Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carl Renezeder...Back to Work--In a Nissan...

Yup, perhaps the winningest short course driver ever is back in a Nissan after a couple years away.  The short course season begins this weekend in Arizona will be all over your TV this year.  CBS, Speed, NBC Sports and on and on...literally hundreds of hours of broadcasts of short course offroad racing with a number of Nissans running.  Check it out...Photo is from contingency today at Firebird Raceway in Arizona and Renezeder reveals his new Nissan for '12.

Film Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I should say first off that I've always been a fan of the Planet of the Apes series of films, live action TV shows and cartoons.  Their apocalyptic nature has always fascinated me.

This reboot of the film series is starting out in a nice chronological order--at the beginning of what is intended to be a series of films.

It loses some of the mystery of the originals in that right away you learn why the apes became as smart as they did and you can see the storyline arc leading to their domination over humans from a mile away.

Still, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solidly entertaining film.  Not great, its too formulaic and retreads too much ground to be great, but as a modern adaptation of prior (dare I say it) classic, it performs well.

Andy Serkis, who should have gotten an Oscar nod, for his portrayal as Caeser is the best part of the film and carries much of the action.  Its truly Caeser's film and not James Franco's protagonist.

The film is also smart enough to reference the original film (using Heston's famous "Get your hands off me you damned dirty ape!" line but in a completely different way as well as giving snippets of background on a manned trip to Mars that goes missing that we know will return to a completely changed world in later films) without offending its audience's intelligence.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is about as good as a reboot can get.  I still prefer the original--Heston, his loincloth and rubber suited apes and all--but this was pretty darn good for a modern substitution.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ghost Ship (s)....

When I was in elementary school I loved going to my school library and grabbing books about the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and other such sillyness.  As an adult I learned to scoff at such tales but came to learn of true oddities.

One of these being the historical occurrence of "Ghost Ships".  Not so much the complete disappearance of ships--to that I can assume in many cases that a "rogue wave" has taken the ship to the bottom.  More and more evidence is out there that the mathematic "waves" of the ocean combine to create mammoth one off mountains of water which swamp even the largest of ships with little to no notice.  No, I am referring more to the Ghost Ships where the ship is found entirely intact, sometimes with its sails unfurled or engine running, but no sign of the crew and no sign of conflict--sometimes even with dinners still on the table...

The attached picture here is of a 150 foot Japanese shrimping trawler that has made its way, intact, on a one year journey after being ripped from its moorings during the tsunami to the west coast of Canada.  Just the thought of this empty ship bobbing its way across the Pacific with no one aboard while being visited by only fish and occasional bird seems really cool to me.  Now this ship is not a true Ghost Ship as we know exactly why it came to be where it is and why no one is aboard.  Not so with the following which make for great mysteries.

Take the Mary Celeste that was found in 1872, heading for the Strait of Gibraltar with no crew but undamaged, still under sail, full of supplies, no sign of struggle and with the last logbook entry some 11 days prior.

Or in 1921 with the Carroll A. Deering washing ashore in North Carolina and no explanation as to why the five masted schooner was abandoned by its missing crew.

Or in 1955 when the Joyita, a merchant vessel, was found adrift in the Pacific with all 25 of her crew unaccounted for.

Or the Jian Seng in 2006 that was found off Queensland, Australia with its crew missing and no one ever able to determine where she came from or who her owner was.

Or the Bel Amica, also in 2006, found adrift off of Sardinia with half eaten Egyptian style meals still on the table, French maps of North Africa and flying a Luxembourg flag--but no one aboard.

Or how about the Kaz II, a 36 foot catamaran near the Great Barrier Reef in 2007 that was found with its sails up, engine on, radio and GPS working and all safety gear untouched but the three man crew missing.

Or in 2008 the Taiwanese fishing boat the Tai Ching 21 that was found near Kirbati but with no sign of its 29 man crew.

So we have small pleasure craft to large merchant vessels, inland seas to open oceans, first world waterways to pirate infested shores and no resolution to any of these and more.  If it was truly pirates or other criminals you would think there would be a sign of struggle or loose tongues in some drunken port to give away the secrets.  But no, these all remain open ended cases that stir a fertile imagination and keep the legends of Ghost Ships alive and well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Brittney Griner--Don't Forget...

So, much like I said a couple weeks back that you'd be hearing about the "Kony 2012" campaign and needed to question its legitimacy and reasoning behind it, so to with this story.

Over the next week or so you will likely be hearing and seeing a lot (if you follow sports) about one Ms. Brittney Griner from the Baylor women's basketball team.  She is promoted by ESPN and all the other suck up sporting media outlets as a wonderful example of a woman exceeding at a level only men usually play at.  "Look!!" they'll say, "She can dunk, she can run, she can block shots!  She has a size 17 man's shoe!!"

