Monday, September 15, 2014

Lee Smolin - Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Quantum gravity isn’t a subject for everyone. I’ve been reading a few books on it recently and this book is the most recent. For those that don’t know, the theory of quantum gravity is one of several attempts to unify the theories that deal with large-scale things, like planets, and the theories that deal with small-scale things, like electrons and other subatomic particles. It would essentially create one theory that explains everything from the largest object down to the smallest possible particle.

I hadn’t heard of the author, Lee Smolin, before I came across this book. However, he does have a firm grasp of the subject. According to the back of the book, he’s a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Professor of Physics at Waterloo University.

If you haven’t heard of quantum theory before, you’ll probably need to do some reading before you start this book. It’s not that the information is unclear. It’s just that you might not catch everything. It’s like trying to drive a sports car if you’ve never driven before. You’ll have to work your way up. Someone new to this kind of science in general will probably be confused after the first few chapters.

The author admits that the book is meant for the “intelligent layperson”. He hasn’t assumed a previous knowledge of the book’s subject. However, physics isn’t really what you’d call an ‘easy’ subject. Some of the stuff you may remember from high-school or college science. Much of it will be new to you.

You’re probably wondering about the three roads that the title refers to. They refer to three methods of uniting large-scale and small-scale physics. One is M Theory. (No one is really sure what the ‘M’ stands for.) Another is Loop Quantum Gravity, referred to as LQG. The third is Black-Hole Thermodynamics. The answer could be on one of these ‘roads’ or some combination of all three.

The book deals with all three. However, instead of devoting a section to each ‘road’, the book is written chronologically, which does make it easier to understand. The three areas of research have some things in common and may one day prove to be parts of the same thing.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in physics. There were a few parts that were somewhat difficult to understand, but the book as a whole was easy to read. For someone who knows at least something about physics, the book is fairly easy to understand. The chapters are very well organized and presented. The author does a good job of explaining things. The only complaint that I had was that at times, it seemed like the author was almost bragging, telling about certain things that he’s done. However, it does help to have someone that’s done work in the field, which makes feeling like that unavoidable. I’d give the book four stars. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lynne Truss - Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I remember once I was at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Throughout the zoo, they had several signs posted about “Free Ranging Monkeys.” I turned to my father and said that I liked free stuff as much as the next guy, but I had no idea what a ranging monkey was. (What they had probably meant to say was “Free-ranging Monkeys.”) That was many years ago.

It wasn’t until just recently that I found a book for people like me. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” is Lynne Truss’s way of telling the world what she thinks of a particular movie title (“Two Weeks Notice”) and various other grammatical mistakes, many of which she blames on greengrocers.

There’s one chapter dedicated to apostrophes, mostly because people find it so difficult to tell when to use one. It would seem that possessives confuse a lot of people, especially when it comes to ‘its’ and ‘it’s’. (‘Its’ is possessive while ‘it’s’ is a contraction for ‘it is’ or ‘it was’.) There’s also another chapter dedicated to the comma. (For some reason, people seem to have trouble with the comma, as well as the apostrophe.) Truss points out several examples where a well-placed comma could have made a difference, as in the joke to which the title refers. (For those that haven’t heard it, it’s printed on the back of the book.)

The book also covers the colon, semicolon, dashes and several other punctuation marks, but not in as much detail. That’s because commas and apostrophes seem have the greatest impact on how we read a sentence. Consider the words, “woman without her man is savage”. (This is actually brought up in the book.) One way of punctuating it is: “Woman, without her man, is savage.” You could also go with, “Woman: Without her, man is savage.” Notice how commas make all the difference. As I’ve mentioned, dashes also have a great impact and are also covered in detail.

Truss is British and wrote the book for a British audience. No attempt was made to rewrite or edit the book for American audiences, but it doesn’t really matter. Most readers shouldn’t have a problem with the book. Many of the differences are in terminology. What Americans call a period, the British call a full stop. (I have to wonder: if a period is a full stop, is a comma a rolling stop?)

