June 2003 Archives

The Claw!

I've lost hope that space travel will ever become available to the masses in my lifetime. I'll never have a chance to see the Earth from orbit, or visit alien worlds with spectacular sights and bizarre local attractions.

Fortunately, the next best thing is just a plane ticket away: Japan. Give 'em props for considering animation to be as viable a medium as any other for adult storytelling, but their country is full of a lot of weird crap. This site documents some of it. Don't miss the section on Japanese TV and videos, or the one on bizarre stuff sold in vending machines. My favorite of the latter is a machine from a video arcade-- one of those Claw games, where you maneuver a mechanical grabber to try to pick up a prize. But in this Sapporo arcade, the prizes that you're trying to grab are live lobsters!

Comments (2) | last by Peter Sarrett, Jul 3, 6:20 PM

Limit Order on Ichiro?

Topps runs a virtual trading floor for sports cards. Cards are offered in "IPOs", demand dictates how many are printed, and no more are ever made. Scarcity dictates value, and these cards are bought and sold online. But the cards themselves never leave a climate-controlled Delaware warehouse. Genius. All the profiteering of Ebay (which operates the site), but none of the packaging and shipping hassles. You can read more about this here.

Observation: The Supreme Court overturned anti-sodomy laws and affirmed adults' rights to privacy in the bedroom, and a few hours later Strom Thurmond died. Draw your own conclusions.

Comments (2) | last by Sean, Jun 30, 1:36 PM

Confetti Never Lies

In the "Nobody Cares But Me" department...

Lone pieces of confetti fluttered into view throughout tonight's Millionaire. Since I know that Nancy Christy, the first woman to win a million, taped her show the day before I got there, the logical conclusion is that tonight's show was from the same tape date as Kevin Smith's million-dollar win. Since they tape 4 shows a day, and the first unaired show from my tape date will air on July 15, that means the rest of the shows taped on Nancy Christy's date should be July 10-14. Working back through the math, with next week in reruns it looks like Kevin Smith taped his appearance just 3-4 days before me. So Millionaire went most of the taping season without a million-dollar winner, which must have been killing them. And I taped in the same week as both big winners.

Like I said... nobody cares but me.

Comments (2) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Jun 27, 3:26 AM

28 Days Later

The horror genre has been overrun with slasher and campy wink-at-the-camera films. Even last year's surprise hit Jeepers Creepers was essentially a monster movie. 28 Days Later also treads familiar ground, mining George Romero's oeuvre and updating it for a new millenium. Refreshingly, the setting this time is London-- someplace we don't often see on screen unless Pierce Brosnan or Mike Meyers is involved.

In the opening teaser a group of activists breaks into a research lab to liberate chimps being experimented upon. Unknown to them, the chimps have been infected with "Rage", a deadly virus spread through blood and saliva which, 20 seconds after infection, turns you into a rampaging zombie. When the first chimp they release bites one of their faces off, things quickly go to hell in a handbasket. Let this be a lesson to any other research outfits playing God out there: if you're cooking up some lethal genetic soup, perhaps you should have more security than a mag-stripe access card. A series of security airlocks, perhaps? 'Round-the-clock armed guards? An underground bunker?

28 days later... Jim awakens from a traffic-accident-induced coma to discover the city is empty. Phone handsets dangle on their cords, trash billows like tumbleweeds, and we're treated to some wonderfully eerie shots of empty London streets as Jim tries to find out what's happened.

This set-up is handled terrifically, and the first act offers up a handful of genuine scares. I'm not an easy guy for horror films to "get"-- I don't jump easily. I jumped. The great thing about these zombies is that they're not shambling, rotting corpses. These are living, infected people who run and chase at full speed, and that makes them much creepier and scarier than the Dawn of the Dead crowd and lets the filmmaker pull off some marvelously effective quick-cut come-out-of-nowhere attack sequences. But I'd love to know why film zombies never seem to turn on each other. Here the Infected seem to have a sixth sense that lets them hone in on normal people, and we're not sure why. They don't eat them-- they just attack them, projectile vomit some blood, pass on the infection, and move on-- performance artists run amok. If the Infected are in some kind of mindless, virus-caused rage, I'd think they'd be far less discriminatory about who they take it out on. Now, if you're possessed by Satan or merged into an alien group mind, that's a completely different matter. And different movies.