Yup...all true.  And they'll talk about what a great person she is and how smart she is and how beautiful she is...And they'll all gloss over the thing she should be best known for (well, almost)

Brittney Griner as a Freshman at Baylor punched and broke the nose of a Texas Tech player during a game because she was actually being played by someone who was as physical with her as she was with them.  Griner is a classic bully.  Grew up big and dominated other women because of her size and couldn't take it when matched up against someone who wasn't intimidated.  Griner was suspended for two games, her coach was suspended for one game and her face and actions were plastered all over ESPN and everywhere else to show what was wrong with the current state of sportsmanship.

Now (per the same ESPN and other media outlets) she's the current savior of women's sports in America--yeah right....

Oh, and we haven't even gotten into whether Griner even belongs playing "women's" sports...that's being guarded and hidden as well as any story.  Much better than the fraud that is Caster Semenya...but...similar nonetheless...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dual Turbo VQ35

Just a beautiful Nissan VQ35 with a twin turbo setup.  This engine is being prepped for a desert racing buggie to be owned by an Australian team.  First though, the Aussies will be coming over here to the States to race the buggie in this weekends Mint 400 out in Vegas.  They will then be taking their prized buggie and twin turbo VQ back to the Land Down Under to race it in their series there where the use of Nissan engines is far more common than it is here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Film Review: Never Let Me Go

Now in contrast to The Fat Years, a book I just reviewed a few days ago, this film truly is a Science Fiction dystopia--and a well done one at that.

First off the central troica of characters in the film are portrayed by a wonderful group of young actors in the form of Andrew Garfield (who I also loved in The Social Network), Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley (again who was solid in Atonement that I watched and reviewed a few weeks back).

Secondly, we have here a good director in Mark Romanek who is primarily known for his iconic music videos (Closer from Nine Inch Nails, Hurt from Johnny Cash, etc.) but who has done minimal feature films.

Lastly we have a great sci-fi story in which an alternate history England has seen organ donation take a different course than modern society and beginning in the middle of the 20th century, people began being bred/cloned from those of lower class stock for the sole purpose of organ donation to the upper or middle class.  Such bred individuals had a limited lifespan of only about 20 or so years as they were required to make multiple donations until they pass away.

Never Let Me Go follows three of these "donors" over the course of their short lives as they grow up, separate and eventually come back together.  The film takes a number of twists, some seen, some unseen but it is never an overly quick film and its atmosphere and "Englishness" are distinct.   Never Let Me Go is about as close to a "love story" or "tear jerker" as I like to get but it is decidedly not a film you'll be depressed over at its end but it will make you think.  Something a good film should always do.

12 Hours of Sebring Spotter's Guide

With With the 12 Hours of Sebring coming up in just a couple hours I figured I'd post this as its been kinda buried on the ALMS homepage.  With six out of the nine entries in the LMP2 class being driven by Nissan  engines there is a good shot for a positive result in this first event of the ALMS season and also the first of the 2012 World Endurance Challenge (WEC) series as well. The above spotters guide is for the cars entered in the WEC series.  The race will be broadcast on ESPN3 on the Internet live today and then on a tape delayed fashion tomorrow on ABC.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dropping In...Red Bull Stratos...

And I mean REALLY dropping...

The individual to the right is Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian with many records and feats under his belt including a BASE jump from 1,669 feet at the top of the world's tallest building in Taipei, Taiwan and is a licensed helicopter pilot.

This new attempt of his goes beyond all hyperbole as he seeks to set a record for the highest and longest freefall in history, accelerating to supersonic speeds in the process.

His upcoming attempt at jumping from a pressurized capsule held aloft by a stratospheric, helium filled balloon at 120,000 feet will (if successful) break the 50 year old record of one Joe Kittinger.

Colonel Joe Kittinger set the current record in 1960, exiting from a unpressurized, open gondola, all in the name of the US space program and military from a height of 102,800 feet.  The second picture here is from the gondola looking down at Joe as he began his freefall.

Joe went on to serve as a test pilot and in the Vietnam War spent 10 months as a POW eventually accumulating over 16,800 hours of flying time in 93 different aircraft. He has a biography titled Come Up and Get Me which will be my next book purchase.

Getting back to Baumgartner, he conducted a test jump yesterday 3/15 from a height of some 13.6 miles (71,581 ft. to be exact), more than halfway to his goal of near 23 miles.  The balloon left Roswell, NM yesterday and after his exit from the pressurized capsule, Baumgartner fell for three minutes and 43 seconds before opening his chute at about 8,000 ft.  He is said to have reached a speed of 365 mph during this fall.  Baumgartner hopes to exceed 760 mph in his fall from 120,000 feet later this year.

The window for this much higher jump begins in July of this year.

