Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Was Wrong: UT beats Nebraska in slow, hilarious game

Oh, man.

So, every week at my office we gather around the whiteboard and guess the outcome of the UT game.  This is particularly interesting as, while we're officed at UT and I'm a UT alum, most of my colleagues are Texas A&M graduates and don't have funny ideas about how a Just God wants for UT to win all of its games.  I confess, after the past few weeks of UT's lackluster play, this week I stood at the board and guessed that UT would lose by 12 to 14.

Well, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong.  And today being wrong meant that the Nebraska Corn Huskers, who had this summer left the Big 12 conference after losing the 2009 Big 12 Championship and who really, really hate the Longhorns for their quite-literal last second win, and who had managed to work their ranking up to #5 in the polls while UT fell out of the rankings altogether, and who had spent the past year doing nothing but planning to beat a very weak-looking Longhorn team...  that Nebraska wound up losing.

seriously, how am I supposed to empathize with this guy?
I get it.  I know why they were looking forward to kicking the crap out of UT on Nebraska's home field.  I'd be pretty kooky, too.  But, man...  as much joy as they planned to take at seeing a completely different team than the one that won last year?  You know, its still a game.  There's always a chance of losing.  And now UT fans are (a) in disbelief because we didn't expect to win, either, and (b) now how are not supposed to think that's just kind of funny?  It's tragi-hilarious. 

I'm sure there's a moral in here somewhere.

In the end, UT won, 20-13.  I think in no small part due to the UT defense, who looked like last year's defense for the first time this year.

That doesn't really forgive the play calling that led to that flubbed kick by UT and Nebraska's one touchdown.

The UT perspective here.

From CNN Sports Illustrated.

From the Statesman.

Rounding Up: Longhorns, Interactivity, Son of Frankenstein

1) Longhorns at Nebraska

I am not at all confident about Longhorns and Football going into today's game vs. Nebraska. Apparently the Huskers are still a bit peeved about UT's last-second win against them a while back and have done nothing but train for a year to figure out how to beat UT. And the UT team they planned to beat has graduated, leaving the "gosh, gee-willikers, it's a buildin' year!" Longhorns we're now watching. So... that's gonna be interesting. Right now our greatest hopes for success require a complete psychological breakdown for Nebraska, the 'Horns accidentally being bathed in Gamma Radiation*, and/or the spread of a nasty stomach virus this morning amongst UT's foes.

"I'm totally going to throw this ball 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Because that is what I am awesome at."
Heap upon this the fact that Colt "Oh, My Arm Seems to Have Stopped Functioning" McCoy is starting for the Browns against the punishing Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday?

Ah, well.

2) Where are the entries for our Halloween Interactivity?

You've got several days, but we've only received ONE entry for the 2010 Halloween Monster Interactivity! People, this is going to be super-lame if we don't get more submissions, and I know you want your voice heard.

And don't forget: A submission means you receive an awesome Signal Corps Fun Pack!

3) Son of Frankenstein

Just look at these handsome devils.  That's Lugosi and Karloff, btw.
So last night I watched Son of Frankenstein, the third in the series of the Universal Studios-produced Frankenstein movies.  It's a bit embarrassing to admit that I had never made it past Bride of Frankenstein when I'm such a fan of the first two films, but in all fairness, there's no Elsa Lanchester after Bride of Frankenstein, so why go on? 

Son of Frankenstein stars Basil "Sherlock Holmes" Rathbone as Wolf Von Frankenstein, son of Heinrich Von Frankenstein, the creator of the monster in the movies.**  Bela "Dracula" Lugosi plays Ygor, Heinrich's old lab assistant, now a mad man living in the ruins of the laboratory, and Karloff returns as The Monster.

The story isn't as large in scope, nor as nail-bitingly over the top as the two James Whale directed Frankenstein films, and Whale's touch is sorely missed.  The fever-pitch madness of Bride is almost completely absent until about the third reel, when Rathbone's Wolf Von Frankenstein realizes he made have made a mistake that' causing a whole lot of problems.

You would not believe the paperwork you have to do for the FDA before experimenting with the reanimation of monsters
It does establish some of what's actually going on with the monster, and basically sets up The Monster as the original Jason Voorhees.  Basically, you find out that whatever Henry Frankenstein did to re-animate the Monster meant that the Monster no longer has the ability to die, in addition to being super-human.

The set design on the movie is pretty wild, and I have to give the film's creators credit where credit is due.  Where Whale's forest and castles were gothic and detailed, the castle and sets of this film seemed to go back to German Expressionism, with vast spaces punctuated with odd angles, and twisted pathways.  Which, of course, our Frankenstein just adores when he walks into the castle (because he's got the Frankenstein madness, see).

