Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most anticipated splody movies of 2011: recap

At the beginning of 2011, I made a list of what I thought would be the best movies of the year. (My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions.) Now that 2011 is in the books, here is an analysis of how my predictions went:

1. Captain America: The First Avenger
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 79%). It wasn't perfect, but my top choice didn't disappoint. It was full of heart, especially in the opening act, and was two hours of pure fun.

2. Cowboys & Aliens
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 44%). Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, plus John Favreau as director and a kick-ass concept - what could go wrong? Well, it could be boring for starters. What should have been on my list: Attack the Block (Tomatometer 90%). This British film didn't get much press in the U.S., but it was a well-done, smart take on the alien invasion story.

3. Thor
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 77%). I had serious doubts about this one when it was first announced, but the more I heard about it the more excited I got. And the movie topped my expectations.

4. Green Lantern
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 27%). With a great concept supported by a big budget, this movie should have been a big hit, but the script and directing were just awful. What should have been on my list: Limitless (Rotten Tomatoes score 69%). If Green Lantern wanted to chart new ground, it needed to look no further than this sleeper, which put a fresh spin on the question of "what would happen if an ordinary guy gained a super power?"

5. X-Men: First Class
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 87%). This one made up for the past two weak X-Men movies and returned the franchise to relevance.

6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 59%). On paper this one sounded even better than the first movie, which was an interesting and pretty good take on the classic detective. I haven't seen this one yet, but all reports point to it being only so-so. Still, it has Robert Downey, Jr., so even if it was downright horrible I would watch it just because of my man-crush.

7. Super 8
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 82%). It was a little formulaic at times, and the ending wasn't as good as the rest of the film, but J.J. Abram's homage to Steven Spielberg was well done and thoroughly entertaining.

8. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 35%). Director Micahel Bay said that he had learned from the disastrous second Transformers movie and that this one would be better. (When will I learn to stop believing Michael Bay?) Actually, it was, but only marginally. What makes it nearly OK are the incredible special effects, which probably top anything in the series so far. Unfortunately, the story is just as infuriatingly bogged down as the second installment - and in fact is nearly the same story. It would have been a much better movie had they stuck to a simpler plot and allowed more time for character growth. But, again, Michael Bay.

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 33%). I absolutely loved the first PotC movie, but thought the next two were muddled messes. I was encouraged, then, when I heard the franchise was changing direction (no more Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly), and even more encouraged when I heard there would be zombies or vampires or something. But no, it was still a mess. What should have been on my listThe Adventures of Tintin (Tomatometer 74%). Virtually unknown in America, Tintin is the star of a popular series of children's adventure books in the rest of the world. And his first animated adventure, directed by Steven Spielberg, has been getting great word of mouth.

10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 83%). I've always loved the original PotA movie, even though I always felt it wasn't very feasible by science fiction standards. When Tim Burton remade it a few years ago, I lost all hope. But this prequel, with mo-cap phenom Andy Serkis in the lead roll as Caesar the chimpanzee, turned out to be very well done - and even provides some rationale behind the story of the original classic.

11. Conan the Barbarian
Result: EPIC FAIL (Rotten Tomatoes score 23%). The 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a stone-cold classic. I really love Conan and was hoping this digital-age re-make would add something, but it just fell flat. What should have been on my list: 13 Assassins (Tomatometer 95%). This Japanese-British film about samurai assassins made many critics' top-ten lists and featured some dazzling fight sequences.

12. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 93%). After three mostly mediocre M:I movies,  I didn't think this one would be an improvement. But the live-action debut of acclaimed animation director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) gave me a glimmer of hope. And from what I have heard, Bird used his cartoon thrill-ride sensibilities to churn out a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall blockbuster.

So there you have it: six winners, four losers and two in-between. (58%)

Which just goes to show: you never can tell what's going to be good until you actually see it. Still, that won't stop me from speculating about the movies of 2012 in my next post...


I have to give a special shout-out to Martin Scorsese's Hugo (Tomatometer 89%). I had not heard of this film before it came out, but it got tremendous reviews and ended up on my must-see list. It isn't the splodiest movie; it doesn't have giant robots knocking down buildings, just one small clockwork man - oh, and a great story. This is a film about the magic of movie making, so if you're a film buff like me, you'll want to check it out.

Also, Battle: Los Angeles (Tomatometer 35%) was a lot better than the reviews would have you believe. The story may have been cliche in places, but it did a good job of showing what it would be like to be a soldier during an alien invasion. In fact, this was really a war movie: the aliens are barely seen, and I think it scored so low because it failed to meet some people's expectations of what an alien invasion movie should be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twisdom 2011

Every once in a while, I tweet something that stands on its own. Sometimes it's poetic, sometimes silly and sometimes just a little observation that has a kernel of wisdom in it. Here are some of those tweets.

I see icy seas, snow knows no end and winter winds win again

I am jut going tiptoe as fast ad I can and see what my iPhone fangs it to.

(: smiley parentheses :)

"sword" is the "s" word

butler, chef, chauffeur, secretary, personal shopper, personal trainer, life coach, counselor, nurse, financial advisor, handyman... aka dad

Quote of the day, so far: "Nope, it's just a crotch."

