November 29, 2003

Review: "Timeline"

A lazy movie from a lazy author directed by a lazy director. Why should I have been surprised? If Donner had been half as interested in getting the whole movie right as he was in making the trebuchets and flaming arrows authentic, maybe it could have... nah. I forget - this is a Crichton novel.

Posted by Chris on 11/29/03

November 25, 2003

Fake Ticketless Travel and other notes

  • These unbreakable PLASTIC TIES that you I.T. people love to wrap cords in - what's going on with that? Are you really so certain about the placement of this machine and its cables that you feel it will never need to be moved? STOP AND THINK A MINUTE! Put the plastic tie away! This isn't an unruly protestor, this is a machine that may be moved or upgraded! What happens then?

    I'll tell you what happens then - that person (me) is going to have to risk electrocution by wedging a blade into the coil of cords, so he (me) can slice away the unbreakable PLASTIC TIE.

    And another thing, this part directed to the genius that situated the bank of desktop servers here on the platform meant to slide out for easy access to the rear of the machines, but then bound every power cable with an UNBREAKABLE PLASTIC TIE, leaving 3" of slack in the power cords, so that if anyone (me) ever DID choose the sliding out option to access the rear, it then unplugged about six business-critical servers all at once: watch your back, fella.

  • It's not TICKETLESS TRAVEL if I have to present a piece of paper at the gate, people. ANY PIECE OF PAPER. Just because it's referred to by another name - perhaps a "boarding pass," or any kind of proof of purchase - it's STILL a ticket that you have to present.

    If I get to print out a piece of paper at home and am able to present THAT at the gate, then I am happy about the convenience, but that piece of paper has BECOME MY TICKET. And it's STILL NOT TICKETLESS. Get it?

    When I am able to present my driver's license or my retina or my thumbprint and fly, THEN it's ticketless.

    Here's the test to find out if you are experiencing FAKE TICKETLESS TRAVEL: If you can lose it between the counter and the gate and be denied access to your flight, then you are experiencing FAKE TICKETLESS TRAVEL.

  • TRANSFERRING PHONE NUMBERS between services? Being able to hang on to a single phone number regardless of service? I invented that concept two years ago and was scoffed at as a heretic.
  • Special thanks to friend Scott for getting me off the crack of Galactic Battlegrounds by introducing me to the CRYSTAL METH of AGE OF MYTHOLOGY: Titan Expansion Pack.

    Posted by Chris on 11/25/03
  • November 18, 2003

    Book review

    Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman - C

    I have not been blown away by Gaiman the way others have, particularly with the Sandman stuff, although Neverwhere was enjoyable. If I had been maybe I would have been more into his half-hearted efforts to imitate Adam's flippant style of prose. As it was, it really just struck me as an odd fit.

    But I should be careful not to confuse my disappointment with what I learned about Adams with the style of this rather light biographical treatment of the Hitchhiker series (or incarnations or cottage industry or mythos or whatever). I have always revered the Hitchhiker books, and although one can never know how one would handle the pressures of getting really really famous and successful fairly suddenly, I was really struck with how much Adams blew a lot of opportunities.

    And I don't just mean blew the chance to have a really good movie made of the Hitchhiker's series, because I'm not sure such a thing is necessary or even possible, or blew the chance to write more Hitchhiker books, because clearly he wasn't interested in that. But how he blew the chance to do MORE. One of the main things I took from learning about how he worked was how much time he wasted.

    This from Mr. Galactic Battlegrounds.

    I realize this is heresy in some circles. And probably my disappointment comes primarily from how frustrating and sad it is that Adams is gone, and I loved the few things he did a LOT.

    Posted by Chris on 11/18/03

    Movie reviews

    Master and Commander - A

    Entirely enjoyable and it will serve as a rich source of ambiguous British-sailing talk for years to come, perhaps even supplanting my ambiguous Major General idiom of speaking! Extra points for not dwelling on any of the less savory aspects of 19th-century naval practices!

