Archive | January, 2014

We Can Change It For You Wholesale

23 Jan

The have now been two films with the title “Total Recall”, the original in 1990 and its remake in 2012. Both are supposedly based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, but the 2012 version fails to capture the spirit of the short story. (We suspect that the original 1990 version fails as well, but we didn’t see that one, so we don’t know for sure.)

We remember finding Dick’s story in a dog-eared, secondhand paperback (“Nebula Award Stories Number Two” published by Pocket Books, second printing December 1969, if you must know) and thinking that it was an interesting idea with an amusing ending. The word “cute” crossed our minds.

So what happens when Hollywood gets hold of this material? Well, they amp up the violence for one thing, they toss in a whole bunch of material that’s not in the original story, and they jettison the original story’s ending (which for us was the heart of the thing) in favor of a cliché ending.

We’re not saying we didn’t find things to like in the 2012 version (we rather enjoyed Kate Beckinsale’s over-the-top portrayal of a relentless, malevolent agent determined to take out the main character played by Colin Farrell.) However, the film is essentially one long extended chase scene from a video game; “The Super Mario Brothers Go To the Future” would have made an excellent alternative title.

A version that is faithful to Dick’s intention would be much shorter and would call for a somewhat lighter touch. It’s possible that someone will make that version someday. We’re just not holding our breath.

Philip K. Dick

They changed your story, Phil

Angels on a Pin, Clapping

21 Jan

When people want to dismiss an argument as being trivial, they often compare it to the question “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” From our casual research, we have learned that this exact question was never debated in medieval times, although Thomas Aquinas did raise the question of whether several angels could be in the same place at once.

Let’s assume for a minute that medieval clerics did debate the question of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Makes ’em sound kind of idiotic, doesn’t it?

Now let’s change the venue a bit. Let’s imagine that Buddhist monks, in addition to creating the famous koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” also created the koan “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” When you couch it as a koan, it sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it?

One woman’s (let’s not be sexist) pointless debate question is another woman’s groovy koan…

Tree Falling

Does it make a sound?

Up the Academy

17 Jan

The Academy Award nominees were announced today, but in our humble opinion, the only awards that really matter are not given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They’re not given by by the Golden Globes, either. In our view, the only awards that matter are conferred by the Academy of Time.

Motion picture history is replete with examples of movies that were all the rage at the time of their release, only to fade into obscurity with time. We could cite many examples, but we’ll cite just one that strikes us as a particularly egregious omission. Which film won best picture in 1968? If you don’t know, we’re not surprised. We had to look it up ourselves. The answer is of course Oliver! directed by Carol Reed.  That year, Reed also took home the Oscar for Best Director. We’re not going to knock Carol Reed; after all, he directed The Third Man (1949).  Oliver! may even be a fine film (we’ve never seen it in its entirety, but it’s got Ron Moody as Fagin and we like Ron Moody.)  Our beef is that whatever the film’s merits, it just hasn’t passed the test of time.

One film that wasn’t even nominated that year was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Love it or hate it, we think that you’ll have to agree that when it comes to passing the test of time, 2001 leaves Oliver! in the dust.  Remember the scene in the spacecraft where the astronaut jogs 360 degrees while the camera follows him?  Impressive, wasn’t it?  We defy you to cite a scene in Reed’s film that visually compares to that scene from 2001 (and we’re citing only one example, there are many visually impressive scenes in 2001.)

Of course, you may argue that Oliver! is more accessible than 2001 (it is after all, a musical) and that some find 2001 pretentious.  Nonetheless, the Academy of Time has now weighed in and given its award to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

Oscar Statue

Sorry, Oscar. Time has the last word.

The Door Handles of Perception

15 Jan

We’re not car nuts, but today on the radio we heard several interviews with Chrysler auto execs extolling the virtues of the 2014 Chrysler 200.

2014 Chrysler 200

The door handles better not break …

We’ve always wanted to kvetch about the door handles on Chrysler cars, and now’s our chance.  We once had a Plymouth Horizon (OK, we needed cheap transportation), the door handles of which would suddenly break, and then we’d have to head to the dealer to purchase another door handle that would inevitably break. After several handles had broken, we got a brilliant idea – we’d head to a junk yard and purchase some handles there.  Alas, it was not to be. The junk yards we tried would only sell the handle if we bought the whole door.

We then got another idea.  We’d put the broken handles into a box and send them to Lee Iacocca, along with a note that read “Dear Lee, Here is why our next car will not be a Chrysler.” That’d fix him.  We ended up not carrying out this plan, as we were simply too lazy to find a box, fill it with the broken handles, and take it to the post office.

This new model might be OK. But it had better have decent door handles.

