Monday, October 31, 2005


Happy Halloween, everyone.

Halloween was always a big deal with my college friends. They'd always throw a big party, and everyone would come in costumes. It was a good time. After being away from them for years while I lived in Virginia, I was looking forward a grand return to an old Halloween tradition. Unfortunately, Halloween is on a Monday this year, and various other things were going on -- so there was no party.

On the up side, though, you can always count on Mom to make things better. When it became apparent that my apartment complex was devoid of trick-or-treaters and was going to be for the entire night, I decided to give my family a call and see what they were up to. My youngest two siblings were out in the neighborhood, but otherwise the family was all around, and their Halloween traditions were in full force. My Mom made chili for dinner, and had hot apple cider and cinnamon rolls waiting for the kids when they came back. And I got in on all of it.

Maybe I got back to the better tradition, after all.

I will say this: weather-wise, it was the best Halloween I can remember ever coming to Denver. Growing up here, I can tell you that all I remember every year was bitter cold and snow. I was always an evening of staying out as long as you could possibly stand (which wasn't long), then going home to thaw. You'd beg to go back out, but the parents (being parents, naturally) couldn't bear to see the kid-cicles come through the door one more time. This year, no snow. And the temperature was a relatively balmy 40 degrees this evening.

Halloween really isn't a holiday you'd normally think of as "good to be back home for." But tonight, I learned otherwise. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to pop on a DVD and watch Michael Myers terrorize Laurie Strode before bed.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Steppin' Out in Public

Today I went to Elitch Gardens, the major amusement park in Denver. It's their closing weekend, and my friend had some "half-off" passes. We figured that between it being a Sunday, there being a Broncos game just a few blocks away, and today's high temperature being about 55 degrees, it wouldn't be very crowded -- even with the two haunted houses on site.

We were right. We went from ride to ride, doing basically everything in the park we wanted to without waiting more than 10 minutes for anything. In fact, we were able to pack in the rides so close together that we basically had to stop for a break mid-afternoon. A little too much lurching around without the needed rest periods of waiting in line had made us all just a little queasy.

As I said, we got to do basically every ride in the park, even though we were only there about four hours. We thought about staying for the haunted houses that opened up in the evening, but they were the one thing that actually did have a long line. And by that point, the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees and it was just starting to rain. (By the time I'm writing this, it's become snow.) Enough was enough -- we figured we'd more than gotten our money's worth already. It was actually quite a great day at the amusement park.

There was one other highlight of the afternoon. We were walking by one of the video arcades at one point, and there was an "In the Groove 2" dance machine right up front. One of the three friends I was with had seen me "stepping" before, while the other two had not. She insisted on a performance, and put up the 75 cents to make it happen.

It was actually a little more than a year ago that I played any of the DDR games for the first time. But until today, I'd never done it in public at one of the actual arcade machines. But hey -- it wasn't my dollar, so I figured "what the hell." And so my first public DDR-ing came to pass.

It turns out that you have to have your timing really damn precise on the actual arcade models to score well. I made it through my first couple songs with nearly full combos, only missing a step or two, but I was getting a whole lot of "greats" and "perfects" and not enough of the arcade-exclusive "marvelouses." (Or whatever the In the Groove equivalent was. I can't remember at the moment.) Consequently, my 200+ combo performance in one song only rated a "B." And the other two songs weren't even that high. Still, I gather no "baggy-panted super-dance freaks" had been to the machine lately, because I got to put my name in afterward. The whole thing managed to draw about a dozen random strangers for an audience, too.

A relatively useless skill, put to the tiniest of uses. Good times.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Playground Puns

This afternoon, I went to see Saw II. (Say that sentence out loud. The joke is still no funnier than it was when the first movie came out last year.)

I was honestly a bit nervous about seeing this movie. But it's Halloween time, and I'm pretty much obligated to go and see whatever "scary movie" is available. The trouble is, I had such high hopes for the first one last year, and was so disappointed. What a clever concept the first Saw had: the story of a serial killer who makes his victims kill themselves (or each other). I remember seeing trailers for Saw months before the film hit, and I just couldn't wait.

