Sunday, April 30, 2006

At the Moviez

I went to see the movie "American Dreamz" this afternoon. I was not particularly impressed. This is the movie where Dennis Quaid plays an idiot U.S. President who attempts to reform his image by appearing on the smash hit talent reality show of the title, hosted by a crude and blunt Brit played by Hugh Grant. The tagline on the poster (as I've displayed on the right) says it all: "Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and where more people vote for a pop idol than their next President." Subtle, no?

As that tagline suggests, this movie adhered just a little too close to the reality it was trying to lampoon. It wasn't "wild" enough to be satire. But it wasn't making any real "point" to justify it being such a close mirror of real life, either.

Above all... it really wasn't very funny. They were a few good laughs sprinkled in here and there. (Mostly in the last 20 minutes of the movie.) But there were far more long stretches where I sat in silence. And blame it on me being out too late on the nights before if you like, but there was one point where I actually almost fell asleep.

I rate the movie a D+. If you could prepare a "highlights reel" of this film (maybe about three or four minutes long), that would be worth watching. But, until that day, I say "stay away." And no, the trailer for the movie doesn't really qualify as said highlights reel -- this was a rare instance where the best parts weren't all spoiled in the trailer.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Eeyit Hits the Fan

More juvenile humor: check out the definition of the word "shit" in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Specifically, the alternate pronunciation they give. Apparently, the jive talkin'/deep South two-syllable pronunciation is acceptable to them. You can even click on the second of the two speaker icons to hear someone pronounce it for you.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Frakking x 2

Today, the Sci-Fi Channel announced its development plans for the coming year, and at the top of the list was this unexpected but interesting bit of news: they are developing a prequel spin-off series to Battlestar Galactica. Entitled "Caprica," the series is set over 50 years prior to Battlestar Galactica, taking place within the colonies and covering the creation of the first Cylons.

Here's another chance for Battlestar Galactica to stick it to Star Trek -- showing the creators of Voyager and Enterprise how spin-offs should be done. (Prequel spin-offs, in particular.)

No target date for this show to arrive on the air, but you know I'll be waiting.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flight Time

There are some "book snobs" out there who consider reading licensed sci-fi/fantasy a form of "slumming it" when it comes to literature. But please, no one thinks it's Shakespeare -- not the people who read it, not the people who write it.

The fact remains that there are a select few authors out there who do great work within the genre (well... "sub-genre"). I'd guess the percentage of good licensed fiction to bad licensed fiction is a lot lower than the percentage of good fiction (period) to bad fiction (period).

On that short list of writers who can do justice to TV/film universes is Timothy Zahn. His trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command were the three Star Wars books that started the entire Star Wars fiction line. Dozens of writers have followed him in hundreds of books. At first, I read most of them. But slowly I realized that no one could do it half as well as Timothy Zahn. (Well... Michael Stackpole is a close second. But still a second.) That original trilogy of books he wrote was so vastly better than the prequel trilogy of films George Lucas made, it's painful. Shameful. Pameful.

Anyway, point being that whenever Zahn does come out with a new Star Wars novel, I have to check it out. And thus, I recently finished Outbound Flight. This was his first book set in the "prequel films era" (all his others were post-"classic trilogy"). It serves as a prequel to his other books (Survivor's Quest in particular), telling the story of how the villain that was the focus of that original trilogy first came into the picture.

I have to say that of the seven Star Wars books Zahn has written (I've read them all), this is his weakest. Which is not really to say I thought it was "bad." A book that's not his best work is still worlds beyond the crap some of the other Star Wars writers have spewed out. (Though probably all of it was better than the prequel trilogy. Ugh.)

Bottom line... if you're a "passing fan" of the Star Wars books and haven't read this one, it's probably worth your time. If you haven't read any of the Star Wars books, but are a fan of the movies (the trilogy), then do yourself a favor and track down that original Zahn trilogy.

I wish they had been the next three movies.

Phone Bill

According to this article, the cell phone pictured here will be used by James Bond in the upcoming movie. There are some who would find that fairly cool. There are still more who probably just think the phone looks neat, regardless of any connection to a movie.

Well, tell all those people to hold the phone. Or not hold the phone. Because doing so will cost you about $1,640. For a device that gets sat on, dropped, maybe accidentally sent through the washing machine, lost, or who-knows-what? Nothankyouverymuch.

Monday, April 24, 2006

24 on the 24th

Heller tries to apologize to Jack Bauer for ruining everything. But apologies don't work on Jack Bauer unless you're a cute blonde.

Chloe's gonna slip in through the subnet. She's so clever.

Even though Chloe doesn't work for Buchanan anymore, she can still be standoffish and slightly awkward around him. That's our Chloe.

