Thursday, August 31, 2006

To Boldlier Go

The 40th anniversary of the TV premiere of Star Trek is fast approaching in a few days. Compared to all the hubbub surrounding the 25th and 30th anniversaries, it was going to pass with almost no fanfare...

Until this week.

The announcement has been made that the original series is going back into syndication on September 16th, this time with updated, CG visual effects. (This is not to be confused with an old test of that very concept made a few years ago by an independent FX house, recently discussed on Mkae's blog.)

Given the poor results of the various "updates" and "special editions" of the last decade or so, I generally find myself on the purist, "don't mess with it" side of the fence. But so far, I feel in more neutral territory here.

First of all, it's not as though Paramount is trying to scour the original episodes off the face of planet, a la Lucas and Star Wars. (And before you point out the soon-to-be-released "original Star Wars films" on DVD, be aware of the major controversy among DVD fanatics.) They've already released the original Trek episodes on DVD. In fact, they released them at their full, original air length of 50+ minutes... in subsequent syndication for modern television, as much as 8 minutes was cut from every episode. So you'll be able to still see the classic version, if that's what you want.

Secondly, they seem to have their hearts in the right place as far as preserving the "look" of show. If done with a similar approach to the souped-up FX in the Star Trek: The Motion(less) Picture DVD, it could come out rather well.

Thirdly, there are lots of Trek fans today who call themselves Trek fans purely on the basis of the various spin-off series. I mean, The Next Generation is going to turn 20 years old next year. (Damn!) Plenty of people out there have never seen the original series (or much of it), and if this is incentive to get them to do it, then I think it's probably a good thing. There were plenty of dogs in there, sure, but also a great many wonderful episodes.

So, we'll see just what we'll see when the new "Balance of Terror" is set to run a few weeks from now.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mr. Spoke, of the Planet Vulcan

I don't think it crazy to think this, but it seems to me that a writer ought to be able to correctly pronounce the names of people and places he creates.

Now, I know what you're thinking. (Well... probably, "this is totally from left field." But after that.) They're the creator. Isn't the way they pronounce it correct? And usually, you'd be right, like in this case:

I remember the first time I met Terry Brooks at a book signing, and learned that "Shannara," which everyone I knew (who knew the books) pronounced "shun-ARR-ruh," was always imagined by him as "SHANN-uh-ruh." But I never had heard it "my way" on an official book-on-tape or anything, so that was it. He was right.

By contrast, there's a documentary floating around from a few years back in which George Lucas repeatedly pronounces the name of the ice planet at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back as rhyming with the word "both." And who knows, maybe in the Super-Uber Special Edition, everybody will pronounce it that way. But until that day, the fact remains that every single time the name "Hoth" is spoken in the film, it rhymes with the pale-skinned, all-black-wearing fashion trend.

Then there's Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives. The DVD set of the show's relative letdown of a second season hit stores this week, and in all the features and commentaries he does, he pronounces the name of Eva Longoria's character not as "GAB-ree-ell," as everyone on the show does, but as "GOB-ree-ell." It sounds borderline pretentious -- a border I'm sure would be crossed if he ever tried to say the character's nickname "Gabby." "Gobby" would be a description of a kindergarten art project involving Elmer's Glue.

Yes, this a totally trivial thing to make such a big deal about.

If you didn't know that's what this blog is some 90+% of the time, you must be new here. Welcome.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Children is More Than Alright

The newest book from one of my favorite writers, Terry Brooks, hit stores today. Armageddon's Children is the first of a new trilogy that connects his longest-running series, the Shannara books, with a trilogy he wrote in the late 90s set in "the real world." I was able to get a small jump start on reading it, and between that and my enthusiasm to plow through it, I've already finished.

I would have to say this is not Terry Brooks at the very top of his game, but it's still a very good book. On the plus side, the story is very engaging. Most of the characters are interesting and developed well. It gets the long-time fan's juices flowing, speculating what sorts of further connections between his other series of books will develop throughout this trilogy (perhaps much in the way Stephen King fans got enjoyment out of the connections between The Dark Tower and his other books). However, I think it is also written well enough that one could read this story and enjoy it, even without having read another Terry Brooks novel.

