Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kangaroos Self-rooing

I had no idea kangaroos did that.

Movie Review Roundup

I've watched a number of movies (on DVD, mostly) recently, and I figured I'd do some quick writeups. Since most of these movies have been out for months if not years, I figure I don't have to worry about spoilers.

In this roundup:

  • X-Men 3: The Last Stand
  • Kinky Boots
  • Children of Men
  • Happy Feet
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • Armageddon

First up: X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which I saw last night with Dan. Simply put, this was entertaining and pretty to watch, but ultimately brain candy, because they made the characters act so stupidly.

Case in point: if you're Magneto, and you can actually move the Golden Gate Bridge with your mind, and you want to destroy something on Alcatraz, why not simply drop the bridge on Alcatraz, rather than landing one end of it on the island, and then having your cannon-fodder minions run off of it into the enfilading fire of the US Army?

And poor Famke Janssen. All she gets to do for most of the movie is stand around and look either (a) miserable or (b) dangerous or (c) both. Oh, I guess she gets to kiss Hugh Jackman too, so she got to do something useful.

Bottom line: recommended as a fun DVD watch, but check your brain at the door.

Kinky Boots is one of those little English movies that no one should ever try to remake as an American movie (but they might try anyway). Based on a true story, it's about a guy (Charlie, played by Joel Edgerton) who can't wait to get out of Northampton and his father's shoe business, and ends up back there running it when his father dies suddenly.

Based on a chance encounter with a transvestite lounge singer named Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor, stealing yet another movie), Charlie decides that the way to save the factory is to retool and make man-sized thigh-hugging kinky boots for transvetites. Hilarity and exquisitely gauged English embarrassment ensues.

Bottom line: a very fun little movie which I enjoyed even more than I'd hoped. Strongly recommended.

Children of Men is a visually fascinating, subtly acted depressing movie which I actually enjoyed a lot. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors), the entire movie is played low-key and hyper-realistic, which makes it all the more disturbing.

Basic plot outline is that sometime in our near future (2009 or so) people stop being able to have children (in the book, it's explicitly male infertility, which brings up the obvious "what about sperm banks" question; the movie sidesteps the cause of the infertility). Twenty-odd years later, society is coming apart at seams, and England has turned itself into a fortress to keep out unwanted types (like displaced Germans, in a nice twist).

Clive Owen (one of my favorite actors) plays Theo, a competent but disaffected guy who gets roped into a crazy scheme by his ex-wife Julian (played by Julianne Moore, possibly the only mis-casting in the movie), who heads up a radical group who are harboring a young woman (Kee) who is miraculously pregnant; they want Theo to get her to the coast where she can join up with some shadow organization that can keep her safe.

Betrayals and double-crosses ensue as Julian's group unravels (in part due to her lieutenant Luke -- played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, yet again stealing a movie), and Theo loses ally after ally as he and Kee try to make it to the coast for their rendezvous.

The movie is fairly elliptical, and doesn't actually explain a lot, but it's very well put together, and the picture of 2027 is extremely well done -- just enough change to be odd and interesting, not so much that it's crazy, and everything looks actually used. Also, it's got Michael Caine in a wonderful supporting role.

Bottom line: depressing as hell, but really well made. Recommended but not for people who weep easily.

Happy Feet was possibly one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. It follows the antics of Mumble, an Emperor Penguin who can't sing (and thus can never get a mate), but who can (and does) tap dance. He's kicked out of the tribe because that makes him, you know, weird. On his adventures he discovers that their food supply is being picked up by weird creatures in big ships.

A lot of noise was made by right-wingers that this was a parable about gay people. I just don't see it. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) wants a girl penguin -- a particular one voiced by Brittany Murphy. It's all about the boy-girl stuff. All his adventures are aimed at the goal of getting the girl.

Then there's the weird pseudo-environmental stuff: Mumble ends up captured by humans and put in an aquarium, where his tap-dancing convinces humans to stop over-fishing Antarctic waters.

The message seems to be that if you're cute, you can convince humans to stop kicking your ass. Otherwise, get out of the way.

And I wonder how many people, having seen this movie, actually think "Ah, problem solved.".

The only funny thing in the movie is Robin Williams as the leader of a set of Adelie penguins. And even that's diluted by having him also voice a different penguin (who has set himself up as a sort of oracle).

Bottom line: totaly incoherent, unfunny, and boring. Skip it.

Stranger than Fiction is a cute little movie which shows that Will Ferrell may actually be able to act. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a numbers-nerdy IRS auditor who starts hearing a voice narrating his life. We the viewer find out that this is the voice of Karen Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson, making a potentially horribly unlikeable role quite sympathetic), a reclusive author, famous for killing off her protagonists, who is in the midst (or even throes) of writing her latest novel, which stars one Harold Crick.

Crick is assigned the task of auditing a baker played by Maggie Gyllenhaal; the least believable thing about the movie is that they fall for each other. Meanwhile, Crick consults psychologists and ends up talking to a professor of literature played by Dustin Hoffman (amiably chewing the scenery).

The movie probably could have been a few minutes shorter, and not every piece of the conceit works, but it was a fun little movie. My biggest complaint is that Queen Latifah (playing an assistant to Emma Thompson's author, sent by the publishers to get her back on track) didn't get enough screen time.

Bottom line: I enjoyed this little movie. A good DVD view.

Armageddon has been out for nearly ten years, and I finally saw it. This is without a doubt one of the stupidest movies I've ever seen. I feel like every Hollywood blockbuster should be required to have physics major (sophomore or above) vet the script before it goes into production.

Quick rundown: Ben Affleck can't act, Bruce Willis phoned it in, they wasted Jason Isaacs entirely, and the best reason to watch this movie was Steve Buscemi.

Bottom line: feh.

To summarize:

MovieQuality Rating (out of 5 stars)Enjoyability Rating (out of 5)
X-Men 33.03.8
Kinky Boots4.24.6
Children of Men4.64.3
Happy Feet1.21.2
Stranger Than Fiction4.04.2

An oddity of this set of movies is that Joel Edgerton was in Kinky Boots with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in Children of Men (and also Inside Man, though they shared no scenes) with Clive Owen, who was in King Arthur with Joel Edgerton (who played Gawain).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'm never driving with the windows down again....

I know I keep posting things I see on Scalzi's "By the Way" blog, but this one is amazingly interesting.

How to Drive Like a Cop. Full of fascinating and (to me) non-obvious tips from the people who drive fast. A lot.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Never underestimate the bandwidth of...

FedEx has a higher bandwidth than the Internet. Of course, the latency is terrible.

This isn't surprising, given that the information density of disks has increased way faster than bandwidth speeds.

There's an old sysadmin quote: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." That's usually attributed to Andy Tanenbaum.

I once drove a pile of full NetApp disk shelves from Boston to NYC and calculated that my bandwidth was around 100Mbps (much faster than our inter-city links at the time).

Via Scalzi.