Stacked Decks

One of my dearest friends appeared in the pages of Playboy (not a centerfold) and related to me how much work it was to look like that. Hours of day spent working out, and otherwise engaged in self-maintenance, so that she could do the shoot and grace a couple of pages. (I said, “Hey, what about airbrushing?” and she assured me that whatever went on, it didn’t reduce the need to be absolutely devoted to appearance.)

So, I thought this Wired article was interesting, showing the growing disparity between Playboy centerfolds and average women. Now, it’s not a huge surprise. Breast implants mean you can be thin as a rail–which looks good in fashionable clothing–and still large-busted–which looks good everywhere else, except Parent-Teacher Night.

The article points out that the numbers are probably not true, and that they reflect more what the editorial staff thinks looks good, and I would tend to agree. First of all, there’s not that huge a difference between 50 years ago and today from what I can tell. The other thing is that the current Playmates (my friend graced the pages 20 years ago) I’d guess do a lot more lean muscle building so, if anything, their BMIs should be going up. (And since it’s by weight, implants would also increase BMI.)

What does trouble me, though, is the divergence in the two scales. A two point BMI difference is no big deal, which is where the scale starts. An eight point divergence, on the other hand, says something is screwy.

Pixar-palooza!

Recently, I ripped all our Pixar movies for convenient home-viewing, so they’ve been on heavy rotation along with Horton Hears A Who and Kung-Fu Panda. (Also “Duckman” which, inexplicably, The Flower loves.)

I told HelenParr (a commentor at Althouse) that I would do a review of all the movies (especially The Incredibles) that might spur Althouse to actually get over her CGI-phobia and see one. What strikes me, almost 15 years out, is that they’re all classics. I bet this year will mark the 10th film in what has to be the longest streak in cinematic history.

A Bug’s Life is often considered the weakest, but it’s not really weak, it’s just aimed at a slightly younger audience. And it has three consecutive climactic scenes: the bird scene, the uprising and the rain. It’s one of The Barbarienne’s favorites, along with Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. Also, Ratatouille. The Flower is growing out of the “watch the same thing over and over again” phase, so just as she’s starting to stop driving The Boy nuts by wanting to watch the new Scooby Doo movies over again, The Barbarienne is driving her nuts wanting to watch the same five movies over and over again.

Of course, all Pixar movies are pretty square, very earnest and not edgy, even when dark (like Finding Nemo). So can a hep cat like Althouse really dig them?

Wall of Flowers

The Flower is in her third season of basketball. She’s one of the coaches favorite players because she listens, which is sort of a characteristic of all my children: That is, they listen very well to people who are not their parents.

It’s interesting to watch the kids grow, both individually and as representatives of their age group. As five-year-olds, they tended to not be very aware, and passes were so dubious that they all learned it was safer to hold on to the ball than to throw it.

As seven-year-olds, they’re much more aware, so they’ve segregated out the better shooters and will tend to throw just to them. (There’s a little of boys-not-throwing-to-girls, too, even if the girls are very good shots.) They’ll also tend to revert to just running and shooting as the game wears on.

By the way, extensive observation of pre-schoolers reveals that they start segregating socially almost immediately. It’s actually sort of tragic.

Anyway, the Flower herself is not a very aggressive player. You may recall earlier seasons where she just refused to do anything she felt was rude. I’m not sure how much that still plays in her thinking, but she’s at a bit of a loss when the ball is under the net.

Her niche, curiously, is as a defensive player. One part of the game that has definitely registered with her is taking the ball from the opposing team. They play a softer version of the rules, where on a turnover, the newly possessing team is allowed to move the ball a little over halfway down the court before the defensive team can try to get it from them.

What happens, then, is that the Flower stands there on the line waiting for the ball carrier to come down. She becomes intention incarnate. She dogs the ball carrier relentlessly, and just destroys their momentum.

Pretty soon, the other team gets rattled just seeing her there. And, of course, her success in taking the ball away means she gets better and more confident at it.