The Red Bull Stratos project website to keep track of Baumgartner's progress is here: Red Bull Stratos...

Nissan Leaf vs. Chevrolet Volt Drag Race

OK, this isn't the most exciting is a bit humorous to watch the top two selling electric (?) vehicles in North America go head to head.  Soon I guess we'll have to throw in the Mitsu iMev and others but for now, these are the two electric cars that people are most familiar with.

I'd like to see the NISMO Leaf in this contest as well given its reconfiguration for motorsports but its not a true consumer vehicle like these are.  Electrics and hybrids may be quiet and "green" but at least they can still be used for truly childish behavior like seeing who can go faster!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: The Fat Years

This was supposed to be a great book on modern China.  It is "banned" in China.  It is supposed to be comparable to 1984 or Brave New World.

It's really not even close.  While the aforementioned were hallmarks in style and atmosphere, The Fat Years is long on words and short on substance.  I don't know if this is a result of being translated from the original Chinese but this novel couldn't be less interesting.

There is nothing here revolutionary or that we didn't know already.  Yup, China represses its people.  Yup, its hungry for resources.  Yup, its Communist government is corrupt.  Really??  We needed some 300 pages to tell us this?

Maybe its "revolutionary" because Chan Koonchang, a Chinese individual himself, wrote it.  Really just goes to show how backward most Chinese people are if yelling "the emperor has no clothes" is really a big deal when the rest of the world already knows it.

The Fat Years has also been called a work of Science Fiction and a depiction of a dystopia.  Not even close on either account.  Sorry but a story in which the Chinese government puts MDMA (ecstasy) in its water supply to keep its people happy, doesn't a Science Fiction novel make.  And that's it.  That's about as "science fictional" as the book gets.  In terms of a dystopia, doesn't the story have to portray a somewhat fantastical world different from reality to be a dystopia?  Merely writing about the current state of things in China or North Korea doesn't necessarily mean you are writing a dystopian novel.

There isn't nearly enough biting criticism, insight or new analysis here to put this book on the shelf with 1984 or Brave New World.  In fact, there isn't much here beyond what you'd find in your updated version of the CIA Factbook.  I'll gladly put this book on the first airplane to China where it is supposedly a hot commodity because of its "incendiary" nature.  If not, it gets donated to my local library.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New Nissan Powered Open Wheel Car...

Just a new Nissan powered F3 class car in England.

With Nissan power under the bonnet in F3 it looks like the brand may be on its way to working back into Formula 1 given their existing "name only" connection to the Infiniti Red Bull team.

Would be nice to see the Red Bull teams powered by a true Nissan or Infiniti engine instead of the Renault...

Nissan engine makes F3 debut...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Joseph Kony--the Hypocrisy...

So you will likely hear about this guy on the news tonight.  He is the newest Internet/New Media meme sweeping across the globe.

Yup, he's a bad dude.  Enslaving children to serve as his combatants, hacking off limbs, raping women, displacing thousands.  Basically causing absolute havoc in central/east Africa over the past two decades despite numerous attempts to kill/capture him including the use of 100 armed American "advisers" that have been working Africa for a while now, having been sent there by President Obama.

Why are you going to hear about him now?  Because a number of people within the entertainment industry here in America have latched onto the idea that he's a bad guy and needs to be eliminated.  The Huffington Post, NPR, MTV, Entertainment Weekly and a host of "celebrities" (Juliette Lewis, Zooey Deschanel, Niki Minaj, Kim Karrdashian, Piers Morgan, Latoya Jackson, Nicole Richie, MC Hammer, Julie Benz, Kristen Bell, Alyssa Milano, Eliza Dushku, Katie Couric, etc., etc.--is there a reason most of these morons are women??  Just sayin...) have all joined in the collective outrage and called for him to be at the very least, captured and put on trial (the UN has declared him a war criminal) or, and more realistically, killed and his Lord's Republic Army eliminated.  While I'm sure these groups of left wing do-gooders would love to see him captured via magical carpets flown by angel soldiers fielding flower guns, the truth is, to get Mr. Kony you are going to shed blood, and lots of it...and not just that of his followers.

Not that I have a problem with this.  Personally I think we should fly some nice drones over Uganda for the next few months and take him and his followers out by remote--clean, effective and cheap.  So its not that I am against all the hub-bub about eliminating this scumbag.  He deserves to die.  Preferably a long, slow, painful death.  Fillet him alive perhaps??

The issue I have here is the stunning hypocrisy of these people and organizations.  Not that I'm particularly surprised...its just the brazenness leaves me stunned.  On one hand we have this bad guy Mr. Kony, responsible for the deaths and enslavement and rape of tens of thousands of people including children.  Him "we" want to string up and eliminate.  On the other hand we have Sadaam Hussein, a killer--in no less and in some ways more direct a way a killer of men, women and children numbering over a million.  I'm not even going to go into his other "indiscretions".  Somehow though, if you clamor for the elimination of one you get called a "warmonger" or that you want "blood for oil" but if you Tweet about removing the other, you are upholding your duty as a celebrity, bringing attention to the poor downtrodden of eastern Africa. 

