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July 2008 Archives

Zombies + Haiku + Saxophone

Zombies reading haiku, with saxophone accompaniment, while scenes of the zombie apocalypse transpire in the background. I don't think I'm going to buy the book of zombie haiku that this video is advertising, but the video itself is pretty much the best thing ever:

YouTube link

Siskel and Ebert raw promo footage

Roger Ebert has written a touching blog post about the end of the show. He's taking his thumbs with him, and the thumbs will return in a different format. At the end of the entry, he posted links to a couple of YouTube clips of raw footage from a promo recording session from way back. Here are Siskel and Ebert sniping at one another one moment and then having a grand ol' time joking with each other (at the expense off WASPs) while dropping occasional F-bombs. Hilarious. Makes me really sad that I didn't get to see Siskel more. :\

YouTube link

Batman's Listening Post

listening-post.jpg

"Listening Post" by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, photo credit: Fenchurch on flickr

I saw this exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art a few years ago, and then again at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A scene in The Dark Knight reminded me of it. You're looking at a set of little text displays that scroll snippets from online chats. Each display also has a speaker, and the effect of little clicking noises in patterns all around you was mesmerizing.

SPOILER WARNING! Please don't read further if you haven't seen the movie.

Continue reading "Batman's Listening Post" »

No more Ebert & Roeper (aka Siskel & Ebert)

After 33 years on the air, Ebert is officially quitting the TV show, and taking his thumb with him. He hasn't been on since surgery left him unable to speak, and I guess he doesn't expect to return any time soon. He has the trademark on the thumbs, though, along with Siskel's widow, and they're trying to figure out what to do with them. I rarely catch the show anyway (especially after Roeper replaced Siskel) and mostly read his written reviews. (He's recovered enough to write those again!) So I don't mind this news too much. In my opinion, the era of the TV show ended with Siskel's untimely death. :\

I look forward to seeing the thumbs return. But for now, the balcony is closed.

Infernal Jokers, or: Gotham Police Story

One Rincon Hill and the Moon

Here's a photo I took of One Rincon Hill, the new residential tower in San Francisco. The color scheme was inspired by the Dark Knight. I thought I'd add some more thoughts here about the movie.

Mild spoiler warning! (I'm not going to give away real spoilers, per se, but I'm going to discuss the plot a bit more than I did in my initial review.)

* * *

First of all, I read in some review (forget which) that the Joker isn't just the Joker here. He's basically the Devil himself. The Prince of Lies. The smartest guy in the room (smarter than Batman), who's always a step ahead of you, who doesn't play by any rules, whose words you can never trust, and who does something totally unpredictable just when you think you've got him figured out. One thing that amazed me is that he's the most menacing villain I've seen since I can remember, and the movie is only rated PG-13, proving that unseen violence and a good script trump gorefests any day.

Ain't It Cool News has a great (though spoilerful) review by Alexandra DuPont. (I definitely recommend you put off reading it until after watching the movie.) I agree with many of her points. I like that this movie is mostly gadget-free, and I think the realism of it makes Batman Begins (which I never liked that much) look like Schumacher-era Batman. :P I liked the score. At times it felt blatantly manipulative, but I didn't mind. I was begging to be manipulated by this movie. :)

I agree with some of her criticisms, too. Harvey's actions as Two-Face felt rushed and not entirely convincing. Bale's Batman deep Batman voice got pretty irritating when he went off on long speeches with it. :P I didn't mind the editing and slight logical shortcuts too much, though. In fact, I liked that Batman's first fight scene felt confusing and messy. To me, it showed that Gotham is a confusing a messy place.

But DuPont's comment that I found most interesting was when she talked about how she loved the way the movie respected classic cop dramas, how the rank-and-file cops seemed to have depth and character. I noticed this, too. Chris Nolan was supposedly inspired by Michael Mann's Heat while making The Dark Knight. I think he must also have been influenced by classic Hong Kong cop dramas like Infernal Affairs or old John Woo/Chow Yung Fat movies (like A Better Tomorrow or Hard Boiled). I don't think it's a coincidence that the only major scene outside of Gotham was set in Hong Kong.

