Archive for October, 2007

Scary movies you probably haven't seen that you should.

October 31, 2007 - 6:26 pm Comments Off

Session 9.

This one seems to be gaining a reputation, but it’s one of the few recent examples of a really solid psychological thriller. It’s set in an actual abandoned insane asylum, and the basic plot involves a small crew of hazardous materials workers assigned to clear the asbestos out of the abandoned nuthouse. With only one location and a limited cast, this is a killer atmospheric horror piece that relies on the characters involved, some very tight writing, and the setting to slowly wind the tension up to the screaming point. You do need to pay close attention for this one to make sense, though- there are no big reveals and it hands you nothing on a platter. Judging by reviews, this is a love-it-or-hate-it film. We love it.

Dead Alive

AKA Braindead. This is pretty much the opposite of Session 9. No complex psychology here, though there is a surprisingly sweet love story interspersed with the carnage. This is mostly notable for being a low-budget cult classic of a zombie where the director- Peter Jackson before he got famous- is clearly there almost purely to have fun. Zombie moves usually have some kind of political message and rely on an apocalypse scenario; there’s no apocalypse and no politics here, just a young man with an exponentially increasing number of problems in his life, starting with his mother disapproving of his girlfriend, continuing with his mother’s becoming a zombie, and culminating the house party from hell. There’s a kung fu priest. There’s a lawnmower. There’s a zombie baby. Not for the squeamish, as this movie has oceans of blood and gore, but if you’re a fan of zombie movies you’re probably not squeamish anyway. The only thing that makes it any less wonderful than Army of Darkness is the lack of Bruce Campbell.

Exorcist III

Stingray’s not as fond of this one as I am, but I consider it a must-watch. Don’t let the fact that it’s a sequel, or the fact that Exorcist II was epically bad, deter you. The author of the novel Exorcist was based on got almost complete creative control, and he made an almost totally different kind of movie with it- like Session 9, it’s mostly psychological thriller. It relies heavily on the out-of-the-park performances by George C. Scott and Brad Dourif- add in some creatively done scares that are much subtler than the ones used in Exorcist and you have a thoroughly watchable horror movie. I actually don’t like Exorcist very much, because many of the scares that were fresh and original then are tired tropes now. Alien held up pretty well despite the same phenomenon, but Exorcist really didn’t. Exorcist III was simply never well-known enough to be widely copied.

Tremors

Broke into the wrong god damn rec room, didn’t ya?!

I don’t know if there’s anyone in the gun-nut crowd that still hasn’t seen this movie, but they damn well should. I hesitate to put this under “scary movies”, because it’s really not all that scary, but it’s a wonderfully fun B monster movie. It’s also one of the very few where the over-the-top “crazy survivalist” is not only absolutely right and the only fully prepared character in the movie, but a sympathetic sort who helps his neighbors through the crisis. The other characters are charming enough, but Burt Gummer totally steals the show. It’s also one of the few “oh crap, trapped by monsters in an isolated setting” movies where once people realize what’s going on, they’re mostly pretty smart about it. The first sequel is worth checking out, too.

Haunted

This is another one that I think more of than Stingray does, but if he wants to complain he can do his own list. Most likely the reason I like it so much better is because ghost stories are a weakness of mine; if a movie is marginal but mostly ghost-driven, the odds are that I’ll end up more or less liking it and he’ll hate it. (He has a similar thing with monster movies, if you ask me.) This one isn’t marginal, but our respective preferences put it in his “pretty good” category and my “great”. It’s a lovely atmospheric period piece, set in 1920s England during the “spiritualist” craze. The main character is a psychology professor dispatched to the countryside to debunk someone’s ghost problem. The twist at the end is pretty good- you can spot it if you’re alert, but it neither forces itself into your awareness nor hides to the point where no viewer could have guessed what was going on. It also benefits from being an almost totally different movie the second time through; Sixth Sense is no longer interesting once you know what’s really going on, but if you ask me this one only becomes creepier. It also gets bonus points from me for a subversion of a trope that’s been particularly popular of late.

In The Mouth of Madness

This one did scare me the first time through, but I’ve liked it ever since because it’s essentially a love letter to horror fans from John Carpenter, one of the greats of the genre. It’s a solid story with a reasonable twist, it’s pretty, it’s got a great score, but mostly it’s references-a-go-go. It’s also got Sam Neill having a ball, a story that ultimately owes so much to Lovecraft it gives him a writer’s credit, and one of Charlton Heston’s last roles. We end up watching this one again at least once a year or so.

