Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Movie Review: 2012

Quick note, first of all. I’m going to be giving away spoilers. I want to discuss the movie, and I’m going to do so without pulling back so that the plot remains fresh for everyone. In terms of a spoiler free assessment of the movie, 2012 is a fun if formulaic disaster movie which does terrible, unspeakable things to science and expects the audience to believe a hell of a lot. A few loose ends bothered me, as well as how the ending progresses and the thought processes that went into the attempts to avoid the apocalypse, but overall, if you can ignore everything, it’s interesting visually. At times. If I were giving it a grade, it’s somewhere in the C/C- range. If you do not want the movie to be spoiled for you, do not read past this paragraph

So, 2012. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I was happy to see because I enjoyed him in Redbelt) is a geologist who’s meeting a colleague in India, apparently a particle physicist. The colleague informs Helmsley that a recent solar flare has changed some fundamental property of the trillions of neutrinos bombarding the earth and everything on it, such that they now interact with matter, sort of, and are heating up the earth’s core. This is all supposed to coincide in a hand-waving sort of way with the theory that, based on the Mayan long count calendar, the world will end on the winter solstice in 2012.

There are a few things about that that concern me.

Going through it bit by bit, I’m unsure how a solar flare is supposed to change the properties of fundamental particles like the neutrino. Neutrinos are produced at every moment by solar fusion, and are produced at such a rate that 65 billion or so pass through every square centimeter of the side of the earth that’s facing the sun every second of every day. Which would be a problem, if they interacted with ordinary matter. Luckily, they don’t. So they pass right through everything, only occasionally interacting. Let’s presume, for a moment, that something the sun did actually did change the nature of neutrinos such that they interact. Why, dear Liza, do they only interact with the core? It’s large and nickel and iron, primarily, but why are the neutrinos apparently still passing through things until they encounter the core? Shouldn’t the entirety of life on earth been wiped out long before we even started to notice that neutrino observatories are boiling (evidently not solely because of the neutrino-water molecule interactions, but because the core of the planet is heating up) by the new and interactive neutrinos smashing into the molecules that make up us, killing everyone off with severe radiation poisoning? And how much are the neutrinos heating up the core? It’s already several thousand degrees Celsius.

Ok. So ignoring all the problems the movie creates by blaming everything on solar flares and neutrinos (which I’m thinking was a convenient way to get to the Apocalypse by using things outside of common science knowledge), let’s get in to the actual premise. There are head nods to the Mayan long count calendar (the absurd hysteria about which the movie draws its notability from) and a few scientists pay the obligatory “How, with all our technology, could we not have known what the Mayans knew?” slam on modern science in preference of ancient knowledge. For the most part, though, there’s not enough room for it. And even though (enjoyably wacky) Woody Harrelson has a cartoon in the middle which points out that the long count calendar thing suggests that the world will end on December 21, 2012, the entirety of the movie takes place over a few days in August. How do I know this? It explicitly says that the events take place over a few days, and they show the London 2012 Olympics as being disrupted, which start on July 27th and end on August 12th. So, the Mayans correctly predicted the end of the world, but not really, and not in a way that makes sense scientifically. Hooray.

As for the actual action of the movie, it’s a standard disaster film. At no point do we really feel like the plucky American broken family isn’t going to make it. Hell, their enormous Russian airplane runs out of gas, and the earth’s crust has conveniently shifted so that not only do they not land in the South China Sea, but they land apparently about ten miles from their destination and only shot at survival. Which is convenient. I’d note that this massive crust shift has apparently occurred while maintaining the continents in pretty much their current shape (and without, say, the Indian subcontinent plowing the hell through China). Oh, and for some reason the global catastrophe that is ripping the Earth apart from the inside out hits California first, then works its way around the world from there. And the designers of the massive arks on which humanity is to survive apparently assumed that there would be no debris in the massive tidal wave for which they were preparing, and so humanity is almost destroyed. Again. And the captain of the American ship is apparently Grand Moff Tarkin.

Sorry. I got distracted by the massive amount of things that made no sense whatsoever. The family drama is pretty standard. Ex-husband dad living on his own is jealous of the attention that his kids pay to his ex-wife’s new doctor boyfriend who is portrayed, at least in the beginning, as a tool. Eventually, Dad A learns that Dad B isn’t such a bad guy after all, and we eventually end up feeling like Dad B is getting the shaft, as he’s flying the plane and saving everyone’s life while Dad A gets back with his ex-wife. Dad B ends up unceremoniously dispatched (by gears!) which no one cares about or ever mentions again. Dad A gets back with his family guilt free and everyone’s happy. Obviously.