Unfortunately, Saw looked like exactly what it was, a movie made for about 1/40th the budget of even the most modest of Hollywood films. (It cost about $1 million, from what I understand.) Apparently, they were on such a tight schedule that they ended up filming a lot of the rehearsals and actually using them in the movie. And this is why actors I've quite enjoyed in other films (Cary Elwes and Danny Glover) come off just plain awful in it. And the ending? It somehow managed to be cool and ridiculous at the same time.

So you can imagine that I was very pleasantly surprised to really enjoy Saw II. I suppose that it failed utterly in being a "scary movie" like I was looking for. I don't think it was trying to be. There weren't really any scares in the entire film. (A cliche "whip pan and loud music sting" or two, but that so doesn't count.) But it was very interesting, much more so than the first film. It was engaging. It was truly horrific at times. And this time, I was not at all ambivalent about the ending. The movie was wrapped up in a neat little package. Worth a B-. (Maybe even call it a B, since 'tis the season.)

I'd actually like to say a little more about it, but can't do so without spoiling parts of the movie for those who want to see it. I guess I'll see how it goes in the comments thread. (Assuming anyone even has anything to say about the movie.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Zany to the Max

I hadn't even come down yet from the high of having American Gothic finally released on DVD when I heard the rumor that another show I've long wanted to see on DVD should be coming next year: Animaniacs!

Not only did this show make me laugh consistently, but I owe much of my trivia success to them, too. I own the soundtrack album from the show, and it includes two songs with extreme trivia content. "Yakko's World" names all the nations of the world (as of the mid-1990s, anyway) in under two minutes to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance. "Wakko's America" covers all 50 U.S. states and their capitals in the same amount of time, to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw." I listened to both enough to learn the songs, and they've come in very handy at the bar on Thursdays whenever a geography question shows up.

But mostly, it's about the laughs. There are episodes of Animaniacs I love just as much as some of the best classic Looney Tunes. The drive to the circus (aka "I'm Mad"), Wakko being accosted by clowns while he's alone in the tower one day, the many machinations of Pinky and the Brain, and of course the epic of Anvilania (featuring the Anvilanian national anthem as sung by "Perry Coma").

One countdown ends, another begins. It's the circle of DVD life... or something.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Horror, The Horror!

I'm gonna have to put a GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING on this one.

An alleged photo of a "World's Ugliest Dog" contest winner was making the rounds on the internet a few months ago. According to, it's the real thing. I decided to save this gem of a photo until Halloween time, because it is truly a nightmarish spectre that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my days.

Take a deep breath, and prepare to be horrified.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The 80s Live Again... Again!

Nobody does "black hole entertainment" like VH-1. We're talking about programs with such a powerful gravitational force that if you're exposed even for mere seconds, you cannot escape. And at the pinnacle of this type of television is their "I Love the..." series.

This week, they're running an all-new third installment of "I Love the 80s," called "I Love the 80s: 3D." Having gone through the entire decade twice already (with "I Love the 80s" and "I Love the 80s Strikes Back"), the pickings are getting more than a little bit slim. Yes, we remember about tainted Tylenol capsules back in 1982. It was scary. It was news. But I can't say it makes me feel "nostalgic." And are there really no other movies left to talk about from that year other than "Quest for the Fire?"

And yet, even though we're down to "black Barbie" and Intellivision, it's still fun and addictive. Michael Ian Black, Mo Rocca, and Hal Sparks are all still there with the wise cracks, and just as before, they pretty much make the entire show.

So beware if you're channel surfing this week. You will get sucked in. No force is strong enough to resist it. And enjoy it while it's new, because you're going to see it every time you flip to VH-1, no matter what time of the day or night, for the next eleven months.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Someone's at the Door

Today was a mammoth DVD release day, loaded with all sorts of "super-expanded editions" of major films and full season sets of various TV shows. But the big highlight of the day -- particularly given that Halloween is less than a week around the corner -- was the release of the complete series American Gothic on DVD.

