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Your chicken, your egg, your problem



 



June Film Roundup

Sun, 02 Jul 2017 00:14:50 GMT

Welcome to July! Here's June: Wonder Woman (2017): You know me, I'm not big into superhero movies. But I do like women, and wondering, so Sumana and I saw this together. It was all right! Cool stunts, funny comic relief, mostly good action scenes. But we talked about it afterwards and agreed that this movie doesn't really make its argument. Wonder Woman is the story of Diana learning that horrible things like wars have complex historical causes and it's not just anthropomorphized concepts running around causing trouble. But what are superheroes and supervillains but anthropomorphized concepts? And what is a superhero movie without a big fight at the end between two of 'em and the world at stake? So that's what happens. The form of the movie is at odds with its content, and given Zack Snyder's "story by" credit I don't believe it even knows it. In a Film Roundup first, I'm proud to link to a review of this film by my sister, WWI scholar Rachel Richardson: “I’m the men who can”: Wonder Woman as a First World War heroine. Jurassic Park (1993): Sumana and I both love this movie. I remembered nearly every scene even though I don't think I've seen it since 1993. It's not super deep, but it's got layers I didn't see when I was a kid. Notably Muldoon's respect for the dinosaurs and Hammond's attitude as the thing he's built crumbles during the test that was supposed to demonstrate it was safe. Such a joy to watch. It seems trite to say that the most successful, highest paid people in show biz were able to provide crowd-pleasing entertainment, but... they nailed it. PS: This is more a fact about the book than the movie, but Jurassic Park has one of the cleverest science fiction premises I've ever seen. Love it. Kelly's Heroes (1970): The second museum movie I've walked out of. Not because it was horrible or offensive, but because serious technical problems threatened to interfere with my bedtime. I ended up watching about an hour of the movie proper, plus fifteen minutes of the movie with out-of-sync audio, a repeated viewing of the same footage, and about a reel of Where Eagles Dare (1968), a completely different movie. How did that happen? Did they torrent the whole Clint Eastwood war pack and click on the wrong file? According to film scientists, Kelly's Heroes uses an earlier war as a way to talk about the then-current Vietnam War! This movie has a good look, and since there are no women characters, it avoids the sexism of similarly situated M.A.S.H. (1972). But I can't give it a strong recommendation. Don Rickles is believable as the hustling supply sergeant, but The Americanization of Emily did that better back in 1964. Anachronistic hippies in my WWII movie? That's pretty cool, I must admit. Kamikaze '89 (1982) Rainer Werner Fassbinder, director of well-regarded-by-Film-Roundup film The Marriage of Maria Braun and eternal MST3K reference Berlin Alexanderplatz, does what I can only describe as "an Alphaville thing". It doesn't work out great. Alphaville has the cold smoothness of the 1960s Paris business district, a period look also exploited effectively by Playtime. Kamikaze '89 has the cheesy look of a 1980s West Berlin dance club. I'm sure everyone had a great time making this movie, and I don't want to begrudge serious European directors having their sci-fi Alphaville flings, but... not great. Uh, I should make it clear that Fassbinder isn't the director of this film, he's the star. Wolf Gremm is the director. So maybe it's Wolf Gremm's Alphaville fantasy, but Fassbinder is the one in the tacky outfit running around firing guns, so I suspect he's the one who wanted this to happen. Miracle Mile (1988): I'm about do something I've never done before on Film Roundup. I think you should see this movie, but I'm not going to tell you anything about it. I went in knowing basically what happens in this movie, and I absolutely loved it, but I think I would have loved it even more if I'd followed the directions I'm going to lay out below. It's pretty simple. You can rent this movie on Amazon. Don't read the [...]



