Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday afternoon link-o-rama

  • From SDCC, Robert Rodriguez shares his insane plans for world domination Sin City 2, Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again (in space???), a live-action Heavy Metal, and a live-action remake of the Frank Frazetta/Ralph Bakshi animated flick Fire and Ice. Obviously, Rodriguez's plan to become the most important filmmaker in the geek world is under full steam.
  • Apple shakes up the online streaming world with reports it may bid for Hulu.
  • See new/old deleted scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy. (Deleted scenes from original Star Wars > any scene from the prequels.)
  • Translations for "untranslatable" words. [Via Neatorama.]

Beavis and Butt-Head return

Al Di Meola turns 57

Legendary jazz/fusion guitarist Al Di Meola turns 57 today. That's a good enough excuse to post this:

Midday link-o-rama

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Culture Shock 07.21.11: No, the Internet is not making you stupid

Google the question "Is Google making us stupid?" and you'll get roughly 640,000 results.

Like every new technology, the Internet is going through that phase when it gets the blame for everything wrong with the world.

The Internet exploded into the mainstream in the mid-1990s, so it's been a very long phase. But 15 or so years is nothing. Fifty years after Newton N. Minow, then-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, called television a "vast wasteland," TV still takes heat for all sorts of societal ills, from youth violence (even though youth violence has been steadily going down since the 1970s) to childhood obesity (which you could easily blame on any sedentary activity, like reading a book).

The claim that the Internet is making us stupid got a level-up this past week after publication of a study showing that the Internet is actually changing how we think and remember things.

Now, as it happens, the authors of the study said, explicitly, that their findings did not — I repeat, not — mean the Internet is making us stupid.

"I don't think Google is making us stupid — we're just changing the way that we're remembering things," lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University told the BBC. "If you can find stuff online even while you're walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information."

Basically, our brains are getting better at knowing where and how to find stuff, but at the expense of just remembering stuff, and that's because we're unconsciously training, and rewiring, our brains to work that way by how we use the Internet.

For some people, this is a self-evidently bad thing.

Yet if so, why stop there? The Internet isn't the first technology to alter the workings of our brains.

Centuries ago, our ancestors had fantastic memories that put ours, even pre-Internet, to shame. Bards and poets in the ancient Greek world could recite, from memory, epic tales of gods and heroes that, when written down today, run on for hundreds of pages. True, they used repeating lines and other mnemonic tricks to keep everything straight, but they really did have memories built for recalling a lot of information.

If behavior can rewire the human brain, then that's exactly what you'd expect, because the Greeks who lived in the dark ages between the fall of the Bronze Age city states and the rise of classical Athens, were, by and large, illiterate. This is when bards created the oral tradition of epic poetry that would eventually find its way into print as "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."

The finished works we have today, attributed to the blind poet Homer, may not have been written down until the classical period, centuries after their composition began. Before that, these unwritten stories were passed down by memory, bard to bard, generation to generation.

Arguably the greatest, most influential works of Western literature were composed by illiterates, who relied not on writing but on their remarkable recall.

So, if you're really worried about technology robbing people of their ability to remember things, start with writing. That's where the trouble all began.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blue Note jazz album covers in live action

Hi-Fi from bante on Vimeo.

[Via Open Culture.]

Late link-o-rama

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sean Bean Death Reel (Spoilers!)

Watch as, one by one, virtually every character Sean Bean has ever portrayed dies.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

John Carter (of Mars) teaser trailer

Late, late link-o-rama

Culture Shock 07.14.11: Rate hike will test Netflix surplus

It really is amazing sometimes how something can go from not existing at all to being such an essential part of daily life that any change to it is met with anger, frustration and uncontrolled sobbing.

Netflix didn't exist before 1997, and it only really became virtually ubiquitous just a few years ago. But when the video-on-demand and DVD rental company announced a new, less user-friendly rate structure this week, you'd have thought the Spaceballs had landed and said they were going to start charging us to breathe.

Basically, if you only want streaming movies and TV shows, or if you only want DVDs delivered to your home, Netflix is willing to cut you a deal. But if, like most Netflix subscribers, you want both, you're going to have to pay more. How much more? In the neighborhood of up to 60 percent more, in some cases.

If, for example, you currently have a subscription that gives you two DVDs at a time and unlimited video streaming, you can expect to pay about $5 more per month, roughly a 33 percent increase, starting Sept. 1.

The reaction to Netflix's price-increase announcement was instructive.

The Netflix blog and Facebook page quickly filled with complaints and threats to cancel subscriptions, with formerly loyal and suddenly outraged Netflix customers threatening to jump to competitors like Hulu Plus (cheaper, but you have to put up with ads) or Amazon Prime (also cheaper, but with a smaller selection of streaming titles overall, although Amazon is arguably better when it comes to recent TV shows).

If you take the angry customer reaction at face value, then you're probably thinking Netflix has just made a huge, possibly fatal mistake. Netflix is about to lose so many customers it will earn less money than before the rate hike.

