Friday, May 29, 2009
Here is a hint of things to come: the Cine-Sib and I just went to see "Star Trek" together, and he has concocted the Cine-Sib Theory of How Star Trek Explains the Taiwan-China Dilemma. It's actually surprisingly applicable. It's based on Vulcans and Romulans, so you who wish to guess may guess.
I will explain in full detail in a few days' time, but right now, I'm running out the door!
Happy start of the summer to everyone!
Monday, May 25, 2009
"Once each May, amid the quiet hills and rolling lanes and breeze-brushed trees of Arlington National Cemetery, far above the majestic Potomac and the monuments and memorials of our Nation's Capital just beyond, the graves of America's military dead are decorated with the beautiful flag that in life these brave souls followed and loved. This scene is repeated across our land and around the world, wherever our defenders rest. Let us hold it our sacred duty and our inestimable privilege on this day to decorate these graves ourselves -- with a fervent prayer and a pledge of true allegiance to the cause of liberty, peace, and country for which America's own have ever served and sacrificed.
... Our pledge and our prayer this day are those of free men and free women who know that all we hold dear must constantly be built up, fostered, revered and guarded vigilantly from those in every age who seek its destruction. We know, as have our Nation's defenders down through the years, that there can never be peace without its essential elements of liberty, justice and independence. Those true and only building blocks of peace were the lone and lasting cause and hope and prayer that lighted the way of those whom we honor and remember this Memorial Day. To keep faith with our hallowed dead, let us be sure, and very sure, today and every day of our lives, that we keep their cause, their hope, their prayer, forever our country's own."
SO, YOU CAN SEE THIS SONG COMING FROM A MILE AWAY.
The last addition to the Nerdworld Soundtrack for this term is . . .
"School's Out" by Alice Cooper. Crank up your speakers! "School's out for summer ... !"
In fact, I'm in such high spirits that I'll give you a bonus track too: "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.
After all, check out the lyrics: "I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky, like a tiger defying the laws of gravity ... I'm gonna go, go, go -- there's no stopping me! I'm burning through the sky, YEAH!"
Well, you know school's over when I discard Queen Elizabeth I in favor of Queen.
*MM grabs her bags and runs for the door. Hellooooo, airport!*
Blogging will be light for the next few days!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
This afternoon I went to see "Angels and Demons" with some friends because we wanted to see some pretty scenery and weren't feeling too picky about plot. Good thing that we weren't.
This sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" is such preposterous rubbish that it's unintentionally hilarious at times. Oh, I knew it was going to be garbage. I went to go see the city of Rome, both real and re-created, and to giggle at the flick with my buddies -- and I did just that. (Why, yes, we went for a matinee so we wouldn't have to pay full price. We knew it was going to be bad!)
For an idea of just what a ludicrously contemptible narrative mess this flick was, try reading this review or, even better, this fabulously furious takedown by a British critic. The ever-readable Kurt Loder disassembles it adroitly and adds an astute observation of which religions are OK to offend in Hollywood and which aren't.
All I'm going to say is: anti-matter shows up in the script. Anti-matter? Is this flick suffering from "Star Trek"-envy? Well, it SHOULD. Trek was a great bit of entertainment. "Angels and Demons" will make you laugh -- precisely because it doesn't intend to. It's a towering inanity all around.
Tom Hanks' unbelievably boring Harvard professor character is the anti-Indiana Jones. By this point, Harvard's probably wishing that Dan Brown had identified the Langdon character as a Yalie instead -- hey, let some other campus get stuck with this pompous, pedantic windbag! And poor old Ewan McGregor. As an energetic young papal aide, he's the only character who seems to have even a faint glimmer of a personality, and he (spoiler alert) naturally turns out to be a total psychotic nutcase who finally decides he'll get a head start on going to hell by setting himself on fire. Well, that wasn't quite what I meant when earlier I'd said that McGregor could be kind of hot.
Grade for the flick: C. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 37%.
Also, a public service announcement: Dan Brown is a complete and shameless hack who has made his fortune from mangling every kind of history and from marketing a blatant hostility to the Roman Catholic Church that I (not a Catholic) find completely revolting.
A: People who tell her what she should or should not eat. In the name of (insert moral-pietistic cause here).
Here is the latest example: "Stop eating lamb and drinking beer if you want to save the planet."
Oh, yeah? Let me tell you something, pal. A planet where you can't eat lamb and drink beer IS NOT A PLANET WORTH LIVING ON.
You may remember my previous meat-rant here. More here and here.
And since I know you're expecting my usual cry of culinary defiance, here it is: You can have my lamb chops, roast lamb, and lamb stew ... WHEN YOU PRY THEM FROM MY COLD, DEAD HAND.
. . . economic growth owes more to the forbearance of the state than to its intervention. Governments do not, indeed cannot, make wealth - only their citizens can. And when government protects their freedom, the world's growing population of entrepreneurs, in the bargain, expands human dignity and establishes the foundation of ongoing growth on which civil society ultimately depends.Read the whole thing. Interesting stuff.
Yesterday was a gluttonous festival with friends -- everything from an early round of Satan Coffee and pastries at a local legend of a bakery...making wickedly awesome brownies in the afternoon...watching a DVD of the hilarious BBC retelling of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew"... (Note: If you needed another reason to watch it, observe that somehow Rufus Sewell manages to wear tall high-heeled boots as well as La Parisienne and I can!)
