"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Practical effect

- In movies, an effect produced, not in post-production nor with computer-generated imagery (CGI), but live on the set with materials of the real world.

Sometimes, simple is best.

Looking up something in the HBO TV series Rome (2005-2007), I came across episode 8 of the second season ("A Necessary Fiction") in which the girl Eirene, taken as wife by Titus Pullo has been poisoned. In her death scene, you can literally see the life fading out of her eyes, and a second look made me realize what I had to have been seeing.

Screencaps from DVD. Watch the eyes ...

Going ...

Gone ...

In fact, it was the light I saw leaving her eyes. Have her look at a particular point while a light is reflected in her eyes. That light is on a rheostat (dimmer) which is cranked down at the appropriate time.

I doubt this is the first time this trick has been used, as all of the materials required were available as far back as Edison's time. About as simple as you can get, and startlingly effective.

But often the very best effects really are so simple.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WHAT is going on here?

I confess to being addicted to my site meter, checking it often to see what posts of mine have attracted any attention.

What's been getting the most hits lately is Gook, which I published in January of this year.

The hits are coming from people looking for images of the Korean alphabet (I have a couple in the post) and are mostly from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Is something going on over there that makes a lot of folks feel they should check out the language?

The world wonders.

(Or, at least I do. :-)


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Apocalypse Not:

A link to a link to a link.

Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That? has just posted
 Apocalypse Not: I love the smell of skepticism in the morning,

which in turn links to an essay by Matt Ridley in WIRED Magazine ...
 Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times

WHO or WHAT will cause the 2012 Apocalyse? This is the question posed by the website 2012apocalypse.net. “super volcanos? pestilence and disease? asteroids? comets? antichrist? global warming? nuclear war?” the site’s authors are impressively open-minded about the cause of the catastrophe that is coming at 11:11 pm on December 21 this year*. but they have no doubt it will happen. after all, not only does the Mayan Long Count calendar end that day, but “the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years.”
Case closed: Sell your possessions and live for today.

That is the prompt for Mr. Ridley's essay and he replies ...
When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives.

The "money quote" is ...
Over the five decades since the success of Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring" in 1962 and the four decades since the success of the Club of Rome’s "The Limits to Growth" in 1972, prophecies of doom on a colossal scale have become routine. Indeed, we seem to crave ever-more-frightening predictions—we are now, in writer Gary Alexander’s word, apocaholic. The past half century has brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, plagues, water wars, oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, Y2K bugs, mad cow epidemics, killer bees, sex-change fish, cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics, and climate catastrophes.

So far all of these specters have turned out to be exaggerated. True, we have encountered obstacles, public-health emergencies, and even mass tragedies. But the promised Armageddons—the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life as We Know It—have consistently failed to materialize. To see the full depth of our apocaholism, and to understand why we keep getting it so wrong, we need to consult the past 50 years of history.

Mr. Ridley then proceeds to lay out his case in examples from that history.

My conclusion from reading them?

If your thinking of the "Case closed:" scenario above, and maxing out your credit cards in an orgy (perhaps literally?) of fun and games and whatever, the odds are that on Dec 22, there will be a "morning after" (in all senses of that term). the new bills will still be there and will still be due.

So, you may want to reconsider. :(

(* - at 11:11 pm on December 21 this year)
 "Is that Eastern Standard Time?"
   ~Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jericho Cain in "End of Days",
      when warned about an apocalyptic event predicted for
      the end of the millennium.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Presence ... (Updated)

... is a not-easily defined quality, of an actor, that absolutely compels your attention when he or she shows up. One either has it or not. If not, it ain't something that can be bought.

A little over two years ago (May 2010) I published The Return of Mickey Rourke, shortly after seeing "Iron Man 2", noting ...
(Of course, if he ever saw this post, he'd probably refute my title with, "I never went anywhere; you just weren't paying attention.")

What follows here is that post cannibalized, tweaked, and greatly expanded with pictures and a lot more exposition of why I chose those examples. The new title reflects the shift in focus of the post.

In the movie of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears (2002), Ben Affleck was tapped to take over the role of Jack Ryan (following Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford), and had the misfortune of having Liev Schreiber playing Mr. Clark in scenes with him, ...
... about which a Houston Press review noted,
  "We can't take our eyes off Schreiber,
    and we can't keep our eyes open when Affleck's around."
           (Mon, 05 Nov 2012 - see update at bottom of post)

That's a perfect description of what this "presence" business is about.