This was where I first saw Gary Cole, before he was the boss in "Office Space," or the captain on the not-so-good Babylon 5 spin-off Crusade, or "Bingo Bob" Russell on The West Wing, etc. Here, he played a manifestation of pure evil on Earth. And he did so masterfully. He made the show. I believe there was a little bit of an ongoing storyline, but now, 10 years after it aired on TV, I can't really remember any of it. I just remember what a delight it was to tune in and watch Sheriff Lucas Buck be purely, diabolically evil every week.

I have fond memories of a play I was in rehearsals for at the time, where half the cast and crew was hopelessly addicted to American Gothic. Every week, we'd come in taunting each other with the show's recurring tagline ("someone's at the door"), and gossiping about the perversely delightful evils that the sheriff was up to this week. I'm still friends with a couple of people who worked on that play, and we're all very psyched to watch "our show" again. One friend in particular tries to budget only one TV DVD a month, and she has resolved that American Gothic is the one for this month.

Ah, it takes me back.

Monday, October 24, 2005

We Thank You For Your Service

If you didn't catch last night's episode of The West Wing, turn back now, there be SPOILERS ahead.

Last night was possibly the finest hour of television I've seen so far this fall season. (Yes, beating all the amazing revelations on Lost, all the wit of Veronica Mars -- I'd say only the horrifying-but-wonderful mid-season finale of Battlestar Galactica topped it.) It's likely you have to have been a long-time fan of The West Wing to appreciate why, but if you are, you know what I'm talking about.

Watching Toby get dismissed was a stunning hour of television. From the solid minute of total silence between he and C.J., to the interrogation by Babbish (played masterfully by Oliver Platt), to the brutal words of President Bartlet... it just plain hurt. I've quite enjoyed this season so far, but sometimes the scenes set in the White House felt more like the "filler" you had to sit through to get to the interesting campaign trail material. All the more gripping, then, to find that entirely reversed last night.

The camera work was almost too obtrusive, so considered was much of the framing. And yet the shots were definitely appropriate, driving the message home. Toby, far off to one side of the frame, alone in the Roosevelt Room. People "mis-framed" on the wrong side of the screen. People viewed only in reflection. And Toby's final walk through the main hall.

Last night was as good as any of the best of the first two seasons. Pretty shocking for a show in its seventh year. Even more shocking for a show that many people were saying had gone irretrievably bad in year five.

Will The West Wing bow out on a creative high this year, having recaptured some of its former greatness? Or does it now have enough creative momentum to carry on with the winner of the current election in the White House? Right now, I think I'd be happy either way.

Either way, I'll definitely be looking forward to each new episode to come.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Entertainer, Indeed

I'm a big fan of movies, but I wouldn't necessarily call myself a "movie buff." To me, the distinction is this: the "movie buff" is a fan of Classic Cinema, of the old great films. The movie buff has probably seen most of the AFI Top 100 Movies list. Me, I just like to see a lot of movies.

Still, every now and then, I like to try out one of those classic films, to see if it lives up to all the hype, awards, and acclaim. Generally, I'm pretty disappointed. Over the years, I've viewed (and ultimately have not liked) Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather (Parts I and II), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and others. (I appreciated the cinematography of Lawrence of Arabia, but didn't think too much of the movie.) Maybe I'm just a snob when it comes to older movies.

However, I finally saw one today that I did quite enjoy: The Sting.

I know The Sting is not really that old a movie. It was made before I was born, though. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, though it did not actually make the AFI Top 100 list. Nor will it make my own top 100 list.

But it was nevertheless a very enjoyable movie. It's certainly a movie that casts a long shadow over many that would follow. For example, many people blame The Sixth Sense for Hollywood's fascination of late with "twist endings." But The Sting was there long before. (Hell... you could go back all the way to Citizen Kane for that, except that it's impossible to come to that movie not knowing the ending.)

The cast of The Sting is great, the writing is sharp, and of course everybody knows the music by Scott Joplin whether they've seen the movie or not. (I think I heard somewhere that a significant number of people actually think the song "The Entertainer" is called "The Sting.")

