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Monthly Archives: November 2007

Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)

firemaidens-snip.jpgYesterday, we continued the grand tradition of Turkey Day at the Kommune. It was a little less smooth than last year, because this year everybody was exceptionally busy and stressed-out with deadlines. In fact, so busy that we already rescheduled from Canadian Thanksgiving to American Thanksgiving so that everybody could attend. Since my own take is that it’s mostly an accident of history that British Columbia is even a part of Canada rather than the most awesome state in the union, this was kind of like a plausible counterfactual Thanksgiving. Not quite on the same level of import as Stalin’s missed chance, but no less trenchant, I think.

This year’s menu:

  • turkey basted in white wine and butter, with wild mushroom stuffing and turkey-neck pan gravy
  • garlic mashed potatoes a la Hendrik
  • broccoli and garlic a la Tyson and Gillian
  • sweet potato salad a la Meghan
  • California red wine via Dr Abhijeet “token American” Ghosh (in town to get receive his PhD, which: congratulations again, Abhi!)
  • pumpkin pie a la Stong’s market (hey, we was busy!)

Of course, a proud Turkey Day tradition is the pairing of the ornithological turkey with the cinematic. Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted on Thanksgiving 1988 and for a while had annual Turkey Day marathons, which — let’s face it — is a trifecta of my own vices: overeating, snark, and bad movies. This year, I watched Fire Maidens from Outer Space (also released under the more accurate title Fire Maidens buy provigil at walmart of Outer Space, and the even more accurate title The Thirteenth Moon of Jupiter). It is the kind of movie which tries to kill ten minutes by having astronauts lethargically debate whether to rescue their missing captain (go ahead: try to guess the outcome of this debate). The miniskirted fire maidens aren’t even particularly attractive — I mean, if you’re going to make a movie out of the male fantasy of a planet of miniskirted, submissive women, I would think rule one would be to cast good-looking ladies for your audience (me) to leer at.

Incidentally, MST3K is — like the lost continent of Atlantis, which was hurled into orbit around Jupiter and populated with 21-year-old Fire Maidens — making an unexpected reappearance, as various alumns spin off RiffTrax (which is really funny — make sure to check out the Road House track), Cinematic Titanic (which I’m looking forward to), and a flash series (which is kind of underwhelming in both conception and execution).

And so, in conclusion, I give Fire Maidens from Outer Space one mouth-watering turkey dinner out of ten. It is not a good movie. It is a bad movie. Thank God for Joel and the bots — without them, this movie would be pure cinematic tryptophan.

And for the record: I like Mike and Joel equally.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

sunrise.jpgOn the weekend, I also found out that I would not be getting a free trip to Europe — I had submitted a paper to Eurographics, and had I been accepted, UBC would have paid for me to go there next year to present it. And if I had managed to get in, I was planning to take the opportunity to go to Berlin and visit friends of mine — and former Kommune-mates — there: Tamy, Andy and Olga (who, collectively make up almost half of the TU-Berlin graphics lab, apparently).

On the plus side, this gives me an opportunity to awkwardly segue into this film, which I saw the previous day. There is a long sequence in the middle of this silent film, set in a city that for some reason I had thought was Berlin. But it turns out, it was actually a massive sound set in California! The film is not even German, just the director. Oops. Though in my defence, there are some great touches of German Expressionism in the film, not to mention a Teutonic sense of impending doom. Maybe if if someone had ever paid for me to go to Berlin, I wouldn’t have made that mistake.

Oh, well. I actually enjoyed much of the film, geographic impairment notwithstanding. The best silent films have an eerie quality: they are more beautiful and sophisticated than the decades of talkies that followed them, but they don’t feel modern, either. They feel exotic and oddly literary. This is probably because silent film didn’t, to my mind, evolve into talkies. With very few exceptions, the artistic slate was wiped clean, and cinema started over — the sentimental comedy of Chaplin and the editing of Eisenstein survived, but I don’t (again, in my totally non-expert opinion) really see too much else. So what we see in the last great silent films, like Sunrise and The General and Pandora’s Box (my fave — damn, Louise Brooks is lickable) are the high points of what turned out to be an evolutionary dead end. Artistic trilobites.

It’s odd to think of dead art forms. Dead styles are commonplace, as are dead genre. But dead art forms? You don’t see a lot of medieval mystery plays being put on these days, but theatre survives. Silent film may be dead (the incredible work of Guy Maddin excepted), but because it made it to the ages of recording, duplication and now, digitization, the corpse is still shuffling around with us. And will, in fact, always be with us, even when the people on that screen have been dead hundreds of years. Strange.

And so, in conclusion, I give Sunrise eight sexy silent-film flappers out of ten. It has a fantastic, horrifying first act, a dated chore of a second act and a pretty great third act.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)

kill_bill_2.jpgYesterday was errands day. The downside of my start-up work lifestyle is that my free-time hours during the week are infrequent and generally spent going to the gym and/or being pretty tired. The upside is that, unlike PhD work, I can usually step away and relax for an entire weekend at a stretch and get things done. Hence, errands day. My errands yesterday all took place down in Kitsilano, on a day of cold wind and pouring rain. Anxious to get out of the rain after walking in it a couple of hours, and hungry from skipping breakfast, I wandered into an empty sushi bar and ordered a bento box, which I ate while watching the rain pour down on the occasional Burrard Street pedestrian.

I know eating sushi by yourself on a rainy day sounds lonely, but I actually kind of dig it. This despite the fact that I tend to resist eating alone in restaurants. I think it’s some lingering adolescent self-consciousness — during high school, if you don’t have a clique, you are nobody. At Miller Comprehensive, being a “loner” ranked somewhere below the lowest cliques, which at least were composed, by definition, of people who weren’t loners. And a loner eating by himself, in front of everybody, was the very lowest of the low — almost certainly a serial killer, homosexual or Satanist, or all three. This point was emphatically presented to me by my more popular peers at every possible opportunity. Incidentally, I’m still shockingly bitter about high school.

