Archive for the ‘Movies & Entertainment’ Category.

Concert Recommendation -- Lady Gaga Jazz and Piano

I am not a Lady Gaga fan.  I could probably name a few of her songs if you put a gun to my head -- Poker face, uh that one in A Star is Born, uh, something something Romance.  And I was actually a tad resentful of even going -- we were in Las Vegas during the freaking Superbowl and we are skipping the game and going to Lady Gaga?

She had two shows in Vegas at the Park Theater (by the way best large theater I have ever been in for a concert -- WAY better than some hockey rink).  One show was her regular show with her pop music and one was a jazz show with American songbook classics.  We saw the latter.

And it was amazing.  In a world of autotune and pop singers who can't actually sing *cough* Katie Perry *cough*, Lada Gaga can sing her ass off.  It was tremendously impressive.  I don't know if she is doing this show again or in other locations but it is highly recommended.

PS-  The night before we went to a little Italian restaurant that had Pia Zadora singing in the lounge.  Spent the evening sitting at the bar chatting with the Liza Minnelli impersonator who spelled Pia from time to time.  A very old-school Vegas evening.  And did you know Pia Zadora has a freaking Warhol of her? And it's good.  Way more flattering than most paintings Warhol did of women.  Which is likely the product of her billionaire husband turning the screws on the artist.

PPS- Apparently we didn't miss much in the Superbowl.

More Classic Matte Painting-based Special Effects

I can't get enough of pre-CGI special effects back stories, particularly those involving models and matte paintings.  I have yet to find a really good book on building models for movies (the best documentaries I have seen have been extras on original trilogy Star Wars movie disks).  But there are several good collections of great matte painting work, including at this blog called the Matte Shot.  He writes few but very long posts usually dedicated to a particular artist.  This one is part two of a series on Albert Whitlock.  This guy was simply amazingly prolific and a great artist whose work you have seen but did not know it (e.g. Earthquake).  One example below:

San Diego Restaurant Recommendation

I am not a foodie you should normally trust, but if you are in San Diego you need to go to Breakfast Republic.  Yes, I know it is breakfast and brunch only but skip your evening meal and just go.  Most amazing breakfast I have had.  Been there several times to their Pacific Beach location.  If there was justice in the world, their founder would be as famous as Elon Musk.

PS - if you really, really insist on getting a traditional dinner recommendation, try cucina urbana, just a block or two away from the viaduct in Balboa Park.

TV Recomendation -- Wolf Hall

I do truly think we are living in the Golden Age of TV.  There are so many great shows -- Game of Thrones, the Crown, Counterpart, even a few guilty pleasures like Outlander.  I wanted to recommend one I just watched and I have not heard a lot about before -- Wolf Hall, a retelling (yes, yet again) of the Henry the VIII era from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell.  I thought it was really terrific, with Mark Rylance's quirky take on Thomas Cromwell and Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damien Lewis as Henry (best casting ever as Henry, but I really like Damien Lewis).  Plus a great supporting cast including folks like Jonathon Pryce and Mark Gatiss.  Only 6 episodes and it seems like the logical season 2 is missing, but I really enjoyed it.  The acting is great, but I must confess I liked Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in the Tudors better, probably because I have a thing for Natalie Dormer (which my wife does NOT understand).  The Wolf Hall take on the protagonists is quirky -- it is probably the most sympathetic take on Wolsey you will ever see and the least sympathetic take on Moore you will see.  Very intelligent and avoids (for good and for bad) the Skinemax aspects of the Tudors series.

More on Matte Paintings in Movies

Matte paintings from the pre-CGI movie era are total catnip for me, and are probably my favorite topic in film.  I remember first learning about matte painting after being blown away with the the huge hanger scenes and infinite drops on the Death Star in Star Wars.

The Matte Shot blog has another great post up about the golden age of matte paining,  This blog does not produce a lot of posts but when it does, they are long and fascinating.

The Making of a Cool Tracking Shot

I have a particular fondness for tracking shots (long sequences on film with a moving camera that are created in one shot without cuts).  The opening scene in Orson Welle's Touch of Evil is perhaps the most famous, but there are many other examples such as in Goodfellas and in the opening credit roll of Serenity (though what looks like one long shot is actually two in that case).

