Thursday, July 13, 2017

Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo (1955-2017) Dies at 61

Here is a writeup and an overview. China needs more like him. I'll leave you with the indelible image of his empty chair at the 2010 Nobel ceremony that China's leadership did not permit him to attend, for it had imprisoned him the year before. Oh, and do take a look at his lecture.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Happy Fourth from Colonial Williamsburg

Movie Madness: Fun Films for the Fourth of July

The Cine-Sibling and I offer these options for your viewing pleasure if you're whiling away the hours before fireworks tonight!

In the interest of full disclosure: I vetoed with extreme prejudice his suggestion of the first Transformers movie. As for Saving Private Ryan ... Well, my list only has room for one movie rescuing Matt Damon, and I wanted something fun and less bloody for a summer holiday.

Here are our picks in alphabetical order:
  • 1776 (1972)
  • Air Force One (1997)
  • Apollo 13 (1995)
  • Argo (2012)
  • Armageddon (1998)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  • Die Hard (1988)
  • Glory (1989)
  • The Hunt for Red October (1990)
  • Independence Day (1996)
  • The Martian (2015)
  • Miracle (2004)
  • The Patriot (2000)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Meet Mary Katherine Goddard

She printed the Declaration and was the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775 in Baltimore.

Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

Remember, when we see the (glorious) finished product, we see only the final result of a long, arduous process of writing and editing and rewriting and re-editing and compromise and debate. Here is a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Movie Review: "Wonder Woman" (2017)


New Girl.

Maybe I should have subtitled this review "I believe in miracles since you came along" since - contrary to all past experience and every expectation - DC finally managed to make a superhero movie that isn't awful! In fact, the "miracles" part comes from the stunning realization that this movie not only doesn't make you hate yourself for watching it (à la predecessor 1 and 2 whose titles I shall not type again to defile my keyboard), but it is by any practical Hollywood mea$urement an unqualified $ucce$$ (currently sitting pretty on a global box office figure of $650 million and climbing still). Even more shocking given DC's track record, Wonder Woman works as an engaging story in itself: it is a masterful blend of action, character development, charm, and actual human connection directed by Patty Jenkins and anchored by Gal Gadot (Gisele from the Fast and Furious franchise) as Diana of Themyscira and by Chris Pine (Captain Kirk of the new Star Trek) in his supporting role as WWI pilot Steve Trevor.

London's "Little Pyongyang"

North Korean defectors make a home in a London suburb. Do take a look at some of their stories, such as that of the former North Korean army officer who now runs the Free NK newspaper.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hello Wonder!

I'm working on my movie review for Wonder Woman, so here is some related entertainment in the meanwhile: the official Japanese ad campaign for the film includes Hello Kitty. Well, of course it does.  Take a look at the official Japanese website after you click away from the trailer that pops up. Here's a closer look:

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

D-Day: June 6, 1944

73 years ago on this day the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and changed the course of history for the better. It's a good day to spare a moment to be thoughtful and thankful.

Movie Madness: Title Drops

Ah, yes, that hit-you-over-the-head meta game from moviemakers who think they're more clever than they actually are!  Title-dropping happens far too often, and it always jolts me right out of the movie-watching experience.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Movie Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" (2017)


Family Matters.

2014's Guardians of the Galaxy was a delightful surprise, and even though its inevitable sequel can't quite recapture that initial thrill of discovery, it still delivers plenty of the same kind of zany personality, irreverent zingers, nostalgic pop culture awareness, colorful CGI eye candy scenery, and retro soundtrack shenanigans that made the first Guardians so much fun. To be perfectly honest, I went to see this for 2 main reasons: Rocket and Baby Groot (still adorably tiny and twiggy but now out of his flowerpot and capable of locomotion), and on that front the movie delivers in spades.

The gang's all here again, along with some new characters, including an alien who looks like an Oscar statuette come to life, Chibs from Sons of Anarchy trading in his leather jacket for Ravager gear, a girl with antennae, and a figure named Ego who really, really, really lives up (or down) to his name.

The plot has its up and downs, and there is one detail arriving late in the film that is as unnecessary as it is horrifying and jarring. Still, the whole movie looks so darn pretty with bright, eye-popping fantasy CGI that its flaws are forgotten in a second. Besides, all it took was the next shot of Baby Groot to make me forget my complaints. Seriously, though, keep an eye on the film's overarching meditation on the meaning of family and loyalty.

