Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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{originally written 2013 May 23, then banished to the Drafts folder for no good reason when I never got around to finishing it.}

Spoiler-free review:  A solid sophomore outing for the NuTrek crew, but it’s no Wrath of Khan. ====== Spoilers follow =========== Continue reading “Review: Star Trek Into Darkness”

Subverting Stereotypes on the Fury Road

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I just finished rewatching Mad Max: Fury Road.  I have to say, I can understand why the film earned the online ire of the so-called men’s rights activists (MRAs). It takes all the high-octane testosterone-drenched tropes of the typical action flick, ramps them up to 11 and, in so doing, exposes the madness that lies at the heart of the culture.

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All good things may come to an end, but you can sometimes revisit them

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Today (2014 May 23) is the 20th anniversary of the airing of “All Good Things…”, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It cannot be denied that this series is directly responsible for the resurgence of American sci-fi on television – without the Enterprise-D, there would have been no Babylon 5, no Stargate, no reimagined Battlestar Galactica.  Without the evidence that “geek culture” could make real money, there might well have been no Dark Night, no Lord of the Rings (movies), no Game of Thrones (series), no Avengers assembled.

Watching it again, I was surprised how well this episode holds up as a capstone to an amazing series.  Sure, there are glitches – the anomaly grows larger in the past, except when it doesn’t, after being created by tachyon pulses emitted by three Enterprises except one of them was the Pasteur.  But that’s just nitpicking.  The key to Trek has never been the technobabble.  It’s been the intricate interplay between sharply-drawn characters who wear their humanity on their sleeve, and the ineffable possibilities of existence itself.  And ST:TNG still had that ineluctable optimism that characterized the original.  It had hope in the stars and hope in us.   As much as I enjoy the grittier fare we generally get these days, I will admit to missing that simple faith in the future.

Silver Thunderbird (30 Days of Marc Cohn — Day 15)

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“Silver Thunderbird”
Marc Cohn

It really wasn’t planned that this song follow “Listening to Levon” on my countdown, but it’s nice that it worked out that way.

In “Listening to Levon”, Cohn tells us he was sitting in his dad’s “blue Valiant” but this is the song he really associates with his father.  It’s a very heart-felt piece of nostalgia and, like many of Cohn’s songs, gentle while remaining pop-ish.  Whenever I hear it, I’m struck by how thoroughly successfully it evokes the memory of being a child.  My dad didn’t own a silver Thunderbird (or a blue Valiant — the only car my dad ever purchased new was a 1983.5 Chrysler Reliant K car, notorious as one of the worst cars to ever roll out of Detroit).  But I totally get the vibe Cohn is sending in this song.  There’s pride and wonder and just a hint of loss.

Great big fins and painted steel
Man it looked just like the Batmobile
With my old man behind the wheel

I just love the line about the Batmobile (even though, of course, the Batmobile is black and not silver  :-P).  That’s exactly what a six-year-old might say describing his dad’s new car. And the pride that radiates through — “with my old man behind the wheel” — is palpable.

He got up every morning
While i was still asleep
But I remember the sound of him shuffling around
Then right before the crack of dawn
I heard him turn the motor on
But when I got up they were gone

Here too Cohn brilliantly evokes childhood.  Who hasn’t heard their father (or mother) rooting around the house in the early hours, before any children are supposed to be awake?  Who can’t read in there a safe feeling of being provided for?  I can definitely empathize with the thought of jumping out of bed to say goodbye without realizing that, if the motor’s on, he’ll have pulled out long before I get there.  Here is the moment of loss that often informs Cohn’s songs — not teary mourning, but a soft regret.

I suppose this songs speaks to me because of how and when I lost my father.  By the time the song came out he’d been gone eight years; there would be no chance to sit and reminisce with him.  My memories of my dad are wrapped in the same misty nostalgia that informs this song.  What remain are glimpses and impressions of the man he was, but as a kid I didn’t have the context to weave them into a real understanding of him.  Cohn’s sparse tribute to his dad honors that incompleteness and captures the important parts anyway.  To a young boy, his father is more than a person; he’s the living concept, the very definition, of what it is to be a man.

Don’t gimme no Buick
Son you must take my word
If there’s a God in heaven
He’s got a Silver Thunderbird

You can keep your Eldorados
And the foreign car’s absurd
Me I want to go down
In a Silver Thunderbird

 

Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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Rating: 3 out of 5 (meh)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a Michael Bay film.  That pretty much sums up exactly what the movie is, and you don’t really need to know any more about it.  It’s not a bad film, exactly, and it’s not a good film (definitely).  It’s a film, a Michael Bay film.

Spoilers follow.

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Tron: Legacy — soundtrack

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Being a geek of a certain age, I of course went out to see Tron: Legacy as soon as it opened in the theaters. And being a geek of a certain type, and having listened to Wendy Carlos‘ ethereal soundtrack to the original Tron, I also purchased the soundtrack to this one as soon as it was available. This was my first introduction to Daft Punk, whom (I must admit) I first even heard of when their role was announced to much rejoicing. On receipt of the CD (yes, I still buy physical goods from time to time), I learned that they had worked on the orchestration with Hans Zimmer, a composer whose other cinematic work I do know and enjoy.

I say all this to make clear that I cannot evaluate the album as to its “Daft Punkness”. On my first listen through, I was underwhelmed. Wendy Carlos notwithstanding, I am not much of a fan of techno, and this album is certainly that. But having spent the cash I gave it a few good listens, and then I noticed that I was replaying the music in my head throughout the day. That’s just about the best recommendation you can give an album: it’s something you want to keep listening to. It evokes the movie (which I very much enjoyed) without being dogmatically tied to it. I’ve played these tracks for more than anything I’ve purchased in the past year or so.

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Review: Inception

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Inception
a Christopher Nolan Film
Arbitrary 5-Point rating: 5 out of 5

Inception is a weird, ambitious, action-packed sci fi thriller-cum-heist flick.  It is, in its own way, as ambitious as The Matrix and suffers from the comparison only in that it didn’t come first.  Leonardo DiCaprio plays Tom Dom Cobb, a thief of a singular kind: He can enter the dreams of others and “extract” information they’re trying to keep secret.  On the run for (at first) unspecified horrible crimes, he parlays his skill into a lucrative, if high-risk, lifestyle.  But in the end all he really wants to do is get to go home again and pick up the shards of his former life, including two small children.

More detail, and spoilers, to follow, but in short, this is a fantastic film that’s better than it has any right to be.  The pacing is superb, the acting is above-average, and the setting and technology are remarkably well fleshed out.  Although everyone draws comparisons to The Matrix, the real spiritual ancestor of this film is The Thirteenth Floor (which, ironically, came out at the same time as — and got lost in the glare of the hoopla of — The Matrix).

Spoilers ho!
==== Continue reading “Review: Inception”

Days of miracle and wonder, indeed

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For about ten years, I’ve been running a project in my Honors Physics course called Days of Miracle and Wonder (yes, title taken from a Paul Simon song).  In it, the students are asked to create a business case for a product or service not available today but likely to be so by 2030.  Although they are expected to construct a likely technological path from today’s state-of-the-art to that future product, they aren’t expected to actually build their device because, after all, it’s supposed to be 20 years away.

In one of the early years, a team chose as its device a free-standing holographic display a la the chess scene on the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.  They presumed it would involve some sort of fast-spinning mirror.

Today, I came across this — a SIGGRAPH paper and video demonstrating a free-standing three-dimensional display utilizing a fast-spinning mirror.  It’s about 20 years early.

I guess I have to revise my project rubric.  😛