Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Life in the Big Easy

Enjoying a week in Nawlins visiting Mama Whispers and her hubby. And the growly dog and the two nice cats who hide from the growly dog. Growly dog is an annoyance. I'm really not a dog person. They are far too demanding, and I really hate that subservience act. A species of passive-aggressive sycophants.

Dogs suck. Cats rule.

Just saw the Who Dats beat the Dirty Birds, in spite of Drew Brees's attempts to throw away the game in the 4th quarter. Meh. Falcons don't look like a championship team, even if they get the #1 seed, which they should. Would rate NFC teams in this order:


There will not be a 6th NFC team this year.

I'm not going to bother to list the AFC teams.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

getting organized

Told the good Frau Doktor I would update my blog sometime soon - this was two months ago. Well, I'll try to update anybody interested soon.

The biggest update of the past week was walking away from Mafia Wars. Facebook game was eating up perhaps as much as 20 hours per week. I'm still doing a few passive games (MouseHunt, Fishwrangler, Ghost Trappers) but it's nowhere near as much time. And with the complete lack of Diplomacy commitments, I have time now.

Sister visited last week, which was cool. Place feels a lot more alive when another person is about.

I wonder if I can whip up a decent post for my nascent science blog. I started a blog called Pineapples in Alaska. I wonder, though, if there's a lot for me to say. I'm not really a content producer by nature. I'm much more of a critic or reviewer. I like sucking in lots of information and comparing it a lot more than producing material creatively. Let's see what I can put up there this Wochenende.

If I were to go into something more journalistic, my talents would be more as an editor, I would think, than as a writer.

Where does that leave me as a blogger?

It seems weird to me that journalism these days has become a business interested more about producing volumes of product than of trying to see what impact the products have. Indeed, that seems to be the guiding light of our professional class.

Obama is really bumming me out. The blame-the-liberals game is getting old, and his penchant for creeping authoritarianism is unforgivable, as far as I'm concerned.

Good films seen recently: Inception, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl who Played with Fire. Of the latter two, I liked GDT more than GPF, simply because it fit the format of a feature film much better. The latter film was a bit hampered by the need to cram all sorts of stuff into a film. It didn't really fit.

I've been reading the associated books, and I've decided the reverse is true. The first book takes hella long to get started, while the excess information which drowned the second film fits quite easily into the second book. That brings up the question : do I see Wasp's Nest before I read it or vice versa?

Another film I saw recently which I really like was the Austrian film Das Weisse Band. (The White Ribbon, auf englisch.) It's a film set in rural Germany circa 1914, in a small town where deadly pranks keep happening. For example, right at the start of the film, the town doctor falls from his horse when they run into a wire strung across the entrance to his yard. The acting in this film is tremendous, and in particular they did a great job casting the large number of children's parts. In any case, it's a film far more interesting than 95% of the crap in RedBox.

It occurs to me that I probably should make note when I use a fake word like "hella". Das is nicht gutes Englisch.

Up way too late. Pessimistic about the Pats winning a road game against a good team. But at least Ginger is in great shape. Oh - I ran noch ein Halb-Marathon vor zwei Wochen. Next up: the Army Ten Miler.

Viel Spass noch!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What Digby said

...another edition.


Tasers have become a punch line. This will persist until somebody who is relatively innocent (i.e., not somebody armed and presenting a threat like this doofus at a sporting event) is killed by a taser.

People who think a taser shock is funny should ask themselves whether they they would respond the same way if five cops beat the offender with their billy clubs for ten minutes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

a post-mortem for the Caps

After Game 1, I texted Landru the question "Why do the Caps suck in the playoffs?" Having just seen them be the first #1 seed in NHL history to blow a 3-1 lead and lose a 7-game series, this is a question the Caps need to address in a serious fashion.

The Caps simply do not consistently bring their best game. That is part of the problem. Another part is that they are a poor team defensively (at least when considered top elite teams) and even their excellent offense can be stopped by a hot goalie.

Clearly Halak is the hottest goalie around right now. But somehow the Caps have a knack of making a lot of goalies look goal.

I said before the season started that the Caps needed to improve their defense or they would not make a serious Stanley Cup wrong. After they won the President's Trophy for best record in the NHL, I thought that perhaps I was wrong. But after this debacle, I think it's a concept that has to be reconsidered.

But that wasn't the real problem. In at least two of the four losses, the Caps made a poor showing effort-wise. That was particularly inexcusable in Game 5.

