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“Paving the Road to Hell since 1999.”
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- Alien (1979)
- The classic film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), John Hurt and Tom Skerritt. It documents the journey of a commercial deep-space mining ship on its way to investigate an S.O.S. call from a distant planet. The ship lands and sends out a landing party, which discovers an even larger, alien craft that seems for all intents and purposes to have crashed long ago. Something survived, though and it wants to breed again. And for that, it needs a host. Poor John Hurt plays that host and gets the party started in earnest, unwillingly and unwittingly helping the alien on its way to its second stage of evolution, where it gets really nasty. The first stage already had molecular acid for blood; the second stage has a polycarbonate exoskeleton and several, nested and pointy-tooth–filled mouths. Ripley survives (along with the cat, Jack) and lives to fight another day.
- Hancock (2008)
- Will Smith is in the eponymous drunken superhero role and Jason Bateman is the PR man who’s there to save his reputation. Charlize Theron—looking absolutely amazing, as usual—is Bateman’s wife but she seems to recognize Hancock as well. Long story short—and spoiler alert—but Theron turns out to also be a superhero(ine) and Hancock’s soulmate and they’re the last pair of angels/heroes/what-have-you. The others of their kind have all died because they found one another and, in having found one another, lost their powers and grew old and died, like any other normal humans. Despite their predestined affinity, Smith and Theron choose to stay apart in order to remain immortal so they can watch over mankind. Shades of Unbreakable somehow. Shades of Jesus, too, I guess. Better than expected, but still hard to recommend.
- Daybreakers (2009)
- A vampire/zombie-vampire film that I watched only because it starred Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. It’s a slightly different take, presupposing a world in 2019 run by the vampire survivors of a bat-borne epidemic (that’s the movie’s terminology; it’s more like a pandemic). The vampires are ascendant but the human population—read: their livestock—is dwindling and Ethan Hawke is a vampire hematologist who’s trying to find a blood substitute because he doesn’t think vampires should prey on humans. He eventually throws in with a band of humans who claim that they can cure the disease that causes vampirism—using a form of vampire hydrotherapy. Some of the vampire scenes are filmed in extreme gray-scale tones, with the blood looking black, like ichor, which was kind of a nice touch. The battles are mostly between the vampires and the humans, but also the subsiders—vampires who have gone too long without nourishment. It was better than expected on the strength of the cast, but they were swimming against the current of a both clichéd and confused plot.
- God Bless America (2011)
- Joel Murray stars as a terminally ill man who lost his job and who’s been cut off from his family and who gets fed up enough with modern America to go on a killing spree. It had its moments, but it got kind of preachy, especially when his partner-in-crime started pontificating. It’s not believable that she could have gotten so angry and so disappointed at her young age. In a nutshell, she hasn’t suffered enough yet to deserve the killing spree she’s on. It’s a case of being right for the wrong reasons, which is still, well, kinda wrong. The first half an hour promises much more than the subsequent hour delivers. Where it started off as what I felt might be a 21st-century equivalent to Falling Down, it dithered off into the reeds instead of ending truly strongly.
- Cannonball Run (1981)
- The classic ensemble comedy about various misfits driving really quickly from one coast of the U.S. to the other. I can’t even remember in which direction they were driving—NY to LA? Burt Reynolds makes a nod to his magnum opus Smokey and the Bandit when he suggests that they get a “black Trans Am” to complete the race. There are some good lines and a lot of silly ones as well as a lot of what I’m sure they perceived as harmless sexism and racism. Hard to recommend to anyone who doesn’t already want to see it, but I liked seeing all of the actors and actresses I grew up with, many of them still in their prime.
- Cannonball Run II (1984)
- The follow-up to the original just proves that Hollywood didn’t invent the uncomfortably bad sequel in the 21st century. The technology to capitalize on the surprising amount of goodwill engendered by a sleeper success with an underfunded and most-likely contractually obligated sequel has been available for decades, apparently. Not recommended.
- Friends with Benefits (2011)
- Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson absolutely shine in this rom-com. Jenna Elfman and Richard Jenkins are also quite good. Given the cast, I guess it’s not fair to say that this movie was surprisingly good, but I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised by what looks for all the world like a cookie-cutter chick-flick. The sex scenes with Timberlake and Kunis especially were much more fun and varied and honest than I’ve grown to expect from a Hollywood movie. It was rated R, however, ensuring that as few teenagers as possible would be exposed to non-cartoonish relationships by accident. Is the plot predictable? Of course it is. Was it well-executed, funny and entertaining? I’m not ashamed to say that I thought it was.
