Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life Imitates Satire: Move Gitmo's Enemy Combatants To . . .

Is it real? Is it satire? It's certainly awesome.

PS: It's real. Humor can indeed make a point better, as the bill skewers its target with a jest.

Film Culture Commentary: Kyle Smith on Batman (and Spiderman)

Kyle Smith, a film critic who's always worth reading, has an interesting article on "The Dark Knight" in the context of current events.

Digression: Smith also talks about why the new Batman is so much more compelling than "Spider-Man 2," which he criticizes as being a boring flick. And for that, I just wanted to say . . . "Thank you, Kyle!" That makes me feel less alone, because when "Spider-Man 2" came out a few years ago to great fanfare, rave reviews, and 93% at RottenTomatoes, I felt like the only critic who hated it. (FYI, that review is on my archived old blog, so you can't comment there anymore. Please comment on this post instead.)

Satire Alert: Al Gore Places Infant Son In Rocket to Escape Dying Planet

Via an email from the Cine-Sib, here is the latest satire from the wits at The Onion. Hilarious!

(Or, to give you both a catchphrase from the Manolo and a nod to the comics, the satire is "Superfantastic!")

MM in the Kitchen: Delightful Dumplings -- Pan-Fried Pork and Shrimp Potstickers; Xiao Long Bao

Summertime has inspired me to cook more! Plus, I am in love with the kitchen in my new flat. I think I'll start posting recipes from time to time. (The new tag "MM in the Kitchen" basically means "hey, this is good stuff that I actually make.")

We'll start with an item that I can't get enough of: dumplings. Dumplings in their infinite variety. Take a look at these glorious recipes, complete with fantastic (almost artistic) photos and practical advice.

Try the pan-fried pork and shrimp potstickers or, a particular favorite of the Cine-Sib, steamed xiao long bao. It's a foodgasm, as the saucy cooking blogress there describes it!

Note: the xiao long bao do require "specialist equipment" for best results: bamboo steamers.

So, Cine-Sib, here are dumprings -- I mean, dumplings -- for you. (Maybe next time, flied lice -- er, fried rice.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Japanese Parents Play Matchmaker for Unmarried Adult Children

Oh, dear.

Nerd Notes and Great Moments in Research: Professors Study Comic Books

Professional scholars are now taking comic books seriously. This should be interesting!

Holy tenure-winning monograph, Batman!

Coffee + Clover = Heaven?

(This is for you fans and friends of Satan Coffee, and you know who you are -- *cough* Il Barista, La Parisienne, and charming lurker Noli Me Tangere! *cough* Now go make me a no-whip tall mocha frappuccino, stat!)

Meet what might be coffee nirvana in the shape of the apparent Holy Grail of coffee makers, the Clover machine. Alas, coffee nirvana comes with a price tag of $11,000. And is the coffee really that much better?

Anyway, CPD and I had talked about this shiny new Clover contraption before -- and about making an actual coffee pilgrimage to a cafe that has one. I am so not kidding. If I find a coffeehouse within a decent distance that has a Clover, I just GOTTA try it once (though I know it'll cost more than the average cup of joe: the CPD did warn me that one place in New York sells its Clover-created brew-of-the-gods for something crazy like $7 a cup. Say WHAT?).

For those of us who can't drop $11,000 but want a nice coffee-making gizmo? Both my friends Ladybird (a fellow coffee fiend) and Foxtrot (a tea fan) love their Keurig machines. I can't afford that (what young nerd can?), but I can do a nice French press.

Hmmm. All this talk of coffee . . . I'm off to that Boston-born East Coast favorite, Dunkin Donuts. (Sorry, Il Barista.)

Beijing Olympic Watch: Massive Internet Surveillance at Hotels?

Ge-Ge is watching! According to US senator Sam Brownback, Chinese authorities will be invasively monitoring Internet access at major hotels, so you better be careful if you are a guest.

This isn't a surprise, folks: Chinese censorship, Internet and otherwise, is a fact.

Celebrity Silliness: Zhang Ziyi Doesn't Understand Complaints About China's Human Rights Abuses

Well, celebrity silliness isn't only a Western phenomenon, as actress Zhang Ziyi just said she doesn't understand why some people are protesting China's human rights record. Really?

(Here's a clue, Miss Zhang: because China's human rights record stinks.)

News blurb:
Zhang Ziyi has told Vogue magazine that she is puzzled by the protests against China's human rights record before the Beijing Olympics.

Activists have criticized China's rule in Tibet and its alleged failure to do more to help stop mass killings in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Protests marred several international legs of the Olympic torch relay.

The actress served as a torch bearer for the Chinese leg of the relay.

"I don't see why people are so negative. The games are about friendship," Zhang was quoted as saying in the current issue of Vogue. "I'm Chinese and I'm proud of my country."

She doesn't see why "people are so negative"? As if protesting China's substantively inhuman actions in Tibet and Darfur were somehow the equivalent of being a spoilsport -- or a rude guest who puts a damper on a polite dinner party. Frankly, I never liked Zhang Ziyi before, and now I like her even less. Whatever, girl. Go and be the pretty face of Beijing propaganda to the rest of the world if you want. I'm not impressed.

Geek News: The Fastest Internet Ever, Mate

(This post is dedicated to the Cine-Sib, whose love of entertainment is surpassed only by his love of cool tech!)

Here is a geek-tastic development, courtesy of computer scientists from the University of Sydney, who have created a chip that increases Internet speed by 60 times the current top speed.

Awesome Aussies indeed!

Nerd Notes: Meet Professor Obama

Some years ago, Senator Obama taught a few law classes at the University of Chicago.

The New York Times politics blog has unearthed, collected, and linked to some of his class materials (including syllabi, assignments, exams, and memos) from his "Racism and the Law" and constitutional law courses.

Take a look if you are so inclined, and peek into Professor Obama's classroom.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Film Culture Commentary: The Ladies, the Critics, and the Ladies Who Are Critics

This seems to be the summer of our discontent, at least in terms of gender-based complaints and hand-wringing over the male, the female, and the cinema. I'm starting to get tired of this theme. Why do I keep on, then? Because I feel the need to be a dissenting female voice in the big roar of other female voices whining about as though they whine on behalf of all women. So I dissent, or at least try to point out some considerations.

It all started on this blog, you'll recall, with this (on the lack of female leads in summer flicks), and recently I linked to this (a survey of opinions from some female film critics).

Now this post at a Variety blog takes on the idea of the upcoming film"Twilight" as some kind of fault line between female filmgoers and male film critics. Here is a quote:
And the coverage that movies with femme appeal do get from male critics is not the necessarily as positive or understanding as that from female critics. Mamma, Mia! and Sex in the City would be recent examples. Why would a guy particularly engage with a romantic comedy like 27 Dresses? Professional film critics will argue that it is their job to know how to review such a movie. Let's put it this way. Some men are better able to adopt the female POV, and tap into their femme side, than others. Many men are not trained to do see things from the perspective of the opposite sex. All women are.
Frankly, I'm not entirely convinced. There's plenty of overstatement in this. And quite a bit of tarring nearly all male film critics with the same brush.

Her's another thought: maybe it's possible to look at a movie without the blinders of gender alone. Is it possible to consider a movie as an artistic whole? Suppose a male critic trashes a "female movie." Do we say, ah ha! He did this because he's a man and doesn't understand a girl movie? But what if then a woman critic trashes the same movie? Is she a "gender traitor"? OR MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, IS THAT MOVIE A BAD MOVIE?

I still want to know what the writer, and people like her, think about girls like my friends and me, the ladies who don't like "female movies." I'm practically waiting for some wild-eyed femi-zealot to call me a "gender traitor." But I have to be honest, and I have to be true to myself. I would rather watch Michael Bay blow stuff up than watch still another limp, predictable romantic comedy. (Though, if I were forced at gunpoint to pick and watch a modern rom-com, I'd pick 1997's "My Best Friend's Wedding" because it's a bit different. I'd much rather have Jane Austen, who isn't modern rom-com because her material actually has some wit and style.)

I also have a thought about the whole "not enough movies for women" idea. Just because you make such supposedly female-friendly films doesn't automatically mean that millions of female film fans will flock to those films. Just look at supposedly female-friendly TV channels like "Oxygen" or "Lifetime." I personally never watch them, and I think I'd rather watch paint dry. (Or better yet, pop in a DVD of "Battlestar Galactica"...)

