Monthly Archives: January 2014

Around the Web January 31, 2014

Welcome to the end of January! We’ve made it through the first month of a new year and so far so good. Let us celebrate survival with a new Around the Web.

As a grown man, I am not ashamed to say I still play with Legos. When I’m feeling like I really suck at being an engineer, I’ll go pick up a small set and put it together and it usually makes me feel better about my engineering skills.  Now the Lego Cuusoo program has announced a new set I won’t be waiting to get, Ghostbusters. That’s right, everyone’s favorite paranormal investigation and extermination professionals will soon be available in Lego form.

Who you gonna call?

Who you gonna call?

I think I know just the place for them.

BGR is reporting that there is a “verified insider” leaking some very juicy information about the Xbox One’s future. The information first appeared on the NeoGAF forums and gives us some interesting (and hopefully true) tidbits. Among the most interesting is that there is a $399 Xbox One coming, but that it won’t include an optical drive. I’ve got mixed feelings about that. I don’t really need the optical drive for games, as I’ve been embracing digital downloads lately, but having the Xbox as a Blu Ray player would also be nice.

xbox one

Now we will just have to see how much of this rumor actually turns out to be accurate.

Marvel Universe LIVE! will be a live action stage production featuring many of our favorite Marvel heroes. Marvel has recently released some information concerning the plot and it looks interesting. The show will revolve around members of the Avengers attempting to gain pieces of the Cosmic Cube (the Tesseract from The Avengers and Captain America) so they can defeat Loki. In the process they will battle several other recognizable Marvel villians like Doc Oct, Red Skull and the Green Goblin.

I’m already look at which day I want to go see this. It happens to be coming to a town near me.

What kind of Geeks would we be if we let the 40th birthday of Dungeons and Dragons slip past us without recognition?  For many of us, this is the game that started it all and A Guide to Geekdom provides a nice history of D&D in addition to the author’s own personal experiences with the game.

red box dungeons and dragons

Personally I haven’t ever played the game, though I’ve recently been looking into finding a group and learning how.

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Review: Army of Darkness

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All right you primitive screw heads, listen up.  We’re reviewing Army of Darkness.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Army of Darkness, let’s get you up to speed real quick.  Army of Darkness is the third and best installment of the Evil Dead series.  Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, lived a pretty good life, working in housewares at S-mart (“Shop smart, shop S-mart”), until he and his girlfriend Linda went to a cabin in the woods for the weekend.  Unluckily for them, the cabin was being used by an archaeologist who was trying to translate the Necronomicon.  The happy couple then accidentally released some evil spirit into the world.  It possessed Linda and Ash’s hand forcing Ash to kill his girlfriend and cut off his own hand with a chainsaw. Eventually Ash gets sucked into a portal and thrown back into the year 1300, which is where Army of Darkness opens on our hero.

Ash is quickly captured by Lord Arthur, and taken back to Arthur’s castle.  There he gets to show off his technology (“This is my boomstick”). Soon it is discovered that Ash is the Chosen One and must go get the very same Necronomicon that sent him back in time.  All he has to do is go to a cemetery, say the magic phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” (bonus points if you know where this originates), and grab the book.  Of course, he screws up the phrase and ends up releasing the undead Deadite army.  Ash returns to the castle with the book and helps its inhabitants prepare for the inevitable invasion.  After a hard fought battle, the living are victorious and Ash is sent back either to the present or the far distant future, depending on the version of the film you watch (my copy has him going home).

Things do not always go well for Ash.

Things do not always go well for Ash.

I am certain there was a point where the director and producer were trying to make a serious movie, but that went out the window pretty quickly.  From that point on it’s a comedy, with a few horror elements mixed in.

Bruce Campbell’s character absolutely makes this movie. Campbell plays the cheesy and not too bright Ash perfectly.   It takes less than ten minutes for Ash to begin spouting his infamous one-liners.  He is just confident enough to get himself into trouble and not realize how deep in he really is. Ash is a little like Indiana Jones, but not nearly as clever.

This is his boomstick.

This is his boomstick.

The supporting cast is not terrible, filled with several B-list names whose performances don’t really stand out. I can’t say I blame them though, since they weren’t give a whole lot to work with. The whole movie is basically about Ash and the extra characters often just stand there to give him someone to talk to, when he isn’t just talking to himself. One cast member who is a personal favorite of mine is Ted Raimi, brother of director Sam Raimi. He has a short appearance in the alternate ending and as a Seaquest DSV fan, I’m  always glad to see him on screen.