Then I decided to splurge on a big luxury. The result was an image that I found really amusing: me sitting in a comfy chair getting a spa pedicure while reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and chatting with the Vietnamese manicurist about the value of hard work and education (she was asking me about my schooling since her own daughter is soon going to college).
Something about that whole exchange made me happy -- and not just because I was indulging in a luxury. I find the whole idea of small business and entrepreneurship to be just thrilling -- and the idea of the honest exchange of goods and services to be thrilling too. There's no element of pity or charity or sentimental bleeding-heart emotion in the exchange of my hard-earned money for a good pedicure. I buy the time and skill of the professional, and in return she gives me what I want. There's something really pure and honest and -- yes -- respectable about the entire exchange. The entire shop was completely busy too -- the hum of business and the sound of people making a living. I absolutely love it. Especially in a time of recession. (Well, I guess I really AM a heartless capitalist pig. Oink, darlings!)
FYI, not that you care, but I picked out a shamelessly bright red nail polish that says, "Summer is here and I mean to enjoy it!" If you look carefully, you can see tiny little sparkles in the paint. Wear with wedge-heeled sandals, knee-length skirts, and a sassy attitude (natch). It is so not-Nerdworld that it'll make your heart sing.
And no, I didn't splurge all the way and get a manicure. Nice manicures are wasted on me. I type too much on computers and spend too much time lugging books and journals; the nail polish chips almost immediately. Also, I am evil and spend a lot of time doing stuff like clawing out the eyes of my enemies while listening to the lamentations of their women, so I can tell you that that sort of behavior is very hard on manicures!
Life is good. And getting better. Nerd News: Tomorrow -- finally! -- I am getting on a plane and disappearing. (I can see the student newspaper now: "Enviro-Criminal MM to Mother Earth: Drop Dead.") Yes, I'm off to join the Cinema-Mad Sibling to wreak havoc across the universe. The undergrads have long since fled campus; finally it'll be the turn of the instructors, grad students, and faculty.
Check back tomorrow for the last Nerdworld Soundtrack song of the Spring 2009 school term! (UPDATE: Here's the song!)
PS: From La Parisienne and Il Barista, here is a bit of manicure-related humor (starts around 4:30, though she's got some other funny ethnic-humor stuff before then too). No political-correctness here, people!
Friday, May 22, 2009
Some of the movies on the list: "The Godfather" (of course), "Glory," "The Great Escape," "Dr. No," "Cool Hand Luke," "Dirty Harry," and "Patton." All great films -- and not just for the guys!
The list leaves off plenty of good movies, though. (What, no "Die Hard" or "Rocky"?!) Put your suggestions in comments!
I would add, for instance, "El Cid," "The Sands of Iwo Jima," "The Magnificent Seven," "Planet of the Apes" (the Charlton Heston version, not the remake!), "Stand and Deliver," and "Enter the Dragon" for starters. Definitely "Enter the Dragon." For a newer film, add "The Dark Knight."
Oh, yeah! Now that's the kind of wedding video I'd like to make!
I just got home from a late showing of Christian Bale's "Terminator Salvation."
In a nutshell: I had some high hopes for this film, but the flick completely obliterated those hopes. I actually got tired of looking at this movie even while I was sitting there in the theater. I got tired of looking at the endless explosions, the grimy ashen landscape, the entire post-apocalyptic scene. It's exhausting to watch. What a disappointment.
I give the flick a grade of C. RottenTomatoes has a miserable rating of 33%, as angry movie critics across America tear this flick to shreds.
Don't waste your money. I would have rather gone to see "Star Trek" for a third time.
In fact, I might not even bother writing a full movie review of this movie. The characters are all flat non-entities with no development or charisma. (Heck, I ended up actively rooting for the terminators to rub the terrible Moon Bloodgood character out of existence. Ditto for the completely worthless little kid. Don't even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter's appearance.) Not even Bale's John Connor was emotionally arresting. I just didn't care. He couldn't make me care. Yes, John Connor, savior of man against the machines, blah blah blah . . . Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Oh, OK, Anton "I'm Chekov in the new Trek, so I beg you to forget I'm in this awful Terminator flick" Yelchin turns in the most credible performance of the whole cast in his role as Kyle Reese. But he can't save this movie.
In fact, the only salvation in the flick exists solely in the title . . . and in the fact that when it ended, I could run away.
You want great "Terminator" action? Go watch the first and second flicks.
Oh, the Cinema-Mad Sibling is in a more forgiving mood. He gives the flick a B. Still, he pronounced the movie "too bleak."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Remember Hillary's previous burst of human rights HopeChange in China?
*MM beats head on desk*
Don't panic! I haven't given up on capitalism, and neither has author Richard Posner. Blurb from the review:
Coming from a leading free-marketer, Richard Posner’s new book may look at first glance like a confession of intellectual defeat. Actually, it is closer to healthy self-criticism. Capitalism, writes Posner, should be not rejected but repaired. Posner has joined the still-modest number of scholars who try to understand their mistakes without jettisoning their entire system of beliefs.There's even more interesting stuff in the review. You may find this thumbnail sketch to be useful (my emphasis):
. . . Posner’s book is an explosive manifesto in the ongoing philosophical feud among economists between rational-action theorists and behaviorists. This may sound arcane and tangential—but it’s central. Today, free-market economists and the politicians who more or less follow their lead split into two leading schools of thought. On one side, the rational-action theorists, led by Chicago economist Gary Becker, think of individuals as behaving rationally, with their own best interests in mind . . .
