Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review – Cave of Forgotten Dreams

At least Werner Herzog doesn’t manage to make this too terribly Herzogy. Not that he doesn’t try. His voiceovers and even some of the interviews tempted me to reach for the mute button. But overall his unwelcome contributions are vastly outweighed by the awesome subject: the paintings in Chauvet Cave. The beauty of the art and the vastness of time greatly outweigh Herzog’s inane jabbering. Worth seeing

Monday, January 30, 2012

AGF #4

Absolutely Goddamn Forbidden: random hops through time.

One of the most galling things a writer or director can do is yank the audience around by constantly shifting from point to point in their story’s timeline. Even under the best of circumstances this is a risky move. In general the time shifts in Godfather 2 work just fine. Coppola establishes clear visual distinctions between the 1910s and 1950s. He doesn’t switch back and forth rapidly or at random.

Even so, when Mad did its inevitable parody of the picture, in the final panels the two frames get knotted up together, with father and son having a conversation about what to do next.

More recently, I’ve noted an increasing tendency to set up separate threads only a few years (or even a few days) apart. The characters aren’t different ages, they don’t dress differently, they supply only subtle clues that the time frame has changed.

Perhaps this is some kind of stupid trick to make sure viewers are paying attention. If so, in the future these hacks need to work harder on meriting attention rather than tricking people into giving it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review – The Conspirator

With an actor at the helm, this picture naturally enough turns out to be an actor’s movie. Sadly, that also means it isn’t a writer’s movie, a cinematographer’s movie, an editor’s movie, a historian’s movie or even much of an audience’s movie. The story at hand is the semi-sad tale of Mary Surratt, convicted on scanty evidence and executed for participating in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Or to be more precise, it’s the tale of Frederick Aiken, the up-and-coming lawyer who gets stuck trying to defend her. Robert Redford ends up producing a picture largely about the evils of using military tribunals to try civilians, a lesson that seems more apt for Guantanamo Bay in the 21st century than the United States in the 19th. He banks a lot on Robin Wright’s ability to make the traitor Surratt sympathetic, a task at which she largely fails. See if desperate

Crast from the Past - I Aim at the Stars

Gather ‘round while I sing you of Wernher Von Braun, the subject of this biopic from 1960. Given the date, I guess I can see why the main character’s Nazi past gets a whitewash. Besides, they couldn’t exactly release a movie called I Aim at the English. Curt Jurgens plays Von Braun, who comes across as a man obsessed with rockets, “apolitical” to quote Tom Lehrer’s ironic assessment. In the first half of the movie, he battles against the SS and his own conscience while working on the V2. Once the war ends and he ends up in American hands, Von Braun finds himself dogged by an officer/journalist who lost his family in a rocket raid on London. Though this was somewhat more morally ambiguous than I would have guessed before I actually saw it, the message – particularly at the conclusion – is clearly that the end justifies the means. Verdict: mildly amusing.

For more movie reviews, check out 8sails Movies.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun Fact to Know and Tell 4

Stanley Kubrick, darling of audiences and critics alike, began his directing career making industrial movies. A typical example: The Seafarers, a promotional film for the Seafarer’s International Union.

For more on his movies, see the 8sails Kubrick filmography.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review – Death Race 2

So if they make another 1998 of these, will they finally come all the way back to Deathrace 2000? Let’s pray we never find out. If you’re sitting there wondering how the deadly NASCAR combat from the 2008 version got started in the first place, then wonder no longer. However, if you actually were sitting there wondering that, you might want to consider getting out of the house a little more often. Your addiction to loud noises and fiery explosions may have reached the “admit that you have a problem” level. See if desperate

Redo the math

The most recent edition of Mental Floss includes a sidebar full of simple math regarding shows from the BBC. Most of them looked fairly terrible, but one caught my eye. According to the formula, if you take The Wire and add Sherlock Holmes, then you get a BBC series called Luther. Intrigued, I added the first season to my Netflix queue.

The Mental Floss equation works if The Wire is equal to crime plus Idris Elba and Sherlock Holmes is equal to crime plus England. A more appropriate formula would have been Dexter plus 24 only with British accents.

