Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cloud Computing

Three and a half floppy diskettes became the pinnacle of data storage during my childhood. At school, I would slide the metal cover and gaze raptly at the nearly opaque disk inside. When I discovered the write-protect tab at the bottom, I felt like a genius. I saved my precious text files in my brightly colored diskettes, careful not to exceed the 720 KB limit.

Then, lo and behold, they came up with a 1.44 MB disk! Will wonders never cease? Did technology have any limits?

Well, yes, c.f. the flying car. But today's topic is data storage.

We exceeded even the miraculous 3.5" floppy with the magnificent hard disk drives, still the same size, but tucked away in your PC. Laptops got by with an HDD exactly one inch smaller. In accordance with Moore's Law, computer hardware advanced by leaps and bounds, please do pardon the cliche. In college, my Dell had a whopping 60 GB of memory. In grad school, my Lenovo boasted more than twice that space. In real life, my MacBook enticed me to fill up its 250 GB.

So of course, now I whine when Google only allocates 5 GB to my Drive. I pout when Amazon makes me pay for more storage space for my music. Somewhere along the line, files got bigger, just like my sense of entitlement. And unlike paper files heaped into boxes that trip you over, digital files hide away in virtual folders, their numbers growing as users blissfully click "Save." Don't even get me started on finding a free site for all my photos. And before you ask, no, I don't use Facebook. However, I do read Failbook, for the lulz.

If you're a normal computer user comme moi, your personal digital files will be divided into three categories: photos, music, and MS Office crap. If you're a pirate, you'll also have movies, games, and tons more music. Don't worry; there is no judging here.

Artists have Photoshop files. Architects and engineers who take their work home wind up with gigantaur CADs. Moms will have a bajillion photos, but require assistance to view them. And so on.

The point is, we are in the era of cloud computing, so you'd better have all those files backed up in whichever cloud catches your fancy. Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, SugarSync, whatevs. Just do it. That way, if your Acer/Mac/Vaio/Alienware spontaneously combusts from all that porn processor-intensive activity, you won't have to pray to the hard drive gods for salvation. You just log into the Cloud, retrieve your backups, and feel like a tech-savvy, postmodern human. Voilà.

This helpful blog post is brought to you by Lindt Milk and White Milk Chocolate Truffles, Limited Edition Seasonal Flavor. Still delicious even when slightly melted!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)


Zero Dark Thirty is a masterwork of suspense and drama. Director Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and composer Alexandre Desplat combine their superpowers impressive talents to create this darkly compelling film. As the heart of the story, Jessica Chastain does a spectacular job as the CIA agent whose singular focus leads to the capture and execution of the mastermind of 9/11.

The film opens with a reminder of the attacks on the Twin Towers. Then we see a torture scene, two years after the attack. “I own you, Ammar,” a CIA agent, Dan (Jason Clarke), flatly informs the bound detainee (Reda Kateb). “When you tell a lie, I hurt you.” Dan proceeds to do so while Maya (Chastain) watches. The “money-man” with ties to the Saudi Group eventually breaks, and gives Maya the clue that she'll spend the rest of the film chasing: the existence of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted courier. After reviewing torture footage, and personally overseeing sessions where the prisoners describe the same man, Maya becomes convinced that the courier holds the key to finding bin Laden.

Maya faces two obstacles in her search: one, no one knows the exact location of the courier, and two, she does not have the full support of her superiors. At one point, she has to literally yell at her station chief in Pakistan (Kyle Chandler) to get the resources she needs. Maya makes finding the courier her entire life, to the extent that one of her fellow agents (Elizabeth Bennet Jennifer Ehle) gently tries to talk her into getting an actual life. But Maya is the job. She is the search. She throws everything into her work, against the backdrop of terrorist cells, espionage networks, and ordinary people just trying to get from one day to the next.

Everyone gives a bravura performance, but Chastain’s work here is so engaging that the film becomes an experience in immersion. We’re right there with Maya as she grimly watches video after video of men being tortured. We’re shouting beside her as she threatens her boss for not giving in to her personnel requests. We’re down there on the floor with her as she mourns the loss of lives from acts of terror. We’re itching to jump in and convince the CIA chief (James Gandolfini) that bin Laden really is in that compound, he really is, send in a team already!

