Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review – Apocalypse

Once again the convoluted End Times story gets dragged onto the big screen (or in this case the straight-to-video screen). Ostensibly this is the story of two journalists who find themselves confronted by the Rapture and subsequent Tribulation, discovering their personal relationships with Jesus along the way. However, the “foreground” story turns out to be window dressing for sermonizing by Jack and Rexella Van Impe and extended sequences that amount to little more than Christian music video. I was hoping for a fresh take on the whole “Left Behind” thing. What I got was less of a story and more of a show from one of those high-band cable networks owned by specific churches. Wish I’d skipped it

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review – Bug (1975)

I should have bailed on this one right after they burned the cat to death. Either they really did it or the effects used for that sequence (and the subsequent cat corpse) greatly exceeded the quality of the rest of the movie. Further, this represented the most dramatic volume ramps I’ve ever had to do between the whispered dialogue and the nerve-grating racket of the monster attack scenes. And yet I stuck with it based on a faulty memory from childhood that assured me this was a lot better than it was. Maybe watching roaches set stuff on fire with their butts was more entertaining back when I was nine years old. Bradford Dillman plays an entomologist who goes off the deep end after subterranean fire bugs incinerate his wife. He eventually captures one of the critters and forces it to breed (despite the fact that we’ve already been told they don’t have sex organs) with a common cockroach. The resulting spawn turn out to be super smart and psychically connected, swiftly learning to arrange themselves into words on the wall. He should have crossed them with the screenwriters. That would have provided them with much more limited intellect. This is director Jeannot Szwarc’s worst movie ever, and in a catalog that includes Santa Claus The Motion Picture that’s really saying something. It’s also the last movie William Castle ever produced. What a sad end to an illustrious career. Avoid at all costs

Review – The Colour from the Dark

Once again a movie adaptation of a Lovecraft story scores a serious “close but no cigar.” This time the source is “The Colour Out of Space,” one of my favorites. So perhaps I’m being a little too hard on this production. In its defense, when it strays somewhere near the neighborhood of the source story it’s actually reasonably good. The strange, amorphous “monster” is particularly well suited to a production that doesn’t have the money for effects more graphic than some lighting tricks and simple CGI. Ah but that’s only part of it. The rest for some reason is a heavy dose of The Exorcist mixed with Nazis, zombies and the usual batch of low-budget standby nudity and gore. See if desperate

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review – The Astro Zombies

Did this thing really spawn sequels? Did it really? Sigh. This is one of those movies that’s so terrible it’s hard to follow. For example, for awhile I struggled to figure out if the monster was intended to be a psychopath disguising his identity with a cheap rubber mask or if we were really being asked to buy the thing as a zombie. John Carradine stumbles around for awhile as a mad scientist in scenes that have only the most tangential connection to the rest of the movie. But honestly, couldn’t I have just started by typing “Tura Satana” and skipped the rest of the review? See if desperate

Review – Azorian: The Raising of the K-129

Usually if there’s no IMDb listing for a production I won’t review it as a movie. However, this PBS special was long enough to meet the running time requirement, and I felt the need to say a word or two about it. Honestly, how the hell can they take a deep sea recovery mission with strong intrigue and espionage elements and turn it into a watching-grass-grow lecture on mechanical engineering? The U.S. attempt to extract the wreckage of Soviet submarine K-129 is a tale packed with high level government high jinks, submarine story thrills and the world’s most expensive game of Claw Machine. Though some of the more interesting elements (such as what may have sunk the sub to begin with) get a brief mention, the vast vast vast majority of the production is an endless consideration of the various pipes, gears, winches and whatnot that went into the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a multi-gazillion-dollar vessel built for one failed purpose. If you’re way into nautical engineering, PBS finally made the special you’ve been waiting for. Everyone else can skip with impunity. See if desperate

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What the what?

Right about a year ago the family went to Paradise India, a restaurant in southern JoCo. The food was fine, but the service was a touch over-solicitous. I got a kick out of being greeted with "namaste" at the door, but then I was watching a lot of Lost at the time so that might have had something to do with the entertainment value. On a more negative note, the waiter / maitre d' / maybe the owner hovered over us for much of the meal, providing a running commentary about the food. It was interesting but at the same time sort of unwelcome.