May Film Roundup

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 00:25:16 GMT

Yes, may Film Roundup bring you blessings throughout the year! No Twin Peaks spoilers, please. Antitrust (2001): Semi-hate-watch with Sumana. (Here's her review.) She saw this on a plane in 2001 and had ever since wanted to revisit it to make fun of the bad tech. But... turns out the tech isn't all that bad. Pretty accurate for the most part. The software development processes we see aren't great, but they're in line with what I saw in the 90s. The biggest technical flub (an impractical plan to spy on people as they write code) is, IMO, just a way of dramatizing GPL violations. Which is not to say that this is a good movie. It's bad. "Killer App" (1995), a television pilot, does a better job of just about everything that's not directly related to free software, e.g. the Bill Gates character's house-of-the-future. Not recommended unless you gotta see an old version of GNOME on the big screen. Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017): First, read my review of part 1. Now, read it again, because the sequel is another 3-hour battering of the senses with spectacle. There were some moments where the plot got more complicated than your average blockbuster, but also moments where they passed up what I considered obvious opportunities for coolness. I was never bored, not at all, but where the first movie frequently went in directions I wasn't anticipating, this movie... didn't do that. It's hard to stay unpredictable when half your movie is a direct prequel to a movie your audience has already seen. Sumana and I agree that the Bahubali series needs a mode where you can just watch the sub-films in chronological order. Currently it's as if you had to watch the Hobbit movies halfway through the Lord of the Rings movies, with Elijah Wood playing both Bilbo and Frodo. Cops and Robbers (1973): Really good crime-and-grime heist movie with just the right mix of NYC and Long Island. Nothing serious, but classic popcorn. Not a science-fiction film, but does a great job incorporating Apollo stock footage into the plot. There's a feeling in twentieth-century crime movies that's made explicit in Cops and Robbers. Society expects people to stay in their lane, crime-wise. You expect a cop to take bribes, a store manager to embezzle, a stockbroker to commit securities fraud. What causes a problem/creates a movie plot is when you pull off a crime that someone like you isn't supposed to do. There's this great scene in Cops and Robbers where the two cops realize that someone else has casually piggybacked a much more successful caper on top of theirs, and they react with the same New York "whadayagonna do" attitude they exhibit when stuck in a traffic jam. Exploited by the ruling class again! Wah wah. I saw a series of films by Charles and Ray Eames which ranged from the somnolent (House: After 5 Years of Living) to the hypnotic (Tops) to the suspiciously sexy (S-73 Sofa Compact). Powers of Ten is always a treat. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): This movie succeeds where Interstellar fails: it turns Solaris into a summer blockbuster. I had a good time! Better than the first one (which I also liked), though significantly more violent. Still not sure why these movies bother to have villains. Isn't it enough that the heroes hate each other? D.O.A. (1950): An unbeatable first scene is, in fact, not beaten by anything else in this kinda dull noir. Nice dramatic structure though. The most interesting bit is how it dramatizes the white-collar nightmare that something you did at your boring desk job, something you don't even remember, has made an enemy of someone you don't know. Thief (1981): Another criminal-goes-out-of-his-lane heist film. Not as punchy or as... subtle?... as Cops and Robbers, but fun enough. Dave Thomas of Wendy's has a masterful turn as the evil spirit of capitalism. Wait, I'm being informed that that role is actually played by Robert Prosky of Gremlins 2 fame. Big bombastic Tangerine Dream soundtrack in this movie. I didn't even know that was a thing. I thought Tangerine Dream just made mus[...]



Minecraft Archive Project - 2011/11 Sample

Fri, 12 May 2017 03:43:50 GMT

For a while I've been working with Jason Scott on the best way to make the data from Minecraft Archive Project available. The basic problem is that if you zip it up, it's many terabytes of data, and if you don't, it's millions of individual files. Although the Internet Archive is technically capable of handling either one of those options, neither is great for sharing data with the public.

The Minecraft Geologic Survey gives you an overview of everything posted before July 2014, but generating it was incredibly processor-intensive, so it's not really something I can update. So we decided to try out time slices instead.

Here's a 22-gigabyte archive containing everything Minecraft-related I could get that was posted in November 2011. If you think you might be interested in doing something with the full archive, please download this tiny slice and see if you can figure out how it works. If you have problems, complain to me. (Not to Jason, he just puts the files on the Archive.)