I’m sure part of that comes from the fact that we know how it ends. We know Maya succeeded. We know she was right all along, that bin Laden was hiding out in Abbottabad. But Bigelow is such an amazing director that the final act, the raid on the compound, is thirty minutes of sheer tension. We know how the raid ends, but we didn’t know that it took so long, that something major went wrong, or that there were so many children in there. Personally, I was almost hyperventilating as the cinematography switched back and forth between first-person night-vision views and wider third-person shots. I was so rapt that I didn’t even notice the music during that scene, but Fiancé assures me it was masterful.

The film closes with a beautiful, perfect shot. It reminds us of Maya’s humanity—that mix of steely determination, no-nonsense professionalism, and unexpected vulnerability. Zero Dark Thirty kills it. Kills it.
Go watch it.

Incidentally, “zero dark thirty” is a military term that stands for thirty minutes after midnight. You’re welcome. Now go watch it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bawdy Dragon-Slaying Song (For Girls)

Context: I told Fiancé this morning that I had a dream about leading an all-girl unit to take over a castle. He eagerly interjected, "And then they had a slumber party and pillow fights to celebrate?" I haughtily replied that this was my dream, and my girls would have more class than that. He continued to fantasize about girls slaying dragons and singing bawdy songs afterwards. Then he turned to me and said, "Do you think you can you compose a bawdy dragon-slaying song for girls?"

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Readers, I present  to you:

Bawdy Dragon-Slaying Song (For Girls)
For mature readers only.

(rap)
G-g-g-girls, girls, where you at, where you at?
G-g-g-girls, girls, where you at, where you at?
We got sharp nails for killin',
We each is one in a million,
We gon' throw down with a dragon,
To show it we ain't havin'
None o' dat, none o' dat.
No, no, none o' dat, none o' dat.

(verse 1)
Ooooh, a dragon came to my cave
And by cave I mean coochie
And by dragon I mean ding dong
This song is an allegory,
Ooohhh, ohhhh
Ooohhh, ohhhh.

(verse 2)
If you want to slay a dragon,
You gotta figure out its weakness
You gotta get in the right position
You gotta make sure it's defenseless,
Ooohhh, ohhhh
Ooohhh, ohhhh.
(yeah)

(rapping)
You got to use your thighs, use your thighs
You got to squeeze real tight, r-e-a-l tight
You got to use your mind, lose your mind
You got to keep bein' fine, super fine.

(singing)
Ooohhh, ohhhh
Ooohhh, ohhhh.

(verse 3)
So ladies can I get a "Whu!"
(Whu!)
Ladies, let's go give it some
Some love
Some lady love.

(yeah)

Live performances by request only.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Movie Review: Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained marks a growth in Quentin Tarantino's directing strategy. The movie's pacing is languid, for one; and two, music helps moves the story along, by functioning almost like a voice-over. In terms of the former, Tarantino devotes numerous shots to cantering riders and walking people. I think that choice of cinematography emphasizes the languorous rhythm of the South. As for the latter, sometimes the musical cues become heavy-handed, but all the songs are excellent, and they each have something to say about what's happening onscreen. The writing, as always, is riddled with sharp humor and bombastic explosions.

The movie centers on Django (Jamie Foxx), freed from slavery by the meticulous and unflappable Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter. Dr. King initially takes Django with him to help identify three criminal brothers. Then Dr. King decides to accompany Django after the former slave reveals that he wants to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold separately from him as punishment for their escape attempt. The two eventually find her in the plantation called Candieland, and pose as buyers to engage Candieland's owner, Monsieur Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But Msr. Candie's head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) has his suspicions...

The institution of slavery threatens to overwhelm the individual characters, and it's a credit to the director and his actors that they manage to overcome that challenge. The slave trackers and plantation owners are nearly cartoons, but then so is Django himself, dressed ridiculously in the scene where he takes his first step toward revenge for all the beatings he took. DiCaprio, as expected, goes to town with the scenery. At one point, he actually cuts his hand -- for real -- during a scene, and he never breaks character or misses a beat. He even incorporates his blood into his performance for that take. Waltz is his usual amazing self, blending extreme competence with an almost absurd good cheer. And as the titular character, Foxx carries the film with his prideful eyes and barely suppressed rage.