At the end of the meal he asked us to fill out comment cards, and the cards featured a blank for an email address. I have an address that I use specifically in cases where I might be giving it to someone who wants to send me something useful (such as coupons) or might just be lining up to spam me. So I jotted it on the form and didn't think anything more about it.

Then yesterday I get an email from Paradise India. It had some info on the restaurant's recent appearance on KCPT's restaurant show. It had some general chatty stuff. It had a coupon (good move there). But it also included the "Joke of the Day."

I reproduce it here in its entirety and defy anyone to decipher it. About the only part that gave me a snicker was "heads off to a great meal."

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The long march

Today I began in earnest to get the site caught up. I decided to start with the most recent updates and make my way back to the middle of January (which was where I was before the crash). Though I only got a week's worth of reviews loaded, at least it was a start.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review – Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State

Six hours of the Holocaust, but at least it’s more interesting than Shoah. Actually, this is a really solid introduction to the subject, well paced with a good combination of interviews, recreations, location shots, computer simulations and historical footage. I wouldn’t tackle this on a cheerful, sunny summer day. But if you’re ready to face an honest portrayal of one of the most disgraceful chapters in human history, this six-part miniseries is an excellent experience. Worth seeing

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Abandoned – Tam Lin

So they never let Roddy McDowall direct another movie after this? Maybe it's because this is dull and pointless even beyond the liberal standards for such things back in the hippie days. 37 minutes

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More cows

Okay, actually not more cows. Just more boxes. I figured if I built some blank spaces in, later I could come back and add some text, something that might make initial navigation a little easier. So now the design parallels the splash page I put together for the Mass Comm Notebook web site I worked on a few years ago (and which I fear fell victim to the laptop crash). However, that notebook was in turn based on the Photographer's Notebook, which still exists (and someday will be added to 8sails College once I've had the chance to add content and remove some copyrighted images from it).

That said, I promised myself I wasn't going to spend the whole day tinkering with the MSG. Other work is piling up.

I've been good, but I can't last. So hurry, sabbatical. Hurry fast.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Abandoned – Le6ion of the Dead (2001)

Ooh, vampires delivering dialogue reminiscent of undergraduate playwriting students speculating about theology. The numeral in the title should probably have been a good clue. Is that 6 supposed to be a G or an S? 14 minutes

Review – Day of Wrath

Okay, I'm forced to admit that if you asked me to make a movie out of the anti-Semitism of the Spanish Inquisition but also make it a Christopher Lambert action movie, I probably wouldn't have done any better than this. Some of the action sequences are okay, and some of the intrigue borders on fascinating. Unfortunately, they work together in a peanut-butter-on-fried-chicken sort of way. Mildly amusing

Review – Cube 2: Hypercube

At least the lighting is a little better this time around than it was in the first one. But that’s the only improvement. Once again a set of unrelated (or are they?) characters are crammed in a maze of interconnected cubes. However, in this installment the rooms are actually “hypercubes,” portals to other dimensions where any plot-rending twist is possible. So if you like the dizzy feeling of having a rug yanked out from under you time and time again, they’ve made an endless parade of pleasure just for you. Everyone else can give it a miss. See if desperate

The site is born

http://8sails.com/MSG

Not much there at the moment. Just 16 Survival Cows in a four-by-four grid. For now I'm focusing on keeping the "active" part of the page set up as a 1024 x 768 box in order to keep things simple if/when I convert this to an iPad app. So I'm sure I'll have a lot more adjustment work to do.

But at least now it officially exists.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Enter the cow

Yesterday Amy downloaded some copyright-free, derivative-work-ready photo clip art of cows and gas masks. After producing five or six variations, I came up with one that I'm happy with. So the next mission will be to clean it up and then get to work on the variations. I need 16 of them, one for each section of the MSG. For example, I'm going to create a version filtered with a really chunky half toning patter for the newspaper section. The movies section will probably have fancy sunglasses and a beret. The radio section will be sepia-toned with an old-timey microphone and maybe a fedora.

It's a relief not only to be making some progress on the site but also to have taken a bite out of such a key element of the design.

In the spirit of the occasion, now would be a good time to tell the story of how the Survival Cow came to be (for anyone who doesn't already know it). Many years ago I worked for Academic Computing at the University of Kansas. One of my duties was to work at the Engineering CAE Facility, a computer lab with a couple of Harris mainframes over at the School of Engineering.