I picked November 2011 because it comes in the month of the 1.0 release, at a really interesting time for the medium. By 2017 standards the maps in this set are very primitive, but it was right around here Minecraft went from indie darling to decade-defining megahit. At the same time, fans had started to chafe at the limitations of the medium-- was the month I wrote my "Programmable Minecraft" essays, where I basically asked for command blocks.

Command blocks would be introduced in August 2012, and IMO they mark the distinction between the "silent film" era of Minecraft and the "talkie" era. I think the next most important month-slice of data would be August 2012, which would let us see what people did immediately after they got command blocks. But the point of this exercise is not to release one month at a time; it's to release a single month and make sure the package is usable before we package everything else the same way.




Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder

Sun, 07 May 2017 18:23:17 GMT

(image) It's been seven years since the last episode of the crummy.com podcast, so you might be forgiven for forgetting that it even existed. In fact, forgetting about a podcast is not a sin in any human religious tradition, so no forgiveness necessary. Just enjoy tonight's episode, "Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder".

This is an hour-long conversation between myself and Sumana about Tonight's Episode, a crummy.com feature even older than our ancient podcast, and the first creative collaboration between the two of us. Listen, and explore the origins of Internet comedy so small in bytesize that a joke might be compared to a short sound a bird might make.

A couple things I forgot to mention in the podcast: first, Tales from the Crypt and the Cryptkeeper's stupid puns as a predecessor to Tonight's Episode. Second, Murderous Magnetism, the Jason Robbins magnetic poetry kit for making Tonight's Episodes.




April Film Roundup

Wed, 03 May 2017 02:29:38 GMT

As they say, April showers bring Film Roundup. Many, many people say this, I'm told. Hundreds, possibly millions, chanting in unison. Can they all be bots? I say no.
  • The Cinema Travelers (2016): Really neat documentary about travelling movie theaters that go around rural India showing films at fairs. I was surprised to see that fairs in rural India look just like fairs in the United States. In retrospect it makes sense. Why would they have different rides?

    Although there was a lot of cool hardware in this movie, I felt this film fetishized the hardware, even when it was so obsolete as to be a burden. I felt bad for the guys towing a nonfunctional bus around India because their film projector was mounted inside the bus. I doubt audiences care whether the projection booth contains a old-timey reel projector or a LCD projector and a laptop. Are ticket sales in decline because everyone has satellite TV now and doesn't have to settle for 1970s Bollywood reruns? Good! You think I'm going to side with the people running the theater over the people who want to see movies? Who's your audience? By definition, it's moviegoers. You don't have a theater full of projectionists and one ticket-holder up in the booth.

    The most striking shots in this film aren't really shots, they're stills, just photos of people who are watching a movie, unaware of the camera, and having a great time. Often when you're sitting in a theater watching a film of people sitting in a theater, it's supposed to be an unnerving experience, but these photos are so full of life and joy. It's like the end of Sullivan's Travels. There's one in particular of a man with a monkey on his shoulder, both of them super excited about whatever they're looking at.

    PS: I think is the first film I've ever seen that shows someone negotiating a DRM license.

  • Cabin Boy (1994): “Isn't that a Pauly Shore movie?” —Sumana. No, this is a lot more highbrow than anything Pauly Shore ever did. It's a stupid, corny movie, but it's got a lot of originality and... heart? Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but so many comedies from the 90s are so awful, that letting Chris Elliot goof off in a Ray Harryhausen fantasy seems like a gift from the comedy gods. Thalia, I guess.
  • Italianamerican (1974): Really cute early Scorsese film where he gets his parents to tell all the family stories. Back in the day you couldn't just do a podcast, no, it had to be a big production. Strong recommend, good "Immigrant Experience" stories.

That's it for now, but we're almost caught up on Jane the Virgin, so maybe next month the Television Spotlight will have a new focus.




Penguicon!