    Note to movie people, however: one title per movie, please, unless it's a series. I'm looking at the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life people here too. And in case it belongs to a series, your movie gets TWO titles only. I'm looking at you, George.

    Mystic River - B

    Well-acted and enjoyable, but I needed to read some reviews afterwards to remind me that I shouldn't have been so interested in the hunt for the killer as I was the life-like ambiguity of guilt, relationships, abuse, etc. Except that I was.

    This is the kind of movie where people will love to talk about the authentic flavor of the Boston neighborhood, as if that is the sole purpose of movies: to get their settings and accents right. I also sometimes feel Clint Eastwood is a tad too laissez-faire in the visual style of his movies. But the acting IS top-notch.

    Posted by Chris on 11/18/03

    November 14, 2003

    Woman Fatally Attacks Wolf

    Here are links to the stories in both of Chicago's major newspapers about the shooting of the wolf at Brookfield zoo yesterday:

    Brookfield wolf killed after visitor is attacked | Zoo Wolf Killed During Attack

    I'm confused: in my reading of the facts, it seems that a woman has jumped over a fence to pet a wild animal in a zoo, and the animal has followed its natural instincts and bitten her. And because of her actions, the animal had to be killed.

    But, oddly, there is no finger pointed at her for what she's done. Instead the stories focus only on the woman's condition and above all the reassurances by the zoo people that public safety is their top concern. The Tribune says that this is "the first time in the zoo's 69-year history that an animal attacked a visitor."

    Regret is peripherally expressed about the killing of the wolf; but after all, once these crazy wolves clamp down, there's no getting 'em a-loose. Once they get ahold of you, you HAVE to put them down!

    Let me say that this is not a tragic averting of a wild animal's vicious attack. This is the tragic averting of natural selection. The woman is a dangerous fool and the wolf has been killed for it.

    Are there no charges to be filed against her in this matter? Criminal trespass? Animal cruelty? Did her actions not lead to the killing of this wolf? Of course not: the ZOO is obviously to blame for not protecting the woman from herself and her impulses. Yes, she was in a zoo, and yes, there were fences. But were there STERNLY WORDED signs explicitly warning her NOT to jump the fence? How about any sort of information reminding her that zoos have wild animals, and that wild animals bite? No.

    She was in a public place, and in public places, filled as they are with sharp edges and sudden curbs and fences too low and coffee too hot and wolves too vicious, the public must be protected.

    When she later sues the zoo for not protecting her from this wolf, as we know she will, I think I will find her, AND her lawyer, and I'll bite them MYSELF. And I will ALSO not let go.

    Posted by Chris on 11/14/03

    November 13, 2003

    Thanksgiving Talking Points

    Attention all staff: please report to the main conference room. Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, and that means family, and that means we're through the looking glass when it comes to politics. I'm going to need a concise set of talking points from each of you - and please keep them to a fifth-grade reading level, people - on all of the day's issues.

    YES, I said ALL. You never know what casual comment will trigger a slight misinformed grumble.

    Sample points needed:

    1) The meaning and ramifications of preemptive war.
    2) The difference between knowing something in your "heart of hearts" and having hard evidence to persuade the world community.
    3) Why Vince Foster has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.
    4) Why Hillary Clinton didn't directly or indirectly engineer 9/11.
    5) Brief bullet point resumes of W.H. senior staff.

    And keep these things CONCISE, people. These aren't whole discussions to be won here, they're offhand comments that have to be batted away like gnats.

    Posted by Chris on 11/13/03

    November 11, 2003

    Lies Make Private Lynch Cry

    "...the suggestion by a handful of critics that Lynch may have contributed to the myth, deceiving others to enhance her heroism, enrages her family and makes Lynch herself cry."

    NBC's movie was unauthorized?!? Say! Who's telling the truth here?

