Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Last Starfighter: the modern trailer (fan edit)


Fan edits almost always suck. This one's pitch perfect. I want to see this guy do Escape from New York next.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mad Max: the video game version


Okay, so maybe it's just Shadow of Mordor with Mad Max skins, but we've come a long way from this:


I remember playing this piece of shit at someone's house. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Steam keys for Elite Dangerous's early backers coming soon

I'm not sure why it took so long for them to do this, but here's the official news:

From May 28 you’ll be able to generate a Steam key from your account page, and we’ll have full instructions right here on the forums closer to the time.

For those of you who haven't tried the game yet, here's a pretty good primer:


I think it's safe to say that if the genre hasn't gotten its hooks into you when you were younger, you probably won't like Elite Dangerous. Most of the time you won't be having fun, per se, but it's still a very satisfying experience for people who already have the acquired taste.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My newest toy: the Lionel CDV-700 6B Geiger counter

Here's a short list of the things I've been shocked by:


  • Electric fence charger (I had the misfortune of holding it in both hands when it bit me)
  • Wall socket (horribly stupid school prank gone wrong)
  • Coverless light switch (felt around in the dark for said light switch)
  • Water heater (gas water heater, but it had an electronic thermostat)
  • A 9V battery taser (worthless for protection, by the way)
  • Bare house wiring in a customer's attic (didn't bite me until I grabbed a copper pipe)
  • A ton of other things I can't remember at the moment


As of about an hour ago, I can add "Cold War-era Geiger counter" to the list:

Ain't it a beauty? Came with the original headset, too.

Yes, I knew the insides were high voltage. No, I didn't take the proper precautions when poking around inside. Yes, I felt the jolt right in my heart. I would rate this shock between the bare wiring (surprisingly mild) and the cattle fence charger (surprisingly strong).

I've been trying to get one of these for about a year and a half, but most eBay listings were either a little too damaged or a little too overpriced. I suspect the current price on these units is due to Fukashima-concerned consumers trying to screen their produce. Just so you know, most Geiger counters are pretty much worthless for this application. If you have no interest in using a Geiger counter properly, don't buy one.

I got this one for $60 because the seller didn't know what was wrong with it or how to operate it. Aside from battery corrosion (I have an $8 replacement compartment on the way from UraniumRocks.com, which also sells refurbished units for $180 a piece) and a bit of rust on the can, the unit is in good condition. A sticker indicates the civil defense calibrated it in 1983, the year I was born, and I wanted the Lionel-manufactured unit because A) it uses two D-cells instead of four, and B) it's just cool that a toy company (well, model train company) manufactured it.

Baseline readings at my own house are a little higher than average (in my admittedly limited data set, anyway). The "hottest" thing I found was an old breadbox my parents used to keep our pills and vitamins in. The second hottest was a mysterious box in my father's garage. The thrill of opening the newspaper-packed box up was more exciting than anything that ever happened to me while metal detectin', but I was disappointed, if not relieved, to only find lantern mantles inside.

As is, it's a pretty good unit for detecting potential sources and listening to that great Geiger counter sound, but I imagine it will be a while before I purchase a newer check source and get it properly calibrated. Nonetheless, it's a pretty piece of Cold War history for my shelf.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fury Road: George Miller's masterpiece

a trailer that manages to leave the best bit unspoiled

Movies used to have balls, even the expensive ones which opened during the summer. Nowadays you might get something like The Expendables, which tries to recapture that magic, but they always feels too slick and disingenuous.

Fury Road is as authentic as you can get. It's a two hour movie with about ten minutes of dialogue and comes from a filmmaker who—thank God—hasn't learned the "right way" to make a summer blockbuster. Movies as brilliant and hard hitting and mind-fuckingly maniacal as Fury Road makes me retroactively hate the more standard stuff like Avengers 2. I'm not so naive I don't understand why movie execs don't make movies like this anymore. No, what amazes me is a movie like Mad Max 4 can be made after 9/11 at all. It has a hell of a bite for something intended for such an increasingly sensitive society.

It's worth noting Tom Hardy and Charlize Theoron share an equal title credit; it's every bit "Imperator Furiosa's" film as it is Mad Max's and Theoron's more than up to the challenge. Another surprising cast member is Hugh Keays-Bryne who also played the villain in the first film. This time the villain is so good he'll remind you of no less than the likes of Hannibal Lector and Darth Vader. Nicholas Hoult (yes, the kid from About a Boy) is unrecognizable as Nux, the white-faced character who proclaims in the trailers: "Oh, what a day! What a lovely day!"

Within minutes of the opening shot, Max's famous car gets smeared across the wasteland by the War Boys, presumably the biggest, baddest gang around. Max is thrown into captivity, turned into a walking, talking blood bag for Nux, and chained to the front of a souped-up car when he isn't hanging upside down in a cage. Meanwhile, the villain teases the malnourished citizens of his compound with his abundance of water and Furiosa is gearing up for a trip to Gas Town she has no intention of completing; when she veers off course the chase begins. And it never, ever stops.