Of course, the director being who he is, gallons of blood fly through the air as defiant songs play in the background. Unspeakable violence occurs onscreen. Characters utter lines that would get them kicked out of polite social situations. At our screening, the audience lapped it up. We cheered, we laughed, we hooted, and we clapped. Tarantino knows how to craft a crowd pleaser, that's for sure. This is a fantastic pulp movie, as we all knew it would be. That's why we went. We wanted to see what slavery looks like when the tables are turned. We wanted to listen to sick beats when revenge becomes a man. Most of all, we wanted to see the triumphant grin of a winner whose victory has been so long, painful, and bloody in coming. And boy, does Jamie Foxx deliver the biggest shit-eating grin of all time. I want to caption that screenshot so bad, but I can't find it yet. So I leave you with this gif:


THE D IS SILENT. Because D stand for "delicate," and if that's what you're expecting, you've come to the wrong movie. Otherwise, come on in, kick back, and enjoy the ride. Then get the soundtrack.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Men are from MACS-0647 JD

Remember Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Remember how enraptured we all were at the oversimplification of supposedly gender-determined characteristics and habits? Remember our delight at discovering that the sexes can be placed into categorized boxes, and therefore all our differences can finally—finally!—be understood?

Okay, okay, you guessed it—I never read it. But my mom did! Also, I looked at the cover. That’s why I’m being a smug bastard about it, despite the fact that it’s really just a common sense manual for communication and mutual respect in relationships. Incidentally, did you know author John Gray got his PhD from a non-accredited, now-defunct university, via correspondence course? Hells yeah! The shortest distance between you and your doctorate is a diploma mill!

Moving on.

I’m a bookworm. Books are my friends. But now that I’m older, I realize that experience is probably the best teacher. Still, sweeping generalizations are super fun, especially combined with a clever title alluding to irreconcilability via the allegory of separate planets, with a bonus nod to ancient gods. In honor of the continued success of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I will now make my own extremely generalized conclusions about male behavior, based on the men in my life.

By the way, in case you're not a giant nerd, the title of this post refers to the farthest known galaxy in the universe.

Let's move on again. The topic is Men. Go.

#1: Their Priorities are Effed

Comedian Bill Maher said it best: a man can have a tumor, something bad literally growing out of his body, and he’ll go, “I shall make it my very sixth priority!” Dudes will ignore torn ligaments, chronic swollen sinuses, an infected cut, and all manner of alarming things because they have other things to do. What things, you ask? They’ll usually say they have to work. Work > health. So there.

Guys also rarely prioritize cleanliness and hygiene. I once asked a friend why he always left his socks on the floor, and he replied, “It’s just not on my list of things to do.” I guess in this case he assumed it was on his girlfriend’s list? If so, I hope that isn’t why Fiancé’s home office looks like a tornado made of cats blows through it every day.

Guys are responsive to numbers, though, so they pay their bills on time. Maybe us gals should cite more statistics, like, “Of the violent crimes performed last year, 12% involved socks left on the floor leading to golf clubs to the head.” Yeah, that’ll work.

#2: They Can’t Multitask

Men can’t do a thing and do something else at the same time. It shorts their circuits. This is why guys at the gym take so long to finish with the equipment – they have to stop, sit, and find the right song for that bodybuilding moment. And then they listen to it. And god forbid a Words with Friends notification comes through. They can sit there forever, because they’re so focused on the one thing they’re doing.

Then there are guys who have learned the trick of repeating what you said at key moments so it seems like they’re listening when they were really thinking about their car. The way to beat this trick is to insert something egregious, like, “Today I told my boss her office smells like feet and she gave me a Tootsie Roll.” Or something about having babies for breakfast. Or just say, "I'm pregnant." That'll do the job, guaranteed.

But in any case, make sure you have his full attention first before you enchant him with every single detail of your day. Guys love that. They really, really do.

#3: Their Telepathy is Broken

Modern female humans communicate via intonation, body language, meaningful glances, and timed laughter. Meanwhile, guys use words. So when a harried woman hosting a party waves an unopened bottle of wine at her husband, he will still need to hear: “Please open this bottle of wine, I am too busy doing everything else.”

Of course, if you’re waving an empty glass, you’ll need to state whether you want it refilled or put away. But ideally, he would know. If only man-telepathy worked!