I’m tempted to recommend this book just to certain people, and I don’t just mean those within the Epinions community. However, I’d recommend this book to anyone who writes. Truss writes that the fluid nature of the Internet and the popularity of email and text messaging are partly responsible for the decline of punctuation and the language in general. (This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard such a sentiment.) I haven’t noticed it as much, probably because I deal mostly with people that hold themselves to a higher standard. (In other words, I’d like to think that I’ve chosen my friends well.)

The main reason that I’m recommending this book is the clarity with which it’s written. Anyone, British or American, can pick up this book and understand what’s being said and why the author can’t stand certain mistakes and what, if anything, she’d like to see people do about it. You wouldn’t think that you could take a subject like punctuation and keep it interesting for 204 pages, but Truss did it.

For all those that cringe whenever you see misplaced or misused punctuation, you can feel better knowing that there are others like you out there. For those that don’t cringe, this book was written for you.

Amir D. Aczel - Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Anyone who took math in high school would remember the Pythagorean theorem. It states that the sum of the squares of the two sides of a right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. (More basically, that a squared plus b squared equals c squared.) Then, along came Fermat, who stated that two is the only whole-number power greater than one to which this equation is possible, at least with whole numbers as a and b. This means that you could have A cubed plus B cubed equaling C cubed. Supposedly, Fermat had proof, but he never wrote it down.

In the 300 years since Fermat wrote that down, many great minds have tried to figure out how to prove (or disprove) what became known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. This book shows many of the major players and how they went about trying to get the answer, which was eventually solved. (Yes, it was an extremely difficult problem.)

I thought the book was a little short. It was only 147 pages, which made for an easy read. While the book covered the subject matter pretty well, it didn’t go into a lot of detail. There were many mathematical theorems and proofs that built up to the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem; someone that doesn’t know a lot about higher math will probably be lost. I was able to follow the book, but there were still a few things that I didn’t know much about.

Instead of focusing on the mathematical detail, the book is more of a historical account of what happened. For instance, Fermat lived for another 26 years, I believe, after writing out his famous equation. In that time, he never bothered to write out his proof. It’s believed that his proof was much simpler than the one we have now, mostly because it used a lot of math that Fermat didn’t have available. However, we’ll never know if Fermat actually had a proof or if he just wrote out this equation on a whim.

(On a side note, there was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard mentions Fermat’s Last Theorem, stating that it hadn’t yet been solved. That episode aired a few years prior to the finding of the solution.)

One thing that I noticed, and I might be imagining this, is that it seemed like there was a lot of repetition. I know that I wasn’t repeating any pages, but there were some passages that seemed familiar, as if I had just read them a few pages back. Maybe I had accidentally gone back a few pages, but I doubt it.

I’d give this book four stars, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. You will need some understanding of math. It may be somewhat difficult for the average person. If you’re into math, this would be a good book to read. 

Gothic Vampires from Hell (2007)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There’s a joke that I think applies to this movie:  A guy orders dinner at a restaurant.  After he eats it, the waiter asks how the customer’s food was.  He says, “I have two complaints.  First, it was horrible.  Second, there wasn’t enough of it.”

Ok.  On with the review, then.

The title of the movie comes from the name of a band that wants to win a competition.  The prize is a contract as the house band at a Gothic night club.  Losers at least get some stage time, but the lead singer of the title band has put too much time into the band to settle for second place.  He wants to win.

Enter two women that claim that they want to sign Gothic Vampires From Hell to a recording contract.  If they can get a contract, they don’t need the club.   The women aren’t quite what they seem, though.  People have a way of going missing after meeting with them.

That’s really where the plot description ends.  I can’t even say it’s a battle between good and evil as it’s really just a battle between the to women and the bands that they meet.  As you might have gathered from trailers and other reviews, the two women are vampires who are really looking for their new vampire leader.