In the meantime, though, Chiwetel (I’m referring to the character Adrian by his actor’s first name because how awesome is “Chiwetel”) convinces an Angela Merkel clone and several other world leaders to let the people that are still on the dock onto the ship, thus showing that money doesn’t buy everything and the wasteful luxury rooms upon the ark will be used for a more utilitarian purpose, saving as many as possible. There’s only one problem I have with that. The only people who are on the dock are the Chinese workers (with whom I have no problem saving) and people who knew about the project, paid, and simply weren’t let on. They’re all still people who paid one billion euros for the trip. It’s not like they’re running around, saving the salt of the earth from certain destruction. It’s still all the rich guys. It’s just more rich guys who are less comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with saving them, of course, as they’re people too, but it sort of undercuts the “only those who were able to afford ludicrously priced seats survived” that it seems like the movie was going for.

Overall, I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again. If you liked other apocalyptic movies that don’t actually make much sense when you stop to think about them, watch 2012. And the world’s not going to end. If you worry about the world ending in 2012, you should probably send me all the money you have, as you are clearly in no state to make informed decisions about how to live, and if you’re right, it won’t matter anyway.

That was a long post. Yes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adaptations Confuse Me

I've noted on here before that I'm a fan of Food Network. Making the preparation of food entertaining is a feat, but as everyone's got to eat, so it's got wide appeal. And Alton Brown. Who I would let run Illinois, if I had any significant political pull. Separately, I'm also always on the look out for new games for the Wii, in the event I ever get enough money to buy more. I recently played through Twilight Princess and Super Mario Galaxy again, and while I can throw Madworld in whenever I feel like dismembering something, I'd like a few more options that are able to provide a completely different experience.

Given all that, what the hell is this?


Really, Food Network? First, I'm not sure what to think about the name. I'd have to play it to find out, but is that threat legitimate? If I don't cook well enough, I'm abducted, dissected and prepared in a variety of visually impressive and delicious dishes? Because if that's the case, this game will be much more interesting than I've been led to believe. I understand that part of the appeal with the Wii is that you can simulate activities with the Wiimote, but for some reason, I dig it more when what you're simulating is something you couldn't actually do by going to another room of the house. I can't easily box without getting hurt, and that the Wii simulates that is fun. Same with, I don't know. Shooting a bow. But if I want to cut a steak, I could presumably go buy a steak and, you know, enjoy it. Yes, the cost of steak over the lifetime of a Wii is probably more than the $39.95 they're asking for the game, and I shouldn't review a game I've not played before, but merely seen a commercial for between Unwrapped and Good Eats, but I'm going to be really surprised if this isn't absurd. If I'd rented a video game in the past decade, I'd find out, but instead, I'll just be snarky on the internet about something that people worked hard on producing.

It's just so much easier than producing anything of merit on my own.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I think my process with learning how to cook is going to be to learn how to make basic forms of different types of dishes so that I can improvise on them after I know what legally constitutes a chili. Or, in this case, a quiche. I'm not sure why I decided to make a quiche. I've only had it a few times, but decided that my success in chili formulation that quiche should be my next step. Part of it was probably that I like omelettes for the very reason that you can basically chuck anything you have lying around in there and have it turn out sort of palatable. Add a pie crust and some half-and-half, and I'm in. Then there's the name. Quiche is hilarious and for some reason that I'm not quite sure of, sort of emasculating. I'd say it was something to do with being french and American Francophobia, but apparently it's originally a German dish, which if broad and widely inaccurate stereotypes are the basis for how we know things, should mean they're humorless but well-designed. Which I guess can apply to quiche. I'm hopeful that after a few more attempts at making food, I'll start making a quiche, then get distracted by doing something manly, like ripping down rainforests with my bare hands or rebuilding a jet engine. Or fashioning a power saw out of pit bulls and motorcycles. And then have the opportunity to look at my watch, drop whatever tree I'm holding, scream "Oh my god! My quiche!" and run away.

What I'm saying is that my life should be a middle of the road family sit-com.

