Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Stone Elephant

In the dream I am, at first, a young women with long brown hair in a tight red dress, scrawling notes on a clipboard in an ornate boardroom as stuffy aged white men argue over cocktails. There is a noise from outside the oak-panelled office and I step outside into a rock-floored cavern, where I am now the fitter, thinner version of myself that serves as my standard dream avatar, the red dress gone, replaced with a navy blue suit. From the dark end of the cavern comes a giant spider, speeding toward me on eight deadly legs. I run, my tie flapping over my shoulder, the spider quickly gaining ground until I burst through the giant wood and glass doors that seal the cavern, stumbling into a bellhop as I enter a sunlit city. I'm in grey sweats and a Star Wars t-shirt now, and though the spider is gone the guardians of Easter Island are milling around me now, emerging from an ancient hotel, and I raise my fists uselessly.

But they do not harass me; one slips the bellhop an invisible tip as if apologizing on my behalf. A behemoth stone elephant leaves the hotel and stands over me, trunk swaying, glowing red eyes boring into me.

"Ulnath grogaria mellor snu lau," the elephant says. And now I know what I must do.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Murder by Proxy

In the dream I'm a tall, reedy, dark-haired man in his mid-twenties, and I'm at the mall to buy shirts. But as my fingers stroll through a rack of shirts, there are screams from outside the store; I turn my head to see a huge fat man carrying a bundle of dynamite, and there is madness in his eyes.

Shoppers scatter as the man gibbers with insane laughter, but they're not fast enough; the dynamite explodes, and shredded bodies paint shop windows. I run into the mall, slipping on blood, joining other shoppers in terrified disbelief as more suicide bombers appear, all with the aspect of madness, all carrying lit dynamite. The bombers run to and fro, trying to distribute themselves in the densest part of the teeming crowds, doing their best to explode at the moment that will guarantee maximum carnage.

I duck into a utility corridor, panting, but before I can process my relief I feel an alien, mechanical intelligence insinuate itself into my mind. A network of printed circuits paints itself onto my arms, and my vision shifts, as if I can see infrared, ultraviolet. I find myself forced to walk back into the mall proper. There are still suicide bombers, but now I see them as they truly are; not mad, but calculating. One turns to me.

"Ah, you're one of us now," he says.

And he passes me a bundle of dynamite. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

McDonald's Malapropism

Yesterday Sylvia and I, in possession of some cash-saving coupons, braved the McDonald's drive-through for breakfast. Midway through placing our order, Sylvia suggested we make use of a second coupon. I turned to tell her you could only use one at a time, and while I was doing that the young man on the intercom was saying something else. Confused, I turned back to the speaker and said: 

"What was that, baby?" 

...as if I were still speaking to Sylvia. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, broken only by Sylvia's stifled hysteria. 

"I mean...what was that...sir?" I gasped, face flushed with embarrassment. 

"It's all good," he said. 

Our breakfast came out all right despite everything. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

February 2015 Review Roundup

As noted last month, at regular intervals I'll offer some thoughts on a few of the books and films I've enjoyed (or not) during each calendar month.

February was a slow month for movies; I only watched seven, all of them 2014 Best Picture nominees; I was playing catch-up before heading to the Fitzpatrick Oscar party. You can find my thoughts on the nominees here.

This year I'm making a conscious effort to get a little closer to gender balance in my reading, and my February reading list reflects that with seven books by women: three by the sublime Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Come Along With Me and Just an Ordinary Day) and two by Ursula K. LeGuin (The Word for World is Forest and The Lathe of Heaven), one of SF's most-respected luminaries, male or female. Indeed, it's rather shocking that until this year I'd barely read any of LeGuin's work; you'll see next month that I've continued to explore her work. Una McCormack's Star Trek tie-in The Crimson Shadow and Jo Walton's Nebula-winning Among Others rounds out the works by women I read in February.

Of these seven works, the tie-in is predictably forgettable, while Jackson's Come Along With Me and Just an Ordinary Day are a bit of a letdown after the amazing We Have Always Lived in the Castle and her other earlier works. Castle, at least, is a wonderful story of small-town alienation and obsessive love; Jackson once again explores the frayed edges of the social universe and exposes all our human weaknesses.

The Lathe of Heaven is my favourite of the two LeGuin novels I read in February, both for its high concept (what if one man's dreams could re-write reality?) and its compassionate portrayal of both protagonist and antagonist.

Among Others is modern fantasy of the sort that's enjoyed considerable popularity in the wake of Harry Potter, but I don't hold that against Walton's work; I plowed through this engaging tale of a young British witch in a couple of hours, and regretted turning the final page. It helps that the main character is a voracious reader of science fiction; she and I had a lot in common.

I don't have much to write about the books by men I read this month, other than I found it interesting that Joe Haldeman's latest, Work Done for Hire, turns out to be a mainstream novel and only looks like SF. It's an interesting change of pace for one of my favourite SF veterans.

As of this writing, by the way, my books by men/women count is tied at 17 each. We'll see if that egalitarian reading record holds up as the months go by. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Keno of...

Back in 2011, I visited Dawson City and snapped a few photos of this vintage paddle wheeler. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Maggie Maybe Good?