Behaviorists, on the other hand, based on some still-limited psychological experiments and brain scans, conclude that individuals are moved more by passions—Keynes called them animal spirits—than by reason. (Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is the founding father of this school, and Robert Frank, author of the just-published The Economic Naturalist, is its best public advocate.) We thus are prone to make financially unsound choices that eventually work against our best interests. Rational-action theorists are inclined to let individuals choose what’s best for them in slightly regulated markets where information flows abundantly. Behaviorists suggest strong government regulations to protect people against their own instincts.
I don't need to tell you which camp I belong to, do I?
I don't want a nanny government in my bank accounts anymore than I want one in my refrigerator or anywhere else, trying to protect me from myself. And who are they to know better, anyway? The only protection I want or need is called the United States Constitution, if you really want to get down to brass tacks. Now I'll be off with my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (where happiness includes property, thanks), which I shall chase with other unrepentant rational-action individualists.
UPDATE: Gentle reader Jay of the Blackstone in America blog recommends the New York Times review of the book. It's a nice one; do take a look.
Ultimate upshot: Will solvent states end up paying for the sins of the insolvent ones? Maybe it's time for a big California tea party.
UPDATE: Ballot-box tax revolt by California voters?
Look at this: voters rejected proposals for tax hikes, but they did approval one measure:
Only one of Tuesday's proposed ballot measures met the approval of voters, an initiative that prevents elected officials and employees from receiving pay increases when California is running a deficit. The measure was approved by more than 75 percent of voters.
The whole idea of entrepreneurship, small business, individuals making a living for themselves in the open marketplace, talents and skills and goods and services let loose, productivity and creativity, and capitalism at its best... Let's go make money and cure poverty and improve standards of living by creating wealth. Oh boy, it makes my wicked, selfish, exploitative heart sing (or it would if I had a heart, which -- according to campus leftists and progressives -- I do not).
Take a look:
I give you of my favorites -- an ad that appears on the side of a coffee vending machine. Clever!
By the way, the slogan of the ad campaign? "Das Leben ist zu kurz für den falschen Job" -- "Life's too short for the wrong job." Ain't that the truth!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Blurb from the Wall Street Journal article:
...from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.
Did the greater prosperity in low-tax states happen by chance? Is it coincidence that the two highest tax-rate states in the nation, California and New York, have the biggest fiscal holes to repair? No. Dozens of academic studies -- old and new -- have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.
My super-educated, eloquent, nuanced, and highly sophisticated analysis? Well, DUH!
RELATED POSTS: Andrew Lloyd Webber's commentary, and also Sir Michael Caine's.
Besides, methinks La Parisienne and I will enjoy another instance of Robert Downey Jr. in a heroic role with lots of action. Enjoy, fellow movie mavens!
Oh, and a little background here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Anyway, I thought I'd end the school term with a link to this interesting bit of campus history -- the history of 7 huge cheating scandals. Note: in each case, the students were busted.
By the way, let's now add Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" to the Nerdworld Soundtrack.
Ambassador Stages Coup At UN, Issues Long List of Non-Binding Resolutions
The same pink as Pepto-Bismol.
Coincidence? I think not.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Big Tent(pole) Revival
I wonder if JJ Abrams, like Dr. Frankenstein over the lightning-charged, re-animated body of his creation, screamed triumphantly, "It lives! IT LIVES!" when "Star Trek" finally premiered last week. He should have, because it does. IT DOES. Abrams has taken the moribund Star Trek franchise, hauled out a Constitution-class-sized defibrillator, and yelled "Clear!" loudly enough to be heard on every planet in the Federation. With Abrams' jolt of fresh energy, Trek is back, bigger and bolder than ever. Furthermore, arriving at the vanguard of the 2009 summer movie season, it sends us speeding into full summer fun mode at maximum warp and shrieking with glee.
The Cinema-Mad Sibling, La Parisienne, Il Barista, and Alessandra have all endorsed this flick (see the Sibling's writings on the subject here and here), and in my first reaction after seeing it, I seconded their enthusiasm. In fact, I just went to see the flick again with some friends earlier today.
Before I start the review, I should probably say this: the time-traveling aspect of the plot creates plenty of headaches and logic bombs, and it's by no means perfect, but it does do something crucial. It frees Abrams and his team from the crushing, suffocating constraints of 40 years of established Trek canon. Honestly, there was probably no other feasible way to do a prequel and not paint oneself into a corner. I suppose he could have tried to do some ret-conning, but he would always be limited by the canon. Establishing an alternate timeline/reality is the only way to open up big new possibilities. So, I'm not going to bash Abrams for using the plot device. I'll gladly conspire with him on this count if it means I get an awesome new vision of Trek -- and, aside from a few missteps, Abrams delivers.
Remember this priceless Onion satire? It's true. This Trek is bold, brash, fresh, colorful, and adventurous. It is, in a nutshell, FUN -- and fun that's accessible to everyone. It helps to have some familiarity with the franchise, but Trek by now is such a pop culture icon that this isn't a problem. In stark contrast to the last Trek film (2002's poorly-performing "Star Trek: Nemesis"), you don't have to be a dedicated fan in order to understand -- much less enjoy -- the film.
The opening sequence alone is a breathlessly action-packed few minutes that both sets up the background of the film overall and takes you on an emotional roller coaster. There is almost too much going on to take it all in -- and that's your first hint that the entire movie is one big thrill ride in space. It throws you unceremoniously right into the middle of the action -- and there is a lot of action.