This making of video for a different sort of tracking shot is really amazing, as it juxtaposes what we see on the film with an overhead view that shows how it is being made.  Total crazyness:

 

 

update:  Here is the Touch of Evil shot:

What is the Only Major Network You Can't Livestream (Hint: It's the One Your Taxes Support)

I have been working on cord-cutting around the house and have been experimenting with different devices (e.g. Roku, Google, Amazon) and different streaming services (Youtube TV, DirecTV Now, and I may test Slingbox soon since it is the only one that seems to have the Redzone channel).

The boxes vary mostly in interface.  We have been a Roku family for a long time so we are comfortable with it, and it is pretty straight forward.  The one flaw is that there is no sharing across devices of passwords and such and so you tediously have to enter all your streaming service passwords in every device.  What is worse, the Roku tends to have these fits of forgetfulness making you re-enter many or all your passwords a second or third time.  I may have not understood the Google device but it seemed to require me to do everything with my cell phone nearby and actually streamed stuff from my phone.  This may be fine for millenials but was stupid for my home theater where I already have a Logitech remote that is programmed to handle everything.  I have not played much with the Amazon device -- if you are an Amazon family and like Alexa it may be the best solution.  I did not even consider the Apple device -- I am sure it is great if you all you use is Apple walled garden service and devices but I use many other services and in general find its interface a kluge.  Roku is really the one device with neutrality going for it.

I have tried several of the streaming services.  I like Youtube TV and its interface a lot.  DirecTV has a few more channels that I like but I like the interface less (by the way, there are several good channel coverage comparisons of the various streaming services you can google).  Both services have cloud recording functions, ability to watch content both live and in replay mode, and have good coverage of all the local networks.  I was hoping that Red Zone channel would come to DirecTV live as they have the satellite rights to it but apparently slingbox is the only service that is currently offering Red Zone, so I may have to try that.  I need to hurry as all my free trials are running out.

The one interesting exception to all this is that there is no way to get PBS live streamed on any device from any service right now.  Some local stations livestream to your browser and I think there is now a browser-based livestream of the News hour.  But you can't currently watch your local PBS station live -- you can only watch selected shows in replay mode after they have aired via a separate PBS app for devices like the Roku.  It is amazing to me that the progressive socialist haters of capitalism at PBS are the only network still committed to supporting the cable monopolies.  The PBS website helpfully tells you that you can buy an over-the-air antenna if you want to cut the cord and watch PBS.

Cinema Visual Effect Before CGI

I really love this blog about visual effects, particularly various forms of matte painting, in movies before CGI.

Just Because It Is Friday -- Balloon Animal AT-AT

Saw this at the D23 Convention (sort of a Disney-only Comicon) last month

God, I Loved This Show As A Kid

...and as an adult, and a model maker, I still find it engaging but for different reasons.

I couldn't be separated for years from my Corgi model of Thunderbird 2.

Postscript:  Plus, I vaguely remember watching this show religiously but had entirely blocked it out of my mind for nearly 50 years until I saw it in the side panel of videos on YouTube next to the one above.

I Liked This Guy's Movie Analyses

My daughter sent me links to this YouTube channel discussing the mechanics of movie screenplays.  Below is an analysis of how Tarantino makes a couple of long, incredibly suspenseful scenes in Inglorious Basterds (the first scene in the farmhouse and the later scene in the basement bar).

Update:  If you want a comparison, go see Dunkirk.  This is a good movie in its way, and I really enjoy Nolan's movies.  But there are several spots where he is clearly trying to build suspense and he does not do it as well as Tarantino.  One movie that might compare to Tarantino on stress might be the last 15 minutes of Argo, though I have not seen it for a while.

Overhyped Things That Don't Disappoint: Hamilton

We went to visit family in Chicago and in the process saw Hamilton there.  While expensive, it was a lot cheaper than New York and having listened to the Broadway cast album many times, I think the cast in Chicago was very competitive with Broadway.  And it was fabulous.  Really.  I know there is a tendency if one spends a lot of money on an event to convince oneself it was worth the money, but it really was in this case.

