Film Review: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem

December 28, 2007

Spoilers —– you bet. don’t blame me if you keep reading and it spoils the film.

NOTE: This film is rated “R”. There’s a reason. If you think it is some kind of censorship to say that people under the age of 17 shouldn’t see the chests of 8 year old boys ripped open after being impregnated by an alien, or that it is censorship to see a woman in labor attacked by a predalien, only moments later to give birth to a brood of baby aliens ripping through her abdomen, then I guess you need to udnderstand that there are some things that young impressionable minds shouldn’t see. As a matter of fact, I think that people under 17, pregnant women, parents of young children, and people with weak stomachs shouldn’t see this film.

I rank the original “Alien” as one of the great films of history. It is a perfect example of gothic horror — the protagonists are cut off from any aid that civilization can give. They must rely on their wits, and what little equipment they have.

“AvP:R” takes things in the opposite direction. Rather than the viewer having the comfort of the events taking place “way out there” and “in the distant future”, the horror is now, quite literally, in the streets of middle America (Gunderson County, Colorado, to be more precise). While the aspects of gothic horror are gone, it is replaced with a town under siege.

The fight scenes between the Predator (acting in the capacity similar to “The Wolf” in “Pulp Fiction”) …. sent in to clean up a crashed Predator spacecraft the aliens, and the new “Predalien” (an alien born of a Predator, as seen at the end of the last film) are really quite awesome. While some appearances are indeed done via CGI, there are some good old fashioned “guy in the suit” scenes which I find a lot better.

The previous film took some liberties with both franchises, and that’s to be expected. Every sequel added on. This film in fact pays a great deal of homage to the earlier films, particularly the best two films (Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and James Cameron’s “Aliens”). There is a last minute escapes from a nuclear blast, there is the slaughter of a military unit, a death in the kitchen, death in a hospital; heck, even the female lead in certain situations looks like a young Sigourney Weaver. I almost cried when one of the characters says “Get to the chopper.” Finally, the film finally explains how “The Company” (Weyland-Yutani) knew that the aliens were out there, even before the crew of the Nostromo stumbles across them centuries in the future.

I hope this is the end of the franchise because it goes out on a proud note that follows bold in the tradition of the earlier films. At times, it is slow as the characters are developed. It is a small price to pay to see this great franchise go out strong!

I give it 3.5 eggs out of five.


Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2007

To friends and family ….. well wishers …. and to all.     A very Merry Christmas ……. which is to say that I hope your lives are filled with peace and hope, warmth and the company of good friends and family in the coming year.


Film Review: I Am Legend

December 24, 2007

There are likely to be spoilers ….. don’t read it if you don’t want the ending spoiled.  Don’t blame me!

Imagine the medical breakthrough of all time comes down …. only to learn that it is man’s greatest nightmare … and it is up to you to save the day.

It sounds like the beginning and middle of a clichéd adventure story, with the ending so obvious: the hero finds the cure and saves the day.

Now imagine that the hero doesn’t come through …. and has to live with the fact that his inability to come through doomed the human race to destruction. So lives former Army doctor, Lt. Col. Robert Neville. The last man alive; or more appropriately the last uninfected man alive. There are plenty of other New Yorkers sharing Neville’s New York home … but they only come out at night, and they are not interested in anything but blood!

About 70-75% of the film is Will Smith on the screen by himself, and in some ways it is very reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway, with the exception being that Hanks’ character had no control over the events that occurred. Smith’s character very much lives with the guilt that he didn’t do enough.

I give a lot of props to Will Smith ….. has he come a long way since the “Fresh Prince” days! I think it takes an actor of pretty superior talent to hold the screen alone for so long.

This is a totally different take on the story than the 70’s version with Charlton Heston. I think that version dealt more wit the upheval of the 60s and 70s ….. with Heston in his fortress mansion confronting “The Family” (led by Anthony Zerbe), which seemed to represent either the Establishment or the hippie radicals (I could never figure out which). In this film, the infected become uncommunicative animals. There are no “confrontations” to speak of here. Rather, there is a great deal of Christian symbolism throughout. The ending is a bit ambiguous (rather as I like it), though it is, at least, hopeful.

One thing I will say: many critics have been critical of the “zombies” … saying they move too fast … are too strong. Maybe because: these aren’t zombies … they are infected with a disease, and can’t be compared to the work of George Romero. I can only think that these critics have limited imagination, and really never thought about the possibility that this is not a zombie film (which it is not).

I give this film a strong rec. Even people who don’t care for horror or adventure films will appreciate Will Smith giving another stellar performance.


The Mitchell Files (The Truth is out there … somewhere)

December 16, 2007

The Mitchell Report has been released …. names have been outed, and once again, the media throws its hands in the air, with fists pumping:  it is time to have a field day with scandal!

To be honest, the biggest news is the names left off the report. Where is Mr. “I’m here to talk about the past” Mark McGwire? Where is Corky (Sammy Sosa for those who don’t know/recall)?

So …. where does baseball go now? Do we asterisk he records of the guilty? Ban them all, so that people like Roger Clemens can’t go to the Hall-of-Fame?

My thinking is: about the past: Baseball can and should do little. Baseball and its union are nearly as culpable as the morons who shot themselves full of these toxins. If you punish the players, you should do something to the owners. That, of course, will never happen.

About the future: draw up a tough drug policy. Make it tougher than the Olympic policy (one of the reasons that baseball was ultimately kicked out of the Olympica was the failure to have a tough drug policy. First offense: 50 game suspension. Second offense: season. Third offense. two seasons, a.i.a.n.