There are some movies that do well with a small budget.  This isn’t one of them.  The most obvious sign of it being low budget is the recycling of footage, despite the short running time.  If you’re making a movie and need to reuse footage and it’s going to be very obvious, I’m sure there are ways you can work that into the story.  Instead, there are several scenes with different bands playing where the images of people dancing are used repeatedly.  To boot, the scenes look like nothing more than filler.  (Remember when you had to write a paper for school and you played with the font and margin to make the minimum number of pages?  This is the cinematic equivalent.)

Most of the acting was bad, too.  Yes, good actors had to start somewhere.  I don’t think many of them started in a movie like this.  Normally, I’d go to the Internet Movie Database and look at the actors’ other work as an indication.  With many bad movies, there are no other roles to speak of.  This one seems to be the exception, although I think there’s at lease one actor that hadn’t been in anything else at all.  Others have had a few roles, although some have had a lot of roles in other bad movies.

The video quality looked like the movie was made with a couple of borrowed camcorders.  It seemed like the producers were trying to make up for bad video quality by doing things that made it look more like they didn’t have that much money.  What little CGI they had didn’t really blend in that well and actually was distracting.  They also tried to use a lot of fancy transitions between scenes which made it seem like they were trying too hard.

I think with some more attractive women and a lot more nudity, this could have been a great porn title.  In fact, the one good thing the movie had going for it was a couple of attractive vampires.  If the writing was better, it could have been a real mainstream movie.  As it stands, it looks like someone took an episode from one of those horror series like Tales From the Crypt and put it on steroids.


Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Dead Zone (1983)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Christopher Walken plays John Smith, a man who has everything. He has a beautiful girlfriend. He also has a job as an English teacher. He’s doing all right until one night, after dropping his girlfriend off at her house, he gets in an accident. He wakes up in a hospital. When he remembers what happened and realizes that he’s without bandages, he asks what’s going on.

It turns out that he’s been in a coma for five years. His girlfriend has moved on. His job is no longer there. He finds that everything is either gone or slipping away. While in the hospital, he touches a nurse. He sees a burning house and calls out the name of the nurse’s daughter. Smith tells the nurse to run home and save the girl.

It turns out to be a long and painful road to recovery. He’s initially bound to a wheelchair, but with a lot of hard work, he’s able to walk with the help of a cane. He can’t return to his old job, but he is able to work as a tutor. Through it all is his doctor, Sam Weizak, played by Herbert Lom. Smith is able to demonstrate his abilities by figuring out where his long-lost mother is. (Dr. Weizak was separated from her during World War II.)

Smith is able to help others, like a boy who can’t seem to function. He also aids the local police department in finding a serial killer. Dr. Weizak advises against it because Smith ends up with terrible pains and reports that he feels like he’s dying each time. He can’t, though. He wants to help.

I should warn you that I’m about to divulge how the movie ends. Now is the time to stop reading if you’re not into that kind of stuff. Smith realizes that he has one last mission to accomplish. Martin Sheen plays Greg Stillson, a candidate for Senator. This guy’s a certifiable nut job and everyone knows it, but he keeps getting voted into office because he has that certain charisma that says, “I’ll do what I promise no matter what.”

Smith has a vision in which Stillson goes on to become president. This president isn’t anything like what Sheen plays on The West Wing. This president is suicidal. Instead of waiting for a diplomatic solution, he ends up launching missiles at the enemy, thus ensuring the end of humanity. Smith must kill Stillson, even though he’ll never get away alive.

The movie is very depressing. We see Smith eventually stripped of everything. This is a man that could be any one of us. (After all, he’s named John Smith.) Any one of us could be in an accident. Any one of us could see our girlfriend marry another man and have a child. Granted, not everyone has the ability to touch people and know details about them. As we watch Smith slide into a life he wants no part of, we have to empathize with him. I don’t think any of us would want that life, even if we had the ability to help people.

Walken does an excellent job as Smith. He portrays the frustration perfectly. Sheen also does very well as the sociopath candidate. It seems natural that the movie would have to end with one of them dying.  This is definitely not a movie for children. I don’t think that anyone under the age of 16 or so would be able to deal with many of the issues dealt with in this movie. I don’t think many adults would, either. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Directory Of Signs & Signals: A Guide To Signs, Codes And Signals From Across The World

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’ve always had an interest in communication, whether it be learning to communicate or different forms of communication.  Usually, I’ll read newspaper articles or get books from the library.  When I came across a book on signs and signals that was on sale, I decided to pick up a copy.

