Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breaking down and paying for goat balls

Today marks a mini-milestone in my media consumption habits: for the first time I actually spent money for a Kindle book.

Amy bought an actual Kindle some time back, but the first rule of Kindle turned out to be "Bryan doesn't get to use the Kindle." Can't say as I blame her. A few years ago I bought her a Nintendo DS and then promptly expropriated it so I could waste obscene amounts of time "improving" myself by playing Brain Age. Still, the restriction did serve to postpone my entry into the world of e-books.

When we got smart phones last summer, I noted that a Kindle reader was one of the available apps. Though the type was predictably tiny on the phone, it proved to be a better time-killer in waiting rooms than solitaire. And then when I splurged after Christmas and bought an iPad, e-reading reached a new level. Suddenly it was comfortable, easy, and sufficiently dead-tree-esque to make it a pleasant experience. Not to mention that the iPad case I got props itself up on my nightstand, and of course the tablet doesn't require a cumbersome book light.

What I didn't do was rush off to Amazon and buy a bunch of stuff. Instead, everything I downloaded was public domain, free-of-charge, mostly classics from Project Gutenberg. As long as I'm marking milestones, I should note that a couple of days ago I finished The Iliad, the first e-book I read from beginning to end.

For some time now I've been meaning to buy a copy of Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock. As a John R. Brinkley-abilia fan, I couldn't resist. If nothing else, I'm always looking for new info to improve the lesson I teach my Mass Media students about Brinkley. When I looked into ordering a copy, I noticed that Buns and Noodles had it available for the Nook. And if it had been Nooked, surely it must also be Kindled.

Thus I'm now the proud owner of my first ever actually-paid-money-for-it e-book. O brave new world.

In MSG news, I spent a chunk of time this morning clearing out the email I've been sending myself (and other people have been sending me) full of links to articles that need to be included in the text. Not for the first time -- and probably not for the last -- I'm impressed by the sheer enormity of the task before me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review – Damned by Dawn

They start with a nemesis as awesome as the Banshee and this is what they come up with? Just because the zombies can fly doesn’t make this anything but another dumb zombie movie. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Dark Floors

This is billed as the most expensive movie ever made in Finland (at least at the time). It’s also billed as the brainchild of Lordi, who appear to be Finland’s answer to Gwar. A small cadre of people from different walks of life find themselves trapped in a hospital that’s been magically transported into another dimension where everyone is dead (not that their deaths prevent them from walking around and trying to kill the protagonists). Overall this isn’t the worst example of this particular sub-genre, but the guys in the heavy metal monster suits really didn’t help. See if desperate

Review – Eyes of Laura Mars

Poor Laura. She’s trying to make a living as an eerie fashion photographer, but suddenly she finds herself plagued by visions during which all she can see is what a serial killer is seeing. Things get really mind-bending when the killer starts chasing her and she ends up watching herself run away from him. The movie is a little dated and might have been better if it didn’t bank so heavily on 70s era star power (particularly Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones, who were probably more impressive back then than they are now). Dial it down a notch and it would have been a fun little horror picture. Mildly amusing

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review – The Andersonville Trial

George C. Scott helms this video recording of a stage play about the eponymous legal proceeding. This must have been one of those “prestige projects” that attracts big-name actors (even the characters in the background are played by people who were famous at the time or have become famous since) to a small-budget production. And of course given the era that spawned it, a lot of the hand-wringing about morality in war tasted more like My Lai than the Civil War. However, for the most part it was an interesting dramatization of one of the world’s first war crimes trials. Mildly amusing

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review – Crossing the Line

Here we have the story of deserter James Dresnok, a man who got tired of being bossed around by his superiors in the Army and decided life might be better if he defected to North Korea. The surprising thing is that it seemed to have worked out better for him than one might think, though certainly his life wasn’t a bed of roses either before or after he snuck across the border. If nothing else, the camera crew appears to be having an easier time of shooting their movie than some other productions that have ventured into the realm of Kim Jong Il. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review - The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg, I’ll make you a deal. If you promise to never make another movie where I’m expected to take you seriously, I’ll stop reminding you of your proper place in the bigger picture by calling you Marky Mark. This production starts out as a cookie-cutter bit of grit about a boxer from a poor Boston neighborhood who beats the odds and makes it big. But even the relatively modest expectations for such a picture swiftly fall afoul of production flaws. For example, Christian Bale is obviously trying to do the Robert DeNiro serious actor weight gain/loss thing, but here because the scenes were obviously shot out of sequence Bale’s character shows up junkie thin in parts where he shouldn’t have been. Perhaps if I had more of a weakness for hard luck boxing movies I would have enjoyed this more. Mildly amusing