Oh, sometimes I do watch a gender-targeted channel, though. And it's the guy-centered "Spike TV" because it has lots of reruns of shows I enjoy, such as "CSI" and Star Trek," along with action movies and -- recently -- plenty of James Bond films.

Final random thought: are "guy movies" really so lacking in female appeal? Is it true , as the writer opines, "That's one reason why today's movies are so geared toward men, while women starve for material aimed at them. Women are accustomed to going along and accepting slim pickings in pictures by and about men"?

That's right : women are just poor dumb movie sheep! Women are just resigned to their sorry fate at the cinema! But isn't this just a little too sweeping a statement?

Is it so incomprehensible that, for instance, the spectacle of a male heroic lead can be attractive to the ladies as well to the men? I'm reminded of an interview with Lena Headey when she was promoting her film "300." The interviewer asked her why women should go see this action film (I saw it and loved it, by the way, and own the DVD). Lena looked right into the camera and said with a grin, "Ladies -- 300 naked guys." With fabulous physiques. (And no, that wasn't why I went to see the film.)

Well, OK, playful lasciviousness aside, is it so odd that a girl might watch and even enjoy "300" or another "guy movie"? (For example, this or this.) And "300" also has a strong female role, Lena Headey as the formidable Spartan queen -- a wife and mother who can also kick butt in her own right. She's worth a hundred neurotic rom-com starlets who fret about phone calls and clothes.

I'm going to go right on cheerfully going to the cinema to see the films that I personally want to see -- and if they happen to be "guy movies," then let the femi-zealots howl because I'll do what I please as an independent girl. I'm probably going to see "The Dark Knight" again, I'm definitely going to see the third Mummy film (with Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, and -- "cool woman alert! my heroine!" -- Michelle Yeoh), and I can't wait for "Tropic Thunder" to bring the summer movie season to a roaring conclusion with some high-energy action-comedy.

Film Culture Commentary: No Room for Heroes?

Is there room for heroes nowadays in the theater? And how can I say this when the cinema marquee has been jammed with title after title advertising superhero films? I'm talking about content, I suppose.

Here is a thought-provoking statement by a British film critic who comments in his Batman review:
The cinema is awash with comic-book superheroes - but none of them is truly heroic. Heroes, in our egalitarian age, no longer embody the dream of the superior individual who is greater than humanity; nowadays, superheroes must be as flawed and screwed up as we are. They drink too much (Hancock), have anger issues (the Incredible Hulk) and are self-obsessed (Iron Man). Things have come to such a sorry state that, as we shall see, even Batman (Christian Bale) is not allowed to be the hero of his own movie.
I highlighted the bit that caught my attention. Interesting! And timely too. Check out Disney/Pixar's "The Incredibles," which has an excellent embedded theme about this. "Everybody's special. That means nobody is."

Decades before this, the great C.S.Lewis, commenting on academia, said that the day was coming when the mediocre would tear down the excellent for daring to be excellent -- and that the excellent would start tearing themselves down so they could be mediocre like everybody else.

Now on the business of heroic superheroes, there is a related issue of making these characters human, relatable, multi-dimensional, and nuanced . . . but this isn't the same as the point about making heroes less heroic.

Pretty soon, the villains will be the ones who get all the attention, the more wicked and monstrous the better and more fascinating -- oh, wait, that's already happened. In the theater. But we should all rue the day when it happens in real life. Oh, wait, that's already happened too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pop Culture Lexicon: "Nuke the Fridge"

Pop culture has a way of zeroing in on the ridiculous and codifying it in current lingo. How do you describe something so utterly ludicrous in film or TV that you know the source has become irremediably silly?

The original was "jump the shark" from TV's "Happy Days."

Now we have "nuke the fridge" from this summer's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

(Related pop phrase for nutty personal behavior: the Tom Cruise-Oprah-inspired "jump the couch.")

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quirky Euro-Asia Files: Back in the USSR Kitchen -- Russian Nostalgia for Soviet-Era Food

This comes as a little surprise to me, as I was unaware that the Soviets had food worth eating. (/sarcasm)

Here's the blurb:

Gastronom No 1, best known for its luxury champagnes and caviar, has opened up a new line catering to Soviet-era nostalgia.

Inside a grand Tsarist-era shopping arcade on Red Square, its spotless food hall has added a range of soggy, Soviet-era stodge to the more refined delicacies of the capitalist world.

. . . "People want to remember the good times, with good friends - a time when the grass was greener and the sun was shinier," said Albert Popkov, the wealthy founder of Odnoklassniki, a social networking site that is Russia's answer to Facebook.

He has visited the shop, but has so far failed to find the product he misses most from his youth on Russia's Far Eastern island of Sakhalin - a kind of chocolate butter that he hasn't seen since 1991.

Instead the shop is decorated with pyramids of sweetened condensed milk and tins of pork stew, in the simple packaging that denoted Russia's products before the arrival of capitalist glitz and glamour.

"Most products in Soviet times weren't really delicious – it's more like nostalgia," said Ilya Brodsky, 30.

He said he likes the look of goods that remind him of simpler times.

. . . Visitors can buy half a litre of unbranded Soviet-style vinegar for the equivalent of 50p - or look two shelves up and grab a bottle of Italy's finest balsamic, at £52 for 100ml.

As if "capitalist glitz and glamour" were a bad thing? Nope, I'm an unashamed capitalist pig and free market, low-tax evildoer. Look, the entire idea that you can now CHOOSE whether to buy Soviet-era stuff or not is a step forward from the days when you had no choice, when you had to wait in endless lines for poor-quality stuff from almost-empty shelves. Or starved entirely under Communist power. I retain no positive feelings for the old USSR or its wretched ideology that belongs in the dustbin of history. Losing is chic these days, I guess.

Also, does anybody else find it amusing that the luxury food shop with the Soviet food is housed in a grand Tsarist-era building? That's three entirely different visions of Mother Russia under just one roof. Well, nobody ever said Russia was easy to grasp.

Anyway, this whole news story is an odd little combination of food, communist/Soviet chic, a Russian sort of Ostalgie, and the idea that it's easier to wax nostalgic and reminisce fondly about the "good old communist days" if you are no longer living in an oppressive totalitarian communist society and therefore don't have to live also with the daily terrors and miseries of that system.

Notice also which kind of Russians are now buying Soviet-era nostalgia-food. RICH Russians. Wealthy Russians who have become financially successful in the post-Soviet era. Gee, this is like Marie Antoinette pretending to be a milkmaid in the backyard of her palace. Only the rich think poverty is romantic. I am serious! I'll also paraphrase Mae West: I've been poor, and I've been rich. Rich is better. Girl, you can say that again.

Random personal note: the whole thing about communist-era food makes me think of that great plotline in the delightful German film "Goodbye Lenin" -- the frantic search for GDR-era Mokka Fix Gold.

Mini Foreign Movie Review: "Mongol"

Temujin prepares to unleash some 12th-century wrath of Khan

I'm trying something new here on the blog -- inserting a category just for foreign films in my film-centered posts. This is the inaugural entry. I've spent a lot of time enjoying and sharing American movies on this blog this summer; let's broaden our horizons a little and try some foreign flicks too, shall we?

Last night the Cine-Sib (who is here for a visit, hooray!) and I went to a screening of the well-reviewed film "Mongol" by Russian director Sergei Bodrov (nominated for the foreign film Oscar, winner of numerous other film prizes, and rated 88% at Rotten Tomatoes). It was an interesting and beautiful attempt to portray Genghis Khan before he was Genghis Khan -- when he was first a child and then the nobody named Temujin.

Nerd Note: A long, looooooong time ago, I had to write a paper on the early years of Genghis for a seminar in Chinese history, so I was happy to see a film on the subject -- if only because it brought a little cinematic flair and color to the evil memories of haunting the library.

Geek Note: Yes, Trek fans, the Cine-Sib could not resist yelling "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!"