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:54:26 GMT

I'm in Detroit to attend Penguicon as the plus-one of Sumana, who's a guest of honor. This is my first trip to Michigan and I've already met some cool folks. I'm giving two talks (?) this weekend: an overview of bots and an update of my groundbreaking exposé How Game Titles Work. (previous version from 2009)




Wed, 19 Apr 2017 19:27:24 GMT

Why "send an email" when you can "use the RFC 2822 method"?



March Film Roundup

Sat, 01 Apr 2017 22:58:18 GMT

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017): Man, you head to the movies to take your mind off the increasingly troubling political situation, and then something like this happens. Anyway, the first hour of this movie is really fun and goofy, and then it develops a plot and bogs down in action scenes that are impossible to follow. I forsee an edit that cuts 22:30 of the last 45 minutes, then slows down what's left by 50% so you can see what's happening. It seems really weird that IMDB lists Siri, a nonsentient computer program, as an actor in this movie. I mean, I get that that's what it says in the credits, but it seems like fodder for "Crazy Credits" and not something we should take seriously. Are there other fictional actors in IMDB? Kermit the Frog doesn't have a .... wait... why is "Kermit the Frog" showing up as a hyperlink? Dammit, he does have an IMDB actor page. The very first example I looked up. This makes no sense. Why is Kermit the Frog listed as having an "uncredited" role as The Minstrel in Once Upon A Mattress (1972)? If you're copying down whatever it says in the credits, that's one thing. But a fictional character can't have an uncredited role! As Kermit would say, aaaaaaah! Come out from under that Muppet and face our scrutiny! Boxcar Bertha (1972): Just what I needed on that day: a Roger Corman B-movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Raw talent doing its best to fulfill a crappy work order. Trains, labor organizing, and 1970s poster paint blood. Recommended but only if you're in that kind of mood. Film Roundup regulars will not be surprised to hear that like most movies Boxcar Bertha features John Carradine, but unlike many movies it's also got his son David. In fact there's one Oedipal scene where David mugs his dad. Overall, I wasn't super impressed with David's acting chops. It was like watching Joel Hodgson rob trains: entertaining, but not quite believable. Beat the Devil (1953): Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, together at... still? With Robert Morley filling in for Sydney Greenstreet, I suspect. The whole movie, I was looking for a twist that turned out not to be there. But Jennifer Jones steals the show as the bored wife who blithely surfs the edge of a hazardous Bogart-and-Lorre caper, just because it's something to do. This month the Television Spotlight shines on Jane the Virgin (2014-), a fun, silly melodrama we picked up based on a recommendation from Julia. Way to go, Julia! A while back in Film Roundup I said that Jacques Tati's Playtime is like Brazil but with all the nastiness taken out. Well, Jane the Virgin is like Arrested Development with... most of the nastiness taken out. In fact one could do a comedic Tumblr on the topic, a la Breaking Development, but I don't know how big the overlap fandom is. Should be bigger, is what I'm saying. I was initially disappointed that Jane the Virgin doesn't have the fantastic element I assumed it would have, but it's addressed within the show with other people incorrectly making the same assumption, so that's fine. Whew! Let's do the books while we're at it: I finished The Fortress of Solitude, the incredibly long novel I mentioned last month. The first half was really good, and I started out hating the second half, but it eventually won me over... just in time for the book to end. The writing was really good on a sentence-by-sentence level; a decent experience overall. Four Futures by Peter Frase is basically a four-part series of blog posts. I don't think I found a lot of new information in it, but I like the framing device. [...]



Reviews of Semi-Old Science Fiction Magazines: F&SF January/February 2012

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:14:53 GMT

(image) Hey there. After keeping this magazine in the house for five years, I finally read it. You see, I only like things that are vintage. Sometimes you gotta age it yourself.

Standout stories for me were Naomi Kritzer's adorable "Scrap Dragon" and Alexander Jablokov's gross-out "The Comfort of Strangers". I guess I'm exposing the fact that I haven't read the Rich Horton anthology that reprinted "Four Kinds of Cargo" (The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2013 Edition), since that also reprinted "Scrap Dragon". I repeat: adorable.

