Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wilhelm Scream

I heard of this thing called a Wilhelm scream on a podcast. It pops up in the occasional movie, including the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" films, and the Simon Pegg alien movie "Paul" that comes out in March. I thought it was a name for a general kind of over-the-top scream, but no. It's a collection of sound files (six total, though a couple are most recognizable) that have been used over and over again, for decades now, to humorous effect for people in the know. Watch and find it funny:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Obviously ...

My favorite fortune-cookie fortunes that I've gotten:

World, here I come.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A poem


I decided to write a poem for you
because it’s been a long time since
words strung together like letters or songs
a long, long time without words that rhyme
or maybe not, not this time

they come when you don’t see them sometimes
like shooting stars
and surprise parties
and adulthood
and that moment when you realize you can’t think of a single thing you’ve done in ten years that’s worth mentioning

will the day come when we stop writing poetry
real poetry, with real words
not letters that count as words
and emoticons
and the loss of something

I think maybe I’ll start writing poetry again
because I think, sometimes, that I’ve forgotten the things
that feed the soul
and I miss them

Curious correlations

In its bid to keep me firmly in its clutches by suggesting more and more titles it thinks I will enjoy, Netflix sometimes gets creative. Humorously creative. I first noticed this with the names of specific genres that Netflix determines I enjoy. For example:

*Critically-acclaimed Violent Dramas
*Dark Suspenseful Supernatural Movies
*Exciting British TV
*Exciting Space-Travel TV Shows
*Emotional Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead

That last one was the result of my taste preference for Dramas, plus my interest in the movies "Brothers" and "The Fall." The "strong female lead" in "The Fall" is a little Romanian girl who is all kinds of entertaining but whose part is particularly ... childlike ... to be a "Strong Female Lead."
She was a little girl with a broken arm, with nothing mature about the role or her situation. It wasn't, like, a Jodie Foster role or something.

Anyway. This week, I glanced across some of my recommendations and was struck by the seemingly non-existent correlation between some of the recommendations and the taste preferences that inspired those recommendations. Umm …

(Click on it to see a bigger version.)

I get that Claire Danes was in "Romeo + Juliet" and "My So-Called Life," but I don't remember watching any part of "Lost" and thinking, "This show reminds me of that episode of 'My So-Called Life' when Jordan Catalano was standing by that locker ..." I guess that both "Flight of the Conchords" and "Shaun of the Dead" involve non-Americans being funny? And what major factor could a motorcycle-trip documentary series ("Long Way Round") have in common with "Battlestar Galactica"?

Even better, though, are these. I did a little graphic that isn't nearly as funny and cool as I wanted it to be, but here it is anyway. (Again, click on the graphic to see it bigger.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spice, Spice Baby

"The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel."

Also vital to space travel: your pet pug.

I am one of those unreliable bloggers who writes regularly for a while, stops, and maybe posts something here and there. I have several Google Docs (because I enjoy and utilize Google Docs very much, and create new ones at least weekly) that contain ideas and starts for blog posts that never became actual blog posts. One of those I will share today.

One of the blog series I intended for The Silent Planet that I remain most excited about is Geek Treasures. (Being excited about an idea does not guarantee follow-through. Bloggers know this.) Geek Treasures would require me to read, watch or otherwise partake of something from the broad geek canon that I had not previously watched, read or otherwise partook. Is "partook" a word?

I bet these people use the word "partook."

I planned to start with "The Wrath of Khan" but didn't take notes, let time pass and couldn't remember it well enough to do justice to the experience of watching it. So I wrote about "Blade Runner" instead.

That was in June. It was my first and only Geek Treasures post. Geeks around the world moped around in sad disappointment for the next several months (or not at all), (not) anticipating the follow-up that would never come.

Until now. I give you Geek Treasures entry #2.

This look never caught on. It's hard to predict fashion trends, isn't it?

The thing: David Lynch's "Dune," the 1984 film based on Frank Herbert's novel. I haven't read the novel, but I presume it is not as weird as David Lynch.