Christopher Henderson is a very cautious man. He knows how that poor bastard in RoboCop got shot all to hell in the first 20 minutes.

A shootout ensues! Henderson runs out of ammo, and is obliged to give us the standard TV/movie pantomime of shaking his gun in frustration to convey this information.

Heller won't be used as a pawn! ("You can't fire me, I quit!") And thus, he flies out of the story, Toonces the Driving Cat style.

Ah... now we meet the puppet master behind it all. Not to complain too much, but this was the same formula employed in season one, two, and three, introducing the "master-mastermind" about 6 hours from the end of the season.

Martha's problem is in presentation. She may not actually be crazy, but she sure acts like it. I thought First Ladies were all about presentation.

Audrey doesn't care how far she has to go or what she has to do to get the recording back. And she asks Jack if he understands. Audience: "Uh.... ya think?"

Jack wants to call Curtis back from whatever void he'd been exiled to for two or three episodes. I guess it's really more of a "penalty box" than permanent exile.

Karen Hayes gets a real zinger of a line: "She intimidated you?"

Logan tells his wife the truth of the plot. Her reaction? Well, if she wasn't crazy before, she certainly is now.

Master-Mastermind is back with "cryptic cliche bad guy conversation #17." You know the one: "I'm having doubts." "We said we'd all be strong. You can't back out now." Bla bla bla.

At least Audrey shows brains enough to know that Henderson is trying to manipulate her.

Hmmm... British flags on the car near this diplomatic plane. And they very carefully avoid showing us any faces of people getting on the flight. Do we know anyone from past seasons that this could be on this plane? Or is it going to be someone entirely new?

Karen gives in to her instincts and tips off Buchanan and Chloe... thus thoroughly passing the "standoffish ass 'CTU' boss" baton to Miles.

Jack's hoodie is back up. He's in full badass mode once again!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Crime Deterrent

For those of my readers who don't live in Denver (most of you), Kipling is a typical four-lane "main drag" that runs north-south through the western suburbs of Denver. Just north of where it intersects a street called Quincy is this odd bit of city planning:

The building on the left is a high school that opened up just a few years ago. The building on the right is a state prison that's been there as long as I can remember.

Now, Denver and its suburbs have grown enormously over the last 25 years or so. When that prison was built, it was basically in the middle of nowhere. Now, there's not really any "nowhere" left. That land opposite the prison couldn't be empty forever. In fact, they're soon going to begin construction on a new public library in the field you see just below the school.

Furthermore, this is a minimum security prison. And as a stand-up comedian (George Carlin, I believe) put it, it seems like a pretty safe bet to be located near a prison. If an inmate should actually escape, they wouldn't really want to be hanging around the area -- they'd want to be leaving it as quickly as possible.

Still, ours is a pretty reactionary and oftentimes superficial society. So I'm a little surprised that a school would actually be built across from a prison in the first place. I'd have expected angry protests from parents to undermine the whole thing before it ever got off the ground. A grocery store? A strip mall? Sure, go ahead. But a school? I'm just surprised it could go down that way.

Maybe the guidance counselors tell the students that if they don't shape up and start behaving, they can expect to wind up across the street.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fortune Kooky

I have had some weird fortunes come in my fortune cookies before. ("You will be invited to a royal dancing party where you will meet your first lover." comes to mind.) But I don't think I or anyone else I know has ever found a fortune as strange as this one, that came with my Friday lunch:

Friday, April 21, 2006

How Kiefer Spent His Summer

This evening, I went to see "The Sentinel." The critical reviews of the movie were not too flattering, but I kind of figured there had to be something to like there.

The logic to that conclusion went something like this: In all the trailers and commercials, Kiefer Sutherland looked to be playing a very Jack Bauer-like part. We know he didn't need the money, given that steady job. So one would figure that to use his summer hiatus from the show to play such a similar part, there must be something interesting or different about the story. Why else would he take the role?

Well, as it turns out, the answer was probably something like "he really wanted to be in a movie with Michael Douglas." Because the film itself was certainly nothing to get excited about.

For the most part, it would be hard to imagine a more thoroughly average movie that this. I never really did find it engaging. There weren't really any big, clever "sequences" in it. There were only one or two clever bits of dialogue, but I confess I'll be unlikely to remember them within a couple days. On the other hand, I didn't really find it "boring" either -- I only finally checked my watch about 10 minutes from the end. There weren't really any "groaner" moments, or anything flat out "bad."

If anything, the movie felt like it was lacking some pretty key explanations. The motivations of some of the characters were a little murky at times. The question of exactly why the president was being targeted for assassination was never addressed. Well, it was sort of roundabout-ly addressed in a sort of way that suggested we're supposed to think "the reason isn't really important; wackos go after the president all the time." Except that the course the film took really kind of made you want that answer by the end.

