Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Best of the Worst

A few years ago when I discovered the hilariously offensive TheBestPageintheUniverse, I was instantly drawn to one particular article titled, "10 Shitty Movies that Everyone Loves." "Oh yes," I mused. "Like Top Gun, for example?" Needless to say I was right: author Maddox had granted Top Gun the number one spot on this prestigious list.

And while Top Gun is in many ways indeed a ridiculous movie, Maddox's inclusion of it among movies "that everyone loves" is also pretty accurate, and quite interesting. Because for all its ridiculousness, Top Gun was actually a pretty important movie.

For a movie that was supposedly about the "best of the best," Top Gun was a movie that succeeded by aiming low: by appealing to all the major lowest common denominators. Let's take a look at what the film actually had to offer its audiences:

Sex...romance...action...stuff blowing up...beach vehicles...faceless enemies from foreign countries...macho military tough guys...a hot teacher you can potentially score with...cheesy fast tempo rock music...

No kidding, this movie really did have it all. It's safe to say that whatever primal need you've got to satisfy, this movie will engage - no pun intended - it at some point or other.

Then there's Tom Cruise. Back before the high profile divorce, the Scientology bullshit, the weird eccentricities and the so-so movies, Tom Cruise was just a good-looking young guy on his way to becoming the biggest movie star on earth. And Top Gun was the movie that would start the ball rolling.

In fact, Top Gun actually defined the whole genre of the "big budget summer blockbuster." It proved that going to movies could be just plain fun, over-the-top decadence. Corny dialogue and unrealistic action scenes were okay, as long as your movie was slick enough, fast enough, and edited well enough to give audiences something to get excited about during the lazy days of summer.

The strange thing about Top Gun's familiarity is that even though I've theoretically "seen" it many times (in bits and pieces on cable TV, usually) I've only ever actually seen the entire film once. And sadly, I didn't see it in a theatre, it was a VHS rental. I'm convinced one of the defining moments of my youth was when I, as a 12-year old kid in the summer of 1986, opted NOT to go see Top Gun in a theatre, in favour of some forgettable martial arts flick. When the second theatre emptied out, and excited teenagers raving about Top Gun poured out into the parking lot, I knew I had made a poor decision.

So what better way to kick off the start of summer - with a huge hit of 1980s nostalgia - than to dig up a copy of the movie - the whole movie - on DVD and watch it again.

It actually held up pretty well. The absence of CGI effects in favour of old-fashioned models and actual aerial photography gives the movie a refreshingly gritty feel compared to more slick, modern fare. The dialogue is as lovingly ridiculous as I remembered, and the action is fast and brief enough to maintain even the shortest attention spans.

One of the best parts of the DVD was actually the old promotional TV spots from back in '86. Hearing that gravelly Movie Trailer Guy's voice rumbling, "Tom Cruise...Kelly McGillis...Top Gun" still gives me a little shiver.

And don't get me started on the music videos...can you say gigantic hair? Holy shit, can I ever. The soundtrack from Top Gun proved how important the link between a film and its musical score can be. It's basically impossible to hear that annoying Kenny Loggins song, Danger Zone, without its accompaniment by some flickering mental image from Top Gun.

The DVD also included a huge 3-hour behind the scenes documentary of the making of Top Gun. For those unwilling to sit through the entire thing, here's a few of the most interesting trivia bits:

-The film was saved by very clever editing. The original cut had aerial combat sequences that were so confusing and lacking in plot that no one could follow them. Fortunately, the pilots were all wearing masks covering their lips, so whatever dialogue was needed to convey the action was added later.

-The scene with Cruise and McGillis together in the elevator was added after the rest of the film was finished, to give their romance a more gradual development. Both actors had moved on to different projects and had completely different hairstyles when they were filmed together in an elevator.

-The close-up footage of Val Kilmer during the volleyball scene was apparently ruined, and Kilmer joked that a jealous Tom Cruise was responsible for its destruction. Director Tony Scott remarked that he had really "no idea" what he was doing with the scene, besides making "soft porn,"and it was actually the most difficult scene to do.