In most musicals I walk out singing a particular song.  Out of Hamilton, I find myself singing about 8 songs.   I had one pre-show decision in which I am not sure if I did the right thing -- I had a choice of listening to the soundtrack in advance or seeing the musical fresh on the stage.  I chose the former, mainly because in several songs the lyrics are so clever and come so fast and furious that it take a number of listenings to really appreciate them.  But I probably missed something by not seeing it fresh and new on the stage.

I will say that this has got to be the most unlikely musical ever.  I can just see the pitch -- I want to do a musical in rap featuring Hamilton and Jefferson debating about Federal assumption of state debt.    Seriously, it sounds more like a lead in to a Leonard Pinth-Garnell sketch on Really Bad Musical Theater on SNL.  But it works.

Movie Game: Spot the Rifle

My kids and I drive my wife crazy when we are watching a movie at home.  We have all kinds of conversations going, conversations we would never even consider in a theater (another reason, beyond screen size and sound systems, why I consider the home movie watching experience distinct and not entirely competitive with the theater experience).   No movie can be watched without a dozen IMDB lookups of what else so and so actor was in.

One game we play is spot the rifle.  This probably does not mean what you think it means.  It refers to Checkov's rule (the writer, not the astrogator) never to put a rifle on stage in Act 1 if someone is not going to use it in Act 3.  Our game assumes that movies are following this rule, so we look for elements sometimes awkwardly thrown into Act 1 so they can be used later.  Note this is distinct from a macguffin, and is really not the same as foreshadowing either.  The "save the clock tower" fund raiser early in Back to the Future is an example.  Calling your shot in this game, like on Jeopardy, requires the answer to be in a specific form, ie "Never put a lightening strike on a clock tower on stage in Act 1 if you are not going to use it in Act 3".  It goes without saying that winning answers must be shouted out in Act 1, not Act 3.

My daughter, who is quite an aficionado of romantic comedies, texted me an updated corollary:  Don't put a pregnant woman on stage in act 1 of a comedy unless she is going to go into labor at the most inconvenient moment in act 3.

Postscript:  The "Q" armorer dynamic in James Bond is a version of this on steroids.  The rules of Q were:  1.  Every tool he gives Bond gets used and 2.  No matter how odd or arcane the tool (e.g. high powered electromagnet built into a condom) it turns out to be exactly the niche tool Bond needs to escape at some point.   For example, one and only one time is Bond issued with a CPR device but that one time he needs it to save his life (Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale).

Keeping Cocktails Cold Without Dilution

For many of you, this will be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but I see so many dumb approaches to cooling cocktails being pushed that I had to try to clear a few things up.

First, a bit of physics.  Ice cubes cool your drink in two ways.   First and perhaps most obviously, the ice is colder than your drink.  Put any object that is 32 degrees in a liquid that is 72 degrees and the warmer liquid will transfer heat to the cooler object.  The object you dropped in will warm and the liquid will cool and their temperatures will tend to equilibrate.  The exact amount that the liquid will cool depends on their relative masses, the heat carrying capacity of each material, and the difference in their temperatures.

However, for all but the most unusual substances, this cooling effect will be minor in comparison with the second effect, the phase change of the ice.  Phase changes in water consume and liberate a lot of heat. I probably could look up the exact amounts, but the heat absorbed by water going from 32 degree ice to 33 degree water is way more than the heat absorbed going from that now 33 degree water to room temperature.

Your drink needs to be constantly chilled, even if it starts cold, because most glasses are not very good insulators.  Pick up the glass -- is the glass cold from the drink?  If so, this means the glass is a bad insulator.  If it were a good insulator, the glass would be room temperature on the outside even if the drink were cold.  The glass will absorb some heat from the air, but air is not really a great conductor of heat unless it is moving.  But when you hold the glass in your hand, you are making a really good contact between your drink and an organic body that is essentially circulating near-100 degree fluid around it.  Your body is pumping heat into your cocktail.