Of course, I’m hoping she broadens her game a bit: A good passing team could basically work around her, and we’re only a year or two from that, I suspect.

Bitching About Remakes

The Ace of Spades crowd is bitching about a remake of Predator allegedly being done by Robert Rodriguez. Now, I don’t think Predator is that good a movie, myself. It gets by (heavily) on Arnold’s charisma, and let’s face it, Schwarzenegger ain’t no Erol Flynn. (I’m even an Arnold fan; I saw all those mediocre action flicks he made in the ‘80s in the theaters, except for Raw Deal.) The best movies–The Terminator series–he was in were ones which didn’t require a lot of acting on his part.

We’re not talking Citizen Kane or The Godfather or even Aliens or Terminator. Predator (coneptually) was done in 1980 in a movie starring Jack Palance, Cameron Mitchell and Martin Landau called Without Warning. (Larry Storch and David Caruso have a small part in it, too!) But the meat of the premise is, of course, a simple variant on Most Dangerous Game, and that movie wasn’t all that original in 1932.

But this leads into bitching about remakes, which I think is unwarranted. Hollywood doesn’t really do many remakes anymore like, say, Gaslight, which was done seven times between 1939 and 1947. Gaslight’s being remade again by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement), but it probably won’t be a strict remake. We don’t have all that much in common with people 60 years ago.

We do get many versions of classics, Shakespeare and Jane Austen (though not last year) and that sort of thing, but I don’t think that counts. Now, about half of the top 20 grossers last year were existing franchises, but I think that’s because, well, half of the top 20 grossers the previous year were existing franchises.

The Bat’leth Redeemed

Cracked has a reasonably funny list of the worst fictional weapons.

But some trek-fans around these parts took a little hard that #3 was the Klingon “bat’leth”, excoriated for having no reach (because it’s a two-handed weapon with the blade oriented horizontally to the holder, basically) and the fact that if you do actually point it at someone, the other end (which is also pointy) is aimed back at you.

Well, ha! Take that Cracked!

Who’s laughing now? Huh?

(Some guy living in his mom’s basement because he spent all his money on Trek-related paraphernalia, that’s who.)

Conspiracy Theory

Once again proving that I’m in some sort of ‘sphere zeitgeist, Victoria blogged about trutherism showing up on TV as I was mulling over a post on conspiracy theories.

I love a good conspiracy theory. But the quality of conspiracy theories of late has dropped tremendously. A conspiracy theory has to be either plausible or entertaining. Paddy Chayefsky’s Network for example, features a marvelously entertaining conspiracy.

My favorite conspiracy theory ever is probably that the NFL framed OJ for the murders in order to preempt the first televised in America World Cup. Now, that’s the fever dream of an above average madman. When you hear that, you wanna say, “Wow! Wait, what?”

Let’s examine the ne plus ultra of conspiracy theories: the JFK assassination. Why does this work so well? Well, for one thing, there’s no way to ever completely disprove it. Even if you pin down every fact to the official story, there’s no way to prove that the mafia, CIA, the KGB or whatever didn’t hire Oswald to do the job.

It makes JFK a heroic figure, too. In The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Bill Curtis ties in Kennedy’s assassination with the withdrawal of troops in Vietnam who, according to the show, were sent right back the first week LBJ was in power. The whole thing ties in nicely with the Vietnam conspiracy.

Other things that make the assassination good fodder:

  • There was lots of conflicting data on the ground. This is great because people who are not conspiracy theorists will be reinforcing your theories with utter conviction.
  • There was a lot of incompetence from official sources and incompetence can always be interpreted as “showing the strings”.
  • It was easy to marshal facts that sound impressive, even though they’re not true, because they involve things (like shooting a bolt action rifle, the reaction of a body when impacted by a bullet, etc.) people don’t have experience with.
  • There was a clear motive. There were many clear motives, in fact. The President always has an abundance of people who want him dead.
  • The conspiracy can be adjusted for size: You can shrink it down to Lee Harvey Oswald and one other person, or you can make it huge, as needed.
  • Bullets are essentially invisible when fired from a gun.