I'm a hurry today, so here are a few scattered thoughts and a tiny review of "Mongol" in haiku -- an idea I have shamelessly lifted from better haiku poets than I, the Cine-Sib and Christian Toto.
  • Cine-Sib and I both thought the movie was often slow and plodding; at one point I had to elbow him to wake him up (!). The total run time is 126 minutes, but sometimes it felt very long.
  • There weren't as many battle scenes as I thought there would be, though the film is still ared R for bloody violence and the final action sequence is eye-poppingly fantastic. The Cine-Sib commented approvingly it's the equal of battle scenes in "Braveheart."
  • Lead actor Tadanobu Asano (he is Japanese) does a great job embodying Temujin. Same for the Chinese actor Honglei Sun, who plays the warlord Jamukha.
  • Gorgeous sweeping panoramas of the steppes and mountains of central Asia make up a sustained pattern of excellent cinematography. The landscapes are one of the best features of the film, capturing some small hint of the harsh life of Mongolian nomadic tribes. (Plus I had a chance to explain to the Sibling what a yurt is!)
  • Production values are sky-high, and the film is polished, detailed, and very evocative.
  • This is a huge international effort, including the Russian director, Chinese and Japanese actors, locations in Kazakhstan, and the use of the Mongolian language throughout the film (yes, there are English subtitles). There's a smile-inducing bit in the film when Temujin cheerfully tells his son that everyone should learn Mongolian because it's such a beautiful language; it seems like a self-referential moment too. I admit I'd never really heard much Mongolian before, and it's very intriguing.
  • I won't bother you with nerdy babbling about historical revisionism, romanticizing Genghis Khan, and such. This movie is a work of art and entertainment. Try to enjoy it as such. We actually don't have a lot of solid evidence for the earliest years of Temujin anyway. And we can argue later about the man who conquered huge swathes of central Asia with the edge of his bloody sword, created the Mongolian empire, and became a figure who terrified his enemies from China to the Black Sea.
  • Here is the promised haiku:
Epic biopic
Genghis Khan rides to conquer

Learn Mongolian.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shakespeare and Cinema: 30 Best Movie Adaptations of the Bard

Have a look at two of my favorite things (Shakespeare and cinema) now put together! Rotten Tomatoes has a countdown of the 30 best film adaptations of the Bard's plays. The rankings are subjective, of course, and some are odd, but do take a look!

I'll let you guess which ones I like, which I loathe, which I didn't care about, and which I own on DVD. (Two on the list were so awful in their own way that I never finished watching them. Several are so delightful that I play them often while I'm studying.)

Theater and film are such different things that any attempt to bridge the two is bound to be an interesting challenge.

I should add too that the creative adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew" for the TV series "Moonlighting" doesn't count as cinema, really, but it's delightful all the same. Come on, Bruce Willis as Petruchio and Cybill Shepherd as Katherina!

PS: Also check out the Hamlet digression in the 1997 oddball comedy "Two Girls and a Guy."

UPDATE: The Times of London has an interesting look at the history of Shakespeare on screen.

Beijing Olympic Watch: Taiwan and "Anything Other Name"

The Beijing Games start in only a few days. Welcome to the latest round of what to call the Taiwanese team. The latest flap: Zhonghua Taipei or Zhongguo Taipei? The View from Taiwan blog has the story and news link.

The name game has always infuriated me. It basically attempts to efface Taiwan by slapping on a spurious label -- and now, spurious labels, plural. What, you can't even settle on a name for the island? How about not holding to previous agreements about naming? How is this not rather demeaning? I say scrap it all and call Taiwan (here's a novel idea) "Taiwan," which is certainly more accurate and includes the entire island, not just the capital city.

Besides, Beijing has always used names as way to mess with Taiwan on the international stage. What's in a name? Plenty, actually.

The IHT has more.

Satire Alert: Tired of McCain and Obama? Try Someone New!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: Japan -- Acupuncture on Tuna For Better Sushi

This goofy story could only from that quirkiest of all the Asian nations, Japan.

But does the fish really taste better? Because if it does . . .

Friday Fun Video: Iron Man and Batman Hype

Ah, yes, Batmania is sweeping the nation. If you haven't seen the flick yet, I do recommend it.

I also recommend that you keep a sense of humor about Batmania too. Remember the playful Batman-Iron Man videos I posted before? Here is a new one, with Iron Man reacting to the ludicrous amount of Batman hype.


Satire Alert: the Gospel Account of Obamessiah

Leave it to a witty Brit to compose this delightful political satire and parody of the media's fawning over Obama as he takes his international tour. (via Ninme.)

Here's a blurb. Do read the whole thing.

And this is the testimony of one who speaks the truth and bears witness to the truth so that you might believe. And he knows it is the truth for he saw it all on CNN and the BBC and in the pages of The New York Times.

Then the Child ventured forth from Israel and Palestine and stepped onto the shores of the Old Continent. In the land of Queen Angela of Merkel, vast multitudes gathered to hear his voice, and he preached to them at length.

. . . Thence he travelled west to Mount Sarkozy. Even the beauteous Princess Carla of the tribe of the Bruni was struck by awe and she was great in love with the Child, but he was tempted not.

On the Seventh Day he walked across the Channel of the Angles to the ancient land of the hooligans. There he was welcomed with open arms by the once great prophet Blair and his successor, Gordon the Leper, and his successor, David the Golden One.

And suddenly, with the men appeared the archangel Gabriel and the whole host of the heavenly choir, ranks of cherubim and seraphim, all praising God and singing: “Yes, We Can."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Geek News: Harvesting Solar Energy -- From Space?

Here is a fascinating if science-fiction-y idea from a former manager of NASA experiments. Blurb:
A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the Earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather, low angles of the sun in northern climes and, of course, the darkness of night.

. . . In terms of cost effectiveness, the two stumbling blocks for space solar power have been the expense of launching the collectors and the efficiency of their solar cells. Fortunately, the recent development of thinner, lighter and much higher efficiency solar cells promises to make sending them into space less expensive and return of energy much greater. Much of the progress has come in the private sector. Companies like Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences, working in conjunction with NASA’s public-private Commercial Orbital Transportation Services initiative, have been developing the capacity for very low cost launchings to the International Space Station. This same technology could be adapted to sending up a solar power satellite system.

I also love the fact that "much of the progress has come in the private sector." Yes, please -- turn the private sector and all its R&D nerds and geeks loose! And keep government out of it as much as possible.

As for the idea of space solar harvesting . . . is this nonsense or nerdgasmarrific? It's certainly a thought worth exploring!

Nerd Notes: On this day in 1911, the discovery of Machu Picchu

Who did it? Yale professor Hiram Bingham. Well, actually, he probably wasn't the first European to see this lost city of the Incas in Peru, but he was the first to conduct excavations, explore the site in detail, and also to publicize it.

Nerd kudos, Professor Bingham.

Goodness, I'd love to go see it myself someday!

Still, my favorite archaeology-discovery story is probably that eccentric Heinrich Schliemann and his mad quest for (and discovery of!) a historical Troy . . . or the 1922 discovery of King Tut's tomb by Howard Carter. You?

*Insert Indiana Jones-type fantasies of nerdness during the school year and high adventures in exotic locations during the summer holidays . . . Ahhhhhhhh . . .* (Yes, I'm back in the Library of Doom as I type, and I'm not too happy about it! Maybe I'll just go and buy a pith helmet.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight"

"The Dark Knight" or, "A Very Long Derangement"
(with apologies to
Audrey Tautou)

After raking in the record-breaking number of $158 million during its opening weekend, “The Dark Knight” has burst into theaters nationwide and taken them by storm. I was among the enthusiastic throngs on opening day, though the Cine-Sib beat me to the theater (touché). So did the Batman sequel live up to the ludicrous amount of pre-release hype, hoopla, and hullabaloo? Sort of – more yes than no, but not yes entirely. Buckle in for a big fat nerd review and commentary.

I initially walked out of the theater with a lukewarm response. The film is not a “feel-good” film, and its ending is wrapped in grim shadows both physical and metaphorical. The content of the movie, compounded with its length of two and a half hours, made me tired both physically and mentally. The thing is, in places, a grim grind that’s excruciating if not outright oppressive. I should also tell you right now that this movie should be rated R for relentless graphic violence. There were moments when I wondered if director Chris Nolan was trying to be as gruesome as possible for the sake of being as gruesome as possible, and he wouldn’t be the first moviemaker to mistake butchery for profundity. This is NOT a movie for children or the faint of heart. This is not a movie for those wanting a little playful adventure. This is a movie for grownups—grownups who can stand being rattled. Murder, mutilation, maiming, madness – they’re all on the menu. Add a bleak color palette and interior settings that are deliberately cold and impersonal, and you have a movie that shuns comfort on purpose. It’s consciously unsettling. (The best example could be the Wayne penthouse. Though it’s home for Bruce Wayne, it’s as cold as a furniture catalog, and to reinforce the idea that there is no rest or comfort to be had for anybody, Alfred finds the bed unslept in. On top of that, it’s said to be the safest place in the city, but it proves not to be . . . in spectacular fashion.) The entire movie is like this.

