30 March 2011

These Spam Comments Are Getting Clever

I moderate comments on my blog, for a few reasons. One is that since this blog is my public face as an author, an author who writes a large amount of material aimed at the YA reader, I would like any comments to at least be civil and avoid language that might get the blog “R” rating if it were a movie. I have rarely had to delete any comment for this reason. (I think once, possibly; an absolutely loathsome troll who posted about my review of Changeling, but apparently had never seen the film him/her/itself. Someone else later came and posted a disagreeing comment on the same review, but they were civil so I had no issue putting it up.) I don’t have a ton of commenters as it is, and most of them are politely spoken.

The second reason I moderate—really, the main reason—is to prevent spam comments. Anyone who runs a blog knows about these. A robot searches out your blog, pastes something that sounds like it may have something to with the post in question, but is really only a link to some scammy place selling drugs or free vacations or “adult service.” I used a word verification system for a time that blocked some of this, but I felt it might discourage genuine posters to have to type in twisted words. So I took down the verification system and chose to moderate out the spam instead.

The usual spam comment is utterly non-specific: “I really like this post. It’s good too see posts like this. Check out this blog as well. [Link to Viagra site, or something with three “X”s in its title].”

However, I have to give credit to this recent robot comment, which went the extra distance to almost, almost sound like it was legitimate. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and spacing retained:
I don't suppose it's "OK" for comic books and stories to stereotype characters. It feeds the reader a too simplistic upon of reality. (The Good and the Bad, you identify.) And actually, Dinotopia does NOT stereotype at all. Teeth of the fact that Dinotopia portrays a utopian changri-la, there's a suspense between the pacifist community and the predators. One that is a small-minded confusing, even risky. Dinotopia treats T-Rexes and the likes with a unspecified respect.I find best cialis offers. [Link on “cialis”].
This was sent to my post about the comic book Devil Dinosaur (which I said I would review and have so far failed to). When I first got the post—about ten days after it was sent, because the email that forward my blog notifications identified the username as a common spammer one—it looked nearly appeared legitimate. I hadn’t read my own post in a year, so I did not recall exactly what I wrote in it.

The spambot did some clever key-word searching: it locked onto “comic book” and “dinosaur,” and sent this missive, all in the name of selling Cialis (which is supposed to be capitalized, dingbat). It looks like a response to points raised in the post.

Except . . . I never mentioned James Gurney’s Dinotopia series of books in that post. The post had nothing at all do to with Dinotopia. I never mentioned stereotypes of any kind, nor “The Good and the Bad” that the post seems to refer to. The comment has nothing to do with my post at all, and in fact makes no sense in itself either. Except to sell drugs. And I found the same spambot post on James Gurney’s person site. Interesting.

However, this is a clever spambot. It can’t fit together decent grammar, but it superficial implies that a human was reading the post.

Still, down the spam tubes it goes. And now I really must get back to Devil Dinosaur.

28 March 2011

The Animated Version of The Hobbit (1977)

The Hobbit (NBC 1977)
Directed Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. Featuring the Voices of John Huston, Orson Bean, Hans Conried, Richard Boone, Theodore Gottlieb, Otto Preminger, Cyril Ritchard, Paul Frees, Don Messick.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

A few years ago, in my early posting days on Black Gate, I wrote a lengthy overview of Rankin/Bass’s strange but oddly likable animated television movie of The Return of the King. I intended to review Rankin/Bass’s other Tolkien TV movie, The Hobbit, some time later. “Later” took the form of two years, give or take a day, but has become “now,” thanks to Peter Jackson.

With The Hobbit back in the front lines of entertainment news because of the start—finally!—of production on Peter Jackson’s two-movie adaptation of the book, it’s the appropriate time to re-visit the first film version of the story. A Long Expected Party for an old friend.

22 March 2011

The Hobbit Is Shooting at Last

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Principal photography is officially underway on the two-part adaptation of The Hobbit! Footage is occurring. Right now, in New Zealand, a crew is shooting the much delayed and hazard-prone project, under The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.