Detective John Luther divides his time between chasing graphically brutal serial killers and having violent temper tantrums about his failing marriage. Dear American media: this is what happens when you give other countries the impression that it’s okay to base a show largely on bloody torture and a black guy with anger control issues.

Nor are matters helped by Alice (Ruth Wilson), the protagonist’s clever serial killing helper character. Just what the world’s been waiting for: Hannibal Lecter in a dress.

I probably won’t do a full series write-up for the Television section of 8sails. The first season was only six episodes, which doesn’t give me a ton to work with. The second season isn’t currently available, and from what I’ve seen so far I’m unlikely to anxiously await its release.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I neither see nor hear dead people

In the ongoing spirit of “if it exists, there’s a blog for it,” some folks have set one up for album covers that have been edited to remove dead band members. Initially this struck me as a case of “too much time on my hands” (was John Panozzo on any covers?), but some of them got me to thinking.

In particular, the Ramones and the Clash made me really sad. There’s something about absences in familiar images that sharpens the sense of loss.

On the other hand, it’s weird to note some of the bands that don’t currently merit an entry on the blog. In particular, I was surprised to learn that Ace Frehley wasn’t dead. Not that Photoshopping the Dynasty cover would have been much of a challenge.

Staban adds that Ace Frehley is also surprised that he isn’t dead. Indeed, he may have tweeted to his fans, “Oh, my God. What? Who's that thinking these thoughts? Me! I'm not dead!”

Still, his Wikipedia photo makes him look like Mickey Rourke. If that isn’t a fate worse than death, I don’t know what is.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review – The Art of the Steal

After spending a fortune and a lifetime amassing one of the world’s most impressive collections of late 19th and early 20th century art, Albert C. Barnes set up a foundation to strictly control access to it. He had a museum built and displayed the pieces in arrangements designed to help students better understand them. When Barnes was killed in a car crash, the artwork eventually ended up in the hands of the Philadelphia Art Museum, which Barnes hated and never wanted to have his collection. This documentary tells how this strange turn of events came about and thoroughly examines the issues involved from legal, ethical, financial and aesthetic perspectives. Indeed, the production’s one fault is that it’s perhaps a bit too thorough. Some of the coverage is downright exhaustive, not Shoah bad but still deserving of a more judicious edit to cut out some repetition. Still, the story is interesting and is well told here. Mildly amusing

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review – Captain America: The First Avenger

I’ve never been a super big Captain America fan, so I’m not quite sure how true this is to what a real buff would expect (I’m told by the fan I consulted that the script was a typical Hollywood blend of faithfulness and liberty). Personally, I was in the mood for something noisy and expensive, and on those counts this did the trick. Though I wasn’t crazy about the Captain when I was younger, I did like the Red Skull, one of the few genuinely villainous villains, a guy with no redeeming qualities at all whatsoever, ably played here by Hugo Weaving. Beyond that this appeared to be a lot of set-up for the upcoming Avengers movie. Mildly amusing

Crast from the Past - Dreamaniac

In case you missed it, here’s what the staff had to say about the movie Dreamaniac:

How handy that the end of the first word in the title and the start of the second word just happened to be the same letter. Unfortunately, the movie itself turns out to be a crapile. A rocker summons a succubus who makes him popular with the ladies in exchange for the chance to waste 90 minutes of your life. Eighties-era moronicrud ensues. Verdict: see if desperate.

For more reviews, check out 8sails’ movie section.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fun Fact to Know and Tell 3

Angry Birds games have been downloaded more than 500,000,000 times. Estimated total game playing time worldwide currently totals more than 200,000 years.

For more fun stuff about Angry Birds (and gaming in general), check out the Media Survival Guide’s entry.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


For future reference, today several web sites – including Wikipedia and the Cheezburgers – replaced their content with black screens in protest of “anti-piracy” legislation currently being considered by Congress. Several other sites (Google comes to mind) stayed up but found ways to symbolically join the protest.

So 8sails symbolically joins it as well. I couldn’t black out the site because I needed to show the Media Survival Guide to my students this morning. But these bills – SOPA and PIPA – are more than just garden variety government stupidity. Promoted by media giants such as Time Warner and Disney, these things in their unamended form would allow an allegation of copyright violation to serve as complete legal justification for blocking access to an “offending” web site. That would make copyright the exception to the First Amendment that swallows the rule.

