Archive for August, 2012

My take on…Robot & Frank

August 29, 2012

My take on…Robot & Frank

Science fiction doesn’t always have to be about the differences between our world and the world created.

Robot & Frank is much more about relationships that are just the way they are today than about the technological speculations in the movie.

In fact, there really aren’t many things that the characters encounter that you couldn’t see announced by a tech company in the next year or so.

MILD SPOILER ALERT

If you want the discovery of seeing these speculations yourself, you’ll want to skip this section. I”m not going to talk about the plot here, but I personally prefer to encounter things myself in a work of fiction, so I am warning you. There is a large video call monitor in the movie, and you answer the call by saying, “Hello”. That’s not as impressive as, say, a Kinect. ūüėČ We could certainly see that in a few years. The SmartPhones were largely transparent…which was cool. My favorite thing was that the license plates on the cars had gotten wider to¬†accommodate¬†more numbers. As to the featured robot, yes, the conversational capabilities are beyond what’s out there in the market now. I think we could hit that apparent level within five years, though. I was amused by how they had to fake the robot’s physical capabilities. ūüôā It went up a set of stairs with no hesitation. In the movie, we only see the top of the robot’s head in the shot. The robot also gets into a car with no problem…a considerable advance on actual robots today, and accomplished with a jump cut.

END MILD SPOILER

The acting in the movie was good. Frank Langella made us feel for Frank the character, without being flashy. I liked Susan Sarandon’s performance. Everyone did fine (Liv Tyler, James Marsden), but I did think Jeremy Strong was a stand-out. As the embodiment of the “new view”, Strong glides into a scene with the smoothness of a slug…I was¬†irresistibly¬†reminded of ¬†Jellybean the Snail from the Dick van Dyke episode, and that’s a good thing.

I love to be surprised by fiction, and while this isn’t a mind-bending plot, Christopher D. Ford’s script did manage it.

This isn’t my favorite movie ever,and the Peter Sarsgaard robot isn’t my favorite robot, but the movie is worth seeing. While at its heart, it’s about…well, heart, there is enough interesting thinking going on here to interest a geek.:) ¬†I particularly liked a scene that looked at how robots, designed to interact with human beings, might interact with each other…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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Jerry Nelson reported dead

August 25, 2012

Jerry Nelson reported dead

Jerry Nelson¬†had one of the most imitated voices on television…and it was, itself, an imitation.

You’ve probably done it yourself:

“One…ah, ha, ha, ha…two…ah, ha, ha, ha”

Yes, Jerry, an integral part of the Muppet team, was the voice of “Count von Count”.

You can see how that slow voice could trace a path to the laid back bassist Floyd Pepper in Dr. Teeth’s band, the Electric Mayhem.

However, Nelson also voiced young characters. I particularly remember Robin the Frog in the Muppet version of the Frog Prince (“The call me Sir Robin, the Brave…”). The legions of Fraggle Rock fans, though, may first think of Gobo, a chance for Jerry Nelson to really take the lead.

Oh, and we can’t forget Snuffleupagus!

While there were a number of Muppet voices, oddly, one of the few face (onscreen) acting jobs for Jerry Nelson was in Robocop 2.

Good-bye, Jerry Nelson…childhood won’t sound the same without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

Phyllis Diller reported dead

August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller reported dead

There was nobody else like Phyllis Diller.

She first became famous as a stand-up comedian, at a time when it was an almost exclusively male club. Her routines about her husband “Fang” and her distinctive delivery (and hearty laugh) made her a favorite of television talk shows and as a guest on game shows. She appeared many times with Bob Hope. Her public persona was even parodied on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

Diller boldly used self-deprecating humor, making fun of herself, her looks, and later, her plastic surgery.

Even at the height of her career, she was doing voicework (for some actors, that comes later).  There was no mistaking her voice.