This bizarre and ... off-putting ... man with his eyebrows and his red-around-the-mouthness inspired me to take the first screenshot of about 36.

The means: Netflix streaming, which enabled me to capture many screenshots to make this entry extra special. You could also argue that it makes this entry extra creepy.

Geek moment: Several cast members appear in other notable science fiction and fantasy shows and films, but I'd most like to mention Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Picard of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" / Professor X in "The X-Men," and Dean Stockwell, of both "Quantum Leap" and the "BG" reboot. Also, IMDb lists Michael Bolton (yes, that Michael Bolton) as "Drummer At Knife Fight (uncredited)." Geek? No. Noteworthy? Obviously.

Does Captain Picard (far left) know yet that Dean Stockwell (center) is actually a Cylon?

This shot reminded me of a "Star Wars" movie. Is the Emperor arriving? Does this count as a geek moment? I think so. That, and this ...

... guy reminding me of Viggo Mortensen, aka Aragorn from "The Lord of the Rings."

Other impressions: I watched "Dune" back in June (no rhyme intended). I did take notes, but it's been awhile and I thought that just posting the notes themselves might be funnier than rewatching the film to come up with a fresher, more thorough take on my impressions.

I watched the movie over two days. I typed notes on the Stickies notepad on my computer as I watched the film. I'm adding bullets to make them easier to read. Here is day one, covering the first 40 minutes of the film:
  • Spice of life
  • oh yes, I forgot to tell you...
  • Toto
  • we felt his presence
  • bald people-emperor of known universe
  • floor-length garbage bag parkas
  • Jessica
  • AraKIS, DUNE, desert planet
  • Sean Young
  • a lot of telling — inner thoughts, educational presentations, title cards, Virginia Madsen — suits, planets, families, prophecies, how they feel, etc.
  • more fun to watch with friends
  • old school effects with models, etc.
  • tiny flying metal assassin
  • When you see the baron, remember the tooth, the tooth, the tooth.
  • poison gas tooth
  • rated R for the unsettling combination of weirdness and grossness
  • a dream ... unfolds

Examples of "old school effects with models, etc." I honestly prefer a model ship flying in front of a fake screen sometimes.

Also from the list: tiny flying metal assassin.

Notes from day two:
  • sound out of synch, though I would forget it for sections at a time because of the lack of dialogue vs. the large amount of inner thinking
  • my inner thoughts are not whispers
  • wild, half-mad John Lydon quality, and it wasn't just the hair — more in the eyes than the hair [this was in reference to Sting's portrayal of one of the bad guys]
  • the love story gets a teeny tiny story arc
  • didn't quite catch what was going on despite all the telling — why he has to drink the sacred water, what his code name is, who all the people groups are esp. in relation to each other
  • sometimes they chant things, or yell one word together loudly
  • "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer."
  • where you can tell the background isn't really there where the person/ship/worm is — I like that
  • "The worm IS the spice. The spice IS the worm."
  • Picture: "Father! The sleeper has awakened!"
  • Emperor: "Bring in that floating fat man. The Baron."
  • Things that would give adults nightmares:
  • Dune is an odd combination of early 80s/late 70s sci-fi and special effects, gross Lynchian eeriness, and random ...
  • the tiny creepy child basically aided in the killing of the repulsive baron
  • Patrick Stewart re: Sting: "This is a Harkonan animal."

From the list: Sting and his crazy eyes.

Also from the list, the tiny, creepy child. My big win of the movie was recognizing the actress playing her as Alicia Witt, who would have been 7 years old when "Dune" started shooting in early 1983. I've only seen her as a young adult/adult, most recently in "Friday Night Lights." She pretty much looks exactly the same as she did as a kid, though, just taller and older.

And yet more from the list, things that would give adults nightmares:

She should have brushed her teeth more often.

One of the grossest, plain yuckiest character depictions ever on film, I think. It's much worse when you're watching the movie and there's moving and talking and lingering on the boil-covered man and entire scenes in which people have to be in the same room with him.

I left some other things out, figuring these three creepy pictures were plenty.