There is a certain look to this film that B movie fans will recognize almost immediately.  While not all of De Laurentiis’ films have this look, there are a number, like Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, and Barbarella that do. The effects are cheap and simple but effective.  In one scene where Ash fights a group of miniature Ash-es, the effects team uses old school tricks such as filming actors in front of a projected image to accomplish the shots they need. Another example is the Deadite army, which is a mixture of skeleton puppets and guys in spandex suits. The more impressive puppets are in the front of the shot and the costumed men are used where it would be impractical to have a puppet—such as running across the background of a shot.  Most of the other effects stick to basic explosives and ordinary fire, but this doesn’t detract from the visual.

The Deadite Army

The Deadite Army

The biggest problem with the movie is the painful dialogue.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the one-liners, but these are pretty groan worthy, and they provide the only decent part of the script.  Trying to speak in fourteenth century English makes most of the characters seem wooden and slow.  The most annoying character, though, is Ash’s full grown duplicate, whose dialogue just gets on my nerves.  Although also delivered by Campbell, the lines are just so much more over the top and goofy that they have a way of getting under my skin.

This is one of the movies I love to quote, especially right after watching it. It’s also one of the movies that has cemented Bruce Campbell’s place as the king of B movies (“Hail to the king, baby”). I give this one four and a half Death Stars.

4.5 Death Stars

Now give me some sugar.

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Winning Science January 29, 2014

Well folks, once again we here at Therefore I Geek are snowed in. We are in fact, significantly more snowed in than last time. While we try to figure out our escape plans, take a few minutes and enjoy winning science.

I grew up in the desert so I’ve always been skeptical of the wind chill factor. I always had a sneaking suspicion that it was all just a bunch of crap, but once again, science has proved me wrong. While wind chill doesn’t actually lower air temperature, it’s based on a mathematical model that approximates how the outside air feels to your skin. Since our body temperature during the winter is warmer than the air, we generate a small layer of warmer air around our bodies which help keep us warm. When the wind is blowing that layer of air is swept away and past a certain point it is blown away faster than we can replace it, which is why we feel much colder despite the fact that the air temperature hasn’t changed.

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There are several different models. Some are relatively simple, using just wind speed, while other try to account for things like cloud cover and sun angle.

With the Winter Olympics coming up I recently found myself wondering how exactly skiers keep warm in those flimsy looking suits. Turns out the suits are actually very advanced garments. Scientists have been using electron microscopes to evaluate new materials that can be used for ski suits. The US team has settled on one that functions similarly to shark’s skin, maximizing warmth while minimizing drag. The team also used data gained from practice runs to perform wind tunnel tests under similar conditions to those at Sochi.

It looks good close up, but I'm still not completely convinced it'll keep me warm.

It looks good close up, but I’m still not completely convinced it’ll keep me warm.

The amount of science that goes into an athlete’s performance is almost equal to the amount of practicing they do the get there. Crazy.

Stepping away from the wintery weather science for a minute, there is a really awesome new piece of video hardware called Oculus. Oculus is a 360 degree VR headset that was primarily designed for use with video games, but is finding new use with film. The writer describes the scene at a Beck concert like he was actually on stage with Beck. This is of course just a demonstation piece, but the possibilities in the film industry are endless. Imagine being able to look all around a movie, not just at the particular camera angle the director wants you to see. It’s a huge step forward in interactive entertainment. The biggest problem right now is waiting for the rest of the necessary technology to catch up. Shooting 360 will provide some interesting challenges.

Oculus Headset

Oculus Headset

The downside is having to wear the rather large headset, but hopefully the experience will be worth it.

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Review: I, Frankenstein *Spoiler Alert*

***** SPOILER ALERT *****

This review will be discussing plot points which may be considered spoilers. Consider yourselves warned.

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In the summer of 1816, a young Mary Shelley began writing what would become Frankenstein. Since it was published in 1818, that revolutionary novel has become the inspiration for countless other works including over a dozen films. The most recent of those movies is I, Frankenstein, based on the graphic novel of the same name. While I, Frankenstein may not be the best of the movies inspired by Shelley, it is by no means the worst and makes for a fun afternoon at the cinema.

I, Frankenstein picks up shortly after Mary Shelley leaves off, with the monster (Aaron Eckhart) returning to bury Victor Frankenstein in the Frankenstein family grave yard. As he is shoveling the dirt over Victor, the monster is attacked by unknown aggressors. These aggressors make mention of someone named Naberius, who–ominously–wants the monster alive.  The monster fights back and is rescued by a pair of gargoyles, who apparently exist on earth to fight demons of the type that had just attempted to carry him off. Now the monster is unwillingly pulled into a war between the demons who attacked him and the gargoyles.