Just when it starts to feel as if the zombie genre is getting cluttered and tired comes along something that might have a glitter of promise. If the trailer is anything to go by, this seems like an atypically sensitive role for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I certainly like the idea of a zombie movie that focuses on one particular zombie, and on a father's effort to cure her. I hope this movie lives up to the promise of this intriguing glimpse. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Misdemeanor Crimes Against Humanity


  • Stickers stuck on books, impossible to remove without leaving behind awful residue that collects grime for the next thirty years. 
  • Poutine. 
  • Ties. Why? Whyyyy?
  • The slow disappearance of mass market paperbacks. 
  • Related: changes in format in the middle of a book or film series, leaving you with mismatched books or DVDs on your shelf. 
  • Hair growing from your ears and nostrils despite its refusal to grow atop your skull. 
  • Cooing baby sound effects used in popular music tracks.
But you know, if these are my worst problems, I must have it pretty good. And now to sour my mood...time to watch Premier Jim Prentice's live address to Albertans, a paid political advertisement brought to you by the province's perennially ill-governed citizens. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kent Hehr for Calgary Centre

Kent Hehr (left), shortly after being sworn in as an MLA in 2008. With him are former Official Opposition Leader Kevin Taft (centre) and Darshan Kang, also a new MLA in 2008 and, like Kent, running for the federal Liberals in Calgary in 2015.

Many of you have noticed that I don't write much about politics anymore; it's because I was pretty burned out after my six and a half years with the Official Opposition in Alberta. But when I learned that Kent Hehr, currently the Alberta Liberal MLA for Calgary Buffalo, wants to become the next Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre, I wanted to help. Being in politics for a few years can make you a little bit cynical about politicians, but Kent really is different, and he proved that every day I worked with him. So when the opportunity arose to write a short testimonial about Kent, I was happy to oblige.

After you click that link to read about my experiences with Kent and why I think Canada will be a better place with him on Parliament Hill, I hope you'll consider donating to Kent's campaign. I donated $400 last year and I'll donate again this year.

If you care about evidence-based decision making, investing in public institutions, human rights and looking out for the little guy, I urge you to learn more about Kent and to follow his campaign - especially if you live in Calgary Centre. He won't let you down. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Under the Crab Apple Tree

The early 80s, when the crab apple tree in our back yard was still young, and so were my brother and I. But the fashion! What am I wearing? A yellow belt and a football jersey. Tragic. Not that I was ever a fashion plate, of course...or paid that much attention...I suppose this is simply more evidence. Note the canoe in the background, which we hauled all the way from Leaf Rapids and never used in Alberta.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Earl-iest Day

Inspired by Leslie's Wayback Wednesday/Throwback Thursday posts, here's what I believe to be the first photo of me ever taken, sometime in May of 1969:
Needless to say I don't remember anything about this event, but I presume the shot was taken in Flin Flon, Manitoba. The original print was in really bad shape, and I must say I'm quite proud of the results of my restoration efforts. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Space Invaders Tie

Tomorrow I'm attending an event identified as "business formal," which means I have to wear a tie. I have chosen this cool Space Invaders tie, which came as one of my LootCrates. Thanks Sylvia!

They should really make a T.I.E. fighter tie. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Animating a Golem



This goes by far too quickly because I chose the wrong interval setting on the camera. Live and learn. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

101 Cult Films I Must See Before I Die

"Yup, that's an ear all right." If you're watching a movie and someone says a line like this while examining a severed ear found on a lawn, you might be watching a cult film. I say "might" because the boundaries of this genre are as fuzzy as the interior of Barbarella's spaceship; a cult film is what any reasonably well-informed pundit says it is, even though several classic movies lumped into the genre were popular mainstream hits.

The editors of 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die have chosen 101 cult films as one of several less intimidating alternatives to their master list of over 1,000 films. Let's see how many of their cult movies I've managed to see thus far...as ever, those I've seen are listed in bold. 

Un Chien Andalou
Reefer Madness
Sullivan's Travels
Out of the Past
Sunset Boulevard
The Night of the Hunter
Rebel Without a Cause
The Blob
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Jazz on a Summer's Day
The Servant
Shock Corridor
Bande A Part
Scorpio Rising
Faster, Pussycat - Kill! Kill!
Blow-Up
Chelsea Girls
Persona
Barbarella
Les Idoles
Easy Rider
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
El Topo
Le Boucher
The Lickerish Quartet
Performance
Harold and Maude
Two Lane Blacktop
Vampyros Lesbos
Vanishing Point
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The Harder They Come
Pink Flamingos
Superfly
Sisters
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
The Night Porter
Phantom of the Paradise
Grey Gardens
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Sholay
Tommy
The Last Wave
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
I Spit on Your Grave
The Wiz
Zoltan, Hound of Dracula
Mad Max
Life of Brian
The Warriors
The Blues Brothers
Ms. 45
Time Bandits
Basket Case
Fitzcarraldo
Wild Style
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
This is Spinal Tap
The Toxic Avenger
Blue Velvet
The Hitcher
Manhunter
Withnail and I
Amazon Women on the Moon
Barfly
The Princess Bride
Wings of Desire
The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years
Hairspray
Alice (Neco Z Alenky)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Heathers
Mystery Train
Frankenhooker
Barton Fink
Brain Dead
Dazed and Confused
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Clerks
Shallow Grave
The City of Lost Children
La Haine
Showgirls
Crash
Twilight of the Ice Nymphs
The Big Lebowski
Buffalo '66
Le Diner Des Cons
Run Lola Run
Rushmore
Office Space
Battle Royale
Memento
Donnie Darko
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ichi the Killer
The Room
Kamikaze Girls
Napoleon Dynamite
Brick

I've seen 46 of these cult films; some of them are among my very favourite movies of all, including Blue Velvet, Buckaroo Banzai, Memento, Brain Dead, Heathers, The Blob, Sunset Boulevard, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Rebel Without a Cause. A few are on my soon-to-watch list: The Night of the Hunter, Out of the Past, Persona, Performance, Superfly, Ms. 45 and Battle Royale. Others way well fall into the "I can't believe you haven't seen..." category: Napoleon Dynamite,  Barton Fink, Manhunter, Two Lane Blacktop, Harold and Maude. I'll get to them; I have to, now that I've made this list. 