Still, the more I thought about the movie – as opposed to feeling about it – the more I appreciated its finer points. There is still much I don’t like about it, and I’m not going to gush, “Oscars for everybody – This is the best movie EVER!” because I honestly don’t think it is. It’s not a flawless masterpiece, it’s not the fanboy-hailed pinnacle of cinema, and it’s not significantly better than “Batman Begins.” But “The Dark Knight” is a movie that’s worth your while. It’s not a “fun” film, but it has some interesting things to say as it turns the comic book movie into a taut, gritty urban psychological thriller. (As for the urban part, I’d always thought Gotham was a fantasy-fiction version of New York, but here Gotham looks a lot like Chicago… “Chicagotham”?)

The film ostensibly revolves on the pivot of Batman-versus-Joker, but it depends on its ensemble cast as a whole. Nearly all the core characters from 2005’s “Batman Begins” reprise their roles (the happy exception is the replacement of Katie Holmes by Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes). Reliable veteran actors Morgan Freeman (equipment master Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (police lieutenant Gordon) and Michael Caine (butler Alfred Pennyworth) are all impeccable, and I wished that they had more to do. Even so, Alfred plays a subtly critical role, and once more I thank the theater gods that Michael Caine was cast to play him. Oldman has a bit more screen time and a plot twist; his understated performance is both delicately nuanced and robustly fleshed out: Gordon is a fully rounded character.

As for the principles: Christian Bale (elegantly dashing as Bruce Wayne in his billionaire-playboy persona, broodingly morose under his Batman cowl) returns as the complex Bruce/Batman figure, though I did find his affected Batman voice, a grating, guttural growl, to be distracting after a while. Is he talking or coughing up hairballs? Somebody give the man a drink of water, please! Aaron Eckhart’s crime-fighting district attorney Harvey Dent is a man as charismatic and likeable to the public as Batman is frightening and even alienating. This dichotomy, and the complicated relationship between Dent and Wayne/Batman, becomes crucial as a consequence of the most talked-about character in the film: the Joker (remarkably portrayed by the late Heath Ledger), the demonic madman who redefines the comic book villain as a nightmarish embodiment of deep human fears. At one point he openly declares, “I am an agent of chaos,” and his lack of a back story (even when he explains his mutilated face, he spins a different tale every time) makes him much archetype as criminal. His increasingly nauseating clown-mask of smeared, oozing greasepaint reflects his crazy desire to plunge the world into madness—and laugh at the mayhem. The Joker pushes the limits of humanity, and he’s like a bipedal gila monster, a disgusting, venomous, yet weirdly mesmerizing creature right down to the reptilian flicking tongue. What humor there is in him (and there is) is born from a sick, creative malevolence: you’ll never look at a nurse’s uniform or a pencil the same way again.

The Joker, seen in counterpoint both with Dent and Batman, opens the film’s wider discussion of human evil and the fighting of it. I’ll just skim over some thoughts, because the Cine-Sib’s already laughing at me for being too nerdy in analysis:

~Different kinds of evil. Eric Roberts and his mobsters form one kind, the kind that the Gotham authorities (and even Batman) is used to fighting. As brutal and dangerous as they are, they nevertheless have a certain predictability and basis of rational behavior. They and the authorities live in the same world. The Joker doesn’t behave in the same way; he brings panic, disorder, and death even to other criminals. He lives in his own lunatic universe. The unmistakable corollary is the idea that you can’t handle the Joker in the same way that you handle reasonable criminals.

~Motivation. We could indulge in endless speculation and psychoanalysis about the Joker and why he does what he does (should we put him in therapy? should we throw him in Arkham Asylum and throw away the key? is he evil or just misunderstood?)…but in the end, he’s inscrutable and largely incomprehensible – which makes him all the more terrifying. On the other hand, note Dent’s drive to clean up Gotham and Batman’s own complicated reasons. What makes Bruce Wayne tick?

~Escalation and fighting back. This idea appeared at the end of “Batman Begins”: what happens when you fight back against the criminal? When he retaliates? (Still, the whole thing may be best worded by Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” – Film fans, you know what I’m talking about). I also suppose that some people regard the prospect of escalation and the fear of blowback as reasons not to fight back forcefully. So then what? Not fight back at all? That makes even less sense.

The argument that Batman somehow “created” the Joker doesn’t convince me; the Joker focuses his malignance on Batman out of a twisted fascination with him (watch for a famous romantic movie line reworked as creepy fixation), but Batman did not “make” the Joker, only serve as lightning rod for his rage. And if Batman does not fight the Joker, who effectively can even if Batman is criticized and even demonized for fighting back? (digression: hm, this seems to have a certain geopolitical resonance these days). The Joker claims he will stop his murderous spree once he has Batman’s identity (and therefore Batman himself). For a nanosecond, this might sound like a solution, but it’s actually desperate appeasement, and you’d be a fool to believe that someone as deranged as the Joker will keep his word. Besides, if Batman is out of the picture, who will stand against the Joker then? What’s to stop the demon clown from holding bloody unchallenged sway over all Gotham, killing whimsically whenever he pleases?

Meanwhile, the Joker’s campaign of terror (because that’s exactly what it is, and it’s designed to crush Gotham) rolls on, complete with abducted civilians and videotapes. Eventually, this rattles even Bruce Wayne, who has a stunning scene with Alfred. (Spoiler alert until the end of this paragraph.) The pressure is on, and the Joker-caused body count is mounting even as Batman is trying to defend Gotham; public opinion has turned ugly, and Batman himself is weary and discouraged. “What can I do?” he asks Alfred. Is this flash of personal pain meant as a rhetorical question? Is Wayne actually contemplating, even for a moment, the idea of giving in? Alfred’s quiet, eloquent answer is one of the pivotal lines in the movie. What can you do? “Endure,” Alfred says simply. In that scene, he went from proper, starchy British butler to flat-out, awesome, breathtaking hero in his own right. That line is worth ten action sequences.

~Best line of the movie with implications about the limits of soft power: “We burned the forest down.” I’ll leave it at that. Let the Greenies howl if they want to, but this line’s worth another ten action sequences, even if they involve overturning 18-wheelers in all the cinematic sound and fury Nolan can muster.

~The Individual. Think on this: the Joker and Batman wage their own personal, titanic struggle. But the Joker’s acts reverberate on a small individual scale also: he insists that if normal, civilized people are pushed hard enough, “they’ll eat each other – I’ll show you.” The struggle between right and wrong isn’t only about superheroes and supervillains; it’s also about normal, flawed people’s choices and decisions. Take a look at the (I confess) awesome scene of two ferries and one convict’s solution.

~The Unheroic Hero. One of the very good features of the movie is that it portrays the struggle against the Joker’s nihilistic chaos as a dirty, messy, grim business – and that’s a bit closer to reality. There’s Batman. In an ideal world, there’d be no Batman because Gotham wouldn’t need him. But it’s not an ideal world even if it’s a fictional one, and Batman exists even if some Gothamites turn against him. But that fact doesn’t negate the other fact that Batman is the hero that Gotham needs, even if he’s not the hero that it wants – or thinks it wants. Dent is the hero that Gotham wants, cheers, and loves, but this turns out to be . . . problematic.

(Spoiler alert until the end of this paragraph.) Batman in the final analysis fights on, and he chooses to do so even though he knows that he is shouldering not only the full misery of the fight but also the disregard, calumny, and even contempt of the people he’s trying to protect. There’s not only no fanfare; there’s actual antipathy. He could just walk away. He could just rebuild Wayne mansion, install a nice panic room (and stock it with champagne and supermodels), leave Gotham to its own devices, and call it a day as he holes up in his plush personal fortress. But there’s no isolationism in him; he chooses to carry on the fight. The idea of doing what’s right instead of what’s easy – of doing what’s right even if it’s hard and thankless and basically guaranteed to cause more personal pain . . . Now that’s pretty darn heroic, even if it’s also grim. It’s also a great meditation on actual heroism. At the same time, I found one related idea to be not just disturbing, but perverse: one either dies a hero or lives long enough to turn into a villain? What kind of total cynicism and moral debasement is THAT?