-All of the good hits in the volleyball scene were done by professional volleyball players who looked almost exactly like the actors.

-After Top Gun proved to be a success, plans were underway to create a sequel, but the studio wanted to avoid the hassle of arranging the co-operation of the navy and government again. The plan was to use whatever aerial footage was left over from the original film, but Top Gun's producers insisted that every piece of worthwhile footage had already been used to create Top Gun. They were right, and plans for the sequel were scrapped.

-The scene in which Iceman sneezes and says "bullshit" while Maverick is telling the story about the MIG was a complete ad lib on the part of Val Kilmer. No one knew he was going to say it, and the other actors' reactions were completely natural as a result.

-The "flat spin" sequence in which Goose dies was based on technical advisor Pete Pettigrew's memory of a similar accident from his long career as a fighter pilot (I was surprised to discover this, thinking it was one of the film's more unrealistic moments). In real life, the ill-fated pilot did manage to eject succesfully.

-Although the "Top Gun" academy does exist, the "Top Gun trophy" did not. Pettigrew insisted it would be an extremely bad idea: the Top Gun pilots were already so competitive that any extra incentive to perform would've pushed them completely over the edge.

-Val Kilmer loathed his final line in the movie, "You can be my wingman" so much that he originally refused to say it, and it took a lot of convincing to change his mind.

-Michael Ironside originally had doubts that he could pull off his role as a naval officer. He later changed his mind after he was mistaken for an actual naval officer while in costume.

-Renting an F-14 Tomcat jet fighter cost a whopping $7600 per hour.

So love it or hate it, Top Gun has an important place in movie history. It's the best of the worst, the original over-the-top blockbuster, the movie that proved you could become a gigantic movie star with a ridiculous, made-up name, as long as the movie you starred in was equally ridiculous. Watch it again, because you know as well as I do, you can't pretend to be back in summer of 1986 without it...

And remember: "...even you could get laid in a place like this."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Find Your Arch Enemies - and Destroy Them

A few weeks ago I made a rather disturbing discovery, and felt obliged to share it with a close friend who I thought should be concerned. I mentioned to him that there were, according to my internet research (read: late night surfing for porno) not one, but two other people who apparently share his exact name. I was shocked that he did not seem to be the least bit disturbed, however.

"Yes, I'm quite happy about that. The way I see it, those people with my name will draw a lot of attention away from me and any awful things that I might do. They serve as a buffer of sorts."

I could not believe he could be so obtuse. "You fool," I told him. "You've got to find these people who share your name and destroy them."

I just assumed that it was common knowledge to everyone that any person who shares your name is automatically your arch enemy. I mean, let's face it: if someone else shares your name, that makes it much easier for them to try and become you. And once someone else becomes you, well...needless to say, your fate is sealed. Hence the importance of finding people who share your name, and destroying them.

Fortunately, a couple of sites on the internet have helped somewhat in expediting the process. One of my online friends introduced me to a website that will help to determine how many other people in the United States share your exact name. According to this site, my friend does not exist, because there is apparently no one in the USA who has her name (including her). A disturbing thought, certainly. But at least she can rest easy knowing that there are no doppelgangers out there trying to steal her life.

Sadly, the potential for malevolence is not limited to people who share your name. Happily, there is another website that can help you find your arch enemies. has a feature that can point out the identities and locations of your enemies. For those not familiar with the site, it is ostensibly a "dating" site that contains a large number of "personality test" style questions. Using your answers to these questions, the site will evaluate your compatibility, or lack thereof, with the other users of the site and establish ratings in three categories: "Match", "Friend" and "Enemy." Now most naive users will, of course, want to find out who they "match" with. A foolish endeavor, of course. I mean, seriously: do you really need a website to tell you who likes you? I just assume everyone likes me, right?

But the enemies - ah! To overlook the most important aspect of the site - the "Enemy" ratings - would be a grave error. These enemies could be lurking anywhere, just waiting to steal your life/name/personality/all that you've struggled to gain and then destroy you, or even worse - become you.

