Monday, July 21, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog afterthoughts (spoilers!)

So yeah... typical Joss Whedon conclusion. I can't really decide whether Joss is a bigger bastard than George R. R. Martin in the area of gratuitously killing off his main characters, but I was definitely annoyed by the ending on first viewing. I had high hopes for the character of Penny. I was BSing with coworkers on Friday about our expectations for Act 3, and we came up with some of the following ideas:

  • Penny is instrumental in defeating Captain Hammer.
  • Penny turns into a supervillainess in the end. Complete with white leather.
  • It turns out Penny was really "Bad Horse" all along.
  • Dr. Horrible inadvertently rescues Captain Hammer from something.
  • Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer fall in love and wind up together. (Okay, this is over the top. But Neil Patrick Harris IS gay.)

As it is, I mostly agree with this post, which states that Joss failed to live up to his usual standards of offering strong feminist role models. Penny was in the end a pretty low-dimension character, existing only to serve as a foil for Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible to fight over in the typical triangle arrangement. It's extremely disappointing to me that, after strongly telegraphing her disillusionment with Captain Hammer throughout act 3, Penny's last words were "Captain Hammer will save us."

My comment on the actual ending: the death of Penny was the catalyst that Billy needed to stop being a villain wannabe and become an actual villain. Meanwhile, the "real" Billy -- my friend Shelley refers to him as the superego component -- gets pushed down and lost forever. Is it poignant and heart-wrenching? Sure. But I don't think I was in the mood for poignant. I was watching a comedy. I wanted a comedy ending.

Having said that... the music and comedy components were both excellent, right up through the end. Joss continued his fine tradition from the Buffy Musical, of delivering up hilarious and catchy tunes over and over again. I'm still planning to buy the DVD, and possibly the soundtrack too. If for no other reason, I think the project was a good idea, and I'd like to encourage the strategy that Joss is trying.

Quick recap of my favorite moments:
  • The cowboy chorus. I can't repeat enough how awesome the cowboy chorus was.
  • Nathan Fillion's first entrance. Hell, every scene with Nathan mugging, smirking, and chewing up the scenery. Again, Nathan is the real villain and a damn good one.
  • "And sometimes there's a third, even deeper level, which is exactly the same as the top level."
  • "Wow, what a crazy random happenstance!"
  • "...The hammer is my penis."
  • The last song of Act 2, starting with Neil's demented smile. Also: "I'll hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia." Also also: Giant Neil.
  • Groupies! "This is his hair!"
  • "I hate the homeless. ...ness problem that plagues our city."
  • "Everyone's a hero in their own way. You, and you, and... mostly me! and you."
  • I must report that Ben just loved seeing Captain Hammer crying and sniveling.
Finally, a few words about the many geeks who populate this project. Felicia Day, who played Penny, graduated with honors from UT (Hook 'em!) with a degree in mathematics, loves World of Warcraft, and stars in a videocast about video games. What's not to like? The actress sounds a hundred times more interesting than the character.

Maurissa Tancharoen plays one of the groupies, is married to Joss Whedon's half brother, and the two of them were apparently deeply involved with the writing and production.

Thoughts on the business model: This is going to be a raging success, probably, but I'm not sure it will prove that the business model is as game-changing as everyone hopes it would be. I mean, yeah, you can make money from releasing a movie and merchandise on the internet... IF your name is Joss Whedon, you have your own money and a huge cult following, and well-known actors who love you enough to temporarily work for free. For everyone else, maybe not so much.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dr. Horrible, act 2

I've seen act 2 now. Loved it. Can't wait for act 3.

Yesterday I attempted to show episode 1 to several people, and the result is decidedly mixed reactions. I thought it was fantastic, and so did many other fellow Whedon fans; but I heard a lot of negative reactions too. These range from "I don't get it" to "Does this get better soon?" to "Huh, it's weird. Maybe I'll watch it later."