I also liked Ken Liu's "Maxwell's Demon" for the clever way it combined several very different ideas. I love this issue's Mark Evans cover art, for John G. McDaid's "Umbrella Men", but I prefer the story I made up after looking at the cover art for five years. (However it is the first time the story I made up based on the cover art bears any resemblance to the real story.)

In the course of an essay on vampire fiction, Elizabeth Hand mentions the ur-text, John Polidori's The Vampyre, as well as the 1845-1847 serial "Varney the Vampire" which ran to 670,000 words (Project Gutenberg has a measley 327,927 of those words). I don't care about vampire stories but I'm always interested in the first or biggest example of something. This column also made me aware of Theodore Rozak's Flicker, in a would-actually-want-to-read-it way.

Man, "Varney the Vampire" makes me think of vampire Jim Varney. How come they never did an Ernest movie about that? Seems like a natural fit. Bye for now!




FRED

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:56:18 GMT

This won't wait for Film Roundup because it's only showing until the end of the month. Last week Sumana and I went to see FRED at Dixon Place in Manhattan and had a good time. It's a short, funny play with a Starship Titanic feel. Check it out!



February Film Roundup

Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:32:36 GMT

  • Kansas City (1996): I went to Kansas City on a Friday. Then I had to come back to the museum on Saturday, because that's when it was showing. Anyway, I figured a gangster film would be the perfect introduction to the ouvre of Robert Altman. And... there's not nearly enough Steve Buscemi but everything else about this movie is pretty great. There are different levels of corruption in the world, from the government to the mob to the grifter. Kansas City gets a lot of mileage out of a character on one level of corruption interacting or interfering with a character on another level.
  • Charlie Varrick (1973): An enjoyable crime caper set in Albuquerque, kind of the opposite of Dog Day Afternoon where there's too much money in the bank. My only complaint is it goes on a little too long. I feel Walter Mattheau's character could have cut a couple steps from his plan, eliminated a lot of the risk, and come out just as well. The dentist office burglary is great, and Joe Don Baker excels as Evil Mitchell.
  • Cradle Will Rock (1999): Another self-indulgent Tim Robbins herbal cigarette, but a lot more fun and more interesting than Bob Roberts. Super-random celebrity guests, both as actors and as characters. "Who's that supposed to be, Bertolt Brecht?" Yes, that's who it's supposed to be! I remember this movie came up a while back when we went looking through IMDB for all the times someone has portrayed Nelson Rockefeller on film. Not sure why we did that, I think because I was reading Before the Storm.

    Anyway, the movie itself was enjoyable but the musical they're putting on seems, at best, comparable to other musicals of the 1930s.

  • Toni Erdmann (2016): Fun, but not the laugh riot I was expecting. There are a lot of movies where a prankster character torments an uptight character, and I generally don't enjoy these, but in Toni Erdmann Ines starts tormenting her father right back in her own uptight way, so that provided some balance. I also liked that the film was almost entirely shot in Romania.

    IMDB trivia: "Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig star in a remake of this film." No thanks.

  • Get Out (2017): Effective creepy horror. I don't see a ton of horror movies, so I don't know how innovative this is, but I thought the way this movie doled out its gore quotient was great. I really got into this film, in my own nerdy way: near the end I was thinking "I don't want a The Shining ending or a Being John Malkovich ending, just a regular horror-movie ending."

    Recommend seeing in the theater for the audience participation factor. There's an audience stand-in in the movie who has clearly seen it before and is trying ineffectually to stop it from happening! Just like real life.

I'm gonna shoehorn Book Roundup into this post because although I started three books on my commute, I lost interest in two of them a fair way in, and the only book I finished in February was Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. A great horrifying read with a sinister George Saunders-type feel in places.

I thought I'd also finish The Fortress of Solitude, but that book's a lot longer than I thought! I'm not even halfway through. Stay tuned!





Mon, 27 Feb 2017 13:07:14 GMT

"Do they have a designated survivor? Like, one celebrity who doesn't attend the Oscars?"

"That's what we have other countries for."