That conclusion, however, is probably wrong. And Netflix knows it, otherwise it wouldn't be risking this customer revolt in the first place. (And if you want to know why Netflix is doing this, look to Hollywood. The studios are demanding more money for the right to stream their movies and TV shows, and Netflix is passing the cost along.)

Before this week's bombshell, it seemed like most Netflix customers were thrilled with the company's offerings and service. To hear most of its customers talk, Netflix was the greatest thing since the invention of moving pictures. Simply put, the vast majority of Netflix customers, based on their own reported satisfaction, seemed to enjoy a rather large consumer surplus.

"Consumer surplus" is what those of us with economics degrees call the difference between what you pay for something and what that something is actually worth to you. If I pay $5 for a double mocha latte with whipped cream but would be willing to go as high as $10 for it, my consumer surplus is $5. You may think I'm crazy, but I'm getting a 100 percent consumer surplus. That's a steal.

Netflix is betting most of its customers have been getting enough of a consumer surplus that they'll absorb the rate hike, even if they have to vent about it first. That's probably a safe bet, because all of those angry Netflix customers wouldn't have been so upset if they didn't really love their Netflix.

And that means a lot of Netflix's customers are dirty, dirty liars.

Either they were lying just a few days ago when they were saying how great Netflix was, or they're lying now when they say they're going to cancel their accounts because Netflix suddenly turned into a greedy, profit-maximizing corporation with bills of its own to pay, which it totally wasn't just last week.

You can't believe what people say. But when they actually put their money on the countertop, that's when they're telling the truth.

When it comes to Netflix, we'll find out the truth sometime in September.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Late, late link-o-rama

So many goodies tonight, so little time...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Starlog: 1984

What Famous Monsters of Filmland was to Baby Boomers, Starlog was to Generation X. And there was a time when Starlog actually advertised on television:

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Late, late link-o-rama

Holy catchphrase!

[Holy High Definite!]

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thursday night link-o-rama

Culture Shock 07.07.11: John-Boy Walton goes back to space

Of all the B-grade sci-fi movies that tried to ride the "Star Wars" wave in the late '70s and early '80s, probably none is more fondly remembered than "Battle Beyond the Stars," or, as we called it back in the day, "John-Boy in Space."

The nickname comes from its star, Richard Thomas, whose career-defining role as John-Boy Walton on CBS's "The Waltons" will follow him to his grave.

When he left "The Waltons," Thomas put a lot of distance between himself and Walton's Mountain. We're talking light years.

Now "Battle Beyond the Stars" is back — re-released for its 30th anniversary on Blu-ray and DVD — and loaded with bonus features befitting a film many Generation Xers grew up with thanks to frequent afternoon showings on HBO.

First unleashed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1980, "Battle Beyond the Stars" helped launch several successful movie careers.

James Cameron worked on the film's special effects, while James Horner provided the musical score. Since then, Cameron and Horner have teamed up for "Aliens," "Titanic" and "Avatar."

"Battle" also helped launch other low-budget sci-fi films that reused its special effects.

Corman was a fan of recycling long before recycling was cool. So, it's fitting that the story of "Battle Beyond the Stars" is just as recycled. Basically, it's a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai," which had already been remade as "The Magnificent Seven."

And since Corman was looking to cash in on the success George Lucas had with "Star Wars," it's also only appropriate that Corman turn to Kurosawa, because that's exactly what Lucas did when he drew inspiration from Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress."

Lastly, in case you haven't had enough of the whole recycling theme yet, there's Robert Vaughn. He played one of the seven hired guns in "The Magnificent Seven," and he plays one again in "Battle Beyond the Stars," where he is joined by the likes of a space valkyrie portrayed by Sybil Danning ("Chained Heat") and a space cowboy played by George Peppard, who was between gigs in "Banacek" and "The A-Team."

Cowboy is the lone Earth man of the bunch, which is why he eats hot dogs and actually is named "Cowboy." (I hear he's also a gangster of love, but that's another story.)

Facing off against John-Boy and his magnificent seven is the evil Sador, played by John Saxon ("A Nightmare on Elm Street"). Sador, whose hobbies include extreme body modification, threatens to destroy John-Boy's peaceful world for reasons that only make sense to psychopaths who roam the galaxy randomly blowing up planets for no good reason.

Blowing up a planet is one thing if it obstructs your view of Venus, but otherwise it's just overkill.

Sarcasm aside, "Battle Beyond the Stars" is more than a B-movie with a formulaic plot.

The cast members all seem to be having a blast, and even with world-class scenery chewers like Vaughn around, supporting players threaten to steal the show. Morgan Woodward, under heavy makeup as the reptilian mercenary Cayman of the Lambda Zone, is one of the real stars here.

And the special effects, while dated, still hold up, which is something you can't say about most Corman-produced sci-fi movies.

(Actually, I can't think of another Corman film you can say that about.)