Also add in the phenomenally bad casting decision to make David Rasche, aka "Sledge Hammer!" of 1980s TV fame, the President of the United States. He wasn't bad or anything, but it was simply impossible to take him seriously. Ever. I had no idea he was in this movie, so when he first appeared on screen, I was totally unprepared. I could only think to myself: "Trust Me. I Know What I'm Doing."

So... basically average movie with a few points here and there to bring it down a notch farther. We're talking about a C- when all is said and done. Save yourself the time and just watch an episode of 24 at home instead.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Halleluiah Chorus

This has to be the most juvenile thing I've ever posted to my blog. But dammit, it made me laugh. A lot. So sue me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Honk-y Talk

Recently, I talked about the odd glares we give bad drivers on the road. On a sort of related matter, I'd like to say a few words about "horn honking technique." Since I work near downtown Denver (and walk around for lunch there every day), I get treated to a wide variety of car horn honking, and I've noticed that different people have different approaches.

There's the short "solo staccato burst." Just one quick beep and out. This is as polite as a car horn gets. It's the driver saying, "excuse me, but I don't think you're paying attention. Terribly sorry." This is pretty common at a red light when someone at the front of the pack doesn't realize it's turned green.

There's the "rhythmic blast." I haven't really discerned different nuances here, just general variations on "HOOOONK! Honk-honk! HOONNK!" In this case, the target has generally done something that truly put others in danger. Maybe they haven't even realized it yet. Sometimes, this sort of honk is well-intentioned like that, but other times, it's just a non-verbal cussing out of a driver after the fact.

Finally, there's the "my horn could be stuck, you wouldn't know the difference" blare. This is someone just leaning on the button so long, you can hear the doppler shift as they drive by. In my experience, this sort of horn honking technique is never employed by the well-intentioned. Usually, they're the asshole in need of a good honking. (Well, a ticket -- but there's never a cop around when you want one, right?) They've crawled right up your bumper as you're in a right-turn only lane, and they're honking at you for slowing down in front of them to turn. Or some kind of situation like that. And they're giving you the "finger of car horns" to tell you how (irrationally) upset they are.

Any other varieties of "car hornery" that any of you can think of?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Slitherin' (No, Not at Hogwarts)

So it took me a couple extra weekends after release date to get around to it, but this weekend, I finally went out and caught the movie Slither. I'll give you the bottom line first: for what this movie was aspiring to be, it's absolutely perfect. A+.

What type of movie is it trying to be? Well, the way I figure it, the closest thing is probably Tremors. Slither is a horror movie, but it's definitely a comedy. Not Zucker-esque slapstick farce, but vaguely Whedonesque humor. It goes for scares, but doesn't ever take itself seriously for very long. (Though it does set up "internal rules," as a good monster movie must, and basically sticks to them.)

Given that Whedonesque spin I mentioned, it should come as no surprise that I thought Nathan Fillion was simply brilliant in this movie. How this guy is not a huge frakking star is beyond me. Everything I've seen him in, he's elevated to a higher status. (Of course, that belief will seriously be put to the test soon when the "how could it not totally suck" White Noise 2 is released.)

Despite the "perfect for what it is" review, I can't say this movie will make it to my top 100 list. I liked it a lot. I'll pick it up on DVD when that arrives. But in the grand scheme of "what I want a movie to do for me" (which I'm not sure I could articulate very well), I probably can only give this movie a B+. This movie will make you laugh -- hard -- if you're into this kind of thing, but it's not gonna rock your world or change your life.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Three-Quarters Done

Hayes is still running “active manhunts” for Jack Bauer and Christopher Henderson. What other kind of manhunts are there? I mean, I wouldn’t think that “let’s just stand on a corner somewhere and wait for him to show up” would be a very effective manhunt strategy.

Hey, welcome back to the story, Buchanan! Did you happen to run into Curtis while you were away?

Plot necessities aside, why the hell don’t they make copies of this recording? How about you call Tony and Michelle’s house and play it for their answering machine? I guarantee you they won’t pick up.

Heller blind-sides Jack, showing that he’s willing to perform his duties as Secretary of Defense personally.

Kate Mara might not have won any Oscars for her performance in Brokeback Mountain, but her new character Shari is going for one in her performance conning Chloe.

Mike Novick is back from wherever the hell he's been for four hours! His explanation? "I've been on other things."

Whatever Mike was doing in that four hours, it apparently explains how he's gone from warning Logan about potential seedy maneuvering by Vice President Gardner to talking to Gardner about suspicions about Logan.