Maybe it's the police funeral procession, so popular in Hong Kong cop dramas? Maybe it's the fact that the cops seemed so earnest, whether they were doing good or bad? They seemed to come from another era, when cops were cops, and not wise-cracking jokers. They also reminded me a bit of cops in film noir, like L.A. Confidential. The Dark Knight definitely had a police procedural feel to it at times. Take out the costumes and the Batmobile, and you might as well be watching something like In the Line of Fire or Silence of the Lambs. The Joker is as menacing a serial killer as the silver screen has ever seen.

What it all boils down to is that The Dark Knight takes its cues from classic live action police movies instead of superhero movies. Note how none of the movies I compared it to is a comic book movie. (Okay, except for my comparison to Batman Begins, I guess, but that doesn't count. :P) The Dark Knight is grounded in a mean gray reality and then tacks on the superhero aspect only to exaggerate and emphasize its points. That's why, to steal some other review's comment, it's not only quite possibly the greatest superhero movie of all time, but a great movie, period.

P.S.: How did I manage to write two reviews without mentioning how perfectly Gary Oldman plays Gordon? He's kind of aloof, but you totally trust him to do the right thing. Oh man, there's some movie (again not a superhero movie) I've seen where there's like the rebel cop, but there's also the cop who's trying to keep everything together from the inside, and it's as hard a job if not harder... I can't remember what that movie was, but Gordon perfectly embodies that kind of role.

See also my initial review and my third review (spoiler warning).

A dark night

The Joker at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight

I went to a midnight showing of The Dark Knight. I saw a few other people in various outfits, but this guy's home-made getup was the most impressive.

As for the movie, it was crazy intense. I was thinking of going to rewatch it in IMAX, but I might need a while to recover. :\

Toast Toast Toast Toast

There were some parts where the Joker would, well, make a joke, and some of the audience would laugh, but I'd be cowering in my seat, thinking, "That's not funny! It's freaky!" :\ This is one freaky Joker.

Many of the reviews I've read said, "Aaron Eckhart's performance will be overshadowed by Heath Ledger's, but he was awesome, too!" And he was. I believed in Harvey Dent. He was so likable. But while many reviews downplayed Batman himself, saying he wasn't as interesting as the villains he faced, I don't think this movie shortchanged the title character at all. I loved the ending sequence, which wasn't about plot so much as it was about who Batman is, what he represents, and what he sacrifices. For all the high melodrama, all the ups and downs of the movie, it was that final sequence that got me a little misty-eyed.

It's a damn shame that Heath Ledger won't be able to reprise his irreproduceable turn as the Joker, but Chris Nolan is still around to write and direct more Batman movies. I look forward to future installments, because he really understands what's at the heart of the Batman myth.

Update: Added more thoughts about the movie in a follow-up post.

See also my second review and my third review (spoiler warning).

Watchmen Teaser

The teaser for Watchmen is now out. I hope it's good. For the uninitiated, Watchmen is considered the Citizen Kane of superhero graphic novels. It was written by Alan Moore and set in an alternate 1980s. The movie is being directed by Zack Snyder, who directed 300. I've read that he's actually setting it in the 80s (thus the Twin Towers still being on the Manhattan skyline). It does look like he's keeping the mood of the book and not pulling a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on us, so I'm hopeful.

Update: Looks like they pulled it for some reason, and now they're saying it'll be up at 9pm PDT. (They say PST but I bet they're just being wrong. :P)

Tron in Real Life

Nuff said.

YouTube Link

My favorites from other people on flickr

Flickr has a "mark as favorite" function where you can collect pictures you like that other people post. I've been doing this, but I figure it's really almost a blog of its own, in a way. I've reorganized the links on my sidebar and added a Favorites of others link, so you can check it out from time to time to see what I've liked.

I'll try to set up some sort of feed-based thing at some point, but for now, go check it out! There's some good stuff there!

Nukes and Hitler in Popular Culture

Update: Changed dead "In popular history" history link to a link for the discussion about the deletion. Btw, apparently there is still a Wikipedia policy page about this, called Wikipedia:"In popular culture" articles, though that is more about "In popular culture" subpages than sections. Still, it does itself now have an "In popular culture" in popular culture section. :D

Btw, I love the images and captions on this policy page.

