Friday, August 27, 2010

Son of Atomic Spud: Celebrity Look-Alike

It's a common game to guess what parent or family member a new baby looks like. Well, I didn't really see either myself or my wife in Son of Atomic Spud (SoAS), but I thought I saw a slight resemblance to late actor Peter Lorre.

I realize it's not the most flattering of comparisons.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

10 Favorite Movies: 1980 to 1989

1. Atomic Cafe (1982)
Stock footage, civil defense films, and era-specific music combine in this Cold War documentary. The filmakers get their message across without any modern narration or footage. Their point is that the nuclear standoff between the super powers was an act of insanity and that the preparations made by the civilian population (e.g., backyard bomb shelters, "duck and cover" drills) were absurd and self-delusional.

Memorable Scene
The simulated nuclear attack at the end makes for a great climax. And the notion purveyed by one civil defense film that one can simply 'clean up the broken glass' and 'wait for instructions from the authorities' after the nearby detonation of an atomic bomb (while completely ignoring the inevitable radioactive fallout) is hilarious.

2. Ghostbusters II (1989)
The sequel to 1984's Ghostbusters is not quite as popular as the original, but I've always liked it more. Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston take on the vengeful spirit of the evil Carpathian Vigo, who's trapped in a painting at the art museum where Dana Barrett is employed. Once again supernatural forces are picking on Dana, although this time Vigo wants to reincarnate himself through Dana's son.

Memorable Scene
Since Vigo is linked with a pink ectopasmic slime that reacts to human emotions, the Ghostbusters weaken Vigo by invoking positive emotions in their fellow New Yorkers. This is done by hosing the interior of the Statue of Liberty with positively-charged slime and parading her through the streets of Manhattan.

3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Once again Indiana Jones is in a race against the Nazis in the search for a legendary artifact; i.e, the Holy Grail. It seems that the Grail can grant eternal life; a power that Hitler wants for himself. This time Indy's estranged father, Henry, an expert in the Grail legend, is along for the ride.

Memorable Scene
Indy and Henry fight Nazi thugs inside and on top of a tank rolling inexorably towards the edge of a canyon. The scene is reminiscent of the truck chase in the first Indiana Jones movie.

4. Innerspace (1987)
When an experiment in miniaturization is interrupted by an armed attack from overly-aggressive competitors, a minaturized submarine and its pilot end up unexpectedly injected into a hypochondriac. After the pilot establishes contact with his unwitting host, the two must work together to get the submarine out of the host's body and returned to its proper size before the ship's oxygen supply runs out. However, they must do this while avoiding those who want the miniaturization technology for nefarious purposes.

Memorable Scene
The pilot, unaware of the attack and believing he's been injected into a rabbit, starts attaching devices to allow himself to hear through the host's ears and see through his eyes. At best these devices are annoying and at worst they're extremely painful. After suffering through this process, the pilot then starts talking to the host through the devices. The host (played by Martin Short) thinks he's been possessed.

5. The Monster Squad (1987)
The only thing standing between Dracula and world-domination is an amulet of concentrated good. However, the amulet can be destroyed during a limited period of time that occurs every hundred years. In preparation, Dracula gathers his allies (which all seem to come from classic horror films made by Universal): his brides, a werewolf, a mummy, a gill-man, and Frankenstein's monster. The forces of good, on the other hand, are represented by a small group of pre-teen monster movie fans. The odds shift slightly towards their favor when Frankenstein's monster, who was never really evil in the first place, changes his allegience.

Memorable Scene
With their knowledge of the monsters' various weakness, and Frankenstein's creation on their side, the kids must delay Dracula and his minions while trying to use the amulet to trap Dracula in Limbo. I'm particularly fond of the extraordinary gill-man costume and wish that it had gotten more screen time.

6. Poltergeist 1982
I didn't see this movie until more than 25 years after it was released. This is a good thing, since I wouldn't have slept for days had I seen this when I was young. The haunting of the house starts with small, almost entertaining manifestations, many of which focus around a young girl. These gradually worsen until the girl is trapped in an otherworldly dimension by a demon known simply as "the Beast". Of course, this situation is unacceptable to Mom and Dad, who are willing to do anything to save their daughter.

Memorable Scene
There are two scenes that stick out in my mind. One is the erruption of coffins filled with rotting corpses during the Beast's final show of power. The other involves a possesed clown doll. The clown scene is definitely the scarier of the two.

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
This just might be my favorite move of all time. Archaeology professor and adventurer Indiana Jones races against the Nazis to find the lost Ark of the Covenant. Legend has it that any army that carries the Ark before it is invincible; it would be unfortunate if it were Hitler's armies that possessed it.

Memorable Scene
Although technically three separate scenes, they're so close together that they feel like one continuous sequence. I'm talking about the escape from the Well of Souls/airplane fight/truck chase scene. Taken as a whole, this is my favorite action sequence of all time.

8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The genetically-enhanced dictator from the classic Star Trek episode Space Seed is back and wants revenge on Captain Kirk. Hijacking the starship Reliant, Khan engages the Enterprise in combat, steals the Genesis device (a scientific device which could be misused for destructive purposes), and generally makes Kirk's life difficult. The two starships eventually end up playing blind man's bluff in a nebula.

Memorable Scene
Spock's rescue of the Enterprise and his subsequent death scene.

9. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Probably the best of the Star Wars movies. Despite having lost the Death Star, the Empire has the Rebellion on the run. However, Darth Vader shows much more interest in capturing Luke Skywalker than defeating the Rebel Alliance. In the meantime, Luke begins Jedi training with Master Yoda on the remote planet Dagobah while Han Solo and Princess Leia try to rejoin the Alliance in the crippled Millennium Falcon. Han and Leia end up at Bespin where they become an unwilling part of Darth Vader's trap for Luke. Luke attempts to rescue them and ends up in a lightsaber duel with Vader. Far from wanting to kill him, it turns out that Vader wants Luke to join him in ruling the galaxy. After all, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father!

Memorable Scene
The duel between Vader and Luke is the highlight of the Star Wars saga. The dimly lit carbonite freezing chamber provides the perfect mood for the scene; often the two characters are seen only as silhouettes with glowing lightsabers. Vader goads Luke continuously, trying to convince him that only by using the Dark Side can Luke defeat Vader. The duel ends with one of the most memorable moments in movie history; i.e., the iconic "I am your father!" scene.

10. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
The Emperor arrives at the new Death Star to oversee its construction. In response, the Rebellion sends a strike team to the nearby moon of Endor to destroy the shield generator protecting the Death Star during its construction. In the meantime, a fleet of Alliance fighters and warships prepare to assault the battle station. Luke Skywalker, now a Jedi knight, surrenders to Imperial forces and is taken before the Emperor and Vader. As the Sith Lords attempt to turn Luke to the Dark Side, the strike force on Endor fights desperately to destroy the shield generator while the Rebellion fleet combats Imperial star destroyers and the Death Star itself.

Memorable Scene
Luke Skywalker gives into his anger when Vader goads him a bit too much. Luke regains his self control before it's too late and Vader gets the chance to redeem himself by saving his son from the Emperor's wrath.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

A few years ago, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers became one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels. I've since found another favorite in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I've mentioned this novel, and the fact that it prominently features Heinlein's own libertarian views, in a previous post.

By 2075 Luna (what most lunar citizens or "Loonies" call the Moon) has a thriving population. Although originally begun as a prison colony, the vast majority of Loonies are now former prisoners (many for political reasons) or are the descendants of prisoners. Luna's past, as well as the fact that the ratio of men to women was 10 to 1 in Luna's early days and 2 to 1 by 2075, has strongly affected their culture (the Loonies responded to their uneven demographics with some unorthodox marriage arrangements).

Most Loonies make their living as farmers; growing grain in underground tunnels and shipping the grain to Earth via an electromagnetic catapult. The catapult, like most of Luna's systems, is ran by an advanced HOLMES IV computer that is constantly being expanded to take on new tasks. For reasons unknown to Manuel, the computer's repairman, the computer gradually attains sentience. Manuel eventually names his electronic friend "Mike".

Luna is governed by the Lunar Authority; an entity under the control of Earth's Federated Nations. Although most Loonies are supposed to be free citizens rather than prisoners, the Warden (the local representative of the Lunar Authority) effectively has dictatorial powers. Manuel and Mike stumble into the political movement to overturn the Warden and become involved with a group of would-be revolutionaries led primarily by Wyoming Knott and Professor Bernardo de la Paz. Although initially reluctant to join, Manuel is convinced by Mike's calculation that, at the rate grain is being shipped to Earth to meet the Lunar Authority's ever-rising quotas, Luna will rapidly run out of water and organic material and will starve to death.

With the help of Luna's primary control computer (and the only sentient computer ever known), getting rid of the Warden may be relatively easy. But the nations of Earth have become dependent on Luna's grain, and the poorly-equipped Loonies don't seem to have a chance against the the nuclear-armed warships of the Federated Nations. But Loonie ingenuity, and Mike's plan to use the electromagnetic catapult to hurl tons of Moon rocks at the Earth (which would hit with the force of small nuclear warheads), just might give the Loonies a chance.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Great Quotes: Thomas Jefferson

With the demise of California's Proposition 8 at the hands of one federal judge, the placement of a restraining order on portions of Arizona's immigration law by another judge, and the confirmation of someone as a justice of the Supreme Court who has never been a judge and whose actions and opinions should concern anyone who respects the Constitution, I was reminded of the following quotes by Thomas Jefferson:

"To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves."

-Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820

"In denying the right [the Supreme Court usurps] of exclusively explaining the Constitution, I go further than [others] do, if I understand rightly [this] quotation from the Federalist of an opinion that 'the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived.' If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se [act of suicide]. For intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one, too, which is unelected by and independent of the nation. For experience has already shown that the impeachment it has provided is not even a scare-crow... The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

-Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Great Quotes: Alexander Fraser Tytler (?)

The following quote is usually attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, a British lawyer, although sometimes Alexis de Tocqueville is given the credit. Either way, it's particularly relevant now:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."

Our politicians are now in the business of promising money to labor unions, minorities, classes, or just about anybody that will give them the votes. This past year, 40% of U.S. households supposedly received more money than they payed in federal income taxes. It appears as if this number may be growing; if it ever exceeds 50%, not only will the majority of Americans find themselves dependent on the government, but those who are actually paying for government programs will be outvoted by those who benefit from those programs. The producers will be at the mercy of the consumers and will be unable to break the hold of the politicians over the majority. At that point, do we really believe that the American populace, which will be utterly dependent on government, can retain its liberty?


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