Archive for October, 2010

“Reducto,” “Impedimenta,” and “Priori Incancatatum:” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

October 26, 2010

NB: I have to admit … I’m not giving this post my all here.  I have a couple of reasons (excuses) including that I’ve been really busy, that I don’t really like Goblet of Fire all that much, and that I’ve now gone past it and am well into Order of the Phoenix so it isn’t even all that fresh in my mind.  Never the less, I am way too OCD to skip it and move on so …

Dark Defence Training Camp, Courtesy of Lord Voldemort

As much as I don’t really enjoy this book, it is very necessary to the plot.  To buy the series as a whole, we all have to believe that Harry Potter does indeed have a chance when it comes to beating Lord Voldemort.  This seems irrational in the first book even when the Dark Lord is just a creepy face in the back of Quirrel’s head.  As we watch Voldemort cut a swath Read the rest of this entry »

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Reason to Hope

October 23, 2010

This video is a little corny but I really liked the sentiment … and the cleverness of the palindrome. This gets at the same concept I was discussing in the small hours of Sunday on a new york roof top with a couple strangers (ah wedddings): is our generation more hopeful or more cynical? Our parents were hippies; they used phrases like “after the revolution” un-ironically. Our elder cousins in Gen X saw the world that all that optimism had resulted in by the 1980’s (a pretty unappealing one) and turned a little bitter. But are we the same? Or, maybe more significantly, are our next-younger peers, the facebook generation? It remains to be seen.

Amazing Coincidence

October 21, 2010

Yesterday I was stung by a hornet …

… and today I discovered this webcomic

(by which I mean I was introduced to the website which I’d never seen before and the subject was bee stings).

… amazing.

Compare and Contrast

October 16, 2010

As previously noted I’m in New York right now.  I love the buildings here – not comprehensively but actually even the ones I don’t like set up interesting contrasts to the ones I do.  And although in civic architecture my tastes lean to the neo classical, I can appreciate newer work.  For example, I really did enjoy the MOMA building for itself as much as its art.  I strolled through the galleries looking at art on the walls but in the circulation spaces I looked at the building itself.  And it happened that as I was leaning on a rail people watching for a moment I realized that the view in front of me was strikingly similar to a photo I’d taken earlier in the day at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

On the surface, no two spaces could be more unlike each other.  However the bones are remarkably similar.  Each of these shots shows a main hall at the piano nobile level reached by ascending a grand stair (out of view in both).  Each space is largely open and has numerous small reveals into other more private areas of the building.  For each shot I am standing off to the side and watching the action below from behind a barrier.  The proportions are slightly different (the MOMA space is much taller than it is wide, the reverse of the library hall) but the dimensions are similar.

I also enjoyed the more direct contrasts afforded by the carefully crafted views of the surrounding city that were created through well placed windows. In a sense this turns the city itself into a permanent exhibit of the museum, offering angles and perspectives not available from street level.  I’m not sure if I should credit the original architects, Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, or the extensive renovation completed in 2004 under Yoshio Taniguchi, for this splendor but I certainly appreciated it.  There were a number of moments which stopped me in my tracks to observe the city outside (often causing unintentional traffic jams in the process).

All in all, I liked the MOMA far more than I had anticipated (being more of a Metropolitan Museum of Art type girl under normal circumstances).

As previously noted I’m in New York right now.  I love the buildings here – not comprehensively but actually even the ones I don’t like set up interesting contrasts to the ones I do.  And although in civic architecture my tastes lean to the neo classical, I can appreciate newer work.  For example, I really did enjoy the MOMA building for itself as much as its art.  I strolled through the galleries looking at art on the walls but in the circulation spaces I looked at the building itself.  And it happened that as I was leaning on a rail people watching for a moment I realized that the view in front of me was strikingly similar to a photo I’d taken earlier in the day at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Action! Design over Time

October 15, 2010

New York City.  That’s where I am.  And that’s most of why I haven’t posted since Monday – its been a crazy week getting here.  I’m in town for a wedding (sort of … its a long story) but I got in a day early because, being the country mouse that I am, I only get to New York about every five years so I wanted to make the most of it.

In the afternoon I hit the MOMA, which was on my to do list because a friend had talked up their temporary exhibit on the modern kitchen as it was conceived between the wars.  It was good but disappointingly small, however the rest of the museum amused me much more than I might have guessed so it was a good trip.  Here are some of my favorite ideas from the “Action! Design over Time” exhibit in the Architecture and Design galeries at the MOMA.

“We are living in a storm where a hundred contradictory elements collide, debris from the past, scraps of the present, seeds of the future, swirling, combining, separating under the impervious wind of destiny.”