What does a championship team do when it has just won three games in a row and has a chance to clinch at home? Well, they go and give a half-assed effort in Game 5.

The Caps have to figure out how to stay motivated and play hard to win all the time. Right now they look like a team built to prosper against weak teams, which cannot bear up under scrutiny in a 7-game series against a better team. Caps fans have to ask: if they couldn't beat the Canadiens, how could we think that they could beat the Penguins, Sharks, or Black Hawks? Is this a coaching problem? I don't know.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Best in Film of the Naughties: Villians

I've been thinking to continue this series with a focus on animated films, but I'd been waiting until I can see "Up" at least, and maybe that one about Mr. Fox.

So I think I'll start with the villains instead. A good decade for bad people. I'm a bit loose with the word "villain". Some of the villains are the main characters in their respective films, and can be quite charismatic.

I'm not a huge fan of ranking artistic performance. But it's a common thing to do, and in some cases there are particular performances which really stand out. So, meh, people can live with it. Also, I'm constantly worrying that I have forgotten some performance which ought to stick out in my mind, which I enjoyed at the time but has fallen to the back of my mind.

Many villains could not make this list. Voldemort hasn't gotten enough screen time but Bellatrix Lestrange almost made it. The Bond series gave us a couple villains, but none that really stood out. Ian McKellan could easily have made the list as Magneto. Christian Bale nearly made the list for American Psycho. Hannibal Lecter, Agent Smith, and Palpatine were characters continued from earlier decades who might have made the list for their work in the Naughties. Bill Nighy and Geoffrey Rush did admirable work in the Pirates series.

Sacha Baren-Cohen really could be on this list for Jean Gerard in Talladega Nights.

Going for 10 to 1...

10. Alan Ford as Bricktop in "Snatch".

(from IMDB)

Brick Top: You're always gonna have problems lifting a body in one piece. Apparently the best thing to do is cut up a corpse into six pieces and pile it all together.

Sol: Would someone mind telling me, who are you?

Brick Top: And when you got your six pieces, you gotta get rid of them, because it's no good leaving it in the deep freeze for your mum to discover, now is it? Then I hear the best thing to do is feed them to pigs. You got to starve the pigs for a few days, then the sight of a chopped-up body will look like curry to a pisshead. You gotta shave the heads of your victims, and pull the teeth out for the sake of the piggies' digestion. You could do this afterwards, of course, but you don't want to go sievin' through pig shit, now do you? They will go through bone like butter. You need at least sixteen pigs to finish the job in one sitting, so be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm. They will go through a body that weighs 200 pounds in about eight minutes. That means that a single pig can consume two pounds of uncooked flesh every minute. Hence the expression, "as greedy as a pig".

Alan Ford managed to make an aging Brit with bad teeth and outrageous glasses into a man who was to be feared. For some reason American villains are always well-groomed (well, modulo Tony Soprano). Brick Top is just an old-school thug. And he's an eminently watchable villain in one of the few films that I find myself able to watch over and over and over without getting bored.

9. Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, Vol 1.

This list is dominated by male characters, and most of the characters who were close but didn't make it were also male. Let's face it - the big villains are almost always male. And the villainy of your typical female villain is often something pedestrian like using sex in a manipulative fashion (a la Sharon Stone). A good villain should be after power for the sake of power. And so we have Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii.

Another feature of a good villainous performance is that the actor (or actress) can be seen as more appealing than the good guy (chick). And with all due respect to Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu was fabulous as O-Ren.

8. John Malkovich as Ripley in Ripley's Game

There's a certain group of actors who are the usual suspects as villians: Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, and Jack Nicholson, for example. They show up and you cheer even before they say anything. Robert Shaw had it back in the day. But the only one of these guys who made this list is John Malkovich.

He only made this list because I saw Ripley's Game on cable TV. Actually, Ripley's Game was never released in the US, and I cannot understand why. The film is certainly good enough to have done well on the artsy circuit. Are American distributors so afraid of amoral characters? I don't quite get it.

Malkovich owns this character. His Ripley is insulted by a local man at a small social gathering, but he finds a way to get revenge when an old contact (played by Ray Winstone) needs a hitman. It's a great story, but what really makes it special is how smoothly Malkovich makes the transition from polite discussion to amoral sociopathy.

7. Andy Serkis as Gollum (and Smeagol) in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

My precious! The only CGI character to make this list. Gollum rocks!

6. Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris in Training Day.