Most of the work was fairly boring, but once we got the chance to do something fun. We got permission from the powers that be to come up with an instruction book covering basic computer use, some of the more common applications, just about anything a new user might need to know. The book was to be patterned after a similar book -- a First Aid Kit -- from one of the state schools out in Nevada. We didn't want ours to be an exact copy either in word or in spirit. And of course back then I was somewhat heavily into the whole survivalist thing. So a Survival Guide was only natural.

In keeping with the light spirit we intended for the project, I came up with some offbeat illustrations. One that was prominently featured early in the book was "Survival Cow." This was a stippled ink drawing I made based on a photo from the cover of Soldier of Fortune (or perhaps it was SOF's survivalist-oriented offshoot, which I think was called Survive). The photo was of a cow wearing a gas mask, supposedly a graphic illustration of the Soviets' commitment to surviving a nuclear war with even their livestock industry intact. All I really cared about was that it was a weird image, that it fit with the survival guide theme, and that the cow thing had a nice tie-in to Kansas.

Of course the project died a premature death. Some jackass in the Chemical Engineering department got wind of what we were working on, called our boss and told him that in his opinion computers weren't funny. The truly strange part -- and a good illustration of the insane bureaucracy that is KU -- is that they pulled out all the funny text but left most of the illustrations (including Survival Cow) intact.

Thus it's a genuine pleasure to return a new generation of Survival Cows to the stage in a production over which I have absolute creative control.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review – The Dead Pool

The Dirty Harry thing had played out by 1988; honestly, it had been revived only briefly by the Reagan mantra “make my day” line in Sudden Impact five years earlier. Here Clint Eastwood awkwardly marches through the usual clich├ęs as if he knows full well how cynical it is to make a violent movie about the media’s fascination with violence. Guns n Roses fans will want to keep an eye out for band member cameos, though be warned: you’re going to have to sit through Jim Carrey mugging through a lip sync of “Welcome to the Jungle” first. Beyond the little touches, this is merely the tail end of a series that had a much more auspicious beginning. See if desperate

Friday, April 8, 2011

Not the "fix" I had in mind

The laptop is dead. Or to be more precise, the laptop is fine but the hard drive has been completely erased.

Jesus. All that data gone. Photos. Stories. Diaries. Financial records. And more to the point for the purposes of this blog, the last three months of 8sails. Plus all the notes and drafts for upcoming postings.

On the one hand, that's what I get for falling behind on 8sails stuff, not to mention what I get for not regularly backing up the computer.

On the other hand, damn.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I need a fix. Now.

I've already griped about the laptop being out of commission, right? Well, apparently griping angers the Computer Gods, because now my desktop computer is out as well. I'm typing this blog entry from my iPad, which I hereby humbly beseech the Computer Gods to spare as it's the only private computer I have left.

Needless to say, this hasn't been a big step forward in the getting-8sails-caught-up effort.

And it's weird just how addicted I've become to the computer. Or to be more precise, what I really need is a fix of connectedness (assuming that's a word). I feel like I've been cut off from the rest of 21st century America, relegated to peering in from a tablet-sized hole in the wall. This is also seriously messing with my work routines.

So I guess until tech support does something about the problem, I'll just go sit in the corner and read The Odyssey on the iPad.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review – Allegro Non Troppo

Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto puts together a parody of / homage to Fantasia. It follows the same general animation-inspired-by-well-known-pieces-of-classical-music format, but this stuff is not necessarily for the kids. The production has its weak points. The live action bits between the animations unfortunately re-enforce the stereotype that Italian filmmakers do physical comedy like old people climb obstacles. And a lot of the gender relations stuff is more than a little dated. However, the animation is clever and well matched with the music. This is a must-see for anyone who liked the Disney version but thought it perhaps a bit too self-important. Worth seeing

Review – Crucible of Horror

Is it just me, or does the word "dreary" automatically bring English crime dramas to mind? Movies like this help cement the association. Michael Gough plays a family patriarch who derives pleasure from browbeating his wife and literally beating his daughter (complete with some really gross Freudian nudity). The Netflix description promised that after the womenfolk tire of his crap and kill him that he would return from the dead to seek revenge. Naturally this conjured images of vengeful zombies a la the "Happy Father's Day" sequence from Creepshow, but what we get here is more "oh, there he is. I guess he isn't dead after all." The resulting production should more aptly have been dubbed Crucible of Boredom. See if desperate