This is obviously not to everyone's taste, which leaves me trying to sort out the question of whose taste it is for. Mine, obviously; I thought it was brilliant. Then I remembered: I love melodrama. That's what this show is, of course. It's a mid-budget, named-actor, melodrama.

My family and I used to go to a melodrama performance every year in Colorado, where there was a dedicated troupe there that kept putting on new productions. They pulled out all the stops. There were heroes with cleft chins, villains with handlebar mustaches, a piano player to set the mood... and then in some performances, you were allowed to throw popcorn, as well as being encouraged to cheer and boo at the appropriate times.

That's why I love this bizarre little movie, because it's a melodrama in reverse. The hero is the villain, the villain is the hero. And while Neil Patrick Harris is, of course, hilarious, Nathan Fillion has totally stolen the show. Because while ostensibly he plays "the good guy," anyone can see that he's a total bastard. In his smirky poses, you can almost see him twirling his mustache. The villain is the best part of ANY show, and Nathan is just damn good in this role.

Addendum: My alert coworker Newell points out that Dr. Horrible wears white, while Captain Hammer wears black. Classic melodramatic color coding.

My fondest hope for the finale is that the sweet, innocent girl will appear in very last scene dressed as a villainess. Perhaps in white leather.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Supervillain musical by Joss Whedon

Please watch this QUICKLY, before it is removed and lost forever:

It's a brief, one-time, episodic show starring a few actors that you'll probably recognize. And I laughed my ASS off.

The bad news is that it will be taken down on July 20, after which time you will have to pay for it. I have faith in my fellow netizens that someone will reverse engineer the video delivery and stick it up on YouTube, but just in case, you might want to check it out right away. It's going to be pretty cheap, only $4 or so for the entire set.

(I decided NOT to encourage piracy after all... since this is partly an experiment to see whether such an endeavor can make real money.)

A reply from Chuck Colson

In case you haven't been following, I received a book from Chuck Colson (of Christian apologetics and Watergate fame) a couple of months ago. I posted a critique of the book on the AE blog. He has just now written a response, which I acknowledged.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

One-Eyed Doll, and an encounter with the law

Austin being billed as the live music capitol of the world, I really should get out and see more actual live music. Last night, Ginny and I went with our friends Azzurra and Jerry to see a band in concert called One-Eyed Doll. Ginny's been a fan of this group for a while now, I have heard them by proxy and liked what I saw.

I don't drink much, so I made myself designated driver by default... however, I started out the evening with a rum and coke, followed by a Heineken, then cut myself off completely (three hours before we would leave).

One-Eyed Doll gave a great performance. There were only two people in the band, a lead singer/guitarist named Kimberly, and a drummer named "Number Three." Kimberly dresses up like a very weird doll, with frilly and stripy clothes, pigtails, some wacky face paint, and enormous boots. Number Three wore a suit and black tie and a porkpie hat. Kimberly likes to leap off stage and crawl around on the floor a lot. She also interrupted the music several times for "story time," which was hilarious.

The music is kind of punk/thrash combined with some very satirical themes in the lyrics. For instance, "Suicidal Serenade" goes:

Happy, happy, happy, happy,
happy, happy, happy, happy,
happy, happy, happy America!

-- the first part being sung in this cute, innocent little girl voice, while the second part is shouted and played with heavy guitar crunch.

Ginny is working on ingratiating herself with this band, and we spent a while chatting up the two members before they started. They are fun people. We crowded up front to the stage while the preceding band was playing, about 30 minutes before OED started. We got a great view of everything, including her frequent audience dives.

Ginny and Azzurra also got to go up on stage with four other girls and a guy during one song. Kimberly gave them all silly hats (Ginny had a bicycle helmet) and they all moshed around on stage.

By far my favorite part of the concert was when we got to play the finale ourselves. See, as the last song was wrapping up, Kimberly passed her guitar around the audience, where it wound up in Ginny's hands. Ginny did some random picking... which you would think sounded bad, but the amp was crunching the sound anyway, and the drummer had the beat going, so it sounded like passable music. Then I hit a high note to make it sound like an actual song ending. It was pretty cool.