Among my friends I'm known to have a somewhat hit-or-miss track record when it comes to suggesting movies the entire group might enjoy. One of the films on this list, Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, probably best exemplifies that phenomenon. We got together to watch a movie at Jeff's place - "we" being Colin, Mike, Pete and Jeff and me. My friends hated it, whereas I thought it had a pretty important point to make and made it well. You can read my review here. 

In my defence, I haven't always been the one to choose a film poorly. I believe it was Dustin who decided we should see Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, another of the films on this list, and while I laughed my way through the film in delight, the rest of our little band, including Dustin, weren't nearly so entertained. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

101 Gangster Films I Must See Before I Die

Tommy guns and prohibition, molls and wise guys, dirty rats and smoke-filled speakeasies, the price of ambition, the chair, the Feds, caskets of illicit rum smuggled across the border only to be busted open by the pick-axe of an overzealous cop. The gangster film had its heyday in the 1930s, and though most gangster protagonists died in a hail of police bullets or strapped to the electric chair, they were nonetheless the working-class heroes of these subversive movies, chasing the American Dream with the only means at their disposal: cunning, guile, and violence.

My introduction to the gangster genre came in the form of one of the three film studies courses I took at the University of Alberta; I remain grateful for the exposure, because the form is rich in meaning and possibility. I've seen a lot of gangster films, as the list below reveals, and yet there's still so much more to explore.

So far I've shared my progress on four of the recommended genre lists compiled by the editors of 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: science fiction, action, horror and war. Here are the gangster movies I've seen (marked in bold type) and those I must see before I croak "Is this...the end...of Earl?"

The Musketeers of Pig Alley
Regeneration
Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler
Underworld
The Racket
Little Caesar
City Streets
The Public Enemy
Scarface: The Shame of a Nation
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
Manhattan Melodrama
G-Men
The Petrified Forest
Bullets or Ballots
Pepe Le Moko
Marked Woman
Dead End
Angels with Dirty Faces
Each Dawn I Die
The Roaring Twenties
High Sierra
This Gun for Hire
The Glass Key
The Killers
The Big Sleep
Kiss of Death
Brighton Rock
T-Men
I Walk Alone
Drunken Angel
Key Largo
Force of Evil
White Heat
They Live by Night
Gun Crazy
The Enforcer
The Lavender Hill Mob
The Big Heat
The Big Combo
Rififi
The Killing
Bob le Flambeur
Touch of Evil
Al Capone
The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond
The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Underworld USA
Branded to Kill
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Bonnie and Clyde
Point Blank
Bullitt
The Brotherhood
Bloody Mama
Get Carter
Shaft
The French Connection
The Godfather
Dillinger
Mean Streets
Thieves Like Us
The Godfather Part II
Bugsy Malone
Atlantic City
The Long Good Friday
Scarface
Once Upon a Time in America
Prizzi's Honor
A Better Tomorrow
The Untouchables
The Krays
Goodfellas
King of New York
Miller's Crossing
The Grifters
New Jack City
Boyz N The Hood
Bugsy
American Me
Hard-Boiled
Reservoir Dogs
Menace II Society
Sonatine
A Bronx Tale
Carlito's Way
Pulp Fiction
The Usual Suspects
Get Shorty
Casino
Heat
Donnie Brasco
L.A. Confidential
Short Sharp Shock
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Brother
Sexy Beast
Road to Perdition
Gangs of New York
The Departed
Eastern Promises

40 out of 101. For a gangster, that's too small a share of the pie. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

101 War Films I Must See Before I Die

War. War never changes. War. Huh. What is it good for? What if they held a war and nobody came? What if you watched 101 war movies described by Steven Jay Schneider as those you must see before you die? Well, I suppose if you did that, you could claim to have seen at least 101 war movies, many of them pretty solid entertainment, some of them, perhaps, important enough to nudge the world toward peace - or more war.

Here are 101 war films on Schneider's list; the films I've seen so far are highlighted in bold text.

The Birth of a Nation
The Battle of the Somme
The Big Parade
The General
Napoleon
Wings
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Grand Illusion
The Great Dictator
Buck Privates
Sergeant York
49th Parallel
To Be or Not to Be
Mrs. Miniver
In Which We Serve
Went the Day Well?
Rome, Open City
A Matter of Life and Death
Sands of Iwo Jima
The Red Badge of Courage
The Cruel Sea
Stalag 17
From Here to Eternity
The Dam Busters
Hill 24 Doesn't Answer
Throne of Blood
Kanal
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Cranes Are Flying
Paths of Glory
Ice Cold in Alex
Ashes and Diamonds
Ballad of a Soldier
Two Women
The Guns of Navarone
Ivan's Childhood
The Longest Day
Lawrence of Arabia
The Great Escape
Zulu
Dr. Strangelove
The Shop on Main Street
The Battle of Algiers
Closely Watched Trains
The Dirty Dozen
Where Eagles Dare
Hell in the Pacific
Oh! What a Lovely War
Army of Shadows
Battle of Britain
MASH
Patton
Catch-22
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Lacombe Lucien
The Eagle Has Landed
Cross of Iron
A Bridge Too Far
The Deer Hunter
Apocalypse Now
The Big Red One
Gallipoli
Das Boot
The Killing Fields
Ran
Come and See
Salvador
Platoon
Full Metal Jacket
Hope and Glory
Empire of the Sun
Good Morning, Vietnam
Grave of the Fireflies
Glory
Europa, Europa
The Last of the Mohicans
Stalingrad
Schindler's List
Land and Freedom
Welcome to Sarajevo
Regeneration
Life is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
Three Kings
Ride with the Devil
Divided We Fall
Devils on the Doorstep
Dark Blue World
No Man's Land
Enigma
Black Hawk Down
The Pianist
Master and Commander
Brotherhood
Downfall
Hotel Rwanda
Merry Christmas
Black Book
The Counterfeiters

That's 38 out of 101, less than half of those recommended by the 1,001 folks, but still a pretty fair representation of the genre; I would wager that I'll have far fewer "You've never seen..?" comments than my previous posts. Grand Illusion, Downfall, Master and Commander, All Quiet on the Western Front, Sands of Iwo Jima and 49th Parallel are the war films I'm most interested in seeing next; a few of them are waiting on my movie shelves.