    "We went and we did our job, and that was to go to the war, but I wish I hadn't done it -- I wish it had never happened," Lynch says. "I'd give four hundred billion dollars. I'd give anything."

    Ironically, I'm sure we WILL end up giving 400 billion dollars.

    Posted by Chris on 11/11/03

    November 6, 2003

    Get Out of my Head

    After only two days of profiling my behavior, Tivo has shocked me by determining that I probably wanted it to record elements of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim - specifically, the "Brak Show."

    It was correct! I love that show! How did it know? Is it... reading my mind?!?

    TIVO... GET... OUT... OF MY HEAD!!!!

    Having this applicance around makes me feel as if I actually live in the 21st Century. I don't think I would be surprised if the next software update enabled it to sprout legs and move about my apartment of its own volition. It almost cancels out having a metric ton's worth of a computer monitor emanating waves of heat and slowly bending my desk out of shape.

    Having gotten past the hooting and throwing rocks at this magical device, I am very curious now about how it makes with its dark magic. Not so much the schedule-managing part, although that is clever, but the fitting-all-that-tv-magic-inside-that silver-box part. 35 hours?!? I am not really interested in hacking the thing yet, and in NO way interested in trying to reverse engineer it on a Linux box (Did I mention that I can't even get an X server installed?), but I learned today from the briefest of poking around on the web that my Tivo does not feature an MPEG encoder as I supposed, because it's a DirecTV combo box - which means, of course, that the signal is already compressed and digital when the Glorious Sky God casts it down into my Silver Dish of Bountiful Receiving.

    But when I try to read much beyond that everything becomes so detailed and scary that I get nervous and think how much easier it would be to play Galactic Battlegrounds.

    (I've learned that if ever my brain is trying to make new neural connections, some counter-acting force first releases a powerful anti-motivating seratonin that I must overcome, the result of which is to give me the impulse to play Galactic Battlegrounds. GB will cause me to enter some sort of Beta-State during which no connections will be made. It's the mental equivalent of the needle having reached the end of the record, and just revolving in the same grooves until someone lifts the arm.)

    To understand this, I find that I must first understand about twenty or so underlying principles. And each of these branches out to about twenty more underlying principles that I should have some background with but instead of learning them I put my faith in Plug and Play and now I'm a mindless Eloi that hits my Tivo with a stick when it beeps. Lots of stuff about formats, bit rates, streaming, network basics, database stuff believe it or not, hard drive technology, about a dozen acronyms I've managed to avoid as a charlatan, and maybe I should just play as the Republic this time? No, the Empire - better music! And this time I won't just rely on cannons! I'll develop Jedis, too!

    I'm not trying to understand how video compression works from a molecular level on up, and I'm not trying to reverse-engineer anything - but to understand this you have to read the blogs of people who ARE trying to build it from scratch. And that is not always the best company.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 6/03

    Movie Review

    Matrix: Revolutions - grade: A

    This new Matrix movie is an enormous great white shark: as long as it keeps moving, it is a marvel of efficiency that can't be stopped on its on terms. When it's in action - whoa! That thing is beautiful! Scooping up fish by the dozens, occasionally grabbing a surfer or two, sporting a cone of fear, this thing WON'T STOP! WE HAVE TO CLOSE THE BEACHES, THE FOURTH OF JULY BE DAMNED, THIS THING'S GOING TO KILL US ALL! IT'S JUST THAT GOOD!

    But when it stops moving to deliver a speech about reality, it chokes, starts to sink, and dies. That's because it is built only for speed and action. Sharks don't talk, people. Sharks... don't... talk.

    Every single action sequence in the movie was the best of its sort I've seen in a long time, and overall it was much better than the last film in many respects.