Event Horizon

This is another one that seems to be gaining some popularity over time, though at the time it was dismissed as either a Shining wannabe or an Alien wannabe. I suppose you could call it part 2 of Sam Neill goes to Hell in a sense, too. It’s a very nice blend of psychological thriller and special effects scare-a-thon, and the thing I like best about it is how GOOD the writers were at finding people’s phobias and giving them a hard twist without resorting to worn-out tropes. There are a few scenes in this one that I still have to watch through my fingers. It’s also one of those movies with many rewards for the careful and alert viewer- it doesn’t *require* you to be, like Session 9 does, but there are many cool extra touches that you’ll only see on multiple viewings.

Dead End

This is the only one on the list that we don’t have on our DVD shelf, because it scared the piss out of me at the time and I haven’t really felt the need to do it again. It takes one of horror’s more basic plots- family lost in the woods, increasingly horrible things happen to them- and executes it about as well as can possibly be done. There is a twist at the end, and I didn’t see it coming, probably because I was too distracted waiting for the movie to either kill ALL the characters and put everybody out of their misery or stop teasing. The family’s fear and panic and attempts to get out play out very realistically, and even though few of them are very likeable, their deaths hurt. The movie isn’t even an hour and a half long, but it feels much longer. Nothing was very special about it except the quality of the execution, even though the basic idea has been done to death. I suppose it might not be that scary, it might have just managed to push my own buttons well- I have no sense of direction and have been very lost very late at night as well- but it’s worth a go.

More later if I think of ‘em, and the odds are good that I will.

The worst part is I can't decide whether that's wish fulfillment or a nightmare.

October 31, 2007 - 8:27 am Comments Off

You know you’re a blog junkie when…

…You dream you’re throwing a Halloween party*, Glenn Reynolds passes by the front windows and decides he likes your pumpkin, and the next thing you know there are a hundred strangers in your living room demanding a cheese plate that doesn’t exist.

*This was the most implausible part of the whole dream.¬† The only circumstances under which we’d throw a party would be Martha Stewart kidnapping the dogs and threatening to make cunning little hat and mitten sets out of them unless we gave a gracious yet witty holiday offering.

Lighter Fare: The Nameless Recipe

October 30, 2007 - 7:10 pm Comments Off

Ok, that last post was a bit dense, and not of much interest to non-nerds. To lighten things up a bit, I’m going to join the unofficial recipe sharing meme that’s been going around of late. The catch is that this dish was created “for the first time” this past Sunday. It does not to my knowledge have a name.

I was too sore from the range cleanup day on Saturday to want to muck about with any heavy lifting, and possessed of an appetite, I wandered into the kitchen to see what I could find resembling edible. Coming up with nothing appealing, I decided to just whip out a knife and skillet and see what happened. Here’s the result:

4-5 strips thick cut bacon
1/2 a white onion
1 baking potato
4 eggs
shredded cheddar cheese

First, beat the four eggs with a shot of milk as for scrambled eggs. Set them aside for now. Next, chop the onion. Dice the bacon into roughly 1/4″ cubes. If you have a mandolin, using that on the potato would probably work out better than just slicing by hand. I wound up with roughly 1/8″-1/4″ slices (across, like for chips, not lengthwise), which didn’t work quite as well as I would’ve liked. More on this shortly. Get a heavy, preferably cast iron, oven-proof skillet up nice and hot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook just long enough to get it rendered a bit. Once you’ve got some grease in the skillet, add the onion. Turn the heat down to medium, and add a pinch of salt. This is more of a sweat than a saut√©. Once the onion starts to soften and get fragrant, spread the onion/bacon mix out evenly. Layer the potato slices over the top one slice deep. Don’t overlap too much, and just do one layer. Cover the bacon/onion entirely though. Leave this alone for about five minutes. Let the steam coming up off the onion start to cook the potato layer. After about two minutes, turn your oven on to 375F. After the five minutes are up, pour the eggs in. Slosh it around a bit for good even distribution, and chuck it in the oven. When the oven gets to 375F, set the timer for 7 minutes. You flatlanders will need to play with this portion; water boils at 193F here, so cooking time varies a bit from what y’all are used to. When the timer goes off, spread the shredded cheese over the top in an even layer, just enough to cover things nicely. Give it another five minutes or so on the timer, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Pull it out and serve. LabRat thinks some sour cream would go well with it, which we’ll try next time I whip up a batch. At this altitude/time/temperature combination, the potatos didn’t quite cook all the way through, but down where there’s air you may not have this trouble with thicker spud slices, so tweak as necessary to get them the way you like.