Overall, the film has many praiseworthy features, but my criticisms of “The Dark Knight” are not few, and some of the film’s flaws are significant. For one thing, the film isn't streamlined enough and so it's too long. A good half-hour or more could have been trimmed overall, and the final half-hour or so of the film feels like a drag. Nolan felt compelled to include things that were not crucial to the plot of this film, and even if those things had value in themselves, there should have been a harsher hand in choosing. Frankly, some of the length problem goes back to the violence. Perhaps these violent pleasures have violent ends, but if there's so much unrelenting brutality and outright sadism that the film beats the audience senseless, there's not much pleasure in that either.

In terms of the overlong story, I thought the entire Hong Kong digression was unnecessary. Yes, yes, it’s cool to see Batman flying over the HK cityscape, fighting HK mobsters, and confusing HK cops, but how much of this was strictly necessary? Also, for me, taking the story out of Gotham diluted it (the core is the struggle for and in GOTHAM), as well as inserted the idea that Nolan suffered from a bit of James Bond envy – and maybe Jet Li/Jackie Chan/Asian action flick envy too. Playing with genres is fine and good (crime drama, psychological thriller, comic book, etc.), but on this point, it didn’t work so well. The sheer “wow” factor of the flying Batman isn’t enough justification. And anyway the entire subplot of the Asian mob ties fizzles out in the end and doesn’t give the film a payoff worthy of all that investment.

I still have complaints about the Rachel Dawes character. Maggie Gyllenhaal is better than Katie Holmes (though this itself isn’t much of a recommendation), but the character itself seemed flat to me. Rachel is supposed to be virtually the one flash of life and color in grim Gotham; she’s supposed to be the woman beloved of Gotham’s most eligible bachelors, Dent and Wayne. Heck, Bruce is pinning on her his entire hope for a normal life in the future – shouldn’t she be a warm, engaging person? She isn’t, really, and there’s no chemistry with either of her admirers. She seems stronger here than in “Batman Begins,” but she lacks the spark that would make her character someone you really cared about – and this lack makes a later pivotal plot point seem less powerful. Look, you don’t have to have a huge part in order to show sparkle and personality even if technically you’re “only” the prerequisite comic book girl: just look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s delightfully understated yet punchy turn as Pepper Potts.

Cillian Murphy returns as the Scarecrow for a cameo, but he’s completely wasted. We’ve seen how effectively creepy the angular Murphy can be in “Batman Begins,” but his appearance here is a throwaway scene. It doesn’t play to his strengths at all, and in fact the scene itself is a muddled mess that doesn’t convey much other than give Bale a chance to quip about hockey pants while giving Nolan a chance to shoot an action-ish scene that looks like he shot it, threw it into a paper shredder, and then tried to put it back together again in the dark. Both the scene and cameo lack real punch and substance, and it shouldn’t have, not with the Scarecrow involved. I’ll tell you what it should have felt like: the opening sequence with its performance by the unnamed bank manager. (Also, brownie points if you can identify the excellent and ubiquitous character actor who played the banker. No fair IMDB'ing.)

Finally, I have to point out the Plot Hole So Big You Can Drive the Batmobile Through It. This is a SPOILER, so don’t read this paragraph if you haven’t seen the film. Nolan spent a lot of time and effort planning out the huge evening party that Wayne throws for Dent in the Wayne penthouse. When the Joker and his goons crash the party, I was excited and waiting for a huge action/narrative sequence and Batman-Joker throwdown, the first real encounter between these two. The Joker shows up in spectacular fashion with a pack of masked thugs, and Wayne slips off to don the Batsuit while the demon clown menaces the guests. When Batman appears, the Joker tosses Rachel Dawes out the window (after my previous complaint about her, I can’t say that I blame him), and I’m thinking, that’s a good start – Batman will save the girl and then crash back into the penthouse and rip into the Joker, and we’ll get a great action sequence. I was only half right. Batman does indeed hurl himself out the window to save Rachel, and it ends with the two of them atop a crumpled car that broke their fall. They heave a sign of relief . . . AND THEN THE SEQUENCE ABRUPTLY ENDS.

The next scene shows Alfred and Bruce alone in the sunlit penthouse at some later date! I was disoriented – and then absolutely livid. This was a cheat horribly like the finale of “The Sopranos.” Nolan has Batman save the girl, but he leaves the Joker, the guests, and his responsibility to the audience back at the top-floor party! What happened after Rachel and Batman go out the window? The Joker’s still back there! I’m sure the Joker didn’t just indulge in a few canapés, sip a flute of champagne, and then quietly leave. He had burst into the party proclaiming, “We’re tonight’s entertainment!” He would have at least left the premises memorably, wouldn’t he? Remember how he left his meeting with the mob bosses? Shades of Conrad’s bomb-clutching Anarchist all over that. But here, in a much more important scene, we get none of that kind of detail. Nolan seems to think that the only thing that matters is saving Rachel – forget about everything else! There’s ZERO FOLLOW-THROUGH HERE on the gatecrashing, knife-wielding Joker, the development of Harvey Dent (how does the DA respond to the Joker’s chaotic brand of evil? We don’t know here!), or the relationship between Dent and Wayne which was the ostensible reason for the party in the first place. Nolan built up the scene like a towering sculpture of artful cake, only to drop it on the floor and then fall face first into it. Shameful.

Still, in the end, there is a solid core to “The Dark Knight.” Take away all the cool tech, the explosions, and the hype, and that core remains. It’s rare to have a movie of any type these days that has a solid center – or any substance at all – so it’s a cause for enthusiastic viewing when one does appear, even if its flaws are many and obvious. Go see “The Dark Knight” – but prepare to be rattled, and prepare to do some thinking.

Mad Minerva gives this film a grade of B+. You can see the Cine-Sib's fanboy-happy review here also.

“The Dark Knight” runs for two and a half hours and is rated PG-13 for action, violence, and some frightening images. (It should be rated R, IMHO).

RottenTomatoes gives “The Dark Knight” the remarkable score of 95%.

UPDATE: Commenters Greg and Christian Toto have posted their own respective reviews. Do take a look.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nerd Journal: Moving House is a Headache, plus Batman Review Preview

Moving house right now. The Cine-Sib is coming to help. I can't wait to get into my lovely new apartment, though the entire moving process is always an expensive, exhausting business, no matter how much help you get!

I'm about to run out the door to buy more packing tape and to scrounge more boxes. (I just packed up all my DVDs -- and breathed a sigh of relief that the Nerd Lords won't ever see that collection. I'll get no points for gravitas -- or shall we say, nerditas? -- with my season boxes of Buffy and Angel and Farscape and Arrested Development and Firefly and Ally McBeal... all of which, BTW, I highly recommend!)

Golly, moving in the SUMMER is such a bad idea. What I really want is to do, instead of schlepping boxes, is run into the nearest Satan Coffee and find comfort in an enormous mocha frappuccino (no whipped cream, thanks!). Save me, Il Barista!

And yes, I know, I know, I promised Cine-Sib and everyone else a big fat "Dark Knight" review. It will be online by tonight or, at the latest, tomorrow morning. The short version? Go see this movie (enough people did over opening weekend for it to bank $158 million and smash all previous records), though beware that it really should be rated R for violence, violence, and did I say, violence -- some of it coming in creative but creepy forms. This is NOT FOR KIDS.

Here's a thought: who's creepier, Hannibal Lecter or Ledger's Joker?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Nerd News: Meet Cambridge University's Oldest PhD Recipient

Meet 91-year-old Michael Cobb, who is now the oldest person ever to complete a Cambridge University PhD.

Mr. Cobb's original PhD research consisted of an atlas of British railway stations between 1807 and 1994. Outstanding.

Euro Notes: EU Regulations Versus Peking Duck?

Delicious dinner or public health hazard?

I love Peking duck. Absolutely adore it. No fantastic special-occasion dinner is complete with it, and I rush off for a glutton-fest of duck whenever I can, special occasion or not. But can I do this if I'm in the UK and not in the US of A?

So, can this culinary desecration possibly be true? Here is an infuriating blurb about an EU ban of that splendid dish in the UK:

It is a firm favourite in Chinese restaurants the length and breadth of the country, but crispy Peking duck faces extinction at the hands of the European Union.

The traditional gas ovens used to cook the dish, which are made in China and imported into Britain, have fallen foul of Europe-wide regulations over carbon monoxide emissions.

Eleven restaurants have already had their ovens permanently closed by council environmental health officers in Westminster, London, and a further 39 have been issued with notices saying they must replace the ovens with models which meet the higher standards.