Friday, March 13, 2015

101 Horror Films I Must See Before I Die

Horror films come in repressive or progressive varieties, either sustaining societal mores through terror and catharsis, or subverting them by overturning the moral status quo in favour of a new, terrifying (but perhaps, in the long run, better?) order (or chaos).

The authors of 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die compiled a number of shorter genre lists for those of us too intimidated to attack the long list. I've already noted which science fiction and action films of the editors' chosen 202 I've seen; now let's see how much of the horror canon I've seen, and how many frights are yet to come. Movies I've seen are listed in bold type.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Golem
Nosferatu
Haxan
The Phantom of the Opera
Dracula
M
Frankenstein
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freaks
Vampyr
White Zombie
The Old Dark House
Island of Lost Souls
King Kong
The Black Cat
The Bride of Frankenstein
The Wolf Man
Cat People
I Walked with a Zombie
Diabolique
The Bad Seed
The Curse of Frankenstein
The Horror of Dracula
The Tingler
Eyes Without a Face
Peeping Tom
Psycho
Black Sunday
The Innocents
Carnival of Souls
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Birds
The Haunting
Onibaba
The Masque of the Red Death
Repulsion
Viy
Hour of the Wolf
Rosemary's Baby
The Devil Rides Out
Night of the Living Dead
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Daughters of Darkness
Blacula
The Last House on the Left
Don't Look Now
The Exorcist
The Wicker Man
Deathdream
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Deep Red
Jaws
The Omen
Carrie 
Suspiria
Eraserhead
The Hills Have Eyes
Dawn of the Dead
Halloween
Nosferatu the Vampyre
Phantasm
The Brood
Cannibal Holocaust
Friday the 13th
The Shining
Dressed to Kill
The Howling
The Beyond
An American Werewolf in London
Poltergeist
The Hunger
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Re-Animator
The Fly
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
A Chinese Ghost Story
Hellraiser
The Vanishing
Jacob's Ladder
The Silence of the Lambs
Man Bites Dog
Candyman
Bram Stoker's Dracula
Cemetery Man
Scream
Ringu
The Blair Witch project
The Sixth Sense
Audition
The Devil's Backbone
The Others
28 Days Later
A Tale of Two Sisters
High Tension
Ju-on
Saw
The Descent
The Orphanage

That's 49 out of 101, not quite half of what would seem to be a somewhat representative list of the horror films I "must see." Several of the films I haven't seen are waiting for me on my movie shelves; others are completely outside my experience. I imagine several readers are wondering how it's possible I haven't seen Jaws or The Wicker Man or The Blair Witch Project yet; what can I say? Even at over 100 movies a year, it's unlikely I'll see every movie ever made before I die. Or will I? Say, that might make an interesting premise for a horror movie...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brain Freeze 2015

Fifth place with 78 points! Not as good as last year's third-place finish, but not bad at all. Our team, "Totco" (so named because of the two Totman brothers, Paul and Mike, and two ATCO employees, Jeff and myself) did quite well on the Literature, Sports & Leisure and Potpourri rounds; not quite as well on the Cold Stuff round. Thanks for inviting us, Mike! 

Monday, March 09, 2015

101 Action Films I Must See Before I Die

Having covered which 101 science fiction movies I should see before I die yesterday, today I move on to action films. Action is a frustrating genre; the best action films are compelling, edge-of-your-seat excitement, and the very best even have a strong message - or at least raise some issues to consider. The worst action films are an agonizing chore to watch, one mindless fistfight or car chase after another. So which of the best (at least according to the authors of 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) action films have I already seen, and which do I need to see? Let's find out...as ever, movies I've seen are listed in bold type.

The Great Train Robbery
The Perils of Pauline
Safety Last!
The Thief of Bagdad
Captain Blood
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
The Mark of Zorro
The Three Musketeers
The Wages of Fear
North by Northwest
From Russia with Love
Goldfinger
Thunderball
Come Drink with Me
Our Man Flint
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Airport
The Anderson Tapes
Diamonds Are Forever
Dirty Harry
Five Fingers of Death
The Getaway
The Poseidon Adventure
Slaughter
Enter the Dragon
Foxy Brown
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
The Towering Inferno
Death Race 2000
Rollerball
Assault on Precinct 13
Cannonball
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Driver
Drunken Master
Five Deadly Venoms
Superman
For Your Eyes Only
Knightriders
Raiders of the Lost Ark
48 Hrs.
First Blood
The Shaolin Temple
Commando
Police Story
Top Gun
Lethal Weapon
Bloodsport
Die Hard
Batman
The Killer
La Femme Nikita
The Hunt for Red October
Point Break
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Patriot Games
Under Siege
The Fugitive
The Heroic Trio
In the Line of Fire
Iron Monkey
Clear and Present Danger
The Crow
Fist of Legend
Leon: The Professional
Speed
True Lies
Bad Boys
Desperado
GoldenEye
Mission: Impossible
The Rock
Air Force One
Face/Off
Con Air 
Armageddon
Blade
Taxi
Ronin
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Gladiator
X-Men
The Fast and the Furious
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Spider-Man
The Transporter
Kill Bill: Volume One
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Ong-Bak
District B13
The Bourne Supremacy
Kill Bill: Volume Two
Casino Royale
300
The Bourne Ultimatum
Hot Fuzz
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Taken
Avatar