- Run, Fatboy, Run (2007)
- Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran star in a comedy about a sad sack (Pegg) whose marriage to Thandie Newton (I usually dislike her characters immensely, but she was decent here) has fallen apart. Hank Azaria’s crass American has since swept in to take over where Pegg left off. Moran is Pegg’s friend Gordon, playing the incorrigible and inveterate drinker and gambler. When Azaria mentions that he’s going to run in a marathon, Pegg signs up as well. Why? To prove his love for Newton and to win her back? I guess? To improve himself? Hard to say. What ends up happening—spoiler alert—are exactly both of those things. The movie is fun not because of the plot but more on the strength of the actors—for me, it was Pegg and Moran especially that made this movie worthwhile.
I’ve been following Lee Camp, a stand-up comedian/activist/blogger for several months now. He’s always been quite good, but he’s hit his stride lately. His “Moment of Clarity” videos are short and interesting and often funny.
The following videos were posted while he’s on tour in the British Isles.
The Most Dangerous Discussion In The World? − MOC #232 by Lee Camp (YouTube)
Citing from the video description:
“There’s a discussion that most people aren’t having and that our media will never dare mention. If we never have it, we may all end up dead. […] So here it is: capitalism has a lot of problems.”
How To Boil A Human − MOC #233 by Lee Camp (YouTube)
Citing from the video description:
“For the first time in 3 million years the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide is over 400 parts per million. Scientists say this is well beyond a sustainable level, and it’s increasing every day.”
YOU Are A Slave and Here's How − MOC #234 by Lee Camp (YouTube)
In this last video, Camp talks about debt and how it’s used to control people at all levels: echoing concepts from John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hitman, he describes how rich countries use debt and international law to lean on poorer countries; at the micro level, all kinds of debt is used to control people and keep them in the rat race: medical debt, mortgages, student debt, payday loans, installment loans, etc.
4 days Ago
It’s Euro-Vision Song Contest time again. Semifinals part II tonight. Don’t judge me. It’s like a traffic accident; you can’t look away. There were a lot of contestants, but here are the ones I found noteworthy.
- Finland: What the hell Finland? A few years ago you win with Death/Gore-Metal band Lordi and now you descend into the depths of bubble-gum pop with Krista (who was literally wearing bubble-gum–colored boots)? How did that number even get off the ground? It was, however, one of the classic Euro-Vision styles: wanna-be Madonna/Material-Girl–style.
- Macedonia: They covered the other classic Euro-Vision style: they sang in their native tongue and included decidely non-standard pop-cast members, like a gigantic operatic singer doing call-and-response with the Macedonian Julio Iglesias.
- Bulgaria: I had no idea that Bulgarians had also invented a bagpipe. Dude was creeping around the stage with it like Angus Young. They were decent, overall.
- Iceland: Way to bring down the mood, Iceland. A crooner with Thor-like locks wailing on in Icelandic. Utterly uninspiring.
- Switzerland: I can’t even poke fun at my Finnish and Icelandic colleagues because the Swiss managed to deliver yet another train wreck in the form of a multi-piece Salvation Army band. Couldn’t wait for that to be over. They might as well have sent a Guggämusigg Band from Lozärn which would have been much more entertaining, if not less embarrassing.
- Azerbaijan: They sent a cross between Tom Cruise and Enrique Iglesias to smolder his way through his song while his buddy tried to get out of a transparent, plastic box behind him. Not as horrible as many of the others.
- Latvia: The Swiss can thank God for Latvia who, with their spangled suits and utterly jarring energy-rock, started off the evening so badly that all of the other bands could relax and stop worrying about ending up dead last.
- Malta: A decent, upbeat song, but the singer was way too weak to carry it. Might not sound bad if somebody with some lungs or a voice with character were to sing it.
- Israel: Do you have friends who can be honest with you? A neckline that plunges to your waist plus vertical stripes stretched uncompromisingly in the horizontal? And the 80s called: they want those glasses and all of your hairstyles back. The whole picture was so distracting, I hardly had time to hate the song.
- Norway: A repeat of Finland, if a lot more subdued. Generic uninspired pop from Scandinavia hoping for some swarthy votes from the south who still can’t believe there are people with blond hair. A transparent ploy.
- Romania: Conceptually the highlight of the evening: a male singer dressed in a black necromancer’s robe, his gigantic self astride the puny, red-lit mountains of Hell. He growled out his first lines and then this Romanian King Diamond launched into an operatic soprano sequence while red-painted/suited, half-naked devils cavorted and performed feats of strength in front of him. His voice proved to not be up to the task, but the piece was nonetheless kinda riveting.
There were a couple of others, but I either missed them or I can’t remember enough about the acts to snark about them.