Given this, let's analyze two common approaches to supposedly cooling cocktails without excessive dilution:

  1. Cold rocks.   You put these things in the freezer and put them in your drink to keep it cold.  Well, this certainly will not dilute the drink, but it also will not keep it very cold for long.   Remember, the equilibration of temperatures between the drink and the object in it is not the main source of heat absorption, it is the phase change and the rocks are not going to change phase in your drink.  Perhaps if you cooled the rocks in liquid nitrogen?  I don't know.
  2. Large round ice balls.  There is nothing that is more attractive in my cocktail than a perfect round ice ball.  A restaurant here in town called the Gladly has a way of making these beautiful round flaw-free ice balls that look like they are Steuben glass.  The theory is that with a smaller surface to volume ratio, the ice ball will melt slower.  Which is probably true, but all this means is that the heat transfer is slower and the cooling is less.   But again, the physics should be roughly the same -- it is going to cool mostly in proportion to how much it melts.  If it melts less, it cools less.  I have a sneaking suspicion that bars have bought into this ice ball thing to mask tiny cocktails -- I have been to several bars which have come up with ice balls or cylinders that are maybe 1 mm smaller in diameter than the glass so that a large glass holds about an ounce of cocktail.

I will not claim to be an expert but I like my bourbon drinks cold and have adopted this strategy -- perhaps you have others.

  1. Keep the bottles chilled.   I keep Vodka in the freezer and bourbon and a few key mixers in the refrigerator.   It is much easier to keep something cool than to cool it the first time, and this is a good dilution-free approach to the initial cooling.  I don't know if this sort of storage is problematic for the liquor -- I have never found any issues.
  2. Keep your drinking glass in the freezer.  Again, it will warm in your hand but an initially warm glass is going to pump heat into whatever you pour into it.
  3. Use a special glass.   I have gone through two generations on this.  My first generation was to use a double wall glass with an air gap. This works well and you can find many choices on Amazon.  Then my wife found some small glasses at Tuesday Morning that were double wall but have water in the gap.  You put them in the freezer and not only does the glass get cold but the water in the middle freezes.  Now I can get some phase change cooling in my cocktail without dilution.  You have to get used to holding a really cold glass but in Phoenix we have no complaints about such things.

Things I don't know but might work:  I can imagine you could design encapsulated ice cubes, such as water in a glass sphere.  Don't know if anyone makes these.  There are similar products with gel in them that freezes, and double wall glasses with gel.  I do not know if the phase change in the gel is better or worse for heat absorption than phase change of water.  I have never found those cold packs made of gel as satisfactory as an ice pack, but that may be just a function of size.  Anyone know?

Update:  I believe this is what I have, though since we bought them at Tuesday Morning their provenance is hard to trace.  They are small, but if you are sipping straight bourbon or scotch this is way more than enough.

Postscript:  I was drinking old Fashions for a while but switched to a straight mix of Bourbon and Cointreau.  Apparently there is no name for this cocktail that I can find, though its a bit like a Bourbon Sidecar without the lemon juice.  For all your cocktails, I would seriously consider getting a jar of these, they are amazing.  The Luxardo cherries are nothing like the crappy bright red maraschino cherries you see sold in grocery stores.

Movie Special Effects Before CGI

I am a sucker for both 70's disaster movies and well-crafted pre-CGI special effects.  So I enjoyed this article on the special effects techniques in The Towering Inferno.  The 70-foot high model is amazing.

If You Are Jonesing for Game of Thrones...

My wife and I watched a series from a couple of years ago called the White Queen, a drama following the Wars of the Roses based on a novel by Phillipa Gregory.  The series begins with the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville to King Edward and proceeds through the death of Richard III at Bosworth.  After the first episode I was ready to stop because I thought it was going to be yet another historical romance rather than satisfying drama about power and conflict.  But as a series, once is gets past the first episode, it really does become a pretty good watch (though it got only mediocre ratings so caveat emptor).  It has a lot of folks battling for power with the same Game of Thrones "you win or you die" vibe -- which is not surprising as apparently George R R Martin has said that Game of Thrones was partially inspired by the Wars of the Roses.

As one would expect from the author, there are lots of strong and interesting female characters but the whole show is well acted.   It generally followed pretty well with most of the history I learned in school though I would be careful answering any AP history test questions from the plot (Gregory takes some literary license with the disappearance of Edward's two sons in the Tower, but since that remains somewhat of a mystery anyway it felt OK to do so).  The series goes a bit off the rails historically in the second season (the White Princess) as the small license Gregory takes with the sons getting killed in the Tower takes control of the plot.

