I like. One puts an image on the screen and then leads the child through typing out the word. The downside of this game? Pushing the wrong key makes a buzzing error sound. Avery enjoys holding down the key for a machine-gun buzzer effect. The pac-man game is pretty cool too.
  • The launcher bar along the bottom is delightful — it has all the stuff you’d want. Now if only I could figure out how to make the mouse inactive for five seconds or so after you click one of the icons. When we were traveling, Jenny’s mom complained that the computer had stopped working. When I got home I discovered that it froze after Avery opened 17 Firefox windows waiting for PBSkids.org to open.
  • Their FAQ now explains that Qimo is pronounced KIMoh.
  • The sound effects used in the programs are hilarious — many pulled from recognizable sources. When you open one of the programs, the Legend of Zelda theme plays. Another uses Homer’s “Whoo hoo” to celebrate completing puzzles.

The only downside is that the Qimo4Kids website has no documentation or support at all. So I’ve emailed them to offer help with a forum or a wiki. I discovered this trouble when Avery somehow made all the menus and the launcher bar disappear. I found the fix on a xubuntu forum, but some less-savvy parents may not have been able to, and it would be handy to have such information available in a forum connected to the Qimo website.