Anyway, after the show the other three in my group all had another drink, and I politely abstained. It was voted that we go get some food, and I got behind the wheel... immediately proceeding to make some incredibly dumb mistakes. Jerry was giving me directions to an unfamiliar location, and I forgot to turn on my headlights for several minutes. Then I got on a street that I assumed was one-way, and in the dark, crossed over the yellow line for a few seconds before correcting my mistake. And, of course, I was being quietly followed by a cop the whole time.

So to make a long story short, I got pulled over for drunk driving. Two cops spent fifty minutes (as timed by Azzurra) trying desperately to prove that I was drunk (rather than merely an idiot) before deciding to let me go. During that time, I was incredibly, ridiculously polite. I mean, I was heroic. I think "Grace Under Pressure" by Rush should be my new official album.

Anyway, they interrogated me to try and catch an inconsistency. They waved lights in my eyes. For a very long time. They made me stand on one foot, and walk a line in a parking lot. They REALLY wanted me to be drunk, but seriously... I wasn't.

So that was my first sobriety test ever. Meanwhile, Ginny was talking to a third cop the whole time. (There were two cars on us!) She said "Look at this guy, you can see he's not drunk! He hardly even drinks at all! And he's a huge nerd!" Well, something to that effect... I have to fill in parts of the conversation with my imagination.

It was nerve wracking and embarrassing, but I came through it unscathed, and we got our food, then ate while hanging out with our friends for another hour or two. Ultimately we got home a little after 5 AM. So if I sound tired today on The Non-Prophets, you know I have a good excuse.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Data Mining news

It's been seven months since I barely pulled off my Master's Report and graduated. Over two years since I took my favorite class, which was Data Mining.

I have every intention of following up on the advice of my reader from the UT Journalism department, Dr. Iris Chyi (thanks again!) and finding some peer-reviewed journals to publish the study in. I'm told that it will take a lot of extra work first, which I haven't been sufficiently motivated to do. What I need to do is apparently read some journals that deal with the appropriate subject matter (i.e., focus on digital media for example) and get a feel for what kind of work they've accepted in the past. Then trim the paper to a manageable length (from 60 pages to, say, 25) and submit something that, in my judgment, they'd be likely to approve with no major changes.

I'm writing all this down so I have a reminder to actually get off my ass and do so, because otherwise I'm afraid I'll forget about it.

Determined to leverage this experience and make people remember who I am at work, on Tuesday I did an hour long presentation for most of the engineering staff (a room full of maybe 30 people) on what data mining can do for my company. I know I am an ultra-nerd, but I love doing presentations. False modesty aside, years of practicing topic presentation on TV and podcast have made me pretty good at it.

I put a Power Point presentation together and now I've uploaded it to Google Docs, so you can check it out by going here. You can't really get the point without hearing me talk, but it will give you a general idea of what I covered. The official topic title I picked was, "Data Mining: How math helps us compare apples to oranges, and shows that ice cream causes shark attacks." (If you care, I can explain that in the comments.)

Anyway, couldn't have asked for a much better result. I managed to hit all the major points I wanted regarding a complex topic in under 90 minutes with time to spare for questions. They laughed at all my jokes in the right places, appeared to follow the point of what I was saying, nodded sometimes, participated where I intended them to, and discussed it after it was over. All four of the company software architects had an animated discussion about what use they could make of it, after everyone else had left. And even today, two days later, I'm still getting IM's and people stopping by to let me know that they enjoyed and appreciated it.

People, please DO NOT FEED THE EGO!!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My spoilery review of "Wanted"

As usual, I'm finding myself posting more and more on that other blog rather than on this one. Here's what I had to say about the movie "Wanted." I hope Ginny will read it, since it puts together some of the stuff we talked about after seeing it.