I suggest that anyone who is not a member of OKCupid should join immediately. Then begin answering the personality test questions; a few hundred should be sufficient for accurate results. Next, go to the "Search Matches" tool and sort them based on highest Enemy Percentage. Undoubtedly, a few users will turn up who are rated 0% Match, 0% Friend, but 80+% Enemy. These people are not your friends. They are not your lover. But they most definitely are your Enemy. And you should immediately make plans to initiate their destruction.

No doubt you will be disturbed by your findings. I know I was, when I discovered that innocent-looking female Wal-Mart clerk in Idaho who was rated as my 90% Enemy. But you should not be disturbed, you should be relieved. Now that you are aware of their existence, the balance of power has swung toward you. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is not bliss. Knowing is half the battle.

Initiating contact is a delicate procedure, which I am reluctant to recommend. True, the site is free to use, so you can send as many messages to any user as you want to. But I would suggest subtlety, at least initially. Keep your messages vague, but intimidating. Use a subject line such as, "I know what you are planning." Or the slightly more obvious, "Don't fuck with me bitch." This will instill a sense of unease in your enemies that will make them more reluctant to engage you in open battle.

They will probably play dumb, and reply with a message such as "Who the fuck are you?" or "What the hell do you want?" Obviously, they may be quite hostile, but their hostility should be taken as a sign of weakness. Now that they know you exist, they have already lost some of their power. They can no longer plan to stealthily infiltrate your life. When they arrive, you will be ready.

I know what you're thinking right now. You're thinking to yourself, "Well, I'm a generally nice, good, kind person. How could anyone dislike me? I hardly ever do anything wrong, except the occasional Friday night when I get ridiculously shitfaced and embarass myself."

Don't be a fool! Your enemies are out there! And up until now, you haven't even had the means to find them, let alone destroy them. But don't worry - the internet can help. Just make sure you find them, before they find you.

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Falling Asleep Games

As a child, I suffered a bit from insomnia. I wasn't very good at sleeping. My little mind was always active, I was scared of the dark, I had a good imagination...whatever. For some reason or other, I just wasn't good at falling asleep.

These days, being an exhausted (and possibly exhausting) adult, I usually don't have any trouble sleeping anymore. But once in a while, there's a time when I just can't sleep. And being the clever and resourceful fellow I am, I began to think of ways I could put myself to sleep when sleep didn't arrive in a timely manner on its own. I began to think of these as my "Falling Asleep Games". In other words, games you can play by yourself to help make yourself fall asleep. Counting Sheep is probably the best known Falling Asleep Game, but as you'll see in the next few examples, I've taken the concept to the next level...

The Story Game
In his memoir, "On Writing" Stephen King (who suffers from insomnia - big surprise there) described what is probably one of the best and simplest Falling Asleep Games: the story game. This one is pretty obvious: you think of an idea for a story in your head, and then you start writing it, in your head. Flesh out as much of the plot as you can, lay it down, word for word, until you fall asleep. The next night, pick it up again where you left off the night before. I suppose the best thing about this game is, the worse you are at sleeping, the more "writing" you can get done. No wonder King is so prolific...

The Mental Arithmetic Game
In order for Falling Asleep Games to work, at least for me, they have to be mentally taxing, but not overly interesting. I think the best games are those that take quite a bit of mental energy, but aren't so stimulating as to keep your mind energized, and therefore, awake. The Mental Arithmetic Game is probably the best example of this. Again, the idea is pretty simple: You think of a math problem, and then try to solve it in your head. To add to the tedium, I use a sequential series of problems (i.e. a multiplication table). The highest multiplication table I have memorized (keep in mind, I'm not so great at math) is 12. So, I might start with a problem like 13x12 and try to solve it in my head. Then I'll try to do 13x13, and 13x14, and so on. I hate trying to do math in my head, so I find the process exhausting. And the mental exhaustion puts me to sleep.