It’s a fairly simple book that covers various forms of nonverbal communication.  There are five groupings of signs and signals in the book:  Distance communication, personal communication, survival, sports and miscellaneous.  Each section is further divided into a few forms of signs.  Distance communication has semaphore, Morse code and maritime signal flags.  Personal communication has Braille, American Sign Language, British Sign Language and Emoticons.  Survival has ground-to-air signals, body signals and trail signs.  Sports is American football hand signals, soccer hand signals and motor-racing flags.  Miscellaneous is simply trading signals and weather symbols.  There are tabs on the side of the pages to make it easy to find each main section.

Each of the sections is broken down into two or three subsections.  There’s a brief (two-page) overview of the system, covering things like how it was invented or how it’s used.  There’s usually a few pages showing all of the symbols.  After that is several pages showing larger images of each symbol.  So, the semaphore section will have two pages, one showing A-O and the next showing P-Z, error and numerical sign.  After that comes pages showing two letters at a time.  Each letter is shown with an image of a head, feet and hands holding the flags.

With American Sign Language and British Sign Language, it’s just the letters and maybe one or two words.  There’s nothing on grammar or syntax or anything.  If you wanted to learn sign language, this would be a very basic introduction.  If you were going camping and wanted to know about using trail signs or ground-to-air communication, I’d recommend getting a better book than this.  I don’t think that this is meant to be comprehensive.

The subtitle indicates that the signals are supposed to be from across the world.  Yes, Morse code is used internationally, but there does seem to be a slant towards British and American.  Things like Braille and Morse code don’t even have international letters.  Other languages, like French and German, use letters that aren’t included in this book.

I feel compelled to write a very long review, but there’s not that much to the book.  It consists mostly of pictures with very little writing to it.  What writing there is doesn’t really go into much detail.  I’m sure that there are must more detailed books out there, especially on sign languages.  If you were interested in the history of Morse code or Braille, I’m sure you could find books dedicated to either one.  The book is nice to look at, but I don’t think is intended to be full-on reference.

That said, it’s worth getting if you can get it on sale.  I don’t know that I’d recommend paying more than a few dollars for it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Bit About Socks

Note:  This was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Every so often, I like to write about a totally random topic. Today, I’d like to take on the random topic of socks. Socks are a relatively unappreciated piece of clothing, often taken for granted. At their most functional level, they serve as a barrier, reducing or even preventing friction between your shoe and your foot. Those that don’t wear socks may end up with all sorts of sores and abrasions on their feet depending on what sort of shoe they wear. Take it from me; this is not pleasant. Socks are a very important part of your wardrobe.

Socks come in many colors, styles and sizes. Many are made of cotton, but you can get socks in synthetic materials such as Nylon. Some are meant for casual use while others are meant for sports. There are even dress socks meant for formal and business occasions. There are two baseball teams, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox, but those are just their names. I don’t think that there’s any actual connection to or endorsement of socks other than what the players wear.

Most people wear casual socks, which are used with regular sneakers. Usually, these socks are meant for sports such as tennis, but do well for everyday use. Casual socks range in size from ankle-high to knee-high, although I prefer those that go up about six inches above my ankle. I once tried ankle-high socks, but I felt like I wasn’t wearing anything at all. I would imagine that those that go up to the knee offer more support, but I really couldn’t see wearing those.

If you work or if you’re going for a job interview, you might want to wear dress socks depending on how you dress. Women who choose to wear a skirt often don’t wear dress socks. However, those that wear slacks often do. These are socks meant for occasions when you have to get dressed up. For some reason, you can’t wear just any socks. You need special socks that match the rest of your outfit. (Tell me how many times you’ve noticed the color of someone’s socks when they’re wearing slacks.)