#4: They Don't Understand Their Roles as Exes 

See An open letter to all ex-boyfriends on behalf of all your ex-girlfriends, by the irrepressible Catherinette. I second her with a hearty, "Hmpf!" 

***


I’m sure I can come up with more ridiculous observations profound insights about men, but alas, it’s lunch time. 

If you insist that I write a similar list for women, there's really only one item: 

#1 and Only: We're Crazy.

Please remember to drink responsibly, as tonight is Three Drinks Thursday.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: A Memory of Light (2013)

The Wheel of Time now has an ending. A Memory of Light, the final novel of the Wheel of Time, is a beautiful and satisfying close to the epic fantasy series that Robert Jordan wove for us for almost twenty years before his death. The book combines Jordan’s and new author Brandon Sanderson’s voices, as both writers tell of the threads that come together to create the tapestry of humanity’s Last Battle against the Shadow. I laughed, I cried, and I lived and fought right beside all of those characters. The writing, the pacing, the plot developments and resolutions – they’re everything I hoped for, and more. A Memory of Light, as former court-bard Thom Merrilin would say, is exquisite.

I started reading The Wheel of Time in the early nineties. My grandmother handed me a paperback copy of The Shadow Rising. It was a thick book, but I sped through it, absorbed in Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne’s hunt for the Black Ajah; Rand’s journey to the Waste; Perrin caught between Berelain and Faile; Moiraine becoming visibly frustrated; Mat getting into trouble; and every other delightful thing that Jordan conjured. His skill at world building drew me. Fandoms sprang up across the globe, and I lurked happily in internet forums as erudite bookworms discussed the physics of channeling, debated character motivations, and came up with loony theories.

Then Jordan passed away in 2007. Sanderson took up the project. After reading The Gathering Storm and The Towers of Midnight, I was sad because Sanderson could not be Jordan. He was a huge fan of the series, and he did tell everyone that he would write in his own style. But I felt the loss of Jordan’s gift. I went into the final book with a critical eye.

A Memory of Light blew me away. Its narrative structure evoked Jordan’s rhythm; the beginning of the book built up deliberately to its explosive main chapter, “The Last Battle.” The first portions of the book feature Jordan’s deep affection for minor characters – we spend nearly as much time with Pevara Sedai and Androl, a demoted Black Tower Dedicated, as we do with Rand and the others. A Memory of Light hits its stride once all preparations are complete. The Light’s armies divide their forces among the battlefronts. One of those fronts is in Thakan’dar, and its defenders’ goal is to prevent anyone from interfering once Rand and his chosen two enter Shayol Ghul – the Pit of Doom itself – to take the fight directly to the Dark One; or rather, to where the Dark One’s touch is strongest.

In The Wheel of Time, Shai’tan’s prison lies outside of Creation, and it is only able to touch the world because of the Bore, or the hole in its prison drilled by a team of channelers in a previous Age. Our heroes spend the entire series fighting the Dark One, whose true nature becomes a major theme in this book. Since this is the Last Battle, everyone puts everything they have into every battle, and Light-aligned characters spit out their questions to Dreadlords and Forsaken: why fight for a being that intends to enslave all? Why believe the Father of Lies?

Moridin, the strongest Forsaken, has his answer: the Dark One has promised him oblivion, a final reprieve from the endless turning of the Wheel. It was the very same thing that tempted Rand in The Gathering Storm when he was at his lowest point—he also desired an end to the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. No more having to fight, no more having anyone hate and fear him because of the destiny that came with his birth. But Rand got over that, and in A Memory of Light, he enters Shayol Ghul determined to win. His death foretold by prophecies, he walks into the darkness to bring Light.

Every fight here matters. Rand’s metaphysical struggle and Olver’s flight; Nynaeve’s surgery and Talmanes’ repairs; Perrin’s hunt and Annoura’s repentance; Mat’s gambling and Gawyn’s decision; Egwene’s leadership and Loial’s hacking – it all counts, and they need all of it because the Shadow’s surviving minions are the strongest and most cunning. Graendal and Moghedien, previously shamed, now do what they do best, to devastating effect. Readers finally see Demandred in action. And then there’s the Myrdraal leading millions of Trollocs, who don’t need food because they eat humans and their own dead, and they don’t need horses, because they’re half-animal. Huge losses are par for the course in humanity’s last stand.