    No matter what else they do, even if they fail miserably, let us always remember that the Wachowskis brought us the Uber Human Aerial Dogfight. Did they watch the fight between Zod and Superman in Superman II as many times as I did and drool? They must have. How many times must the screenplay have mentioned "NEO and AGENT SMITH fly together with enormous force. An ENORMOUS SHOCKWAVE spreads out from them, shattering windows and destroying buildings." or for that matter "The force of the impact sends (INSERT CHARACTER HERE) flying across the room, smashing through the wall." Who cares? It was great.

    They gave us the Slow-Mo Gunfight Amongst Poorly-Plastered Columns (Taking Place Partially On The Ceiling) in this movie. Just when you thought the slow-mo bullet-ballets couldn't be any more gorgeously choreographed, they thought of something different to show us. Hey, what would happen if the bad guys could stand on the ceiling?!? It would rock! It wouldn't necessarily make you less of a target to be on the ceiling, but - rock on!

    And they showed us what it would look like if thousands and thousands of flying mechanical squids attacked our underground city and were bravely held off for a period by hundreds of Robocops. That battle sequence alone was worth the price of admission - great stuff. For these sights, the Wachowskis must always have a place of honor.

    The problem is that it took the movie about a half hour to transform fully into the shark that it needed to be. Up until then, up until the Agent Smith-infected man attacked Trinity part, we had to do some sort of penance in the form of listening to the Oracle talk a lot about nothing - but in a convincing way. Mainly she made a lot of excuses for why she was being played by a different actress. But as far as I can tell, although it has been pointed out that I don't remember many details about the series, nothing she said advanced the plot much in any way at all.

    And for that matter, what did the Oracle EVER add to the plot of any of the films? Can someone tell me what she ever revealed to any of the characters that was hard data and not New Agey-Zen Doublespeak? I'm stopping short of actually looking it up in the screenplays online because, well, I don't care THAT much; but I wouldn't mind someone telling me. I'm probably wrong about this, and I'd love to hear it.

    I'd have liked it if one of the characters not in awe of her had suggested that there is a difference between an Oracle and a Counselor. An Oracle pretty much reveals hidden information; they don't just ask you how you feel about it or tell you you're not ready to hear it or say that it all depends on the choices you'll make. I'm afraid I suffered some Orbital Strain during all of the scenes with the Oracle, and perhaps rudely giggled. Perhaps before she was an Oracle she had an MBA and worked for a consultancy?

    ORACLE: I foresee that you will open up a vast new business space.
    CLIENT: Wow - that's great! When? Q2? Q3?
    ORACLE: I can't say. With choices, it is difficult.
    CLIENT: OK, but can you tell me where this new business space will be?
    ORACLE: That's up to you. Where do YOU think it is?
    CLIENT: I think it might be in the financial services sector.
    ORACLE: Perhaps. Perhaps you will find out when you are ready to know the truth.
    CLIENT: Jesus, this lady's good.

    I mean, it's all well and good to prattle on about how the spoon is not a spoon, but how about some concrete facts that Neo could go on? "Neo, don't throw out that burlap sack, because it's going to be your entire wardrobe once you make it to Zion." THAT would have been useful information. Where was Ben Stiller from Mystery Men to point out that the Oracle was probably just The Sphinx in disguise? "She's just repeating what I just said back - in the form of a QUESTION!"

    Speaking of useless windbags, the Zion Council! Sorry to interrupt the Love-In, fellas, but we've got some giant drilling machine moving towards the Day Care. What was the point of bothering to fill them in on the status of the squid attacks, when they were all clearly busy mounting the annual production of Godspell? Leave the aging hippies alone, Angry Army Man! They've got hemp to sell! Bracelets to make! Pots to fire in the kiln! They're using checmicals to expand their consciousness and you're harshing their groove! Jack on! Jack in! Jack out! Jack off!

    And how about that Frenchman and his luscious Italian girlfriend! As I suspected in the last movie, they appear to have been completely superfluous. What did they actually contribute at all? I'm ready to be taken to school on this, honestly. Maybe Mr. Mother of All Spoilers can tell me. (What's HE doing today? Is he angry that he was wrong? Happy? Sad? Needs some time alone to think about it?)