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review – Dead Sleep

Poor Linda Blair. She’s having trouble finding a job as a nurse. Her junkie ex-boyfriend steals her rent money. And then when she does land steady work, it turns out her new boss is placing mental patients in comas and then killing them because … well, other than the fact that he’s a creep, his motive isn’t entirely clear. The result is a low-end-of-medium-budget Australian reheat of Coma. See if desperate

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review – The Executioner's Song

This is another movie that I could have sworn I already reviewed some time ago. What a drag it is getting old. Sigh. In any event, this is a made-for-TV-but-still-strangely-full-of-nude-scenes docudrama based on Norman Mailer's "true story novel" of the same name. Ne'er-do-well Gary Gilmore (Tommy Lee Jones) bumbles through a series of menial jobs, petty crime and tempestuous episodes with his girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette). But once he adds murder to his robbery routine, it's a fast track from arrest to conviction to Utah's firing squad (indeed, the real Gilmore made himself famous by demanding to be executed rather than cooperating with the lawyers trying to appeal his sentence). The story itself isn't all that interesting – certainly not significantly different from hundreds of other hard luck death row biographies – but I did appreciate the guts it must have taken to seek financing for a movie without a single heroic character. Mildly amusing

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review - Fantasia

This is worth watching for the sheer shock value of watching a Hollywood studio actually attempt to make a movie with artistic integrity. Of course they can’t resist the temptation to plug Mickey Mouse into it, but fortunately that sequence is offset by some of the more innovative work elsewhere in the collection. Personally I’m fond of the abstract, Oskar-Fischinger-inspired animation that accompanies the Bach toccata, though most of the rest of it is quite good as well. If nothing else, it’s astounding that a movie like this could be made back in 1940, when a lot of the rest of the animation world was making silly cartoons. Worth seeing

Friday, April 1, 2011

And the Moon turned to blood

Last week I watched a documentary (for want of a better word) about the Rapture and the End Times. It brought me mindful of the self-defeating nature of the whole Rapture thing. These guys always ascend to their pulpits (figuratively if not literally) and proceed to assure us that we need to give our hearts to Jesus right away because the end is near.

If the end is so near, wouldn't it be smarter to just wait for it? I mean, if the Rapture snatches away all the fundies, the Sun turns black, the Moon turns to blood, the temple gets rebuilt, the plagues hit and the whole Book of Revelation nine yards, I'm absolutely willing to believe in the literal truth of the whole thing. So when the Rapture-ready squad absolutely assures me that the End Times are imminent, all they do is give me a strong incentive to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. If I end up Tribulated, I've every reason in the world to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. But until what they say is going to happen actually happens, skeptics are entitled to our skepticism.

I will say this for the show I watched: they're the only Rapture-ready pundits who ever tried to address this. "You can wait," they warn, "but if you do, then God will cloud your mind so you still won't believe in Jesus." Nice try. However, this ignores two major problems. First, it violates the scripture they're preaching, which specifically says that people will come to Christ after the Rapture (not to mention that the "clouding your mind" thing is an extremely strained interpretation of the verses they cite).

Second -- and more important -- it turns God into a deceptive jerk and the End Times into a big practical joke on the human race with eternal damnation rather than a jock strap full of itching powder as the ultimate consequence. Perhaps it's just natural for people who are themselves deceptive jerks to want to remake God in their own image.

And of course all of this as usual side-steps the actual important value of the Christian faith in favor of stupid, pseudo-theological parlor tricks.

Sorry about the religious rant. That isn't really the function of this blog.

Speaking of which ...

After my flurry of MSG activity yesterday I have nothing new to report. Still waiting on news one way or another about the hard drive in the laptop I've been using for years to work on 8sails. Fingers still firmly crossed.

In the meantime, I'm waffling back and forth about the current background art for this blog. I can't decide if it looks like an extreme close-up of Turner's "Sunrise with Sea Monsters" or an extreme close-up of Serrano's "Piss Christ." So if you're looking at it and it doesn't look like either one, that means the Serrano impression won out and prompted me to change it to something else.