Yes, I would eat a bug. There is nothing on this Earth more disgusting than a chicken and I eat those all the time.

You learn something new every day. Every damn day.

Robots are always happy.

1/2 of the men I see in the restroom don't wash their hands. I want to run out after them, point and yell so everyone knows they're gross.


Whoever came up with the "tie two loops together" method of tying shoelaces, you're an idiot and you've caused a generation to do it wrong.

Horrible things. Unspeakable things. Things that haunt me, that God will never forgive me for. That's what I would do for a Klondike bar.

My Jedi powers: #1 - I can tell Parliament from Funkadelic.

Weather Channel says 0% chance of rain next Wed. & Thurs. Me: how can they be SO sure?! Wife: they just don't care about being wrong.

Star Wars figures are 1:18 scale (4"=6'). At that scale, a toy 1st Death Star would be 5-1/2 miles in diameter. The 2nd would be 31 miles.

We abandoned... Email: etiquette. Chat: decency. Blog: hope. Texting: grammar. My_: sense. FB: reality. Twitter: detail. G+: fun.

What's the emoticon to indicate that you're asking a rhetorical question?

I'm a "glass is half empty" kinda guy. Mostly because I drank it. I'm about to drink the rest and then fill it back up again.

Once you get tired of lemonade, what are you supposed to do with the rest of the lemons?

I'd rather go to work in the dark than come home in the dark. I'd much rather have the whole day ahead of me than behind me.

Sorry - I tried to change gears there and my chain fell off.

Please for the love of God stop saying ironic when you mean coincidental or serendipitous.

You can't look for beauty, you can only find it.

If you assume you just make an ass out of u. (Leave me out of it!)

How I described infinity to my boys tonight: How high is the ceiling in this room? About 10 ft. OK, now how high is the ceiling in our yard?

My kids won't eat chili, because "it's too spicy!" But they will eat "hamburger soup."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When is Christmas on Mars?

As we enter the age of space exploration, Mars is mankind's next home. (Some of our robots already live there.) It is an alien world, but there are many ways in which it is similar to Earth. One of those is the length of the Martian day. The length of the solar day (sol) on Earth is 24 hours 0 minutes 0 seconds. On Mars, it is only 2.73% longer: 24 hours 39 minutes 22.663 seconds.

Most methods of timekeeping proposed for the Red Planet involve just using hours, minutes and seconds slightly 2.73% longer than their Earth equivalents. That makes a lot of sense and keeps the 24-hour clock we're used to. Using metric time is another option: each 1/10 of a Martian sol would be equal to about 2 hours 28 minutes on Earth; each 1/100 sol would be just under 15 Earth minutes; and each 1/1000 sol would be equal to about 1.5 Earth seconds.

Regardless of what time system people propose for Martian days, they seem to universally assume we'll use Mars' revolution around the Sun as the basis of the Martian calendar. The Martian solar year is equal to about 687 Earth days or 668.6 Martian sols. This makes sense on one hand, since Mars does experience seasons and this system will ensure that those seasons always fall at approximately the same time of year.

However, using the Martian solar year as a basis completely ignores the cultural importance of the 365-day calendar we use here on Earth. Assuming our Martian colonists want to maintain cultural ties with Earth, they will want to celebrate Christmas and other holidays at approximately the same time intervals that Earthlings do.

Here is how we get around that: we use the earth calendar, and chop off a day at the end of most months. This will make the date on Mars almost always the same (give or take a day) as on Earth. Holidays that would fall on the missing days are moved to the day prior. (For example, New Year's Eve would be celebrated on December 30 on Mars, since there would be no December 31.)

Under this system, all of the 31-day months (January, March, May, July, August, October and December) would lose one day and become 30-day months. June and November would remain at 30 days, but April and September would each lose one day, going from 30 to 29.

Earth Leap Years would not be celebrated, so February would be 28 days every year, never 29. However, April would gain back its 30th day as a "Leap Day" on even-numbered years not divisible by 30. (This would next happen on 2040, then 2070,  2100, 2130, and so on.) That should pretty much sync the calendars, although every few hundred years, the Martians may want to add an extra Leap Day (in one of the years divisible by 30) in order to stay aligned with Earth's calendar.

Here is how many days each month would have:

January: 30
February: 28
March: 30
April: 29 (30 in Leap Years)
May: 30
June: 30
July: 30
August: 30
September: 29
October: 30
November: 30
December: 30

This yields a year of 355 Martian sols (356 on Leap Years), which is equivalent to one year on Earth. The seasons will rotate through the year. For example, it's spring in the northern Martian hemisphere right now as Mars just had a Vernal Equinox on September 13, 2011. The next spring will start about a month and a half earlier on July 31, 2011. However, season migration already happens with many lunar-based Earth calendars and those cultures seem to handle it just fine. I think it's more important that the kids of Mars won't have to wait almost twice as long as Earthling kids for visits from Santa and the Easter Bunny.

