Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geek of the Week: Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds is a Finnish software engineer and the founder of the Linux operating system. Linux is popular with tech savvy computer users and it uses predominately free software that is developed by multiple users. The software's logo is Tux, a cartoon penguin. Not everyone is a fan, but Torvalds has these words of wisdom for Tux's detractors, "Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen an angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100 mph. They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had."

Torvalds is frequently placed high on Top 100 lists, including Time Magazine's "Most Influential People" (2004), "100 Greatest Finns of All Time", Business Week's "Best Managers" (2005), Time Magazine Europe's "Revolutionary Heroes of the Past 60 Years" (2006), and The 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time (2010) He has also won several awards, including the EFF Pioneer Award (1998), the Lovelace Medal (2000), the InfoWorld Award for Industry Achievement (2000), the Takeda Award (2001), and the Reed College Vollum Award (2005). Torvalds has received honorary doctorates from Stockholm University and the University of Helsinki and has an asteroid (9793 Torvalds) named for him.

Linus Torvalds
Tux the Penguin

Monday, August 30, 2010

Based on Actual Events

Some of the best stories come from real life and some of the best movies are based on actual events. Here are my Top Five favorite movies based on true stories.

5. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

One of Peter Jackson's early films, Heavenly Creatures received wide acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It is the true story of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, two teenage girls involved in an obsessive friendship that resulted in the death of Parker's mother, Honora Kelly. Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Hulme (Kate Winslet) meet at school and begin a friendship deeply rooted in a richly detailed fantasy world. When the girls learn that Hulme's poor health (repeated bouts of turbuclosis) will separate them, they try to convince Parker's mother to allow her daughter to move to South Africa with Hulme. Her refusal is her death sentence - the girls feel the only way to be together is to kill her.

The film is everything you expect from Peter Jackson and Lynskey and Winslet give stellar performances. It is a must see for film lovers and true crime fans alike.

4. In the Name of the Father (1993)

Directed by Jim Sheridan, In the Name of the Father is the true story of the "Guildford Four", a group of four Northern Irishmen falsely convicted of the IRA's Guildford Pub bombing. Gerry Conlon, a young layabout, and three of his friends are arrested on flimsy evidence and, under the new law against terrorists, tortured by British police until they confess. Conlon's father and several other relatives are also implicated. Conlon and his father spend 15 years in prison, before winning their freedom with the help of their attorney, Gareth Pierce.

The film is excellent, but the real standout is the exceptional cast. Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, John Lynch, and Emma Thompson make this movie the underappreciated great that it is. It is well-deserving of the seven Academy Award nominations.

3. Capote (2005)/Infamous (2006)

These two films about Truman Capote and the infamous Clutter family murders came out within a year of each other. Both are excellent films, but there are certain aspects of each that surpass the other. Both films center on outlandish author Truman Capote's involvement in the investigation of the Clutter family killings in Holcomb, Kansas. In November of 1959, Capote read of the killings in the back pages of the New York Times. He and his childhood friend Harper Lee (author of classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird) make a trip to Holcomb to gather information for a small magazine article the author plans to write. Once there, he becomes enthralled with the crime, the town's residents, and ultimately the accused killer, Perry Smith. Capote becomes convinced that he has enough material for a book and doggedly pursues the story, to his own detriment. After writing his bestselling book, In Cold Blood, Capote descended into alcoholism and his further attempts at writing another substantial work failed.

Capote is a stark film with an excellent secondary cast. Catherine Keener is a wonderful Harper Lee and Clifton Collins, Jr. shines as doomed killer Perry Smith. The movie's main issue is Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal as Truman Capote. Without competition from rival film Infamous, Hoffman's performance would have been unquestioned.

Film-wise, Infamous is a very similar to Capote, although it focuses more on Capote than the crimes. However, Toby Jones's performance as the author is far superior to Hoffman's. Rex Reed of the New York Observer expressed it best: "They gave the Oscar to the wrong Truman Capote. I do not begrudge the versatile, popular Philip Seymour Hoffman his Oscar for playing the tiny terror in Capote, but he was doing an impression. In Infamous . . . a diminutive actor with a titanic talent named Toby Jones literally becomes the man himself. This is no lisping impersonation learned from watching old Johnny Carson shows: Mr. Jones moves into Truman's skin, heart and brains." While Capote's secondary cast is amazing, the supporting actors in Infamous are not as remarkable. Daniel Craig (Perry Smith) and Sandra Bullock (Harper Lee) are too A-list to really become their characters, which makes them distracting. The perfect film would have Toby Jones with the rest of Capote's cast. Despite their flaws, both films are superb and worth watching, if only to compare the two.

2. Glory (1989)

Glory is the true story of the creation of the first African-American regiment in the Civil War, led by Captain Robert Gould Shaw. It is an amazing story brought to life by an amazing cast. Matthew Broderick shows off his acting chops as Shaw, but the real stars are Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. One of my favorite character actors, Andre Braugher, also makes a pivotal performance. A description wouldn't do it justice, so just put this film on your Netflix queue immediately.