Director George Miller has been trying to make this movie for twenty years. It shows. You can see the decades of thought enriching each action sequence, each of which is different than the last despite using the same three elements throughout: a desert, some cars, and a handful of maniacs. I always cherish a movie that shows me something I haven't seen before. Fury Road does this not once, but several times over.

Fury Road is easily the most exciting movie of the twenty-first century. It's a movie that's been hyped beyond the moon, but will pay back every ounce of that hype with pure ingenuity and the kind of thrills we got when Schwarzenegger said "I'll be back" for the first time, when Ellen Ripley came face to face with the queen alien. Jesus, it's been so long since we've had one of these movies. I came out of it feeling like I'd just survived a trip down Niagara Falls.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

It's funny how a big screen can add legitimacy to an otherwise lackluster trailer. Whereas I was entirely uninterested in Dwayne Johnson's San Andreas and George Clooney's Tomorrowland, both of the trailers which showed before Ultron were better than their slightly different internet counterparts. (I expected to see the trailer for The Force Awakens make an appearance, but they didn't show it or I missed it when I was taking out a loan for stale popcorn.)

I still don't think San Andreas is going to be a good movie, but Hollywood has actually stopped cramming mindless disaster films down our throats, so maybe it's time for a new one. As for Tomorrowland, I think it's going to be a great movie. Before seeing the newest trailer, it didn't look like my cup of tea because it reminded me too much of City of Ember. The trailer they're showing now has some great science-fictional action in it. It's hinting at the kind of creativity that elevated Minority Report above a routine action flick.


I'm tempted to call Age of Ultron a routine action flick, but I can't. Not when one hero swings a hammer no one else in the world can lift, not when another hero turns into a monster when he gets angry. The truth is you really can't go wrong with this kind of material. Even phoning it in would produce something entertaining to watch. I just think The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were better, more focused films. The best thing this film manages is its authenticity: we've seen a lot of directors use camera gimmicks and special effects to make their films look like comic books with varying results (Ang Lee's Hulk film was among the more laughable efforts), but Age of Ultron actually feels like a comic book more than any other film I've ever seen. And it manages it without resorting to cheap tricks like superimposing a panel over the action or adding yellow-boxed narration.

the dumbest effect in a Marvel movie ever

The sequel also gets a leg up on its predecessor in the very first scene: we don't have to wait an hour for the Avengers to assemble. This time they're already assembled, kicking ass in the impressive long take we already saw in the trailer. The shot culminates with them gathering into a group before arcing gracefully through the air in slow motion, action-poses at the ready. Their mission in progress: retrieve Loki's staff from some bad guys who ended up with it after the events of previous Marvel films.

The biggest complaint people have so far is the film's too long. I didn't feel that way. I only felt it was a little too dense for its two and a half hour running time. Tony Stark is once again the main character, but Joss Whedon seems hellbent on giving each of the Avengers equal screen time, even Hawkeye and Black Widow. Meanwhile the film's most interesting character, Ultron, is kind of relegated to scenes that would have been so much cooler had they not been so brief. In one of the better scenes, Ultron meets Jarvis; it takes place entirely in cyberspace and probably would have been deemed unfilmable by lesser directors.

So no, it's certainly not a routine action flick, but the magic of seeing all these characters in a movie together has worn off. I guess you could say it's a routine Marvel film. The climax isn't quite as good as the annihilation of New York City in the first film and the villain's master plan verges on the absurdity of Zod's plan in Man of Steel. Still, I saw a kid in the audience literally on the edge of his seat as Ultron's minions mercilessly assaulted the Avengers. So yeah, the endgame is pretty exciting, but the solution to it all is just a little too familiar.

I'm too big a fan of Scarlet Witch to criticize her onscreen portrayal objectively (her special effects, however, are pretty cool). And this Quicksilver is a little more phony than the one we saw in Days of Future Past, even though we all expected the opposite to be true (I think that scene, unfortunately, was better than anything in Age of Ultron, and I'm typically not a big fan of X-Men movies). The romance between Banner and Romanoff is forced, especially the way it concludes, and Thor goes off on a tangent that probably made more sense on paper than it does in the final product.

The actors are beginning to show their age, particularly Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Most of us would love to see older, grizzlier versions of their characters, but it's a safe bet that the studio execs won't want to risk it. I'm not saying there's a complete reboot in the foreseeable future, but I don't see the franchise (as it's currently cast) going on much longer than ten years—and it's been seven since Iron Man came out. All good things must come to an end, right?

Age of Ultron is yet another chapter in the overall story, a story I'm assuming will conclude with Thanos. Like any big story, some chapters are better than others, but necessary just the same. I'll probably skip Ant-Man, though.