Geek credits include:

  • The Fat Spy (with Sheldon Leonard, Jayne Mansfield, and a fountain of youth plot)
  • Batman (the Adam West series…a cameo)
  • Mad Monster Party (a Rankin/Bass stop motion movie…she was Frankenstein’s monster’s bride)
  • The Adding Machine (one of those 1960s “computers taking over” comedies)
  • Get Smart (she plays Max in disguise)
  • Rod Serling’s Night Gallery
  • Uncle Croc’s Block (Charles Nelson Reilly series parodying kids’ shows)
  • Tales from the Darkside
  • Alice through the Looking Glass (1987 TV animation…with Mr. T as the Jabberwock)
  • Doctor Hackenstein
  • Happily Ever After (1990 animation…she played Mother Nature)
  • The Nutcracker Prince
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers
  • The Boneyard
  • Dream On
  • The Silence of the Hams
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Animaniacs
  • A Bug’s Life (as the queen)
  • The Wild Thornberrys
  • Hey Arnold!
  • The Nuttiest Nutcracker
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (as Grandma Neutron)
  • The Powerpuff Girls
  • The Book of Daniel (TV series)
  • Robot Chicken (as Mrs. Claus)
  • Family Guy

Good-bye, Phyllis Diller….the world is less wacky (and less brave) without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

Tony Scott reported dead

August 20, 2012

Tony Scott reported dead

When I think of Tony Scott, I’d say that the first thing that comes to mind is the 1983 vampire movie, The Hunger. Scott directed David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, and the stylish film was a milestone in the idea of attractive, contemporary vampires.

Next, I suppose, is Top Gun…no question, the Tony Scott-directed fighter pilot movie has had a large public culture impact.

My third would be NUMB3RS, the TV series with the math geek helping the FBI in investigations. That’s a place where you might have been used to seeing the Scott Free Productions logo (a company in which Tony Scott was involved with ¬†his brother, Ridley Scott).

Other geek credits include

  • Enemy of the State (director)
  • Deja Vu (directed Denzel Washington in a time travel movie)
  • The Andromeda Strain (2008 miniseries: executive producer)
  • The A-Team (big screen remake: producer)
  • The Grey (executive producer)
  • Prometheus (producer…he was working on the sequel)
  • Call of Duty ELITE: Friday Night Fights
  • Coma (2012 TV remake: executive producer)
  • Ion (producer)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

William Windom reported dead

August 20, 2012

William Windom reported dead

William Windom brought a sincerity to characters who often seemed to realize just how crazy the world really is.

This is an actor who was firmly in the geek world. I think many readers will first think of him as Commodore Decker in the original Star Trek episode, The Doomsday Machine (which he would reprise in the fan series, Star Trek New Voyages, nearly forty years later).

Others may remember My World and Welcome to It, the James Thurber-inspired series that mixed animation with live action (for which Windom won an Emmy).

That barely scratches the surface of a career that lasted more than half a century and included many geek classics:

  • Lights Out
  • Thriller
  • The original Twilight Zone (two episodes)
  • The Wild Wild West
  • The Invaders
  • The Mephisto Waltz
  • Escape from the Planet of the Apes (playing the President)
  • Rod Serling’s Night Gallery
  • Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (one of Disney’s Medfield College comedies with Kurt Russell as Dexter Riley)
  • Circle of Fear
  • Mission:Impossible
  • The Delphi Bureau
  • The Girl with Something Extra (the Sally Field ESP comedy series)
  • The Day the Earth Moved
  • The Bionic Woman
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Fantasy Island
  • The Greatest American Hero
  • The A-Team
  • The Tom Swift and Linda Craig Mystery Hour
  • Automan
  • Highway to Heaven
  • The Jetsons (the revival series in the 1980s)
  • Airwolf
  • Knight Rider
  • Space Rage (a space Western)
  • Sky Commanders (Donald F. Glut wrote for this animated series)
  • Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
  • Funland
  • Batman: The Animated Series
  • Goof Troop
  • Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman
  • Miracle on 34th Street (the Richard Attenborough version)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (as Uncle Chuck)
  • Children of the Corn: the Gathering
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • Fugitive X: Innocent Target
  • Raising Dead

William Windom also appeared in many more mainstream productions, notably as the prosecutor in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Good-bye, William Windom…the world is a little less aware of itself without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

Indieployment, or, are programmers the new Morlocks?

August 18, 2012

Indieployment, or, are programmers the new Morlocks?

There is a long tradition in science fiction of stratified societies in which (sometimes a literal) underclass labors in darkness to enable an upper class to live a life of leisure and creativity.