Japanese superstar ToshirĂ´ Mifune (of samurai movie fame) had it in spades, ...
ToshirĂ´ Mifune as Tajomaru in "Rashamon"
(from nighthawknews.wordpress.com)

That picture of Mifune is from Rashamon (1950), America's first introduction to him as the bandit Tajomaru in the movie that won an Honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film of 1951 (the year of its release in the USA). In it, a samurai nobleman and his wife are captured by the bandit, the wife raped, and the nobleman killed in a duel afterward.

The story is told from the viewpoint of about eight people involved before, during, and after the event, sliding from a magnificent tale of heroism and swordplay to a brutal horrifying brawl in which two scared-out-of-their-wits men fight until one is dead. As the bandit, Mifune is electrifying in all of his incarnations.

He played many samurai roles (earning the nickname "the fastest sword in the east" and had a natural, matter of fact coolness about him. In one of those movies, his character is sitting, eating from a bowl of rice, as some toughs begin sneaking up on him to rob him. Clearly aware of their approach, he casually reaches up and plucks an annoying mosquito out of the air with his chopsticks and continues eating, at which point the toughs must have remembered some other place they needed to be, as they left.

That scene was parodied a bit when he was in a Charles Bronson western, Red Sun (1971). In it, a priceless ceremonial katana (samurai sword) is being delivered as a gift to President Grant. Mifune is a guardian and when the sword is stolen, he teams ups with Bronson to go and get it back. Finding a place to stay, Bronson mutters something about "damned mosquitoes". Mifune (in full samurai regalia, including a katana and its companion short sword), freezes, listens quietly and notes "ONE mosquito", draws the short sword -- Whit!  -- and concludes "NO mosquito!".

I doubt even John Belushi (who almost made a career of impersonating him in skits on Saturday Night Live) would have had the gall to pull that. :-)

... as did Sean Connery ...
Sean Connery as O'Bannion in "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure"
(from findingconnery.wordpress.com)

Before becoming James Bond in Dr. No (1962), a young Sean Connery appeared in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959) as O'Bannion, a henchman to a very bad guy (wonderfully played by Anthony Quale). Although only a supporting role, he was one of those you couldn't take your eyes off of.

Read somewhere (but have no idea if it's true) that Connery impressed the producer and director so much they actually wanted him to become the next Tarzan, after Gordon Scott's contract expired, but a call from another audition resulted in an interview and a contract for this obscure role in something called "Dr. No".

Bond film producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli said of Connery after his first interview with him "He walks like a panther" as he observed him leaving to get into his car.

Had he not been sidetracked into Bond, what a Tarzan he might have made. :-)

American actors Lee Marvin ...
Lee Marvin (seated) as Walker in "Point Blank"
(from caseymoore.blogspot.com)

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”
   ~The opening line in Firebreak, by Richard Stark

What has that got to do with the Lee Marvin picture above? Bear with me.

Author Donald Westlake wrote crime novels under his name, and several pseudonyms. When he felt in a really gritty mood, he reverted to his "Dark Half", writing under the name Richard Stark, whose main character Parker was not really a villain; he just wanted what was his and there were people who insisted on not letting him have it. As with The Terminator, if you persist in interfering, he'll swat you like a fly, but if you just get the Hell out of his way, you're no longer even in his frame of reference.

The first Parker novel (The Hunter) was filmed as Point Blank (1967), with Lee Marvin playing the character (renamed Walker).

Another Parker novel (The Outfit) was later made as (strangely enough) "The Outfit" with Robert Duvall as Earl Macklin (what in Hell is wrong with Parker as a name?).

Later, the name curse continued with "Point Blank" being remade as "Payback", with Mel Gibson as Porter.


It's bad enough that they can't even manage to stay with the guys name. The other problem is the miscasting of Mel Gibson. He's a fine actor, and can do many things well, but playing Parker just ain't one of them. I genuinely feel that Lee Marvin's character could use this one as a dust rag.

Such is life in the movie business.

BTW - If I caught your attention with the "Dark Half" reference, Stephen King knew of the Westlake/Stark connection and Westlake's description. His novel was in honor of him, and even used the name George Stark for the "Dark Half" of his writer.

Update - 02 Oct 2012 - After much wondering about what the problem was with the name "Parker", an answer ...

On the Ain't It Cool News website, Harry Knowles Blu-Ray and DVD reviews Harry's DVD PICKS & PEEKS - 4th Week of August & 1st week of Sept Catch-up column includes a review of Safe (2012) (starring this elemental force named Jason Statham), about which Harry noted,

"I just can’t get enough of Statham kicking ass, very much looking forward to his take on PARKER."


