Monday, July 23, 2007

Die Hard Superlatives

I have just returned from watching the excellent fourth installment in the Die Hard series, Live Free or Die Hard. Who cares if some of the stunts were ridiculously implausible? They always are. But Bruce was his good old snarky self and Timothy Olyphant performed deliciously as the new anti-McClane villain. (Did he lose some weight for the role? He definitely looked skinnier than his Seth Bullock days.)

Anyway, in honor of this glorious movie, and this never-to-be-topped action movie franchise, here are some Die Hard superlatives. Some of these were tough choices. Comments and quibbles welcome.

Best Villain: Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). This one really could be a three-way tie between Rickman, Jeremy Irons and Olyphant. They all had brilliant on-screen moments. But Rickman's throaty "Ho-Ho-Ho" and "When Alexander..." speech are moments of pure genius. And let's not forget his precious imitation of a sniveling American hostage when he first encounters McClane. Again, genius.

Best Buddy: Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson). Sure, you have to love Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), but there was something dynamite about the Willis/Jackson pairing. Zeus ("As in, father of Apollo? Mt. Olympus? Don't fuck with me or I'll shove a lightning bolt up your ass? Zeus!") was by far the most equal and entertaining partner in all of McClane's adventures.

Best Yippee Ki Yay Moment: Live Free or Die Hard. Of course the original is a classic. But the build-up in 4.0 to "the moment" was fantastic. I could have sworn he was going to say it when Mai died, and when he didn't, the anticipation was heightened even further. Sheesh, then the circumstances during which he finally says it are just spectacular. (I won't give it away.)

Best Henchman: Karl (Alexander Godunov). That man just won't die!

Best Use of a Song: "Battle Hymn of the Republic" aka "When Johnny Comes Home," Die Hard With a Vengeance. The extended use of that song in a crucial sequence of events gives me goosebumps every time. Though Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis" is absolutely a close second, with CCR's "Fortunate Son" a somewhat distant third.

Best Agent Johnson: Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi). Come on, he was in the Goonies!

Best Use of Dennis Franz: Die Hard 2. OK, so I'm throwing Die Hard 2 a bone here. I do really like the sequel, but it doesn't stand out in very many categories. It's the worst of the four movies, and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to convince me. But Dennis Franz is always good at portraying the curmudgeonly cop, and does so perfectly here.

Anyone have any others?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Peter Parker Meet Billy Goat Gruff

At tonight's educational and hilarious Physics of Superheroes lecture by U of M professor James Kakalios, I learned something more shocking than Superman's weight on Krypton (3300 pounds) or why Spiderman accidentally snapped his girlfriend Gwen Stacy's neck while attempting to stop her fall from the George Washington Bridge (he stopped her fall too quickly). I learned that scientists are taking spider genes and putting them into goat eggs to enable them to produce spider silk. A goat given this gene will secrete spider silk into its milk, which then can be isolated and used to make any number of existing products hundreds of times stronger, such as tennis rackets, fishing lines, and even body armor.

So, why don't they just use spider silk instead of producing goats that are 1/70,000th spider? Because spiders are too aggressive to be easily and economically farmed. While "spidergoats" can live cheaply and peacefully amongst each other, each farmed spider would need its own little abode to avoid a lot of intraspecies murders. Basically, a spider would take up more room than a goat. I told you spiders were evil.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Notable Numeric Anniversary

All the talk on this here 7/7/07 seems to be about Live Earth or the ridiculous couples who think getting married on such a day will increase their chances of staying together (newsflash: it won't). But today's date has a much cooler significance: July 7, 2007 marks the 77th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's death (by heart attack) at the age of

"My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplace of existence. These little problems help me to do so." --Sherlock Holmes, The Red-Headed League