Dress socks come in a wide variety of materials and colors. As I said, you have to match them. It will probably take you a while to find a material and style that you feel comfortable with. It took me years to find a pair that didn’t cause my big toes to curl inward, thus making my feet very uncomfortable. Now that I have to wear dress socks on a regular basis, I’m glad I have several pairs that I can wear for 8 to 10 hours at a time.

You might also have to wear formal socks if you ever need to wear a tuxedo. I don’t really know if or how these differ from dress socks. Every time I’ve needed a tuxedo, I’ve rented it and the rental came with a pair of shoes and a pair of socks. I don’t know if these are simply a cheap pair of socks or if they’re something special that you have to wear with the shoes. If someone knows what the difference is, please let me know.

You may be wondering how you can purchase a pair of socks. Any place that sells shoes should sell socks, as well. Wal-Mart and Target also have a wide variety of them. Yes, they do come in different foot sizes, so be careful. The size of the sock is usually given as a range of shoe sizes. (The package might be marked as men’s sizes 10-12, for instance.) If you’re not sure of your shoe size, check the tongue of your shoe, which should have a tag. This tag will tell you your shoe size. Since socks do have some stretch, you’ll find that you have a little leeway.

There seems to be some debate as to when to throw out your socks. Some people think that you should throw out your socks as soon as you have any sort of hole in them. Others seem to think that you can get away with wearing them a bit longer. The choice is yours. After all, they’re your socks.

I’d like to see Epinions list more socks for review. I’d actually write some reviews, but I usually have a hard time remembering which set of dress socks is which brand. I was going to talk about wet socks and argyle socks, but I’ve decided against. After all, nobody likes a wet sock. Or is that a wet blanket? (Maybe it’s an argyle blanket.) Anyway, I’m going to leave you with a Web site to look at.

The Bureau of Missing Socks

Assault Girls/Asaruto gâruzu (2009)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’ve come to realize that the first-review promotions on Epinions probably wasn’t done with movies in mind.  Many of the mainstream, big-budget titles were typically reviewed regardless.  This left many of the independent and low-budget movies, some of which are good.  However, the vast majority of movies without reviews were going to be movies that are pretty crappy.  Most of them were without reviews for a reason.

Take Assault Girls.  I’ll admit that I gave into my more basic instincts when I saw that it was about three Asian women in a VR setting.  What I didn’t realize is that at 70 minutes, there was no way it was going to be that good.  Ever notice how a three-hour movie can be long, but a one-hour movie will seem even longer?  This is the case here.  The movie starts with an 8-minute narration about shared reality and the decline of man or something.  (I couldn’t really tell because the audio was kind of muffled.)

We then cut to three women and a guy in some sort of fight with giant worm things.  One woman is a Goth that can turn into a raven and shoot energy balls.  Another is dressed in red and rides a horse.  The third is dressed in black and grey and has an airplane.  They guy has some sort of RPG launcher or something.  They’re all doing this to get points or something, all the while insulting each other’s motivations for being there.

Each of them runs out of some critical item, like grenades or transport time, and has to wait until they can get more.  They go back to their respective bases and then proceed to wander aimlessly in the vast desert that is their VR world.  Along the way, they meet a snail and a statue.  (What do they do?  Put the snail on the statue, of course.)  There’s also some sort of voice that tells them stuff, like how beating the big boss worm is impossible to do alone, so they’ll have to form a party.

Actually, I’m not sure if the voice was telling the pilot woman or all of them.  Either way, this takes up about a half an hour.  Yes.  We’re talking about a good 20-30 minutes of walking around in the desert.  Not a figurative 30 minutes, but a real 30 minutes, much like how I’m using a great many words to describe this.  I actually sat through the entire thing.

After everyone’s gotten some good VR exercise, pilot woman gathers everyone so that she can propose teaming up and defeating the boss worm, Madara, together and splitting the points four ways.  The guy doesn’t like this, so he proposes taking half and leaving the rest for the women to split.  She challenges him to a four-round duel.  He accepts and subsequently loses all four rounds.  So, they team up and beat the boss worm.  They guy then realizes that he’s been betrayed, so he shoots down the women and decides that he’s going to be a player hater from here on out.  That’s how the movie ends.