The ultimate Crowning Moment of Awesome in this book belongs to a main character. When it happened, I put the book down and sobbed. I’m glad I avoided all spoilers; the impact of that scene would have been lessened if I’d had an inkling of it. And the brutal death of a minor character also made me pause for a moment, mind reeling. So many characters die in here that a list of survivors would be shorter than a list of the dead. On the upside, the descriptions of battle formations, tactics, and units are amazing.

But the Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, and most everyone gets a chance at rebirth. And with that chance comes hope, that this time we’ll do even better, because we choose to. Buffeted by the winds of fate as we are, the choice to do good will always lie with us, and so we take destiny into our own hands.

Thank you, Robert Jordan. Thank you, Harriet McDougal. Thank you, Brandon Sanderson. And thank you, Lola, for giving me this book when I was a child.

May the Light preserve you, and the Creator’s hand shelter you. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year’s Resolution Report

This year I resolved to give zero shits, pardon my French. That is not a commitment to constipation, but rather a determination to overcome my social conditioning and become a Zen master. The goal is to care less, by caring less. The means is the end. See? I’m well on my way to enlightenment!

I come from a family of maniacs enthusiasts. We’re passionate and pour our hearts into our favorite activities. We can get downright obsessive. And one of the things we love doing most is worrying. And by “worrying,” I mean “making venomous, seething volcanoes out of molehills.” We over-think, over-plan, and work ourselves into a frenzied state of over-anxiety. It’s practically a hobby.

My mother’s bold example in competitive over-worrying started during my childhood. My every complaint about a headache was met with a crisp, “It’s a brain tumor.” Stomachaches became gallstones, ankle sprains were bone fractures, and bad gas translated into pregnancy. But aspirin or other medicines were a no-no because they tore holes in the stomach and damaged the liver. Compound all this with pressure to conform to society’s standards of being thin, pretty, and partnered by age X, and you’ve got a highly neurotic young woman on your hands.

But starting this year, I give zero shits. It helps that I’m no longer in my twenties and running around lost, bewildered, and completely aimless. Fiancé’s presence in my life is also a giant plus. In fact, our being together points to the rewards of giving zero shits, because had I cared about what one psycho other people thought, I wouldn’t have asked him out after two years of unspoken mutual-yet-passive attraction.

Let me clarify: when I say “give zero shits,” I mean that I now care less about unimportant things, such as controlling things I can’t control. It means my reactions will be stoic, instead of hysterical. It does not mean I turn into a raging d-bag, although I certainly can, if you like.

Case study 1: Many of my dear friends and extended family are scattered around the world. They might not be able to make it to the wedding because of the distance and/or expense. Or, they won’t come because they give zero shits about the event. If I were two months younger, I would twist myself into a pretzel of agony at the prospect of looking like an unpopular loser at my own wedding. Now? I give zero shits. It’ll be awesome.

Case study 2: Blog readers object to my gratuitous use of the word “shit.” Do I give zero shits? Yes, I do. The big, fat nothing burger is on me. You’re welcome.

There you have it. If all goes well, I will listen, think, and then decide if I give a shit, which will be unlikely. Measured indifference has to be better than uncontrollable shit-giving. I hope it’s clear that I’m trying to redefine the phrase “give a shit.” I’m attempting to make it into a positive thing that means gradually replacing the worrywart in me with a serene warrior-goddess. And if I fail in that attempt, well…you know what my response would be, right?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

I watched a bunch of movies on the plane ride to Manila, okay? Let me get this out of my system.

Fear not, fellow world-weary pseudo-intellectuals! The Perks of Being a Wallflower dodges the teenage movie trap of being derivative, boring, and/or completely brainless. Instead, it's refreshing, different, and dare I say it, moving. The success of the film can be attributed to three factors: the strong screenplay, based on a book by the director; the earnest performances of the three leads; and the story's reverence for good music.

The movie focuses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), who dreads his first day of high school. In his narration, he hints that he has been through something traumatic that's kept him away from other people. His first days as a freshman are marked with classic tropes:  sitting alone at lunch, getting shoved into a locker, having the English teacher encourage him, etc.