If you're like I was this time yesterday -- that is, a fan of "heist" movies that has never seen The Sting -- you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Special Saturday Edition of Trivia

This afternoon was the bar trivia tournament finals 10 weeks in the making. Teams have been accumulating points over the last two-and-a-half months to become eligible for the big event that took place this afternoon. (We'd amassed enough points for a lock some time ago.) The first place team won $250 cash.

And it was us. Happy day! We actually won by a pretty healthy margin, and had a good time in the process, so a nice Saturday all around.

The questions were a bit more difficult than normal today, as you'd expect. Many more questions in "multiple parts" than usual, and with more parts than usual. Take, for example, this final question:

Please give the exact names (as printed on the board) of the 11 body parts you can remove while playing the original version of the game Operation.

Our team of nine players managed 9 of the 11. See how you manage by checking the comments.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Day the (DDR) Music Died

Franky Gee, the gap-toothed frontman of the band Captain Jack, died today as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. Though I've never owned one of their albums and had never been to one of their concerts, they nevertheless hold a very special place in my heart: at least one or two Captain Jack songs were included in every incarnation of Dance Dance Revolution. (That includes the brand new one.) Usually, they were among the best songs in the game. Only You, Dream a Little Dream, In the Navy... yeah, I've done a lot of stepping to Captain Jack.

Rest in peace, captain.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Judd Not, Lest Ye Be Judd

I hate Judd more than any contestant I can ever remember being on Survivor. Even the memorable villain, "Johnny Fairplay," was playful in his asshattery, and entertaining to watch. I want to see Judd locked in a car for a day with the Paolo family from The Amazing Race. (I don't actually want to see that -- watching it would be excruciating. I just want it to happen.)

And based on the way Judd went totally off-the-handle at Tribal Council, I think he believes the phrase "bad sportsman" means "man who is bad at sports." He even started yelling at Jeff Probst. Not cool.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Week 4: Veronica Mars 3; Lost 1.

It was another solid, though this time not really outstanding, episode of Lost this week. But Veronica Mars was once again roaring strong.

I enjoyed all of the Jin/Sun episodes from the first season of Lost, and I definitely enjoyed this one too. The show is able to tap into something entirely different when they focus on these two characters... something really quite different from anything else on television. (Seriously... what other TV series has a main character who can't speak English? Though he's clearly improving on that front.)

The "missing wedding ring" was a blatantly transparent device for getting at the flashbacks, but I didn't mind so much. Hurley and Locke each appeared in only one scene, but they were both memorable. And the "Back-of-the-Planers" (Backies?) are drawing nearer to being integrated with the rest of the group. All fine stuff.

But Veronica Mars again delivered great stuff. Wallace has a Darth Vader style "I am your father" confrontation with creepy-Chicago-man who turns out to be a decorated cop? What the hell has Mom been hiding?! Who is Weevil's anonymous tipster? How great was it to see Veronica vamping it up, trying to tempt her crazy client's boyfriend?

And the line "Dim Sum... and 'then some.'" Genius.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Battlestar Soundtracktica

It's only been away for a few weeks, but I've already been missing having new episodes of Battlestar Galactica every week. Recently, though, I found something to help fill the gap a bit: the soundtrack album to the show's first season.

There are some truly exhilarating pieces of music on this album, including tension-ratcheting rhythms (The Olympic Carrier, Starbuck Takes On All Eight), uplifting anthems (Wander My Friends), and the very lyrical strings that underscored the very memorable montage in the teaser of Kobol's Last Gleaming (Passacaglia). If you've watched the show, you'll remember every piece when it starts playing, and enjoy the show in your mind's eye all over again.

And yes, the album starts off with the "Cylon theme" that accompanies the "saga sell" at the start of every episode. And it offers both the US version and UK version of the main title, so no matter your preference between them, you'll be happy.

Though if you think the UK version is better, you're wrong.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Martin, In Brief

It's now only about three weeks until George R.R. Martin's new book, A Feast for Crows, finally hits stores. I've talked about this before, about how this book has been around five years in the making.

In a perfect world, I would be re-reading each of the first three volumes in the series, to catch back up with the story. The books are so excellently written, I wouldn't mind at all going back in. The trouble is, they're also ponderously long. I probably should have started weeks ago to have any chance of being ready in time. But I'm also not going to wait one more day than I have to before starting the next book. So what's a person to do?