Now here’s the lighter part: This recipe needs a name. The last time I had an “original” creation, it wound up being called “Cram Hole Chicken” after trying to come up with something else and a frustrated outburst of “It goes in the cram hole! It’s cram hole chicken!”. Odds are this artery-clogger I just described is nothing new, and probably floating around in some cookbook I haven’t read yet. If you’ve seen this recipe before, an actual name would be cool. Failing that, it’s contest time. Whoever comes up with the best name for this dish, defined as whichever one LabRat and I choose through our highly scientific process of whatever makes us laugh/cry/hear angelic choirs the most will get one (1) batch of my hot cocoa mix, which I almost wound up in a contract to provide to our cigar club for resale. Ready? GO!

I will have SILENCE! …and maybe some gurgling

October 30, 2007 - 1:49 pm Comments Off

Since I’ve been a bit light on ideas for my own contributions ’round here of late, I’m going to spend a little time boring most of you to tears. Here’s your fair warning: If you don’t care about what goes on under the hood of your computer, now would be a good time to peruse some of the excellent talent available over on the right in the blogroll. Otherwise, hit the link and buckle up.
(more…)

Matt's Cornbread

October 29, 2007 - 10:55 am Comments Off

It doesn’t need to be complicated, but discovering you’re out of baking soda in the middle of making it tends to throw a wrench in the works. Overall verdict: Damn Tasty. LabRat liked it enough that I’ll get to make it more often, which pleases me to no end. I might tinker around with about a teaspoon or two worth of sugar, but only in the dark of night away from the windows. I don’t want the cornbread purists to catch wind and fly through the internet to punch me in the throat. ;)

That is not sexy!

October 28, 2007 - 8:29 pm Comments Off

The previews for Love in the Time of Cholera are starting to show up on TV. It looks absolutely stunning. Gorgeous people who are actually attractive in that timeless way rather than the weird modern way Hollywood favors, gorgeous sets, gorgeous period dress. Despite all that, I kind of doubt I would have wanted to see it anyway; love stories bore me, as they tend to rely on people being stupid in highly specific and predictable ways.

But, I have another issue with it. See, when I was a kid I was a lonely bookworm of an only child who didn’t have a whole lot of friends to play with and spent most of her free time reading. I was often out of things I hadn’t read several times already, so I’d break into my parents’ collections and see if I could find anything interesting. Since my father was a doctor and spent some time in the Indian Health Services, I found his copy of Where There Is No Doctor, a guide intended for physicians and aid workers in the third world. Cholera and how to cope with it was extensively covered. Cholera has kind of a neat, exotic ring to it as a word, but as a disease it’s one of the most humiliating and revolting ones out there; it kills by basically destroying your ability to retain any water in your intestines, and turns you into what amounts to a biological tube where water goes in one end and comes out the other, more or less without stopping on the way through. The dehydration is very quick and severe and can be very swiftly fatal. One piece of advice the book had for handling cholera was suggesting the construction of a cholera bed, which is basically a rubber sheet with a sort of sleeve in the middle that goes down to a bucket. The bucket must be emptied often. It helps to keep the, ah, infective material from spreading everywhere- you can empty the bucket somewhere relatively safe where it won’t re-infect the local water supply, which would keep the epidemic going more or less indefinitely otherwise.

I look at the title of the movie and INSTANTLY think of the cholera bed. I’m pretty sure I would NOT be able to look any steamy bedroom scenes without a pretty awful mental train wreck.

Faith, values, and logic

October 28, 2007 - 5:45 pm Comments Off

I get on surprisingly well with those traditionalist Christians that aren’t completely insane, for an agnostic* whose major intellectual passion is evolutionary biology. So long as they can refrain from ignoring or abusing me because I’m “hellbound” (violating some of the strongest instructions of their own religion in the process), we can generally get on in a friendly manner when the topic of discussion is not religion, and civilly when it is. I long ago got over that phase where I was tempted to treat them as badly as I would have complained about being treated, and still regard it as an embarrassing one I’m glad was over as fast as it was. It was actually 9/11 that did it- I realized that there were REAL religious lunatics in the world and I really shouldn’t be so concerned about the ones that wished me no violence, just rhetoric.