28 Days Later takes a wrong turn in the third act, when the movie mostly leaves the zombies behind and focuses on a group of surviving soldiers Jim and his companions come across. Suddenly we leave the horror genre, morphing into an action film with Jim as Rambo-- or, if you prefer, John McLean-- as he tries to rescue his companions from soldiers who've spent a little too much time watching Apocalypse Now. I felt like I was watching two completely different movies, and I much preferred the first one.

I was left unsatisfied. The movie leaves unanswered some tantalizing questions about the fate of the world at large. We see only a fleeting glimpse of a newspaper headline. No news footage, no flashbacks, no filling in the holes. Having used the plague to set the stage for its story, the film is not interested in chasing after any of the more provocative questions it raises.

Cube 2: Hypercube

Ah... summer. Though some series (Monk, Stargate: SG-1 are just picking up again, most are on hiatus which means fewer things appearing at the top of Tivo's Now Playing list. A perfect time to catch up on movies saved from premium channel preview weekends earlier in the year.

Tonight: Cube 2: Hypercube. This is the sequel to Cube, a provocative low budget allegory for the pointlessness of society and the inability of individuals within it to work together towards a common goal. Plus, it has the coolest pre-title teaser ever. The story goes something like this: a bunch of random people-- an autistic savant, an attactive woman, a burly dullard, an egghead, and the rest of the usual stereotypes-- wake up inside a cube full of ever-shifting, identical cubical rooms. Some rooms are safe. Others are deathtraps (in the purest D&D sense of the term). As they grapple with what the Cube is and why they're there, they must work together to figure out how to escape.

The story in Cube 2 goes something like this: a bunch of random people-- a blind genius, an attractive woman, a burly dullard, an egghead, and the rest of the usual stereotypes-- wake up inside a hypercube full of identical cubical rooms. Some force inside the Hypercube occasionally manifests itself with deadly results. As they grapple with what the Hypercube is and why they're there, they must work together to figure out how to escape.

Now where have I heard that before?

The acting in Cube 2 is (a little) better than in the first, and the effects are (a little) improved. The other changes are all for the worse. Neither film has much of a plot, but the first film had a puzzle at its core and an allegory as its structure. You also never knew if the room they were entering was going to be safe or deadly-- and you hoped it'd be deadly, to see what nifty new way they thought of to kill someone. Cube 2 has none of that going for it. The Cube in the first film was a complete mystery. We never find out who built it or why, and that's a large part of the point. The sequel gives all the victims a common connection that strains logic, tells us exactly who built the Hypercube and why, and offers an X-Files-ish ending that punctuates the movie with an elipsis instead of an exclamation point, or even a question mark.

Where the first movie really had no plot, this one really makes no sense.

Scrabylon

If you've read Word Freak, then Scott Petersen's new documentary Scrabylon isn't really anything new. You've already met most of these people, and at greater length. But we do get to associate faces and voices with the names, and the images of Joe Edley doing tai chi among the tables of the National Scrabble Championships speaks volumes.

The most revelatory moment for me came with the all-too-brief coverage of the Championship's final match. The filmmaker really blew it here, missing a great opportunity to capture the tension and drama so obviously present in the moment. In fact, with the room full of onlookers riveted to closed-circuit monitors and second-guessing the players, it reminded me a great deal of the World Series of Poker. With the advent of the World Poker Tour series, it's clear that this kind of event can be compelling television. I'd have loved to see the whole hour devoted to these matches. I hope ESPN or a similar venue will cover the next Scrabble championship, with color commentary and play-by-play from experts ("Joe's got a bingo on that rack-- playing PACHYDERM through the C and D would net him 94 points-- but it's a hard find; he might go for HYDRAE instead"). Word Freak author Stefan Fatsis, a regular on NPR, seems a natural for the job. In the meantime, Scrabylon barely scratches the surface of the intense world Fatsis exposed in Word Freak. Read the book.