Amazing Facts

"Steven Seagal released seven films in 2016. Seven."

source

Thoughts on the Oscars and Politics

I was talking to a Conservative friend the other day and mentioned that I was not watching the Oscars, that I just had not stomach for all the smug political virtue signalling.  He said that he knew why he and fellow Conservatives were not watching, but why me?  He observed that for most issues that would come up -- immigration, gay marriage, distaste for Trump -- that I probably would agree with most of what was going to be said.  My answer to him was in three parts

  1. I am exhausted by the addition of politics to every sphere of life - there is nowhere to escape any more.  This politicization of everything, including sports and entertainment, has historically been a feature of totalitarian governments.  In Hitler's Germany, you couldn't just cut hair, but you had to be in the league of national socialist barbers and be ready with a plan for how your barbering was going to advance national socialism.  yuk.
  2. People seem to like it when famous movie stars and sports stars espouse political opinions that they share.  I am not sure why.  I can only imagine that these folks are in their hearts unsure of themselves and thus get renewed confidence when some famous person agrees with them, like counting likes on Facebook or something.  I on the other hand already am pretty sure I am right and I have thought a lot about the issue including reading opposing opinions on it.  Nothing Martin Sheen or Beyonce says about the issue, unless it is related to the entertainment industry, is likely to either change my mind or make me more confident in my opinions.  In fact...
  3. Hearing actors who I know to be dumb as a post agree with me using facile and hysterical reasoning is only likely to make me question whether I really feel good about agreeing with this dolt.  When Rosie O'Donnell agrees with me, it's time to rethink that issue.  I feel like I was stampeded into supporting the Iraq war in part due to the incredible lameness of a lot of the anti-war "arguments".  That was a mistake on my part, and I own up to it, but I still feel tempted to do the opposite of whatever Sean Penn says even when I agree.

Whose Brain Did I Put In? Abby Someone. Abby....Normal

Sorry, I can't get that Young Frankenstein scene out of my head when I read this story:  Wrong sperm may have fertilized eggs of 26 Dutch women in IVF mix-up

 

Create Your Own Star Wars Title Crawl

I Nominate This For Worst Idea Ever for a Movie Based on a Game

My New Speaker Project

Long-timer readers will know that one of my hobbies is building my own speakers.  I built three big ones to go behind my home theater projection screen, and various pairs for music around the house.  The first time I built speakers, I worked exactly from plans.  The second time I customized a design.   The third time I designed from scratch, but they were small simple bookshelf speakers.

This new project is something else.   I started almost completely from scratch, beginning only from this academic article on curved line arrays.  From space and wife-acceptance-factor reasons, I couldn't build a floor to ceiling traditional line array, so I thought I would try this approach.  The height of the speakers was capped by some geography issues in the room they are going in.

So here is what the boxes look like so far.  The rectangular openings are for PT2C-8 planar tweeters, and the round ones are for the ND90-8 mid/bass.  Despite the small size of the bass drivers, the ones chosen actually go pretty deep and the speaker box models (there are lots of free programs out there) with pretty good bass, though I will have it crossed over to a subwoofer as well.  The speaker actually curves upwards more than it looks like in the photo -- the angle of the photo distorts it some.  The curve is actually between 25 and 30 degrees.

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It turns out that things I thought would be really hard were actually easy.  For example, getting the nice curve on the face was easy once I changed my plan to layering several 1/4 inch sheets rather than trying to bend a 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch sheet of mdf.  The rectangular holes are not that straight but the drivers have wide flanges that will cover that up.  The round holes were made WAY easier with this type of hole saw (which rather than teeth has three or four little carbide router bits that do the cutting).

What was hard was the paint.  It was all done with rattle cans, I don't have any professional spray equipment.   I have no idea when I decided to try to get a piano black gloss finish on this, but I will tell you now that life is too short to try to get this finish on mdf.  If you look really closely you can see a few spots where I should have sanded yet again and re-coated, but I finally called it done.  The worse problem was that I accidentally started with a Rustoleum lacquer.  It covers beautifully but dries really, really slowly.  Any other paint type will make a mess if sprayed over lacquer, so I was stuck with it unless I wanted to strip it off and start over (which in retrospect would have been a good decision).   Painting this has been going on for months, with frequent long breaks to let things fully dry.  I am still not sure the finish is really as hard as it should be and am paranoid about bumping it into anything.  It looks good, though, almost startling when people see it for the first time.