I've seen 71 of these, and there are quite a few I don't enjoy: the Kill Bill movies (I love most of the rest of Tarantino's work, but these just feel excessive), Gladiator, True Lies (have you re-watched it lately? oof), Speed, the Tom Clancy thrillers that came after Red October, Top Gun, Armageddon...bleah. But I suppose they're important to the action canon (well, Top Gun and Armageddon and the Tarantino films, maybe..)

I've heard of most of these on the list, including, of course, the obvious "How can you not have seen this yet?" choices: 300, The Fast and the Furious, Air Force One, Lethal Weapon, Five Deadly Venoms, Foxy Brown, Rollerball, The Mark of Zorro.

My favourites from this list? Safety Last!, Die Hard, the Bond movies, Ronin, Iron Monkey, Dirty Harry, Captain Blood, Death Race 2000, Assault on Precinct 13, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Our Man Flint, Enter the Dragon. There are plenty of wonderful moments in all of these films. 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

101 Science Fiction Films I Must See Before I Die

Way back in 2003 the first edition of Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published, much to the delight of many lovers of film and particularly those with sufficient OCD to obsessively make and/or complete lists. Blogger Chip Lary has done film and list fans a great service by producing exquisitely detailed spreadsheets that allow anyone to not only check off which films they've seen on the main list of 1001, but also the various genre lists (much shorter at 101 films each) Schneider and company have released over the years.

Since I'm already tracking the movies I watch each year, it seems logical to see if the curators of these lists have included films that I haven't seen, but might enjoy. So as I'm watching movies, I'll pick a few from each of the lists each year. I don't necessarily intend to complete them all, but it seems like a good way to catch some good movies I might otherwise have missed.

Since science fiction is my number one genre interest, I'll start with it first. Movies I've already seen are listed in bold.

A Trip to the Moon
A Trip to Mars
Aelita
Paris Asleep
Metropolis
The Invisible Man
Things to Come
The Thing from Another World
When Worlds Collide
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Invaders from Mars
It Came from Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
Them!
Gojira
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Forbidden Planet
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
The Time Machine
The Amphibian Man
La Jetee
Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Alphaville
The Tenth Victim
Fahrenheit 451
A
Fantastic Voyage
Who Killed Jessie?
Quatermass and the Pit
Planet of the Apes
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
THX 1138
Silent Running
Slaughterhouse-Five
Solaris
The Fantastic Planet
Sleeper
Soylent Green
Westworld
Dark Star
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Logan's Run
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Star Wars
Stalker
Time After Time
Alien
The Empire Strikes Back
Flash Gordon
Scanners
Escape from New York
The Road Warrior
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Blade Runner
The Thing
Tron
Videodrome
The Last Battle
Return of the Jedi
Repo Man
The Brother from Another Planet
1984
The Terminator
Dune
Starman
Brazil
Back to the Future
The Quiet Earth
Aliens
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Predator
Robocop
Akira
The Navigator
Tetsuo
The Abyss
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Jurassic Park
Ghost in the Shell
12 Monkeys
Independence Day
The Fifth Element
Men in Black
Gattaca
Starship Troopers
Open Your Eyes
Pi
The Matrix
Galaxy Quest
Signs
Code 46
Primer
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I, Robot
The Host
Children of Men

So even in my preferred genre, I haven't seen 21 out of this particular list of 101 important examples of the form. To my delight there are films on this list I've never heard of: Paris Asleep, A, Who Killed Jessie?, Stalker, The Last Battle, Tetsuo, Open Your Eyes and Code 46. Others I've meant to see for a long time and just haven't gotten around to it: Aelita, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Fantastic Planet, The Brother from Another Planet, Brazil, 1984, The Host, Children of Men and Akira. Others I'm aware of but I'm not that excited about them - The Navigator, I, Robot.

Of all the lists to come, this is the one I'm most likely to finish. We shall see...

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Sweet, Sweet Tamarind

Ever since Boun Thai vanished, I've been searching for an Edmonton Thai restaurant that could match Boun Thai's amazing cashew chicken. As part of that ongoing quest I sampled Sweet Tamarind (15041 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton) today, and while I didn't put Tamarind's cashew chicken to the test - some of the ingredients on the menu put me off - I thoroughly enjoyed a small sample of the restaurant's other choices.

Sylvia and I split two appetizers: the chicken and beef satays and pandan chicken, which is chicken breast wrapped in banana leaves. For the main course we split the Jungle Beef over coconut rice.

Both varieties of satay were excellent, the meat tender, flavourful and scrumptious when dipped into Tamarind's excellent peanut sauce. The pandan chicken was exceptionally tender and juicy, though the banana leaves took some getting used to; they're rather tough and not particularly flavourful. Still, my body appreciates whatever vegetables I dump into it, and the leaves do complement the chicken in some vague, undefinable way.

The coconut rice was delicious - just sticky enough. The Jungle Beef, on the other hand, wasn't quite as exceptional as the rest of the meal - just your standard stir-fried beef with vegetables. Very good, but not as wolf-it-downable as the appetizers.

Next time I'll try the cashew chicken, even though it includes - ugh - mushrooms and cauliflower.

Sweet Tamarind leaves a solid first impression, and I'm eager to sample more of their dishes. Three plastic forks out of four.


