Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Looper

Monday Movie Madnesswhere I review a movie that I recently saw for the first time. This week's offering is Looper (2012).

One of my favorite time travel movies is The Final Countdown, where the modern (in 1980s terms) carrier USS Nimitz is somehow transported back in time. Well not just back to any old time, but serendipitously back to December 1941 just to prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's a pretty entertaining flick as long as you don't expand neurons on how contrived the circumstances have to be to move the plot along; Nimitz has to be in the right place and time to encounter the unexplained time portal, of all the points in time possible it goes back to 1941 where it a modern nuclear-powered carrier and jet air wing would change a pivotal moment in naval history, and (this is a flaw in every time travel story for me) despite the fact that Earth, the solar system and the Milky Way are constantly moving through space Nimitz still winds up in the equivalent position in another time instead of empty space. The thing is if you dissect any time travel movie these plot absurdities become the movie for you, rather than the story. A willing suspension of disbelief is thus required, unless of course the story has no redeeming story or entertainment value, in that case going MST3K becomes the only reason to watch it.

Which brings me to this weeks movie, Looper.  The basic premise is that in the late 21st century time travel will be invented, but immediately outlawed due to the obvious implications. In an apparent case of " if time travel is outlawed only outlaws will have time travel", organized crime uses time travel for whacking people.  It works like this, in the 2070s biometric tracking makes it hard to kill and dispose of bodies (although scenes set in that period show goons threatening and killing people so it assumed not to be a universal problem), so victims are sent back in time to 2040s Kansas (!?!) were an assassin waits in a cornfield at the designated time to off and dispose the unfortunate victim. The executioners use a futuristic shotgun that can't miss at short range and can't hit the broad side of a barn past that range. I try here to avoid spoilers but this range issue becomes a critical Chekov's gun later on. In fact there are many odd details that seem unnecessary that become integral as the movie progresses. The whackee is sent back in time hooded and with silver bars attached for payment. Sometime in the future every assassin will be looped back in time to be killed by their younger self. This becomes a problem when one looper, Joshua Gordon-Leavitt suddenly meets his older, unhooded self in the form of Bruce Willis. The sight of his future self leads to hesitation on the art of Leavitt and the escape of Willis.

Now it this point you have to wonder, why have time travel just to use it for corpse disposal, why wouldn't someone use it to, you know, kill Hitler or someone like him? Wouldn't that be more of a story?  Well without revealing more, answering that question is what this movie surprisingly becomes. Fair warning, the way the movie answers this question is both disturbing and very sad.

Looper also does a fairly good job imagining a future where every thing is not contemporary, kinda like right now or any other real point in time.  Leavitt and Willis do a great job playing a single character at different points in time and Leavitt is made up to look like a younger version of Bruce.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Media Outlets Shame Themselves With (lack of) Coverage of Obama Climate Speech

Predicting what our progeny will think is important about our current world may be a fool's game, that is until you consider climate change.  The post-Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn't in a hurry to go anywhere and we continue inject more at an accelerating rate. Greater amounts of heat will be retained by the atmosphere and later generations (emphasis on the plural) will experience changes in weather, ecosystems and civilization. It doesn't require any great predictive powers to believe that our descendants will consider our action, and lack of, to climate change as our most important legacy

That's my guess for the future. As for the present it is obvious that the great and little minds of the media empires rank climate change as not being very newsworthy.  Yesterday, President gave the most frank and forceful speech by any U.S. president on the matter, a speech that also announced significant  concrete executive action. Yet both while he was talking and immediately afterwards CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox and even MSNBC barely covered it, the only exception was the Weather Channel. When I flipped on CNN rather than see the speech or even talking yahoos dissembling it I was transported back to my time in San Diego in the mid-80s because CNN was breathlessly reporting on a car chase on Southern California freeway. The media empires website's were just as negligent. relegated the speech it to the secondary sidebar items, but at least it was near the top of the page. But that's much better than where it was buried way down the page in small font, Paula Deen was rated as more newsworthy. An hour later, did post the story at the top, along with video. But they had to add a truthinews bit that asked if "Americans care about climate change". Yes, the actual facts only matter to CNN of they think the public cares. Many thanks to Stephen Colbert for coming up with that term just in time. Come to think of it, maybe that is the problem in a nutshell. The importance of an issue to the public and the media who wants their attention is not based on the actually events, risks and facts but on the narcissism of the viewers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Been Away