Comp. Sci. and English are Practically the Same Subject

7 Jan

When we were in college, Computer Science students had trouble in English classes and English majors shied away from Comp. Sci. courses. This seems weird, as they both  deal with the same things.

In English classes, students learn English syntax, sentence structure, and how to organize ideas into paragraphs.  Ideally, they also learn to state their ideas succinctly. In Computer Science classes, students learn the syntax of the computer language,  how to structure a program, and how to organize the program into separate procedures.  They also learn to do as much as possible with the fewest lines of computer code.  Seems like pretty much the same subject to us.

A computer program is a kind of stylized essay (OK, if you want to be technical  it’s a set of commands for the computer to follow, but we’re indulging in a little bit of poetic license here), where the non-human reader either understands or fails to understand its content, depending how well we’ve written the program.  Our English paper has human readers who, depending on how well we’ve written the paper, will understand or fail to understand how our arguments support the paper’s thesis.

If you think we’re indulging in whimsy, we’re not.  We did terribly in comp.  sci.  courses until we stopped thinking about programming as being primarily about mathematics (which terrified us) and started thinking about it in terms of  structure and syntax.  Once we had this epiphany, we were finally able to write programs that actually compiled and yielded the desired results.

Hal 9000

Good morning, Dave.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation* of Smaug

4 Jan

Warning:  This post contains some salty language (no, not ‘the F bomb’, but salty nonetheless.)  We don’t go out of our way to use salty language in our posts, but in this case we’re quoting someone who uses salty language.

We’re not going to see the “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug.”  We didn’t see the last one, either.   We’ve decided that the cinematic adaptation of the Tolkien novel does not require three movies.  In our humble opinion, the story could be told just fine in one film.  (After all, the Rankin/Bass animation studio told the story in 90 minutes. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077687/ We’re not saying it’s a masterwork, but hey, they did it.)  Stretching the story out over three films seems to us like a blatant attempt to cash in.  According to imdb.com, the first installment has a running time of 169 minutes and the second comes in at 161 minutes.  Five and a half hours of screen time and they’re still not done telling the story?  Forget it, we’re not going.

From the title, we assumed that Smaug gets himself desolated in this go round, but apparently, that’s not so.  The desolation of Smaug refers to the desolation that Smaug has caused and not to any ennui felt by the avaricious dragon.  In light of this, we feel that the picture should have been titled:

The Hobbit: The Desolation* of Smaug

* the desolation Smaug caused,  not Smaug’s own desolation.

Sure, it’s not pithy, but the existing title isn’t pithy either.  What ours lack in brevity, it makes up for in clarity.

We’ve read that this installment contains a butt-kicking female character that is not in the novel.  Tolkien purists will be miffed, but our grown-up daughter saw the film and defended the addition, stating (Warning: here comes the salty part.  We raised our offspring not to use salty language, but they rebelled and use it anyway) “They needed that touch of estrogen to cut through the dick-fog of the movie.”

Tauriel

Onward through the fog …

Before the Code

1 Jan

Yesterday we watched “Massacre” (1934), a picture made before the Hays Code of 1930 began to be enforced. The film takes the US government to task on graft and corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At the beginning of the film, Joe Thunder Horse’s equestrian and shooting skills have made him the main draw at a Wild West show during the Chicago World’s fair. Learning that his father Black Pony is dying, Joe journeys back to the Sioux reservation of his boyhood to visit him.

Richard Barthelmess as Joe Thunder Horse

Richard Barthelmess as Joe Thunder Horse

At this point, we’re going to intentionally leave out much of what happens after Joe (Richard Barthelmess) returns to the reservation, ’cause you don’t need us ruining the picture for you. Suffice it to say that the whites who run the reservation engage in some shady practices. At one point, Joe visits Washington D.C. to meet with the sympathetic Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The commish tells him, “Every move I make is blocked by the same organized groups that have been bleeding the Indian for years – water power, oil rights, cattle ranges, timber. Whatever the Indian happens to own, they manage to get away from him.” While the Hays code makes no mention of criticizing special interest groups, attitudes toward public institutions would be watched more closely as the code began to be enforced and it’s possible that this scene would have been toned down or cut had the film been released just a year or so later. And while not anti-clerical, the film depicts a clergyman as cluelessly complicit in Indian oppression, a scene which also would likely have ended up on the cutting room floor after enforcement of the Hays code began.

The film is not perfect; it’s a bit melodramatic in parts, the main Native American characters are portrayed by white people, and the few African American characters are there for mostly comic relief. Nonetheless, we found the film to be well worth our time. Film history buffs will note that Sidney Toler plays one of the bad guys, the same Sidney Toler who would take over the role of (you guessed it) Charlie Chan after Warner Oland’s death in 1938.