Anyway, the next step is installing the drivers.  Part of the academic paper discussed tapering the volume on the various drivers.  This requires some simple resistor networks (L-pads) to attenuate each driver by a certain amount.  Here are the drivers once all the resistors are soldered (on the back, so largely invisible here), shown while I am testing the network.  The laptop is setting the parameters in the digital crossover, which uses a kit I built from miniDSP.  The MiniDSP board also has parametric equalizers so when the speakers are finished, I can fine-tune the frequency response.

DSC_0456

You can actually see the first driver installed on the lower right.

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Here is where we get to the world-class screw-up on my part.  The #1 thing I learned in speaker design is to brace the hell out of them.  You don't want anything flexing.  Unfortunately, I was stupid enough to put the braces in early.  This is fine for the rectangular ribbon tweeters, they install from the front.  But the round mid-basses install from the back, and  this is what that looks like -- the unpainted panels with the holes in it are the braces, and then you can see the actual driver hole in the front of the speaker behind it:

 

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I had this thing up on my bathroom counter so I could see the driver positioning in the mirror.  I then had to reach hands through these braces while using a screwdriver with a 12 inch extension.  A total contortion act, but I got the hardest one done so I am confident I can do the rest.

New Star Wars Trailer

This looks encouraging.

AT-ATs are back!

Before There Was Green Screen

People act as if it is something new and different when actors shoot scenes and 95% of the space on the screen is later filled in by CGI.  This has actually been going on for decades with matte paintings on glass.  Movie scenes were either filmed directly through the glass (there are some great examples in the linked article with Disney artists painting sailing ships on a bay for filming) or reshot later by projecting the original film and reshooting it with the matte art.

Here is a an example before and after the painted matt.  Just like CGI, only CGI can add movement and dynamic elements

Sword-window view

I had thought all this stuff was done in post production but apparently Disney at least shot a lot of scenes straight through a matte.  I love this guy, sitting on the beach painting ships on glass so they would be sitting on the bay in the scene.  You can almost imagine the actors tapping their feet waiting for him to be finished.

Untitled

Much of the beauty of the original Star Wars movie was in its great matte paintings, not only of planets but of the large Death Star interior scenes.

JJ Abrams is World's Greatest Producer of Fan Fic

[no spoilers]  I don't mean the title negatively -- I liked the reboots of both Star Trek and Star Wars that he wrote and directed.  Given the long absence of each franchise, there is no problem in my mind restarting the series with an homage to the old series and characters.  In particular, Abrams is great at peppering the movie with little shout-outs and inside jokes for the fan base.  And both are reasonably good adventure movies with beautiful action scenes.

The problems comes with the second movie, and moving the series into new territory.  The second Star Trek movie (Into the Darkness) couldn't seem to extricate itself from fan fic mode, retelling the Kahn story for the third time, with cute little reverses like Kirk dying and Spock screaming "Kahn.....", the opposite from The Wrath of Khan.

I understand the pressure.  The fan base of both franchises was ready to strangle Abrams at the first hint of heresy to the original material.  But for God sakes the Star Wars loyalists, of which I consider myself one, endured Jar Jar.  The new Star Wars movie has some flaws, but it is a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable reboot.  Now it's time to take some risks with it.

Postscript:  Is there a handbook of Star Wars Imperial architecture?  Is it driven entirely by creating movie aesthetics or have directors started to work a running gag here?  In the new movie -- I promise this is not really a spoiler -- there is a scene with one of those classic Imperial rooms with the infinitely deep hole in it, featuring tiny narrow walkways without handrails  (I consider this not a spoiler since at least one such room has probably been featured in every Star Wars movie).  Anyway, one of the characters finds themselves clinging to the walls of said infinite drop some 12 or 15 fee below the nearest walkway.  And what do you know, there is some sort of switch lever there.  There are wall switches in my house that I think are located inconveniently, but wtf?  Who designs these places?

By the way, the movie Galaxy Quest, which I still love, had a great parody of this sort of sci fi architecture.  John Scalzi's Redshirts also touches on this territory as well.