Checking the IMDB, I find Parker (2013), scheduled for release on 25 Jan 2013, and apparently based on the book series, instead of a particular one of the novels. This item from the Trivia page explains much ...

This is the first film adaptation of a Richard Stark/Parker novel to use the character name Parker. Author Donald E. Westlake (one of his pen names was Richard Stark) declined to allow use of the Parker name, unless the filmmakers committed to a series. Mr. Westlake passed away on December 31, 2008.

Paraphrasing the late Paul Harvey, "So now we know the rest of the story."

... and Robert Mitchum come to mind ...
Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955)
(From backtomyoriginalpoint.blogspot.com)

Preacher Harry Powell marries and murders widows for their money. Jailed for stealing a car, he winds up in the same cell with a condemned killer and tries to learn from him where the money he stole is. The only ones who know are the killer's young son and daughter. After Preacher is released, he goes to the killer's home town in pursuit of the kids to get that money.

The movie was directed by Charles Laughton (his only effort at directing) and is genuinely creepy (as is Mitchum). Mitchum regarded this among the favorites of his work.

Robert Mitchum as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962)
(From pdxretro.com)

Adapted from John D. McDonald's The Executioners, "Cape Fear" has Max Cady stalking and subtly threatening the family of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a Georgia lawyer who interrupted his attack on a woman and also testified, resulting in Cady spending eight years in prison. He wants revenge and is determined to get it.

In 1991, the movie was remade by Martin Scorsese, with Robert DeNiro as Cady.

As much as I like and admire the team of Scorsese and DeNiro (a lot), I found Mitchum much scarier because, in their attempt to outdo the original I felt that Scorcese and DeNiro pushed things over the top, almost (and beyond almost) into parody. On the other hand, the type of animal brought to life by Mitchum is all too real.

The bottom line for those guys is that it's not really so much how good they were as actors, but how well they commanded your attention. They were people for whom, if you looked into their eyes, very definitely "somebody was home". There was always a feeling of things going on beneath the surface, and that they were capable of absolutely anything.

Now, we can add Mickey Rourke to the list.

He'd been down for awhile, in movies that few saw. His role of Marv ...
Mickey Rourke as Marv in "Sin City" - Screencap from DVD
... in Sin City (2005) probably did more than anything to put him back on the map...

In 2010 he was nominated for the Academy Award for "The Wrestler", losing to Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart".

He is easily the best thing about Iron Man 2 (2010), which is a pretty decent show, with plenty of action (maybe too much actually) and really first class work by Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle, but Rourke is a truly worthwhile foe and is what makes it worth seeing.

And, he doesn't even seem to be doing anything special at all; with a twinkle in his eye and a quietly amused smile (as if all of creation is a joke to him, and he gets it), he dominates this movie so much in the scenes he's in that the other actors might as well have stayed home; I doubt you would have noticed their absence had they done so.
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash in "Iron Man 2"
Screencap from DVD

In that picture, all he's doing is just sitting there, looking at two very large and very tough goons his employer (who foolishly believes he's in control) is threatening him with as minders, and that smile on his face is that of a very big cat who has just been given a couple of mice to play with. Not so good for the mice.

If you get the chance to see it, you will get a true demonstration of what "presence" is in a movie.

Update - Mon, 05 Nov 2012 - It may be time I stopped picking on Ben Affleck.
When the Houston Press made that observation, ten years ago, it was valid, especially for that movie. But he's gotten much better since then. His work as a director  (Gone, Baby, Gone (2007), The Town (2010), and Argo (2012) ) is absolutely first rate, and he has nothing to apologize for as an actor in the last two. At the moment, I now consider "Argo" the best movie of 2012. 

I don't know if I will ever add Affleck as an example of "presence" in an actor;  he's not a showboat that steals scenes from others, but appears to be a consumate professional who works to get it done the best way he can, sometimes submerging himself in the role so you are noticing his character much more than you are noticing him.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another Broadside from Wisconsin

Photo from wattsupwiththat.com (Recycled yet
again from Foray, where I explain it a bit more)

That's actually the USS Iowa above. While I could find photos of the USS Wisconsin delivering broadsides, none could match that photo.

Saturday morning, 11 Aug 2012, at a political rally on board the USS Wisconsin (an Iowa class battleship), Mitt Romney announced his choice of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential candidate.

In doing so, he has set the economy to be his battleground, choosing a man who has already dared to question The One on on his proposals to the House, and appearing as someone who actually knew what the Hell he was talking about.

By choosing him, Romney has demonstrated that he doesn't give a damn if his number 2 may outshine him in the campaign and that results are what's important to him.