It should tell you something about the interests involved that former Senator Chris Dodd called the protests an irresponsible abuse of power. High compliment, coming from someone who would recognize out of control authority when he saw it.

Oh, and speaking of students and the Guide, it seemed to meet with a favorable response. At least the Survival Cow was popular. We’ll see how it goes once they start using it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Crast from the Past - Honky Horn Guys

Here's a question that often surfaces whenever the topic of discussion is "the movies" and someone needs an ice breaker question. If you could be any character in any movie, whom would you be? An action hero like Indiana Jones? A romantic lead like Ilsa or Rick from Casablanca? Someone noble like Atticus Finch?

Not me. I want to be a Honky Horn Guy.

You've seen these musicians in every historical epic ever made. They stand there in the background, looking snappy in their ornate uniforms and big, snazzy hats (they always get the best hats). They have the ultimate in job security. Archdukes and senators can get their heads lopped off left and right, but even the maddest monarch never bothers with the Honky Horn Guys. And best of all, their job is about as easy as it gets. These things aren't trumpets or saxophones or something that takes actual talent to play. As near as I can tell, it's strictly a case of "put your lips on it and blow." Caesar approaches! Do do do do do WAAAAAA! His majesty will now pronounce his verdict! Do do do do do WAAAAAA! So let it be written, so let it be done! Do do do do do WAAAAAA!

I can do that.

For the rest of the movie jobs I’d like to have, check the full list.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fun Fact to Know and Tell 2

In an average 65 days YouTube users add more hours of content than the four major broadcast networks have created in the last 65 years.

For more interesting stuff about YouTube (such as current usage statistics), check out the entry in the Survival Guide.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Survival Guide update

I promised myself (and y’all as well, whether you knew it or not) that I wasn’t going to clog the blog with a bunch of updates on Survival Guide progress. As I’m getting at least a little done almost every day, it would become a daily thing to keep up with it, boring everyone in the process.

But this week I hit a couple of big moments. As of this writing, the first four chapters are available online. And more than that, the first eight chapters (i.e. half the book) are available in “beta test” format as a PDF. You can check “the herd” for access to the online chapters, and you can download the PDF edition from 8sails Press.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

AGF #3

Absolutely goddamn forbidden: Michael Moore.

Actually not Moore himself. He does what he does and makes a tidy living at it. More power to him. But the cheap Moore imitators have to go.

We went ahead and finished Dive! yesterday. For the most part finishing it was about the same as not finishing it, as it continued on in the same usefulness-free preaching mode established in the first ten minutes. To their credit, the neo-hippies did set their whining aside for a few minutes to drag some food to a homeless shelter.

But then they bust out the Michael Moore let’s-go-make-a-nuisance-of-ourselves trick, sending a string of nagging letters to the corporate offices of Trader Joe’s. As if that particular store was somehow responsible for the problem. Naturally the chain’s PR people sent the guy a reply telling him to quit being a jerk (not in so many words, but the point was plain). And I have to admit I probably would have done the same thing if I’d been the PR person.

So seriously, low-budget indie whiners, find some different footsteps to follow in. Impress your audience with the sharpness of your wit or the justice of your cause, not the audaciousness of your nagging.

Monday, January 9, 2012

One big lump

Garbage dump, my garbage dump,
That sums it up in one big lump.
– “Garbage Dump” by Charles Manson

On Saturday we abandoned our first movie of the year, a masterpiece called Dive! Living Off America’s Waste (I deleted a superfluous colon in the title). It had been awhile since the staff had to let a movie go, at least in part because we’ve been focused more on other media of late.

This particular film fell victim in part because it got that damn Manson song stuck in my head. They didn’t play it, of course. But they could have and likely would have if it had come from a less mass-murdering source. The theses of the picture and the song aligned seamlessly.

The idea these neo-hippies are trying to get across is that we throw away an obscene amount of food. That’s true, and perhaps if we’d given it more of a chance they might eventually have gotten around to some bigger picture solutions to the problem. Sadly, the lead-off was so off-putting that it discouraged us from pursuing it further.