Side note 1: Frank Herbert wrote six "Dune" novels, and his son and another author have written several more. The novels are really popular. The movie "Dune" has no sequels. The Sci-Fi Channel aired a couple "Dune" miniseries in 2000 and 2003, which Wikipedia says were popular, which I guess means they are more like the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot miniseries and less like all the movies Syfy shows on Saturday nights. (Not enough like the "BG" miniseries to spawn a TV show, but not as bad as CGI gators attacking women with limited acting abilities.) Also according to Wikipedia, a new film adaptation of "Dune" was announced in 2008. We'll see how that goes. I predict that it will not be as weird as David Lynch's movie, because that's a really high bar of weirdness that most people don't have it in them to reach.

This worm is bigger than all the worms of Earth.

Catching a ride on the side of a worm that looks even larger than the last one.

Side note 2: I didn't intend for Geek Treasures to have a Sean Young streak, but here it is, if anyone considers two movies a streak.

Sean Young seems to have gone through a sci-fi phase.

Side note 3: The Wikipedia definition for the "dune" page, referencing sand dunes rather than the movie or the book, cracked me up a little in its simplicity: "A dune is a hill of sand." Yeah, "Dune" is a pretty accurate name for the movie.

Sandy sand dunes of spicy life-extending spice.

Rating on a scale of Shiny to Dull:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Long Way Down

I have this idea that I want to read a lot of books each year. One per week is 52. Four per month is 48. Something in that range sounds challenging enough to be interesting but not so challenging as to be unreasonable.

But things aren't going as well as I'd hoped for 2011. (Yes, we're only on day 19 of 2011.) I've finished one book so far that I started at the end of 2010. It's been 10 days since I completed Book #1, and I'm not even halfway through reading Book #2. At this pace I will only read maybe three books each month. That's 36 in one year. That's how many I read last year, when my initial goal was 50 books. I want to at least hit 40 in 2011.

I started with something that seemed appropriate to the time of year, "A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby. I purchased my copy used at the Lexington book sale in November (where paperbacks are a quarter, and I bought more than 100 of them) and hadn't intended on reading it right away. I didn't even know what it was about. I just knew that I was interested in reading a Nick Hornby book, and so I had a couple in mind — "High Fidelity" and maybe "Fever Pitch" — when I went to the sale. What I found were "About a Boy," which I presumed would be similar to the movie based on it, and "A Long Way Down," which I'd seen on and elsewhere but knew nothing about.

It turned out that "A Long Way Down" is about four people who run into each other when they all go to the roof of the same building to commit suicide on New Year's Eve. It's about more than that, but that's how things get started. Since real-life New Year's Eve was coming up, I figured hey, time-appropriate. So I read it.

The book is recorded by four narrators, the four people who went to the rooftop to jump: Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ. They are interesting characters with reasonably distinct voices, and I enjoyed spending time with them. It bugged me a little how JJ, an American, would write "man" into his sentences sometimes, since I think people who say "man" a lot in conversation wouldn't normally write it in a narrative, but I guess that's not really a big deal ... man.

It did seem like there was a lot of telling rather than showing, which struck me as the novel's greatest flaw but perhaps an inescapable one for a narrative structure like the one Hornby chose. It's like a long relay race, with the characters picking up the threads of the story, one narrator at a time. Hornby's tackling of that structure is, overall, impressive, with the way he weaves the story through four different voices, sometimes altering what we know about a situation when our perspective of it changes as the narrator does. My inner "show, don't tell!" alarm kept going off, though, as the characters repeatedly shared their internal responses and ruminated on their experiences in a way that felt indulgent at times. It came across more like a person telling you a story, which I guess was the point anyway.

I would give the book a B; it's not fantastic but it is readable and interesting. It was weird at first to have the subject matter (people intending to commit suicide) always running in the background of my mind, threatening everyday thoughts with the influence of morbidity. But once the action moved beyond the rooftop, that background noise in my brain mostly turned off.

The novel itself is funny, and significantly quotable. I marked lots and lots of parts to note in my Google Doc of "A Long Way Down" quotes so that I can return to them later. In this way, it reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club": It's a popular book from a popular, modern, male author that, amid the profanity, offers a lot to say about the human experience and culture that is relatable and worth pondering. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend "A Long Way Down," but I do look forward to compiling those quotes and reading over them again and again.