But now… there’s something quite serene about being served a well-prepared meal on a quiet, rainy Saturday afternoon. I make a mental note to do it more often. Sitting in a quiet pub with a book and a Guinness is something I really enjoy, too. It’s classy, even. Something I can imagine Bertrand Russel doing. I make a note to do that, too.

After my bento, I had one more errand to run — off to Future Shop to buy a spare cable for my new iPod (an iPod Touch — it is awesome and I love it). Skimming through the DVDs, I saw the two Kill Bills. I’ve kind of been hoping that they would come out in a special edition one of these days, but it’s been three years now with no word, so I finally caved and got the no-frills DVDs. The price was right, at least: $20 for the pair.

And then home, where roommate Meghan is watching the finale of season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watch the final episode with her — she points out that Buffy really should have been able to stop Faith during her big “you killed me but I’m still gonna make sure Angel suffers and the Mayor ascends” speech (you know the one). I agree. That scene never quite worked for me, either, and it makes Buffy seem kind of weak in the biggest crisis of her life. Then we make dinner (garlic and bok choi stir fry), setting Meghan’s wok on fire in the process. Fire is not good for the nonstick coating, it turns out. And then we settle in for a few hours of Kill Bill with other-roommate Hendrik. I bravely refrain from pointing out all the pop culture references (Charlie Chan! Lady Snowblood! Bruce Lee’s jumpsuit!), but can’t resist talking about Shogun Assassin when The Bride and B.B. are bonding. Shogun Assassin fucking destroys. But would I let my four-year-old daughter watch Shogun Assassin like The Bride and Bill do? Probably. I’d be an awesome dad. And also, David Carradine’s lisp. What’s up with that?

This somehow leads to a discussion of the future of smoking and automobile safety. I suspect in fifty years, people will be dumbfounded that we put up with our current levels of automotive carnage, if not smoking. I also wonder why assassination isn’t more common in real life, something Tyler Cowan observed. Gangsters kill each other all the time (nearly daily in Vancouver, these days), so there are certainly people willing to both order and perform these contract killings. But it seems that political assassination is pretty rare, considering how many public figures there are standing in the way of something to be gained. I’ve been thinking a lot about utilities and variance lately — is it that the hard-to-predict outcomes of assassination correspond to an extremely high Beta coefficient on the expected utility, making the cost prohibitive? Beta, if I understand correctly, is a mathematical finance term that quantifies the amount you can expect to be paid to take on risk — it’s why stocks (high return, on average, but with a significant probability of very low return) pay more than bonds (low return, but you are reasonably certain to collect it). Or is it simply that the personal risk of being an assassin is so high, few rational assassins will take on the job: political assassination may be uncommon, but completely anonymous political assassination where the assassin is never identified seems quite rare. Morbid as they are, I find these thoughts oddly reassuring. The world may not be understandable, but the possibility exists of modelling our ignornace.

And so, in conclusion, I give Kill Bill: Volume 1 eight Hattori Hanzo swords out of ten, and Kill Bill: Volume 2 an impressive nine Hattori Hanzo swords out of ten. Those are very high ratings. You should go see this both parts of this movie.

great moments in film criticism, #2

“Then the animals begin to flee, the alien ass weasels arrive, and the film abruptly morphs from Stephen King’s Clerks to a Max Fischer production of Aliens.”

OS X Leopard thoughts

Just wanted to say, I’ve been using OS X Leopard for about a week and overall, I’m really impressed. The installation was a bit of a pain, due to my years of abusing the OS in ways Apple apparently didn’t forsee, but after removing a few toxic-to-Leopard files and directories, I was up and running.

First off — Leopard actually feels noticeably faster on old hardware. This is great news, since my beloved 12″ PowerBook G4 is in its fourth year with me, and I have no plans to replace it. (Seriously, if my PowerBook were to die right now, I’d go on eBay and buy another one rather than a newer laptop.) Now, this is not to say it necessarily is faster on the kernel level (it might be, I don’t know), but when I’m using it, all the UI parts are snappy and responsive. And that, my friends, is a whole lot more important than shaving a couple percent off compile or copy times.

The new Finder is a huge improvement on previous versions, and the coverflow view (where you can shuffle through previews of all your images) is surprisingly useful — I made a smart folder for all my PDFs, and use it to find papers I filed away but don’t remember where. Spotlight is finally usable on my PowerBook and so far has refrained from grinding my compy to a halt for hours at a time. And Spaces is already an integral part of how I work. The real revelation, though, is Time Machine, which is just a massive leap ahead of every other consumer-level backup system I’ve ever seen — so easy, my computer-leery mom can use it, and so powerful, I can’t imagine myself ever using anything else. So kudos to Apple — I was fully prepared for a minor upgrade to OSX with a couple of features I would ignore or disable, and instead I got an upgrade that has already become so essential, I’d have trouble going back to Tiger if I had to.

And yet, at the same time, the new Dock is so bad — and so aggressively, unavoidably, in-your-face bad — I can’t understand how it got through development. Stacks is such a terrible idea I keep checking the web to see if anyone has yet written the inevitable program to disable it and get regular folders back (a la Spotless). I mean, I understand that Leopard is a huge project and different teams might have different levels of competence, but this is like finding a room full of pinheads in a NASA lab.

Anyway, there’s a much better, much longer review over at Ars Technica that I may one day finish reading. But in short, I’m quite pleasantly surprised at how lame Leopard isn’t.

PS: Shut up! I am *too* great with pinhead analogies!