Review – The Chosen One

One can almost hear Rob Schneider’s internal dialogue: “I’ve gotta get away from playing morons in Happy Madison productions. Sandler did it in Punch Drunk Love, and people took him seriously for however brief a time. Surely I can do it too.” Perhaps. But Rob, you have to make a clean break. The movie you produce can’t be half serious contemplation of what it would be like for an average guy to be declared messianic by a South American tribe if the other half is the same old lowbrow shtick. I should admit I came in a few minutes late, so if something brilliant happened early on I didn’t see it. But that doesn’t affect the uneven mix in the rest of the picture. See if desperate

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Starting an interplanetary war

Suddenly the Onion is smearing every available spot on its site with promos for the movie Paul, which as near as I can tell from the ads is a feature-length posit that loserdom isn't confined to our planet. Honestly, just looking at this alien makes me want to punch him. And wouldn't that start our relations with his planet off on the wrong foot (or tentacle or whatever).

On the other hand, maybe if the inhabitants of his planet are as tired of slackers with attitude as I am, perhaps it would help establish some common ground. So you punched the little bastard? Congratulations. We've been wanting to punch him for years, but we're too peaceful to give in to our baser urges. That's why we sent him to Earth and specifically targeted the United States. We figured if anyone would punch him, it would be an American.

In all fairness, I have no idea whether this is a good movie or not (though "Seth Rogen" doesn't bode well). It's just that the alien has that George-W.-Bush-idiot-reveling-in-his-own-idiocy smirk on his face.

A small bit of MSG progress this morning, mostly organizational. I started a list of the photos and illustrations I need to create, hoping to get at least a start on it during the break.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Backward Two

So now I'm stuck on the backward movie thing.

First a quick note to my friends and confidants: I promise not to get as exasperating with this as I was with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (though I still think going from The Electric Company to Bacon and back with no repeats was a genuinely impressive feat).

If you watch a Godzilla movie backward, giant monsters help out with massive urban renewal projects.

If you watch Psycho backward, the hero puts on gender-appropriate clothing, saves a woman from a swamp, helps her shower off and sends her on her way. Grateful for her good fortune, she gives an envelope of money to her boss.

If you watch The Shining backward, Jack Nicholson gets progressively saner and saner until eventually he gets fired from his job as crazy caretaker of a haunted hotel.

If you watch Armageddon backward, Bruce Willis heads a team of rock-building experts who waste millions of dollars putting together a giant meteor just to fling it into deep space.

Someone else already did The Godfather, so I'll do Part Two: Michael's family returns, and decades earlier his dad gives up a life of crime to pursue a career as a grocery clerk.

If you watch Lethal Weapon backward, it's a movie about a couple of cops who start the picture as buddies but gradually come to loathe each other. In the end one goes crazy, the other plans retirement, and a semi-nude woman makes an impressive jump from a broken car all the way up to a penthouse balcony.

If you watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom backward, the "hero" steals a magic stone from some villagers and drags all their children off to work as slaves in a mine. But at least if you're watching the whole series backward the next one will be much better.

And if you watch Frankenstein backward, it's about a doctor who kills his only patient (apparently by electrocuting him), cuts him up, sticks his parts onto other corpses and then buries them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Backward

Apparently the latest meme is to speculate about what famous movies would be like if you played them backward. My favorite so far is "Jaws played backward would be a movie about a giant shark that keeps throwing up people until they open the beach."

Who am I to blow against the wind?

If you watch Do the Right Thing backward, race relations in Bedford Stuy gradually improve.

If you watch The Thing backward, monsters turn into people and the show ends with a helicopter flying away from a dog.

If you watch The Lost Weekend backward, Ray Milland works hard to develop a drinking problem.

If you watch Heaven's Gate backward, you're bored to tears for two and a half hours but at least Michael Cimino gets his career back.

If you watch a James Bond movie backward, the hero lets the villain go and then spends the rest of the movie rebuilding cars and running away from women.

If you watch A Clockwork Orange backward, sinister government scientists kidnap a nice young man, brainwash him and turn him into a violent gang member.

While we're on Kubrick sci fi movies: if you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey backward, an astronaut returns from infinity and flies back to Earth, where eventually a slab turns everyone into apes.

And just so we finish with an even eight, if you watch Alien backward, a giant bug brings people back to life. To repay it, they shrink it down, cram it in an egg and leave it stranded on a desolate, lifeless planet.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chloe, get me the sat image

Lately I've taken to spying on myself.