In this, Romney reminds me a lot of another Republican who was not afraid to surround himself with people who were smarter than he was. Reagan got pretty good results that way, and I'm sure that Romney perfectly understands this.

Just contrast this selection with The One's choice of Joe Biden (and any other of his choices for that matter).

Mitt Romney comes across as someone who's been there and done that and has real confidence in himself and his abilities so as not to feel threatened by having smart and capable people around him.

The current occupier of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a boy who wants to be King wannabe who has been in over his head ever since his first elected position, can barely even speak without his teleprompter and is hardly likely to tolerate anyone around him that might appear more suited for his job than He is.  As that encompasses almost everyone, I think it will be a miracle if Obama makes it to November without a psychotic meltdown of some sort.

I'm feeling better and better about the race, so far.

Monday, August 06, 2012

"... potentially suspicious activity ..."

Capital One Fraud Protection Alert

RE: Account ending in ****


We recently noticed potentially suspicious activity on your MASTERCARD PLATINUM account ending in ****, and need to confirm that you authorized all of these charges. Please call Customer Fraud Protection as soon as possible at 800-***-****.

Got that email, yesterday evening, and almost forwarded it to Cap One's abuse address as a possible phishing attempt.

Before doing that, I went online to check my account, and found it restricted.

A look at pending charges revealed $12.77 for a gasoline purchase ( $12.77 would barely fill an outboard motor; then I later thought motorcycle) and $25+ for a meal at some diner I never visited (biker and his girlfriend?)

Still a bit paranoid about calling a number from an email (although I later found it to be legitimate), I called a customer service number from one of my statements, and was routed directly (after a 15-20 minute wait) to a Fraud Protection rep (probably triggered by the phone number from which I called).

I verified with that rep which of the transactions were legitimate or not. The current card (and number) have been cancelled, and a new card and number should arrive in 5 or 6 business days.

I had this happen with another MasterCard, issued by Sears, which was declined on a purchase in February.  A call to its customer service disclosed that someone had tried to purchase a $400+ item in Walmart's Electronics section (flat-screen TV?). That card and number was also cancelled and replaced.

I didn't think too much on it last time, figuring it was just one of those things, had been dealt with and things were probably Ok.

Nor am I going to go into blind paranoia this time.

To put things in perspective, I've had and used various Visa and MasterCard credit cards for over 30 years now, and have only been hit twice in all that time.

But, this last time started me thinking about how this could have happened.

I dug out my statements several months prior to each of the incidents and found something in common.

Most of my charges were for something I paid for by handing my card to a cashier and watching while he processed it. But, common to each set of statements were visits to a restaurant I really like, where (typical for restaurants) I pay by handing the card to the server who then takes it and goes off somewhere else to process the transaction, returning my card a few minutes later.

While there are other ways in which my credit card info could wind up in the wrong hands, I believe that Occam's Razor would suggest that the server is getting that information from my card and selling it to someone making fake cards.

This morning, I called that Fraud Protection number, talked to one of their investigators and passed on my suspicion about that restaurant (which I will still frequent; they have the best Mexican food in Houston).

I doubt that I told him anything which hadn't already occurred to him, but nailing down which merchant handles a card in that particular way, and its commonality with the other MasterCard incident may have been useful (I hope).

Frustrating thing in a case like this is that, with the way bureaucracy works, I'll quite likely never learn if my deductions were correct, or just a waste of an investigator's time.

I do have an ego (meaning I'm full of myself :-);  if I've cleverly managed to figure something out, I'd really love confirmation.

("Get used to disappointment." ~ Westley, in "The Princess Bride")

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Txt Message

-Ever get one of these on your cell phone?

Congratulations, your entry in last month's drawing won you a FREE $1000 Target Giftcard.  Enter '713' at www.target.com.ctrd.biz and tell us where to ship it!


Ok, then ...

Trying to access that web page got this ...

Doing the recommended Google search results in ...

A bit more detail ...

Ah, HELL!!! :(

I had such fantasies of what I would do with it that card. But, as this blog is intended for a family audience, I wont go into them here.

Just having a bit of fun; I didn't really believe I had won anything in a contest I had never even entered. I'm more than a little bit pessimistic on the chances of the world working quite that way.

What I fully expected to find there was a pitch to join in some program or buy a certain amount of services (for a modest fee, of course), and this would give you a chance of getting such a card before the Second Coming (or more likely not; there's a reason "Scam" appears in most of the Google results on this).

But, hope dies hard. I'm still awaiting that Publisher's Clearing House check, in spite of the fact that I haven't sent in an entry in years. That shouldn't even matter.

If you get my check by mistake, you'll be sure and let me know; won't you?


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