Give that Cameron guy some credit. He may be a bit nutty when it comes to 3-D, but he knew how to build a model spaceship that looks like it has huge breasts on its hull.

No kidding. It does. See for yourself.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Just a (Manhattan) gigolo

In June 2001, actress-turned-newscaster Andrea Thompson (Babylon 5, NYPD Blue) became an anchor for what was then called CNN Headline News — now HLN, which sounds more like a homemaking and lifestyle channel than a news channel. This caused a minor scandal because 1) Thompson was a newsreading newbie, and veteran TV newscasters like to pretend reading a teleprompter requires journalism experience, and 2) Thompson had appeared nude in some movies back in the 1980s and '90s.

Despite its reputation for being "liberal," the mainstream news media in America is actually full of insufferable prudes.

While Thompson had done full frontal as recently as 1997's A Gun, A Car, A Blonde, in which she played "The Blonde," the movie that generated most of the heat was her first, an Italian-made bit of softcore Eurotrash called Manhattan Gigolo (1986).

At the time, Manhattan Gigolo had been released only on VHS, and the tape, a relic of the mom-and-pop-video-store era, was out of print. A few years ago, this all-but-forgotten flick — which would be completely forgotten if not for Thompson's involvement — finally made it to DVD, and, thanks to Netflix, I now know what all the fuss was about.

First things first: Manhattan Gigolo is a bad movie. If not for the sex and nudity — and I'll get to that — it would be perfect material for Mystery Science Theater 3000. The bare-bones DVD from Televista doesn't help: The picture is murky and dark, the presentation is a cropped pan-and-scan, and if it looks like the movie was copied off the old VHS release, that's because it probably was.

Can you believe they charge nearly $25 for this bootleg-quality crap? They're clearly counting on lots of guys being desperate to see Andrea Thompson naked — as if the Internet doesn't make that easy enough.

Manhattan Gigolo is like a bad Italian horror movie of the same era, except it's sorely lacking in gloved killers, zombies, zombies fighting sharks, or a director capable of overachieving with sub-par material. It also lacks the flair of other Italian softcore sex films. Director Amasi Damiani is no Joe D'Amato, and this is no Black Emanuelle flick.

I guess this movie might be competently edited and shot and it's just impossible to tell from the washed-out, VHS-duped presentation. But I doubt it because it has a scene where from one camera angle it's broad daylight while from the other it's pitch black. Continuity is not a strong point here.

The plot involves two friends, Johnny (Gianni Dei, known to Eurohorror fans for occupying the title role of Patrick Still Lives, the Italian knock-off "sequel" to the classic Australian exploitation flick Patrick) and Rudy (Aris Iliopulos, known to nobody for nothing) who have come to New York from Italy to seek fame and fortune as actors. This leads them to cross paths with actress/model Leslie (Thompson), who immediately takes a liking to the two. So at about 17 minutes in, we get the steamy three-way that caused such a commotion when Thompson joined Headline News. What follows is 6 minutes of enjoyable Skinemax-level erotica. It's the highlight of the film but certainly no cause for moral indignation, no matter how flexible the young Ms. Thompson is.

Unknown to Johnny and Rudy, however, their tryst with Leslie was staged for a voyeur, with Leslie pocketing the money. (Why does the most popular model in New York need an illicit side job, anyway? Shut up, that's why!) And Leslie is all for doing it again, this time giving Johnny and Rudy a cut. Johnny has moral reservations, but not enough to bail, even as his career really starts to take off. (If you think this seems ironically like Thompson's real-life experience, stop over-analyzing now.)

Naturally, it all goes bad, with professional jealousies and obsessive voyeurs who want to do more than watch all playing out predictably. There's also a bit more skin: a staged "rape" scene for one of the voyeuristic clients, another three-way interspersed in the middle of a montage, etc. But it's all pretty tedious stuff.

Did I mention all of this is told in a flashback from the back of an ambulance where Johnny, injured and possibly dying, and Leslie reminisce about how they met and fell in love? No? Well it is.

The sex scenes are the least embarrassing thing about Manhattan Gigolo. They come off well compared to everything else. Even with all the terrible acting surrounding her, Thompson seems especially bad. She is emotionless to the point of seeming constantly dazed, and, adding insult to injury, her voice is dubbed by someone else.

But to cut her some slack, this was her first film and she was probably the only native English speaker on the set. No wonder "confused" is a charitable description of her screen presence.

Thompson was much better on Babylon 5 — and reading the news on TV, for that matter.

A firework's point of view

[Via Open Culture.]

Independence Day link-o-rama

The Star-Scream

T-shirt by RedBubble. Link via Fashionably Geek.

Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The creatures of Ray Harryhausen


Saturday nostalgia

This video may be from one independent UHF station in Chicago, but it reflects pretty much the universal TV-watching experience for anyone who grew up in the U.S. is the 1980s. (Note also the recycled 1960s cartoons on Sunday mornings.)

Midnight link-o-rama

Friday, July 01, 2011

Lunchtime link-o-rama