Adophe Rette, La Plume, 1898

from MOMA’s Action! Design over Time

“The objects of utility in our lives have freed the slaves of a former ages.  The are in fact themselves slaves, menials, servants.  Do you want them as your soulmates?  We sit on them, work on them, make use of them, use them up; when used up, we replace them.”

Le Corbusier, the Decorative Art of Today

from MOMA’s Action! Design over Time

“Function, combined with good taste, results in good design.”

voice over from video Good Design

from MOMA’s Action! Design over Time

 

 

 

Looking back on Sci Fi September* (part the third)

October 8, 2010

Star Gate SG1

(the first three episodes)

(ie until we couldn’t stand it anymore)

I’ve heard that this is one of (the?) most popular and longest running shows on the Sci Fi Channel and so I have to ask myself … why?  We only got three episodes in so perhaps it improves in later seasons but this struck me as pretty ridiculous cheesy crap.  The movie was funny – didn’t take itself too seriously.  The show just seemed very low quality and ham handed.  The characters were stereotyped and one dimensional, the production values were low and the premise seemed more far-fetched than before … or maybe we just didn’t watch them late enough at night!

Prince Caspian

(which totally counts as science fiction; inter-dimensional time travel, anyone?)

I have my issues with the way they souped up the battle components of this movie (basically with the failed raid on the Telmarine fort) but I actually like it quite a lot.  As a book its pretty skimpy on both plot and character development but I feel like this re-write added a lot of believable psychology to all the Pevensie children and to Caspian himself.  Peter has some teenaged aggression to work off, Susan can’t really let herself love something she knows wont last, Caspian has some very legitimate doubts about his chops as a Narnian King.

Interestingly my two favorite characters get the least development.  Edmund steps up to fill Peters shoes as the cool headed competent one, amending his royal title to King Edmund the Just … as Magnificent as Peter, Thank You Very Much.  Most of his plot arc relates to applying Read the rest of this entry »

Tatooine or “Make Star Wars as 2D as Possible”

October 8, 2010

I heard about this video on the MPR (mixed media, I know) on my way into work this morning and laughed out loud when the host described it.  She said it was a new viraly popular music video using beautiful construction paper animation to tell the story of the Star Wars trilogy in two minutes.  The title is right out of the Star Wars universe, she said, and then pronounced it something like this “T”Two-en” which caused me to do a full two beat search of my memory for trivia.  Not a name of a person, not a robot, not an alien species … could it be the name of the home planet of an alien race.  Then it clicked: she meant Tatooine.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Jeremy Messersmith – Tatooine, posted with vodpod

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Back on Sci Fi September* (part the second)

October 6, 2010

The continuing saga of good (and bad) Sci Fi movies watched with good friends.

Star Trek

Every time I plan to watch Star Trek again I worry that I’ll have gotten sick of it – that I will now have seen it too many times.  But every time, by the point where Kirk’s parents are talking on the intercom about what to call him, I’m hugging my knees in tension and sniffing back tears.  When they kick in with the main titles I’m lost in it.

What’s great: soundtrack, Spock, snarky dialogue, shiny shiny space ships, Bones,  updated ship-board uniforms (they look like real future-wear), Uhura, red-space-suited ensign scene, that “live long and prosper” can now mean “up yours”, Kirk, and the JJ Abrams patented camera shake.

District 9

I hated this movie.  In fact I got in a little fight with my sister for even suggesting that I watch it.  I behaved myself rather badly and got into quite a funk after watching it and sulked at her about that.  (Sorry, kiddo).

That said, its not a bad movie.  Its an interesting premise, well written and well filmed.  Good, thus far.  But I don’t like fiction where none of the protagonists manage to stand on, cling to, or even aim at the moral high ground.  Perhaps this was a very realistic picture of humanity but … I don’t subscribe to it. I don’t like to watch movies about gangs, concentration camps or the drowning of kittens either.

Overall reaction: Blech.

Star Gate

Now this was a pretty bad movie that I actually enjoyed quit a lot.  It may have been helped by the fact that we watched it after District 9 and well after midnight.

Stargate is delightfully campy.  Its a veritable melting pot of movie archetypes – you’ve got world weary military middle man, gruff general,  professorial nerd who can’t talk to real people, eager kid, beautiful stranger who risks her life for love, and a villain in too much eye makeup.  Plus the set mix of Egyptian pyramids, space ships and  military bunkers under mountains make a great candidate for “drink when it sucks”.

The Last Starfighter

So after we stayed up way too late drinking to Stargate, we got up the next morning, made pesto scrambled eggs and watched the Last Starfighter.  Which was just about as delightfully campy in its own way.

