Sunday, May 31, 2009

Incredible soldier achievements


Those interested in insane human achievement may be interested in Cracked.com's list of
"5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy," the first being the incredible story of Simo Hayha, a Finnish sniper who killed hundreds of Soviet troops with an archaic rifle in sub-zero weather.

As usual, Cracked reiterates the stories in such an entertaining manner that I'll forgive them for distorting a few facts. It's a feature full of cliff-climbing, bunker-busting and people awarded impossible medals for doing impossible things.

Cup Stacker Accomplishes Coordinated Cup-Stacking



It's a fairly useless talent, but most are. This kid stacks cups like a beast. As one commenter points out: "Well, at least he's not doing coke."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama explains the many exciting new ways we will violate human rights from here out

This abcnews article runs through Obama's plan to continue the sort of rationalizations and abuses that lead a President to violate national law and human rights in the name of keeping us "safe." This is nearly the same rationale used by Bush and ought to further disappoint anybody who expected the excesses of the Bush presidency to cease under Obama:


But apparently over-ruling his FBI director, President Obama today said that "where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders; namely, highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact. Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal super-max prisons which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists."

Detainees, he said, fall into five distinct categories. Those include those guilty of US criminal law who could be tried in US federal courts, those "who violate the laws of war and are, therefore, best tried through military commissions," 21 detainees ordered released by the courts, 50 detainees that his administration has judged suitable for transfer to other countries for "detention and rehabilitation."

Lastly, describing the "toughest single issue that we will face," the president described those who face indefinite detention, "people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases, because evidence may be tainted, but who, nonetheless, pose a threat to the security of the United States." [Emphasis added]

Sigh. . .

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clumpy Sort of Reviews: "Star Trek"


The new Star Trek film should have been pretty terrible. Certainly the film's trailer didn't win me over a few months ago by featuring a rebellious preteen Kirk driving a car over a cliff and getting arrested by some kind of floating stormtrooper space cop. I heckled the trailer with my roommates and prepared for a noisy, incoherent film with little respect for the source material (particularly that aspect of the source material most important to me - the characterization and entertaining interplay between the franchise's leads).

But Star Trek does not suck. In fact, it's the best, and certainly one of the most compelling new films that I've seen all year. (It's also the first new film that I've seen this year, but who's counting?) Director J. J. Abrams' last film, Cloverfield, was a visually snazzy, jittery flick with little resonance, but Star Trek's appeal lingers long after you leave the theater. I won't say that the movie is necessarily thought-provoking, per se (not that the others were), but it achieves the impossible: Star Trek remains true to the spirit of the original films while updating the style and narrative for new audiences.

One of the things that I found most impressive about the film is the way that it takes elements of Star Trek that we're more than tired of and makes them appealing again. For example, remember the hundredth time that you heard somebody say that shields were at 35%, sparks shot around the cabin and an officer went flying across the bridge? Get ready for that to be exciting again. The whole film swaggers forward with so much sleek celluloid energy and drive that you won't even be reaching for the light button on your watch or making sarcastic comments about the cinematography (there'd be nothing to say - it's uniformly compelling).

And man, is the casting good. Say what you will about the charisma of the original Star Trek cast (speaking more particularly of the later few of the original films), but they nearly always looked like exactly what they were: aging, campy character actors filling well-known roles. In contrast, the new actors take the best quirks and mannerisms of the original cast and ground them into more realistic roles. Who would have thought that Simon Pegg would be the spiritual successor to James Doohan/Scotty, or that Karl Urban could take the cranky cynicism that DeForest Kelley brought to Dr. McCoy and make him seem like an actual doctor? Uhura's great, Spock is turmoiled and flawed (and the symbolic passing of the torch provided by Leonard Nimoy frankly gives the film a huge share of its dignity) and the film's villain is actually played as something other than a cold, calculating alien captain for once. He's a good villain - powerful and deadly, yet emotionally unstable and prone to rash decisions.

Only Anton Yelchin's portrayal of Pavel Chekhov is close enough to approach parody, but I found the near-direct tribute to Walter Koenig charming (my roommate, who doesn't like IV and VI as much as I do, wanted to kill him for his accent). John Cho's portrayal of Sulu is quite different from George Takei's (and honestly not much varied from some of his previous roles), but strong in different ways. Not a single major character is neglected in the screenplay, yet everything's so organic that the action rarely feels forced. Even the sequence I mentioned earlier - the car-stealing young Kirk one - makes sense in the updated storyline.

Everything's there - the humor, the emotional hooks, the relationships between the characters and some of the best sci-fi action in recent memory. If the film has any weaknesses, it's that having to bring together so many characters so quickly leads to some ridiculous coincidences, at times even making the flick feel like a road trip movie ("Oh, hi, Scotty! Spock, what are you doing in that cave? Climb aboard, both of you!"). Oh, and one sequence with computer-generated monsters is completely clich├ęd and unnecessary. Notwithstanding those minor gripes (which really don't impact the film much at all), complaining about Star Trek would require a level of nitpickery I'm not sure that I'm capable of. The film makes no pretensions to be anything other than a solid, straightforward adventure flick, and unlike most films in this genre, it actually gets it right.