Or to be more precise, I've been using easily-available satellite image sources (such as MapQuest and Google Maps) to call up images of my house taken from space. Though they fascinate me on general principles, I find it particularly fun to try to guess when the satellite was passing over the house.

Morning appears to be a popular time (based on the shadows), but beyond that I'm not noticing any patterns. Some shots are taken during the winter, while others are spring or summer (no autumn leaves and no snow, though).

It's also fun to see who's home. One of the services offers multiple view angles. In the first, nobody's parked on the street out in front of the house. In the second my car is there, and in the third and fourth views Amy and I are both home.

I also find it interesting that the images, particularly StreetView, are so old that they show a car we got rid of more than a year ago.

It makes me want to paint something on the roof, like maybe a big "Hi there!" sign. Or maybe an 8sails octopus.

Speaking of 8sails, obviously I've fallen tragically behind on everything. I'm not sweating the Survival Guide at this point, but I'm mad at myself for not doing a better job keeping up with movie reviews, lists, Hoffman Lenses and the like. At least on Saturday I did manage to get some reviews written. I'm still behind, just not as far behind as I was.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review – Dead Like Me: Life After Death

Fans of the series will probably like this. I say “probably” because a couple of the actors (most notably Mandy Patinkin) didn’t come back for the movie. It also doesn’t really resolve any of the unresolved questions left by the show’s untimely cancellation. Indeed, it plays a lot more like a double-long episode of the show rather than a stand-alone movie (so those of you who didn’t watch the show, be prepared to spend some time at sea). On the other hand, it was nice to have a revival – however brief – of a program I enjoyed. Mildly amusing

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review – The End of America

Naomi Wolf spends an hour and a half Chicken Little-ing the hell out of the Bush administration just in time for it to count as nothing more than the doorknob hitting him in the ass on the way out. Though she’s passionate about her points – many of which are perfectly pertinent – she ends up submerging her argument under a giant pile of false analogy and political ad rhetoric. In particular it was just ridiculous to compare Bush and his cohort to Hitler. Any government is going to suffer from some unpleasant parallels to Nazi Germany, but such similarities don’t automatically mean that the sky is falling. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Getting back into the swing

I've been so swamped the last couple of days that I've had little time to work on the site and no time to come up with anything funny to say here. Even the MLB stuff I posted yesterday was technically a carry-over from Saturday.

This morning in my Reporting class we had a couple of excellent guest professionals: Alan Mattingly and Roy Teicher. They're the co-authors of The Salt Beat, a play about the death of a small town newspaper. Alan is an editor for the New York Times and Roy used to be the editor of the Kansas City Kansan (not to mention a writer for such diverse employers as Bill Clinton and The Tonight Show). So this was a great opportunity for the students to meet a couple of guys who've succeeded in the business they're considering joining.

Work on the MSG has been minimal, but I've gotten an item or two added. In particular, Mental Floss tweeted a factoid asserting that there's more content posted on YouTube in 60 days than the original big three networks have aired in the last 60 years. Of course I'll need to track down a source for that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Take this sport and love it

Oh Major League Baseball. I wish I could quit you.

Spring training is underway, and our season tickets arrived on Friday. All fired up about the new season -- not to mention our newly-Internet-connected television -- I splurged and signed up for the MLB.TV 2011 subscription.

Initial reactions:

1. It's great to have baseball back

2. The picture quality is terrible. MLB, don't you dare blame this on my bad throughput. Movies from Netflix look great on my set. Even during peak usage, content from other parts of the Internet don't look quite so much like YouTube postings shot with a cell phone. So the problem is on your end. Take some of your billions of dollars and spring for better servers or whatever it takes to deliver a professional quality product.

3. I can't tell which games I can watch and which I can't. Would it really be so hard to add a "this game is available" icon to the team names and stats in the listings?

4. Different channels have a different understanding of what "HD" means. I've watched three games so far. The first was on the Mets' network. It was fine (other than #2 above). The second was a Cubs game on WGN, a superstation that apparently thinks HD is the old 3x4 aspect ratio plus gray bars on the sides. That would have been less galling if they hadn't kept flashing a "WGN in HD" graphic, which obviously it wasn't. Then the Angels game took the cake with the new aspect ratio letterboxed and then crammed between gray bars. I shudder to think what Fox Sports Kansas City will come up with.

5. It's great to have baseball back.

In other words, MLB's implementation of 21st century video technology is infected by the same careless arrogance that infests every other aspect of the sport's interaction with its fans. For six months of the year it keeps me mindful of the definition and nature of a "love-hate relationship."

And apparently here we go again.