As always, sit through all the credits.

Mad Minerva gives Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a grade of B+.

RottenTomatoes gives the movie the bona fide Fresh rating of 81%.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 runs 136 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence and some language.

Here's the trailer: 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Fun: "Star Wars" Theme on Accordion

Since the space opera celebrated its 40th birthday this week on May 25, here's something relevant: 

Food Fight: Who Gets to Cook Ethnic Dishes?

This is ridiculous. Give me a freaking break.

Syria: Its Breakup is a "Fait Accompli"

So says Foreign Policy.

Movie Madness: Ranking Tom Cruise Movies

I thought this was hilarious not only because ranking movies is always an exercise in amusing subjectivity but because the writer flat out announces with endearingly brutal honesty:
"Anyway, with news of a coming Top Gun sequel, it hit me that, although I’m not a particularly big fan of Cruise, from that day until this one, I’ve seen virtually every movie he’s appeared in. I’m sure I’m not alone. And because I will do virtually anything to avoid writing about Donald Trump or Russia or Congressional Budget Office scores, I correctly ranked them for you."
Since I too have been refusing to engage in political blogging because the quality of ostensibly professional journalistic coverage has been utterly absymal, I would much rather talk about movies!  Here's the (very entertaining) ranking of every Tom Cruise movie.

Let's point out a few recent personal favorites, shall we? Here are my grades with links to reviews.
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014): A
  • Almost all the Mission: Impossible movies. I gave 2011's Ghost Protocol an A-. I didn't get around to writing a full review of 2015's Rogue Nation, but that's an A (with a huge shoutout to Rebecca Ferguson and a nod to Simon Pegg and the great Ving Rhames).
  • Tropic Thunder (2008). The flick itself gets a B overall, but Cruise's turn is amazing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

I usually post a favorite work of Easter art, but this year I've decided to do something a little different and post music instead. Enjoy! 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Nerd Fun: xkcd on Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics

Ever wonder what would happen if Isaac Asimov had arranged the laws differently?  Wonder no more, darlings!



The fact that fully half of the configurations ends in a killbot hellscape does rather give one pause, doesn't it?
...


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nerdworld Soundtrack: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"

It's what I have playing right now, and it's fantastic, no?  Before you start thinking that I'm all fancy and sophisticated and cultured and whatever, let me tell you that I had completely forgotten about this piece until I heard it in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation that I was watching earlier (excellent flick, by the way, and how The Marriage of Figaro shows up in it is absolutely in keeping with my irreverent sense of humor!).

Saturday, January 21, 2017

US-UK Special Relationship Back On?

Churchill's bust is back in the Oval Office, and Theresa May will be the first foreign leader to meet Trump after inauguration.  This should prove interesting indeed in the light of Brexit.

Quote of the Day: One Libertarian's Thoughts

I can't take any more media, be it mainstream or social or any other kind, because the general noisy emotional overdrive and hyperreaction over Trump's inauguration from both supporters and opponents alike is giving me a headache. It's gotten to the point that I am half-expecting febrile friends of mine both on the left and right to start yelling at me because I haven't been posting excitable effluvia nonstop online. 

So I give you one libertarian's bemused thoughts:
It’s been a weird couple of months. I’ve seen more people unfriend each other on FaceBook than in the past few years combined; There have been several reports of both Trump supporters and minorities being physically attacked; I’ve been asked to wear a safety pin to proclaim to the world that I am not a racist, because the presumption now is that everyone is a racist and you have to (secretly - only not so secretly) announce to everyone if you’re not; and the senior editor of ThinkProgress is afraid of his plumber. (This, based solely on whatever profiling techniques they use over at ThinkProgress - “… a middle-aged white man with a southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.” - rather than anything resembling a conversation with the man.) 
Here’s the thing: I’m a libertarian. I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t agree with me for as long as I can remember and it has never occurred to me to isolate myself from everyone because of our political differences. Certainly not to assault them. Nor am I filled with anxiety by the thought that people who work in my home might have different political views than mine. To me, you’re all a bunch of fascists. But I’ve somehow learned to live with you.
Heh!  Seriously, though, later the writer says, "For me, watching people unravel over this election has been instructive," and what ultimately follows is not unlike what I've said about why an overly powerful executive is a Very Bad Thing and that it's still a Very Bad Thing even if (and maybe especially if) a guy you happen to like is sitting behind the Resolute desk. Just imagine someone you hate and fear having those same powers. You don't like that? Then maybe those are really stupid, dangerous powers that nobody should have, period.