Not sure that I understood the ending, though.

EDIT (5/22): A few additional insights I've gained after stewing things over for a few days (spoilers will be pretty bad here):

- I really can't overstate how good Karl Urban in particular is as McCoy. The performances in this film are so organic in part because no single character steals the limelight in this film. Even the most minor of characters - Captain Pike, for example - are well-casted and have a great deal of moral authority. And somehow making this film without Leonard Nimoy on hand would have left it feeling slightly empty for me - he is Spock, after all, in my mind - so his inclusion in the movie is pretty special.

- The spaceships are really fun to watch. There's a primal appeal to the surreal feel of watching Nero's Romulan/Borg mash-up ship loom into view or the gleaming bridge of the Enterprise. Klingon ships really only show up during the Kobayashi Maru simulation bit - I'd be interested in seeing what they do with the Klingons in the next film (coming in 2011!).

- The alternate timeline allows them to have a lot of fun with the universe and take chances without succumbing to "prequel" syndrome. In a sense they're able to revisit old characters and settings, but with the understanding that things might not necessarily occur in the same way. I can't help but hope that the ballsy destruction of Vulcan [!!!] isn't the first major change to come. I have faith that this production team can pull off Khan again, for example, in some capacity, and that we can skip the fairly boring terraforming/Marcus family subplots that dragged down some of the earlier Trek flicks in my opinion. Every variation teased in the story (like Pike's alternate but similar fate or the Uhura/Spock dynamic) holds extra interest for people like me with a cursory understanding of the movies.

Much like last year's The Dark Knight, this movie's aura sticks with you for quite a while thereafter and leaves you feeling giddy and excited about the source material again. There's a lot of stuff to think about - masterfully-executed characters, situations and scenes that give the movie far more value than something that merely distracts you for a couple of hours. I can't imagine this movie failing to hold up under multiple showings or failing to please anybody other than orthodox Trekkies/Trekkers who've already made up their mind.

Related posts:
7-11 clerk attacked at bet'lethpoint (with smart-aleck analysis)
See Spock Run (My Webcomic)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"White Magic" - More smooth electronic music from Pogo

The guy who did "Alice," the incredible remix track I blogged about a year ago, has a new track: "White Magic," incorporating sounds from the 1963 Disney flick The Sword in the Stone. The track has much of the mesmerizing effect that "Alice" had (and still has), particularly during the chorus. It's definitely a grower, less accessible than "Alice" but still well worth a listen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Evil "killer chip" invention not to receive patent in Germany. . .

In a continuous quest to make the world more like an episode of The Outer Limits, a "Saudi inventor" created and patented a chip which would allow the government to track (and, with some models, remotely kill) an individual if they were deemed an enemy to society.

The basic model would consist of a tiny GPS transceiver placed in a capsule and inserted under a person's skin, so that authorities could track him easily.

Model B would have an extra function — a dose of cyanide to remotely kill the wearer without muss or fuss if authorities deemed he'd become a public threat.

The inventor said the chip could be used to track terrorists, criminals, fugitives, illegal immigrants, political dissidents, domestic servants and foreigners overstaying their visas.

I think the first Model B would probably be reserved for whatever remained of habeas corpus's rotting carcass in any country that believes some of the world's citizens don't have rights.

Saudi 'Killer Chip' Implant Would Track, Eliminate Undesirables (Fox News)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Koyaanisqatsi

The classic Geoffrey Reggio/Philip Glass fast-motion slow-motion city flick Koyaanisqatsi is available online, courtesy of MGM! Yes, it's the movie you learned about in film school! Yes, it's basically a trippy montage critiquing modern human society and its effect on the environment! But it's Koyaanisqatsi and it's trippy in the right ways, and each montage brings something new. Watch it!

Watch Koyaanisqatsi

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cell-Phone-in-a-Microwave Viral Advert

Well, though I've wised up enough to recognize viral marketing when I see it (though this ad is more straightforward than most), I still know how to enjoy simple charms, like this guy melting a cell phone in his microwave:



"Graar!" indeed.

Related:

Viral Marketing: Bike Hero

Friday, May 01, 2009

Shatnerquake, the novel whose premise is more entertaining than most full stories


"William Shatner? William Shatner. William Shatner!"

The novel "Shatnerquake" is pretty pander-riffic, written particularly for nerds and pop culture enthusiasts who find Shatner's aura irresistible and addictive. In the novel, set in some sort of peculiar alternate universe, William Shatner is forced to battle every character he's ever played.
Featuring: Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, Denny Crane, Rescue 911 Shatner, Singer Shatner, Shakespearean Shatner, Twilight Zone Shatner, Cartoon Kirk, Esperanto Shatner, Priceline Shatner, SNL Shatner, and - of course - William Shatner!
Obviously that list leaves out quite a few entries, and doesn't consist entirely of "characters he has played" (if "singer Shatner" makes the list, why not "Tekwar Shatner"?). Still, it's a pretty compelling promise that practically writes itself.

But before it's too late, our wonderful nation needs to create the television show where Adam West and William Shatner, playing themselves, live together in a small New York apartment and solve crimes. Co-starring Christopher Walken as their kooky neighbor!