This is how the Frankensteins eat dinner.  No, seriously.
If you've never seen Young Frankenstein, I pity you.  Its one of my favorite comedies and has been since I saw the movie at the Dobie my freshmen year at UT.  One of the best comedic casts I can think of***.  Despite the fact I've seen Young Frankenstein a half-dozen times, Somehow it never occurred to me that the movie was actually referencing characters from movies beyond the first two Frankenstein movies, but Son of Frankenstein is somewhat the template for the movie, right down to the one-armed Burgomeister (who totally uses his wooden arm to hold his darts).

If you've seen the first two Frankenstein movies from Universal, its worth checking out this third in the series, but its sort of suffering from some of the sequel-of-a-sequel-without-the-original-director malaise that you'll see in movies like Jurassic Park III.  I'll let you know how the 4th movie in the series is:  Ghost of Frankenstein - the first film without Karloff as the Monster.

the terrifying "birthday cake" scene

*That's a Hulk reference, kids
** For reasons I can't fathom, Universal changed the name of the monster's creator in the movies to Henry Frankenstein from Victor, as it appears in the 1818 book.  
*** Mel brooks directed, starring: Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle and with Gene Hackman in a brief cameo role.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Heart Marauding Martians: War of the Worlds

I was going to write a post about how much I like War of the Worlds, but then I realized:  I have been doing this a long, long time.  I bet I already wrote something on that.  

And then I thought:
League, you clever bastard!  You're good looking AND brilliant.  

Previous War of the Worlds posts:

War of the Worlds, 70 Years Ago
The League goes to see "War of the Worlds"

Lo and behold, there you go.  Two posts to refer to.  And I'm still a fan.  I was looking at my copy of the DVD and realized I hadn't watched it in... oh, two years or so.

Perhaps I respond to the movie because (a) the radio play freaked me out when I first heard it, knowing exactly what the story was with the broadcast, not to mention I was listening to it on cassette, and (b) because I recall watching the movie with The Admiral and being too old to be genuinely scared by movies, but realizing this was really one of the first films I'd seen where "we" lost.

All that aside, some of what's nifty is in the details. I still like that the martians in the 1953 movie are truly non-humanoid (unlike, say, Klaatu). 

They also don't come with a message to save us or demonstrate some sort of enlightenment. In fact, they basically show up with canisters of Humans-B-Gone.

I have only eye/s for you...
I haven't read enough criticism of the book, play or movies, but when I read the book and watch the movie, I can't help but think that the Martians more or less follow the pattern of colonization that humans have been fond of for our long duration, something Bradbury explored in the unrelated Martian Chronicles, which witnesses mankind slowly colonizing the Red Planet.  Wells' martians aren't as stupid and slow about their "colonization", arriving in gas-spewing, death beam projecting blitzkrieg, but the idea is the same.

Land:  they aren't making more of it. And on a gut level, we kind of understand the terror of clearing out the locals to make way for our strip malls and Tasty Freeze franchises (or whatever Martians ultimately planned to do) because that's what we're really good at. Just, you know, the audience reading the book hadn't been on the receiving end in quite a while.

And these sorts of fables stick with you, I suppose.

I'm also a huge fan of the design of the Martian vehicles as designed in the book (at least how its described, which is @#$%ing terrifying, and which Spielberg sort of got right), and while they couldn't animate the tripod legs for the 50's-era film and so made the vehicle a hovercraft, it's still totally rad. One day I shall own a model of the Martian invasion crafts.  Oh, yes, I will.

A surefire way to not get cut off on the freeway.
The opening scenes in Grover's Mill (in the radio broadcast and movie) are epically freaky as humans try to apply reason, goodwill, etc... and are met by (spoilers!) deathray.  From that point on, things just get worse, too.

There have been a few nifty cross-overs for fans like myself.

As you know, Superman appeared in 1938, the same year of the "War of the Worlds" Mercury Theater Broadcast.  Somebody ran some numbers and put this out a while back, which I thought was a nifty read.

Superman tries to prevent these nefarious illegal aliens from dropping anchor babies
And for those of you who've never read it, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 is basically the LOEG v. War of the Worlds.
Martian X-treme off-roading

This little post sort of suggested further exploration of War of the Worlds in comics, so I amy need to look into that.

For some serious weirdness,look up Jeff Wayne's prog-rock musical thing of War of the Worlds.

We Watched 1958's "The Blob"

I just watched the original 1958 The Blob with JackBart, Jamie and Jason.  I felt it was superior to the 1980's-era remake, which I had previously seen, but mostly because it stars a budding Steve McQueen as a teenager who looks roughly 32.