Friday, March 06, 2015

Ice Cream Koan

It is sad
To be constantly disappointed by others
It is sadder
To be constantly disappointed with oneself

Thursday, March 05, 2015

HiQ Fiasco


When I was in grade 8, my social studies teacher asked me if I wanted to be on the school's HiQ trivia team. I accepted, and our Leduc Junior High team wound up with a 2-1 record, good enough to reach the quarter finals. I still have the medal and the book we won as prizes somewhere...

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Last Day at the Bleak House of Blahs



When I started this blog, I called it The Bleak House of Blahgs in memory of my short but memorable time living with Ron, Allan and (briefly) Carrie in our ramshackle rented house at the corner of 107 and 107 in Edmonton, Alberta. We started called it the Bleak House of Blahs after Carrie moved out, for we were then all single, all unemployed or underemployed, and drowning in the angst of the twenty-something. If only we'd known how good we had it...

Here are a few seconds of video captured on my last day, featuring Susan and Ron. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

My First 4K Video


Thanks to the generosity of Sylvia, Sean and my parents, I scrounged up enough dough to pick up something that's been on my wish list for a long time: a GoPro camera. I've barely begun to explore the camera's possibilities, but today I successfully shot a time lapse video in glorious 4K resolution. So if your monitor supports it, have a gander. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Farewell to the Dungeons

Over on Confessions of a Middle-Aged Adolescent, Steve writes eloquently of our gaming group's difficult but necessary decision to abandon our journey through the Pyramid of Shadows and Dungeons & Dragons itself in favour of newer, fresher games.

Steve's post covers the whys and wherefores, but to show my appreciation for the five years we spent loosing arrows and cleaving skulls, I'd like to share some of my favourite memories.

First and foremost, the laughter. A lot of people might find it strange that adults would choose to pretend to be barbarians, elves, demons, wizards, gnomes or poofy-shirted musicians who go around slaying monsters, but as with many group activities it's not so much what you do that matters just as long as you're doing it together. During the five years we played D&D, Jeff, Mike, Pete, Steve, Audrey, Scott and I spent as much time on absurd stories as we did the game. At least once or twice a year these antics would cause me to enter embarrassing but incredibly cathartic laughing fits, and I'm more grateful than I can say for those moments.

I also had fun sending Sylvia occasional updates of our fantasy misadventures, and she never failed to respond with witty and/or sardonic commentary, much to my amusement. "Your little man needs to stab more people," she once texted in response to an e-mailed photo of the action, and she was certainly right.

I'll also never forget the times Jeff managed to defy all the odds and roll double 20s twice, an event that you can expect to happen only once every five years (Mike did the math). That's pretty impressive swordplay.

Finally, the game itself had plenty to offer; we encountered a number of interesting and fun challenges, from dragons to Indiana Jones-style rolling boulders to living statues and psychic arrows, and it was always a blast pitting our characters' strengths against these obstacles. I also had a great time inventing backstories for my two characters, Timbre Wavecrest the bard and Anvil Bloodforge the barbarian, even if those backstories rarely had an impact on the game.

But as Steve notes in his blog, it's time to move on to something new; we'll be starting a Spirit of '77 campaign later in the year, a new roleplaying game set in an imaginary 1970s using the tropes of the film and television of the era. (Spirit of '77 is also the first Kickstarter project I've supported.) I'm thinking I might play a bionic kung-fu disco private eye with a talking Corvette stingray...


Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Crawling Ear, Part 1

“Did you hear that?" Raymond whispered. "Listen."

"I don't hear anyth--" Carol began, her words cut short as Raymond clamped a hand on her shoulder, pulling her to a halt.

"Shh," Raymond hissed. They waited in silence.

The moon shone down on the park, the grass and lilac blooms and tulips alike all rendered in shades of grey. No wind whistled through the trees, no crickets chirped. There were no sirens in the distance, no howling coyotes.

"Are they listening?" Carol asked, looking at Raymond with wide eyes; he only nodded. Her words suddenly seemed very loud, though they’d been whispering all night in deference to the quiet sanctuary of the park, away from the world’s hungry eyes and ears, a world that always watched and always listened.

Behind them, a cluster of trees rustled soundlessly, branches quivering, trunks swaying slightly. From out of the darkness and into the silvery moonlight emerged a monstrous thing - an ear, disembodied, as tall as a man, its undulating lobe propelling it stealthily, silently through the grass, toward the young couple.

Raymond turned to speak to Carol, but when his lips moved this time no sound emerged - and from the corner of his eye he caught sight of the surreal monstrosity approaching them. Carol turned to follow his gaze and screamed, a fist pressed to her mouth - but her horror was muted.

Raymond and Carol clung to each other, watching helplessly as the thing advanced. It stopped at two metres away, and listened.

Carol and Raymond began to tremble. Raymond's weathered features twisted into a rictus of agony; Carol's chiseled good looks soon followed, her teeth clenched together so hard she felt they might shatter. For several seconds the couple shook and writhed, and then, in an instant, their flesh and clothing was ripped from their bones, sucked into the ear canal in a gruesome tide of blood and flying organs. The embracing skeletons stood in shocked silence for one moment, then clattered to the grass together, a brief tympanic flourish, the closing notes of a mad symphony.

Sated, the ear turned, retreating into the trees, its cochlea trailing behind. Somewhere, a coyote howled, and then a police siren dopplered nearby, rising and falling in pitch and volume in just a few seconds as it sped heedlessly past.