As for the actual cooking, it went relatively well. I made the most basic quiche I could find (which gains points for being submitted by someone calling themselves "Doctor Kitten"), and threw half an onion, a red pepper and a jalapeno in, because vegetables are cheap and were hanging out here anyway. It wasn't as good as the chili, but that might just be because it was quiche and not chili. I definitely need to try it again, and it absolutely needs some bacon the next time I try. Some more spice, as well. The problem with making the most basic quiche imaginable is that it's sort of bland. So. Yes. Attempts at cooking continue, even if attempts at daily blogging are constantly falling behind.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Concert Review: Ska is Dead IV

It's impossible for me to go to a show that features the bands that were headlining Ska is Dead IV without comparing it to my first concert experiences. With new bands, I can appreciate them on their own merits, without holding them up to some ludicrous standard that was set when I was first discovering music, and imbuing it with a ridiculous sense of grandeur. When I saw Skapone at this year's Glenwood Arts Festival, I wasn't comparing them to every other time I'd seen them, because I'd never seen them before, Which was fine. They were good, by the way. Much better than the stand that was trying to sell glasses with "Penis" and "Scrotum" written on them in puffy paint for $20. Obscene on no less than two levels. But, this isn't that, and so I'm going to compare Ska is Dead IV to concerts of my youth. Get over it.

First, the venue. I've been to the Metro a number of times. There's not really much I can complain about as far as the venue itself. It does well for what it is, a mid-level club. There's at least one improvement over the clubs of my youth. The guy who sets up the equipment change music makes at least minimal effort to match the music to the show. I distinctly remember going to concerts at Club Laga where the twenty minutes between the end of The Hippos set and The Berlin Project and being assaulted with Top 40, specifically "...Baby One More Time", which not only breaks the spell by injecting a completely different kind of music into the mix, but by risking inciting a group of irrational teenagers to violence. So that's no good. Whoever's picking out music at the Metro, though, at least sort of seems to know what he's doing. If Deal's Gone Bad finishes and we're waiting for the Toasters to take the stage, it's nice to hear some Let's Go Bowling or Specials. So yes. Good job, Metro Intermission Music Guy.

The fact that Metro's got a balcony actually alleviated the fears I had about the concert being groups of high schoolers with me being creepy in the background. The crowd segregates by age, with the older attendees hanging out upstairs, where the bar is, and the kids staying downstairs, where they can run into each other and do whatever it is that I did before I realized how much I enjoy not moving all that much. I always hated the over 21s at concerts when I was young. I thought they weren't getting the full concert experience by hanging out in a cage removed from the mosh pit. Turns out, not getting shoved can be ok.

Now, the actual bands. I have to confess, I underestimated the amount to which the CTA would continue to be the bane of my existence. So an attempt to show up at least somewhat on time means I missed both Green Room Rockers and Voodoo Glow Skulls, which I was sort of devastated about. So, unfortunately, I can't review either of their performances. On to the bands that I saw. I'd never seen Deal's Gone Bad before, which is absurd as they're a Chicago band who plays here often enough, and I've been living here for four years. Since I'd never seen them, I guess I never really jumped at the opportunity to see them. I won't make that mistake again. They're what I look for in new ska bands. Go. See. Deal's Gone Bad.

The Toasters continue to have a lot fewer members than they had in their heyday, if we can call it that. The last time I saw them, there was at least Lord Sledge on trumpet and Buford O'Sullivan joining in on trombone, but last night's horn section consisted solely of a tenor sax and trombone. Which is fine, and they did fine with what they had, but I'm always hoping to see a return to their former size. A drummer I've never seen before tried to lead the crowd, which worked well enough, as most of the people there were well versed enough in Toasters albums that singing along was never a problem. The bassist, while playing well, was moving as though he wanted to be in a band other than the one that helped pioneer Third Wave, and was a little distracting. Lots of swaying. Anyway, "Bucket" Hingley was on as always. I'm not sure how old Bucket is at this point (it should be noted that Skaboom!, the band's first album, was issued in 1983, making the Toasters at least as old as I am), but he seems to still have his spark. He worked the crowd, imploring some young whippersnappers to stop trying to hurt fellow concert goers, and I was impressed by the song selection. There's a tendency, I think, to try to find the most popular album and just play that. A Rancid concert two years ago I went to was almost entirely "...And Out Come The Wolves". Which isn't a bad thing necessarily. But getting to hear everything from "Weekend in LA" to "Shocker" to "Thrill Me Up" to a few songs from Enemy of the System made me appreciate not only how deep the Toasters repretoire is, but that they're willing to play the old stuff. The kids were into it, so that worked.

