Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review – The Diary of Anne Frank (2009)

The problem with this story is that even though I know exactly how it’s going to end, I keep hoping everything will turn out okay. But of course it never does. This 21st century adaptation seems a little less like a stage play than its 1959 predecessor did. Otherwise it’s the same tragic tale. Worth seeing

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review – Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I don’t know if this officially counts as a “remake” or a “reboot,” so I’m just going to call it “unnecessary.” The original wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinema art, but it had enough good qualities to justify its existence. This one, on the other hand, barely rises above SyFy quality fare. Jason Momoa’s turn in the title role is symptomatic; he seems to have been hired exclusively for his brow ridge. Supporting cast, script and special effects are likewise unimpressive. Honestly, guys, if you can’t produce a movie that holds its own against a 30-year-old picture starring a bodybuilder who at the time barely spoke English, then why bother trying? See if desperate

Review – The Devil’s Rock

Producers of war-horror combos face an uphill battle with me, because I want to like them and my interest makes me pickier about quality. But this one did a surprisingly good job. To be sure, the plot – British commando and SS occultist trapped together in a bunker with a seductive demon – was more of a Twilight Zone episode than a feature-length movie, so things tend to meander here and there. However, the script and acting are reasonably good, and the gore has its merits as well. If this isn’t your cup of tea you probably won’t want to drink it, but it it’s in your wheelhouse then take a swing at it. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review – Apollo 18

I wonder how many other movie reviewers have already called this Apollo 13 meets Paranormal Activity. The “found footage” element of this picture is particularly galling, because supposedly it was shot by the crew of a secret post-Apollo-17 mission to the Moon. And yet when the mission runs afoul of vicious rock spider alien things, somehow all the footage left behind in the abandoned 16 mm cameras manages to find its way across the gulf of space and back to Earth where it gets cut into this masterpiece. That’s stupid even by the loose standards of the sub-genre. It has a good booga-booga or two, but otherwise the only interesting part of the whole picture was getting a glimpse of what a Soviet lunar lander looked like. Mildly amusing

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review – Comic Book Confidential

Or “A Hipster’s-Eye View of Comic Book History.” If you genuinely know nothing about the subject, you’ll walk away a little less clueless than when you started. But don’t expect an in-depth examination of the business as a whole. Rather, this starts out with the typical early history, golden age, Comics Code Authority and the like. But it seems like it just can’t wait to break free of the mainstream and start digging into 60s undergrounds, 80s small press and other counter-culture divergence from the mainstream. Normally I’m grateful to avoid spending a ton of time basking in the glory of Stan Lee. But when big figures such as Lee and Jack Kirby get just a few minutes of screen time, yielding to loving recitations from the likes of Bill Griffith and Harvey Pekar, you start to get the idea that the focus isn’t on comic books in general as much as it is on the Crumb-obsessed, comics-as-art-to-the-exclusion-of-entertainment crowd. I appreciated the effort to include Lynda Barry and some of the other often-neglected women who make their livings in this corner of the world. Beyond that, the documentary is a little too navel-gazing for me. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review – Elizabethtown

Scientists warned us that this could happen, but most of us never really believed that Cameron Crowe would ever actually manage to reach Critical Quirk. And yet apparently that day is upon us. After causing a financial catastrophe at a shoe company, a moody young man (Orlando Bloom) heads to the hinterland of Kentucky to make funeral arrangements for his father. There he meets an endless supply of local eccentrics and finds himself distracted from his task by an idiosyncratic flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst). And if I'm using words such as “idiosyncratic,” that’s a good sign that I’ve run out of synonyms for “quirky.” Which is really all I have to say about this. The whole thing’s so self-consciously clever that it’s downright embarrassing to watch. See if desperate

Friday, March 9, 2012

Laws, sausages and shipping

I recently ordered a few items from Cafe Press. They arrived yesterday after sitting in the UPS warehouse in KCK for two days.

I honestly wish the Internet didn't facilitate package tracking. Before I could peek behind the scenes, I just figured that if something took awhile to get from the source to my doorstep, it spent most of the time in transit somewhere. But now I know that more often than not an item will cross the country in less than 24 hours and then spend the rest of the time sitting on a shelf less than ten miles from my house.

