October 25, 2013

Movie Review: Outland (1981)

“ They sent me here to this pile of shit because they think I belong here. I've got to find out if they're right. There's a whole machine that works because everybody does what they're supposed to. I found out I was supposed to be something I didn't like. That's what's in the program. That's my rotten little part in the rotten machine. Well, I don't like it. So I'm going to find out if they're right.” – Marshal O’Neil (Sean Connery)

Director: Peter Hyams

Writer: Peter Hyams

Producers: Stanley O’Toole, Charles Orme, Richard A. Roth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Major Stars: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, John Ratzenberger

I saw this movie first on HBO when I was 11 or so. My dad didn’t mind because Connery was in it. He felt a little guilty about that after the naked prostitute almost gets butchered. But I just thought the idea of Connery taking on all comers in space was so bad-ass I didn’t even notice it.

If you’re not familiar with Outland, think High Noon in Space and you get the basic idea. Connery is Federal Marshal Wiiliam O'Niel, assigned (banished) to a backwater mining outpost on Jupiter’s moon of Io. There he discovers miners have been dying gruesome deaths because of the widespread use of “polydichloric euthimal”, a drug that increases productivity. O’Neil traces the source of the shipments back to the corporate head running the place. And trouble ensues from there.

It’s a better movie than some give it credit for. While the motifs are undeniably cribbed from High Noon, there is an unmistakable anti-corporate message in the film. To wit, here is a quote from Station Manager Sheppard, played with a nicely wicked bent by Peter Boyle:

Let me tell you what you're dealing with here. I run a franchise. The company hired me to dig as much ore out of this hellhole as possible. My hookers are clean, some of them are good looking. My booze isn't watered. The workers are happy. When the workers are happy, they dig more ore. They get paid more bonus money. When they dig more ore, the company's happy. When the company's happy, I'm happy.

In other words, sure the drug kills them, but they’re happy while they take it. So everyone is “happy” in one sense or another. Even though the workers are replaceable cogs, nothing more.

It also has a pretty pessimistic view of humanity. Here we are, able to travel in space and colonize other planets and moons. And we still treat each other like shit. I happen to think Hyams is on the mark here, but we’ll never know for sure until we actually can get out there.

Connery is good in this film, playing a harried Marshal trying to make a last go of it as his family life falls apart. He’s the classic “good man in a bad situation,” trying to clean up a cesspool that no one in particular wants cleaned up. Frances Sternhagen is a great sidekick as Dr. Lazarus, the only person on the station willing to help O’Niel when two contract killers come to silence him.

The action is good, as are the special effects. When Connery is spacewalking outside the station, it looks like he is spacewalking outside the station. And even though you don’t explode when your suit de-pressurizes…it's a nice effect.

So where does it rest on the list? As much as I like this movie, even I know this is not a top-tier classic. It is a good sci-fi western, but better than Serenity? No. But it’s still a lot better than Logan’s Run.

You should definitely check out Outland when you get the chance. Last I checked you can buy a copy at the Turner Classic Movies website for about four bucks.

October 24, 2013

Another Case of Getting It Really, Really Wrong

I am a web developer. And there are a lot of good things about working in the tech field. But if there is one thing that isn't good, it is the "brogrammer" mindset that is still all too prevalent in the industry. A complete unwillingness (or worse, inability) to acknowledge that:

  1. Women work in this field as well, and
  2. Maybe guys shouldn't act like misogynistic assholes

I have talked about this before here, how men in the industry have to confront this alongside women. That we can't just sit back and shake our heads in silent disapproval. Because not only is it just wrong, abhorrent behavior...it makes every guy in the industry look bad.

Real men in the tech field hate these guys.

With that in mind, here is another dumbass "bros in the industry keeping it real" idea that is just ridiculous and sad.

A "Hackers and Hookers" themed Halloween party, organized by a startup co-working collective called "Hacker Hideout," tech people might be smart commentary on the state of gender and business today. If it weren't real. But, yes, it is real: for $10, you can drink unlimited beer with a bunch of losers whose companies won't even get purchased by Yahoo!, wondering Where are all the girls??, and generally lacking social mores.
Guess which gender the hookers are!

You would think by 2013 we'd be getting a handle on this kind of bullshit, but no. Just like the CEO of a healthcare startup thinks women wearing high heels have no brains, we still have a long way to go.

Ideally, these assholes would just shut the fuck up and stop doing this crap. But the problem with that is it won't change the regressive mindset that forms these idiotic ideas. Better they come to the fore and receive the public mocking they richly deserve. Perhaps then the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should treat everyone the same will sink into their brains.

October 23, 2013

Space Vampires!

First off, if you aren't reading io9, you should be.

Second, they have compiled a list of the twenty-five scariest sci-fi and fantasy tv episodes ever. They also have a list for 26-50.

I have to say, I am usually leery of these lists because they tend to be very hit or miss. But they get it pretty right. Which I knew for a fact when I got to #14.

14) Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, “Space Vampire”

What it's about: You don't think of the disco-fied Buck Rogers TV show as being scary or even thrilling — but this episode terrified legions of kids and a lot of adults. Basically, it's about a space vampire stalking people on a deserted space station.

I was one of those kids. I loved Buck Rodgers and Erin Gray was the one who made me start to consider that maybe girls weren't full of cooties after all. So having an interstellar Nosferatu stalking my lady love? Not cool.

But it was scary as hell. I had never seen anything like this vampire (called a "vorvon" in the show). Bald, pale-skinned and with these long sharp nails, turning crew into his undead slaves.

Here's part of the promo for the episode:

Who says the late-70s/early-80s aren't amazing?

Now THIS Is A Pope!

A criticism of the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God (aka The Pope) in recent years was that the focus of the Roman Catholic Church was on things like decrying condoms, chastising homosexuals and turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of young boys. That criticism was accurate and deserved.

But with the arrival of Pope Francis, there is a sense of reform in the Church that really hasn't been seen since the short, short reign of Pope John Paul I. Francis has turned the focus of the Church to ministering to the sick and poor. While the Church still opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, Francis has de-emphasized that as a focus of the Church

“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel," Francis said in the interview.

"The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,' Francis said. "The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials."

He also has attacked the dogmatic, ideologue approach to faith:
"If one has the answers to all the questions - that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble."

And now he is going after Wealth in the Church. There has always been a stark contrast between the son of a carpenter and the opulence of the Church that claims to speak for him. But it appears that Pope Francis isn't going to stand for that.

The Vatican has suspended a senior German Church leader dubbed the "bishop of bling" by the media over his alleged lavish spending.

Bishop of Limburg Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is accused of spending more than 31m euros (£26m; $42m) on renovating his official residence.

The Vatican said it deemed "appropriate... a period of leave from the diocese" for the bishop.

The suspension comes two days after he met the Pope to discuss the matter.

I am an Episcopalian, so I have fundamental differences with the Catholic Church in issues of theology. I don't believe one man speaks for God, for example. But the Pope's influence is unquestionable. If he is preaching a message of humbleness and service, if he is going after ostentatious displays of wealth...then that is a good thing regardless of whether you believe he is the Vicar of Christ or not.

October 22, 2013

Pirates get Scammed in Rare Act of Karmic Justice

Some people may be crying over this, but I think it is richly deserved (via Kotaku).
You see quite a number of weird things in this world, but some things go beyond weird. An ambitious hacker has used the hype created around GTA V PC to infect tons and tons of PCs around the world. Fake files are nothing new, but this one takes the crown.
Here's a picture of the fake file about to be downloaded. Click on it to get a larger view.

Essentially, someone tricked up a malware file to look just like a PC download for Grand Theft Auto V. Down to a size that makes sense (18GB), setup.exe file, the whole nine yards. Except at the end, instead of banging hookers and driving cars off of skyscrapers, your computer gets infected with some serious malware.

And I couldn't be happier.

Look, this isn't rocket science. The more a game is pirated, the less money goes to the company for development. Never mind the fact that it's just wrong. And if your answer to that is "But it costs sixty dollars/euros/pounds/whatever!", my answer to you is "Then get a fucking job to pay for it". People bust their ass for months - sometimes years - to make these games. You could at least bust yours a few hours a week to buy it.


Movie Review: Independence Day (1996)

“I saw... its thoughts. I saw what they're planning to do. They're like locusts. They're moving from planet to planet... their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on... and we're next. Nuke 'em. Let's nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

Producers: Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich, William Fay, Dean Devlin and Peter Winther

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Robert Loggia, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner

Admittedly a masterpiece of special-effects, Independence Day relies on them to cover up a cavalcade of errors and mis-steps in the script. And while the sheer scale of the film and the action it displays does earn it a place on this list (for now), it will be hard-pressed to hold on once 100 films are reviewed and each subsequent review could knock a film off the list.

I don’t think I need to cover the plot, do I? Ever since its release in 1996 Independence Day has seemed to be playing somewhere on television every single day. At least one movie channel seems to have it in perpetual rotation on the weekends.

Besides, we all loved it when it first came out, right? Be honest; you likely fell for the hype. I know I did. I saw the damn film three times at the old Cheri in Boston. The spectacle on the screen was amazing. The special effects really pushed the envelope for the time though they weren’t revolutionary in the way Star Wars was in the 70s. The large-scale destruction was impressive to behold. Independence Day was loud and brash and cleaned up that summer.

It was only later as the buzz on the film wound down that the flaws in the film became more and more apparent. The one-dimensional characters. The “by-the-numbers” plotting. And the logic holes!!