Whether they are the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’¬†The Time Machine, the Troglytes of Star Trek’s The Cloud Minders, the District dwellers in The Hunger Games ¬†trilogy, or the workers in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, they are a socially despised (or even ignored) substratum that works long hours in relative isolation, using skills that the upper class doesn’t have or want, and eating non-nutritious foods just to keep going.

You know, like programmers. ūüėČ

On the other hand, those in the sunshine in these stories are free to pursue intellectual pursuits: to write music; to discuss ideas; and sometimes to engage in snarky commentary on the works of others.

The top tier is often unaware of the disparity…they enjoy the freedom without a real awareness of what is making it possible.

Have we reached that point?

In another variation on this, it is computers, or robots, or some other magic ūüėČ that relieves people from day to day¬†responsibilities¬†and enables the creativity.

I’ve been thinking about this recently when I hear about the stubborn unemployment numbers.

Amazon loves to tell us about people who are making a living as authors through independent publishing who weren’t doing it before.

Hasn’t technology and the work of those programorlocks enabled them to live by being creative?

It’s not just authors: it’s musicians and app developers and videographers. It’s people who make little craft items and sell them on eBay.

It’s people who get advertising fees from Amazon and others for writing about ideas (and yes, items) and linking to the websites.

Is it possible that there are enough people making money as independents that it is inflating the unemployment rate? That might be especially true if those people were not reporting the income.

Could the “indieployment” rate be a hidden factor? If so, it’s not going to change easily…and in fact, it might grow. The internet has made it possible for people to make a living by being creative in a way that we never had before. Some companies, like eBay and Amazon, have recognized this, and made a lot of money on it.

Are we living in the clouds (or the Cloud) without knowing we’ve gotten to that “life of the mind” that used to be science fiction?

Feel free to let me know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

Ron Palillo reported dead

August 14, 2012

Ron Palillo reported dead

Ron Palillo¬†will be forever known as Arnold Horshack, one of the “Sweathogs” (along with John Travolta) on Welcome Back, Kotter.

While all of the Sweathogs were unique, Arnold was the only one who was really excited about the class: “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Mr. Kot-air!” Ron Palillo’s performance was hilarious, but there was also a real vulnerability that made you like Arnold…even if you couldn’t stand the guy.

Palillo followed Kotter’s success with both on-screen and voice work, the latter bringing the actor into the world of Superman…and playing a Rubik’s Cube.

Geek credits include:

  • Sgt. Squealy on Laverne & Shirley in the Army (it was a cartoon, and they reported to a pig…voiced by Ron)
  • Rubik, the Amazing Cube
  • The Tempest
  • The Invisible Woman (with Bob Denver and Harvey Korman)
  • The Pound Puppies (Scrounger)
  • Little Clowns of Happytown
  • Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
  • Superman (the 1988 cartoon series with Beau Weaver)
  • Snake Eater (with Lorenzo Lamas: Palillo was Torchy in both movies in the series)
  • Hellgate
  • Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone
  • Darkwing Duck
  • Trees 2: The Root of All Evil
  • The Curse of Micah Rood
  • The Guardians (a 2010 superhero comedy)
  • It’s a Dog Gone Tail: Destiny’s Stand (with Barry Bostwick)

Good-bye, Ron Palillo…the world is a little less enthusiastic without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

Carlo Rambaldi reported dead

August 13, 2012

Carlo Rambaldi reported dead

Carlo Rambaldi turned fantasies into realities.

Not just images on a screen, but physical, mechanical, touchable things.

Rambaldi won Oscars for both E.T. and Alien (remember the scene with the jaw sliding forward?). Rambaldi also got a special achievement Oscar for the Jeff Bridges version of King Kong (which would not be without controversy in the special effects community).