Comments (2) | last by Peter Sarrett, Jun 23, 10:32 AM

Super-creamy ice cream in 30 seconds flat?
Now that's cool. Where can I score some liquid nitrogen?

Terms of Endearment

Mother (to daughter): "Goodnight, sweetie."
Mother (to son): "Goodnight, darling."
Father (to daughter): "Goodnight, honey."
Father (to son): "Goodnight, son."

Whaaaaaaa? I'm not a dad, but as my mind wandered last night it occurred to me that I couldn't think of any terms of endearment that a father might use with his son short of "kiddo", "sport", "champ", and the like-- a far cry from the affectionate words we use when talking to little girls. What's up with that?

Comments (3) | last by David Waldman, Jun 18, 7:39 PM

Play Money

The fact that there are people out there who actually earn a living by selling virtual stuff in online games fascinates me. And I'm not the only one. The guy who wrote a story about it in Wired was so fascinated, he got sucked in. Play Money is his weblog documenting his quest to, as he puts it, "get rich selling castles in the air." What a world.

Better Late Than Never

FYI, the 7th season of Stargate: SG1 starts tonight. They're showing a 1-hour retrospective/season-7-teaser special, followed by 2 new episodes. Meant to post this earlier today, for the benefit of those of you without TiVo. Sorry, east-coasters.

Stargate: SG1 is the most entertaining SF show on television today. If you like that kind of thing, start watching.

Comments (4) | last by Erin, Jun 19, 4:10 PM

Six Degrees of TiVo

Ok, that was surreal.

A friend of mine is an actor. He actually starred in a short-lived FOX sitcom (aren't they all?), but that was before I knew him-- I've never seen it, and since it won't ever be rerun I probably never will (I'm pretty sure he burned all the tapes). But he's done other guest shots, and just for the heck of it I decided to make a TiVo wishlist for him.

So I start typing his last name, and after just a couple of letters, BAM! there's his name in the list. I was expecting to enter his full name and then forget about it for months. But TiVo already knew him. When I saw his name pop up, I was actually kinda giddy. I know someone TiVo knows. Tee hee! An entirely new, bizarrely cool TiVo experience.

TiVo knew him because he was appearing on a show that aired tonight, a rerun of Mad About You. Aside from 8 minutes of crappy quality streaming video on AtomFilms, I'd never seen him perform. So I punched it up with relish tonight and cheered wildly when he made his entrance. You know what? It's really fun to watch someone you know on TV. I kept hoping his character would return ("Come back, Shane!"). Screw that Mark loser. Who cares about Paul and Jamie? I'm Mad About Lester!

What's particularly cool about this is that his part was tiny-- a few leering one-liners, then exit stage left. And TiVo knew about him anyway. THAT rocks. I'm sure it'll catch more of his appearances-- I'm just not sure where, or when. He could pop up anywhere. Which, I'm sure, tickles him to no end. And TiVo can't seem to figure out how to sell their product. Amazing.

Comments (6) | last by Dan Blum, Jun 13, 11:52 AM

The World Poker Tour series on the Travel Channel has kindled my interest in tournament poker. I do well in my regular Thursday night nickel-dime-quarter game, but have never played for higher stakes. The skill and fortitude of professional poker players fascinate me. So when I read the premise of Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, I had to pick it up.

In 1998, Ted Binion-- of Binion's Horseshoe, the casino that created and hosts the annual $1,000,000+ World Series of Poker-- was murdered. In 2000, James McManus went to Las Vegas on behalf of Harper's magazine to cover the verdict in the trial of Binion's accused murderers, and to write about the progress of female players in the tournament. A poker player himself, McManus decided to cover the event from the inside and try to win a seat. Not only did he win one in his first satellite game, he went on to make it to the final table of the Big One.