Let me emphasize that last point: The generally agreed upon fact about JFK is that he was killed, presumably by bullets but perhaps by alien death beams. You can’t see the bullet. Therefore, arguments about where any bullet comes from and whether or not it was, in fact, a bullet, may be entertained.

This is the main problem with 9/11 Truthers: Everyone saw the planes crash into the buildings. Eyewitnesses number in the thousands. The second plane was filmed crashing by maybe hundreds of people. So, most of these guys have to approach this from an angle of, “Oh, no, planes didn’t actually crash!” which is quite literally insane or that the planes did crash but weren’t responsible for the buildings falling.

Now, I confess here, I was pretty sure at one point that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor in advance. It was disabused of that notion when I realized I couldn’t think of a motive for him to hide his knowledge. The standard conspiracy theory has it that FDR wanted us in the war, on the right side. (It’s actually a significant point in the Frank Miller Batman comic The Dark Knight Returns: That even if FDR did know, was it still wrong?) But in 1941, a deflected Japanese attack would have been sufficient. There would have been no need for him to sacrifice the bulk of the Navy. (Note the government incompetence angle, too: Those ships should’ve been at sea.)

While it’s true that the Clinton years saw us ignoring a whole bunch of attacks, I think it’s safe to say that a single airplane crashing into a single WTC tower would have been sufficient to get us pissed off. In other words, we have no motive to explain the additional complexity required to justify a second plane or a bunch of explosives. Even if you take it from the angle of, say, the WTC owner just wanting insurance money, one plane would be enough.

9/11 conspiracy theories are worse than the bogus moon landing conspiracies. They both involve a huge amount of expense and complexity and simply massive numbers of people, but at least the moon landing/space program theories have all this anomalous space phenomena that (most of us not having been to space) do seem puzzling.

The 9/11 Truthers have instead constructed an elaborate explanation for the towers’ collapse which insults everyone who saw the planes hit.

Worse, they do so in the face of an actual conspiracy: Of anti-American hard-line Muslim terrorists who left massive paper trails, who had ties all over the world, who had many co-conspirators, and who had a boss willing to take credit for it.

On a lighter note, another dumb conspiracy making the rounds is the “Obama wasn’t born in America” theory. This requires us to believe that the State of Hawaii is hiding something (apparently in a many-decade anticipation of Obama’s eventual Presidential bid) and that there’s not a single Republican or Hillary supporter able to sneak that evidence out.

Really, it’s just not up to snuff.

I hope to see better in the future from everyone.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments for the lamest conspiracy theory of all: Trig Trutherism.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Doomsday

I haven’t done one of these in a while but Hoosier Daddy was waxing enthusiastic on the charms of Rhona Mitra (whom I only know as the hot next-door neighbor chick that Kevin Bacon rapes in The Hollow Man) so I thought I’d have it on when Cinemax showed it in high-def. In Doomsday, Mitra channels Milla Jovovich through Kate Beckinsale. (And she does it in a cast that includes Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell; those English can turn out a cast regardless of the movie, can’t they?)

The movie itself–well, as I’ve said before, there aren’t really a lot of “sound” post-apocalyptic thrillers. Even the best usually suffer from some logical fundamental flaw. In Doomsday, writer/director Neil Marshall–who also wrote the surprisingly cogent The Descent–doesn’t even try.

This is one where knowing the director set out to lift things directly from other films doesn’t really help. You keep recalling where you’ve seen what you’re seeing, and remembering how much more you enjoyed that other film. For a complete neophyte, that wouldn’t be the case, of course, but unless the viewer is totally swept up in fairly run-of-the-mill effects–maybe hasn’t seen any film ever made–the whole thing is a head-scratcher.