So there you have it: Christmas on Mars is still on December 25, which overlaps with December 25 on Earth. Martians have a functional calendar for Mars that gives them the opportunity to carry forward their Earth heritage and celebrate whatever holidays they wish with their loved ones back home.

Yes, even Alien Robot Zombie Day!

Friday, December 16, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NHL

I stand by my previous suggestion for realigning the National Hockey League. But since I rearranged MLB, NBA and NFL teams thematically, I thought I shoudl do the same for hockey.


Pond Division: Canucks, Ducks, Islanders, Penguins, Sharks
These team names all have a water theme, fitting for a game played on a frozen pond.

Shinny Division: Avalanche, Flames, Hurricanes, Lightning, Maple Leafs
Shinny is hockey in its pristine form, played out in the open on a frozen pond. These team names represent other things you'll find out in the natural elements.

Zone Division: Blackhawks, Canadiens, Capitals, Oilers, Senators
These team names are all provincial, representing different peoples and national symbols.


Chase Division: Bruins, Coyotes, Devils, Panthers, Predators
These team names represnt things that will chase you, just like hockey players chase the puck.

Grind Division: Blue Jackets, Kings, Rangers, Sabres, Wild
Attack, attack, attack.

Wing Division: Blues, Flyers, Jets, Red Wings, Stars
Wingers are an important part of a hockey team's offense. Wings and flight also feature prominently in these teams' logos.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NFL

As we head into the final weeks of the season in the National Football League, I figured I would rearrange the league much as I did with the NBA and MLB.

This is completely unnecessary, since the NFL is the best organized pro sport in America. But then again, when has something being unnecessary ever stopped me before?


Gridiron Division: Browns, Jets, Packers, Steelers
The teams in this division represent American football's blue collar roots.

Roar Division: Bengals, Jaguars, Lions, Panthers
Great cats, anyone?

Rush Division: Bears, Chargers, Dolphins, Rams
These teams are named for things that charge forward with unstoppable force.

Stampede Division: Bills, Broncos, Colts, Texans


Air Division: Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Ravens
These teams really fly down the field.

Frontier Division: Chiefs, Cowboys, 49ers, Redskins
The wild, wild west.

Legends Division: Giants, Patriots, Saints, Titans
These teams are larger than life.

Sea Division: Buccaneers, Raiders, Seahawks, Vikings
These nautically themed teams are ready to sail to victory.

Friday, December 9, 2011

If the mascots ruled the NBA

Realigning Major League Baseball was so much fun, I thought I'd give the other professional sports leagues the same treatment. In honor of their recent labor peace, then, here is the National Basketball Association rearranged thematically.


Cager Division: Bobcats, Grizzlies, Hawks, Raptors, Timberwolves
The team names in this division are all animals one might find in a cage at the zoo. "Cager" is an old term for basketball player.

Drive Division: Bulls, Clippers, Pacers, Pistons, Rockets
This division is all about moving forward.

Phenom Division: Bucks, Heat, Hornets, Suns, Thunder
These team names are all based on natural phenomena. A very talented player is also called a "phenom."


Court Division: Cavaliers, Kings, Magic, Warriors, Wizards
These team names represent all of the things you might have found at the king's court in days of yore. Nowadawys, you'll find them on the basketball court.

Heritage Division: Celtics, Jazz, Knicks, Lakers, 76ers
This division contains teams that honor America's heritage and diversity.

Pioneer Division: Mavericks, Nets, Nuggets, Spurs, Trail Blazers
The teams in this division pay homage to America's pioneer days.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Throw away your old, outdated diagram of the Solar System

Graphic designer Emily Lakdawalla has created the best presentation slide / poster of the Solar System that I have ever seen. I tried this myself once, but mine was crude and amateurish by comparison. Emily's is the real deal. It captures in gorgeous detail diversity of planets that we now know exists in our neighborhood.

Slide-worthy images and a high-res poster version (complete with planet names) are available here for download. The poster can also be purchased in 16"x20"($18) and 23"x35" sizes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

If the mascots ruled the Major Leagues

Major League Baseball recently decided to move the Houston Astros franchise from the National League Central division to the American League West. It's not the best move they could have made, but it does even things out a bit.

Still, Houston has always been a National League town, and in baseball, that kind of tradition is a sacred thing. The move is also unsettling, because it requires interleague play every day of the season.

Then I got to thinking: well, why not just throw all tradition out the window. And so I did just that, rearranging the leagues along thematic lines. (If this seems to fly in the face of geographic sense, just remember that Atlanta and San Francisco were in the same division for decades.)


Diamond Division: Athletics, Dodgers, Reds, Red Sox, White Sox
The team names in this division all pay tribute to the game's roots.

Pride Division: Braves, Indians, Nationals, Phillies, Yankees
This division contains teams that pay tribute to various identities.

Wheelhouse Division: Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Pirates, Rangers
This division pays homage to the working people of America. (And also pirates.)


Fly Division: Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Orioles
These team names all denote things that fly, just like a well-hit baseball.

Grand Division: Giants, Mets, Rockies, Royals, Twins
These team names represent big things.

Wild Division: Cubs, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays, Tigers
These teams all use wild animals as their mascots.