QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded
Page 2 of 146

Mini-reviews of in-flight films

I flew San Francisco to Seattle, Seattle to Iceland, and then (a few days later) Iceland to Heathrow without watching any films. On the way back I watched two:

Syriana, which I had a lot trouble following because the sound was poor, so I won't be harsh about it.

War Dogs, which was okay. It is somewhat based on real events, but as told in the story I had doubts about a lot of details. It makes the narrating character very much a victim of events and his business partner (Jonah Hill's character) a real sleazeball. That gives me very strong vibes of "liberties taken with the story". Checking Wikipedia, it seems like this is heavily fictionalized. But it is entertaining, and moment to moment I could believe the characters, even if overall it was too much.

Seven months house arrest out of a full year.

I also read most of Henrietta Lacks while in flight.

Stranger Things (season one)

I've watched the entire series. Goonies crossed with ET is how I'd describe it. And I'd say the 80s nostalgia it is going for is 80s movies. The opening title sequence alone oozes 80s in design, and has faux aging effects to let you know this is supposed to be some 1980s thing that you missed watching then.

The story is fine. Nothing great, but not too lazy either. Episodes are not fixed length and vary by fifteen to twenty minutes. Some of them have very long cold openings -- at least one was seven minutes. Both of those things are possible because of the designed for streaming nature of the story. There's no need to stretch a thin episode or trim a packed one, just play it out as needed.

Five Cronenberg portals out of eight. I thought the bear trap was an amusing touch.

The Wages of Fear

The Wages of Fear (1953, original title "Le salaire de la peur") at IMDB

They came for the jobs, and then couldn't get home. A small town in South America where the only big employer is the Yankee "Southern Oil Company" (SOC) and there are no roads further than the derricks and no money for the air tickets. Trapped with no exit and barely money to eat, it's a desperate crowd.

Then there is the accident. Four dead and nine injured in an explosion at a drill site. The gusher continues to burn and a plan is hatched. Surround the fire with explosives, and blow it out with a big bang. The big problem? Moving all the nitroglycerine the three hundred miles from HQ to to well, with no safety equipment.

Better get some of the local bums to drive. Those guys don't have a union or families that will cause trouble. Just offer a big bonus for surviving and they'll jump at the chance.

Twenty miles of washboard gravel road to start the morning, out of twenty-two. The pre-drive part of the movie is kinda slow, but the drive is excellent.

I heard about it from a Frenchman discussing pot holes, which prompted me to watch it.

Two Lane Blacktop

This film is in color, but it's so stark it feels like black and white. Characters without names drive cars and race cars. Words must cost money and they's short on cash. But there's such beauty in the film work.

The Driver and the Mechanic have a 55 Chevy, engine completely rebuilt, car stripped of anything unnecessary. They drive Route 66 east, looking for races to win. They keep bumping into this guy in a 1970 Pontiac GTO (both cars get listings in the credits). At this point you are reminded it is a color film because the GTO is bright yellow. The Chevy crew and the GTO agree to race to DC, for pink slips. There's a Girl, too. She just put herself in the car and they drove off without a word. Later, she gets tired of them never asking her name or something and takes herself out of the car. It's the racing that's important.

Imdb tells me a remake is planned. Seems like this can't be made better, though. Imdb also tells me the 55 Chevy went on to have a roll (in more than one sense) in American Graffiti, driven by Harrison Ford.

Two Lane Blacktop (1971) at IMDB

James Taylor is "The Driver". Beach Boy Dennis Wilson is "The Mechanic". Warren Oates is "GTO". Laurie Bird is "The Girl". That's how they are credited in leading and trailing credits. Names are heavy, they slow you down.

Five out of five weird hitchhikers picked up by GTO.

The grandma was the killer hitchhiker. (But not not a literal killer.) Odd that I watched this and didn't think about Harry Dean Stanton, one of the weird hitchhikers, but learned he died a couple hours later.

Harry Dean Stanton obit at LATimes

Final thought: GTO and the Driver have another reason to ponder mortality.


I watched the Michael Crichton written/directed Runaway last week.

Runaway (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088024/

The blurb I read about it promised spider robots. I was disappointed. There were things they called "spiders" in the film, but these were six legged things, about the size of a typical restaurant lobster, with hypodermic acid injectors instead of mandibles.

The story is about a near future when robot servants are commonplace and a police force that deals with rogue robots. Naturally, for a good story, there's someone who wants to rogue-ify robots and Tom Selleck is the cop who can stop that someone (who was played by Gene Simmons, of KISS).

The robots were somewhat reasonably designed. They are not Jetsons Rosy, but most were more like modern warehouse robots: blocky wheeled things with no face, but manipulator arms. Many of the robots do have implausibly good speech control, but not devious intelligence. They are pretty simple minded with less wit than Siri.