Look at Chloe go with her mad pickpocketing skillz! (Somehow, I think it won't take Miles as long as it took Samwise Gamgee to come clean about his ID card being stolen.)

Chloe's out of holding, and immediately picks up a laptop computer. For her, this is equivalent to Jack Bauer finding a gun.

Martha comes to have another conversation with her husband, a virtual replay of the conversations she's had with him in the last episode or two. They desperately need to hook that woman up with a plot...

...ah, like talking to Aaron after the commercial break. That's more promising.

Logan tells Heller that he has no idea "until you sit in my chair," that he can't know the pressures of being President. Of course, "Heller" (William Devane, anyway) did sit in the President's chair in a couple episodes of Stargate SG-1.

That weird James Bond-y/Peter Gunn-y music is back as Chloe arrives at Buchanan's house.

Uh-oh! Aaron's been bagged! Boy, I hope it's not up to Martha to find him, or else he's screwed.

(Oh, by the way -- during Martha's handling of the cell phones, we see that while Aaron has a standard television "555" number, Martha has a real phone number: 310-597-3781. I had free cell minutes, so I figured, what the hell? It connects you to a Nextel message box for 24. I assume there's probably something moderately interesting for you to hear there. But by the time I got to it, the message box was full.)

I might be questioning Jack's badassness ever so slightly. It took him about 30 minutes of being zip-tied to a pipe before he was willing to burn his wrists to get loose.

As soon as Jack is out, he takes the gun off the guard. For him, this is equivalent to Chloe finding a laptop.

The helicopter appears out of nowhere to get Jack. It's able to land before Jack can up his "helicopter destruction via handgun" count to two for the day.

Henderson slices up Audrey (much to the delight of Dave Barry, who has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions how much he hates her character). But then (much to Dave Barry's utter horror and outrage, I'm sure), Jack hands over the recording to save her.

Holy boxes, Batman! A record eight boxes on screen for the end of this episode. I feel like I'm watching The Brady Bunch.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

One Year Later -- Still Maneuvering

Happy Birthday to Me!!! Well, to my blog, anyway. Heimlich Maneuvers turns one year old today. I've come a long way from that thoroughly pointless first post. Now I make throughly pointless posts with a small amount actual content in them! And with my maybe 12 loyal readers, I've discussed all sorts of fun things over the year.

We've talked about hundreds of TV shows. Or maybe just the same three or four shows, hundreds of times. There was even a test! (With answers!)

We get out to the movies quite a lot. Even though we're not sure we actually like the experience or the contents of the films that much. Sometimes we have widely varying opinions on a film.

It's not all about the moving images (though there would be no shame it if were -- they can spark some rather sophisticated discussions). Sometimes, we get literary. Or at least, we have fun with words.

Of course, given my background, the subject of games comes up more than occasionally.

Sometimes, things are sentimental -- on a more personal scale, or because of current events.

Mixed in with it all are a few entertaining anecdotes, many personal, some borrowed from friends without blogs of their own.

There are times I've been a little too lazy for a lengthy post, and let a picture do my work for me. (Of course, when those posts get such a big response, it makes me wonder if I work too hard writing all that drivel all the time.)

And only occasionally do I jump on the "memes and surveys" bandwagon.

I've blogged something every single day, except for the week I was gone on vacation. (And if you don't think today counts, you have no idea how long I spent searching through my own archives.)

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Big Finish

I had sadly fallen out of the habit of reading regularly, but this week I finally got back into it. Tonight, I finished book three of the "Apropos of Nothing" trilogy, by Peter David. (I read the first two books last year.)

For some 350 pages of a 424-page tale, this third book -- Tong Lashing -- was everything I'd come to expect of the series. It was fun and whimsical, loaded with puns, and throughly enjoyable, managing to tell a compelling fantasy story while above all being a comedy.

And then, in the last few chapters of the book, something very unexpected happened. The book became quite deathly serious. Oh, there were still a few puns scattered here and there, but suddenly the subject matter had turned extremely dark. And the main character went to places he'd not been in any of the previous books.

As for the final few pages... well, if you'd told me that was how the series was going to end, it's possible I would not have believed you. Not a "twist ending," not exactly -- just something that was tonally completely different from all the rest of it.

And I haven't yet been able to decide what I think about it. The bulk of the book was great, as the two preceding books had been. Really, the ending was good too. But part of me is unable to reconcile that that ending went with this book. Scrooge goes back into his office the morning after Christmas and fires Bob Crachit. Sauron gets the ring back and wipes out all of Middle-earth. I mean, we're almost talking that order of change.