The fact that they don't catch a whiff of their hypocrisy just goes to show how stupid these people and publications (and most of America) truly are...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Coming to American Rally Soon!

These guys are serious.  You don't ship two cars, 100 tires (all the tires on the right and their two cars are on a boat to the US within the week) and a whole team of people--PR staff, support crew, etc. over to the USA from Australia to play for second place.  Two events on their schedule are Pike's Peak and New England Forest Rally.  Fortunately I will be at NEFR and seeing these guys in action should be a treat.  Love it when new teams with a well sorted non-traditional rally car shows up.  These Nissan Silvia's are certainly that as this version of the Silvia, once known here as the 240SX, was never sold in North America.

With reportedly the team's home base to be located out of Albany, NY (why I have no idea) I am hoping to meet and show them some good American hospitality some time...though I'm afraid our beer will be a tad weak by their standards....

Oh, and the Mitsu and the Datsun?  Those are the cars of the teams managing director Hillary know they're serious when even their "suits" have TWO stage rally race cars...

Just Some New Off-Road Nissans...

Just a few new racing Nissans I've come across.  The top one is racing in Mexico currently while the bottome three are in South Africa.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Film Review: The Help

I went into this movie thinking I would absolutely hate it.  I didn't absolutely hate it.  It just wasn't near as good as people (especially white people) have made it out to be.

To give you an idea of the schlock to expect from this film, take a look at the other films that Chris Columbus (the produce here) has had a hand in writing, producing and/or directing: Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Christmas with the Kranks, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Jingle All the Way, Stepmom, Bicentennial Man, Rent, Fantastic Four, Night at the Museum, Night at the Museum 2 and of course, the first two Harry Potter films.

Chris Columbus is all that is inherently bad about useless throwaway Hollywood cinema.  He takes controversial American issues (divorce, out of wedlock birth, homosexuality, AIDS, racial tension) and regurgitates it into something palatable for mainstream white America to view and feel better about themselves afterwards.  Either that, or he just makes plain old crap...

With The Help its the former in that he takes a serious issue--the repression of blacks to mere house servants and turns it into a tale that is gobbled up by those plagued with white guilt in America so that they can feel better about themselves--"Hey, look!!  There were some white people who were nice to the blacks back in the 60's!!  Hooray for us!!"

Nevermind that the blacks in the story are still relegated to poverty, familial abuse, lack of positive male figurs and even have to resort to only getting a minor cut of the proceeds derived from the good white girl who puts their story down on paper.  That's all glossed over and doesn't really matter in the larger arc of the film.

Another indication of where this film wanted to go?  Take a look at the above poster.  The two black maids on the left?  They've been massively photoshopped to make them look less fat than they appear on screen.  Evidently none of the producers thought anyone would want to go see a film featuring Aunt Jemima or Mammy in her full figured glory.

While much of white media played this film up to be the greatest thing ever, black media that had some harsh criticisms for it was largely ignored.

So if you want to feel better about being white, go see it.  Otherwise...skip it...

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

 I'm not sure how I feel about this movie.  My wife hated it, calling it dumb and cheesy and I know I'm supposed to like it given how well it has been reviewed and how it is generally rated on various sites.  But I'm just not that sure.  I'd heard over and over that it was a great remake and a seminal sci-fi film but it just didn't have that great an impact on me.

Yes, it has an iconic ending with Donald Sutherland's character as a pod-person screaming and pointing at one of the few remaining humans and thus giving a very dark ending vs. the happy ending of the '50s original, but the rest of it left me kind of bored.

You have some good actors here: Sutherland, Nimoy, Goldblum, and none of their performances are poor, they just didn't pull me in enough to really care.  Goldblum's performance notable for you can see early on the fidgety, neurotic, zany, rapid talking character that he will play throughout his career--nothing much has changed in well over 30 years for him.

Maybe it was the special effects that got to me...the pods and their movements were very mechanical and not believable.  You could see the wire outlines of the pods' petals that needed to be controlled when they would "bloom".  It was liking a high school play in terms of the production value at this point.

The overall story?  OK, I get the allegory against conforming to society, the evils of pollutants, the lack of trust of authority (despite the intent of the original was was, per the director, writer and more, not to produce a tale of the evils of McCarthyism or Communism) but it comes across almost as robotic as the pod-people themselves and not that scary or frankly, interesting.

I'm glad I saw it for its general inclusion in the overall all film and sci-fi cannon of works.  I just won't be recommending it to anyone else.