By the way, for those of you reading this blog for stuff more directly related to the 8sails mission (destroying popular culture as we know it), rest assured that the extended baseball gripes will be few and far between. I mention it here only within the context of new media technology.

Monday, March 7, 2011

For when the doll heads come for you. And they will.

I recently discovered something unpleasant about myself: when I'm laughing my ass off but at the same time trying not to make any noise so I won't wake up my wife in the room across the hall, the sound that comes out is an awful, high-pitched squeaking.

The subject of my early-morning-bout-of-insomnia mirth was speculation about what a grade school science textbook written by Gary Busey might look like.

This raises an important question: in light of the good chance that his bizarre behavior is due to mental illness brought on by massive head trauma, is it wrong to make fun of Gary Busey?

A. Yes. Gary Busey is a human being with feelings, and it's wrong to make fun of him regardless of the source of his problem.

B. Yes. Under most circumstances celebrities are legitimate mocking targets, but not when they're genuinely mentally ill.

C. No. In general it's wrong to make fun of the mentally differently abled, but Busey's celebrity status (combined with the likelihood that his problems originate from an injury suffered when he decided to ride a motorcycle without a helmet) makes him fair game.

D. Nah, fuck him. In a world full of famine, pestilence and genocide, who gives a crap about Gary Busey?

In 8sails site news, not much progress to report. I'm way behind on site work and didn't even manage to accomplish much on the Survival Guide. But I had a lot of housework to deal with this weekend. Or at least that's my excuse.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Abandoned – Terrorvision

I don’t know exactly when I stopped watching this one, because it put me fairly directly to sleep. I think it was somewhere around ten minutes in.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gloom, despair and agony on me

Lately I've been watching an alarming number of documentaries about awful stuff. Nuclear proliferation. The Zimbardo experiment. Rwandan genocide. And of course Nazis and the Holocaust. Rewatching Blood in the Face left me particularly curious about how such obvious marginal stupidity could ever have ensnared an entire nation. Surely the German version in the 1930s must somehow have been more appealing than the Michigan version from the 1980s.

To test the question, I sat through Triumph of the Will. And no. It has more polish on it. The choreography is better. It's considerably larger. But otherwise it's painfully obviously the exact same blend of overdeveloped ability to hate and underdeveloped ability to think.

And worse, as a hideous side effect I now have the Horst Wessel Song stuck in my head. Thank goodness I don't actually know the lyrics. So it goes something like

Lift up the flag
And rotten Nazi bullshit
Don't know the words
So yakka blabba blah

On a happier note, last night at dinner I got a fortune cookie fortune that said "Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film." Normally I like fortunes to be fortunes, something more like "You will make a journey over water." But this one was actually fine with me.

Buck: I'm a pickin'

Roy: And I'm a grinnin'

All: Nyah ya ya nyah nyah, nyah ya ya nyah nyah nyah

Roy: Hey Buck, did you know I've got a photographic memory?

Buck: Yeah, Roy. Too bad you forgot to buy film for it.

All: Nyah ya ya nyah nyah, nyah ya ya nyah nyah nyah

And for those of you fortunate enough to have no idea what that last bit just was, feast on the bygone video horror that was Hee Haw.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review – Dracula's Widow

If you’re married to someone who’s been killed as often as this guy, you must spend a lot of time wearing black (which at least shouldn’t be a big problem for a vampire). The undead body of Dracula’s wife Vanessa gets shipped to a run-down Hollywood wax museum. She wakes up hungry. Crap proceeds from there. See if desperate

The Media Survival Guide is now officially underway

Okay, truth be told I've been working on this project for awhile now. A lot of the initial planning took place last fall, and of course I had to have at least some idea of what I planned to do in time for my sabbatical proposal two months ago.

Perhaps I shouldn't get ahead of myself. The 8sails Media Survival Guide is a replacement for the textbooks I've been using in my JOUR 175 Intro to Mass Comm class. Books published via the traditional route tend to be boring, expensive, inflexible and slow to update, all ills I think I can cure by rolling my own.

So that's what I'm working on. Though the serious labor won't begin until after the end of the spring semester, I'm trying to get a lot of the groundwork (outlines, design, etc.) done before the start of the summer. Even though I have between the middle of May and early January to do nothing but work on the MSG, it's going to be a ton of work. Thus my antsy nature prompts me to do as much as I can as early as I can.

When I first started thinking about the project, I organized my thoughts in outline form in a Word file. Since then I've created a wiki to keep my notes in one place where I can get at them easily no matter where I happen to be. This morning's task was to transfer notes from the Word file to the wiki. Mission accomplished.

Oh, and I started this blog.