From the internet that is. First I was up in Massachusetts and had spotty service, then the hard drive developed the Blue Screen of Death.

But that's not the full story. For I've grown bored and irritated with the internet. It is still useful as an accelerated and interconnected communications device with great resources, but as a place to spend much time "socializing" it is a pathetic world of paranoid libertarian/anarchist fucktwits with little regard to what actually happens on the ground as they say. It's reality TV on steroids (here is where I place the obligatory "I am aware of the irony). That's not to say there aren't real gems there, but the volume of crap is increasing. I have also grown increasingly annoyed at those impressed that they can use gadgets so simple an energetic cattle dog could operate them, the so-called "tech savvy" crowd. And then there are the people who are more freaked out that the metadata for their inane tweets and instagrams may be in an anonymous giant pile than they were over schoolkids getting slaughtered. Get off your pedestal folks, you're nothing more than the latest product of consumer marketing and the volume of crap you post and share will not grant you any sort of immortality. Long story short I needed to get away.

I will post as I find the time, mainly as a way to practice my writing but also as a means of venting. I could care less if anyone reads it, but if they do I thank them.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Monday Movie Madness, where I review a movie that I recently saw for the first time. Yeah, I meant this to be a weekly feature months ago but got distracted. This week's offering is Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011).

Like many I felt Conan got a raw deal when he was canned from the Tonight Show and have been curious about his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television tour. I assumed that this documentary would either be a recording of one gig on that tour or a blow-blow account of his departure from the Tonight Show and the subsequent tour. It is somewhat of the latter, but not in any detailed way. It's more of a stream of consciousness telling of those events, you see bits and pieces over time, but never in any detail. You get a little bit of a look at Conan as a person, but not too much. His family life and backstory a lightly touched on at random points. He can be a dick to his staff, by his own admission, although many times it is in a sarcastic way not meant to be taken seriously (have to be from Boston to get the sarcasm). One thing that is noticeable at the beginning is how he struggles with being intensely angry with being screwed over while at the same time telling the world and himself that he is a fortunate person who really has nothing to complain about. How often do we see this from celebs, rich people, athletes and politicians?

Overall, it's not a deep insightful doc, it's just there. Nevertheless it's entertaining and it reveals O'Brien to be a very talented performer.  Worth watching.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No, you don't know who bombed the Marathon.

It's a sad ritual going back to the days before cable when after any sort of horrific crime or tragic event the news media answers the unknown with uninformed speculation posing as fact. 24-hour news and the internet have simply put this on steroids and we've all wearily grown accustomed to it.

But in the past decade this sort of useless and even harmful speculation-as-news has spread even more as non-media people have taken to comment sections, facebook and twitter to spout their own ridiculous, totally fact-free pronouncements on who did something and why. Speculation is one thing, we're all doing it, but these people push their speculation as confirmed facts. What's worse is that they often jump to accusing whole groups by association and demand retribution. And these people are not limited to any one viewpoint or ideology, they're right, left, in-between and really out there. Apparently these folks have all the answers and they want to let you know they do.

Well I have a message for those folks.

You don't know who did it, you don't have secret information, world events are not controlled by shadowy cabals, history does not follow some set path, people you disagree with politically are not responsible for all the world's ills. You don't know what information the authorities have.