    Another vast improvement with this film over the others is that what really mattered to the plot happened in the "real" world. My main problem with the first movie - and maybe the second one, although I don't remember much of that one - was that once you figure out it's all an illusion, the next logical step is to take action in the REAL world, not the illusory one. In Revolutions, the only battle of note in the Matrix was with the Smith program, which is as it should have been. And the Uber Human Dogfight finally suggested that they were not bound to the laws of reality, or to an arbitrary contest (We shall settle this battle of wills the only way we can - WITH KUNG FU!).

    The last bit with Agent Smith and Neo was a tad unclear, but by this time I know the mythologies they are referencing and know what they must be suggesting. I think. Who cares?

    Overall, I loved it - I'll buy the comic, the action figures, the screenplay, but maybe not the t-shirt.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 6/03

    November 5, 2003

    As I toil...

    ... TIVO is at home faithfully recording all the episodes of Justice League and West Wing that I would have otherwise tragically been missing.


    Although I scoffed at John when he assured me that I would really want to upgrade to the Dual-LNB dish to allow simultaneous recording a viewing of another channel, I quickly - like within five minutes of install - realized my error. BRING ON THE DUAL LNB! Just the one LNB won't do! I need to be able to record things while watching OTHER things! And I may even need to rewind or pause those other things, too!

    I also lay awake last night worrying to myself that 35 hours worth of disk space wouldn't be enough. How sad I am.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 5/03

    Banning Films We Haven't Seen Is Easy and Fun II

    I AGAIN very nearly had to respond to a conservative relative's forwarded request to boycott a film, this time on shaky patriotic grounds. Here is the text of the email, and this time I have chosen to leave the many brackets intact, because there are some people who DESERVE to have brackets around what they say to further set it aside from intelligent and original thought:

    >Subject: Movie
    >Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 06:03:51 -0000
    >Mystic River - The Movie
    >Mystic River, the new movie being released this Wednesday is starring
    >Sean Penn and Tim Robbins who have been known to spew hate speech against
    >our current President, assaulting his character for doing what he is
    >attempting to do with the war on terror, to protect Americans from further
    >attack, which has been very successful so far.
    >These 2 liberal actors have sided with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden
    >and against our own country, as demonstrated by Penn's going to Iraq prior
    >to the war in protest of our pending attack to remove the terrorist regime
    >of Saddam Hussein, saying that we have no right to attack innocent people
    >and that it was the Bush administration that is starting this war.
    >Let us not forget 9/11/2001. I figure I have no way to let the liberals in
    >Hollywood know that they are just actors....and not representative of
    >mainstream America, by myself. But if each one of us route this note to all
    >of your friends who support our troops and the administration, and make sure
    >that they do not go to this movie.
    >Encourage all you know......not to go to it. By doing this.....these actors
    >won't be able to get a job. Look what it did for Alec Baldwin's career!
    >He's a washed up actor that watches his mouth these days.
    >We have 2 days until this movie starts. Let the boycott begin. Route this
    >to every loyal patriotic person you know and stay away from this movie with
    >these anti-American activists. These are 2 very outspoken hate ministers
    >and we can make a difference.

    I ask you, is every future holiday meal at this person's house not going to be a tense affair, with only the clink of the gravy boat as it is passed around to break the silence? Because I know for a fact that I am not the only one on their distribution list that barked laughter when they learned that we have but 2 days to teach the hate ministers to keep their mouths shut.

    A few questions, and props to me for even knowing where to start with this: Is Alec Baldwin's career really the smoking ruins they imagine it to be? And if so, is that really due to their righteous vigilance? Would it cause any cognitive dissonance for these folks to know that their favorite TBS cowboy directed the movie? Is it just me, or is the first sentence indicative of someone who doesn't read the news very much... or at all? Am I glad there is an extra line break before they inevitably invoke 9/11, to give me one last chance during this email to breathe normally?

