Saturday, September 30, 2006

Greatest. Class. Ever.

Yes. That is a picture of me firing, yes firing, an AK-74.















This shot is a bit cooler, but we didn't actually fire either the shotgun or the carbine:

























Some people were a little too happy with the whole experience:

























But basically, there were three tables like this:


















So what did I do to deserve this amazing adventure? I simply enrolled in Hist 371: World War II in Europe. Sure, you'll have to sit through lectures where the professor spends more time talking about Darfur than World War II, but except for Pat, when is the last time any of us has spent any time with O'Brad? Needless to say, the professor is absolutely nuts. The midterm is due on one's birthday, every assignment is optional but the final, they can only help your grade, and above all, there is the small arms demonstration in late September. Basically, he thought it is a good idea that his students should have some idea what it is like to actually fire the guns that were used in WWII. (We mostly shot an M-1 Garand) So he got this military buff guy (like Hahn, but significantly less scary) to bring his gun collection and give us a demonstration. Then he cooked us turkey. Oh yeah, he also had us shoot at water jugs with pictures of Omar al-Bashir (the ruler of Sudan) on them, and he videotaped it, and is going to put the video on the web, or something... not quite sure... but a little creeped out by it... Oh well, it was fun, even if I do get assasinated by the Sudanese government.

PS: You know what this means, don't you? Y'all have to transfer to Cornell and take this class.

PSS: The rest of the pictures are on facebook. There are some good ones I didn't post here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP

Never mind how long it’s been since I wrote more than a couple sentences about a movie, it’s been far too long since I wrote of one I didn’t like.

First, know two things – I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film Michel Gondry made before this. It’s not my favorite flick Charlie Kaufman’s written (Being John Malkovich is), and it’s not one I watch a lot, but I have a lot of respect for it and it really did hit me when it first came out. That respect comes largely out of Gondry’s heavy use of practical effects (effects created on the set as opposed to being added digitally), and making an effective love story out of a pretty cool science fiction idea.

The second thing to know is I love watching stuff that is clearly a director’s vision in its purest form. Those projects where a director works purely off instinct. The films are often quite pure, if not always perfect. Elizabethtown is a perfect example of this, as is King Kong, as is Star Wars, as is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as is The Science of Sleep. Half of it does come from reading interviews with the director, but I also think you can kinda sense it a bit. At least I can. Not that I’m any better for it, that’s actually a little sad, but what’ll ya do.

So in the same way I have respect for the way Gondry made Eternal Sunshine, I have a lotta respect for the way he made this. There’s a lot of practical effects, a lot of stop-motion animation, and a lot of imagination. Visually, it’s spectacular. The dream sequences especially are so fantastically realized and so well put-together that it really is disappointing when I sat there at the end just not caring. See, it lacks the crucial ingredients of a coherent story and a strong leading character. There are a lot of really great scenes in here, none of which add up to a real story. It’s not just that the story that’s there is bad, it’s that there isn’t really a story. And I’m fine if the movie only works on a visual level, but if that’s the case it better as hell use its images to make me think (2001: A Space Odyssey), move me (The New World), or entertain me (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

As for the main character…the best I can come up with is watching him is like listening to emo music. It just makes me want to kick him in the nads and say “man up!” I have no problem with shy characters, or guys who are afraid to take control of their life. I have a problem with characters who whine. Not complain, or voice their emotions…I mean characters who whine. They bitch and bitch and never do anything to make anything better. As supporting characters they annoy me, but as a main character it’s just infuriating to watch. And by the end, he’s a little bit of an asshole to boot. I’m not asking for flawless characters, just compelling ones. Tony Soprano kills people for a living, but damn if I don’t care about that guy.

So the good news for me is that I have an art-house movie to point to that’s all flashy effects with no compelling story or characters the next time I hear crap because I love Armageddon.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

DO NOT download the new iTunes 7.0 ! !

This is a warning to all of those who run iTunes on their computer and have not already downloaded the new version.

As it turns out Apple has once again screwed up. The new iTunes program that they have developed to replace the exsisting one is complete with new features as well as old problems. When you install the new iTunes it will try to compress your files, unfortunatly a common result of this compression is the complete destruction of your music library. This has happened to me, as well as countless others around the country. What happens is that when it compresses the files, the sound quality is destroyed and the resulting music sounds staticy, scratchy, and it will occasionally skip as well. I visited the Mac Store to see if there was some way to correct the problem, the employee I spoke to said this: "No." She then told me the only way to correct the probelem is to completely redownload and reburn all your CDs that you downloaded to, because apparently there is no way to uncompress the music files. Not even uninstalling the program and installing the old version, because the damage has already been done. This is why she has not yet downloaded the new version, apparently the employees all knew that there was a possiblilty for error, and therefor Mac's own people are not downloading the new versions. Unfortunatly they did not share that with the rest of us. So now my entire library of well over 1500 songs is completely gone, irretrevable to my knowledge and unbareable to listen to. The Mac store employee said there is a possibilty that Apple will create a patch to correct the problem, but she said it is unlikely.

If you somehow know of a way to fix this problem, please let me know! I really dont want to redownload all my music and recopy all my cd's. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In case you thought you had a bad night last night...