It was really disconcerting to have Mustard Plug headlining a show at which the Toasters were playing. I always sort of held the Toasters in very high regard (partly because Bucket ran Moon Ska Records), and it's very weird to see them not headlining whatever show they're at. Nothing against Mustard Plug, obviously, as I've seen them absurdly often and still listen to Evildoers Beware! and Pray for Mojo. But, anyway, on to Mustard Plug. I was skeptical at how much the crowd seemed to be cheering at the bizarre lights and sustained chords intro, but it turns out that Mustard Plug is always going to be Mustard Plug. Energetic without being cartoonish (which is what I didn't like about a lot of the bands, like Reel Big Fish, that came up in the ska-punk fad) and just completely controlling the crowd. The set included most of the standards ("You", "Skank By Numbers", "Lolita") as well as two covers. One I've heard hundreds of times, to the point where I don't even recall what The Verve Pipe's version of "The Freshmen" even sounds like. They also covered "Waiting Room" by Fugazi, which I was skeptical of, but which they managed to pull off enough that I think Ian MacKaye may allow it. My only nitpick with the entire set was that for the first time in all the times I've seen Mustard Plug, the performance of "Mr. Smiley" wasn't accompanied by Dave Kirchgessner attacking the front row with a plastic axe. Additionally, I've been to a lot of shows in my time, and I've heard a lot of bands play their most popular song last, but nothing gets a crowd going like the Beer Song. My word.

On the way out, I was handed a CD from what appears to be a local band called "On Your Marx", who appears to have reformed from a mid-nineties band called "Jambalaya" that I've never heard of. With a name like On Your Marx, and a CD cover of a gold-stars-on-red-background version of the Chicago flag, I was expecting something a bit more political. It's fun enough, and I'm always supportive of a ska band with female vocals. Their song "Baby Piano" starts with a baby piano, which I guess makes sense. I'd like to hear more from On Your Marx, as the EP (which is available on their website was too short for me to make any real judgement. I'd give them a shot if I saw that they were playing somewhere.

So, there we go. Concert Review. Hooray.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Attending Concerts

I don't go to concerts anymore. Part of it, I think, is that I've finally reached that point where it's potentially creepy. If I continue to go to the shows that I've gone to my entire concert-going life, I'm the old guy now, and I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that, both as a role and as a way of reminding me that it's been ten years since I was sixteen. The only saving grace of the whole endeavor is that my youth was spent listening to music considered by most to be a fad. For most people, bands like Reel Big Fish were popular for just about a year, then no one cared about them anymore. Oddly, I never really listened to Reel Big Fish, but rather used it as an introduction to the wider world of third-wave ska. Hence, the people that tend to show up at concerts like the one I'm going to tonight are in the same mold, people who started listening to these bands in the late 90's and have just stuck with it since then. There's still more annoying (which I can see now) young people, getting in my way and misunderstanding the rules of etiquette (bands like the Pietasters do not require a constant mosh pit, and you look like an idiot for trying one in addition to injuring people who are trying to enjoy themselves), but I think that's just a function of going to lame ska concerts. Apparently, my tastes in music are woefully adolescent.

The last concert I actually committed to going to and then showed up at was, and I think I'm not making this up, seven months ago (Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice at the Portage Theater). It had been a while before then. And while I enjoyed that show, I need to go to something or I think someone comes and confiscates the band posters and setlists that I collected from going to shows at Club Laga, and alternately either helping the horn section of the band I came to see load their van (The Berlin Project) and attempting to wake my friend up because he may have just sustained a concussion against one of the bare concrete pillars (Hatebreed/Throwdown/God Forbid). So I'm off to see Mustard Plug, The Toasters, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Deal's Gone Bad and Green Room Rockers tonight. I'll likely be back later to report on how Mustard Plug is holding up (incidentally, one of the first concerts I went to, back in 1997, was Mustard Plug, Slick Olde Bishops and, though I hadn't heard of them before the show, a Tomas Kalnoky-led Catch 22), how Rob Hingley is dealing with the fact that while he's the only remaining member of the original Toasters and has been for some time, every time I've seen them in recent years they appear to be losing members and then just not replacing them, leading to songs written for an eight-piece band being played by four. And I'll report on who on earth the Green Room Rockers are, in the event that I show up early enough to see them (who starts a concert at 5:00 pm on a Saturday?).


And I've already fallen two days behind. I'll catch up, though, so I'm going to count it as being alright. Part of the problem is that I've finished up at Northwestern, and in trying to get a job, I've taken a position at a company that I won't explicitly name, but that has me getting up at seven in the morning, so prime blogging hours after work have been taken up with "I need sleep or I'm going to die". But we're back, and so the November Project marches onward.