The sections of the book that focus on poker-- his personal experiences in Vegas, the personalities of the big players, the history and strategy of the game-- make for some great reading. We see the kind of cameraderie that exists at the tables among players who see each other again and again and again as they compete in major events around the world. Particularly compelling are the glimpses into the author's mind as he squares off against such poker greats as T.J. Cloutier and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson-- the awareness of the stakes, the eagerness to get playable hands, the reluctance to fold marginal ones, and the uncertainty of whether to call or raise.

McManus' "coverage" of the murder trial is far less successful, drawing as it does most of its content from second- or third-hand sources. The author's attempts to recast the murderers' actions in poker terms is strained at best, and sections about Sylvia Plath and his own geneology are self-important indulgences. The book comes alive in the first person and turns into a Ben Steinian filmstrip whenever McManus strays from that format.

If you're not already a fan of poker, Positively Fifth Street is probably not in your cards. Its reliance on poker lingo, explorations of strategy, and history of the game and the Binions are only likely to appeal to readers who already have an interest in the subject. For such readers there's some great stuff here-- a fascinating glimpse at a high stakes world most of us will only experience second hand.

Comments (3) | last by Peter Sarrett, Jun 9, 9:55 AM

It doesn't really matter which of the dozens of games you pick at Orisinal-- they're all beautiful. The games themselves are simplistic and won't hold your interest for more than a minute or two. But the concepts, artwork, music, and overall presentation are fabulous. I particularly liked Rainmaker-- the combination of art and music really works for me.

I Am SO There

Take the writer/director of the fabulous, underappreciated animated delight The Iron Giant and hand him the keys to the Pixar renderfarm and you get The Incredibles. Still seventeen months away, but I can't remember the last time I've been this excited about a film. Hilarious teaser, great concept. Pixar hasn't made a stinker yet, and this one doesn't appear to be targeted at the kiddies. I can hear the licensing train pulling out of the station already.

Comments (10) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Nov 7, 4:08 PM

In 1981, three ten-year-old Mississippi boys saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like many of us, they were enchanted by Spielberg's homage to 30's serials. But they took their enthusiasm a quantum leap further. They decided to film a shot-for-shot remake of the movie. Seven years later, they finished it. Harry Knowles of Ain't it Cool News, who has seen the film, says they did an incredible job.

Their film is not currently available anywhere, but buzz is building. It wouldn't surprise me to see it appear on the festival circuit or on DVD. And when it does, I want to see it. It doesn't really matter how good or bad it is (and apparently, it's surprisingly good). These kids-- adults now-- dedicated their entire adolescence to realizing a dream. Their film celebrates the power of art to inspire us, and I want to bear witness.

And you know, this should earn those guys big bonus points on that geek test.

Geek Test, You Passed

Speaking of geekiness, see how much you have with this geek test. It turns out I am merely a "Total Geek" with a scant 29.38856% of geekiness. Who knew?

Comments (8) | last by Jack Bridges, Jun 25, 4:35 PM

Pepsi Shnizzle

Do you remember waaaaaay back in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when key members of Starfleet Command got taken over by parasites and started acting funny and eating mealy worms? Of course you don't. That's why I'm here-- to be the geek so you don't have to. But I'm starting to think those parasites have infested the marketing departments of the major soft drink companies, because the names of their new products have stopped making sense.

Mountain Dew Code Red. Mountain Dew Livewire. Sprite Remix. Pepsi Blue. What the hell? These names tell me nothing about the single most important aspect of a soft drink-- their flavor. It wasn't so long ago that Coke got it right, with the plainly named (if vile-tasting) Vanilla Coke. See how easy that is? Vanilla Coke. What's wrong with Mountain Dew Orange, or Tropical Sprite? "Livewire" is not a flavor, it's a safety warning. The parasites are just preparing us for their invasion. Pepsi Blue is people!

Comments (2) | last by Dan Blum, Jun 3, 6:36 AM