The Disappearing Game
This is one of the more fun and more interesting Falling Asleep Games that I've thought of. For that reason, it might not be the best way of putting yourself to sleep, depending on how you play it. But the idea is this: You try to imagine what would happen if you suddenly disappeared one day. And you try to imagine it in as much detail as possible. Who would be the first person to notice? What things in your life would start to deteriorate after your disappearance? What would happen to all of your possessions, pets, home, etc? What would people say about your mysterious absence? Would they try to figure out where you went? How long would they keep looking? Remember, the idea is not to think about what happened to you (remember, you just vanished completely one day), but rather to think about the consequences of your disappearance in as much exhaustive detail as possible. Therein lies the mental exercise...and the part that will eventually put you to sleep. It's particularly tiring if you think about all of the mundane details associated with the vanishing (e.g. were you holding a pen when you vanished? Did it roll under the table? Will anyone find it and check it for fingerprints? And so on).

That's all for now, hopefully this post didn't put you to sleep. Wait, actually I hope it did.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


I've always loved journaling, and for the last few years, I've kept journals of my every day life that are fairly detailed. I like to think it's the kind of thing that all single people who live alone would enjoy doing. That's generally better than thinking of myself as an isolated weirdo.

These days, thanks to technology, people can write down all of the tedious minutiae of their everyday lives, and use it to bore complete strangers. That's called blogging.

My approach to journaling is slightly different. Slightly contrary, as is my nature. I keep journals the old-fashioned way: I write stuff down on paper. The process is rather slow, but it seems more "special." I can pull out the old papers years later, and they'll be lovingly worn and slightly dog eared. I can tell if I was trying to write quickly by how messy the writing is, or what kind of pen I favoured at the moment, or how bored I was feeling by what I doodled in the margins. The mood for the entire year gets determined by whatever colour of folder I choose to store the whole thing in. And unlike blogging, it's very difficult to actually write down every single thing that actually happens.

This creates an interesting dilemna. How do I decide what to write down? Generally speaking, events in most people's lives can be separated into two categories: good things and bad things. I'm not going to include "neutral" things, because those probably weren't worth writing down to begin with. Part of the reason I'm journaling to begin with is because I believe my memory - anyone's memory - is a delicate and notoriously unreliable thing. And sooner or later, parts of it are going to fail, like an old computer whose hard drive stops working one day. And once that begins to happen, the only record of my life is going to be whatever I chose to write down.

But here's the trick: since I choose what to write down, I've been in control of the overall mood of the journals. If I leave out the bad things that have happened to me, I can look back at my journals, reading nothing but good things, and think to myself, "Wow, my life has been FANtasTIC!" And depending on how much I remember, I might not even realize that I'm essentially lying to myself.

So...what do I do? Leaving out all of the bad things is wildly innacurate, and leaving in every bad thing is needlessly depressing.

I write down every imporant thing that happens, good or bad. I try to give good things a higher priority. I try not to dwell on negative things, especially if they just aren't going to be all that important in the years to come. That time I was waiting at the bus stop and the bus didn't stop when it should have? No, not important. That time the mail order store sent me the wrong colour of paint? No, not important. That time my best friend died? Well, yes - that's pretty important. Too important to leave out. That time I made the greatest ever omelet for breakfast? Well...that WAS pretty good...but not quite important enough to write down.

Keep your priorities straight, don't dwell on the negative, and yes, your life's record can also be a wonderfully distilled account of how FANtasTIC your life has been. And...for the most part, it might even be quite accurate. Mostly.

Oh, and speaking of boring complete strangers with everyday minutiae: there's a new website now for people who seemingly can't get enough of doing exactly that. The site is called and it's best described as a kind of micro-blogging. It works like this: In a couple of lines, you write down what you're doing at any given time of the day, updating it as often as you choose.

So, let me give you an example of how this works:

Me: "I'm eating dinner."
People reading my micro-blog: "Wow, he's eating dinner now!"

For anyone whose Sarcasmometer is malfunctioning at the moment, is probably not going to be making my list of, "best ever uses for the internet."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Junk Mail

Everyone hates junk mail, and by junk mail, I mean email spam. But what exactly is it that irritates me so much? Is it the predictable subject matter? The occasionally offensive content? The ridiculous schemes targetted at the (apparently) extremely gullible? Is it the clumsiness with which this bizzare style of "advertising" is delivered?