As for the Bonds, McGwires, Sosas, and Clemens …… let history take its course. McGwire was already flatly rejected in his first year of eligibility for the Hall. I suspect that was a look at things to come from this era ….. only player who have been squeaky clean (like Frank Thomas) will likely find the doors open in Cooperstown.

As it should be. For once, the media wonks who vote for the Hall-of-Fame might actually get it right.


So, what constitutes a good physics course?

December 11, 2007

This is what we talk about a great deal of the day in my office up in the farthest corner (quite literally) of my school. (I saw one school map, which a friendly colleague once gave me, with the admonition “There be monsters here”, and my office circled. It is over a quarter mile by my estimates to get to my office from the main office (not that this is always bad). But I long digress!

The traditional senior physics class at our school has likely changed little in coverage in 40 years:

  • introduction
  • kinematics
  • forces/Newton’s Laws
  • mechanical energy
  • projectile motion
  • circular motion
  • general wave phenomena
  • sound waves
  • EM waves
  • electrostatics
  • electric circuits
  • magnetism/eletrodynamics

    

Education today, however is vastly different … some in good ways, some in not so good ways. Nonetheless, the days of 45 minutes of lecture for five days are over. I rarely lecture today. Most of the class is lab, lab analysis, and problem review. The problem though is that less and less of the class is “stuff you do at home”, and more and more of the class is “stuff you do in class”.

The problem: we’re trying to teach all of that stuff up there, which fit neatly in a year 40 years ago, into a modern course that really doesn’t have time.Some of my colleagues take what I call the “shallow plow” approach: teach just a little bit, because otherwise they will never get it anywhere else, and call it a day.

I call it a waste of time. The kids really don’t have a prayer with long term recall.My opinion is a more “slash and burn” approach. Tradition be damned here! We need to seriously cut topics out (how big? give me a minute). With what’s left, construct a course that really addresses the deepest misconceptions that students have, and take the time to really have a transformative effect.

I seriously proposed dropping all of the wave phenomena from the course. It is the least associated with the other phenomena. One can study basic circuits without understanding sound. I support keeping electricity because it is the entire basis of our modern technology.There’s been ongoing hemming and hawing, and then I found someone who agreed with me.

Phil Sadler is a legend in science education. First off he’s not a Ded (Doctors of Education ….always beware!) head … he’s an honest to goodness real live genuine scientist .. professor of astrophysics at Harvard. He happens to be rather passionately involved in improving science education.

One of his most recent studies (I can’t find the original article, so I found a summary here from a University of Maine lecture:

http://perlnet.umephy.maine.edu/hs/hsmeeting/SadlerTalk.pdf

Sadler looked at college physics students, and asked “What do the successful students have in common?” His findings were pretty astounding, because they fly in the face of what a lot of the other so called “assumptions” of modern education are:

  •  textbooks generally don’t help much
  • liking the teacher doesn’t help much (that’s a biggy!)
  • students who never learned E&M or waves faired better than those who did
  • students who covered fewer topics in high school faired better
  • students who did fewer than 4 labs per month did better


  • That’s pretty amazing! I am going to try and take this to my chair, but she doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in suggestions that I make these days.


    Coming to a a theater near you..

    December 8, 2007

    I just more or less realized tonight hat I hadn’t been to see a new movie in forever because there hasn’t been a decent movie in like … forever …. All of the recent movies have either been unsophisticated comedies, emotional melodramas, or political  For lack of a better place …. I wanted to make a mental note of some films coming out in the next few months that I actually have been looking forward to, and hope don’t suck!   

    •  I am Legend — the remake of The Omega Man with Will Smith taking over Charlton Heston’s role:  scientist destroys all of humanity, scientist thinks he is sole survivor, scientist fights mutated zombies.  Fun for the whole family.  December 14.
    • Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem — if the previews are any indicator (two heads being blown into small bits, an alien invading a little kids room to maul daddy), then this movie may be the best since Aliens 21 years ago.  The last Alien vs. Predator film wasn’t really bad, but was far from really good.  December 25 … if you call to wish me a merry Christmas on the 26th, and I’m not in, you know where I am.  If you call on the 27th and I’m not home, it was really good!
    • Cloverfield — OK, I don’t even know if I want to see this because no one on Earth (possibly including the cast) knows what this film is about.  Supposedly, it documents a Godzilla-like attack on New York, from the perspective of survivors. January 18




    Insert:   late winter/early spring



    • Iron Man — yes, I have waited 20+ years for this one, and I will be upset big time if it goes down in flames.  May 2
    • Speed Racer — the trailer shows this as a quasi-animated almost Roger Rabbit kind of a thing.  I was never more than a passing fan, but this shows some visual promise at least.  May 9.
    • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the day it opened … right after taking my last final exam as a high school student … a LONG time coming! May 23.
    • The Dark Knight — I’m batman … July 18.

    When the ball and chain cannot be undone …

    December 7, 2007

    Gay marriage is not a major topic on my radar by any means (even having stood up IN one).  Not being gay or having any marriage prospects, this is not something that I ponder on a daily basis …..but something did recently jump out at me as an interesting mental tidbit to ponder:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071208/ap_on_re_us/gay_divorce

    The gist: a lesbian couple in Rhode Island jumped across the border and got married in Massachusetts. No big deal. The problem now: they want a divorce.The Rhode Island Family court ruled that since the Rhode Island definition of marriage is “between man and woman”, the rules for divorce are the same.

    Now mind you, there are some hard core conservative groups who have already sunk their talons into this, realizing that if divorce is granted, the door could be open to marriage between gay/lesbian couples as well (at least I’m sure that’s what they are thinking, who knows what the heck the legal reality is).

     I forget who, but I think it was the astronomer Harlow Shapley who once said “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”I guess a marriage, like a black hole, is like that, though especially so for gay/lesbian couples.