We don't know if it was one person, several or many, al Qaeda, al Qaeda inspired, right-wing nuts, anarchists, or anyone with any well known cause associated with violence. It could even be someone with a grudge against the Marathon or some ill-defined hatred of Boston and/or New England.  We don't know and that we includes you. You're not special.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Strange, surreal and stupid Sunday, Apr. 14

It's not a strange, stupid and surreal roundup without a Florida story: Florida battles slimy invasion by giant snails

You can't buy rights to name exoplanet, says astronomy group - whew! No planet Trump.

 Graffiti force closure of Joshua Tree park sites - "They (park officials)blame vandals who posted pictures of their handiwork on social media sites such as Facebook, which enticed others to the same spot and leave their own illicit marks." Do kids these days have no grasp of the concept of incriminating evidence?

But in New Jersey graffiti and vandalism are part of the charm apparently.

‘Family Ties’ and ‘Modern Family’ define political parties - another reason why I'm independent.

Yum! Astronauts' Favorite Space Food: Rehydrated, ghastly pink, a little bit slimy

The San Francisco Treat!

I'll just quote this "A scion of the Scripps media family was convicted in Philadelphia on Friday of fleecing his mother and mentally disabled uncle of $3.6 million, cash he spent on cars, jewelry, and a playboy lifestyle for himself and two women - one a stripper, the other a porn star." 

The BBC looks set to play Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, the Wizard of Oz song appropriated by anti-Thatcherites - Couldn't have happened to a nicer person, wonder what the Irish is for "rot in hell"? But how can you hate someone who inspires this?

While over here we have this (in Florida of course): Police Sergeant Fired Over Trayvon Martin Shooting Targets

Indeed: The strange beauty of salt mines

Monday, March 25, 2013

Airport-Sponsored Sports Teams? "It could work!"

My bracket in my March Madness pool shot to number one before my championship pick Georgetown went down to Florida Gulf Coast. Nate Silver put it best while the debacle was unfolding:

Pathetic. But his snark got me thinking, why not have an airport sponsor a team? You could have different tier leagues as well, D-I teams sponsored by Chicago O'Hare, Logan, LAX etc, D-II by Allegheny County, T.F. Green and so on. You could even have leagues sponsored by different types of transportation infrastructure,such as the EZ-Pass league. Lots of opportunity there, imagine a Final Four of Jersey Turnpike, Mass Pike, Ohio Turnpike and Ft. McHenry Tunnel. The teams could function as minor leagues for the NFL and NBA and raise badly needed revenue for our cash-strapped transportation systems.

Yeah it sounds absurd, but no more than an institution of "higher learning" running a sports/entertainement business.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Strange, Surreal and Stupid Sunday

Hmmm, wonder what this says about the editors and readers: top newswatch stories on include Giant Seacumber Eats With its Anus and Phallus Worm is Missing Evolutionary Link.

Yes this is a worm and not a sex toy.

Sooo...... Fox News is part of a left-wing conspiracy? Even includes the requisite Hitler reference!

From the "And you thought your life sucked" files.

I didn't know too much tea would mess with your bones, but if you're drinking 150 bags a day you have to expect something bad.

Sorry Mr. Ohio DA, Phil is out of your jurisdiction.

Physicists debate about nothing, is Jerry Seinfeld hosting this?

Love from beyond the grave, sounds like a CW series.


Only in Philly - hoagie corruption!

Ummm, maybe your dog is laughing at you and not with you.

And Chupacabra is back!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Our New Arrival

Although the old school house still has a lot of projects to be completed, I have spent the past month concentrating on getting as much done as possible before early March, to the detriment of this and the other blog (something has to give). The driving force and deadline for this redoubled effort on the house was the new kid's ETA of March 4th. Well just like his brother, Kevin arrived a few days late but made his appearance late on the 7th at the Wilmington Birth Center. Right now I'm flying almost solo taking care of Joe (who's home sick from daycare). Once Mama is up and about, it'll be back to renovation, writing and geology for me.
Kevin just after making his first appearance.

Napping at his new home.