January Book Roundup

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 22:26:53 GMT

  • Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson. Not a super satisfying ending, but I stayed interested through the whole trilogy.
  • SPQR by Mary Beard. At one point I swore off reading more books of Roman history, because they all kind of retread the same ground based on the same sources, but Beard brings in lots of archaeological detail that provides glimpses into everyday life. Big recommend from me.
  • The History of Nintendo, Vol. 2 by Florent Gorges. My retrogaming interest has gone down somewhat since I finished Constellation Games, but I can't say no to the lovely illustrated books put out by French publisher Pix'n Love Publishing. Volume 2 (which covers Game & Watch) wasn't as colorful as Volume 1 (which covers everything pre-) but the presentation is so good it justifies my paying import prices. They're like coffee table art books, but the size of a regular book! A new volume gets translated into English every few years, so I guess I'll see the NES one in 2020?



January Film Roundup

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 01:44:32 GMT

Hidden Figures (2017): Loved it! Not much to say. I thought it lost a little focus right near the end, where John Glenn is making his descent and nobody can do anything but hang around and look tense, but overall really solid. I enjoyed the FORTRAN fan service. Dangal (2016): A whole movie about copy-protection hardware? I was skeptical. But then I learned that it was spelled "Dangal", and that it was... a sports movie. At this point I was even more skeptical, but I was inside the theater so I figured I'd go with it. And it's... a sports movie. But it has three things going for it. First, it's also a breaking-down-the-barriers movie. Sumana liked how much screen time was devoted to Indian girls with short hair. Second, this film contains three awesome songs. Third, the hugeness of Dangal magnifies the working parts of a sports movie so that they're impossible to miss, much like the way Plato's republic is designed to make obvious the virtues that go into an individual human being. Characters are ludicrously fictionalized to make them fit the sports-movie villain roles. Victories that in real life were incredibly lopsided are dramatized as knuckle-biting buzzer-beaters. There's also one place where I detect a shear effect between fiction and reality, but am not sure what the reality is. These girls spend up to the age of about ten training to be wrestlers and wrestling boys on a kind of freak-show circuit. Everyone's attitude is: A girl? Wrestling? Whaaaaa? It really seems like Dad is the first person in India to have the idea that girls can wrestle. But at the beginning of act two they go into a gymnasium and it's full of girls doing wrestling. Turns out India has a whole wrestling thing going. Girls leagues and everything. So what's with all the incredulity in act one? Even if Dad's neighbors are ignorant hicks, it seems like a former national wrestling champion should know that he didn't invent girls' wrestling. A similar thing happens at the end where people are saying "If an Indian wins the women's wrestling championship, girls all over the world will know they can do anything!" Was American sports movie exceptionalism ever this bad? PS: The posters show Aamir Khan with the four actors who play the daughters at different ages, as though they're four different characters in the same timeframe. I love this. Taking Off (1971): A fun squares-go-hip comedy from the same Universal Studios indie-director push that gave us Silent Running (1972). The surest way to get me to see a film is to compare it to an Elaine May film, which Metrograph did, and I took the bait. Taking Off delivers with awkwardness, culture clash and bad original songs—it's like a much cheaper Ishtar. When a woman with a lute drops the F-bomb thirty times in the sort of singing voice you associate with "Greensleeves", you know you're in for a good time. Also features New York grime and the glorious tacky interior of a 1970s Catskills lodge. New York, New York (1977): With Liza Minnelli and Mickey Rourke. No, that's not right, it was Robert de Niro. Everyone's favorite video... hero. Mickey Rourke isn't in this at all. Don't know what I was thinking. The all-too-relevant story of a man who can't deal with the fact that his girlfriend is more talented than he is. The museum's handout claims the problem with the relationship is the "two lovers' equal musical talent", but let's go to the tape. Liza Minnelli actually is a world-class singer, whereas Robert de Niro is a Method actor who learned to play the sax for this movie. It's quite clear she is the superior musician. As such, the balance of power shifts over the course of the movie, and by act three de Niro is nearly out of the picture and[...]




Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:30:48 GMT

Brace for impact.