My extended family is pretty evenly split between atheist/agnostics and devout Christians, mainly Methodists. We don’t fight about religion, and to my memory we never have. (Which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but never to me.) We don’t because even though our faiths differ drastically, we all share the same values- most crucially, the sense that one has a bit of a family obligation to listen for at least a little while if the speaker is being polite, and that one also has a family obligation to limit lecturing. Consequently, I got a few mild speeches from my grandmother about her own faith, which I listened to attentively because she was my grandmother, and that was pretty much the end of it. Most of us love to debate, so there have been a few more jocular sparring matches, but there’s no shunned family members or mockery, even behind backs- that I’m aware of. In the end, we all believe in respect, honesty, responsibility, good humor, and so many other things in common that the question of our technical beliefs regarding the existence and nature of a deity seem not to matter all that much. This phenomenon was what led to one of my Captain Obvious moments and the shedding of one of my stupider beliefs from my more militant days- we DO live in a very much Judeo-Christian society, because a big chunk of American values were formed from religious thought- for a long time in Europe the clergy and the educated class was one in the same. Even the Enlightenment was led by thinkers and philosophers with a religious background.

Given that, and that societies really do run quite well on basic Judeo-Christian value systems, when arguing with the devout I’ve quite often run into the argument that it’s an argument for faith because those value systems DO work well and because they’ve historically worked well for Western civilization. There’s only one problem with that: faith cannot work that way.

When you start with the proposition “The Bible is the revealed word of God”, it’s completely logically sound to follow with “therefore, trying your best to live by its tenets will produce the greatest good and happiness”. It’s an if-then that no one would argue with. But it doesn’t work both ways; starting from “the Biblical values tend to work well for individuals and societies”, it does NOT logically follow that “therefore the Bible is the revealed word of God”. A far more likely conclusion would be “the religion has been so successful and long-lasting because its actual instructions for daily life are based on sound observations of human nature”, which need not necessarily be Divine in origin. Anyone willing to watch people for awhile can start to see common mindsets and mistakes that tend to lead to long-term misery for short-term gain.

The very definition of faith involves that it not be arrived at logically. It is accepting God for what He (she, or, it) claims to be and accepting that whole-heartedly. Some say that this is evidence that religion is bullshit, but I don’t; if there is a God, what we think about the potential shadiness of not providing regular proof has absolutely no bearing on what that theoretical God would see as appropriate to ask of humanity. Just because something is circular doesn’t mean it’s wrong- I see morals and values as being important because they make civilization possible, and civilization as being a good thing to aim for because it gives us values to structure our lives with, which is pretty goddamn circular but also not, I think, wrong. However, the very nature of faith as it is presented to us means that it is not only impossible, but also theoretically somewhat offensive to God as He is described to have “faith” for pragmatic reasons. For one, it wouldn’t be faith, and for two, it WOULD be dishonest- the Bible has some sharp things to say about dishonesty. Ironically, therefore, I get opted out of Christianity because I’ve deeply embraced one of its core values: honesty with myself and others. I don’t believe that God chose to wash away “original sin” via the blood sacrifice and resurrection of a son in human form. I can’t. Maybe that’s my loss, maybe that’s my realism, but that’s the way it is. It would actually make my life EASIER to “convert”; it wouldn’t require any major behavior changes because of that values thing, and it would gain me far greater social acceptance in American life in general- especially among the conservatives I tend to associate with most- but it would be a lie.

And now just because I’m starting to not be able to stand myself with all this serious high-minded crap, here’s a quick message to the folks that argue that we should post the ten commandments in public because “they apply to everybody”: only about half of them do, you arrogant morons. The rest of them are of ABSOLUTELY NO RELEVANCE to secular life unless your actual agenda is to make it less secular. Know what the first four** are? Look it up. Now try and tell me with a straight face that the only reason people disagree with this idea is opposition to acknowledging religion at all.

*Agnostic in the T.H. Huxley sense, which boils down to “not enough data for me to form a solid conclusion”, not “gosh, I just dunno”.

**It depends on the religion and the sect. However, in all versions the first four are exclusively theological commands.

Who knew?