Nick Hornby also wrote the screenplay for "An Education." I've never seen it, but I have recently seen Carey Mulligan in a few British TV series and I really like her. Everybody wave to Carey Mulligan and congratulate her for NOT starring in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I do not mean that sarcastically.

Of note: "A Long Way Down," published in 2005, is apparently going to be turned into a movie, if you believe what you accidentally find on IMDb and don't bother to research elsewhere. Hornby's "Fever Pitch," "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" also inspired movies ("Fever Pitch," an autobiographical nonfiction book about soccer/football/whatever fandom, inspired two). If you haven't heard of him, maybe you've heard of the movies based on his books.

Friday, October 22, 2010

At the movies all by myself

Do you go to movies by yourself?

I went to see “October Sky” by myself in Huntington, and it turned out that “by myself” meant “I was the only person in the theater.” It was a smaller theater but being alone in there was still a little unsettling. If someone attacked me, no one would know. It seemed like a pretty good set-up for a violent crime, if a would-be violent criminal had considered a Homer Hickam movie to be a reasonable place to find a potential victim.

I also went to see “28 Weeks Later” by myself, and was thankfully not the only person in the theater. I sat in the back row so that I wouldn’t be jumping and acting afraid in the view of others behind me. Another plus: avoiding that nagging feeling that a killer was looming while my back was turned.

But do you know what was behind the back row? A wall, sure. But on that wall: long, thick curtains. Ideal for hiding a moviegoer-stabbing killer who thinks it’d be fun to knock off a person or two during a horror movie. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to go to a scary movie by yourself. Mental note noted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do you like scary movies?

I’ve been reminiscing lately about the time I saw “The Exorcist” with my friend Mara. Occasionally we would rent movies and watch them in her parents’ bedroom, where the TV and VCR lived, and one evening we picked “The Exorcist.” (Another time, we watched something that I think was called “Grandma’s House,” one of those innumerable one-star films that filled horror movie racks back in the day when people went to video stores and rented VHS tapes. “Grandma’s House,” regrettably, is not available at Netflix. If it were, I would not recommend watching it. Also, it apparently goes by the name “Grandmother’s House” sometimes.)

My primary memory of “The Exorcist” is the discovery that demons are real. At some point during the movie, I asked Mara (a Christian who had more knowledge of the Bible and Christianity than I did) whether she thought demons really existed, and/or maybe whether they could possess people. I asked her this so that she would say no, and make me feel better. Instead, she said something like, “If you believe in angels, you have to believe in demons.” I’m pretty sure she also came down on the side of “demons can really possess people,” though not Christians. At this point, I don’t know whether I myself had become a Christian. I do know that we eventually turned on the lights.

For years, I remembered “The Exorcist” as the scariest movie I ever saw. Watching it made the room feel like it was filled with demons and evil. My mom told me that she’d read the book and it was so terrifying that she wasn’t scared by the movie. I have never read “The Exorcist.”

And I suppose it is still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of any others that compare. I remember a few that left me with a lingering repulsion* of sorts, or a taste of that sense of evil** hanging in the air. But I guess demon possession is difficult to beat.

What about you? What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen? Do you like scary movies? Which are your favorites? What do you like — or dislike — in a scary movie?

*“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
**“Event Horizon,” “The Good Son”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books 15-17: Review Bundle

So, I'd forgotten that I never reviewed the fourth "Vampire Diaries" book, which I read around mid-May. And I wasn't motivated/forgot to review "Classic Crime Short Stories" and "The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1)," which I read in May and May-June. So here we are. Mini-reviews.

Book 15: "The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion"

An image from Max Ernst's "Une Semaine de Bonté" (cropped)

"Dark Reunion" is the 1992 follow-up to the original "Vampire Diaries" trilogy, which was published in 1991. (I reviewed the trilogy here.) Wikipedia notes that "pressure from readers led Smith to write" this fourth book, which is entirely believable if you've read the first three. The original trilogy ended in a way that I found refreshingly surprising.