No. What I hate most about spam is the grammar. Once upon a time, spam actually was a more or less legitimate way of advertising a product. You know, back when they actually SAID what the product was in the subject line. These days...dear god. Spam subject lines are apparently created by some sort of random nonsense generator. Right now, for example, my Yahoo email account has some 1400 pieces of spam in it (I've had the account for about as long as Yahoo has existed, and spam typically reaches it at the rate of about 1 or 2 pieces per hour). And one of the subject lines from said spam is "A robot in cancel." What the heck does that mean? What could it possibly mean? Why on earth would I want to read it? Clearly, whoever wrote it doesn't actually speak english, and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to communicate in whatever form of nonsense-speak it's utilizing. It's like getting emails from some sort of malevolent, malfunctioning artificial intelligence out of a William Gibson novel.

Spam is downright creepy. I mean, generally speaking, I do believe that humans are basically good. But if anyone ever wanted to make an argument for the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, I'm confident that spam email would definitely form the crux of that argument.

And I love the twisted logic that concluded it would be a GREAT idea to misspell words in the subject line. Because, you know, it makes perfect sense to misspell the word "penis," since that way they'll be able to circumvent the email filter I created that trashes all emails with "penis" in the subject line...except, of course, I created that filter because I wasn't interested in said emails in the first place. Not only is the AI behind spam malevolent and malfunctioning, it seems incapable of processing the fact that NO means NO.

I honestly think that spam emails should be punishable with the death penalty. That's a strong statement, since I don't really believe in the death penalty to begin with. But I can't think of anything anywhere on earth as frustrating, as irritating, as wasteful, as just plain pointless as email spam.

Well, at least this is giving me inspiration for a new kind of personnality test to create on OKCupid: The "What Kind of Spam Email are You?" Test... Are you the "increase your p*n1s size" email, or the "Get a FREE replica Rolex watch!" email? Yeah...this is one test that'll practically write itself. Or better yet, I could get a malevolent AI to write it for me...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book Review - Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

Given the breathtakingly cold weather lately, I thought I would take the opportunity to spend more time reading. Today I'd like to talk about an intriguing little book that's captured my attention - and imagination - recently.

Uglies is a young adult novel by author Scott Westerfeld. It's the story of a teenaged girl named Tally, whose life is a fascinating mix of dystopian society, amazing technology, and artificial perfection. As the story begins, Tally is anxiously anticipating her 16th birthday and the slightly mysterious "operation" that will transform her from one of the mundane "uglies" and into one of the almost-supernaturally beautiful "pretties." From that point on, her life will become an exercise in extreme decadence. But it quickly becomes clear there are a few cracks forming in the gorgeous facade of Tally's world...starting with those few teens who decide they don't want to become pretties and indulge in the seemingly wonderful - but curiously dull - lifestyle that comes with it. Tally's new best friend Shay is one such teen, and their adventures together provide glimpses into a world outside the overprotective city that Tally has never dreamed of. Suddenly Tally's future seems less and less certain, especially after she runs afoul of the mysterious Special Circumstances, who offer her an impossible choice between friendship and her own future as a pretty.

Uglies is a fast-paced and compelling read. Its plot unfolds with plenty of suspense and forshadowed creepiness. Most of its surprises and plot twists are fairly obvious in advance, but it's still a lot of fun to watch it all unravel.
And the questions the book raises are interesting ones: What price is worth paying for a world without war, without racism? What value do we place on our appearances, our personal freedom? Should we sacrifice individuality if it promotes fairness? While Uglies apparently takes place in the United States hundreds of years in the future, its context is interestingly connected to our contemporary 21st century world. Characters frequently refer to the "Rusties" and "pre-Rusties" to describe those civilizations, such as ours, that struggled - and failed - before theirs (the term Rusties being a less-than-subtle criticism of our current fossil fuel-driven, car-ccentric society).