His life changes when he meets step-siblings Patrick and Sam. They're seniors, and comfortable with their roles as whacky outcasts. They're also perceptive and compassionate. When Charlie gets high and confesses his trauma to Sam, she tells Patrick, and from then on, the two take Charlie under their wing. A slow buildup to the end of the year follows, with a big bump in the middle, naturally. The twist at the end made my eyebrows shoot up -- yes, this movie has a twist!, and no, it wasn't all a dream -- and it worked because it brought everything back to the beginning, and beyond.

Another great thing is that The Perks of Being a Wallflower offers plenty of lessons. The main one, which alludes to the title, is that you can learn a great deal when you hang back and listen -- that is, when you become a wallflower. I suspect we've all been wallflowers at one time or other. The other theme is that every family is dysfunctional, some more than others. But it can work when we're there for each other. Finally, there's the power of music -- writer/director Stephen Chbosky includes songs that meant something in his life, and weaves them through the narrative. In the movie, the music symbolizes the friends' defiant stand against convention and the thoughtless, imitative behavior typical of their peers.

Kudos to the excellent work done by the young artistas, especially Lerman as the fragile Charlie. Growing up is usually painful, and gentle souls like Charlie are particularly sensitive to the pain of others, in addition to their own. Chbosky has crafted a fine cinematic interpretation of his novel, which I shall now read. And by "now," I mean "possibly eventually, when I carve out time."

Adieu, dears, adieu.

P.S. Waiting for our delayed copy of A Memory of Light, the final Wheel of Time novel. Amazon Prime, why has your two-day shipping failed us nowwww? Wah.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)


Plot: A factory worker with identity issues finds himself in the middle of a war between rulers and rebels in a future dystopian Earth.

Skip the Total Recall remake. I don’t remember the original, but I have to believe it was better than this lazy, unimaginative piece of crap. I felt sorry for Colin Farrell, who acts his heart out in a movie that has no brains, heart, or motivation. If you have any standards at all, your beef with this movie will likely involve the movie’s disregard for science, the poor writing, the nonexistent character development, the boring set designs, or all of the above. Let’s be organized and elaborate all these flaws in list form, shall we? 

Flaw #1: “The Fall”

More like “The Fail.” In the movie, chemical warfare ruined the world, and the only two areas of human habitation are the former UK and Australia. They’re on opposite ends of the Earth. Humans build a transport system called “The Fall” that goes through the center of the planet. Which, as you might recall, is molten at the core, and plastic (flowing) on the lower levels of the mantle. Heat + pressure = kaboom. So how did the intrepid peoples of the movie construct a tunnel through that? Duh! Science!

Look, a good science fiction story walks the line between disbelief and delight. Great writers can even predict future tech, like the three-wall TVs in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (they don’t exist – yet – but they’re believable, and I would buy one in a heartbeat). Or heck, there’s the propulsion system that allows Iron Man to fly. I bought that.

But “The Fall” was a double helping of stupid: it made no effort to be believable, and it served no purpose apart from serving as the setting for the “climactic” battle. Grrrr.

Flaw #2: Lame Writing

Poor Colin Farrell. He saw the dramatic tension inherent in a story about a man who’s implanted with false memories. He understood that he was playing a character whose loyalty remains a mystery to the very end. His eyes reflected confusion and conflict throughout the movie.

Sadly, the rest of the movie was about how attractive Kate Beckinsale is with her long locks cascading down her face as she strides down a hallway with guns blazing. Or how amazingly fit she is, overpowering larger foes by kicking off available surfaces. Or how her sexiness increases by a factor of infinity when she switches to her natural British accent. I mean, hey, I agree – but if we were just going to do a Beautiful Person Show, couldn’t we have had more topless Colin Farrell shots? Please? Or even scenes of Jessica Biel without sleeves? OR BETTER YET – HAVE JESSICA BIEL AND MICHELLE OBAMA HAVE AN ARM-WRESTLING CONTEST?

You’re welcome for that visual image.

My point is, the remake glossed over the interesting parts of the story, namely the role of memories in defining identity, the nature of moral obligations, the ambiguity of personal motivations, and the dangers of authoritarianism. Instead, it focused on the endless running and fighting. It squandered its potential and its science fiction heritage. How dare it.