I think I praise Peter David for providing something good, unexpected, and unconventional. But it may take me some time before I know that for sure.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Finding Keepers

I saw this bumper sticker on a car as I was driving to work the other day:

From a distance, all you can see is the "I Love My Wife." I was a little puzzled, but I figured, hey, it makes at least as much sense as "My Kid's an Honor Student." You know, like Sting sang, if you love somebody, put a bumper sticker about it on your car. Or something like that.

Then I got closer, and saw the "Promise Keepers" part on the bottom of the bumper sticker in tiny letters. Suddenly, I thought: "Oh, okay now I guess it does make sense."

But then I started to think about it even more, and decided no, it doesn't really make sense at all. Am I supposed to think that all the other men I see driving around without these bumper stickers hate their wives? If this weren't there, would I assume he's abusive or something? Well, thank heavens I've got this helpful bumper sticker to clear that whole mess up.

That could have been embarrassing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Oh Joy, He's Back

I understood that Michael wasn't gone from Lost for good. But after eight weeks away, I was getting very used to not having him around. Sadly, now he's back. I'm sure within three minutes into the next episode, he'll be yelling at Kate and Jack about screwing up his "escape plan" or some crap like that.

I'd like to see this dialogue next episode between Jack and "Grizzly Pete" (as I call him), the nominal leader of The Others:

Jack: We're looking to make a trade. We want Walt back.

"GP": We know you've got our man. Bring him back, and you can have the boy.

Jack: Oh... well, we were gonna trade you him and Michael. Seriously... will you just take Michael, too? We all hate him.

(You know, any time I get confused about why exactly Dave Barry seems to hate Audrey on 24 so much -- hey, don't click that link if you're not current on 24! -- I'll just need to reflect on how much I frakking hate Michael on Lost.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Evil Eye

What is that thing we all do when we're driving, and some idiot in front of us does something that offends us? They're driving too slow, cutting you off, braking for no reason, whatever... and you change lanes and finally pass them...

And you stare them down as you pass.

They're never, ever looking at you when you do this. Possibly they know you're glaring at them, and they don't want to meet your steely glare. More likely, they're just completely oblivious to having done anything that would upset anyone, so they aren't looking your way. Whatever the reason, they're not looking at you.

Are we expecting to size up the driver from his or her appearance? "Aha! Well, clearly, this looks like the sort of person that would drive too slowly in front of somebody and slam on their brakes. Before, I was confused, but now I understand!" We've already made our judgment. I don't think we're looking for validation.

So we glare, even though there's zero chance it will make you feel better, or the other driver feel worse.

What is that?

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Stroke of Midnight

This week's exposition (about the state of martial law) is cleverly delivered by radio broadcast. Jack, of course, speaks for all of us: "Wayne, turn that off."

So now we know concretely that Evelyn herself recorded this phone call between Logan and Henderson. This now begs the question why she didn't come forward with it sooner... like immediately after recording it. Or after Logan tried to have the First Lady shipped off to the funny farm. Or... I don't know... pick your moment. Only slightly more strange: how did Logan/Henderson finally find out that Evelyn's recording existed? Apparently they only did so about three hours ago, around the time they kidnapped Evelyn's daughter. I supsect we'll never have the answer to these questions.

Poor Homeland Security people. They can't even handle "the hourlies." How are they going to manage when they have to start "opening up sockets," "setting up perimeters," and "retasking satellites?" Maybe there's a CTUTechnobabble-English dictionary lying around.

Audrey's leaving CTU. I think this may be the only time she's done that since she was rescued in season four.

Jack arrives at the banker's house, and soon adds to his crazy long list of felonies this season.

A magnetic alarm disabler? "Where does he get those wonderful toys?"

Uh-oh, banker's wife -- watch out for your thighs! You might get shot!

Please welcome back William Devane as Secretary Heller, none the worse for wear for his time on that crappy Fred Savage sitcom, Crumbs.

Is this the first time in the history of 24 someone has stopped for gas on camera?

Audrey doesn't see the "no cell phone" signs on the pump. More of that "do whatever you have to" mentality.

Vice President Gardner has to know something is up. Not because of the suspicious arrest warrant for Jack Bauer, but because the heretofore spineless puppet Logan is suddenly telling him off and playing the "I'm in charge" card.

Hey, speaking of the goings-on in the administration, did Mike Novick go to bed three hours ago or something?

More mild flirtation between Agent Pierce and Martha Logan. He might be seeing even more action before the "day" is over.

Henderson has learned of Jack's whereabouts from Evelyn. From his past behavior, we can be reasonably certain that he killed Evelyn and her daughter. But even 24 can't get away with showing little girls being shot on screen.

Martha doesn't wonder why her husband's kisses suddenly taste like lies.

CTU's tracking Audrey, and suddenly, out comes this weird "James Bond" kind of music. She's Raines. Audrey Raines.