I've talked before about my prediliction for getting into different mythologies. I find something, get excited that there's back story that I don't know that other people find absurdly important, and dive in, learning as much as I can. I recently repeated the process with Green Lantern (which, incidentally, was a really good decision, considering that I happened to decide to start looking over the mythology so that I'd be up to speed when the Blackest Night event started, which I'll review here later), and I'm remembering the process as I'm rewatching the new series of Doctor Who with Marina's roommates. I'm still not sure if I'm committed enough to watch the old series, though I did spend my fair amount of time looking back over synopses of Jon Pertwee's exploits.

Continuing my newfound comic book reading schedule (which has recently expanded to include Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, the Red Tornado series and Justice Society of America (after Geoff Johns run), both of which I'll comment on sometime during the month, I finally got around to seriously making an attempt at reading Gaiman's Sandman. I won't attempt any sort of review of it, as that's already been done a thousand times over, but more than getting into a new mythology (especially as one as rich as Gaiman's prone to creating), reading Sandman gave me more the feeling of "how on earth could I have not read this". I've still got two TPBs to go in the main series, and it's suddenly earned a spot on the Things I Will Buy When I Have a Steady Job That Pays Something, Rather Than Nothing list.

More tomorrow, including, likely, a review of Blackest Night so far.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Attempting Chili

So Food Network has taken over most of my TV watching. I think it started when I got bored in lab and decided to watch Hell's Kitchen (the US version) on Hulu while things were stirring (which isn't on Food Network, but it involves food and that's close enough, damn it), then finding the US version of Kitchen Nightmares on Comcast On Demand, but that wasn't so much instructional from a culinary standpoint and more "Gordon Ramsay's going to yell at some more stuff, humiliate people, and make you feel better about your personal housekeeping because hey, you don't have rotting food and disgustingness everywhere, hopefully". That led, slowly, to watching reality shows about cooking that actually involve "making food taste good" as part of the show concept. I stopped short of actually using any of the programming for instruction (though Alton Brown tempted me, with his seductive, alluring approach and hairstyle). But I think it might have shaken up the part of my brain that whispers "You should cook something other than frozen pizza. It's sort of like chemistry. You could probably not screw it up too badly."

Usually, I gleefully ignore that part of my brain, rip open another flattish cardboard box, preheat to 400 (without looking at the dial, so engrained is that in my muscle memory) and resign to another night of DiGiorno (if I'm feeling ritzy). A few days ago, however, I got it in my mind to try my hand at a chili. A few notes as to my thought process here.

First, I decided on white chili. I always assumed I wouldn't like chili in my childhood (I think because I have an intensely negative reaction to the idea of kidney beans which may or may not be tied to the urban myth where you wake up in a bathtub of ice). White chili, or at least the recipe I used, uses "Great Northern Beans". They're great! It's right there in the name! That's pleasant. So, that was settled.

Secondly, for being a chemist who's used to changing the size of whatever reaction I happen to be working on (and currently working on scale-up at a process development plant), I sure have no concept of when a recipe's too large. The five (!) cans of beans should have clued me in. Now, I'm sure chili keeps for at least a day, and I did have the foresight to buy some containers so that I don't have to buy lunch tomorrow, but my word. There's so much chili.

Third, and this has nothing to do with the chili, but Wikipedia claims that DiGiorno's website makes a claim about "having been around for over ten years". Which is great, and I'm certainly no expert on the fast-paced world of frozen pizza brands, but going back ten years only gets you to Toy Story 2. Or the second Austin Powers. And given my own concerns about how quickly time is passing, I'm going to maintain that those were pretty much yesterday, and "over ten years" is not something to brag about.

As for the actual chili, it turned out pretty well. And now I own cumin and cayenne pepper, so I'm planning on doing this again. When my "endless-cans-of-beans" budget is back up.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The November Project

Yes. I know about NaNoWriMo, but frankly, I'm not that good at creative fiction and will probably never write a novel, so it seems odd to sit down and go after it like a madman for one month near the end of the year. I'm glad it exists for other people, but it's not for me. That said, when I actually made the commitment to sit down and write one blog post a day in February 2008, I did it and felt pretty good about it. I was exhausted by the end (because I am just this side of being the least interesting man in the world) and wound up gasping for air and reaching for every possible post topic I could find.

But it's kind of absurd that the past year has been announcing my attention to read comics and the yearly Mascot Bracket and nothing else. So, even though it's already the third of the month, I'm going to start it up again: The November Project. Perhaps the next several years will be filled with long gaps in content, followed by a few weeks of feverishly writing to a self-imposed deadline, followed by more gaps until I have a series of "The X Project" where X is every month. For now, though, let's do it.

The November Project is on.