Go here.

Some fan has handily provided synopses of every chapter of the volumes thus far, which should catch me up to speed in no time. You might be in the same boat I am, so I figured I'd share the wealth.

That said, if you haven't read the books before, do yourself a favor and go out and grab the first volume, A Game of Thrones. Simply amazing. And only twenty-one days to go before the story continues.

...unless you live in the UK, where you can go out to a bookstore and get it right now, today. Lucky bastards.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Here's the Pitch

Here's another fun moment from Trivia Night this past week. The question comes:

"At a full octave above a flute, what small instrument is the highest-pitched woodwind?"

Almost immediately, a quick-witted person in the bar shouts out: "My ex-girlfriend!"

The real and not at all funny answer is the piccolo, by the way.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Natural Wonders

Since last weekend, I've been encountering sick people everywhere I go. Friends over for game night -- some of them sick. People at work -- some of them sick. And then, Thursday morning, it set in on me.

I woke up with a sore throat. It sort of felt like I had a velcro-covered ping pong ball lodged at the top of my esophagus. But it wasn't really hurting to talk, eat, and what-not, so I counted myself lucky...

...until this morning. I'd give anything to have that mildly irritating sore throat back now. Today's menu has consisted of head congestion and non-stop nasal drainage. To give you some perspective, this box of Kleenex was virtually untouched as of yesterday:

So, as you can see, it's been a nasal Niagara Falls here today.

Stay healthy, everyone!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Serenity for the Time-Deficient

I found this moderately funny rendering of the movie Serenity in 2000 words or less.

I shouldn't have to tell you not to read this if you haven't seen the movie.

But then, if you haven't seen the movie, what the hell is wrong with you?!?!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm Loathin' It

Our team won the weekly bar trivia tonight, but it was no thanks to our dismal performance on the final question. We answered only one of the four parts correctly. Try your luck.

Put these four items from McDonald's in order by the year they were first introduced:

Happy Meal
Chicken McNuggets
Quarter Pounder

Answers inside the comments, as per usual. I can tell you these all harken back to the days when McDonald's "food" always came in those styrofoam boxes... blue for the Filet-O-Fish, for example. Then there was the "deluxe double-wide trailer" of McDonald's food in styrofoam: the McD.L.T. Some crap about keeping the hot side hot and the cold side cold, foisted on the public like some bizarre Thermos for your hamburger. Hot Cakes still come in styrofoam, of course.

Man, it's just sad I know all this stuff about McDonald's. Sadder still that even all this useless knowledge was only good enough to get one out of four answers correct.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Week 3: Veronica Mars 2; Lost 1.

It was another "photo finish" of a week, trying to compare tonight's installments of two of the best shows on TV, scheduled opposite one another. But I'm gonna have to call this fight for Veronica.

Lost brought the goods, no question. Hurley's a great character, and we're two for two in episodes focused on him. His flashbacks definitely painted in a new texture to his lottery-winning woes. Not only were the numbers cursed, but his win appeared to cost him his best friend too. And the situation informed nicely on his island-bound antics this week.

Meanwhile, we learn that Rose's feeling about her husband from all the way back in the very beginning of season one is apparently correct -- her husband did survive. We find another group of survivors, huddled inside another hatch (with what appeared to be a different symbol on the inside). The mystery of Hatch #1 deepened in a seriously interesting way, all just because of one almost off-handed "Chernobyl" referencen from Sayid.

And besides Ana Lucia, two other cast members are now listed in the main credits, other members of the "other survivors." The plot is definitely thickening.

But Veronica Mars topped it all by pulling the trigger on a revelation I had assumed was weeks down the road: Logan's "playmate" time with Mrs. Casablancas has already been uncovered by Veronica. Add to that a new mystery surrounding Wallace's mother, questions about the stuntman with Veronica's name markered on his hand, the crumbling empire of Dick Casablancas senior, and the "is she cheating or isn't she?" girlfriend Wallace is chasing, and it totalled up to the kind of jam-packed episode you'd normally expect during a Nielsen sweeps month. For me, the pure "wow" factor made Veronica Mars the more satisfying hour of television this week.