While there are explanations attempted for some of the technology sprinkled liberally throughout Tally's world - such as the magnetically-powered hoverboards and hovercars - much of it is tantamount to magic in a Star Trekian kind of way. And it's a bit hard to swallow the idea of a world seemingly lacking any sort of economy - there's no mention of money, income, shopping, taxes or any of the characteristics of rampant commericialism prevalent in today's world. I also didn't think the book really succeeded at conveying the dark side of Tally's society - I actually thought their lifestyle sounded pretty darn good, and often found myself wishing I could become one of those beautiful, decadent people living in New Pretty Town.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Uglies. I'd recommend setting aside a few large chunks of time before picking up this book. Its brisk pacing and cliffhanging chapters make it difficult to put down, and the second book in the trilogy - Pretties - suggests more of the same.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nintendo Wii Release, Ground Zero

For the first time all year, nerds everywhere popped a gigantic boner this morning in anticipation of the release of Nintendo's new video game console, the Nintendo Wii (pronounced "wee").

Signs of the Wii's imminent arrival were visible before sunrise this morning. Around 6 am, I noticed the power went off in my apartment, no doubt due to desperate nerds trying to infiltrate the Best Buy and Future Shop stores within walking distance of my home. I pictured a goatee-wearing 20-something fleeing the store, precious console tucked in a big sack with a Nintendo logo on it, while pursuing security personnel shouted, "Stop him! He’s taking a Wii!"

I check out the reviews of Wii games on Gamespot. There are about 10 already, about half have good reviews, the other half, mediocre. The quirkier games, intriguingly, seem to have the best use of the new controls, while the more traditional fare, like first-person shooters seem to have issues with the controls. In fact, one of the more anticipated new games, Red Steel, has scored a dismal 5ish out of 10. The game I most want to try is the boxing game, because let's face it: gamers haven't had the opportunity to pretend to punch their television since the release of the Nintendo Power Glove, back in the 90s. Come to think of it, hasn't this whole motion-sensing control gimmick been done before?

But time's wasting. By 10:45, I'm off to Best Buy, the closest store most likely to have the Wii. Sure enough, there's a good-sized line up and a helpful sign outside. The sign informs that this particular store has 87 Wii consoles for sale on a first-come, first-wii basis. I walk past the people, chairs and sleeping bags and count the line while trying not to snicker. It's mostly men and a few women who looked embarassed to be there, not to mention cold. There's only about 60 people, meaning if I was willing to stand in line for an hour until the store opens, I could probably get my own Wii. It also means that it was totally worth it for those people who camped out all fucking night to get one.

I can see Future Shop without leaving Best Buy (the two stores' redundant proximity to each other being a good sign of people's eagerness to fill the holes in their empty lives with superfluous electronic gadgets) and the situation there looks pretty similar. I don't bother walking over.

I head into the mall, knowing there's at least two retailers there who would be carrying the Wii. I hit Zellers first - no line up. The store's still closed, but a rather dismissive little sign informs me the store only has 9 Wii consoles and they're going to whoever shows up at 10 am in the "south parkade" entrance...where ever that is. Yeah, that makes much more sense than, oh I don't know, going to the store. But at least they're dignified about it. There's also a tiny sign mentioning the store didn't get any Playstation 3 consoles, due to Sony's planned - oops, I mean "unexpected" shortage of crucial components. "So nerds," I would've added, had I written the sign, "you can fuck off and stop asking, okay?"

I wander past EB Games. There's a few bored-looking, 20-something guys outside the store. A sign in the window mentions something about lining up here to pick up Nintendo Wii preorders. There's even a few people outside HMV, which has recently started carrying video games, but no sign.

But let's be honest: aren't I a die-hard video gamer? Isn't this the most revolutionary new console to come down from the great gods of gaming in the last few years? Doesn't that mean I would automatically step over my own family and friends to obtain one on the day of release?

Um, yeah, let's put it this way: if I had the chance to buy one without waiting in line, I probably would've. But all the excitement was too much for me. By 11:15, I had already returned home to rest, relax and play the greatest video game ever made: Robotron: 2084.

Year of release? 1982.