Without giving too much away, I'll say that the flick has almost continuously breakneck pacing -- this thing MOVES in nimble bursts of energy that defies the overworked ponderousness of the
franchise's worst moments. Abrams basically plows through the story with the confident aplomb of Patton charging through France. The sets are bright and crisp, the special effects lavish and eye-popping without becoming self-parodying, the sense of immediacy energizing without being oppressive. Landscapes and cityscapes are suitably epic (though I hadn't realized that Vulcan looks like endless iterations of the Vasquez Rocks.) The film is beautiful to see, and the visual polish readily draws you into the story unfolding within it. The action is everywhere. Look for one particularly awesome sequence that makes even the transporter thrilling. Really.
Even so, no matter how pretty a flick is or how many things go BOOM in it, the core of any story is the characters, and "Star Trek" manages to walk the tightrope, both preserving the essence of its iconic officers and reimagining them (and freeing the actors to make each character his/her own). I can't think of any better way to discuss the excellent overall casting than to go down the duty roster:
James T. Kirk (Chris Pine):
In a preview of this flick, I said that the movie would sink or swim based on the performance of Pine's Kirk and the other cast members -- and Pine delivers. A relative unknown (I had seen him once before -- in the smallish 2008 film "Bottle Shock"), Pine captures the essence of the young Kirk -- brash, reckless, headstrong, troubled, wild, overconfident -- but he does it while also making him not only charismatic, but likeable. (La Parisienne specifically referred to her surprise that she liked Pine's Kirk, whereas she never really liked Shatner's version of the skirt-chasing loose cannon.) If Pine was ever nervous about inheriting the iconic role, he never lets it show. Kudos to him for bringing fresh vigor, passion, and even some humor to the role -- and even more kudos for not attempting to mimic The. William. Shatner. School. Of. Abrupt. Dialogue. There is, though, one single, scintillating moment at the very end of the film when Pine does an homage to the Shatner Kirk; blink and you'll miss that one line.
Spock (Zachary Quinto):
First off, Quinto looks uncannily like Spock. But where Nimoy's Spock carried himself (mostly) with a cold, almost Zen-like inscrutable detachment (well, OK, pon farr notwithstanding), Quinto's Spock is a coiled spring ready to pop. Under the calm exterior and even voice seethes an entire ocean of unresolved emotions in conflict. Some critics have not liked this new, raw Spock wrestling with his half-human, half-Vulcan nature and the discrimination it prompts (hasn't anyone on Vulcan figured out that racial discrimination is...err...illogical?). I like it. I like it a LOT, and I'll tell you why. It makes him far more interesting. Exhibit A: the scene of Spock's acceptance to the Vulcan Science Academy. Now if my flawed human memory serves, at some point the Vulcan sage Surak instituted the devotion to logic because -- up to that moment -- Vulcans were a wildly emotional lot given to unbridled violence. Quinto's Spock reminds us that emotions are part not only of human but also of Vulcan nature -- and that part of living in any world is the ability to deal with those emotions. Note: this film focuses on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, so the other characters are not quite as central, though everyone has good screen time and characterization, given time constraints.
Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban):
Honestly, Kiwi actor Urban is busy cementing his place in sci fi/fantasy fandom, and he had really done it even before this flick. Does he look familiar? He should. He was Eomer, cousin of Eowyn, hard-charging leader of the Rohirrim in the "Lord of the Rings" films. Here he is a pitch-perfect Bones, down to the sarcasm, the fear of space travel, and the devotion to his friend Kirk. It's great to see the "country doctor" back in space. Out of all the cast, Urban's the only one who adopts the mannerisms of his predecessor (for him, the late DeForest Kelley) -- and somehow pulls this off.
Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana):
Smart, sassy, confident, and a high achiever, this Uhura has far more opportunities to be involved than Nichelle "Hailing Frequencies Open, Sir" Nichols had. You go, girl. Aside from being eye candy for the guys and something more than "just friends" with Spock, Saldana's Uhura brings a welcome, fiery crackle of independent personality -- and proves she's more than a match for even Kirk, as she swiftly deflates his ego not once but twice.
Hikaru Sulu (John Cho):
Cho has come a long way from the lowbrow silliness of the "Harold and Kumar" flicks -- somewhere along the line, he turned into an action hero. You'll never hear the word "fencing" in quite the same way again. At the same time, Cho infuses his Sulu character with a touch of humor and some real grit. I'll look forward to more Sulu in future films, but this was a great introduction. Plus, in terms of Asian-American Star Trek heroic eye candy for the ladies, this Sulu completely runs circles around Voyager's Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang). (OK, end of girl talk.) Oh, and Asian-American ethnicity chaos: Chinese-American Garrett Wang played the Korean Harry Kim, while Korean-American John Cho plays the Japanese-American Hikaru Sulu ("San Francisco -- I was born there," hm?). Hey, but why should Paramount care? All Asians look alike anyway, right? Kidding! Sort of. Going on! (As for Cho? Hotter than kimchi, baby.)
Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin):
Russian-born Yelchin plays Chekov, and he's having a great time hamming it up with Chekov's hilariously impenetrable accent (look for a priceless scene in which not even the starship computer can figure out what he's saying). This Chekov's a young, curly-haired geeky live wire, and he's got potential. And he shows off some new geek-skills too. "NUCLEAR WESSELS, KEPTIN!" Sorry -- I couldn't help myself.
Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg):
This isn't the same Scott as you may recall from the heyday of the lovable James Doohan, since comedic Englishman Simon Pegg often seems to play himself in his films (e.g., "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "Mission Impossible 3"). The goofy Pegg's Scott does not appear until well into the movie, but he is reliably chipper, cheerful, and wafflingly charming, with more potential than actual screentime.
The U.S.S. Enterprise:
Of course the ship is a character! And she is gorgeous. The first time I saw the ship, I just stared. She's a technophiliac's fantasy. Besides, she appeals to baser instincts too -- Look! Shiny metal objects!
The Scene-Stealer Award:
In almost every movie, there is a supporting character who steals the scene from the central figures. When I heard Simon Pegg was on the cast, I thought he would be it. He's great, no doubt, but I'm going to give the nod to Canadian character actor Bruce Greenwood for his turn as Captain Pike. He's calmly magnetic in his portrayal as a starship captain who at heart seems to be a throwback to the great heroes of the past -- confident and inspiring confidence, courageous, steady, the sort of leader men would follow to the end, commanding his scenes with a quiet, self-assured masculinity that doesn't need to shout and pose. Classy!
The movie is full of great stuff, but there are also a few wobbles.
THE BAD (minor spoilers)
I raved about how visually arresting the film is -- and it is -- but it could have been better without all the lens flares. These things seemed to be everywhere, and the long strands of wispy light are distracting in their number. I'm willing to accept a few lens flares, but hundreds?
Product placement. There is one egregious instance of product placement, and it's glaringly obvious. I won't give it away, but believe me, you'll know it instantly when it appears -- and it distracts from the scene. What's next? Covering the Enterprise in ads as if it were a NASCAR race car?
Speaking of distraction, the casting of Winona Ryder in a certain role was jarring. Whenever she's on screen, she seems out of place. Besides, her own fame/infamy makes the actress here the focus, not her character or the story. The old-lady makeup isn't convincing either, though it's nowhere as bad as Carla Gugino's in "Watchmen." As for her wardrobe, it was weirdly unflattering. What crazy fetishist designed the bodice of her gown? It's ludicrous -- and it looks really painful. Good grief, her corset shoves her upper body around until she looks as though she's going to choke on her own bosoms.
Starfleet Regulation 619. That's all I'm going to say. Its demands seem to be a mess waiting to happen. Then again, it might be the next Prime Directive -- i.e., a rule that everybody professes to value highly but that everybody ignores whenever it gets in the way. Kind of like how some politicians ignore the US Constitution. (Oops! Did I say that out loud?)
Scotty's little alien friend/pet. Why does it look like the love child of The Thing and an Ewok? Why is it even in the film? The "standard required cute character" is a feature of Disney cartoons, not Trek films.
Speaking of Ewoks, one bit of the movie seems to suffer from "Star Wars"-envy. Watch it and tell me if you didn't think of the ice planet Hoth from "The Empire Strikes Back" and the gigantic monster fish from "Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace." While we're on the subject of odd creatures, Abrams' faux Hoth is inhabited by a bizarre-looking red -- um -- thing that looks like an escapee from "Spore" now hopped up on Alien Growth Hormone and a bad attitude.
Another thing. Abrams, send a memo out to every writer and then to every architect, construction worker, and builder. One word: Handrails. There was simply too many instances of people dangling from ledges, hanging on for dear life... people falling off ledges... people throwing themselves off ledges to go after people who had fallen from ledges... Once with a ledge is exciting and riveting. More than once is just carelessness. This is Star Trek, for goodness sake. There are a million different ways to imperil people. Find a cure for Ledge Endangerment Syndrome, stat!
I have two really big complaints. One: the plot depends far too much on coincidence on Delta Vega. That's all I'm going to say, but not even my willingess to suspend disbelief would let me buy this. One character even expressed the same incredulity with a single word there.
Two: the villain. Aussie actor Eric Bana plays the villain of the piece, a former Romulan mine worker turned genocidal maniac named Nero. All right, first of all: NERO? I know that the Romulans are more or less patterned on ancient Rome, but... NERO? As for the character itself, I found him lacking. Bana tries his best -- as Bana always tries his best -- but some undefinable spark seemed to be missing. His entire performance seems to depend on scowling and glowering. He did himself no favors by starting his threats to the Enterprise with a flat "Hello." Maybe Jerry Maguire had us all at "hello," but Nero's got no such charisma. As for his motivations, they seem clear enough, but his methods and plans make no sense. His attempt to explain himself, to drum up some sympathy from his sob story falls flat. One more thought: his ship looks like a giant metal artichoke, making me wonder if its engines ran on melted butter.
Go see this flick, flaws and all, because it does far more things right than it does wrong. It accomplishes the most important with aplomb: it brings the fun and magic back to the Trek universe.
A detailed critique of the actual plot (containing spoilers) will be posted later this weekend.
Mad Minerva gives this film a grade of A. (Only the second US film to receive this grade since I started grading movies like I grade papers.)
RottenTomatoes gives "Star Trek" a "fresh" rating of 95%. (Compare with 93% for my beloved "Iron Man" and 94% for the much-praised "The Dark Knight.")
"Star Trek" runs 127 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, violence, and brief sensuality.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Free chocolate = happy consumers = GREAT advertising and PR = happy businesspeople! Everybody wins. Ain't entrepreneurship grand?
Now all I can think about is M&Ms. Lots and lots of M&Ms.
The whole business of planets applying for membership to the Federation (remember Bajor did that?) reminds me of the European Union...which might actually back up Prof. Ilya Somin's thesis about socialism...(?)
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The Master said, “When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.” -- Analects book 13Going Galt, are we, Confucius?