This episode of 24 was written by David Fury, formerly a writer of Lost. So of course, what's gonna be the number on the safety deposit box? 23.

The banker hears the tape of Logan and Henderson, and now he becomes this season's equivalent to last season's Arab gun-shop owners -- the hapless civilian sucked into Jack's web of death and violence, and wanting to do everything he can to help.

Now Chloe gets the James Bond music. She's O'Brian. Chloe O'Brian.

Of course Homeland Security Guy is suspicious of Chloe coming out of the bathroom. I think we've seen one person heading toward the bathroom for non-"espionage-in-the-stall" purposes in five years.

Stealing a cop car. Nice new notch on Jack's felony belt.

Poor banker guy. He wasn't as lucky as the shop owners from last year.

They may be talking about bringing down the President of the United States, but given there are still seven hours in this season to go, I think we can safely assume that's not going to go smoothly.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sprechen Zie Dull?

Four down, one to go. This afternoon, I saw another of the 2005 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, Munich. Ultimately, I was not impressed. At around 2 hours and 45 minutes, this movie was quite long, and it really felt like it to me as I sat watching it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not without merit. There are a few moments of Spielberg-ian tension scattered throughout. One particularly effective scene revolved around whether or not a little girl is going to be killed as collateral damage in an assassination attempt. More effective scenes came near the end, as the main character tried to reintegrate into his "normal life" following the events he'd experienced. But the space between these quality moments was enormous.

The film is on the one hand a "revenge flick" (it is based on a book called "Vengeance," after all), but on the other hand is trying to make dramatic points about the emotional toll of revenge. But the pace is too slow for the former (such movies traditionally power along at mind-numbing speed, so as to, well... numb the mind). And the points are too weak for the latter. Other films have portrayed the cost of violence far more effectively. Hell, other Steven Spielberg movies have done so (a subplot involving a secondary character in Saving Private Ryan comes to mind).

In the final analysis, I give the film a C+. The parts that worked for me did so incredibly well. They were just few and far between.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

Normally, one doesn't expect the things one finds in an antique store to be radioactive. So you can imagine my friend's surprise earlier this week when he came upon this lump of... whatever it is... in an antique shop. He had actually approached the shelf from the other side and picked the thing up before he saw the message. Yikes!

So, a few questions spring to mind:

Who just keeps a lump of radioactive rock around in their house?

Who then sells/gives that lump to an antique store?

What kind of antique store would buy something like that?

Will keeping it wrapped in Saran Wrap really keep you safe from it? I rather doubt that.

Or, I guess you could sum up all those questions as: WTF?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Low Rent

This week, I watched the movie version of the musical Rent. I had sort of intended to catch it in the theater late last year, but it somehow slipped by. I think that was partly because a co-worker of mine, a bit of a mild "Rent Head" (as I've learned that fans of the musical actually do call themselves), had caught the movie and told me it was vastly inferior to the production of the play he'd seen. Still, he pushed the Original Broadway Cast soundtrack my way to expose me to the music.

The music, as it turns out, was really the saving grace of the film. The songs alone, I'd probably rate an A-. It's high quality, driving rock opera, with a sprinkling of other styles -- gospel, tango, and more. The "minus" I'm tacking on there is because no matter how catchy and clever I find the music, I didn't find myself moved by it emotionally. Moved to tap my feet, absolutely. Two different things.

And if the music stumbled a bit for me in that regard, the movie supporting it fell flat on its face. I never found myself really caring for any of the characters at any point. There are films with major character deaths that still get me no matter how many times I've seen them. This film had moments of death that didn't shake me at all. I could see the actors on screen really working it. Clearly, their performances were genuine -- I didn't feel like they were "manufacturing" emotion for the camera. But it just wasn't getting through.

When I popped in the deleted scenes, I started to get an idea why. One of them is an extended, five-minute sequence involving a song from the second act of the original play ("Goodbye Love"). The song not only covers a break-up between the major couple in the story, but a falling out between the two roommates living together. This second part I found particularly compelling, as one of the characters has AIDS, while the other does not. In the song, the issue of how the latter will have to go on after the former dies comes up. This song actually managed to speak to me in a way that none of the material in the final edit of the film actually did.

So, "what the hell?" I asked myself. I saw the deleted scenes had a commentary from the director, Chris Columbus. So I decided to listen and see what possible reason he had for cutting what I believed to be the most effective scene in the movie. His logic came in two parts:

  • Two of these characters had not been shown in the film singing to each other. All their scenes had been actual dialogue. To show them suddenly singing was jarring.

  • This song followed a funeral scene, and he felt that it was too much depression to follow all in sequence... that the audience simply couldn't take any more.