But if both shows continue along at their current level of excellence, Wednesday nights will definitely be worth looking forward to. Until the re-runs start in December, anyway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Good Work, If You Can Get It

I was watching the special features on my new Battlestar Galactica season one box set recently, and this caption struck me as funny.

It's not just a job title, it's a description of what tops his cranium.

Monday, October 10, 2005

When I Was Your Age...

I'm about to cross into some uncomfortable territory here -- I'm about to become an "old man" rambling on about it was like to walk to school when I was a kid. No, not "nine miles both ways," "all uphill," "always in snow," or anything like that. Nope, just the simple fact that I did walk to school when I was a kid.

See, tonight I'm watching an episode of a TV show (Medium, if you must know, but not terribly important here). In it, the main character's daughter decides she's now 12 years old, in sixth grade, and old enough to walk home from school on her own. It's only 7 blocks, and she's tired of getting picked up by Mom all the time.

This really sent me for a loop.

I very clearly remember walking to and from school every day when I was in second grade. It might have been right around 7 blocks, too. I walked with friends. I never gave this a moment's consideration until tonight. I wonder if my parents ever did.

In any case, tonight, on this show, this was a Big Freakin' Deal.

Now, Medium is a show in which the main character fights crime using the visions sent to her by dead people. So not exactly stark realism. Which may well extend to this depiction of "getting home from school in the 21st century." Nevertheless, I had to wonder:

Is this what the world is like now? It's only been 20 years. Do almost-teenagers really get picked up from school by their parents when they live less than a mile away? If so, is this because the parents are scared that child molesters (who are clearly thousands of times more prevalent now than they were two decades ago, a fact hammered into us by the more sensational forces in our media) are going to snatch their kids? Is it because kids are such lazy fat-asses in this day and age that they can't walk a few blocks? Something else I'm not seeing?

You know, I'm just gonna hope that this whole "ride home from school" thing was just a random plot device, part of the fiction, and not any more representative of reality than the rest of the show. Because the alternative is just kinda sad to me.

Why, these kids today... pass me my teeth...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Viva la Revolution!

DDR has spun off once again, with "Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2." (Yes, the titles are getting unwieldy.) I picked up a copy this afternoon, and have been happily hopping away to a new selection of songs.

Of course, a few weeks from now, I'll be as sick of most of them as I am of most of the songs in the past incarnations of DDR. But I'll have found a few new ones that I obsessively enjoy, too. It's all good.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Watching Language

I find the way English morphs to be utterly fascinating.

In my circle of college friends, we use the word "pumpkin" as a verb.

It started out when we took to mocking each other for going to bed too early on nights when we were together playing games or what-not: "What, is your carriage turning back into a pumpkin already?"

From there, a shorter form later developed: "It's Pumpkin Time for me."

Now we're just down to: "Where's [name]?" "He pumpkined."

Pumpkin makes a pretty good verb, really. Especially at this festive, pumpkin-y time of year. (See, it's an adjective too!)

Friday, October 07, 2005

File Under "Obvious"

Is the green sticker on the bottom of this fire extinguisher really necessary?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mightier Than the Sword

Several weeks ago I finished reading Haunted, the latest book by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club). I really enjoyed the book... I think... but I hesitated to blog about it because the book is just too damn strange. And in a way, maybe giving anything like a recommendation to read it makes me come off even stranger than you think I am.

To put it simply, this book has some of the most revolting things in it I've ever read. Some people have told me how they've been creeped out reading Stephen King, or Dean Koontz, or some other author. I've never had that experience reading a book until I read Haunted. I wasn't frightened. I was digusted.

Several times while reading this book, I literally screamed out "Oh!!" all alone in my apartment, and slammed the book closed. Vile imagery. And a truly skilled use of words to bring it all to life so vividly as to cause that kind of reaction to words on a page. I was impressed.