Late Tuesday night, around 11:30 PM, as yours truely was madly scrambling with other frantic EE's to finish analyzing circuits that served no readily understandable purpose, the fire alarm in our Cinderblock Palace was set off for the first time this year. Normally (meaning the 20-odd times it went off last year), the alarm is the result of a cooking mishap or is a drill, both of which cause the complete evacuation of the hall but last no longer than 10 mintues. Last night was blest with an amazing display of rain, thunder and lighting...like a true Oregonian, I grabbed sandals and led the charge into the downpour. After the about 5 minutes of joyous dancing in the raw elements, we realized the firefighters had not yet emerged from the dorm and began to grow suspicious.

En mass, we began walking around to the front of the door...to discoveran ugly cloud of black smoke billowing from one of the first floor windows...just a few rooms down from my own. As it turns out, a curtain in one of my friend's rooms was sucked into a window fan and locked the blades from spinning, which caused the motor to overheat, which caused the curtain to catch fire, which melted the fan to the window and in-general began causing things in the room to go up in flames. He returned from studying over an hour later (around the same time we were let back in to the dorm) to discover the charred remains of those items that had been close to the window along with all of their possessions covered in a layer of ugly black soot. Luckily, it seems both the computers in the room will survive (though the campus IT department hasn't issued the final word).

But our common room once again has a couple of homeless vagrants in it, and we've all learned a valuable lesson about fans and curtains. And our hideous cinderblocks proved themselves as a great material for containing fire.

-JB
"An example of false hope would be hoping for the ability to fly."

so i love you wikipedia, and what do you do? you fucking spit in my face.

yeah, so what if i wikipediaed hope? it's 3:30, i can't concentrate on studying, and i learned all there was to know about saved by the bell, what else was i supposed to do? well, aside from admitting defeat and going to bed.

in other news 'ten things i hate about you' and 'she's all that' are pretty much the same movie.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Movie Catch-Up

I’m seeing way too many movies. As of writing this, it’s Friday the 8th and I’m on a plane bound for Boston. I wanted to get caught up so I could write a full review for Hollywoodland, which I will see tomorrow night, and expect to at least have a lot to say about. I wanted to write longer pieces for a couple of these, especially The Illusionist and Crank, but alas. Of these, I highly recommend those, plus Little Miss Sunshine (which is the best thing out right now) and Beerfest, all depending on what you’re in the mood for.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – We’ve been pretty lucky with comedies this summer. They’ve been mostly hilarious, and also very, very diverse. And that’s probably the best news about Little Miss Sunshine; it’s an indie-film concept that looked like it would be sporadically funny but take itself way, way too seriously, but ended up consistently hilarious. Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear are pretty great, but it’s Alan Arkin’s grandfather and Paul Dano’s teenager taking a vow of silence that steal the show.

SNAKES ON A PLANE – What can I say? It’s an awful movie with low production value, no concept of character development, a ridiculous premise, and horrible dialogue. But God damn if it isn’t the best theatrical experience I’ve ever had. If you weren’t there, you’ll never know, but those who were will hold onto it dearly.

WORLD TRADE CENTER – A difficult movie to discuss, but I found that it simply got overly sentimental. The first half-hour or so is fantastic as the rescue workers head to the scene, but the rest of the film spends its time cutting between their wives waiting for any word of hope and the rescue workers trapped in the wreckage, which slows the pace tremendously from the exhilarating start.

THE ILLUSIONIST – I knew as soon as I saw it that it would be unfortunate that so many people will let this pass them by. Don’t. It’s a truly compelling mystery film with some outstanding performances from Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, and (yes, it’s true) Jessica Biel.

TRUST THE MAN – It’s not really anything special; an above-average romantic comedy that largely works because it went out of its way to create four characters you care equally about. What makes it work especially well are the performances, especially David Duchoveny ("The X-Files") and Billy Crudup (Russell Hammond from Almost Famous), who is a consistently engaging screen actor. Also, it’s pretty damn funny.

BEERFEST – Wow. When I first heard about this, I thought it’d be the dumbest movie of the year. And to call it smart might be going too far, but it is very, very funny. Highly recommended.

FACTOTUM – Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it. It’s a tiny movie starring Matt Dillon (Crash), based on a book by Charles Bukowski. Its plot (or the closest thing to a plot it has) is best summed up by its tagline – “A man who never had a job he liked, and never kept a job he had.” Throw in a lot of booze and cigarettes, and you have the basics. The good news is it’s pretty damn fantastic if you’re into the slice-of-life, working-man story.

CRANK – Holy crap. Wasn’t expecting that one. This is probably the first great film to come from the video game generation – you can smell the hours of Grand Theft Auto the filmmakers had to have played to even think of half the shit that goes down in this, but unlike so many films that draw similar inspiration, this is pretty freaking fantastic. It’s shot with a style unlike anything I’ve really seen before (Tony Scott’s recent work with Domino, another underrated flick, is probably the closest comparison), and never lets up. The movie starts right off with a drug injected into Jason Statham’s body that will kill him unless he keeps his adrenaline up. Then he rampages all over Los Angeles to find and kill the guy who injected him. The movie only gets more and more absurd as it goes on (including the most ridiculous, but most hilarious, sex scene I’ve ever seen in any film ever). Jason Statham’s fantastic in a crazy performance that won’t get the attention it deserves, if only for the sheer physical commitment to the role.