* * *

Today's xkcd makes fun of the "In Popular Culture" section that litters some Wikipedia articles with references to TV shows and such. The mouse-over text jokes about the day when we have a Wikipedia article about the "In Popular Culture" section with its own "In Popular Culture" section that references that very xkcd comic. So I went hunting for aforementioned Wikipedia article, and it doesn't exist. (Although... I'm sure someone's attempted to create it and had it speedy-deleted already... *Checks*... Aha! I was right!) I then searched for ["in popular culture"] on Google, and I was amused/appalled at the top results:

in-popular-culture.png

Update: Hahaha! I think I like the Live Search results even better:

in-popular-culture-live-search.png

:D

Bigger Picture

One downside of reading newspaper and magazine articles on the web is that you don't get the nice big photos you get in print. Not only is the screen's resolution lower so that a full-screen image doesn't have the detail of a full-page photo, typically the image is only a tiny fraction of your screen.

Alan Taylor at the Boston Globe's website decided to do something about it. He launched a thrice-a-week feature called The Big Picture. In it, he features, well, a dozen or so big pictures that fill the browser window of some event, or around some topic. Here's one from the latest entry. Click for the entry:

lunar-truck-test.jpg

Note that the main page only highlights one photo per entry, but you can click through to see all the rest. Good stuff!

California's stupid hands-free cell phone law goes into effect

As of July 1, 2008, anyone under 18 is not allowed to use a cell phone at all while driving. Those 18 and over must use a hands-free set or risk a $20 fine for the first citation, and $50 for subsequent ones. The citation will go on your driving record but not generate any points. This SF Chronicle article cites a CHP officer as saying that text messaging while driving is illegal even though it's not explicitly mentioned in the law, though my guess is that they would use generic distracted driving laws against you, and that it would be open to debate.

In any case, as I've already ranted about a year ago, a 2003 study showed that hands-free cell phone use is just as dangerous as hand-held cell phone use because the real danger factor is driver distraction, and a 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that cell phone use, hands-free or not, is as dangerous as having your blood alcohol level be at the legal limit. And I quote: "Telephones that allowed the hands to be free did not appear to be safer than hand-held telephones."

And finally, as I mentioned the last time I ranted about this, there are studies about the effect of anti-handed cell phone use laws on number of citations and amount of cell phone use, but I have yet to see a single study demonstrate that anti-handed cell phone use laws have any significant positive effect on lowering accident rates. I worry that hands-free sets might actually have the perverse incentive of causing people to stay on the phone longer, leading to more accidents, instead of less. I wonder if anyone's collecting data on this sort of thing this time around?

In short, my advice is to obey the law, despite its stupidity, and stay of trouble, but also to minimize the amount of time you spend using your hands-free set and not assume that it's safer in any way because it's hands-free.

I hate these sorts of unscientific, potentially counterproductive laws that are just enacted so the politicians pretend they're accomplishing something.

Dream notes of VR stasis

Sometimes I have wacky dreams and then wake up. I quickly grab my laptop and type out what I remember, because I know it'll all be gone within the minute. Unfortunately, sometimes, I'm not quite fully functional as I'm typing, and my notes don't really help me recall things all that much better. Here is an example from last night, verbatim what I typed:

Going back in time ina VR/time travel machine to reduce te hillary election. But there are evil dudes. We are doing it like real life, but more. But then suddenly the vr mahchien (like on a big pilar0 stops. we're stopped. adn then me, millem dafoe, and a girl maybepl yaing hol'em.

and hten ink the VR work, me adn teh oterh guy are getting tested supre speed.
boobooboobooboobooboo boing! arms strapped, floating in slappers, flip perosn around, legs go up , etc. i was hoping for happy hour. cf

Um.... Right, Kenneth. *backs away slowly from self*

So what I remember now is that I was with a group of people (including Willem Dafoe) going back in time through some sort of giant cylindrical time machine. The part that's still vivid is that it suddenly turned out we were actually in a virtual reality world, and we were no longer in control of ourselves. We were frozen in place, and then our unseen captors started toying with us to interrogate us.

Imagine seeing someone suspended in mid-air, and then flickering rapidly into different positions, far faster than a physical body could possibly move. It was like a glitchy recording or Max Headroom talking or something. Both Willem Dafoe's and my own arms and legs were just rapidly oscillating back and forth, and then they'd suddenly stop in some unlikely arrangement. (That's what the booboobooboo boing bit was about, I think.)

Hm. I'm doing a poor job of describing it, but I guess I found it fascinating because it wasn't something I had actually seen in any movie or anything; it seemed like an actually novel way to mess with someone in a VR world. I might have to draw it or animate it at some point.

About July 2008

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in July 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2008 is the previous archive.

August 2008 is the next archive.

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