Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Meet George Jetson?

Did you ever think that maybe we're missing the boat spending so much time on a better computer? That, had the computer industry not boomed and come to dominate the technological marketplace, we might be living in a far different society?

I personally believe there's a direct correlation between our ability to have a laptop thinner than an envelope and our increasing inability to have a flying car.

Back in the 50's, didn't everyone believe that by the year 2000, we'd all have flying cars? Not to mention time travel, interstellar colonies, and several intergalactic wars with alien species? Then boom, computers hit, and no one talks about flying cars anymore. It's all e- this and inter- that and micro- something or other.

I want my flying car, damn it.

Furthermore, don't say I didn't warn you when we invent computers smart enough to annihilate us as a species. Flying cars, see, they just fly around and take you places. They don't enslave mankind.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hollywood's Whipping Boy

If you're a habitual reader of Gray Matters, you probably noticed my extensive comments on a recent post which asked the question "Who would win in a fight, the superintelligent sharks from Deep Blue Sea or the aliens from Aliens?". As my comments revealed, I spent extensive time (at least an hour at the bar and at least three hours in my office) trying to come up with chains of causation, to determine which beast would best its opponent. These moves were similar to the Kevin Bacon movie game (at which I am also an expert), where I scientifically determined that an alien could beat a shark, or vice versa, based upon who had defeated them in their movies. For instance, the alien lost to Sigourney Weaver, who lost to x, who lost to y,..... who lost to Samuel L. Jackson, who lost to the sharks. Q.E.D., alien would lose to a shark.

Now, I was able to do this for both sides (although with a few contentious moves that I still feel kind of dirty about using), but it was much harder to see how the aliens could beat the sharks (scientifically it seems easy; using these causal chains, it's really frakkin' hard). This took me several hours in and of itself, for two reasons: first, the sharks were only defeated by two people, LL Cool J (who never loses; even when he was in Halloween H2O he survived) and Thomas Jane, who just isn't famous enough to have lost to a lot of people [I ended up using his obscure almost throwaway presence in Face/Off]). Second, through a sense of perverse pride I tried to get back to the aliens through Bill Paxton. And while Paxton's Hudson did die most spectacularly at the hands of the Alien infestation on colony LV-426, and his character is by and large the first thing people will remember about Aliens ("Game over, man! Game over!", "Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked!"), using him remains a critical problem for someone attempting to win this game.

Because Paxton never defeats anyone.

This was something we used to joke about a lot in college, so it may seem familiar to some of my NU readers, but Bill Paxton is seriously Hollywood's whipping boy. You need someone who's gonna be kind of a douche and then get defeated or killed? Call Bill Paxton. He'll be obnoxious about it, and then die gloriously. He's almost made a career out of being the guy who either dies or who we wish would die before the movie's out. Hell, he played the treasure seeker in Titanic, and while he didn't die per se in that film, I wasn't betting against it right up until the end of that movie. Somehow that old lady would toss him into the sea or something.

And because I had this very real attachment to Bill Paxton, I tried desperately to find someone for him to beat. I looked at movies I hadn't seen in a while; I checked out his imdb resume, desperately seeking some kind of resolution; I even tried to go with the larger theological conceit that he had defeated Satan somehow in Frailty, but even then he ends up getting the short end of the stick. Or maybe you could go through the tornado in Twister, but then where does that take you? Or you could argue he beat the moon in Apollo 13, but then who does the moon ever beat? Maybe Tommy Lee Jones in Space Cowboys, but that's a very debatable point. And Paxton's still kind of a douche in Apollo 13; I mean, come on, he's up against Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinese. Which one of these is the loser outcast astronaut that sits at home on Saturday nights and cries?