Aimed squarely at teenagers, the film helped set the formula we're still using today in teen-oriented horror flicks.  The kids are sort of outsiders.  The guy isn't all bad, and the girl is definitely a very nice girl.  The cops won't believe a word of any of it from these crazy kids.  And kids hang out acting goofy until its time for them to save the day.

The FX are really pretty awesome for their day (not War of the Worlds awesome, but really good), and there were a few shots I didn't quite figure out.

The weirdest part of the movie is the jaunty song written for the movie, no doubt to appeal to kids and get them singing at their hootenannies. Absolutely amazing, this is the beginning of The Blob:

Nothing sets the mood for horror like danceable late-50's coffee-house-inspired pop tunes.  Especially when they are penned by Burt Bacharach (Jesus, that factoid really pulls this together).

Sure, you can question the logic of the movie and why Steve McQueen doesn't just explain the chain of events to get the cops off his back (or why the cops think he would come to the police station to bring them back to a crime scene as a prank)... but, heck, I like that monster.

The Blob is one big reddish-purple mass of "oh, holy crap" that's about as good a depiction of what aliens really will be like when they arrive as we're going to see at the cinema. As much as I wish they'd all be Twi-lek entertainers or Orion dancing girls, its just as likely some hunk of space protoplasm will show up and have us all dead within a week. Them's the breaks.

Our villain
JackBart lives in a condo with a cool little courtyard area, and we watched the movie projected onto the wall in the night air, so it was a pretty great cinematic experience for going over to someone's house to catch a movie.

We're trying to do a few more Halloween movies in the run up to the big day, so we''ll keep you guys posted as to our progress.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interaction Time: My Favorite/ Least Favorite Monster

It's been a long, long time since we've played this particular game, but there's really no time like the present!

Let's talk MONSTERS.

In honor of Halloween, I'm going to ask you good folks to send in some content.  We're going to talk about our favorite monsters AND our least favorite monsters!  I love me a good monster, whether its on two legs and wears a two-tone sweater or whether its breathing fire and 30 stories in the sky.  And I'm betting you guys ALSO have your favorite monsters.

But I'm betting some of you look at a few movie and TV monsters and are just left wondering what the hell the story is with that thing.  And we want to hear about that, too!

"I hate going into the basement to flip the circuit breaker!  Blah!"

Here's the rules:
  1. Send in:
    • A picture (preferably in JPEG)
    • Name of Monster
    • Identify as Favorite or Least Favorite Monster
    • An essay of any length explaining why your monster of choice is your favorite/ least favorite monster
  2.  You must self-identify one way or another.  Please include what name by which you'd like to be identified in the post
  3. You can send as many as four monsters
  4. Extra points will be awarded for monsters we've never heard of, creative responses and super-awesome essays
  5. You can define "monster" pretty much any way you choose, but let's keep it light, kids.  This is a Halloween fun-fest, not your personal soapbox, and we have readership of all stripes 
  6. All entries must be received by October 24th
  7. Depending on the number of entries, we will begin rolling out essays the week before Halloween.  I'm not sure which day yet.
  8. Please be aware that all profanity will be replaced with "@#$%" 
  9. By submitting your essay to Signal Watch, you retain ownership and copyright, but are granting The Signal Watch/ League of Melbotis non-exclusive publishing rights*
"Honey, my train ran into a problem, and I'm going to be a little late..."

Where do I send it?
  signalwatch at gee mail dot com

What's in it for YOU?

Folks who send in entries will receive a Signal Watch Signal Corps Fun Club Package!  (I have no idea what that means, but you can bet it will be awesome.)  If you would like a Signal Watch Signal Corps Fun Club Package, please include your mailing address.  And do not assume I have your mailing address.  I do not.

You also get to get your writing up here in bright lights, right next to your name! 


So, my little goblins, I hope everyone has an idea in mind for a monster they'd like to talk about.  Let's see if this can't get you in the Halloween Spirit!

"And those brains come with either steak fries or fingers..."

*I know, but these days I feel like that bit is necessary.  Please read up on Creative Commons if you want to know what I'm getting at.

He is a monster of talent

I read "Red", the comic they based that movie on

Ah, Warner Bros.  I can't say you were wrong to want to monkey with the comic, Red, in order to turn it into a major motion picture. 