I’m going to say it right here: Do not buy this movie.  There is going to be little to no replay value.  Remember how I said that a one-hour movie could be longer than a three-hour movie?  Whoever edited this movie should have gotten rid of all the walking scenes.  I don’t think this would have taken anything away from the movie.  From there, we probably could have cut the movie in half again and not lost much.

When I finished the movie, I felt like I was missing some sort of perspective, like it was one big in-joke and I didn’t get the punch line.  I did some research and apparently, it borrows elements from a movie called Avalon.  (IMDb doesn’t list this as a sequel or anything.   It just says, “Evolves around the same virtual reality:  Avalon”.)  If I had watched Avalon, I’m wondering if Assault Girls would have made sense.  It also probably doesn’t help that I’m not a gamer.  It’s possible that the four characters are supposed to make fun of those that play a lot.

Instead of all of this walking, we could have had a little character development.  Why is everyone there?  We get that everyone’s being paid to be there, but how are they being paid?  Is it by the week?  Is it by the kill?  Is it by the point?  At least one person is doing this to support a family.  Is the family being paid directly?  How long do they stay there?  Is it for a set period of time or until they beat the game?  It’s also never stated why someone would pay them.  Is it to test the system?  Is it to study combat with an alien race?  At least some of this could have been explained during all of those walking scenes.

The movie is kind of  like The Matrix meets Dune.  (This isn’t entirely fair.  At least The Matrix had a coherent plot.)  This is the worst case of What the F*** was Everyone Thinking that I’ve ever seen.  There was this rule that everyone had to speak English while in the system, even though an exception is made in one scene.  This isn’t to say that subtitles aren’t necessary.  As I said, the introductory monologue was hard to understand and Netflix didn’t seem to have subtitles while streaming.  There were subtitles when the producers thought necessary, but I had trouble in  spots.  There are also five chapters, each of which has lines about gods being hidden and men that can’t be forgotten.  The text was not in English, but the subtitles were there to help.

It’s kind of like someone tried to take a short story and make it into a full-length movie.  As you might expect with a 70-minute film, they fell way short of this.  Instead of adding material, they had people walk around.  I’d recommend avoiding this one, even if you can get it streaming.

Monday, September 01, 2014

How to Find Really Bad Movies

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Yahoo! Articles account.

Everyone has a list of favorite movies. Ask a friend and they can give you their top five or ten. Sites like NetFlix and Amazon have top hundred lists. But what do you do if you want to find a really bad movie? There are some that are known for being bad, like many of Ed Wood's films. Plan 9 From Outer Space has become famous just for being bad. After reviewing many, many movies on, I began to wonder where I could find the worst movies.

In case you're wondering, if I see a movie that is truly considered bad, I sometimes have to watch it just to see how bad it is. Some are considered entertaining while others are held up as an example of what not to do. Occasionally, I'll even take it as a challenge. I have to watch the movie just to know and even review, myself.

Neither Amazon nor NetFlix has an official bottom 100 list, which is understandable. Amazon sells movies and NetFlix rents them. I doubt that either site wants to waste their time compiling a list of movies that you probably wouldn't want to watch anyway. One user on Amazon did put together a list of their own, located here. This list doesn't seem to be endorsed by Amazon, though.

Rotten Tomatoes is a good place to start. It's technically a review aggregator, meaning that they compile reviews from other sites and give them a score based on the percentage of positive reviews. I've always had a hard time finding a bottom 100 list, although their Wikipedia page does have a list of movies with 0%, meaning that no one liked them.

One site that I really like is One man has made it his quest to watch and review bad movies every so often. The reviews are well written and there's a wide variety of bad movies. Some, like Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe, I had already seen. Others, like Winterbeast, I had not and had only found out about through the web site.