They face having to pay up to £4,000 for replacement appliances approved by gas watchdog Corgi, despite the fact that there have been no reported problems involving faulty ovens. [My emphasis -- DESPITE THE FACT THAT THERE HAVE BEEN NO REPORTED PROBLEMS!]

It is now feared that the move could be copied by local authorities across Britain, forcing the popular dish off the menu at thousands of restaurants and takeaways.

The ban has been condemned by celebrity chef Ken Hom, who said he was "livid" about the decision.

He said: "It's absurd. What do the Europeans know about making Chinese duck?..." [PREACH IT, KEN! -- MM]

The ovens are being switched off because they do not carry the CE (Conformité Européenne) mark which shows they adhere to rules set down by bureaucrats in Brussels.

It follows similar action carried out by the same council in 2005 when it targeted burners used on tables at Korean restaurants. It is also investigating traditional Indian TandoorCORR ovens.

Did you get that last bit? Do-gooder nanny government bureaucrats carrying on against Korean barbecues and Indian tandoori ovens? I insert a bit of satirical sarcasm: Hey, why does the EU hate ethnic Asian food?

Anyway -- Peking Duck. Cook it. Eat it. Fight the power. Time to gather your Chinese cookbooks into barricades and turn your woks into helmets. Hey, food police! You can have my Peking duck . . . when (come on, gentle readers, you know when!) when you (all together now) pry it out of my cold, dead hand!

Fun Video of the Day: JibJab's "Time For Some Campaignin'"

Fabulous and funny without being mean, as nearly all the JibJab political satire musical cartoons are. Enjoy!

It's a Date with Tony Stark: "Iron Man" DVD Release Date is September 30

Dirty Harry has the news: "Iron Man" will be out on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 30. And you can pre-order your copy now on Amazon.

I am so *THERE.* September 30: it's a date, Tony Stark!

And I will be watching endless iterations of that glorious, geek-tastic scene when Stark learns to fly in his garage. Endless iterations.

(Goodness knows I need something to look forward to, since September is that dreaded time of year for students and teachers alike: the start of another semester!)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movie Review: the Cine-Sib Reviews "The Dark Knight"

The Cinema-Mad Sibling saw "The Dark Knight" last night at a midnight showing (he didn't finish until nearly 3 AM), and he has just now emailed me his review. I'm seeing the film tonight, so my own review will be online in the next few days. For now, though, you can enjoy the latest Cine-Sib review:

Bona fide spectacle of @$$-kickery.

Can a sequel be as good or even better than what it sprang from? Does it live up to the hype? Can Batman Begins even be topped? The answer is yes to all of the above. Chris Nolan has definitely outdone himself, crafting a movie worthy of being called a sequel. The Dark Knight raises the bar - it's not just bigger, badder with more explosions a la Michael Bay, but a solid, action-packed non-stop gritty crime thriller set in the Batman mythos, an all-around spectacular visceral experience.

The world is careening upside down. Police corruption is at the highest it's ever been. Crime is at an all time high. The mob controlling finances and owning people everywhere. Copycat Batman wannabe vigilantes appear, inspired by the original to try to make a difference. A new twisted villain in town wanting to bring a new type of criminal to the table and tired of the just petty thieves. He wants the identity of the Batman. Or people will die. Bruce wanting to have a normal life and not having to put on a mask in order to do good. The new D.A., Gotham's newest hope for cleanup, hitting the criminals hard and taking names. He's a new hope for Batman. Someone who could replace him and do everything on the right side of the law.

These are just some tidbits of the goings-on, but of course it is all more complex than this. The 2 hour 32 minute run-time zips past like half an hour, and not once did I doze off as I saw this movie at a 12:45 showing last night. No, the Icee really didn't do much for me. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman all are back, bringing the Caped Crusader back for his next adventure, after we saw Bruce Wayne become Batman in Batman Begins. This time, the challenges are definitely tougher, rougher, and he must endure it with his wit, skill, and tactics. With almost no one in the police force to trust, can you even make a small difference in this evil world? This grim potboiler is forged in the mold of your gritty crime thrillers of yesteryear and is uncompromising as it is unforgettable.

Whatever talks of nominating Heath Ledger for a posthumous Oscar, do it. He deserves it. The Joker is not your father's Joker. He makes Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson look like circus clowns. This Joker is definitely twisted but way more sinister than previous movie incarnations. And he has a really sick sense of humor. The other supporting character, Aaron Eckhart as DA Harvery Dent, lends believability to this character who we know is a villain, but is portrayed much differently as a man trying to do go in a den of evil, finally taking matters into his own hands. Rachel Dawes much more fits Maggie Gyllenhaal than Katie Holmes. Gary Oldman is always impressive as Gordon.

The action is ramped up several notches as we see Joker's onslaught on the city throughout the movie. Cinematography is excellent, dark and grim to match the tone. Hans Zimmer's score impresses as always, lending a brooding orchestral accompaniment. The around-the-world location shoots add to the grandeur of the movie. The Batpod? Way cool. The Lamborghini? Not subtle at all. Overall, a bravura directorial effort from Chris Nolan and team, creating an intense thriller that never ceases to let go of your attention, grabbing you for 2 and a half hours. The Dark Knight, easily the best sequel movie this summer. Why so serious?

PS: Here is an addendum. Over the phone, the Cine-Sib said that this is really Heath Ledger's movie, that he steals it from Christian Bale and turns in an excellent performance. Well, I can't wait to see this flick for myself tonight.

PS 2: Alessandra's comment on the Cine-Sib review: "So basically he's a gibbering fanboy?" Pretty much, yeah. :-)

Friday Fun Video: Aussie Humor -- Let's Invade New Zealand!

I first found the following delightful bits of Australian humor via a link from Ninme. A little exploration revealed some background, but what you really want are the actual videos promoting an Aussie invasion of New Zealand. Enjoy!

(OK, now before anybody rushes off to accuse me of being a blood-soaked, Kiwi-hating warmonger -- this is all a JOKE!)

Check out the large version of the tourism-ad parody here:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: Hello Kitty Virus Protection For Your Computer

Well, here's the latest: Hello Kitty antivirus software. Of course, it is an absolute necessity if your computer looks like this. My eyes! My eyes!!!

Nerd Notes: The Value of a Bachelor's Degree

Embedded in this story, which reads like a tear-jerker, is the basic truth of all degrees:

A degree . . . "isn't any big guarantee of employment, it's a basic requirement, a step you have to take to even be considered for many professional jobs."

Surprise! Not. It's obvious. A degree isn't a guarantee, and you'd be naive to think otherwise. There are no guarantees in life, PERIOD. (Well, except death and taxes.)

Of course, sensationalism is the rule in journalism these days, so the story is headlined with the alarmist yet mournful title of "The Declining Value of Your College Degree." (Got that? *YOUR* college degree! Hit that panic button right now!)

Admittedly, we could have a long and jolly argument about the quality of various degrees and degree-granting programs, but that's really another post.

On the other hand, Advice Goddess (also quoting Theodore Dalrymple) points out that a person doesn't necessarily need a college degree in order to be successful in life.

Brits Can Now Legally Defend Themselves Against Burglars and Muggers

Huh? The legal right to self-defense? Isn't this obvious? But apparently not.

Here is a news story that shouldn't be a news story. It should be common sense. Then again, this is the UK, where another approach seems current. Anyway, this is the news blurb now:

Home owners and “have-a go-heroes” have for the first time been given the legal right to defend themselves against burglars and muggers free from fear of prosecution.

They will be able to use force against criminals who break into their homes or attack them in the street without worrying that "heat of the moment” misjudgements could see them brought before the courts.

Under new laws police and prosecutors will have to assess a person’s actions based on the person’s situation "as they saw it at the time” even if in hindsight it could be seen as unreasonable.

For example, homeowners would be able stab or shoot a burglar if confronted or tackle them and use force to detain them until police arrive. Muggers could be legally punched and beaten in the street or have their own weapons used against them.

WELL, I SHOULD HOPE SO! Read the whole thing.

What really gets me is the sense of novelty in the writing. Wow, you mean law-abiding citizens can actually use force against scumbags who attack them? Well, golly! You mean that if some criminal breaks into my home, I can legally defend myself and my property? What a concept!

*MM hugs her Second Amendment.*

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Geek Fun: Gotham Meets Cybertron -- the Batmobile as Transformer

This awesome technophiliac mashup comes via (who else?) the Cinema-Mad Sibling.