The public announcement from the studios involved was made yesterday, March 21, on the official Hobbit movie blog.

Better yet, we have proof that it is occurring: these two photos (second beneath the cut), initially posted to Peter Jackson’s Facebook page, of the director on a fully-dressed Bag End set, prepared and lit for the cameras.
It’s strange to think how much time has passed since that thrilling day in October 1999, when Variety and The Hollywood Reporter contained a two-page spread to announce that photography had started on the three Lord of the Rings films in New Zealand. The spread was a gorgeous Alan Howe painting of a Nazgûl perched on a hill over the Shire with the original logo design for the film. (I still have that older design on an edition of the novel I purchased soon after shooting began, just to have my first “merchandize” of the production). I cut out the ad and had it on my wall for ten years.

14 March 2011

Blu-ray Debut of Excalibur (1981)

Excalibur (1981)
Directed by John Boorman. Starring Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Paul Geoffrey, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne.

“One land! One king! 1080 lines of resolution!”

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Did you know that there is a re-make of Excalibur in pre-production? Apparently, the lawyers at Legendary Pictures have forgotten that Le Morte d’Arthur and its associated characters are in the public domain and have been since the bleeding Dark Ages. No more about the re-make (for now).

The original, Once and Future Excalibur, is a crowning piece of high fantasy from the 1980s. It is also my favorite film version of the Arthurian legends. (Apologies to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Most movies about King Arthur, especially those before Excalibur upped the ante, are tatty costume dramas lacking magic, either cinematic or literal, and which feel like they were adapted from children’s editions of the story. (Apologies to Howard Pyle.) None of these movies connect to the sensations that the original telling of the legends, from Geoffrey of Monmouth, to Chrétein de Troyes, to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, create in me when I read them. A sense of dark mysticism pervades through the oldest versions of King Arthur’s myth: a mixture of paganism and early Christianity, a connection to Faerie, the eternal struggle between chaos and civilization. Excalibur, ignoring attempts to either look “realistic” or to resemble the generic expectation of a Hollywood costume drama, drives into the spiritual heart of King Arthur and emerges with something fantastic and often breathtaking.

12 March 2011

Movie Review: The Hunting Party (1971)

The Hunting Party (1971)
Directed by Don Medford. Starring Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen, Gene Hackman, Simon Oakland, Mitchell Ryan, L. Q. Jones

To make sure we’re clear: this Hunting Party has nothing to do with the 2007 film of the same name, starring Richard Gere and Terence Howard. Not as though you saw that film anyway. It slipped through any crack it could find; I’ve heard good things about, however.

The 1970s was a grand decade for the Western—except financially. The influence of the Italian Western and the shift toward younger filmmakers looking to experiment gave the Westerns of the decade a fresh perspective. But you wouldn’t have known it from the box-office returns of the time, nor from the critical reaction, which was damningly negative toward this new, more bloody and cynical Western. Never mind that every genre took a harder and more jaded turn during the ‘70s; the Western attracted scathing reviews because of the perception that the genre had a childlike “purity” before and was now getting spoiled. (Apparently, nobody saw Pursued or The Gunfighter). By 1976, Pauline Kael declared the Western was “dead”; that also happened to be the year of one of the greatest Westerns ever made, Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales. So goes the Western contradictions of the 1970s.

The Hunting Party is no masterpiece of the era, but it ideally frames the way the genre had changed, and why some viewers took umbrage with it.

07 March 2011

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Cross-posted to Black Gate.

No, the title of this post is not a typo.

I have recently spent some quality time pondering the most misunderstood of all punctuation marks: the semicolon. Specifically, what role should the semicolon play in fiction? If any?

If you cruise around Google a bit, you will find that most fiction writers come down hard on this strange Moreau of colon and comma. The post on this site is one example, and the writer quotes Kurt Vonnegut’s screed against the typographical mark: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

This shows that Mr. Vonnegut had very little faith in high school. You should know how to use a semicolon before you get to college, or else your English teachers have really been taking standing naps at the podium.