How could a computer on Earth talk to, let alone infect, an alien system? How can a rolling wave of fire destroy all in its path yet not enter an open door in a tunnel to fry a major character? Why does the rest of the world sit around with their thumbs up their asses waiting for the Americans to think of something? How does the First Lady internally bleed to death in Area 51 after surviving over a day in the ruins of Los Angeles? Feel free to add your own.

That is where the film falters. Special effects alone cannot carry a sci-fi movie through repeated viewings. It eventually becomes old-hat. The story underneath the glitz has to be solid enough to support the film on its own. Films like Aliens or The Terminator have that kind of story. Independence Day does not.

So…we have a film with stunning effects and a mediocre script with logic holes galore that become more noticeable upon repeated viewings. Where does this go on this list? To me, it’s a simple question of whether it goes above or below Logan’s Run. These are what I consider “foundation films.” They build the base of the list and set the minimum standard for consideration but can easily be bumped off in the future.

The effects are obviously superior on Independence Day. But the script for Logan’s Run, even with the out-dated “overpopulation” motif, is more coherent and solid. And I don’t do ties. I give Independence Day the edge, but not with any kind of enthusiasm.

It’s worth watching for free on television if you haven’t seen it in a while and nothing else is on. To be fair, the whole “destruction of the world” sequence does still get my attention. But I wouldn’t spend a dime to add Independence Day to my collection.

October 21, 2013

I Could Watch This Forever

Oh Prince...

Tempermental?! Why you Sonuva...

I find this to be pretty amusing, utterly stereotypical and not at all surprising


This is from a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

From the study:

a substantial body of research suggests that activities in each of these domains are typically influenced by psychological variables, raising the possibility that psychological forces might be the mediating or causal factors responsible for regional variation in key indicators.

So I have lived in New England my whole life. Tell me, oh Wise Learned Ones, what does it mean to be "tempermental and inquisitive"?

The psychological profile of the region is defined by low Extraversion, very low Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, very high Neuroticism, and moderately high Openness. This particular configuration of traits depicts the type of person who is reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive. There are disproportionate numbers of older adults and women in this region, in addition to affluent and college-educated individuals.


Overall, it appears that this psychological region is a place where residents are passionate, competitive, and liberal.

They didn't say it in the study, but we also like our drink. Which may or may not play into the Tempermental part a little...

My Five Favorite Films From...1992

Honorable Mention – Aladdin: Just a wonderful animated tale. Robin Williams is fantastic as the Genie. Not ashamed to say I still love this movie even in my advanced years.

5. Honeymoon In Vegas: You’d think a Nic Cage / James Caan comedy wouldn’t work…but it does.

4. El Mariachi: If you wanted to pinpoint the year that indie films went mainstream for good, it would be 1992. This was one of the two films to make that happen. Rodriguez’s tale of mistaken identity, love and revenge was made for just $7,000. And it kicks ass.

3. The Last of The Mohicans: Probably the most successful film set in the time of the French and Indian Wars. Daniel Day-Lewis does his usual great job of acting. The score and cinematography were just as impressive. This is a fantastic movie that I think gets overlooked to some degree.

2. Reservoir Dogs: The other film that helped to cement independent film in the public eye. Tarantino’s tale about a robbery-gone-bad is violent, funny and multi-layered. Just a remarkable piece of work.

1. Unforgiven: One of the best Westerns ever made and one of the best movies ever made. Eastwood’s ultimate piece of work in his decades-long deconstruction of the Western genre.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: The Babe, Glengarry Glen Ross, A Few Good Men, Howards End, A League of Their Own, Indochine, The Player, Patriot Games, Basic Instinct, My Cousin Vinny, Batman Returns, Wayne’s World, Singles, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, School Ties, Malcom X, Bob Roberts*, Stay Tuned

Underappreciated – Diggstown: A movie about a con-man (Warwick’s Own Jimmy Woods) and his partner/former boxer (Lou Gossett, Jr.) trying to take $1.5 million from a sleazy one-time manager by betting Gossett’s character can box, and beat, 10 men in 24 hours. It’s funny and layered, with some twists that are damned good. But it never caught on in the theaters, which is a crime. Definitely worth watching.

Guilty Pleasure – Waxwork II: Lost in Time: I can’t even pretend to defend this movie as being a quality film. But I like it. I like the whole concept of traveling around pocket dimensions fighting evil and teleporting back and forth. And it has The Bruce in it. You can’t hate on a film when The Bruce is involved. Well, maybe McHale's Navy, but that’s it.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – Dr. Giggles: Remember the guy who played the mentally-disabled Benny Stulwicz on L.A. Law? Am I seriously dating myself with that reference? Well, now imagine Benny as a homicidal psycho who uses medical instruments to kill people. There’s your main character for Dr. Giggles, which is nuts even by slasher standards. How many films have you seen where the killer suffocates someone with a 3-foot Band Aid? That’s what I thought.


* This film is much less funny and much more scary once George Bush became President. Now it seems like a template for how whack jobs can become Senators (*cough* Ted Cruz *cough*)


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