*    *   *

"Yup, that's an ear all right," said Detective Malcolm Judd, eyeing the severed appendage with a veteran's cool seen-it-all distance. It lay in the grass not far from the collection of bones a startled jogger had called in early that morning. The young officer who'd found the ear wasn't so sanguine, and was now vomiting his breakfast against a tree a few metres away.

"Hey detective, I found another one!" said another officer, pointing toward his feet. Judd ambled over and knelt to inspect the ear, waving the police photographer over with one hand. This ear was smaller than the other one, and hairless - younger, possibly female. Judd carefully tweezed it into an evidence bag once the photographer was done.

His partner, Detective Lorna Ng, tapped Judd on the shoulder. He rose.

"Mooney found ear number three by stomping on it and slipping on it," she reported with a grimace. "A little evidence contamination to start our morning."

"To ear is human," Judd quipped.

"Two stripped skeletons, three ears. Lunch at the Lumberfront says a fourth ear will turn up before the day is out," Ng said.

"No bet," Judd said. The detectives regarded each other, their eyes speaking volumes; it was time for experience to talk, but neither detective had seen anything like this: a killer who stripped the skeletons of his victims so clean that not a drop of trace evidence was left behind...except the ears. The medical examiner would tell them more, but an initial inspection showed no trauma to the skeletons - no bullet grazes or slash marks, nothing to indicate what had killed them. The bones were as clean as those Officer Mooney left behind on wing night at the Lumberfront. To make matters worse, footage and audio from the park’s security drones revealed nothing; the data had been corrupted somehow.

As it turned out, Judd should have taken Ng's bet; the fourth ear never turned up, probably gobbled up by a stray dog or carried off by a raven before the bodies were found. When the detectives visited the M.E. later that day, Doctor Reed was at a loss for words.

"It's like someone took a power washer to these remains," Reed said, his words tinny in the sterile environment of the autopsy room. "I've never heard of anything like it. As for the ears, the damage to the back of each ear is ragged...lots of bruising. It's almost like they were partially sucked into a powerful vacuum, then spat out, rejected."

Ng and Judd looked at each other. Reed shrugged. There was nothing more to say.

*   *   *

The case went cold. Within a couple of weeks dental records confirmed the victims to be 45 year old Raymond Green and his friend, 30 year old Carol Vanders. They'd been reported as missing not long after the initial discovery of the bodies. Neither had any enemies, they weren't sleeping together, both lived unremarkable lives; their digital signatures were clean, online activity within the normal range of harmless hobbies and mild paraphilias. No one, including their spouses, could explain why the victims had been out together so late at night on the evening of their murder, but interviews with friends, family and coworkers, who universally described Raymond and Carol as good people and upstanding citizens, revealed only that the meeting was in all likelihood utterly innocent.

No one would ever know why Carol and Ray had gone for that walk in the park to meet their fate, though eventually the circumstances of their doom could be, and were, guessed at by the few who deigned to read between the lines. Ng and Judd moved on to other cases. Summer turned to fall with inevitable splendour.

*  *   *

Kulbir Shardesh, a fourth year engineering student from West Sutani, was the next victim. His skeleton was found sprawled near the pebbled shore of Lime Creek, one bony arm flung over his head, one knee raised, as if he were doing the backstroke. His ears were found in the riverbed.

Ng and Judd resumed work on the case until two sour-faced, dark-suited agents of the National Board of Investigation stepped in, flashed their copper shields and took over. With Shardesh's murder taking place over the border, the federal agency assumed jurisdiction. Ng and Judd were nonplussed, but accepted the situation with weary resignation; they'd been here before.

The NBI, despite their bottomless resources, fared no better than the detectives. The murderer had left no clues, save an odd track that led from the shore and into the water of Lime Creek, as though someone had dragged a cardboard box across the beach.

***
13 weeks later Amanda Chelleberg, a data analyst at Boggle, notified her supervisor about a series of strange images captured by a roaming Boggle Maps car photographing a street in Les Femmes, South Assiniboia. While it was remotely possible that the raw images streaming from the vehicle could have been intercepted and faked, the timelines and technical hurdles made it unlikely. Except, of course, that the images were impossible, for they depicted a panorama of horror: a series of images that seemed to show a disembodied ear, at least two meters tall, telekinetically sucking the organs from a screaming man.

Chelleberg's report was escalated to senior management, who dismissed it as a prank until a senior vice-president saw a news report about a baffling missing persons case - a case in which the woman in question, one Ellen Gordey, had last been seen in Foolton, a suburb of Les Femmes. That vice-president, beginning to doubt his own sanity, phoned his brother-in-law, Special Agent Pilatus Norm of the NBI.

Norm was in Chelleberg's cubicle at Boggle headquarters the next morning at precisely 8 a.m. Chelleberg gave Norm a copy of the raw images; Norm hopped on the first available commercial flight to Les Femmes and escorted them to the Board's field office there. That accomplished, he rented a car and drove to the coordinates provided by Boggle, joining a hastily-assembled NBI forensics team combing the street depicted in the images.

"Nothing at the point indicated in the Boggle images?" Norm asked the first agent in earshot, a wiry, curly-haired rookie named Jones. The younger man shook his head. "If we don't find something soon I'm going to call public works and have a couple of guys check out the sewer system. It's possible a street sweeper came by and blew all the evidence down the drain."

It was a good guess. Even before the public works crew arrived an NBI woman found an ear precariously balanced on a sewer grate. The remaining ear and a skeleton were quickly recovered from the drain.

"I think it's time to kick this case upstairs," mused Pilatus Norm. He phoned the NBI's Deputy Director, who in turn met with the Director herself, who then arranged a teleconference with the head of the Confederation Intelligence Apparatus. At the end of that strained, incredulous call, the CIA man reluctantly agreed with the NBI head that the whole affair had grown bizarre enough that it needed the Cabinet's attention.