1. Zodiac (2007)

Directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, etc.), Zodiac is a comprehensive biopic about the principle investigators of the still unsolved Zodiac serial killer case. Based on Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith, the film follows Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he becomes steadily more obsessed with the Zodiac case. Graysmith was a political cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac killer first wrote to the paper's editor. Interested in the case from the beginning, he began talking to police officers, government officials, and victim's families in an effort to solve the murders.

Gyllenhaal is endearing as Graysmith (the character is frequently described as a "boy scout") and Robert Downey, Jr. adds some much needed humor to relieve Fincher's tightly wrought tension. Fincher is a superb director and the soundtrack is pitch perfect. The film, like all the others on the list, boasts an amazing cast. Just a sample: Brian Cox, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Chloe Sevigny, Durmot Mulroney, Clea DuVall, Elias Koteas, and Donal Logue This film is a must see for Fincher fans and true crime buffs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

AMC Rocks My World

If you're a regular reader, you know about my love for zombies. You can imagine how delighted I was, then, to discover that AMC is premiering a series based on the Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. AMC has become known for their excellent regular programming, including "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad". From the first trailer (released on imdb.com today), it looks like "The Walking Dead" will be no different. AMC has tapped A-list director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, etc.) to write and direct the series and special effects veteran Greg Nicotero will do the makeup (which looks fantastic!) The cast is made up of relative unknowns, but both "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" began with lesser known actors and have become major hits, so this type of casting could be a brillant strategy for AMC.

The first season will have a 6 episode run and will premiere on October 31st. The 90-minute pilot is the culmination of the channel's month-long "Fearfest".

Ready to be excited? Behold:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Geek of the Week: Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the co-founder of one of the coolest webstores out there . . . ThinkGeek.com. ThinkGeek has everything you want . . . from T-Shirts to blocks for your budding mad scientist to replica-quality light sabers. (And they send everything packed in monkey breath!) This is the go-to site for holiday/birthday/anniversary gifts for the mega geek in your life. So, although you have taken far too much of my money, thank you, Mr. Smith, for making our lives geekier!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Never Stop Looking Up

Sad news for the astronomy world today: Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Museum of Science Planetarium, died on Friday, August 20th at the age of 72. Horkheimer was the host of "Star Gazer", a series of five minute programs about the night sky, which aired on PBS. This show was a favorite of my dad's and is well-known to amateur astronomers everywhere.

Here is the last "Star Gazer" installment and Jack's final send-off:

Keep looking up, everyone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doll Braaaaainnnns . . .

Like most little girls, I had a doll collection. My dad brought dolls from all the places he visited around the world and they sat on shelves collecting dust.

My favorite dolls were my Barbies. I had a veritable army of Barbies - all different kinds, including the Disney princesses. Eventually, I grew out of the Barbie craze (except for this one, which is one of my prize possessions), but the other day I found myself in the toy aisle at Target squealing over a new Barbie. I never intended to even look at the Barbies. We were on our way from the Legos (so Kris could drool over the deluxe Star Wars kits) to the baby toys to check out possible presents for some friends who are expecting.

Occasionally, Target carries the "collector's" Barbies. These are clearly not meant for little girls (evidence: the new "Mad Men" Barbies). Ever since the release of The Birds Barbie, I've been hoping for a Rear Window Grace Kelly Barbie (wouldn't that be perfect?).

The Barbie I was squealing over was a new doll called Frankie Stein. She's part of a new collection called "Monster High", which is basically a hybrid of Bratz dolls and Barbies with a movie monster flair.

I think they're adorable. (There's also a Creature From the Black Lagoon one!) There is one problem, however. Mattel has created a website and short webisodes to promote the dolls and there is a character that doesn't have a doll. Ghoulia Yelps (daughter of the Zombie) got the shaft! And she's the best character! (Other than being a zombie, check out the cherry print camisole and the awesome cat-eye spectacles!) My favorite part about her - she's a genius, but because she's a zombie, she only speaks in moans!

There's been talk of releasing a Ghoulia doll in 2011, so I'm crossing my fingers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We are Sex Bob-omb!

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was released on August 13th and we are big enough nerds that we saw it at the midnight showing.

We loved it. Of course we did - we fit smack dab into the target market. The problem with movies like Scott Pilgrim is that they are directed at extreme niche audiences (Hence the poor box office showing). In this case, that niche audience is (roughly) 18-30 year olds with a deep affinity for video games, comics, and geek culture in general. If you fall too far outside this niche, Scott Pilgrim is not the flick for you.

Now for the good parts: The movie is based on the 6 volume series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. As an adaptation it works very well because it does not alienate non-readers, but pays serious tribute to the source material. Fans of the series will be delighted with the little details and new fans will get the story without needing to refer to the books. (Although, I definitely recommend reading the series if you haven't. It's hilarious and gives some awesome back story.) The music is appropriately hipsterish (as it is written by Beck, it couldn't be anything but) and video game/comic book references abound. The secondary characters absolutely make the movie - personal favorites were Kim Pine (Allison Pill) and Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). The movie was cast very well, although Michael Cera is a little too sweet to be playing Scott Pilgrim. The special effects are definitely theater-worthy and it is a perfect date movie if, like me, you are not a fan of the sickeningly sweet "romantic" flicks (Eat Pray Love, I'm looking in your direction!) Hollywood churns out these days. It also doesn't hurt that it's directed by Edgar Wright, the genius behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

The bottom line . . . if you like the trailer, you'll like the movie. Behold:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Geek of the Week: Bryan Lee O'Malley

Bryan Lee O'Malley is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The six-volume series was recently adapted into a (fantastic) movie by British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). O'Malley lives in Los Angeles, California with his cartoonist wife, Hope Larson.

Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mind the Gap

It feels like it's been forever since I wrote a real post! With inventory last week and taking the weekend off to relax, I haven't had much time to sit down and write. Never fear, "Geek of the Week" and "It Came From the $5 Bin" will return next week . . . with a vengeance!

I have today off, and it's a good thing because Discovery ID is having a "Deadly Women" marathon. "Deadly Women" is pretty much my favorite show. (The new season starts tonight!) On each episode, three women are featured. Their one commonality is that they are all murderers. The episodes have a theme ("The Disturbed", "Young Blood", "Mothers Who Kill", etc.) and the stories are told through stylized dramatic reenactments. The reenactments are interspersed with interview sound bites from people involved in the case and analysis by experts. The show's main expert is Candice Delong, a former FBI profiler and the basis for Silence of the Lambs character Clarice Starling. (Side note: Delong is my hero. She is a total bad ass and seems like she wouldn't take crap from anybody!)

The show rocks mostly because of Delong, but I also like that they actively try to find actors that look like the real people. The music is appropriately ominous and the vignettes are well done. As a true crime fan, it is refreshing to hear about female killers and cases that are not well-known.

I won't just be watching TV all day, though. We have plans to go for sushi and . . . we are going to the midnight showing of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!!!! I am SO excited for this movie. (Expect a review sometimes this week!)

In celebration of my return to posting, I leave you with a picture of my new awesomely epic purse from Angry, Young, and Poor:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Living For the Weekend!!!

Yay! I finally have a weekend off! In celebration, instead of our regularly scheduled post, here is the theme song to the awesome cartoon, "The Weekenders":

As an added bonus . . . the theme from "Pepper Ann":

And as a bonus geeky bonus . . . the theme from "Reboot":

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ewww . . . Germs!!!!

I'll just come right out and say it: I hate public bathrooms. They're gross, germ-ridden, and (for me) have serious panic-attack potential. There are a few things that make certain public bathrooms bearable.

Here are the Top Five best public bathroom features:

5. Full-length mirror. As a female, I often like to make sure my outfit is still intact and embarrassment-free before I leave. Full-length mirrors allow you to make sure your skirt isn't tucked into your pantyhose (or underwear!), that you don't have toilet paper stuck to your shoe, and that nothing else is askew. I wish more public restrooms invested in these!

4. Stall walls that extend to the floor. I realize that we can't all have our own individual bathrooms when we go out, but am I the only one who thinks bathroom stall sizes are getting shorter and more narrow? I do not need to see the person next to me at all - not their shoes, and especially not their knees, which is where stall wall lengths are heading. I love going into swanky bathrooms with extended stall walls. It makes my whole day.

3. Purse hooks on the wall instead of the back of the door. If you're female, you know what I'm talking about. How often do you stare at your purse hanging out of arm's reach and within grabbing distance of anyone who feels like reaching over the door stall (easier now that they are steadily growing shorter)? Having your purse away from bathroom thieves is one less thing to worry about as you navigate the treacherous terrain of the public restroom.

2. Automatic faucets/soap/paper towel dispensers. The less I have to touch in a bathroom, the better. (This feature would be higher on the list if bathrooms had automatic doors.) Bathrooms that have the automatic trifecta rate very highly in my book. Few have the automatic soap, and most have the hand driers, which don't adequately dry your hands (and blow germs around).

1. Floor flushers. The flush handle is probably the germiest thing in the whole bathroom. It's pre-hand wash, which means it's the first thing that everyone touches after they're finished using the toilet. *shudder* Floor flushers eliminate the worry about germs. They are rare in public bathrooms, but hopefully will become more common, as they are far more sanitary.

I need an outfit like this!!!

And now . . . an "educational" film on the dangers of germs:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Geek of the Week: Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick is probably best known to mainstream audiences as A) the male host of Mtv's "Singled Out" (along with Jenny McCarthy, and later Carmen Electra) or B) one of the four unfortunate teens killed by the Firefly family in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. What many don't know is that he is also a geeky Renaissance man. In addition to hosting G4's "Web Soup" and acting as the main technology reviewer for the channel's flagship program "Attack of the Show" (on the "Gadget Pr0n" segment), Hardwick also writes for Wired magazine and hosts "Wired Science for PBS". If that weren't enough, he does voice over work for animated TV shows and films and performs in the uber geeky two-man band Hard 'n Phirm.

Here, Hardwick explains the Hard 'n Phirm song "Pi" for PBS:

And here is the music video for "Pi":

Get more of Hardwick's irreverant geeky humor here.