I call complete and utter bullshit on both of these statements. To the first, I say: if you're 1 hour, 45 minutes into a musical and you have not earned some suspension of disbelief from your audience that your characters are going to spontaneously sing to one another from time to time, I think you've got some far more serious problems than one five-minute scene covers. To the second, I say: this is a film/play about AIDS. It's supposed to be depressing.

I kept the commentary on as an alternate ending to the film played. It was a "bookend" to the opening credits, which showed the entire cast singing on a stage in an empty theater, out of the context of the story. This cut ending put them back on that stage for the final number.

Time for some more bullshit Chris Columbus logic. One of his arguments for cutting this ending was that when it faded up, there was a long moment of disorientation for the audience. "Where are we now?" they would ask. They didn't recognize that we were back on the stage from the opening. Apparently, he thinks the audience attention span is so low that we can't recall what happened just two hours ago.

So this all really got me wondering. This film I'd just finished watching... the film I'd probably rate a C but for the music and phenomenal singing I'd rate an A- (does that mean it averages out to a B- or something?). This was apparently a "production" of Rent as rendered by a director who appears to underestimate the intelligence of his audience at every turn.

Perhaps this means that an actual, theatrical production of the original musical might be far more to my liking than the film? Well, that would certainly be consistent with what my co-worker told me months ago when this movie was in the theaters. Innnnnteresting. Maybe someday I'll have the chance to put that to the test. (Assuming I can actually sit in a theater and not crack up thinking about the Rent parody in the movie Team America: World Police -- "Everyone has AIDS! AIDS, AIDSAIDSAIDS, AIDS!!")

In the meantime, I think I might start looking at Chris Columbus' two Harry Potter films (the first two) in a much dimmer light now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


This odd bit of philosophy brought to you courtesy of the lane to get to a drive-up ATM near my house.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Week 13 - Final Score: Veronica Mars 7; Lost 6.

The "Series Series" has ended. Lost and Veronica Mars will no longer be airing in the same time slot. And Veronica Mars pulled out the win.

There was nothing "wrong" with tonight's Lost. My problem is that it was completely predictable from beginning to end. In the past, when watching Lost, I've had moments where I've been completely blindsided ("Walkabout" from season one, "Man of Science, Man of Faith" from season two), and moments where I've anticipated some plot threads while being surprised by others ("Maternity Leave" from a few weeks ago). But I've never had an episode where I guessed every single major beat from beginning to end.

The moment we see Hurley's asylum friend "Dave" shouting at basketball players who are strangely ignoring him, someone in the group I was watching with said, "he's not real." And she only barely beat me to actually saying it out loud. What can I say? Fight Club has mined this territory.

The moment Hurley headed off alone toward the caves (where Dave can torment him with no one else around), I knew Dave was going to tell him the entire island was a figment of his imagination. I knew because I saw this same plot thread on a sixth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And before that, on a sixth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And I'm fairly sure that long before any of that, it must have been an episode of The Twilight Zone.

And then there was the twist with Libby at the end. Except that when Hurley first mentioned that she looked familiar many episodes ago, I immediately assumed it must have been from the asylum.

It was entertaining to watch. But it ultimately felt like an amusement park ride you've been on many times before. Too familiar to get your juices going.

Veronica Mars, meanwhile, served up major developments on several ongoing plots. The "who really killed Felix, and will there be justice?" thread was closed down. Weevil earned some serious dark side points.

Something new and strange is going on with Mayor Steve Guttenberg. He has a stalker, clearly knows what they're after, and doesn't want Keith Mars to find out what it is.

Something is up with Beaver. Mac confronts him about their relationship, and he pulls away. One can suppose a few reasons why that might be, but what's really going on there?

Meanwhile, an overdose of the pithy wit we all love about Veronica Mars. "I think that's Scout's Honor." "I told you, when I started on losers, I'd come to you first." "Fine, Dirty Sanchez, then." "What, like total silence? Imagine what that would be like."

An episode among the best of the season. So good, in fact, that I'm starting to get worried again. I absolutely loved the first season of Veronica Mars, but near the end I had come to terms with the likelihood there wouldn't be a season two. So I suppose I should look upon this season two as a gift, when so many other great shows I've loved didn't make it out of year one. But now I find myself getting greedy, and really hoping for a year three -- hoping that this move to Tuesday nights doesn't spell impending cancellation by the CW (Country and Western?) network.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Where Are Clooney and Wahlberg?

Let me tell you about the "Perfect Storm" of bad traffic here in Denver yesterday.

1) The local bus drivers went on strike yesterday. It had appeared a last minute settlement between the company and union was going to be reached, but instead, a strike began on about 9 hours' notice before Monday morning rush hour.