In this manner, step by irrevocable step, was the final, awful confrontation assured.

***
Prime Minister Goodluck Shariphnaristan's features remained impassive throughout the entire briefing, held in his old-world office on Parliament Mountain. His silver wire-frame glasses perched at the tip of his long, aquiline nose, his blue eyes alert, his famously prominent ears cocked at attention. He asked no questions, made no interruptions, not even during the presentation's most ludicrous moments.

When the women from NBI wrapped up their briefing, the projector spinning down with a clanking whirr, the Prime Minister removed his glasses, cleaning the lenses with a handkerchief of purple silk.

"Ladies," he said politely, "What you have shown me is hard to believe. I am being asked to accept the existence of a giant bodiless ear, which strips the flesh from the bones of its victims. A crawling ear, like something from one of those blasticolour cheapies from the 1970s."

The NBI women shrugged apologetically like chastened twins. Goodluck sighed. "I suppose I must ask the Defence Ministry to locate and destroy this thing," he said. "A giant ear! Like a demon from our darkest dreams.”

“Or our nightmares,” one of the women said.

***
The Defence Minister, for her part, was apoplectic.

"I thought the point of mass surveillance was to detect threats and prevent murders," she shouted, slamming a small but rock-like fist down on her desk. "What are all the phone taps and webcrawlers and drones good for if they can't pick up on a giant ear that's sucking the flesh from the bones of our citizens? Mithral, it's like a bad horror movie," she muttered, slumping back in her fine leather chair, closing her eyes and sighing.

"Boys and their toys," barked Brigadier Admiral Peter Adair. "Sneaking around looking for imaginary terrorists while real threats bubble up from beyond. But don't you worry, Ma'am, we'll seek and destroy that thing."

Whirling overhead in the Stygian blackness soared the Confederation satellites, their inhuman, Cyclopean eyes peering down at the world below, searching tirelessly for the macabre quarry loaded into their memory crystals. In the end it was the aging Keystone-11 ARS (Army Reconnaissance Satellite) that spotted the Crawling Ear. It was early Tuesday morning when the thing was spotted shuffling through Mandlebra's eastern desert, on a beeline course for the vast Tetra Cruces resort city - home to eleven million citizens and twice that many tourists. No longer merely larger than a man, the ear had grown; it stood a full four stories tall. It had been feeding handsomely.

The Defence Ministry mobilized for Operation Silent Slaughter.

***
The threat of the Crawling Ear was so beyond human experience that caution demanded a significant array of forces be readied to defend Tetra Cruces, and so it was done; a wedge of troops, tanks, APCs and rocket launchers formed a defensive line around the eastern side of the city while attack helicopters soared through the skies. But in truth, no one expected anything other than a very short, very one-sided battle, for even now a B-69 fighter/bomber was winging its way to the city at Mach 4 with a heavy payload of laser-guided death ready to rain down on the macabre menace. Images of the Ear's slow advance were broadcast around the world courtesy of uPhoni videos and GoProbe HD cameras mounted on independent drones by curious onlookers too stubborn, crazy or anti-establishment to heed the chaotic Defence Control Zones established by a baffled military; many troops believed it to be an elaborate exercise in any case, and certainly not worth shooting civilians over. That kind of cavalier trigger discipline led to a lot of unpleasant paperwork, and sometimes even mild discipline.

So there was plentiful high-quality footage (sans sound) of that fateful moment when the B-69 unleashed its fat load of destruction, the bomb falling earthward with silent, eerie precision - so precise, in fact, that the bomb dove straight into the Ear's canal. And promptly vanished. The ear had swallowed the bomb whole, even though the bomb was too large to fit inside the ear without causing a noticeable bulge.

The seasoned B-69 pilot responded expertly, putting his plane into position for a strafing run. Streaking toward the target at supersonic speed just ten meters above the scrub, sending tumbleweeds flying, the pilot's thumb hovered over the guns trigger, ready to spurt a lethal cloud of high-velocity rounds into the Crawling Ear.

But an instant before he could fire, the Crawling Ear squirted a thick, heavy stream of wax from its loathsome canal. It was like flying into a wall of mud. The plane flattened itself against the wax, killing the pilot instantly and destroying a $400 million aircraft. Flaming debris littered the desert floor.

The ear crawled forward, its pace unaltered even when its massive lobe slowly but inexorably crushed vehicles and careless humans beneath it. A dozen MeTube celebrities died in the first moments of that terrible day, either squashed by the lobe or stripped of their flesh by the bottomless hunger of the ear’s mad lust for information. Skeletons and smashed corpses littered the famous Goldway Avenue as thousands of rounds of ammunition hammered the creature, the bullets either disappearing down the ear canal or ricocheting from its fleshy frame.

Worst of all was the awful silence. The anguished screams of the fallen and the determined roar of the rockets were equally impotent in the face of the ear’s all-consuming quiet fury; it swallowed all sound, turning the battlefield into a high-definition silent movie, a postmodern apocalypse; a revolution televised, but silently.

Second Lieutenant Frank Oberte charged into the cone of silence that marked the ear’s sphere of influence, valiantly spraying depleted uranium rounds from his GAK-77 urban pacifier. He had no warning when a Big Dumb Bomb (BDB) fell short of its target, exploding behind him. The silent shockwave propelled Oberte beyond the ear’s quiet zone, into one of the marble fountains that lined Gold Avenue. Oberte’s bones shattered as he slammed into an artfully carved fish spraying water from its puckered lips. The water quickly ran red.


Remorselessly, the ear crawled on, attack helicopters, tanks and jets scurrying around it like so many harmless gnats.