Click and enjoy!

UPDATE: The Cine-Sib just emailed to demand that I link directly to the original site because its soundtrack is the theme from "Batman Begins." OK, here you go. Turn up your speakers, Bat-fans!

Commentary: A World Dominated by Russia or China?

Thomas Friedman has an interesting op-ed in today's New York Times. Blurb:

Maybe Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Africans don’t like a world of too much American power — “Mr. Big” got a little too big for them. But how would they like a world of too little American power? With America’s overextended military and overextended banks, that is the world into which we may be heading.

Welcome to a world of too much Russian and Chinese power.

I am neither a Russia-basher nor a China-basher. But there was something truly filthy about Russia’s and China’s vetoes of the American-led U.N. Security Council effort to impose targeted sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s ruling clique in Zimbabwe.

The U.S. put forward a simple Security Council resolution, calling for an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, the appointment of a U.N. mediator, plus travel and financial restrictions on the dictator Mugabe and 13 top military and government officials for stealing the Zimbabwe election and essentially mugging an entire country in broad daylight.

. . . Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, argued that the targeted sanctions that the U.S. and others wanted to impose on Mugabe’s clique exceeded the Security Council’s mandate. “We believe such practices to be illegitimate and dangerous,” he said, describing the resolution as one more obvious “attempt to take the Council beyond its charter prerogatives.” Veto!

Mugabe’s campaign of murder and intimidation didn’t strike Churkin as “illegitimate and dangerous” — only the U.N. resolution to bring a halt to it was “illegitimate and dangerous.” Shameful. Meanwhile, China is hosting the Olympics, a celebration of the human spirit, while defending Mugabe’s right to crush his own people’s spirit.

Indeed. Frankly, I don't think I want a Russia- or China-dominated world, and you'd be darn crazy if you thought it'd be a better place under the unchallenged sway of these two autocrats.

Great Moments in Higher Education: University Persecutes, Then Apologizes to a Student For...Reading a Book

The student janitor had been reading a history book about the Ku Klux Klan. The book was actually an account of anti-Klan behavior by some Notre Dame students in 1924.

But that doesn't matter! Somebody saw the book cover, complained to the edu-crats, and student Keith John Sampson found himself under fire for reading this history book. (Well, that itself is recommendation enough for me to go find, acquire, and read it too.) The school accused Sampson of racial harassment. Say WHAT?

The university has now apologized to the student. As well it should! This entire episode was disgraceful.

This quote from Sampson made me wince. Here he is, trying to explain why he had that book: "I have an interest in American history...I was trying to educate myself."

See, this is exactly the kind of interest and initiative that I encourage, but apparently nowadays it'll get you persecuted by the Politically Correct Admin Lords of Campus. No good deed goes unpunished.

Besides, the entire idea of a university persecuting a student for reading a book? It's just too Orwellian for words.

Nerd Notes: 100 Chicago Professors Versus Economics

Megan McArdle has the link. She calls the entire mess "a festival of willful misunderstanding" and says, "This from a University that has cultivated a reputation as one of the most intellectually rigorous campuses in the country. I'm tempted to weep."

The short version: over 100 University of Chicago professors sign a letter against Milton Friedman.

Well, OK, I'm not saying that everybody has to agree with Friedman's economics or whatever. But I find it crazy for a bunch of professors to oppose the establishment of the Milton Friedman Institute at Chicago because they personally don't like Friedman. Whatever happened to academic freedom or actual academic diversity of thought? Of course, look at the topsy-turvy "logic" employed by these opposition nerds:
When the University of Chicago invests so heavily in culturally and politically conservative thought we wonder about its commitment to strong intellectual diversity . . .

Is this a sick joke?

Oh, I did take a look at the disciplines which produced this band of folks who apparently don't really understand economics. Will you be surprised if I told you that I found the usual suspects? You can take a look for yourself. Literature, history, poli sci, philosophy, gender studies, area studies . . . I didn't see a single actual professor of economics in that list.

Satire Alert: "The Dark Knight Pre-emptively Sweeps the Oscars"

The unrelenting hype over the upcoming Batman movie has become ridiculous. Just take a look not only at the Rottentomatoes meter and the hyperbolic reviews, but -- more tellingly -- at the sheer verbal venom being thrown at the few writers who criticized the film. (Weirder still, the critics who have seen the film are being attacked for their opinions by fans who haven't seen it. On that note, The Movie Blog has a spot-on, if profanity-laced, commentary.)

Anyway, some pie-eyed, gushing critics have turned into mushy, shrieking fangirls, and they've been giving "The Dark Knight" just about every kind of over-the-top praise you can think of, while using some of the purplest, most cringe-inducing and overcooked prose I've ever seen. Here's just one example: one swooning critic actually wrote this line (complete with comma splice):

It’s not just the best superhero movie ever made, it’s one of the best movies ever to show up in a theater.

Got that? It's one of the best movies EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF MOVIES! Move over, "Casablanca"/ "Citizen Kane" / etc.!

Or take this line from another critic, who seems to have turned into an emo, hormonal teenager who's busy drawing hearts all over her notebook and filling them in with Batman's name:

Christopher Nolan's film is indeed an epic that will leave you staggering from the theater, stunned by its scope and complexity.

Somebody alert the theaters to have ambulances ready to carry away the swooning, fainting, sighing masses in their film-gasmic fits. Get real. This sort of "review" is embarrassing. "Staggering"? "Stunned"? Please.

Since I have a reflex to make fun of the ridiculous, hyperbolic, and just plain silly, here's the latest satire:

(I have to note, though: The entire movement to nominate the late Heath Ledger for a posthumous Oscar? It's real.)

I'll be seeing the film on opening night, and I'll report back to you here.

UPDATE 1: I kid you not. Right after I posted this, I read this review, which shouts, "This is the first Oscar quality superhero movie!" It also proclaims that Ledger is a shoo-in ("a lock") for the Oscar. Oh, brother.

UPDATE 2: I've been linked by What Would Toto Watch! That's cool. It's a lovely movie blog that's definitely worth your visit.

UPDATE 3: OK, I've found the most ludicrous review yet, as this Batman-acolyte compares the movie to MICHELANGELO and DA VINCI, for Pete's sake! Come ON! Yes, specifically the David and The Last Supper. You have got to be kidding.

Bruce Springsteen and the Berlin Wall

This goofy news "story" seems to believe that Bruce Springsteen had something really substantive to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Come on, the whole thing is vastly oversimplified. Then again, the story comes from Reuters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Film Culture Commentary: The Ladies, the Critics, and the Superhero Movies

I'm talking actually about the ladies who happen to be movie critics.

Earlier this summer, I ranted about one whiny female writer's wailing about superhero movies. (Boo freakin' hoo.)

I'm glad to point you now to a more grown-up and intelligent approach to female opinions about superhero films. The ladies involved here are far more professional, and they don't use their gender as a reason to moan and wail and pewl for attention. Instead, they think about greater issues of movies and culture. Hooray! (And thank you.)

I'm amused, though, at one question in the survey of these female film critics: "Who is this summer's sexiest superhero, and why?" Well, I suppose we can't get away entirely from that ancient touchstone of gender relationships, the hot summer romance! (By the way, the vast majority of the critics went for -- no real surprise there, or is it? -- Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man. In fact, one critic specifically said what I had said a while back: smart IS attractive.)

But do take a look. While this survey is by no means comprehensive (nor can it be), it's a conversation involving a nice cross-section of female film critics and their feedback/opinions.

Geek News and Fun: Whedon's "Dr. Horrible" Is Online!

Joss Whedon's latest creative project hits the Internet today: "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" starts streaming online. Whedon fans, rejoice! (That means you too, La Parisienne, because Nathan "Captain Malcolm Reynolds" Fillion is in it!)

Here is a brief write-up and interview with the man himself, via Wired. The premise of the project: Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible, a bumbling, aspiring supervillain who longs to be a member of the elite Evil League of Evil. He's not quite good enough (or, rather, evil enough), and he's finding life even more complicated because he's hopelessly in love with a pretty girl (Felicia Day) whom he just can't seem to talk to and also because all his evil plans keep getting foiled by the egotistical, obnoxious superhero, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). The nature of the thing is pure Whedon.

Here is the trailer:

The actual website for Dr. Horrible is here. The Internet musical will "air" in 3 parts.

By the way, I had no problem seeing the musical early this morning, but right now the website seems to be down. It's probably collapsed under the weight of too many rabid fans rushing to it.