Flaw #3: Nonexistent Character Development

The emotional core of the movie should have been the relationship between Colin Farrell’s character and Jessica Biel’s rebel. After all, she’s supposed to be why he defected in the first place. But they have zero chemistry. And here I think it was because Colin Farrell was too focused on being panicky and puzzled, and Jessica Biel forgot that she was looking at a man with abs like a Hershey Bar. I’m just guessing here. But the end result is the same: without that romance as a solid anchor, the movie meanders.

More interesting villains would have helped, too. Kate Beckinsale’s character, while fairly competent at ass kicking, seems petulant and insubordinate. The main bad guy only appears for two or three scenes. The robot soldiers are too easily dispatched. Bo-ring!

Speaking of boring…

Flaw #4: Boring Set Designs

The design crew for the slums seemed to be thinking of Blade Runner and Soylent Green, but decided to make a slightly more high-tech version of a diorama backdrop from an 80’s B movie. The Hunger Games had better “dystopian urban setting versus decadent metropolis of our future” production designs, and it had, what, 60% of Total Recall’s budget? Lameness, thy name is Total Recall.

list::end

There you have it, folks. If I haven’t convinced you to avoid this movie like your sneezing coworker, then I’m sorry.

But you’ll be sorrier. Mwahahahaha!!!! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: Diamond Age (1995)

Neal Stephenson follows up the excellent Snow Crash with the amazing The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. The book is a joy to read because of its rich narrative, sympathetic characters, vivid world, and vision of technology. At its heart, the book is a tribute to books, to courage and creativity, and to the grandfathers, fathers, and brothers who entrust the future to their granddaughters, daughters, and sisters. The Diamond Age has it all, and then some: love, adventure, crime, justice, culture, a story-within-a-story, nanotech, Confucian wisdom, orgies, dinosaurs, and more! There's something for everybody!

The book centers on Nell, a four- or five-year-old girl with a thuggish yet protective older brother, Harv (short for Harvard, awesome). Through a series of events, Nell becomes the owner of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a cutting-edge "book" that adapts itself to one user, and teaches that user how to survive/thrive in her environment. Other people want the Primer, too, namely: John Percival Hackworth, the engineer who created it; Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw, the aristocrat who commissioned the Primer's creation; and Dr. X, a mysterious backroom dealer from the Celestial Kingdom (Chinaaaaa!). All three men want the Primer for one of their own: Hackworth for his daughter, Finkle-McGraw for his granddaughter, and Dr. X for, well, I shan't spoil it, but oh my, what a twist. Meanwhile, the ractor (interactive actor) Miranda, who does voice work for the Primer, becomes interested in meeting the girl who is clearly not living in a safe home environment.

Nell's "schooling" via the Primer, and the hunt for said item, takes place in a post-scarcity world divided by cultures rather than nations. In The Diamond Age, values and ideas matter more than ancestry. The New Atlantans embrace Victorian principles; the Celestial Kingdom follows Confucius; there's a phyle solely dedicated to handicrafts; and so on. Meanwhile, Nell is a thete -- people without tribes, and who get the lowest jobs. The cultures, or phyles, remain at harmony with each other through the Common Economic Protocol, and they deal with intruders through nanotech warfare. All material goods are created through matter compilers, which get their molecules and energy from the Feed.

To use a geological analogy -- while Nell's relationship with her Primer lies at the core of the story, and the various searches for it represent the mantle, the crust turns out to be one phyle's attempt to hack the Feed, to replace it with something more culturally appropriate. All the layers of the story present questions. For instance, what is the best way to educate a child so he/she rejects convention and stagnation? How does circumstance coincide with formal learning to foster personal and intellectual growth? How do insular societies succeed? What are the limits to drive and motivation? How far can artificial intelligence go? Why am I hungry again?

But enough about that. Stephenson wrote a damn good story, and I highly recommend that all sci-fi fans, or open-minded awesome people, pick up a copy of The Diamond Age. It takes standard story elements -- character development, conflict, etc -- and threads them with lines of sheer genius. Gold, I tell you! Pure gold! Or should I say -- pure diamond?*

*Although technically, advances in nanotech would have made it easy to reassemble carbon atoms into diamond structures, rendering the once-precious metal not-so-special. = NERD ALERT! ...oops, too late?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fiancé Visits the Philippines

Day One - Today we exchanged money, shopped at Duty Free, and got massages. Less than twenty dollars for an hour and a half! Am liking it here already.