Oh, one more thing. I've heard plenty of Obama-love over the last few days ranging from the classy to the completely deranged, but the one I remember the best is this: someone I know actually said that s/he wished Obama were a king so he could stay in power forever and we wouldn't have to deal with Trump. Yes, you read that right. Wished Obama were a king. Criminy, this actually happened in earnest. I half-expected the ghost of George Washington to appear on the spot and slap this person into next week. You've missed the entire point of the American Revolution.

I am so tired.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Movie Review: "Suicide Squad" (2016)



Prison Break.

Well, against my better judgment I finally saw Suicide Squad over the holiday break, and let me tell you I shouldn't have.  That miserable vomitous mass is an insult to the very idea of movies as a pleasant enterprise.  It's 2 hours of trash. No, really, I mean actual, literal trash, as one of the major plot points - I kid you not - involves a swirling tower of flying rubbish propelled by the sorcery of a shimmying witch wearing a skimpy, spangled Las Vegas showgirl outfit. The whole thing is as silly as it sounds.

I watched Suicide Squad with Alessandra. I suppose I should clarify and say that we hate-watched it. We knew it would stink like a heap of dead sewer rats - New York City-sized ones at that - but even we connoisseurs of crap entertainment were frankly astonished by the sheer incompetence we saw on screen.  The basic premise - getting a bunch of convicted, imprisoned criminals to carry out dangerous government missions - isn't bad in itself, but the execution was shockingly shoddy.  From an entire phalanx of characters we don't care about at all to a plot that - as Alessandra said - isn't even a plot, so much is wrong with the movie that my head is spinning. In fact, let me make it easier on us all. There are 2 - and only 2 - good things about this movie, and they are Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (though her exaggerated accent started to grate as time went on). Everybody and everything else is a complete failure. Of those crashing ruins, Jared Leto's Joker just might be the worst offender of all. The less said about him, the better. He is to this movie what Jesse Eisenberg's Luthor was to Batman v. Superman.

What the hell is wrong with DC Comics?  No, wait, don't answer that.  I haven't got the time or the inclination for a dissertation, though I suspect that a big part of it can be summed up in 2 words: Zack Snyder, the Michael Bay of comic book movies.

Look, this review is turning into a rambling, incoherent rant, and it's not even an entertaining one. Here's a better:


Mad Minerva gives Suicide Squad a grade of D- because it's somehow even worse than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that I savaged.  


RottenTomatoes gives Suicide Squad the miserable Rotten rating of 26%.

Suicide Squad runs 123 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, some language, suggestive content, and total narrative idiocy.

Concluding Thought 1: I have to say too: I am now completely pessimistic about this summer's Wonder Woman movie. DC is going to screw it up. They're going to screw up one of the best comic book characters in existence.

Concluding Thought 2: Go watch 1967's The Dirty Dozen instead. That film's a classic, and the cast is full of stars. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Evil Plan That Backfired: China Fears Baby Bust

Disastrous. So now Beijing is begging women to have babies. Who could have guessed that its cruel one-child policy of social engineering would have resulted in chaos, misery, human rights abuses, and now a feared "demographic time bomb"?  Who indeed, except anybody with any sense at all.

Meet LA's Chinese American Gun Owners

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting report.

You may remember the experience of some Korean Americans in LA some time ago.

Start Off 2017 Right

With some delicious breakfast/brunch/"any time you can finally face being awake and upright" items, of course!

As for me, I'm on my third coffee of the morning ...

Free Speech and Academic Freedom

Some thoughts before the spring semester starts!

Two Law Professors Watch "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

Professors of law are among the hordes who have stampeded to the movie theaters this holiday season for their Star Wars fix. You may find their ruminations of some interest: law prof the first and law prof the second.

As for me ... No, I haven't gone yet. No, and however heretical this may sound to some people, I'm not all rarin' to go either. It feels like an obligation. I'm thinking that I'd rather go see La La Land, actually, because the combination of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was so charming in 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love.

But! As long as we're on the topic of Star Wars (I've always been more of a Trekkie myself), take a look at this fan's detailed obituary of Leia Organa. Not Carrie Fisher, mind you. Leia Organa.