Friday, February 8, 2013


For various periods in the past 25 years of so I've dabbled in photography, but I really got going in '99 when I went to Oregon State. With a new Canon SLR and old Zeiss TLR I did quite a bit bit of B&W work in both 35 mm and 120 formats. One good thing about OSU was the Craft Center, which had a full darkroom where I was able to develop both film and prints. I also did shot color, but sent it out for processing. Eventually I purchased my own darkroom equipment.

When I moved to Delaware in Jan. '05 I set up my darkroom again, but also got my first digital camera a Kodak Z. I moved in 2007 and intended to set up a new darkroom in the basement of our rental house, even purchasing blackout plastic to cover one-half. But time constraints started to get in the way and it started to get harder to get the chemicals. In '08 the price was finally right for me to move to a digital SLR. I began shooting a lot more, but did little with them. I already had experience using Photoshop and Illustrator, but mainly did any adjustments using the Kodak and Canon Eos software.  But this past Christmas  I received Adobe Lightroom, which I finally began to really explore this past week, so much so that I've neglected doing much on this here blog or over at WTF Pennsylvania (though I've kept up the twitter updates).

There are a number of features that I've found very useful. In addition to being able to adjust levels and contrasts, there are cropping selections that automatically set the right aspect ratios for the size of prints I plan to make. There are also a number of preset modifications that I ignored at first, but have found to incredibly useful in making creative adjustments.

One emulates a direct positive or transparency. The preset doesn't always improve an image, but for certain shots the results are amazing:
Bison at National Bison Refuge, MT -as shot.
Same image as a direct positive.

Sara Beth as bride, as shot (not by me BTW).
Same with bleach bypass emulation.

Grand Teton, as shot.
Grand Teton with selenium toning

Old Faithful, as shot
Old Faithful, direct positive
Wrigley Building, Chicago, as shot.
Same image, converted to grayscale, contrast increased and cropped.
 Looks like I'm back into photography.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People refuse to learn...

The recent nightclub fire tragedy in Brazil drew inevitable comparisons to similar tragedies, including the fire at "The Station" in Rhode Island a decade ago.  That particular one hit home for me in a number of ways. I had spent four years in the state while going to URI and Warwick was not too far away (nothing really is in Rhode Island).  Being an "older" student, i.e. in my mid-twenties, my friends there where either grad students or people in the real world in their twenties and thirties who lived there year - round and didn't lead the the typical undergrad life. Long story short we often had to find ways to entertain ourselves and sometimes that meant going to one of the many small clubs for the locals in the area.  I never went to or even heard of the Station before the fire, and certainly wasn't a fan of Great White, but I can imagine a group of us going there just for a laugh for lack of anything else to do.  In this day and age you would think that one could go for some mindless fun with a reasonable expectation of safety but that was not the case. And Rhode Island is in New England, an area where public safety and regulation is not looked down like it is in the South or ignored like I noticed it was in the Northwest.

What makes it worst was the fact that anyone New Englander with two working neurons should have heard of the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, especially a club owner and local fire inspectors. The Cocoanut Grove is internationally infamous and is even more applicable to the Brazil fire.  Maybe twenty years ago the owners and officials in Brazil could be excused for not considering the lessons of a fire on another continent 50 years prior, but with worldwide news coverage and the internet and the immediate international notoriety of the Station fire and others there is none today. Sadly, the Boston Historical Society's account of the Cocoanut Grove seems to have called it,
The lessons of the Cocoanut Grove are with us every day. Exits blocked or locked, smoking and use of matches, overcrowding, flammable materials within buildings and a lack of sprinklers and smoke detectors. Hardly a person in Boston or New England during the 1940's could be found who did not have a friend or relative who wasn't at the Grove that night, or had planned to go, or had left before the fire started, or wasn't affected by this tragedy. The question then and now is: "Can this happen again"? The answer is yes, it can and will happen again.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Movie Madness: Mean Streets

Monday Movie Madness, where I review a movie that I recently saw for the first time. This week's inaugural offering (get it?) is Mean Streets (1973).