I gave the first two books each a B+, then an A- for the third, but I am dropping the grade to only a B for "Dark Reunion." I did enjoy getting to spend some more time with side characters, most notably Bonnie here, and I enjoyed the continuing arc for the side characters and also Damon. I liked the book. (Sorta spoiler) I do wish that maybe what was done in the trilogy hadn’t been undone, but hey, no surprise with that development. (End spoiler)

I don't remember right off who the villain was in "Dark Reunion," which seems like a bad sign. This line of dialogue did inspire what I'd originally planned as the title for my review of this book: "I should have seen it, but I was preoccupied. Still, that's no excuse. And obviously somebody else — the psychic killer — saw it right away." Psychic killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?

Which isn't to say that I do not want to read the newest editions to the series, which started rolling out in 2009 with the extra title "The Return." Now they look something like "The Vampire Diaries — The Return: Nightfall" if you try to add the series name in there, a distant cousin of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope," which of course used to be called "Star Wars." Two "The Return" books are available now, "Nightfall" and "Shadow Souls." "The Return: Midnight" is scheduled to come out in 2011.

Book 16: "Classic Crime Short Stories"

"Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime" by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (cropped)

Sometimes you wonder where your mind was at when you read a book or saw a movie, considering how much you don't remember years/months/weeks later. The thing about "Classic Crime Short Stories" is that I listened to it via free audiobook rental from the local library, and I listened to it often while driving in my car, and while that works for podcasts, it makes for distracted listening that significantly inhibits my brain from grasping and getting into the story.

Also, I haven't been successful at locating a list of stories and significant information about the collection, so I remember no titles and only a couple author names. I do remember specifically liking the stories by G.K. Chesterton and Robert Louis Stevenson. I would like to reread them in print if I only knew what they were. Grade: B+

Book 17: "The Fairy Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, Book 1)"

An illustration by Warwick Goble for "Beauty and the Beast," 1913

"The Fairy Tale Detectives" is the first in a series of young-reader novels about two sisters, Sabrina and Daphne, whose parents have disappeared and whose allegedly dead grandmother, Relda Grimm, brings them to live with her. The Grimms live in Ferryport Landing, a town that also houses all the world’s Everafters, i.e. the make-believe characters who exist in fairy tales, folklore, Shakespearean plays and the like.

First, the name "Everafters" is my favorite thing about the book. Love it. The idea behind the book is interesting, too; thus, me reading it. I was disappointed, though, to find that the world of the Sisters Grimm is one that makes the make-believe world real, so to speak, in a way that sacrifices much of its magic. The promising notion of "what if these stories were true" becomes a means of smudging the luster of the stories, which may seem inevitable but I'd argue is unnecessary, even in light of the fact that fairy tales tended to be more than mere children's stories anyway. Some bits retain a "wow" factor, but they are overshadowed by the rest.

It seems odd to include, in a book for kids, references to Prince Charming being married half a dozen times, and Beauty's response regarding Momma Bear attending a ball with the Tin Woodsman: "What Poppa Bear doesn't know won’t hurt him." I also have a perhaps-weird dislike for combining modern technology and culture (past a certain point) with make-believe people and places, which is only exacerbated in situations such as King Arthur saying he'll send someone a repair estimate for his damaged car. The car is one thing, and not so jarring on its own; giving King Arthur a petty complaint about "repair estimates," though, is disheartening.

I prefer my make-believe more other-wordly, I guess.
Grade: B

Thursday, June 17, 2010


When I am weary of the circumstances of this world, remembering heaven reminds me of real, present, certain hope for the long-term future. It is to come. It will be.

Sure, it freaks me out a bit that heaven is eternal. I can't wrap my mind around that.

R.C. Sproul's "Renewing Your Mind" podcast included a short series on heaven that helped put it on my radar. I think this is a subject I need to study more thoroughly and more often. Hope, remembering, and looking forward are so easily misplaced or left forgotten in a pile in a life that's so full of other things.
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