In truth, it's not as good a book as some of his others. (Lullaby comes to mind.) But it is cleverly structured. Some might call it disgusting merely for the sake of provoking... and I'm not sure that would be unfair. But I keep coming back to the fact that I cannot recall a book ever provoking such a strong reaction from me before. So I suppose I have to recommend it.

If you do happen to read it, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about by the time you get to the end of Chapter One, the "Story by Saint Gut-Free."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Week 2: Veronica Mars 1; Lost 1.

If I could award ties in this little TV contest, I might have to this week. But because Lost and Veronica Mars being pitted against one another is harsh, my little contest must be equally as harsh. This week's bout is going to have to go to Lost.

Another mammoth progression of the uber-plot this week, skillfully written to provide non-answers that somehow seemed satisfying anyway, and open up more questions at the same time. And Locke's flashbacks were interesting as well, fleshing out more about who "Helen" was from his strange phone calls in his Walkabout flashbacks.

Great moments abounded: Hurley's discovery of the food cache, the strangeness of the "orientation film," the new mystery about how a woman from the plane crash ended up helping The Others (she wasn't lying about being on the plane; we saw her in Jack's flashback to the airport terminal in the first season finale). Lots of "edge of the seat" scenes for me, particularly in the first two acts.

Of course, Veronica Mars stepped up to the plate as well. A quality cameo from Kevin Smith (as a convenience store clerk, naturally). Wallace stepping up as a junior detective all on his own, without Veronica's help. Keith deciding to go run again for his old job as sheriff. Campy fun with Charisma Carpenter. Veronica and Duncan going all the way. Lost had to bring a pretty stellar episode to top all of that.

The good news to come out of this sick little Lost/Veronica Mars competition is that apparently, both are flourishing in their new time slots. Lost, riding the waves of its Emmy win, recent DVD release, and general watercooler buzz, has been pulling in more viewers than ever before. Veronica Mars, shifted to a new night and time, actually managed to pull the highest ratings of its entire run with last week's season premiere, despite airing in what ought to be a "death time slot." So good news for both.

Of course, this means that both are likely to stay exactly where they are, head-to-head with one another for the rest of the season.

Thank heaven for TiVo!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Familiar Territory

Tonight's installment of The Amazing Race was a little surreal for me, because I've done basically the exact same trip in reverse.

The last work trip I ever took while at The Company was a six day road trip that had me driving out of Norfolk to visit retailers in Richmond, Washington DC, York, Lancaster, and New York City. I drove all the roads they drove in tonight's episode, albeit going in the other direction. (Yes, including that particular traffic jam on US 50, which as I understand it began about 45 minutes after they opened that road to travelers, and has continued unabated ever since.)

When the teams were reading the clue to find the reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol building, I instantly recognized the trouble that was coming. The famous reflecting pool is of course the one you see on all the postcards between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. But I knew from having been there myself that it wasn't the landmark in question.

Sure enough, we got to watch several teams aimlessly search the wrong area, not having carefully read their clue. Now, I have to say: it's about a two-and-a-half hour drive from York, Pennsylvania to DC. And what do you have to do during all that time? Read the damn clue again! And again! And again! You have enough time to memorize the thing. Any team that went to the wrong place got what they deserved.

The deja vu continued when one of the teams was consulting their Virginia state road map book. I have the exact same map in the seat pocket of my car, this very minute. This was a gift both thoughtful and humorous from some good friends of mine here in Denver.

Every time I'd been back to Colorado on a visit, I'd complained about how crazy (read: "not straight") the roads in Virginia Beach are, and ranted about how hard it was to get around. When they visited me there last September, they got to experience firsthand how bad my ability to give them directions was. So, as a Christmas present, they bought me this Virginia road map.

Of course, less than one month later was Black Monday. Barely one month after that, I ceased to have need of a Virginia road map. Nevertheless, this is a case where what they say is true: it is the thought that counts. I keep the map in my car to this day. It's not only a reminder of how thoughtful and fun my friends here in Denver are, but a reminder of the good times I did have during my years in Virginia.