Any time you have a period piece there will always be a discussion on how accurate the depiction is, the recent release Lincoln is a case in point.   For a movie set in a time before film, audio and video recording this is a question that will never be answered with certainty.  On the other hand, if you a made a movie today about the 1970’s you would at least have a wealth of material from the time to draw on.  But too me the best efforts can never match the way some movies accurately capture the look and feel of the times they a made in. There is a lot to say about Martin Scorcese’s first real foray into the world of New York’s streets and underworld, but the thing the thing that stood out for me was how gritty early Seventies it looked.  Now I’m not from New York and I only vaguely remember the time, but there is something in all the litter, cheap plastic, poorly-built gas guzzlers, and obnoxious paneling that can never be reproduced with complete accuracy, even in Scorcese’s own later flicks like Goodfellas or Casino. Mean Streets will make you feel like you have been transported not only into the Italian-American community, but smack dab into the urban decay of Northeastern American cities in that decade (even though much was shot in Los Angeles). You can almost smell the garbage and see the smog.

The story itself is much simpler and covers a much smaller area and time than his later gangster movies.  A very young looking Harvey Keitel and gangly Robert DeNiro (who looks barely old enough to be out of high school) are associated with the lowest level of organized crime in Little Italy. DeNiro is not the menacing figure he would play later in his career, his character Johnny Boy is a bit of a loose cannon but is more immature than psychotic.  Keitel’s Charlie is set to move up in his Uncle’s mafia crew, but is troubled by the conflict between the life he leads and his faith.  None of the characters leave the confines of New York’s Little Italy nor show much inclination to do so and running to Brooklyn at the end is like traveling to an unknown, foreign land.  For a Scorcese movie the violence is remarkably subdued. Some realistic fisticuffs go down, there is a chaotic hit that is as much a mystery to the characters as it to the viewer and finally an act of violence pivotal to the plot (no spoilers). There is a pretty funny scene where some of the low-level mob types rip off a couple of uptown teenagers looking to buy fireworks, using the money to go to the movies.
Robert Ebert said “If Francis Ford Coppola's ``The Godfather'' fixed an image of the Mafia as a shadow government, Scorsese's ``Mean Streets'' inspired the other main line in modern gangster movies, the film of everyday reality. ``The Godfather'' was about careers. ``Mean Streets'' was about jobs. In it you can find the origins of all those other films about the criminal working class…”

Definitely worth viewing. Look for cameos by Scorcese’s mother and himself.

The most important takeaway from the Inauguration...

...was Scalia's hat:

People were obsessed over it, with some saying it looked like something out of the Vatican. I disagree, it's obvious that the Justice imagines himself to be a doge like those that once ran places like Venice.  It all makes sense. Scalia imagines a United States like medieval Italy, a land of corrupt, chaotic constantly scheming and warring city-states.
But hey, think of all the great art!

Whoa, I was way off. Scalia wasn't going for the Doge look, he was all about Martin Luther-

Who'd a thunk it!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

So all I do is stupid, surreal Sunday now?

That will change soon, nevertheless since it is indeed Sunday....

You can't make this stuff up:  Gun Appreciation Day Celebrated With Accidental Shootings at Gun Shows in North Carolina and Ohio (complete with ignorant, ahistorical paranoid comments from weapons fetishists).

From the blindingly obvious file: If she's afraid of kids, maybe this woman should pick another profession (just sayin'). 

How bad is Beijing’s air pollution?  Try “beyond index.” 

Don't hassle the dead boy, they have eerie powers.

Yeah, this isn’t racist. 

The NHL is back! Apparently so is the enticing aroma.

Cash is cash.

Sure, the dog ran him over.

We now know Walter White's nemesis for the final episodes of Breaking Bad

Just let me state for the record, this woman does not represent all cat haters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the sweatiest part of your body (if you have to know).

So now I have to get naked the old-fashioned way at the airport?