2) It was the opening day of baseball season. The Rockies generally suck, but that didn't stop droves of people who otherwise would never go to a ball game from heading to this one. (They actually did manage to beat Arizona, if you care. I don't.)

3) It was the first weekday evening following the Daylight Savings Time shift, which suddenly put the western sun squarely in the eyes of basically every driver leaving downtown.

Not a pretty picture.

Monday, April 03, 2006

2/3rds Done...

This week, on 24:

Jack couldn't use his "the only reason you're conscious is that I don't want to carry you" line on Bierko.

Jack makes two un-frakking-believable statements back-to-back: "I don't know. Bill, I'm scared." Bill Buchanan has to be on his end of the call going... "oh, I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number."

Why does Karen Hayes' right hand man even hatch the idea to go to Audrey to get a signed statement? It was he and Karen that caused Audrey to be tortured barely 45 minutes earlier! (And why, when she is confronted, doesn't Audrey mention that?)

The Chevy Tahoe -- with storage space to comfortably fit an unconscious former president's brother.

Three minutes later, Wayne Palmer is up and at 'em to go question Evelyn. He just needed to wrap his hand. (That Agent Pierce has mad first aid skillz.)

The return of "data mining," as Chloe goes to work on Henderson's work record.

Since season four, Audrey has apparently taken a few courses at Jack Bauer's Academy of Do Whatever You Have To Do To Get the Job Done. She's not up to killing and torturing people yet, but hey... those are post-graduate level courses. Selling out co-workers, though? She got an A.

Wayne bumps into the Vice President, played by Ray Wise. Is he in on the plot that killed David Palmer? If so, someone needs to stop trusting him around people with the last name "Palmer." (Ha! See what I did there, Twin Peaks fans?!)

Evelyn's story develops a few plot holes. She says her daughter has only been abducted as of an hour ago. That leaves 15 hours or so where she had possession of the information she gave to David Palmer, and no apparent reason not to report it to somebody.

Audrey: "Chloe, I don't have time to explain right now. Wait until the commercial."

Oh yeah, remember this guy? 45 minutes into the episode (roughly two hours since his last appearance), President Logan re-enters the story.

I realize this factory is like the third backup evil headquarters this season, but seriously, why didn't they spring to put an alarm on the door Jack breaks into? For that matter, it says "Authorized Personnel Only" on it. Why doesn't it already have an alarm?

Wayne's not quite mad enough to kill his first ever person by shooting him in the back.

Jack's method of garbling the walkie talkie signal is much more effective than "kssssh.... I'm going through a tunnel... kssssshh."

When Christopher Henderson and Jack Bauer wind up in close proximity to one another, women get shot in the leg. Consider yourselves warned, ladies.

Alright, 24 writers. You got some 'splainin' to do. While this revelation about Logan certainly goes a long way toward accounting for his colossal ineptitude so far this season, it serves up many more questions than it answers. What possible motivation for these actions will suffice? And once this season is all done, if we go back to the beginning and watch all the episodes again, will Logan's actions make sense? Or are there going to be Nina-Meyers-in-season-one-esque moments that simply cannot be reconciled with this plot twist? (For those who want to pull out the season one DVDs and see what I'm talking about, watch the episode where Nina is unnecessarily helpful in identifying a bad guy that's moving about in the hospital where Kim and Teri are taken just before the safehouse.)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Office Bulletins

Whether you're a fan of the American version of The Office or not, you're likely to get some laughs out of this. Some of the cast members were involved in recording a parody series of NBC's famous "The More You Know" bits. They've been scattered about during different shows all this week... but here are all the spots collected online in one place.

Funny stuff.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Smoking Advisory

I went to see Thank You For Smoking this afternoon. I thought this was a fairly mainstream kind of movie. I'd seen trailers for it front of two or three other very mainstream movies over the past few months. But it turned out that no... the distributors really think of it as an art house flick. And so that's where I had to see it, at one of the local "art house" cinemas with the freaking uncomfortable, tiny chairs. (I guess I should at least be grateful I live in a city where I can refer to art house cinemas in the plural.)

Anyway... the movie. This is the tale of a tobacco lobbyist on a journey to expand smoking in the movies, and teach his young son good values -- the value of arguing a case well.

Unfortunately, this was a case where all of the funniest parts were spoiled in the trailer. They still made me snicker, and there were still a few other laughs sprinkled throughout. The cast was great. But I think my expectations were a little too high.

It did do a fairly good job, I think, of being a "message movie" without cramming the message down your throat. They subtly had a movie about smoking in which you never see a single character smoke a cigarette. The makers of the movie are able to make their points with and within the characters they establish.

In all, I give it a B. It's worth a look, assuming you live in a place where you're able to catch it without too much hassle.