Just look at the man's resume, highlights presented below:

-Terminator: He's the punk leader whose clothes Arnond steals. Thus establishing early in his career a willingness to get his ass kicked by his betters.
-Weird Science: He's Chet, the older brother, who gets turned into a slug-like mass by his dorky brother's sex genie.
-Aliens: Yeah, he's kinda cool, but he's also the tool of the outfit. Just look at the knife scene where he screams like a little girl.
-Predator 2: Death by Predator. Fuckin' Danny Glover lives, but he dies.
-Tombstone: The Earp posse consists of Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer (as badass Doc Holliday), Sam Elliott, and Paxton. Which Earp brother do you think is going to die, and which is going to still be killing people with only one arm?
-True Lies: He plays Simon, the car salesman/faux spy. He doesn't get cashed, but he pees himself twice, so close enough.
-Apollo 13: See reasons above. Also, defeated by the moon, which you know Neil Armstrong never let him forget.
-Frailty: This was a movie we had high hopes for in college. The premise is simple: Bill Paxton believes he is chosen by God to kill demons (i.e. possessed humans). To do this, he has a magic axe named "Otis," that apparently gains is magic from the very sharp edge which can cut through human flesh. Given our love for Paxton, it seemed like a "can't miss" film. And it was awesome. We saw it in the theaters. But still, things don't turn out well for our boy Billy.

That's pretty much all I've got. I know he's been in other films, and is apparently in this "Big Love" tv show that's supposedly pretty good. But really, poor Bill Paxton just cannot and will not ever be known as a guy who gets shit done. Though maybe that's a viable career choice; maybe, when you're a big Hollywood director or producer and you need a guy who's going to be kind of cool, kind of a tool, and end up getting cashed to show just how serious the situation is, then it pays to be Bill Paxton, King of the Whipping Boys.

(As a side note, Paxton was definitely in the all-star cast of our projected film Free Ben Stein, in which Stein is kidnapped by terrorists, and a crack team of special ops soldiers is put together to rescue him. He played, obviously, the guy who got killed halfway through to show how serious things were. But I'm sure he'd get off a good line or two before he died.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

When We Have Found All the Mysteries and Lost all the Meaning, We Will Be Alone, on an Empty Shore

First off, suck it, Patriots and Patriot fans! Not only did they lose, but Brady got hit a delicious number of times. Though he was not horribly crippled, scarred, or set on fire, as Throat Punch and I had hoped. (See what happens when no one suggests nicknames? I come up with stuff like Throat Punch.)

Not much of a notable weekend, though I did drink a fair amount over the course of three days. So today's post is more of a comment diversion than anything, mainly for my Madison folk (sorry outsiders, will try to involve you more in the future).

Now, this year, as we know, is the first year the MAs don't have to take the egregious MA test that all the rest of us took. And while we've debated the gross injustice of this move and how we may or may not think less of our new brethren because of the relative ease with which they shall procure their degrees, I'm more concerned today with the loss of works, the truly wonderful works that most of us would likely not have read.

So for today's post, I'll ask you to submit: what work or works should we demand that people read, just because they are awesome? This isn't about being great, or important, or any of that academic bullshit that we spread around like so much manure. No, I want to know what you liked, what was totally outside your field, but you loved regardless. These are the gems of the now-defunct list, things that made the gruelling hours and days and weeks and months of reading worthwhile for a brief shining moment. What really worked for you? What made you happy that you were a scholar and a student of literature, because you got to read cool stuff like that?

Submit your responses, and then we can generate a "must read" list to unofficially force upon our peers.

To start, my choice would be Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. I never would have read this play in a million years. Not because I dislike Stoppard or contemporary drama; it's just not something I would have come across if not forced to read it. And it's brilliant. Single best thing I read that entire summer. I reread it at least once a semester (of course, it doesn't hurt that you can tear through it in like an hour or two, tops). It's hilarious and moving and really helped me formulate my motivations for being in this crazy, almost masturbatory profession that so many of us have chosen. And because it's Stoppard, it's witty and verbose and insanely intellectual, not to mention pure joy to read.

So yeah, check out Arcadia if you haven't already. And send along your submissions for the list, so that we may force it upon the next generation.

And fuck the Patriots.