I was overjoyed to see Robert Preston (proving that he needed to work) playing the aging hukster alien Centauri.

We all enjoyed the notion that playing a cheap arcade game could prepare one to single handedly save the universe.

We were unanimous that Beta Alex was much cuter than Alex (mysterious because they were played by the same guy).

But most of all this movie was great because Alex had so clearly never seen a movie or a TV show before in his life (too much time playing Starfighter methinks).  This (young restless hero is swept up by fate and called on to save the universe) is the oldest story in fiction and he is just SO confused by the whole thing.  Its hilarious.

28 Days Later

This is the movie I wish District 9 had been.  Its a crazy dramatic story about a world gone wrong, sure, but the people wandering around in it haven’t entirely lost their humanity.  There are bad guys but there are also good guys and people in between.  Thank you, Danny Boyle.

By starting in medias res (28 days in) we skip over initial carnage in favor of isolated survivors.  I like Zombieland for the same reason.  Its a really interesting picture of what various people will do in an untenable situation.  And I like the “happy ending” even if it is just a touch unrealistic.

Those are all the movies (the last entry too) that we watched in our Sci Fi Fun marathon weekend.  Check back later for the rest of the month’s sci fi fun.

*AKA the Best September Ever

Looking Back on Sci Fi September* (part the first)

October 4, 2010

I’ve just said goodbye to my dear friend Roshni who visited me for the whole glorious month of September.  We undertook to have a sci fi movie festival while she was visiting and enjoyed it quite thoroughly indeed.  Here’s the list in order of appearance:

Sunshine

Its possible I’ve said all I need to say about this movie here.  But actually I simply can’t emphasize enough how much I love it, how much I quote from it in my head, how much I want to run its sound track over moments in an average day … etc.

I was joking with my sister that when Roshni arrived we’d let her set down her bags, visit the bathroom and then frog march her to the sofa to begin watching this … and she deadpanned back to me, “yes, and …”  In the end that was pretty much what we did with the minor deviation of making dinner and a pie first.  So this was the kick off to Sci Fi September right here.

Alien

This is such a classic that it suffers from Lord of the Rings syndrome.  That is … if you watch it after you’ve already seen enough sci fi movies it feels really hackneyed which is terribly unfair because Alien did it first.

That said, its still very scary especially when watched alone at night (as I first did).  Its a good mystery, suspenseful until you want to scream and even a bit funny.

Ripley is pretty bad ass even before she straps on a flame throwing machine gun and takes on an alien in its lair.

Still its just a tiny touch dated at this point … smoking in space?  Seriously?

Aliens

Did I say Ripley was bad ass in Alien?  I’m sorry.  In this movie she is so bad ass she breaks the scale.  And all in a completely believable way.  Hooray for a character development arc!  Full Disclosure: I love this film.  We watched the special edition which has about 45 minutes of extra footage showing Ripley’s (sortof) readjustment to life and what’s going on with the colony before the Aliens get there and its incredibly suspenseful.  You don’t even see an alien (baring one dream sequence) until minute 56. In my memory this is an action movie just as much as the Terminator but on this watching it feels much more like suspense … at least in the extended edition.

This is another one of those movies so seminal it seems familiar but in this case its so well done you never feel like you’ve seen it all before.  I hadn’t realized what a precedent it was setting until I went back and re-read Ebert’s review written in 1986 in which he describes it as astonishingly scary and says “when I walked out of the theater, there were knots in my stomach from the film’s roller-coaster ride of violence.”  Now it just seems par for the course but then this level of action violence had a seasoned movie reviewer talking about losing his lunch.  Oh here’s another interesting historical tidbit: Fast forward to 1997 and Ebert’s review of Aliens Resurrection (don’t see it, its un-watchabley bad) he comments that “Weaver remains the only woman who can open an action picture.”  It would still be 4 years before Lara Croft Tomb Raider kicked off Angelina Jolie’s action stardom.  So … thanks Ellen Ripley.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

Obviously that’s not all we watched … but that’s all I can write about for now.  More to follow soon.

*AKA the Best September Ever

Veridian Design

October 2, 2010

I came across this essay by Bruce Sterling recently.  Its long and unwieldy and is also the tail end of a huge archive of similar proclamations which formed the basis of the official Veridian Design Movement website (more on this later).  However I have been drawn back to the web page several times to re-read the portion that might be described as a manifesto for material life.  Since it is what I am thinking about right now I thought I might as well share it with you.  I’ve edited it down (some) but you can read the whole thing here.

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.” Read the rest of this entry »