Maybe they could introduce a you-pick-it-up service. At least then it would be my own fault if it just sat there for awhile.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

I almost really liked this picture. Small monsters seeking to escape their subterranean prison. Ancient tomes. Terrifying art with an all-too-real subject. The whole thing was sufficiently Lovecraftian to draw and keep my attention. Normally I’m put off by child protagonists, but the girl in this one did an acceptable job. I didn’t even object to Guy Pearce or Katie Holmes. Still, the whole time something in the back of my head kept whispering “Pan’s Labyrinth 2.” Mildly amusing

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More fun with album covers

Awhile back I posted about a blog that specializes in album covers with dead band members removed. In that general spirit, here’s another attention-worthy album cover blog:

The idea here is to recreate classic covers using nothing but clip art and Comic Sans. I’m not sure exactly what lesson I’m supposed to be learning from this, but clearly it’s a good one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Small House of Uncle Thomas

Amid the hustle and bustle of uploading the Books chapter of the Media Survival Guide this morning, I paused to examine one of the external links a little closer.

One of the chapter’s “key players” is Harriet Beecher Stowe. And as standard practice (to increase student comfort with the material) I’ve been including Wikipedia entries. Stowe’s just happened to have a “this article may include inaccuracies” flag at the top, so I hopped over to the discussion section to see what the problem was.

As if I didn’t already know. And yes, there they were. Crypto-racist trolls insisting that the entry should include a mention that “Stowe never actually visited a plantation.”

Problems with this argument:

1. It implies that you can’t accurately depict the horrors of slavery unless you’ve seen them first-hand. I hope the next stop on the troll journey was over to George Lucas’s Wikipedia entry, demanding that it point out that Lucas has never actually been to outer space. Though Star Wars includes no end of disconnect with reality, Stowe’s writing was based not only on proximity to the problem (she lived right across the river from a slave state) but also on extensive research.

2. It implies that Stowe unfairly portrayed slavery as an unending hell of pain and misery. Not so. The protagonists begin Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a relatively benign plantation. But their owner falls on hard times and has to sell some human beings in order to make ends meet (breaking promises to them in the process). And that’s when the trouble really starts.

3. It side-steps the issue. What’s the counter argument to Stowe’s abolitionist thesis? That slavery wasn’t all bad? That some slaves were happy just like Stowe’s contemporary detractors claimed? Are such claims subject to proof? How could you possibly reliably demonstrate the happiness of a slave?

More directly to the point, is anyone really claiming that it should be okay for one person to be the legal property of another, to be forced to work without compensation, to be bought and sold at will, to be treated in whatever manner the master sees fit? Even under the best of conditions, on a hypothetical plantation on which a kindly, generous master provides good food and comfortable homes, plenty of time off to rest and pursue cultural activities of the slaves’ choosing, and never overworks, sells, tortures, rapes or murders any of them, slavery is still wrong.

A century and a half later, are we still having this debate?

No we aren’t. The entire Confederacy-was-misunderstood jerkweed coalition needs to come to grips with the rotten roots of this belief. If you think slavery is such a hot idea, go to one of the countries where it’s still legal and sell yourself to someone. Send us all a postcard letting us know how it works out for you.

Until then, take your traitor flags down and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review – Being Elmo

This documentary about Kevin Clash – the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s immensely popular Elmo – turned out to be a lot less cloying than I expected. To be sure, a lot of it was fairly Muppety-cute. But Clash managed to take a childhood obsession and turn it into a viable career and a legitimate performing art, qualities brought out well by the filmmakers. Mildly amusing [note: this review was written before accusations emerged about Clash’s record as a child molester]

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review – Battle Beyond the Stars

In the wake of the Star Wars phenomenon, everyone jumped on the science fiction bandwagon. Even Roger Corman. This comes across as a combination of the aforementioned sci fi hit, Corman’s usual low-budget charm and – oddly enough – The Seven Samurai. The result is a minor-league genre classic better known for its camp value than anything else. Mildly amusing

Disclosing tablet 2

I just happened to notice that we still have the January / February issue of Mental Floss (Vol. 11, issue 1) lying around. So if you don’t mind it showing up somewhat out of order, here’s another disclosing tablet.

Clear spots

14 Essential Talking Points for the Constitutional Enthusiast – I already knew a fair amount of this, but it was nice to know that it was nice to know.

101 Masterpieces: American Gothic – I like this series. Though this particular painting doesn’t number among my favorites, I do like it a little better now that I know a little more about it.

The Most Important Questions of 2012: How secure are electronic voting machines? Not very, apparently. Sorta creepy, if you think about it.