There are some interesting details. They use a "floater" to investigate an armed rogue-ified robot in a house. The "floater" is a small flying thing with a remote video feed, very much like consumer drones. But the engineering is all wrong: it's shaped a bit like a book with a single central prop, forgetting why helicopters have tails. The cop's son uses a thing that resembles a tablet computer to watch TV in bed. There are a number of things secured with biometric readings, particularly retinal scans. Robots can be disabled, easily, if you can get close enough to detach their battery cables. Reliability is a significant concern for the characters, and at one point Selleck refuses to let a medic robot perform because he doesn't think that model will be as careful as a human.

It's not a bad story and the vision of future tech holds up okay. Three of five missing computer chip templates.

Final thought: but the simplistic flaw of fear of heights is used in obvious ways.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

If you haven't heard of it, the central idea of this goofball slasher pic is that those two West Virginian mountain men of the title are the good guys and Deliverance predjudice is fueling a murderous rampage by a group of college kids out camping in the woods.

The movie sticks with this idea from start to finish, shows us what each side is thinking, and never loses control. There is even a subplot that has you wondering who the real killer hillbilly is.

Five cans of PBR out of a sixpack. All used to clean the wounds.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil at IMDB

Deliverance at IMDB

Final thought: doesn't recall any banjo music in this one

Tags Plugin, first version

Several things have become clear writing this plugin.

  1. Some sort of method to standardize tags will be helpful. Did I use "plugin" or "plugins" last time?
  2. Getting tags working and getting tags complete are different tasks. I have tags working now, complete will include non-ASCII tags working (currently they display, but won't search) and more advanced searching like TAG or TAG, TAG and TAG, TAG without TAG, and no tags at all. Even if the automatically generated links won't include that, I'll want those searches for my own use.
  3. The limits of the default interpolation become more obvious. I can set a a string to be included, but I can't have a template that includes a loop over an array, to e.g. have the top twenty tags listed in desktop view but only five in mobile view.

I don't plan to fix interpolation any time soon, but the other two I can see in my near future. I will probably code up a post composer of some sort to help standardize tags. With that I can foresee also making the post composer do preliminary HTML formatting from a simple markup language, and hooking the composer up to a cellphone friendly CGI page.

Fixing the tags plugin to move beyond "MVP" — minimum viable product — particularly for non-ASCII tags will also be a relatively high priority. Right now tags can be (roughly) /^[a-zA-Z0-9_-]+$/, with the caveat that I block leading hyphens (will probably want that available for tag negation searches) and I allow whitespace in tags, but map that to _ (underscore) for searches, so there will be no way to distinguish between this_tag and this tag.

But here it is: aaa_tags.

First off tags for any post are saved in a file with the same name but a different (configurable) extension. One tag per line. Lines starting with # are comments. Leading and trailing whitespace removed, and internal whitespace is normalized to a single space.

It creates a interpolation variable for a configurable number of top tags, I'm going to be using that instead of the old categories. (And I used the categories and subcategories to seed the tags on all the old posts.) It also creates a tags variable for interpolation just before each story is processed. Both of those make the tags shown into search links.

I've named it starting with "aaa" because I want it to have access to the %files and %others lists before any filter() edits them. This way I can build a complete list of unfiltered tags. This also means that tag search filters happen with a very high priority, which isn't as necessary. Just running that any time before pagination kicks in would have been fine.

With this plugin, I'm retiring my use of the categories, prettycategory, menu, and breadcrumbs plugins. That's leaving me pretty close to 100% plugins I wrote (or *cough*paginateqz*cough* rewrote).

Wonder Woman

I was chatting about the Gadot Wonder Woman movie and hear it claimed that the biggest fault was the villians.

I, for one, felt that every single plot twist was visible a mile off, which that bothered me more. I have never read any WW comics and know of the character pretty much just from Linda Carter. (And the story here diverges from what I remember of that show.)

It was enjoyable for a comic book film, but you just have to keep those expectations low. I think it benefited from being about a very small cast of characters, rather than these N superheroes, plus assorted minor characters vs these M enemies, plus assorted minor henchmen. (Not naming Marvel's Avengers series by name, no, not me.)

I saw it in 3-D (because best showtime) and will confirm: 3-D unnecessary.

Mechanical Television in Colour

This hobbiest has recreated a mechanical television (a moving light is rapidly turned on and off by radio signal to create an image), put a pair of eye holes in for stereoscopic images, added spinning RGB filters to add color, and built a mechanical camera too.

dead link: http://www.radiocraft.co.uk/3dcolour.htm