October 18, 2013

Movie Review: Serenity (2005)

”So me and mine gotta lay down and die... so you can live in your better world?” – Captain Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion)

Director: Joss Whedon

Writers: Joss Whedon

Producer: Barry Mendel

Studio: Universal

Major Stars: Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, Summer Glau

I liked Serenity. A lot. Which I know can be controversial with fans of the show it's based upon (Firefly) because of some storyline choices. But I think you need to take it on its own. That is how the film was designed - to be accessible to newcomers.

It's an action-packed sci-fi flick with a Western flavor that never drags, is coherent in its story and entertains the whole way.

In the 26th Century, humanity has colonized the stars. There is a core of strong, advanced worlds called the Alliance. The worlds on the fringe are called Independents. When the Alliance decides to "enlighten" the Independents, there is a war that the Alliance wins.

One of the heroes of the losing side, Captain Malcom "Mal" Reynolds, now captains a ship called the Serenity. He runs jobs with his crew on both sides of the law, doing what it takes to maintain his independence in a galaxy the Alliance is trying to make perfect by any means necessary.

He takes onto his ship a brother and sister, Simon and River Tam. Simon is a doctor. River is something altogether different; an experiment of the Alliance. A living weapon who knows a secret the Alliance doesn't want anyone else to hear. And when Simon and River escape on the Serenity, the Alliance sends an Operative (think uber bad-ass ninja/assassin/warrior-philosopher) to find River no matter the cost.

And that is the basic plot of the film. Mal discovers what the secret is and wants the rest of the galaxy to hear it. The Operative does anything and everything he can to stop him. It's a strong spine that allows the story to be told simply and entertainingly.

It's a strong cast. Nathan Fillion as Mal convincingly plays a man who wants to be amoral but can't help doing the right thing when it counts. Alan Tudyk and Gina Torres are the husband/wife team of Wash and Zoe. Wash is the pilot and Zoe is a former member of Mal's squad during the war. Adam Baldwin plays Jayne, a mercenary hired by the crew. Jewel Staite plays Kaylee, the engineer of the Serenity and someone who seems way too sweet to be in such a dangerous universe. Sean Maher and Summer Glau play Simon and River Tam. They are the center of the film, River in particular.

Following them is Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative. He plays it great, a true believer in the system who knows he is a monster doing bad things for "the greater good."

The universe Serenity takes place in is as much a character as the cast. Joss Whedon did a fantastic job bringing it to life. Cities can be shiny and clean or grimy and dangerous. There are no hand-held lasers or photon beams; people use guns and, in the case of The Operative, a sword. The language is a mix of English and Chinese, which is a nice touch and completely logical considering the size and growth of China.

October 17, 2013

I Remember, I Remember When I Lost My Mind

Amid all the insanity of the final day of the government shutdown/threatened default/Tea Party tantrum, this also happened

Amid all the chaos of the last-minute deal in Washington, there was an unusual moment on the House floor moments after the bill passed.

A House stenographer and well-known employee calmly took to a microphone and began screaming.

"Do not be deceived. God shall not be mocked. A House divided cannot stand," she said, according to a House GOP aide. After a few seconds, she was escorted out by the Sergeant-at-Arms, but an audio recording by Todd Zwillich of Public Radio International captured the rest of her rant.

"He will not be mocked, He will not be mocked, (don't touch me) He will not be mocked. The greatest deception here, is that this is not one nation under God. It never was. Had it been... it would not have been... No. it would not have been... the Constitution would not have been written by Free Masons... and go against God. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God, Lord Jesus Christ."

Ummmm....wow. And I thought the craziest thing I would ever hear during this debacle was that asshat Republican from Florida saying that a default would be a good thing for the global markets.

But Free Masons?? I don't thing they've gotten a callout in politics like that since John Quincy Adams was President.

But hey, if the Crazy Contingent of the GOP wants to break off and form their own party...just saying there's a moribund party name just sitting there waiting to be used.

October 16, 2013

This Guy Is An Asshole

This asshole you see to your left is Texas Senator Ted Cruz. He is, as I stated at the start of the previous sentence, an asshole. Why, you ask? Because this asshole is the primary reason that the US stands on the brink of default.

At the stroke of midnight tonight, the authority for the US government to issue debt ceases to exist. Also known as "the ability to pay our bills". Technically, there will still be enough money in the coffers to pay all our current debt for another 1-2 weeks. But then that is it and the US will be in real, actual default.

That would be catastrophic. Not only would interest rates go through the roof here in the US, but you'd see the housing industry collapse again and jobs start to be lost once more. Add to that having the global economy take a massive hit and we'd have the Great Recession, Part II. As a topper, it would also likely be the end the run of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. That is a current benefit of about $100B to the US as it lowers borrowing costs.

So, because Republicans can't accept the fact that the Affordable Care Act was passed and deemed Constitutional, because Republicans can't accept the fact that we had an election that centered on this law and the President WON, they are going to hold their breath, stamp their feet, and ruin the nation because we had the audacity not to agree with them.

And that brings us back to that asshole Ted Cruz.

For someone who went to Princeton and Harvard, he is an idiot. He went behind the backs of his Senate GOP brethren and stirred up the dumbest Republicans in the house (stalwarts like Michelle Bachmann, Steve Stockman, Louie "Terror Babies" Gohmert and Steve King of Iowa) to actually block anything that didn't defund the Affordable Care Act. Which is the one thing, the one thing the President would never ever consider going back on.