October 27, 2007 - 1:11 pm Comments Off

As it turns out, the wandering albatross really is just wandering. It’s butt-lost, or at the least it has no destination in mind. Plus ten to metaphor score.

As a warning before you click, the picture they have up is… rather disturbing. I’m probably going to be seeing that damn bird in my dreams tonight. Between it and the one from yesterday, the Bleiman brothers seem to be celebrating Halloween with what the MST crew called “good old-fashioned nightmare fuel!”.

ETA: This seems to be Cool Science Saturday. There’s an awesome post over at Bioephemera with some compelling art, a few remarks on the relationship between curiosity and empathy, and a case of art imitating life… and also links to my next addition to the blogroll.

Cool beans.

I remember when

October 27, 2007 - 12:50 pm Comments Off

Neo-neocon has a post up about first memories. She relates hers, and asks for her readers to weigh in with theirs. I already have- if you have a clear idea what yours is, do me (and her, but around here it’s all about ME!) a favor and share yours.

I find this subject intensely interesting, mostly because I’ve always been very curious about what the inside of other people’s heads sound or feel like, ever since realizing that it must sometimes be drastically different from my own experience. For me, life is all about words and text; most of the time, I think in complete sentences. I sort through strong emotions or uncertainties by having what boils down to a rough-and-ready Socratic dialogue with myself. I can’t really calm down or deal with upsetting emotions unless I have the headspace to do that- and until I have, I might not even KNOW how I feel about something. (If I’m in touch with my feelings, it’s mainly by Pony Express.) This is one of those fundamental differences of internal experience that leads to me having a very tough time dealing with people who seem to lead with their emotions- I can only barely empathize with them, and usually have to work out what they must be thinking and why based on what they say and do rather than putting myself in their shoes.

I’m a bit strange as a learner, as well. If I read something or write it down, my recall is excellent- I don’t have an eidetic memory, but it can be pretty close if I’m truly interested. I can easily multitask with reading, and that’s normal for me; right now I’ve got three open tabs on my browser because I’m writing something- normally it’s four or more and I keep bouncing back and forth between them reading different things. Unless the show or movie is tremendously gripping, I’ve usually got a book in my lap when I’m watching TV. It’s totally different with things I hear; if I’m reading something and you’re talking to me, unless something you say dings an internal alarm (“The dog is on fire!”), you probably might as well be talking to yourself. I might track slightly with the conversation, and even respond appropriately, but I won’t remember a damn thing you say. Needless to say, this little quirk drives Stingray absolutely insane, since he can never predict whether or not I’ll remember something he said- whether it was trivial or important doesn’t matter, just whether I was actually giving him my full attention at the time, because that’s the only way I can remember anything I hear. I never, ever listen to talk radio in the car (or effectively at all), because the voices are so distracting it would actually make me a dangerous driver- either I’m giving it my total attention or it’s just dissonant cacaphony. I only have a few books on CD for the same reason- I can listen to them on a long trip if I’m the passenger, but if I were the driver it would be unworkable. Right now I’m listening to Nirvana as I type, because the background music helps me concentrate by blocking out other noises, and Kurt Cobain’s caterwauling is so garbled the lyrics don’t distract me. (Death metal and screaming punk are also ideal for this.)

I already went on extensively about my first memory, which was realizing I had learned how to read. I have always suspected that that IS my first memory specifically because of that- that I can’t remember anything before that because my thought processes became increasingly verbal after that, and basically left me without the ability to put earlier memories of sounds and images in context enough to make them snap into clarity as a memory. I do have earlier “memories”, but they’re just jumbles of noise and pictures; I have no idea what any of them actually *mean*.

In her post, Neo-neocon speculates that her first memory is what it is because it carried a strong emotional context that was the major theme of her early life. I know my first memory is also attached to that- to my first sensation of independence, or at least the possibility of independence. I hated being a kid not because my childhood was lousy, but because I deeply resented being short, awkward, stupid, and necessarily dependent on adults… so maybe that has something to do with it as well. Now I’m not sure.

It’s still a good memory, though.

Kee Riced All My Tea!

October 26, 2007 - 4:15 pm Comments Off

I think I finally figured out what LawDog is talking about when he mentions the activities of Kee and his tea.
tea.jpg

Bastard came by when we weren’t looking and added racing stripe… er, layers to our tea! Kee riced all my tea too! What’s next, giant prison-rape-victim looking mufflers on the teabags?