Or it could be as simple as: hey, why should we pay taxes if Geithner and other DC fat cats didn't? It's called leading by example, folks.
I've no idea what the book's about. I just know that I've got to read it!
"Live free or die!" Indeed.
This gives a whole new meaning to the term "failed states." (More here on various states' disastrous spending sprees.) Did I need another reminder why I am for limited government? We're in a recession, and government hacks from the very top down are throwing away taxpayer money with both hands, as fast as they possibly can, as recklessly as possible.
The mayor of Providence wants to slap a $150-per-semester tax on the 25,000 full-time students at Brown University and three other private colleges in the city, saying they use resources and should help ease the burden on struggling taxpayers.
Mayor David Cicilline said the fee would raise between $6 million and $8 million a year for the city, which is facing a $17 million deficit.
If enacted, it would apparently be the first time a U.S. city has directly taxed students just for being enrolled.
DON'T PEOPLE THINK THAT GOING TO UNIVERSITY IS EXPENSIVE ENOUGH ALREADY?
I also do not buy the argument that somehow students are resource-using parasites leeching off the local taxpayer. Don't those 25,000 students eat in local restaurants, buy tickets on local transportation networks, buy groceries and other things in local shops? Don't they contribute in their own way to the local economy?
You cannot spread wealth that has not been created in the first place.Ah, too true. What's that old saying about trying to squeeze blood from a turnip? Now read this analysis by Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein. Opening salvo:
The barrage of tax increases proposed in President Barack Obama's budget could, if enacted by Congress, kill any chance of an early and sustained recovery.Well, DUH! This is blindingly obvious to anyone who has a shred of common sense, but apparently you don't need common sense to go into politics.
You'd think that any ideologue wanting to redistribute wealth would encourage wealth producers to make more of it, so the ideologue would have more to spread. But no, the ideologue in question seems determined not only to sap currently existing wealth, but also to destroy all wealth-producing capabilities. In storybook terms, this is called killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. And then wondering why you have more new golden eggs to take by confiscatory taxes. (Well, I always thought Obama's economic policies were a big goose egg -- ha ha ha -- *groan.*)
Note also what Feldstein has to say about that colossal idiocy known as "cap-and-trade."
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
On the Taiwan front, there is disturbing news indeed. Last year, Taiwan was rated as Asia's freest press; this year the honor goes to New Zealand (if you want to argue about ethnic Asianness, then I can tell you that Japan is the freest large Asian nation). Last year, Taiwan was ranked 32 in the global survey; this year it falls to 43.
(For comparison, the US is 24, the UK and Canada are 27, and Australia is 38. #1 went to -- drum roll, please! -- Iceland. Dead last on the list? North Korea.)
See this editorial by Leon Chuang, chairman of the Association of Taiwan Journalists. He writes, among other things:
The lesson is that if Taiwan’s media cannot resist penetration by China, Taiwan will before long go the same way as Hong Kong.Hong Kong's press freedom rating, by the way, has dropped from "free" to "partly free." China, in case you're wondering, is rated "not free" by Freedom House.
President Ma Ying-jeou and his government should bear full responsibility for this black mark on the record of their first year in office.
Things do not look good at all for either HK or Taiwanese media. Wake up, people.
Then again, there seem to be more PhDs already out there than there are jobs for them, so maybe the cost-cutting measure has a secondary effect as a (harsh) corrective.
Humorous college student 1, professional journalists 0.
Actually, it sounds much like the "extra Wilhelm" Wiki-snafu in Germany, doesn't it?
Publishers have also produced a manga, or comic, version of Das Kapital, Karl Marx's treatise on how capitalism would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.Hey, everyone, AGAIN: Communism has never worked. It doesn't work now. It will never work.
I appreciate the fact that people are upset about the recession, but turning to outdated, discredited old dogma isn't going to help.
Here's a reminder of what's what:
I mean, seriously: a British pol is under pressure because he might have used public money to ... clean out the moat on his estate. The MOAT. No, really!
It's the sort of goofy, historically-tinged oddity that almost screams out, "Only in the UK."
Meanwhile, the British MPs' expense scandal progresses apace.
Let me preface this preface with the fact that I'm a fanboy and undoubtedly this will be obviously biased. I grew up with Star Trek, my first real introduction to science fiction. Watching The Original Series on reruns every evening as a boy, Next Generation from the beginning and then the subsequent other 3 series and 10 movies.
Unfortunately, while I continued to be a fan, the Trek machine grew too big; the studio, Paramount, keen to its business side of things was now cranking out two Trek series concurrently (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) the movies were coming out every 2 years, which eventually oversaturated the market. There was just too much: DS9 competed with Voyager, which competed with Original Series and Next Generation reruns. By the time the tenth movie came out in December of 2002, Star Trek: Nemesis, no one cared anymore. Not even fans. I was at a Philadelphia theater on opening night of Nemesis, and the only noise I heard was crickets. There was only a handful of people in the theater and I wondered, am I even in the right room? This was Trek. And no one cared. With $65 million budget, its domestic gross was only $43 million. Ouch.
Flash forward several years, and no Trek movie had been made since the failure that was Nemesis. It seemed like Trek was dying if not already dead in the water. Enterprise, the latest, and last Trek series that was on the air, was losing viewers left and right, and its prequel premise ultimately spelling its own doom with the writers writing themselves into a corner. What was supposed to be fresh came out stale, and it was unceremoniously cancelled in 2005, and that seemed like it was it.