    Good luck with their boycott. It's definitely pushed me from thinking I can wait for Pay Per View for this one to knowing I MUST see it in the THEATRES, NOW.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 5/03

    The Formation of A New Theatre

    I am using this venue to announce the formation of a new repertory theatre: "Flaming Threads Rep." We will not put on traditional "plays," but will devote our weekly performances to dramatic interpretations of Message Board arguments such as this one:

    I think the true conflict in this thread can only come out through a staged, rehearsed dramatic interpretation. Imagine the "Holly Golightly" character actually presented as an Audrey Hepburn-type of actress, for instance. Imagine the whole thing degenerating into a battle with samurai blades. Imagine... FLAMING THREADS.

    Now accepting headshots and crew applications. Managing Director position available.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 5/03

    Collossus Can Turn His Body to Metal!

    Today is Go See Matrix With The Boys day! I'm very excited, and this is in no way in conflict with anything I've ever posted here, so you can stop looking!

    PREDICTIVE SPOILER (Stop reading now if you don't want to spoil the movie):

    There will be a several monologues by one or more of the characters concerning the elusive nature of reality! There will be details vaguely tying together broad mythological / philosophical references!

    It is a testament to my wife's sense of humor that when I invited her to see this movie with us and then three seconds later I thought about it and told her she was not invited anymore, she laughed and said O.K. Because I realized that it would be With the Boys and the levels of conversation we would have afterwards and before would probably give her Orbital Strain*.

    *A condition wherein one strains one's eyes with excessive rolling.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 5/03

    November 4, 2003

    Metaphorical Character for my So-Called Career

    I've already given various metaphors for what making a movie is like for me, but let me give one for my entire film "career," such as it is. The following passage of dialogue sums up how things are going:

    FATHER: Listen, lad. I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one... stayed up! And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands.

    It perfectly encapsules both my approach to making films and the current results. I'd like to think my latest opus represents at least Castle #3, but I could be only on #2.

    I am a man standing on the edge of a swamp, and it has just swallowed another castle. And who is there to blame but me? I'm the one that picked this location! I know - maybe if I build ANOTHER castle, THAT one will stay up!

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 4/03

    November 3, 2003

    The 500 Guitars of EmmyLou

    I went to an Emmylou Harris concert this weekend at CSO, and though the music was sweet and entertaining, I found myself distracted by the amount of guitar switch-ups that had to happen after every single song, not only with The Lou Herself, but with her main guitar backup Buddy Miller.

    After every single song a backstage minion came forth with two more guitars, switched them out with the artists as they went through their post / pre-song banter, plugged 'em up, then scurried offstage again. I realize, or rather assume, that maybe different guitars are needed for different songs, because of different sounds or maybe tunings. But a new guitar for each song? Is singing a folk song like signing a presidential bill, when each letter of the Commander in Chief's name is signed with a different pen, and then the pens are whisked away to the Smithsonian, I guess? Was this backstage minion rushing these guitars off to sell them on eBay? THIS GUITAR PLAYED BY EMMYLOU! ONLY ONCE! MINIMUM BID $5000!

    And then I realized that the minion was bringing the SAME TWO guitars out again and again for The Lou. What was up with that? Don't they make things that can hold these guitars up onstage, I believe they are called "stands?" I wouldn't even bring it up but it became distracting!

    One time the minion came out just to whisk away the empty water bottles, and it occurred to me that maybe he was a waiter and that this wasn't the CSO but some super-exclusive restaurant just for successful folk / country singers.

    The CSO would be a fantastic place for a game of hide-and-seek.

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 3/03

    November 2, 2003

    Comics I Like

    - - - - - -

    Dinosaur Comics is in the same vein as "Get Your War On," in terms of the images...

    Posted by Chris on 11/ 2/03