While we have a couple Oscar winners on this list, Denzel is unique for having won Best Actor (as opposed to Best Supporting Actor). Lt. Alonzo is the ultimate cop gone bad. His idea of law enforcement consists on counting the number of arrests made while overlooking pretty much everything else. He's the over-the-top king of the roost, in charge of who gets busted and what gets overlooked.

5. Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast.

Oh yeah.
Don Logan is tasked with going to Spain to bring his old made Gal (Ray Winstone) out of retirement for a robbery in London. Problem is that Gal is comfortable in Spain and has promised his wife that he's retired for good. But Don cannot take "No" for an answer.

That gives us conversations like (courtesy IMDB.com)

Gal: I am going to have to turn this opportunity down.
Don: No, you are going to have to turn this opportunity yes!

Don: Shut up, cunt. You louse. You got some fuckin' neck ain't you. Retired? Fuck off, you're revolting. Look at your suntan, it's leather, it's like leather man, your skin. We could make a fucking suitcase out of you. Like a crocodile, fat crocodile, fat bastard. You look like fucking Idi Amin, you know what I mean? Stay here? You should be ashamed of yourself. Who do you think you are? King of the castle? Cock of the walk?
[He gut-punches Gal]
Don: What you think this is the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table? Thanks Don, see you Don, off to sunny Spain now Don, fuck off Don. Lying in your pool like a fat blob laughing at me, you think I'm gonna have that? You really think I'm gonna have that, ya ponce. All right, I'll make it easy for you. God knows you're fucking trying. Are you gonna do the job? It's not a difficult question, are you gonna do the job, yes or no?


Gal: No!
Don: Yes!
Gal: No!
Don: Yes!
Gal: No!
Don: Fat cunt!
Gal: No, No, No!
Don: Yes, Yes, Yes!

4. Christopher Waltz as Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds".

My theory about this film is that it is a sober, serious drama that was invaded by Brad Pitt who turns every scene he is in into a comedy. The opening scene with the French dairy farmer is devastating. Landa is on the hunt of a family of Jewish refugees who are hiding under the floor of the farmer's house. Landa gradually breaks down the farmer's confidence through a combination of politeness, chutzpah, and persistence.

But as the film progresses, his persistent charm gradually peels away to reveal a psychotic misogynistic sadistic personality. (How many other pop psych buzzwords can I toss around?)

3. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Chigurh is a great psycho in a bad hair cut. He's on the hunt for Josh Brolin's character, who has walked away with a couple million dollars scavved from a mutual massacre of drug dealers in the Texas desert. Three things are particularly appealing about Chigurh's modus operandi. First, his weapon of choice is a gas-powered skull gun of the kind used by cattle ranchers to save on the cost of bullets. Second is his presence, his aura which radiates menace (in spite of the mop top). But what is truly chilling is his world view, in which is a kind of random nihilism where life or death can be decided by the toss of a coin.


2. Heath Ledger as The Joker in Batman: the Dark Knight.

I first enjoyed the performance of Heath Ledger in The Knight's Tale, a light, enjoyable piece. Ledger was reasonable in Monster's Ball, but really came into his own in Brokeback Mountain. But as the Joker, Ledger really discovered a character. Historically, the Joker started as a maniacal goofball with a unique way to mix zaniness and homicide. Cesar Romero played him in an excellent campy fashion for the 60s TV show. Then, in the 80s, Jack Nicholson took over the character and heightened his capacity for evil, while maintaining a panache that only he can achieve.

Ledger did something completely different. He internalized the capacity for evil as a reflection of the Joker's negative feelings about all of humanity.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis as Billy the Butcher in Gangs of New York.

Not a great film, but a great performance by Day-Lewis as he steals the film. Billy the Butcher is the leader of the Nativists, who are violently hostile to the immigrant Irish moving into Hell's Kitchen. Billy has one eye (physical deformities always being a plus for a villain), loves a good knife fight, and uses his knowledge of anatomy to make knife fighting an art.

Day-Lewis completely steals this movie from Leonardo DiCaprio's indecisive Irish immigrant.

Truth be told, I could shuffle the top four characters in order and it would be equally valid.

Friday, January 08, 2010

a treat for a cold winter

Featuring P^2 in a film most readers probably haven't seen.

I cannot honestly say that the film is all that great. I think it's the kind of film you could watch with the sound off and not miss much. Except that it's packed to the gills with product placements, which is kind of annoying.