Rambaldi’s work was good enough that he would be required to demonstrate that his effects were just that in court…to disprove charges of animal cruelty in the making of Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

Geek credits include:

  • Sigfrido (created the dragon for this Italian version of Siegfried)
  • Perseo l’invincibile (Perseus the Invincible, Medusa versus the Son of Hercules)
  • Planet of the Vampires
  • Bloody Pit of Horror
  • The Witch in Love (Aura)
  • Twitch of the Death Nerve
  • Night of the Devils
  • Frankenstein 80
  • Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
  • Andy Warhol’s Dracula
  • The Hand that Feeds the Dead (with Klaus Kinski)
  • Lover of the Monster
  • Deep Red
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the aliens)
  • The Hand
  • Possession
  • Conan the Destroyer (Dagoth)
  • Dune (sand worms)
  • Silver Bullet (werewolf)
  • King Kong Lives
  • Cameron’s Closet
  • Primal Rage

Good-bye, Carlo Rambaldi…the world is emptier without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

My take on The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises

August 9, 2012

My take on The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises

During the Silver Age of comics, most readers were either DC fans or Marvel fans.

The division was pretty simple, at least in the beginning. DC heroes were very different from regular people, typically with different motivations. Marvel heroes (especially Spider-Man and the X-Men) were regular people (you know, outside of the super-powers)…they had to pay the rent, maintain relationships, buy groceries, that kind of thing.

At the time, I preferred DC: I didn’t want my superheroes to have acne. ūüôā

That’s part of why it’s so interesting to look at the latest blockbusters from Marvel and DC.

Sure, Peter Parker is angsty in The Amazing Spider-Man…but it’s a very accessible movie. It isn’t hard to watch…that’s more like the Silver Age DC heroes.

On the other hand, Batman, in The Dark Knight Rises, is anything but easy. It’s part of what I haven’t liked about Christian Bale’s interpretation. I was telling people that I wouldn’t want a ten-year old to watch the last movie, The Dark Knight, because I wouldn’t want them to be afraid of Batman for the rest of their lives. ūüėČ

No question: The Dark Knight Rises is an infinitely more complex movie. My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and that didn’t happen once for me in The Amazing Spider-Man. The Dark Knight Rises did surprise me, and more than once.

That said, The Amazing Spider-Man was entertaining. I would have loved to have seen more from the characters, which is not the fault of the actors. I think Emma Stone is magic, and I could watch Stone in anything. However, I think Emma made a conscious choice to play Gwen Stacy as a “typical high school girl”. In the script, this is a much more complex character…child of a police captain, in a leadership position in a science intern program…and dating Spider-Man. It felt to me like there was a lot more opportunity, but director Marc Webb seemed to want to keep everything in a certain emotional stratum.

I was concerned about the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. For me, one of the core elements is that Catwoman likes to see people suffer…not just likes it, but enjoys it. It’s like the idea of the cat and mouse game…playing with your victim. I thought, “If Hathaway can give me that vibe, I’ll really be impressed with the acting…because I’ve never seen that from Hathaway in interviews or roles.” Well, it didn’t happen. Julie Newmar is the gold standard for me…people talk about how Newmar looked, but you can see how delicious pain is, and how social standards are only there to be manipulated.

The Dark Knight Rises will stay with you. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a great performance, and there are surreal scenes of social commentary. It’s a full seven course meal. The Amazing Spider-Man is like a dish of ice cream…you love it at the time, it’s satisfying…but you aren’t really thinking about it the next day.

While The Dark Knight Rises hits higher heights, it also had more rough spots for me than the Amazing Spider-Man.

Bottom line: I liked both movies. The Dark Knight Rises is much more ambitious, and deserves credit for that. It will get more critical praise, and probably more recognition in awards season. ¬†The Amazing Spider-Man, though, delivered on all of its goals…and fun counts. ūüôā

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

“You Americans have such a simple view of…”

August 4, 2012

“You Americans have such a simple view of the world. You think that everything can be seen and touched and weighed and measured. You think you’ve discovered reality…but you don’t even know what it is.”
Mora (played by Linda Lawson)
Night Tide
screenplay by Curtis Harrington

I‚Äôve been working, from time to time, on a book of quotations for many years.¬† I call it, ‚ÄúThe Mind Boggles‚ÄĚ, from one of my favorite quotations.¬† I do source quotations a bit differently from a lot of people.¬† In the case of a work of a fiction, I consider that the character said the line‚Ķnot the author.¬† As a bit of an author myself (in a minor way), I can tell you‚Ķmy characters definitely say things that I would never say.¬† These are all quotations that I‚Äôve collected myself: I‚Äôve read the book, seen the TV episode, and so on.

Hope you enjoy them!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.


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