Pink spots

Pop Quiz: Name that Cereal – The quiz is interesting enough, but it was better when it was originally published on the web. Whenever I encounter shovelware (regardless of which direction it’s being shoveled), it leaves me wondering why I’m paying for content that I could be getting for free.

Octopus Wrestling! – Return with me now to the ancient days of yore, when people apparently had nothing better to do than bother wildlife that wanted nothing more than to not be bothered. The Washington state legislature tried to dump this “sport” in the dustbin of history in 1976. Thank goodness Mental Floss dug it back out again.

The Meticulous Patriot’s Guide to Celebrating Presidents’ Day – This too-clever bit divides 24 hours up proportionally based on presidential popularity based on a Gallup poll. Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton (in that order) take up nearly half the day all by themselves. I get that we don’t collectively think too clearly about The Great Emancipator, but I’m deeply saddened by the notion that anyone would consider either a traitor-coddling dimwit or a tail-chasing jackass “history’s greatest president.”

The Most Important Questions of 2012: What’s the future of tattoo removal? – Because everyone who gets a tattoo will eventually want to have it removed, right? Assholes. Actually, other than the voting machine “clear spot,” most of the cover story was pretty useless.

Forget About Garage Bands – It’s All About Garage Science – Normally I’m a big fan of DIY tech, but these are some genuinely non-inspirational examples, stuff that bears the same relationship to serious science that garage bands have to actual, talented musicians.

No Business Like Shoe Business – I started reading this with a heavy dose of skepticism about the need for “The Story of the Sneaker.” Oh boy, right again.

The Airplane Graveyard – More reverse shovelware. Or is it just that this place has already been covered by so many other sources that it doesn’t really matter if this is new to Floss or not?

A+B=BBC – I already griped about this in a previous blog entry.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Disclosing tablet

Back when I was a youth, dentists supplied little pink pills called “disclosing tablets.” After kids brushed their teeth, they could dissolve these things in their mouths, producing a bright pink stain on any spot the brush missed.

Fast forward to last year. Mental Floss magazine changed hands, and the new corporate owners naturally made some changes. And naturally some were better than others. The switch came at a bad time for me, because as a reader I’d reached the end-of-the-honeymoon point where I’d stopped reading it cover to cover anyway.

So I find myself wondering if the time has come to part company with this publication. To get a little longitudinal perspective, I’m going to write a “disclosing tablet” Floss critique each time I finish a new issue.

Starting now, with Volume 11, Issue 2, March-April 2012.

Clean spots

The Greatest Greeting Card of All Time – A few brief paragraphs about the Pansy Card, which has outsold every other card ever printed.

Visa: An Underdog Story – What a pleasure it was to read about the rat bastards at Bank of America taking a multi-million-dollar loss. Too bad the tale has a “happy ending.”

101 Masterpieces: City Lights – This entry wasn’t quite as good as some of the other installments in the 101 series. Still, I do love Chaplin in general and this movie in particular.

Going Viral – I’ve been in the computer business long enough to remember the first legends about Brain, the world’s first computer virus. So it was kinda cool to learn the real details.

The Oldest Living Things on the Planet – Because trees rule, especially impossibly ancient ones.

Arbitrary Throwdown: The Architecture Edition – Too clever for its own good, but the ancient vs. new comparisons were interesting enough.

Pink spots

Poker Lingo Worth Knowing – Is there such a thing? If so, it isn’t to be found in this quartet. Everyone already knows about Wild Bill’s legendary, fatal eights and aces. And is a pair of fives really known as a “Sammy Hagar” by anyone other than those sad individuals who self-identify as Sammy Hagar fans?

The Unauthorized Biography of the Easter Bunny – This is an example of one of the new ownership’s less attractive practices: working too hard to make stories clever. A straight presentation of Easter Bunny trivia would have been more readable than this working-it-too-hard “celebrity tell-all.”

Science on the Rocks – Maybe this was just a matter of taste, as I don’t personally give much of a crap about either molecular gastronomy or cocktails.

Hard-Drinking Hamsters – Always nice to know what inventive new ways scientists have found to mistreat animals.

A.J. Jacobs Is Your New Personal Trainer – No he isn’t.

The Fix: $100 and a Box – Journalist Jonah Lehrer assembles a “creativity kit” that apparently includes a DVD of Robin Williams Live on Broadway. Maybe if you gathered your friends together and used it as inspiration for a contest to come up with the most creative way for Robin Williams to die. Extra bonus for anything especially painful and lingering.

The Quiz – These have sucked consistently since the format change. The magazine’s online offerings are way better in this department.