Internet Movie Database does have a bottom 100 list of their own, located here. The list is the result of IMDb user ratings, so it will vary from time to time. Right now, the list doesn't seem to have many movies I've seen before, so I can't really attest to how good the list is, but I may get around to renting a few if I run out of stuff from

If you run out of movies from these sites, you can check Wikipedia's list. This has a few that are considered bad for various reasons, although I think a lot of them appear on other lists. With the Wikipedia list, though, you can get much more detailed information.

If that fails, one good way to get some bad movies is to check your on-demand selection if you have access to that. Check to see if there's a free section. A few of the movies are going to be good, but many of the movies in free section are there because your provider doesn't have to pay much for them if anything.

Likewise, you may also be able to find packs of movies ranging from 10 to 100+ movies. Again, these tend to be public-domain movies that the company selling the sets didn't have to pay for. If you can find one of these at a library or very cheap at a yard sale or thrift store, these may be a good idea. I'd use these if you absolutely have to get them or if you can find a collection of relatively decent movies.

If you're looking for bad movies, these ideas should keep you going for a while.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Every so often, I feel the urge to see a movie that falls just outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes, it’s a romantic movie. Sometimes, it’s a foreign movie. Sometimes, I find a new type of movie to like. Usually, I don’t. I’ll admit that science fiction isn’t that unusual for me to watch and I have nothing against older movies, but one thing caught my attention: Leslie Nielsen was in this movie. I’ve always seen him in comedies, such as the Naked Gun movies. I had to see this movie.

Nielsen plays the Commander Adams. He’s commanding a space ship sent to check up on a colony that hasn’t been heard from in a while. When the ship arrives, the crew finds Dr. Morbius, the only survivor of the original landing party. Morbius warns the ship to stay away at all costs; Adams decides to land the ship anyway.

Shortly after landing, the crew is greeted by Robby the Robot, Morbius’s robotic servant. Adams and two other crew members go back to Morbius’s house to find that there’s one other person on the planet: Morbius’s daughter, Altaira. Morbius reveals that some mysterious monster destroyed nearly the entire colony shortly after everyone set up. Only the doctor and his wife were spared. (The doctor’s wife died a few months later due to natural causes.) For some reason, the monster never attacked Morbius or his family.

Further inspection by Adams prompts Morbius to reveal that there was an ancient race on Altair IV known as the Krell. Having plenty of time on his hands, Morbius spent the past 19 years studying them. He’s unlocked a few of their secrets, but there’s so much more to the Krell that he hasn’t even touched. The Krell were an advanced race, eons ahead of humanity. They could harness great energy and build vast structures, but died mysteriously in a short span of time. Nothing exists above ground, but a great deal of technology exists below ground. Adams and Morbius have differing opinions on whether or not the technology should be brought back to Earth.

I figured that a science-fiction movie released in 1956 was bound to have cheesy special effects, and to a large extent I was correct. However, that’s not to say that I didn’t like the movie. Both the story and the characters were well developed. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like the science fictions movies of today seem to be more about show rather than story. Sure, there are exceptions, but I find that there are a lot of older movies that I find myself interested in because of an engaging plot. I want to know more about the Krell. I want to know more about Dr. Morbius and Commander Adams.

That’s really where a movie stands out. Things like special effects will eventually be replaced by bigger and better. The acting in this movie was great, as were the sets. Both statements will hold true in another fifty years. It looks like people spent a lot of time designing and assembling the underground structures. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get to see more of it. (Since I know someone will ask, Walter Pidgeon played Dr. Morbius and Anne Francis played Altaira. Robby the Robot was credited as himself.)

This movie gets four stars. Most of the material is appropriate for all ages. There are only two exceptions that I can think of. One is where Altaira receives ‘kissing lessons’. The other is a scene where the crew battles the monster. (Only the battle is something that I think young children might have a problem with.) I would definitely recommend this movie. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

iTunes Festival - 30 Nights of Music

I just got a message from the iTunes affiliate program that you can listen to the iTunes Festival live or with a limited delay for free.  I just thought I'd put the links up.