Red is written by the always hit-or-miss, but cultivator of a cult of personality, Warren Ellis, and drawn by Cully Hamner, an artist whose work I enjoy and may even border upon really liking.  Simply put, Red is really short.  It was released sometime while I was living in Arizona, and I actually do believe I read the first issue, but never finished the 3-issue series as it arrived during the era of epic decompression, when American-style comics were undergoing this experiment where it seemed like a test amongst editors to see who could get the fewest words into a panel and then cut it down to three panels per page.

In other words, I remember reading the entirety of the first issue in about 3 minutes and then kind of deciding that hadn't been worth the price of admission.   It wasn't even a content-specific problem so much as me feeling like I'd just paid to read about three pages worth of comic spread out over 22.

Ellis, as a writer, is a smart fellow, and almost as fond of the old ultra-violence as Garth Ennis.  Red is a very "Mature Audiences" sort of title, and not just because of the stylized violence, but because the book does, in fact, have a point.  And its a point I am curious whether it will survive the translation to big-budget action comedy with at least four new characters added by my count.

The comic features, really, only about five characters and is mostly handled with a grave and serious tone.  But with so little but the skeleton of the story that exists in the comic, I can see why the studio chose the direction (any direction) once they decided to put real money behind the thing.

If anyone wants to borrow the comic or even sit on my front porch and read it in about 12 minutes, you're welcome to come by and do so.

SW Watches: The Social Network

Firstly, let me say:  This is a pretty darn good movie.  I don't have any rating system, and perhaps I need to develop one.  But, I guess I'm saying:  You don't have to see this in the theater (its not going to be less impressive on your TV), but you're likely going to want to see the movie so you can follow the references made to the movie for the next three months.  Particularly, its a movie of the moment, perhaps more so than any other movie I've seen.  And, frankly, its a bit lucky that this thing made it to the big screen before we'd all moved on to using YouFace or whatever is the next shiny object to blitz the zeitgeist.

EVERYTHING BELOW CONTAINS SPOILERS (Sorry, but I'd like to actually discuss the movie a bit. )

I'll go out on a limb and say:  There's not much in the way of originality in the tale of Zuckerberg and Facebook, particularly if you read the occasional tech website or know much about Facebook's often public legal woes.  Or if you follow much in the way of tech news for companies that tend to get bigger than a bread-box.  But the movie also occasionally has a feeling of "been there, done that" from a narrative standpoint (and we'll get to that in a bit).

I tend to follow Facebook's Privacy issues*, so I've criss-crossed paths with a few stories, and for a company that's got a short lifespan, holy hell, have these guys managed to find themselves in Lawsuit Land an amazing amount.  Of late, however, the stories have mostly focused on "what's real and what is fiction in The Social Network".  The veracity of the story told in The Social Network can and does matter, unless you really want to view it as some sort of modern parable, but somehow that feels a bit lazy.  But it is a movie, so no matter how talented the writer, director and cast, the movie will always exist as a fictional construct.  If that's a disservice to current and ongoing issues...  I can't be sure. 

Business is messy.  The amazing fortunes made by young people starting, HP-style, in garages and dorm rooms aren't mapped out from Day 1, and that leads to some pretty wacky tales.  You don't become a multi-billion-dollar company without leaving a few bodies in shallow graves, metaphorically or otherwise.

The movie doesn't pull the same weak stunt as the very pretty Immortal Beloved and have someone following up on clues in the wake of Zuckerberg's death**, but in many ways, the film has echoes of Citizen Kane, including a final scene I thought was probably necessary for a portion of the audience, but...  What seems to be missing from The Social Network, however, is Zuckerberg's ambition.  Was he the socially maladroit nigh-innocent portrayed in the movie?  Was he really trying to make something cool to find a way to impress the ladies as the movie would have it?  Its hard to imagine the off-screen maneuvering occured without his input, consent or knowledge.

But what the movie kind of hints at that the press seems to only remember in "oh, gosh, can you believe it!" tones is that Zuckerberg was a college Junior as Facebook was getting cranking, but the decisions made and avenues pursued are looked at as if Zuckerberg (I don't think anyone would question his intellectual capability) had the emotional maturity of a few years' worth or work or someone just generally older. *** No @#$% this went a little off the rails.

Zuckerberg's ongoing issues seem to mostly stem from an unstable cocktail of a lack of maturity and (and I know this is going to get me in trouble, but...) the same sort of "I will tell the people what's good for them!" attitude I've seen in many really bad IT and programming shop situations.   And watching Zuckerberg both in the film and real life, I can't help but think "Oh, he's that guy...  Only with 4 billion dollars."