Oh, and meanwhile, some people won the leg of the Race, and some other people got eliminated. Not so much the point of this post.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Pride March of the Penguins

At trivia night this past week, one of the televisions in the bar was on CNN, and we saw a Headline News piece about the "gay penguins" of the Central Park Zoo. Okay, maybe I'm uninformed here, but I'd never heard of this before. Maybe it's just that I don't think it's news. But apparently, the gay penguins have been causing quite a controversy for years now.

It all starts a few years ago, when recurrent homosexual behavior among penguins in captivity was observed -- not just in New York, but in several other zoos as well.

Where it gets ludicrous is that apparently a number of people felt that the sanctity of marriage among humans was threatened by the behavior of these penguins... or something. They wanted the penguins "de-gayed." And so, equally losing sight of the fact that they're just penguins, gay rights activists leapt in to keep gay penguin couples from being broken up.

Apparently, this has all led to a point where the natural break-up of one of these gay penguin couples is now worthy of coverage on Headline News.

I still can't believe I'm seeing the phrase "gay penguin" on television -- and it's not an episode of South Park or something.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lots of Violence, Not Enough History

This afternoon, I saw A History of Violence (paying for Serenity instead, of course). It's probably the most "normal" David Cronenberg movie I've ever seen... but it still has some rather out there violence and sex by average film standards.

Many of the moments in the movie are clearly intended to make the audience uncomfortable. Different people react to being uncomfortable in different ways. Unfortunately, some people giggle nervously or laugh uncontrollably. Consequently, there were people laughing throughout the movie at wholly inappropriate moments. My experience is not unique, either -- I've had a conversation with another person who saw the movie, and relayed the same experience.

But setting aside the experience to talk about the film itself... well, I thought it was too tight. Too short. A few key bits of backstory, explaining exactly why certain characters were doing the things they were doing, were sorely lacking. I can't really give specifics without spoiling plot, so I'll avoid that. Bottom line, the movie just didn't have enough "connective tissue." Characters sometimes came off more as caricatures.

Despite these shortcomings, the movie did work on other levels -- as I said, chiefly in making the audience uncomfortable at times. So, summing it all up, I give it a B-. You probably already knew if you wanted to see it or not, so perhaps my review will do little more than adjust your expectations if you are going. I think much of the critical praise it's receiving is a little overstated.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Supporting Serenity

Judging from the comments to my Serenity posts below, it sounds like quite a few of you will be seeing the movie more than once. (I've already seen it three times, including the preview screenings, and I fully intend to go again at the Continental, Denver's "gi-normous screen" theater venue.) Whether you are planning to see it again or not, though, there is something you can do to fan Serenity's flame:

Any time you go to the movies for the next several weeks, regardless of what you're there to see, buy a ticket to Serenity, and then "sneak in" to the movie you're planning to see. Nothing coming out in the near future is likely to sell out auditoriums... and it's not like you're trying to avoid paying for a movie. You're simply paying for the most deserving movie at the theater-plex.

(Well... okay, you can rightfully pay for Wallace and Gromit -- but that's the only exception.)

Night of the Gromit

Earlier this week (Tuesday night, if you're curious), I got to see a sneak preview of the upcoming movie Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

After all the crap I've seen at the movie theaters this year, it seemed almost a shame that I catch two of the best movies I've seen all year in the same week. (Serenity being the other, in case you're paying absolutely no attention.)

If you aren't familiar with Wallace and Gromit already, you're missing out. The three short films featuring the characters have recently been re-released on DVD, and you should go out and buy them. They're great for all ages.

Chicken Run came from the same creator a few years back, and though it too was great, it also felt a bit like the opening act of a concert -- everyone in the crowd was waiting for a full-length Wallace and Gromit movie to take the stage. Well... soon it will. And it's brilliant, funny, and clever. It's loaded with impressive feats of clay animation (hundreds of floating bunnies swirling in a big glass globe, for example). The climax of the film is an action sequence that, like the Wallace and Gromit short The Wrong Trousers, delivers more thrills than most live-action film chases.

Ironically, this movie did not quite crack my top 100 list, even though Chicken Run did (at 83). Nevertheless, I give it an enthusiastic A, and steer everyone in its direction when it opens this coming Friday.