Something needed to change. Then came along J.J. Abrams, TV veteran who masterminded Felicity, Alias, and Lost, had just been given the reins of another dying movie franchise, Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible series, and was tasked to rejuvenate the franchise. Budgeted at $150 million, MI:3 was the most expensive movie ever given to a rookie director for his debut. Abrams, with writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman (also former producers of Alias) were up to the task and delivered an action packed third volume of the series that opened up the summer movie season of 2006 with a bang, exceeding studio expectations. They managed to take the premise and make it fresh, allowing new viewers who hadn't seen the previous movies to latch on to this new story. And they did it with aplomb.
Paramount found their savior and immediately offered the Trek franchise to him and his crew. But would they be able to breath life into this 40 year old enterprise?
More to come.
By "self-involved," I mean Trek became "so consumed with itself and its own fictive universe that it lost all sense of fun and adventure." The whole reason I liked Trek in the first place was the idea of young, energetic folks heading out into the wild unknown of space -- the FRONTIER, hello? -- to explore. It's a premise as full of danger as delight. Just think of the sorts of folks who had the daring and guts to head out into the untamed American Old West. Think of Lewis and Clark, for goodness sake.
But as time went on, the pioneering, robust, can-do, make-your-own-destiny ideas turned into endless technobabble and, even worse, bellyaching about galactic politics that would bore even the most seasoned desk jockeys of the EU and UN. The whole franchise descended into navel-gazing and self-castrating obsessions about social issues AT THE EXPENSE OF CHARACTER AND FUN. Instead of Lewis and Clark, we got space alien versions of bureaucrats. The huge open spaces of the galaxy turned into claustrophobic offices. Then, even more damning, the franchise began to obsess about moral lessons. I know, I know, this was a habit going all the way back to the original series, but a habit isn't good simply because it's old. I think science fiction and fantasy can be a great way to discuss complex moral and ethical ideas, but I resent having anybody beat me over the head with them. It's -- let's say the heresy, here -- NOT FUN.
The idea of Trek went from "Let's head into the great unknown and see what's out there!" to "Please review the protocol for the state dinner for the Andorian ambassador and his security detail." Then add: "By the way, the ambassador's daughter wants to claim asylum with the Federation because she's in love with a non-Andorian and it's against her culture to marry aliens. Her father insists it's an internal issue and forbids us to interfere. So! What do we do? Prime Directive or give a heavy-handed, thinly-veiled, preachy Trekkified moral lesson about feminism and women's rights?" The click you're hearing is the sounds of millions of fans changing channels to watch ANYTHING ELSE BUT THIS. If I wanted a sermon, I'd go to church.
The Trek universe got too small in its outlook. It became an ever-shrinking echo chamber. I think it became more interested in preserving its own little universe than in being daring, bold, colorful. It seemed so concerned with never stepping over the line of "acceptability" that it became unacceptable in its own creative passivity.
The Paramount bigshots who oversaw Trek forgot what made it great in the first place. And people noticed. And then JJ Abrams went back to basics. The result was movie magic. Oh, it had plenty of flaws, but overall, it did in 2 hours what previous efforts had not been able to do in nearly 2 decades. It made Trek fun and exciting and -- yes! -- unpredictable.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
But it's almost summer, which is "silly season" for just about everybody --including me. So, instead of talking about cross-Atlantic relations this afternoon, I give you a lighter side of Europe -- the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest! (If you're a little fuzzy on this little pop culture habit, read this.)
The thing is an absolute temple to silliness -- and I mean that as basically a good thing. Check out this handy list of some of this year's songs (with YouTube music video links!). Some of the entries are OK (Denmark's isn't too bad), some are horrible, and some are just plain crazy.
Take a look at Macedonia's entry (we're back to big-hair 1980s rock), or the Netherlands' weird middle-aged "boy band"-- their lyrics include the line "love will make us glow in the dark." Really! I laughed out loud when I watched the music video. Golly, there's something really gloriously silly about Eurotrash dance pop.
The act from the Czech Republic, though, qualifies for the tag "weird with crazy on top." (No, seriously, you have to see it to believe it. A guy in a red jumpsuit -- with cape! -- raps about gypsies while other people play violin and guitar. No, I'm not making this up.)
Random speculation: Romania's entire national supply of eye makeup was used in the production of its music video.
Still, nothing I've seen this year comes close to the winners of the 2006 Eurovision contest -- the Finnish band Lordi.
One-word review: Awesome!
One-sentence review: Set phasers on STUNNING.
The thing is this year's "Iron Man," not to mention exactly the jolt of life that the Star Trek franchise needed.
I spent most of the film sitting there with a big silly grin plastered all over my face. The thrill is back. The fun is back. The MAGIC is back. In geekspeak, it's a nerdgasm! This flick races along at breakneck speed like a roller coaster, and it is a fantastic ride. Plus, there's no careful diplo-speak, hand-wringing moral lessons, conundrums that seem to tie people's hands; instead there's the fabulously liberating sense of people freed to ACT -- and act with unfettered vigor, act to take your destiny into your own hands. And, boy, is there a lot of action! (You know, much as I love Picard's erudition and all that, sometimes I just want to see a young, energetic, self-confident Kirk throw punches at bad guys -- and Chris Pine performs admirably.) There is a certain wild, unbridled joy in kicking butt without hesitation or apology, and this flick indulges that with gusto.