The picture alternated between neo-hippies Dumpster diving, neo-hippies gobbling Dumpster-dived food, and stock footage of starving children in other parts of the world. And over everything lay a lattice of whiny preaching about how people in the United States systematically throw away perfectly good food.

This should probably go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Digging through the trash for food is not a solution to the food waste problem. If more than a handful of us were so bereft of gainful employment that we had the time and energy to feed ourselves in this manner, the Dumpsters would run dry in short order. Altering food disposal policies isn’t exactly a panacea, either. The production ignores a lot of legitimate concerns about food quality and safety.

Further, the Starving Biafran Babies aren’t a legitimate part of this equation. The argument assumes that pork chops that hit their sell-by date in Kansas City can somehow be magically transported directly to hungry families in distant lands (who will of course gobble them up because their cultures are the same as ours and they eat the same food we do). In reality the relationship between wasting less food here and serving more food there includes so many complex variables that the connection is tenuous at best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in the “person in the mirror” approach to social ills. And I would never begrudge someone a hearty meal of spoiled strawberries if such things were to her tastes. But when the practice takes the form of a sanctimonious documentary, what we end up with is a stupid, 21st century version of Catherine of Siena drinking pus from a sore. “Look at what we’re doing. This is all your fault. Don’t you feel bad?”

Not as bad as I would if I tried to eat that expired fish.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Crast from the Past – Gigli

In case you missed it, here’s what the staff had to say about the movie Gigli:

Me don’t see what fuss was about. Me think this very good movie. Acting good. Ben talented. Jennifer talented. Script good. Pacing good. Long sequences where characters drive aimlessly around LA sharing deep thoughts about gender relations philosophical and entertaining. Cameo by Al Pacino very welcome and amusing. Only trouble, me think me have higher IQ before me start watch this movie. Verdict: wish I’d skipped it.

8sails has more movie reviews. A lot more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun Fact to Know and Tell

Are you reading this blog via a dial-up modem? If so, take heart. America Online – the world’s largest dial-up service provider – still has 3.5 million customers, even in the age of high-speed connections. That’s down quite a bit from the service’s high water mark of 30 million subscribers, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at.

To learn more about AOL, check out its entry in the 8sails Media Survival Guide.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Legal and marketing need to talk more often

So some guy sues PepsiCo, claiming that he found a mouse in a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Possible PepsiCo responses:

1. No you didn’t.

2. And even if you did, we have enough lawyers to turn your frivolous suit into your darkest nightmare. We’ll bury you under so much paper that Hoarders will show up to do an episode about you.

3. Um, you know those bottles are made of transparent plastic, right? So you surely should have seen the alleged mouse before you took a big swig.

4. And if you’re suing us just because of an alleged mouse that you didn’t even drink, what’s your recovery? A buck and a half for a bottle of Mountain Dew? Or are you going for millions based on the mental anguish caused by a dead mouse? Good luck proving that eggshell skull nonsense.

5. Did we mention “no you didn’t”?

Instead, here’s what Pepsi went with:

6. You couldn’t have found a mouse in a bottle of Mountain Dew because Mountain Dew contains chemicals that would have dissolved the mouse into a wad of gelatinous goo.

You guys seriously need to work that into your next ad campaign. “Cool, refreshing, mouse-dissolving Mountain Dew. Introduce it to your digestive tract today!”


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Show idea – Antiques Roadshow: Gaza Strip

This would be just like the British and American versions, only of course shot in the title location.

Typical scene:

Farmer: I found this in my goat pasture. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe a warhead?

Appraiser: Yes, this does in fact appear to be a warhead. Do you have any idea how long it was in your goat pasture?

Farmer: Not really. I found it after some of the goats dug it up. Is it valuable?

Appraiser: Normally my answer would be “no.” It’s actually a little hard to find a goat pasture that doesn’t have a warhead buried in it somewhere. However, if we turn this particular warhead over and inspect the bottom [camera zooms in as Appraiser turns the warhead over] we find a marking that indicates that this particular piece is in fact a nuclear warhead.

Farmer: Wow. So how much is it worth?

Appraiser: I’d be guessing, but probably somewhere between $300 and $10 million, depending on whom you sell it to.

Oh, and just in case the idea of a nuke ending up in a pasture sounds absurd (or that such an event would only happen in a place like Gaza), um, no.