The movie does manage to make some astute reflections upon the entrenched modes of obtaining/ retaining success versus the path of insta-wealth mogul, and I don't know if I can add much that you aren't likely to find in a better review from a smarter writer.  But (a) I appreciated the fact that they managed to show rather than tell via endless exposition, and (b) if I can get judgy for a minute here, it doesn't feel entirely inaccurate.

In building the case (real or imagined) for how and why Zuckerberg decided to pursue something like Facebook, and in the conflicts that arise, writer Sorkin and director Fincher are quietly damning of the origins of final product, and, by extension, the jaded and sordid forms of communication supported in microbursts and what we gain from online profiles and existence (Country, Cities, Online).  Why do we communicate?  What do we gain from communicating on rails set by other people?  Particularly when those rails were originally designed for 18-23 year olds?  And when the rules are managed by a man-boy for whom communication itself is portrayed as fraught with peril to begin with?

Is this the face of success?

I'd take this opportunity to point you to Steven's recent conversation upon similar topics after reading The ShallowsHe starts here and continues for several fascinating posts.

The movie leaves some threads open that I wish had been better explained.  When did Facebook go public and ditch its .edu exclusivity?  When and how did the conversation about ads change?  How does Facebook make its 100's of billions other than on the wishes of unicorns and irrational exuberance?

For the faults of the movie (its iffy relationship with reality, its echoing of well known stories - both real and fictional), the movie has some powerful stuff and can and should at least give you a moment of pause to wonder what the hell you're doing hunting and clicking on that damned website all day.

If I may:  technically, I loved this movie.  The young cast (including Mr. Timberlake) was uniformly pretty amazing.  The script was the kind of smart stuff that seems to pop up only once every 6-18 months or so as per dialog and structure.  Fincher's direction, of what i can see of that stuff, anyway, seemed pretty damned well spot on.

Anyhow, I open the floor to discussion:

*A pal of mine is an EFF lawyer who I tend to follow as he comments upon Facebook's latest brainstorms, and I thought danah boyd made a great argument last year at SXSW, which seemed to lead to nigh-immediate action on the part of Facebook. 

**as of this writing, and at the time of the film's release, Zuckerberg is reported to be in the pink of health

***In a previous incarnation, I couldn't trust student workers with tasks that required a part C as well as a Part A & B, and those were engineering grad students.  No chumps.  But...  I sort of wonder about the wisdom assumed by the populace when we look to the shockingly successful.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Am Not @ ACL Fest

I guess the days of me attending ACL Fest are now in the rear-view mirror.

I don't attend many concerts these days, and while I get the basic concept of the festival, as interests wax and wane, I'm just not much of one for doing that sort of thing for three days anymore.  I certainly used to be up for doing one day of festival-ness.  Heck, I attended the first few Lollapalooza's, back when it was a traveling musical festival.  But... I was also 16 - 20ish.

This isn't to badmouth ACL Fest.  They do a fairly good job, I guess, of bringing acts the kids want to see and stuff for an older and more general audience.  This year has headliners like Phish and The Eagles, if you're into that sort of thing (I am into neither).

I sort of miss being that into music, but these days it seems I just really don't care too much about the rock'n'roll.  When expressed, this attitude is treated as a malady, as if its something that's passing and from which I'll recover if I just try harder, which is sort of a weird way to think of it.  One could compare it to the disappointment and well-reasoned arguments one could put out there when you hear someone just isn't interested in using Facebook.  I do agree that music is an important art and cultural touchstone, but I don't see keeping up with the latest featured subjects of Spin as part of appreciating what your civilization produces.  Plus, I got other stuff going on.

I'm always up for giving something new a listen, by the way, and I do trust the recommendations of my colleagues (I've picked up Freelance Whales, Mumford and Sons and other stuff based on your recommendations in the past year).  And I do pick up new albums by people I tended to already like (I got the new LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire.  I paid good money to see The Pixies last month.).  But in comparison to when the rock'n'roll was something I actively pursued...  

Hopefully Jason and Amy are having a good time of it.  Last night when I was en route to see a pretty darn good production of "Midsummer Night's Dream"*, my Blackberry rang with Jason's tell-tale ring (Chewbacca!), and when I answered, I could hear LCD Soundsystem cranked up and blaring.  And, yeah, man, I kind of regretted my decision not to go for a minute there.  And, yeah, I kind of resent that ACL Fest has meant that bands now check Austin off their tour schedule because they showed up for this festival.  But, whatever.  Its also meant bands that might not book a show here have come to town.  You win some, you lose some.

*Austinites have one more weekend to catch Midsummer Night's Dream performed by The Baron's Men at the Curtain Theater on Lake Austin.  It was pretty great.  Next up, Twelfth Night, which I've never read or seen.