The plot is that there’s a virus outbreak in Scotland (reminiscent of the disease in Planet Terror) so England decides to wall it up (Escape from New York). A little girl is rescued at the last moment but loses an eye (a la Snake Plissken) which later is fitted with a remotely-controllable prosthetic (Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire). As a grownup, she is a super-duper fighting machine (Resident Evil) working for some sort of special forces group that needs her to go behind the wall to retrieve the Mad Doctor working on a cure (Escape from New York again; actually, unless otherwise noted, assume the plot point came from Escape from New York).

Behind the wall her highly unprofessional SWAT-like team (Aliens) is beset by gang members (The Warriors) who destroy their vehicles (Dawn of the Dead-remake style) and the gang members even eat one of the crew (A Boy and His Dog). Escaping from these guys on a train (another Harry Potter reference?) they find themselves in a newly reconstructed medieval Scotland (Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness) where Mitra must fight a gladiator (Gladiator) before they can escape with the goods.

Malcolm McDowell plays a Colonel Kurtz-type character (Apocalypse Now) and the whole thing climaxes with a chase scene straight out of Road Warrior. The ending is a reasonable transposition of Escape From New York with Mitra betraying her ostensible bosses and then, inexplicably, becoming queen of the punk gang who tried to kill her? I think that’s what that last scene was about but I wouldn’t swear to it. It was very Escape, too, though, reminding of the “boxing” scene where Snake Plissken kills the big guy to everyone’s approval.

I just didn’t give a damn.

You could say, cruelly but not unfairly, that this film swam in cinematic greatness and never got wet. For all the budget, acting and fetching costumery, it comes off like any of 500 low-budget movies made after Road Warrior.

But since our topic is post-apocalyptical fun, we should look at how ridiculously constructed the apocalypse part was. One nice touch is that it’s just Scotland and the wall that fences it in is right where Hadrian’s Wall was.

OK, quarantining is fine. Logical even. Most of the movie takes place 20 years later, when nobody with the disease is left alive. The entire population is immune. Yet the plan is to send someone in to get the guy who may have found a cure. Though, really, why would anyone assume that? Diseases peter out without human intervention all the time. And what possible system could a guy cut off from all support develop to inoculate people? Scotland’s under surveillance the whole time, how bad could their intel be?

Given that all of Scotland’s immune, why keep up the wall at all? Especially after the disease turns up in England?

“Well, it’s there. And we had a divil of a time putting it up, so there it stays!”

The first thing they show us when we’re in the newly recovered Scotland is a veritable horde of cattle. So whither cannibalism?

And why, with plenty of food around, and the legendary resourcefulness of the Scots, do these post-punks just hang around waiting for someone to come through the gate to terrorize and kill them? Especially given that it had never happened before (or at least not very often)?

How do they keep their S&M gear so neat and shiny?

Where’d the cars come from? And if they had them, and gas, why not use them? And can you really unbox a 20 year old Bentley and have it run like it was fresh off the line? (If so, I suppose that would explain the expense.)

I can sort of see why there wouldn’t be any old folks among the punks, but where were the children?

Why does everything explode when a car hits it? Are they storing boxes of explosives everywhere? Why?

Is movie violence really more entertaining when you show everything getting reduced to a bloody pulp?

Why is it that there always seemed to be plenty of whatever technology that was needed around but nobody had bothered to try to turn that into a sustainable lifestyle? Why, if they were dealing with a limited supply, was use not strictly rationed and substitutes found?

Obviously, I’m overthinking this: The movie never rises above “ooh, look at the pretty explosions” and it was clearly never meant to. It was meant to be “outrageous” in the director’s own words.

But you have a problem when you can’t even be bothered to give us some characterizations that we care about. Even the Resident Evil movies (which you borrowed so heavily from) manage to do that. And you can’t blame it on the actors.

Note that this all could’ve been done with a more plausible storyline and it would have worked–well, it would’ve worked better. Or it could’ve been done completely outrageously, a la Shoot ‘em Up. Then it would’ve been funny, at least.

It seems instead like, on the one hand, they were going for an honest homage (like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark) while on the other they wanted to show they were too smart to be sincere about this stuff.

Until next time, mutants: Stay radiated!