Even more remarkably, for once a movie lived up to the hype, hope, and expectation. This thing blows all the competition out of the water (Wolverine who?) and sets the bar sky-high for the rest of this summer's would-be blockbusters (OK, John Connor and Optimus Prime, you're all on notice). "Star Trek" has thrown down the gauntlet: THIS is how you reboot a franchise. THIS is how you make an origin film. (THIS is what the miserable Star Wars prequels should have been like, by the way. George Lucas, you just got schooled.)
So, in acknowledgment of all this, since credit must be given where credit is due to JJ Abrams, who helmed this project and more or less achieved Joss Whedon status with it:
ALL IS FORGIVEN.
And I do mean, ALL. The sheer awesomeness of "Star Trek" has wiped out every disappointment and misstep you've ever inflicted on me. They're all gone -- the total stupidity of the final season of "Alias," the unwatchable current state of time-warping nutcases on "Lost," the complete inability of "Fringe" to spark any enthusiasm, the casting of Keri Russell in "Mission Impossible 3"... All of it's gone as if it'd never happened. Magically, just like in the Trek flick, you've gone back in time and changed everything.
Live long and prosper, JJ. And enjoy the new blog tag dedicated to you.
Don't think for a minute that I've relaxed my standards, though! Screw up "Trek" in the future, and I am setting my phaser on "TOTALLY VAPORIZE INTO SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES."
On a related note:
The Cine-Sib has raved about the flick (his haiku review is here), and so has La Parisienne; both of them are working on full reviews, and I'll post them as soon as I get them.
The Sibling, by the way, had teased me before I went to the theater. He laughed and predicted I would come back with a nerd-crush on Kirk or Spock. Nope, that didn't happen. There was some nice eye candy, though: Hikaru Sulu, played by Korean-American John Cho (here's a nice interview with him in a Korean newspaper).
Monday, May 11, 2009
...our collective amnesia about Washington’s repeated attempts to expand homeownership and the disasters they’ve caused. The ideal of homeownership has become so sacrosanct, it seems, that we never learn from these disasters. Instead, we clean them up and then—as if under some strange compulsion—set in motion the mechanisms of the next housing catastrophe.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
As for the anti-humanist streak in the Greenies? Look at this observation:
Green anti-modernism brings with it other contradictions. Despite the rhetoric about "one planet," not all humans have the same interests when it comes to addressing global warming. Greens often note that the changing global climate will have the greatest impact on the world's poor; they neglect to mention that the poor also have the most to gain from development fueled by cheap fossil fuels like coal. For the poor, the climate is already dangerous. They are already subject to the droughts, floods, hurricanes, and diseases that future warming will intensify. It is their poverty, not rising carbon-dioxide levels, that make them more vulnerable than the rest of us.Indeed.
. . . Nonetheless, it has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development--never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty. The convenient and ancient view among elites that the poor are actually spiritually rich, and the exaggeration of insignificant gestures like recycling and buying new lightbulbs, are both motivated by the cognitive dissonance created by simultaneously believing that not all seven billion humans on earth can "live like we live" and, consciously or unconsciously, knowing that we are unwilling to give up our high standard of living.
I copy and paste the abstract for you, gentle reader:
Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman's Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse. In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food. Although 72% of subjects ranked the dog food as the worst of the five samples in terms of taste (Newell and MacFarlane multiple comparison, P<0.05), subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food.
I can't make this stuff up if I tried.
Then again, maybe this is actually a glorious nerd prank in disguise -- a ploy to get otherwise normal people to eat dog food (!) in the name of research. In that case, I'll laugh and applaud, but I don't think that's the case.
Completely unnecessary and catty comment: Since utterly annoying TV celebrity cook Rachael Ray is now in the business of making her own brand of dog food, I can -- sort of -- see the applicability of the people-food versus dog-food debate. If Ray's behind it, no wonder folks can't tell the difference. (MM: "MEOW!")
Dear Mr. President:
Please find below my suggestion for fixing America's economy.
Instead of giving billions of dollars to companies that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan.
You can call it the Patriotic Retirement Plan:
There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force.
Pay them $1 million apiece severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:
1) They have to retire.
--> Forty million job openings.
--> Unemployment fixed.
2) They have to buy a new American CAR.
--> Forty million cars ordered.
--> Auto Industry fixed.
3) They have to either buy a house or pay off their mortgage.
--> Housing Crisis fixed.
It can't get any easier than that!
Friday, May 08, 2009
So for La Parisienne in particular -- and for your humble blog hostess too -- I post this fresh photo from the set of "Iron Man 2." It's Robert Downey Jr. taking a break but still oozing that unmistakable, devilish, Tony Stark charm. But is it worth purring over? Hm. Well, it's cooler in terms of sheer attitude than the first photo from the set...
Here's some background. The Cinema-Mad Sibling went to a late-night premiere last night, and this morning he called me with groggy enthusiasm. He sounded completely exhausted but also completely delighted. He proceeded to proclaim that he wore a red shirt to the cinema last night in honor of all the nameless red shirt ensigns (otherwise known as "cannon fodder on Kirk-Spock-McCoy away missions"). Funny guy, that Cine-Sib.
So! Since he was so tired, I didn't demand a full review, but I did want some immediate feedback.
"Review it in one word!" I said.
"That's two words."
"Not if you HYPHENATE it. Kick-butt. One word."
He'll return later with a full review, but he just sent me a review in haiku. Here it is!
Star Trek new again
About time they got it right
As for the Cine-Sib fuss about Uhura (Zoe Saldana), here's a little visual aid:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Where's the Chief?|