1 week Ago
I continue to be mystified as to how Microsoft has not managed to create a backup system as seamless and straightforward and efficient as Time Machine for OS X. The software is, however, not without its faults. As is usual with Apple software, Time Machine becomes quite frustrating and unwieldy when something goes ever so slightly wrong.
When it works, it works very well. It is unobtrusive. You have hourly backups. It is as technology should be: serving you.
At the beginning of the year, I bought an NAS (Network-attached Storage) to improve file-sharing at home. I then moved my Time Machine backups from an individual external hard disk for each OS X machine with Time Machine support (a grand total of two of them) to the home cloud (the aforementioned NAS).
This all worked quite well. I connected each machine to the NAS directly to create the initial, full backup and, after that, the machines burbled along, backing up efficiently over the wireless network.
That is until, one day, something went mysteriously wrong. Both of my machines have experienced this, seemingly without cause. The helpful error message is shown below.
If you read through it carefully, you’ll see quite an implicit threat: the “Start New Backup” button, offered as the “quick-win” solution, will simply throw away all of your previous backups.
Don’t be seduced by the “Back Up Later” button. All it does is show you the exact same message one day later. You are free to put off the decision indefinitely, but you will become well acquainted with this message.
Thanks Apple! Is that really the best that you can do? You just give up and tell me that I have to either (A) reconnect my machine to the LAN and run a backup that will take 12 hours or (B) just go ahead and try the same, but on the wireless LAN, which will take four times longer.
This is a typically technocratic software failure: the error was caught and acknowledged, so … mission accomplished. That is most decidedly not the case. Apple should be eminently aware that this message will be shown to people for whom a fresh non-incremental backup entails not just dozens of hours but possibly days. Not only that, but uninterrupted hours/days. It is just not acceptable to give up so easily without even trying to repair the problem.
So that’s where we stand: the automated backup—lovely as it is when it works—performs some sort of verification and then gives up. But a manual verification has, to date, never failed. And I’ve applied the solution below several times now, for both machines.
The solution is documented in Fix Time Machine Sparsebundle NAS Based Backup Errors by Garth Gillespie:
su Admin (change to an administrator/sudoer account, if necessary)
su - (change to the root user)
chflags -R nouchg /Volumes/marco/Magni.sparsebundle (fix up flags/permissions)
hdiutil attach -nomount -noverify -noautofsck /Volumes/marco/Magni.sparsebundle (attach backup volume, which automatically starts a file-system check)
tail -f /var/log/fsck_hfs.log (show the progress for the file-system check)
The final command will show progress reports of the file-system check; if the check does not start, see the link above for more detailed instructions. Otherwise, you should see the message,
“The volume Time Machine Backups appears to be OK.”
in the log. Once this has run, you have to reset the status of the backup so that Time Machine thinks it can use it again:
- Browse to
/Volumes/marco/Magni.sparsebundle in the Finder
- Right-click the file and select “Show Package Contents” from the menu
- Open the
com.apple.TimeMachine.MachineID.plist file in a text editor
Remove the two lines:
Change the value of
VerificationState to 0, as shown below:
It’s not very straightforward, but it’s worth it because you won’t lose your entire backup history. In my experience—and that of many, many others who’ve littered their complaints online—Time Machine will, at some random time, once again fail verification and offer to chuck your entire backup because it can’t think of a better solution.
Not only that, but once you’re reset everything and Time Machine has run a backup, you might catch it surreptitiously re-running the verification. I highly recommend canceling that operation. Otherwise, despite the image just having been verified—and used for backup—not ten minutes before, Time Machine will once again throw its hands in the air, declare defeat and deliver the bad news that there’s nothing for it but to start from scratch.
Irritating as it is to have to perform these steps manually, it doesn’t even take that long, even when run over a wireless network. It would be utterly lovely if Apple could get this part working a little more reliably.
2 weeks Ago
- X-Men: First Class (2004)
- Possibly the best of all of the X-Men movies so far, with Jean Grey coming from the dead as Phoenix and fighting with Professor X himself for supremacy. They took out Magneto—made him human—and man was I rooting for the Phoenix to make a clean slate of things at the end. Mainstream movies always cop out when it comes to destroying the world, though. Still recommended, though, and highly recommended for fans of comic-book movies.
- Kill Bill Vol. I (2003)
- The classic Tarantino. Saw it for the third or fourth time; still love it. Saw it in German.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
- Although I kind of want the first forty-five minutes back, it was worth the wait for the absolutely spellbinding sequence with Bilbo and Gollum/Sméagol. There was a lot of embellishment over Tolkien’s original text: the goblins were there—the Goblin King and his kingdom were exquisitely rendered and portrayed—but so were the orcs, who never really made an appearance so early in the book. It felt a little dumbed-down but it was entertaining enough, I guess. This is the first of three parts and Benedict Cumberbatch is to make an appearance in the second and third parts, so I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s hard not to think that they’re really no longer making these for the hardcore Tolkien fans and more just to make a boatload of money.