Several quick scenes later the gargoyle queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) has named the monster Adam and he has gone back into hiding. The movie skips ahead two hundred years, the demons have come looking for him, and Adam has decided to come back to the civilized world and rid himself of this threat. Through several twists and turns the audience has come to find out the demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) wants to create an army of soulless, reanimated human bodies like Adam so he can bring back all the demons that the gargoyles have banished over the centuries.

Over all the movie isn’t bad. The casting choices are the brightest parts of this movie. Aaron Eckhart plays the reluctant protagonist very well. While his portrayal of Adam is reminiscent of the tormented Two Face in The Dark Knight, there are significant differences in the two characters. I was especially pleased with Eckhart’s physicality through the whole movie. There were plenty of fight scenes and Eckhart held his own. While he might not be the size of the traditional Frankenstein’s monster, the size difference never bothered me.

Aaron Eckhart as Adam.

Aaron Eckhart as Adam.

It was also nice to see Miranda Otto back on screen. Most movie goers would recognize Otto as Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. She did a pretty good job as the gargoyle queen. This time around she had a much more regal bearing than she did as Eowyn, which is fitting given her character’s status. Bill Nighy was an adequate villain; unfortunately, he always plays the same character and after a few movies it gets redundant.

The movie runs ninety-two minutes but it certainly didn’t feel like it. The action starts within the first couple minutes of the movie and doesn’t let up for more than a minute or two until just before the credits roll. The plot was predictable at times, but not disappointingly so. At one point the gargoyles turn on Adam and begin to hunt him in hopes of destroying him so that Naberius can’t get Adam. This was a pretty obvious plot device and I saw it coming way in advance.

I am still a bit confused by the whole demon and gargoyle war.  There may have been more backstory and explanation in the graphic novel on which this movie was based, but if so, it didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. While I applaud the film makers for not going with the stereotypical angels vs. demons, the gargoyles really were just a stand in for angels, only slightly less powerful. Throughout the movie I was consistently impressed with the incorporation of original Frankenstein story elements. Sure some things had to be changed to make the plot work, but it was never the major details and the creators were otherwise surprisingly faithful.

The dialogue was perhaps the component of this movie that moved the slowest and dragged the other pieces down.  Sure, the word “shall” sounds wonderful in Elizabethan era plays, but “will” is a perfectly good stand in, and probably should have been used more liberally in this movie.  I also took issue with Queen Leonore’s declaration at the beginning of the film, “God is no longer the only one who can make man.”  Statements like this came across as stilted and a little campy.

Visually the movie was clearly spawned from the Underworld creators.  It could have easily been set in the same universe. The sets were huge and impressive.  Overall the feeling was one of decaying grandeur.  Most of the movie takes place at night, so everything is dark.  The cathedral of the gargoyles is absolutely gorgeous and seems to be based on the gothic cathedrals of France—most likely Notre Dame.  In the alleys of the Parisian style city, water seems to always be dripping and puddles seem to be a structural inevitability.  The lab in which the female lead, Dr. Terra Wade, is attempting to create life seems normal until it becomes obvious that the ceiling is perhaps forty feet above her head.  The evil Dr. Molokai’s lair, filled with 10,000 human corpses waiting to be inhabited by demon spirits, is much larger, and also resonates with dripping.  I was slightly annoyed that the city in which the story takes place was never actually named. Based on the number of abandoned buildings, I’m forced to assume it all takes place in Newark, New Jersey.

This could easily have been a filming location.

This could easily have been a filming location.

The cinematography of this movie was nothing special.  There were some great camera shots and effects, but at times the whole movie had cheap feeling. I have a hard time putting my finger on it, but it reminds me a lot of old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that were shot on video tapes. That soft focus that was the best they could do with the technology they had available. Unfortunately that is not the same technology that we have today, and there is no good reason for this look.

I, Frankenstein makes for a good popcorn flick. Unless you have the undying urge to go see this in the theatre, you can wait to see it on DVD. I enjoyed myself and I give it three Death Stars.  Tracy gives it four Death Stars, so the average of the two of us is Therefore I Geek’s rating of three and a half Death Stars.  I’m also going to make a point of finding the graphic novel and getting better acquainted with it.3.5 Death Stars

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