UPDATE: Yep, the site did crash from too much traffic! Keep trying if you haven't managed to see it yet. "Dr. Horrible" is worth your time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Movie Preview: "The Dark Knight" Opens Friday! Plus Video Fun

The sequel to "Batman Begins" is probably the most anticipated film of the summer season. The hype has been unbelievable, along with the expectations. Early reviews have been mostly positive, if not openly effusive. "The Dark Knight" is finally opening in theaters nationwide. Yes!

It opens this Friday, and I have to tell you: I'm taking no chances, especially because I can't wait. I just bought my opening night tickets on Fandango. There's a tiny convenience fee to be paid aside from the movie ticket prices, but this is what everybody's doing who wants to guarantee that they have a ticket on opening night -- because it's a certainty that theaters will sell out of tickets. Some theaters already have, according to the latest news.

I'm looking forward to a big night with friends at the cinema, and you can look forward to a hefty movie review afterwards both from me and from (who else?) the Cinema-Mad Sibling.

In the meanwhile, I'll be dealing with "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (don't laugh! the Guillermo Del Toro flick actually has some stunning visual effects). But that's just passing time until I get my Christian Bale-versus-Heath Ledger smackdown in Gotham.

But I know what the Cine-Sib is thinking too: Will "The Dark Knight" make me forget my love affair with "Iron Man"? Will Bale's performance overshadow Downey's? (Or will Ledger's incarnation of the Joker leave everybody else in the dust?) Well, time will tell. As in, right about 9:30 PM this coming Friday.

PS: As far as I'm concerned, "The Dark Knight" already has one huge factor in its favor: ABSOLUTELY NO KATIE HOLMES.

I can't help leaving you with a bit of humor too. Check out these playful parodies with Iron Man and Batman squaring off against each other. Brilliant.

Monday Relief: A Duet with Sting

Mondays are horrible. This little video is my attempt to soothe the Monday blues for Alessandra and La Parisienne. Enjoy, ladies.

Nerd Analysis: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Here is an interesting article from The American Scholar, the publication of that venerable old nerd society, Phi Beta Kappa.

The author is an Ivy graduate who spent a decade teaching at Yale, so he has the "nerd cred" to speak, even if his words will probably anger a great many elitists.

Here are a few choice lines from his article:

~The last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy.

~The first disadvantage of an elite education . . . is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you.

~The second disadvantage, implicit in what I’ve been saying, is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth.

~One of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not.

~If you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual.


I'm not saying that I agree with all of Mr. Deresiewicz's assertions, but they are worth looking at. The last thing we should be doing is treating elite education as if it is beyond criticism, because it's not.

A caveat too: beware the danger of overgeneralizing. Do consider the possibility that some elite students can actually have minds of their own, thoughts of their own, and the ability to be mavericks, black sheep, and rebellious, robust individuals who aren't total automatons of the system. (Golly, I hope I'm such a nerd.)

There is, though, one advantage of an elite education that doesn't show up in this discussion, and it might be relevant if the discussion is going to tackle issues of quality. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: one of the great things about my getting an "elite" degree is the fact that I'm no longer impressed, awed, or cowed by other people who have "elite" degrees. So-and-So might be able to overawe some people because So-and-So has a famous degree, but I feel perfectly justified in saying that So-and-So is talking nonsense if I think So-and-So really is talking nonsense. And if So-and-So tries to pull out his/her elite credentials, I can pull out mine too. So there.

"You think you can steamroller over me because you have an elite degree? WELL, SO DO I. Pffffffffffffffft!!!!"

The Moral Life of Cubicles

This post is dedicated to the Cinema-Mad Sibling and everyone else who has ever worked in an office cubicle. (I have too, and I can't tell you how happy I am to escape that.) You know, the thought occurs to me that perhaps the CPD, La Parisienne, and I should apologize for recently making fun of the Cine-Sib by making up and singing a song about cubicles -- and singing it to him over my cellphone while we were out of town having fun. But I'm evil and therefore feel no need to apologize. Besides, I'm sure that the Cine-Sib, who is even now in his cubicle as he reads this, is plotting his revenge -- and why should I deny him that opportunity for time-honored inter-sibling warfare?

Anyway, going on! Here is an interesting article on the history and the "moral life" of the cubicle. I like this little tidbit:

In Dilbert, The Office, Office Space, and many other popular satires of contemporary work, cubicles are a symbol of all that is uninspiring about office life, and on this point, cubicles seem utterly without defenders. Fortune recently ran an article called “Cubicles: The Great Mistake,” complete with a public apology from one of the first cubicle designers. Twenty years after his Atlantic article extolling the virtues of the cubicled office, James Fallows wrote another on how he changed his mind. The promises of a cubicle utopia now seem curious, to say the least. In fact, the companies that make cubicles increasingly offer up apologies of their own. Steelcase, in its “State of the Cubicle” report, addresses the “Dilbert-type issues” that surround them, turning to head of design James Ludwig for a response. “Our goal in design would be to unfold the cubicle in ways that might make it unrecognizable.” The cubicle, once a cutting edge statement of corporate identity, has become an embarrassment, even for its makers.


Now I feel the overwhelming urge to watch "Office Space." Yes, today is that dreaded first day of the week, and I have "a case of the Moooooooooooondays"!

PS: How do you reconcile "the moral life of cubicles" with the glorious habit of humorous cubicle warfare? Here are two hysterical examples: one and two.

A Note on the Tour de France: I Love That Polka-Dot Jersey

We're about halfway through the Tour de France, and I'm having a hard time explaining why I love watching this thing. It's a summertime tradition. I mean, sure, it started with looking to see what all the fuss was about when the mighty Lance Armstrong first started ruling the race, but he's retired and I'm still watching.

Right now the race is in brutal mountain stages, and I have to say, I just have to love a race that has a position actually known as "King of the Mountains" . . . and acknowledges this by giving the man a POLKA-DOT JERSEY. Seriously. A white background with red polka dots. It looks like a pattern you'd see on a little girl's sundress. The thing would look silly if it didn't represent something as flat-out awesome as -- come on, bellow it out with feeling -- "King of the Mountains."

Iranian Dissident Ahmad Batebi Escapes

It is an epic tale.

Check out the video link also, with footage taken by Batebi himself on a tiny videocamera.

Cool Op-Ed: Send Congress Back to School

This editorial made me smile. What an awesome opening:
Maybe the quickest way to lower oil and gas prices would
be this: Immediately enroll every Democratic member of Congress in an entry-level economics class.

The lack of even a basic grasp of economic concepts has led Democrats to oppose sensible policies that would begin to lower oil and gas prices. Instead, they push hare-brained ideas that make no sense.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

FYI: American Airlines' New Luggage Policy Stinks

FYI: American Airlines is now charging passengers for luggage check-in. That's right. I flew American Airlines to get back to Nerdworld, and apparently it's just not enough that I have to pay an outrageous amount of money for my ticket and also endure bad service. Now I have to pay extra for checking in bags!

Yes, it'll cost you an extra $15 to check one bag and another $25 for a second one. Don't even think about checking a third one, because that'll cost you $100 more.

I was going back to campus for a new school term, so I had a lot of luggage. A LOT. I couldn't help it. I had two big bags (one was almost entirely full of books and articles and journals and nerd-stuff). I had to check both of them in, and that meant I had to cough up an extra 40 bucks.

I was furious. $40! But I had no choice but to hand it over.

So here's your public service announcement. American Airlines is now charging extra for luggage!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Geek Fun: Lab Testing Goes Automated . . . and Musical

The link comes from the lovely Ninme, and you need to click on this immediately and turn up your speakers!

Dedicated to Alessandra and everyone who has worked or is working in science or medical laboratory. Automated pipetting will never be the same. Here's epMotion by Eppendorf.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Fun Video: Barry White's "My Everything"

It's Friday!

I'm off to see some friends before I -- sadly -- have to go back to Nerdworld.

So in the spirit of summer fun, I give you this from the late, great, ever-smooth Barry White. Enjoy! (Especially any "Ally McBeal" fans out there.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Video of the Day: Drew Carey and "Ban-Happy Busybodies"

Comedian and commentator Drew Carey takes aim at the "nanny state" mentality that wants to place government bans on more and more things.

As Carey says, "Welcome to the Nanny State Nation, where the government minds your own business."

Here's the video. (Errrr, Mr. Carey? Your libertarianism is showing. *grin*)