- Trading Places (1983)
- Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis—all just young as hell—star in this film about a successful commodities broker (Aykroyd) whose place is maliciously switched with that of a homeless man (Murphy). Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche play the owners of the commodities firm, who engineer the switch, throwing their star employee into destitution and raising Murphy up to the pole position in their firm. Murphy and Aykroyd manage to team up and turn the tables on them. Recommended.
- Sudden Death (1995)
- Jean-Claude Van Damme as a fire marshal at the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The vice president of the U.S. is in attendance and he is taken hostage and held for ransom. The final rescue scene, where he circus-acts and Macgyvers his way from the top of the dome to the skybox is pretty original, actually. The ensuing helicopter scene was also unlike anything I’d seen before. Kind of on the level of Die Hard 4 (when McLane drives his car into a helicopter) but somehow less annoying for its unbelievability. It was actually more like the original Die Hard. Recommended for the action movie that it is (especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for JCVD).
- The Man (2005)
- An utterly awful film starring Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s unfathomable what drove Jackson to take this role: a desperate need for money? Or boredom? Or did he lose a bet? Miguel Ferrer was also in it, mysteriously enough.
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
- An absurdist comedy about everything that can go wrong on a holiday journey in 1980s America. John Candy as the somewhat annoying but hard-to-hate schlub and Steve Martin as the straight-laced and largely fun-free marketing guy. It’s a classic and it’s actually quite good, thanks in no small part to Candy’s irrepressible good humor. Their true bonding begins when sitting on Candy’s oversized steamer trunk, facing oncoming traffic on the shoulder of a highway, in the middle of the night, illuminated by the flickering glow of the their already-partially destroyed heap of a car catching fire.
- The Karate Kid (2010)
- Jackie Chan is easily the best thing about this remake of the 1980s original. Jaden Smith is slightly more believable than Ralph Macchio—but just barely.
- Mean Girls (2004)
- A teenage girl moves with her sociologist/anthropologist parents from Africa to California, entering the far more dangerous world of a modern American high school. It is, apparently, not much different than high school in the late 80s, according to my viewing companion. It has its funny moments, but it might not speak to everyone. Lindsay Lohan is good in it.
- Stupid, Crazy Love (2011)
- Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone all play quite well in a movie about an exhausted marriage healed by a separation, of a man (Carrell) who’s forgotten how to be appealing and of another man (Gosling) who knows what he doesn’t want to be but doesn’t know how to become what he does want to be. If that makes any sense. Julianne Moore was ok, but Emma Stone was better. Marisa Tomei has a smaller role and is also quite good. More depth than expected. Recommended.
- Real Genius (1985)
- Val Kilmer stars in this film about super-smart kids at a super-prestigious tech university, roped by their sleazy and egomaniacal professor into working on his military contract to create a powerful laser (read: SDI). The smart kids end up teaming up to turn the tables on their teachers and the grad students beholden to them in amusing and entertaining ways. A classic. Kilmer shines. Recommended.
- Iron Man 2 (2010)
- Saw it for the second time, shortly after having re-watched the original. Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko is great, Sam Rockwell as Hammer is amusing and Don Cheadle is always a welcome addition. The plot was a bit lacking, though, with far too many Deus ex Machinae for my taste. The plot was pulled along by non sequiturs instead of by any common thread. The action scenes were decent, but also a bit too military-hardware–heavy. It kind of felt like watching a commercial for the Pentagon for long stretches. After watching it a second time, I am no longer surprised that I had such a hard time remembering what it was about. Still looking forward to the third installment, though. Sir Ben Kingsley is always good. And Robert Downey Jr. would have to work hard to ruin a film.
- The Omen (2006)
- A pale shadow of a remake illuminated by the somewhat demonic-looking Liev Schreiber. Julia Stiles was in it, but was wasted. Not drunk, I mean, but not utilized. Spoiler alert: everybody dies and the son of the devil wins. Not recommended.
- Unknown (2011)
- Liam Neeson is kicking the shit out of a bunch of people again. Instead of directly stealing his daughter or wife—as in both of the Taken films—his own identity is stolen. Evil Arabs are involved, which is making me really wonder where Neeson’s prejudices lie. Diane Kruger plays a taxi driver who helps him try to get his life and identity back—if he can. She’s pretty good in this. It’s not awful and not really predictable but still not very entertaining.
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