And he did this in public. Why? Because Cruz has his eyes on 2016 and the Presidential race. And he is thinking this will shore up the Tea Party base to back him. Which, to be fair, it will. The problem is that the rest of the country is now pissed with him and Republicans in general. And the Tea Party is a shrinking part of the electorate. Which means that this whole thing has likely put Cruz even further away from reaching the White House.

And it has actually put the House of Representatives in play for the Democrats in 2014. Poll after poll is showing that the GOP is taking a massive hit with voters. To such an extent that there is an actual chance that, if this current public mood holds until 2014 (and that is a big if), the Democrats will retake the House. Which would be unheard of.

So, in short, Ted Cruz's ego and desire for self-aggrandizement has put the US (and world) on the edge of another recession while damaging his own party's election chances in 2014 and pretty much making sure he'll never see the inside of the White House unless a standing President invites him inside.

And he doesn't regret it a bit.

Like I said, this guy is an asshole.

October 15, 2013


If you have ever watched It`s Always Sunny in Philadelphia then you likely know that one of the many, many highlights was Charlie discovering the song "Dayman":

Simply awesome. So via Gawker, this is simply blowing my mind.

I have three pertinent questions:

  1. Why are Japanese Kindergarten students singing "Dayman"?
  2. Why is there a drawing of Peter Griffin in the background?
  3. How high is the American grad student who is obviously teaching these children?

Movie Review: Logan’s Run (1976)

“Life clocks are a lie! Carousel is a lie! THERE IS NO RENEWAL!” – Logan 5 (Michael York)

Director: Michael Anderson

Writers: William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (novel), David Z. Goodman (screenplay)

Producer: Saul David

Studio: MGM

Major Stars: Michael York, Richard Jordan, Peter Ustinov, Jennifer Agutter

Memory is a cruel thing, sometimes. Especially when something you loved is revealed to be less than what you thought it was. Such is the realization I had while watching Logan’s Run again. I loved this film when I caught it on television during the 80s. But now? It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t the tour de force I once considered it, either.

The story is very “70s science-fiction” – a dystopian future where people are living in a domed city underground. Their every whim is provided for, but there is a catch. They wear Lifeclock crystals in the palm of their hand. When it starts blinking Red (10 days before they turn 30), the resident must decide to take part in the ritual of Carousel, which involved dressing in a costume and floating up to the ceiling in a chamber where you are instantly cremated. Of course, this is seen as a great and wondrous day by most of the people because they believe it is possible to survive Carousel and become Renewed.

But if you don’t to go to Carousel and you run, then the Sandmen come for you. That is where we meet the title character, Logan 5 (York) and his partner Francis (Jordan). They are Sandmen. After killing a Runner and discovering an ankh, Logan is summoned before the computer that controls the city (Of course he is. What 70s dystopian sci-fi film doesn’t have a computer calling all the shots?). The computer sets Logan on a mission to find a place called Sanctuary, a hidden location where Runners can live safely from the computer and the Sandmen. And to make it easier for him to do his job, the computer advances his Lifeclock to blinking red.

You see where this is going. As Logan searches for Sanctuary, he not only discovers that Renewal is a scam but becomes sympathetic to the Runners themselves. With the help of a woman named Jessica (Agutter), who helps Runners escape, the two look for Sanctuary while pursued by Francis. They eventually escape the city and make it to the surface, where we find out that…well, let’s just say our civilization is long-gone but people aren’t. And when that is reported to the computer by Logan, it has issues computing the information.

It’s not a bad story by any means. But I wonder if part of my mild disappointment has to do with the subject matter. Over-population was a huge topic in the 70s. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb was a best-selling book that foretold of massive global upheaval as a result of over-population. Of course, none of what he said came to pass. Hell, I can drive 30 minutes north of my home in coastal Maine and be surrounded by nothing but woods. So over-population, even one driven by post-apocalyptic necessity to live underground, doesn’t carry the same punch by itself anymore.

As for the special effects…heck, it won an Oscar for Special Effects. But the effects are horribly dated when you watch in nowadays and it affects how you enjoy the film. As opposed to, say, Metropolis, which is a silent black-and-white film from the 1920s and is as incredible today as it was the first time I saw it. When the people are consumed by fire at the top of Carousel it looks like some overlaid fake explosion you would see some high-school kid do in his first movie on his mom’s video camera.

The acting is solid, if not spectacular, all the way around. I personally feel that Richard Jordan as Francis steals the screen from Michael York whenever they have a scene together. It’s not necessarily a good thing when your lead actor is upstaged like that. Then again, you are talking about the future Duncan Idaho here so it’s not that surprising.

I feel like I am dumping on Logan’s Run here and I don’t want to do that. It’s not a bad film. It’s still fun to watch and it is better than a lot of the sci-fi crap that gets churned out these days. I’d watch this a hundred times over before I let my eyes even glimpse a frame of AvP: Requiem.

But when you hold it up to even the other sci-fi films of that era (Rollerball, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind among others) it is most decidedly a bottom-third film in the “Top 100” list. That becomes even more obvious when you compare it to something like Children of Men or Alphaville.

But being a runner-up to films of that quality isn’t a bad place to be in the scheme of things. Logan’s Run is a good way to kill a lazy afternoon and should definitely be a part of any sci-fi collection. Just don’t go into it thinking you are going to see a revolutionary film.

October 14, 2013

Sometimes I Take Pictures

I took this back in April of 2011. It is looking south towards the Custom House in Boston. This shot would have been impossible 10 years ago. Behind me is the Zakim Bridge and I am standing in a park. 10 years ago it was a I-93 overpass that cut the North End off from the rest of the city. The transformation of Boston over the past 20 years is nothing short of amazing.

Bonus shot: boats in Boston Harbor


Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon.

Site of Future Awesomeness

Coming soon