Day Two - Have lost Man Card. Fiancée talked me into getting a facial and eyebrow threading. Pain unbearable, surely some form of native torture to weed out the unworthy. Perhaps have not lost Man Card after all.

Day Three - Is it normal to have this much meat for breakfast? Apparently it is.

New Year's Eve - These people are insane. They bought "fireworks" in a box and lit the package without bracing it. It toppled over on its side and more than thirty explosively tipped thermite cannons shot out all over the place. They almost killed a dozen people, including us. I reacted sensibly and hid behind a tree. Now am laughingstock of family for some reason.

Day Five - Visited Grandma, family matriarch. She called me "guapo."

Day Six - Drove up the the highlands to look at partially submerged volcano. Ate at restaurant where they were out of everything. Good; have had too much deep fried pork anyway. Here is picture of me crushing volcano like the oily bohunk that I am.



Day Seven - Corregidor is awesome. Cannons! Barracks! Batteries! History! Man-squee! Saw one monkey.

Day Eight - Went to former U.S. base. Finally had proper American food: Texas barbecue! Clothes no longer fitting properly. Must be bloating from heat and humidity. Yes, that's it.

Day Nine - Drove through rural towns where streets can only accommodate one car. Progress interrupted by domestic dispute: household items being flung out onto street. Children swept everything over to the side so we could pass. Then, on way home, narrowly escaped multiple accidents as we sped down the unlit highway where pedestrians dressed in black nonchalantly stood on the road. Also, it seems overtaking on the right lane is common practice here. Fiancée is not allowed to drive, ever.

Day Ten - Last day here. Sadface. Not looking forward to wintry New England. Must get used to not having servants. How does one wash dishes again? First world problems so overwhelming. Will play on my iPad to feel better.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

Pitch Perfect is a dream come true for a cappella nerds. I've watched this movie twice now, not counting the multiple times I've rewound to the best parts. In fact, I plan on seeing it again. That's a testament to how fun this movie is, and how big an a cappella nerd I am. Laaaaa~

The movie centers on Becca (Anna Kendrick from Up in the Air, and, yes, Twilight, you may commence vomiting), a college freshman. Becca wears heavy eyeshadow, loves to mix music on her MacBook Pro, and is deemed "too alternative" by Aubrey (Anna Camp), the leader of The Bellas group. Fortunately, her lieutenant Chloe (Brittany Snow from Hairspray) believes in Becca's talent and convinces her to join. From there, it's a whirlwind of practice montages, a riff-off, dramatic tension, and a supposedly straight dude trying to win Becca's hand, as the Bellas work toward winning the a cappella championships. Which, spoiler alert: they do! Of course. It's called a formula and it works, people.

The writing is snappy, and the characters are utterly delightful. The best by far is Australian actress Rebel Wilson, who you may remember as the roommate from Bridesmaids. She plays Fat Amy, confident and very popular with the guys, apparently. There's a character named Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) who speaks so softly that the volume needs to be turned up way high to understand her. Everyone else suspects Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) of batting for the other team; Stacie (Alexis Knapp) has huge boobs and needs to be retrained to stop grabbing them during performances. And guess what? All of the actresses are past college age. The youngest is Knapp, who's 23. I guess no one between the ages of 18 and 21 had the talent and recognizability to be in this movie? Whatevs. I'm not complaining.

As for the romance subplot, the less said, the better. This movie is really about "synchronized lady-dancing to a Mariah Carey chart-topper," to quote the uptight Aubrey. It's about a loner who find friends among a group of misfits. It's about finally realizing who you are and fighting for that. It's about music. It's about singing. It's also about how you randomly find the most insanely talented people in college, people who will sadly go on to lose their creative spirit by working at soul-crushing desk jobs. (single tear rolling down cheek)

Apropos of nothing, The Breakfast Club plays a key role in Pitch Perfect, which means you are obligated to watch it if you grew up in the 80's.

The bottom line: Pitch Perfect features excellent singing, great one-liners, and tolerable levels of subplot. Recommended for all musical nerds!

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)