On the down side, there are a couple of characters that are not quite as well developed, even though they figure to be rather prominent in the following two books. (The story essentially has four concurrently running plots, only two of which intersect within this first volume, and the characters of one of the four plots are somewhat thin and given fairly cursory treatment compared to the rest.)

My only other complaint would be that the book doesn't really have an ending. Not entirely surprising for a trilogy, I know, but where this volume concluded felt more like the chopped-off first third of an extra-long novel, more than a novel all unto itself. But then, that's partly also a sign that I'm eager for what happens next, which is a good "complaint."

I give the book a B+... though if I'm really trying to encourage someone to try Terry Brooks, I'd recommend his series "The Heritage of Shannara." I think it's his best, and it's all already published (all four books in one volume, actually), so you don't have to wait to see how it ends.

A Return to Form

I tried to post this last night, but Blogger was hiding...

Last week’s Prison Break was pretty good, but not great... but tonight? Ah, there’s the Prison Break I became totally addicted to last season. The show was back in its best form. The heroes take two steps forward, only to be forced one step back. Those threatening to catch them nipping at their heels every step of the way. Outrageous plans to foil the pursuit. Excellent.

William Fichtner continues to be an awesome addition to an awesome show. Everything’s heating up now for “the Amazing Race” to Utah for the stashed loot. And, as was almost always the case last season, the episode ended on a “how in the world are they going to get out of this one?” moment.

Like I said, there’s the Prison Break I became totally addicted to last season.

Vanished, on the other hand... I’m totally out. I only made it to the opening credits of the second episode before deciding to bail on the show entirely.

First, there was the ridiculous music playing behind the “previously on” recap, a grandiose chorus of Latin-esque chanting that made it sound like maybe the senator’s wife had been abducted by Satan himself.

Then came a soap-opera-esque bit of writing backed up by soap-opera-esque acting. In ham-fisted exposition, we’re reintroduced to all the problems we were just re-re-introduced to in the recap, and we're treated to crap lines like “If you want to stop me, you’re gonna have to shoot me” and “The perp wants to see your pain; let him.”

As I continue to marvel that not one character in this show supposedly set in Atlanta has a southern accent, we’re taken to a ridiculously over-the-top sequence involving the “crime tip” hotline, where we zip through CG generated phone lines, zoom in and out with unnecessary speed ramps, and end on a preposterous wall display of tips that could have been generated by the Star Trek art department.

Without Crow or Tom Servo around to help me take the sting off, I promptly delete the show from my TiVo, never to watch another episode.

But I can’t wait for next week’s Prison Break.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And the Emmy Goes To...

The Emmy Awards were presented tonight. In the past, I've been known to do some blow-by-blow commentary on these kinds of awards shows, but I'm gonna pass tonight, as it just wasn't that interesting.

As far as the show itself, Conan O'Brien was a very funny host, and almost every bit involving him worked. Almost every other "joke" landed with a dull thud. (The sole exceptions, in my mind, were Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, presenting the Reality TV away, and Bob Newhart, the perfect -- perhaps only -- man to have pulled off the "trapped in an air-tight tube" gag).

I don't have too much to say about the awards themselves, either. In many cases, the winners of categories were just as nonsensical as the bizarre nominations themselves. (I join Stephen Colbert in his anguish over losing to Barry Manilow.) But there were a few welcome winners. The Office was a deserving Best Comedy Series, and it was nice to see 24 finally take home the prize (even if I did enjoy earlier seasons of the show more).

But enough of the awards. I'm ready for the shows themselves to actually return (mostly, next month).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

You Gotta Have More

If you've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell, then here is the "pharmacy" where you can fill that prescription. If you still aren't cured after that, Wikipedia has an entire entry dedicated to cowbell songs as well.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Good God, Y'All!

I don't really know who this "War Scholar" person is, but damn, does he have a metric buttload of information on the history of war. His web page doesn't have moving pictures like The History Channel or The Discovery Channel, or one of those other suck-you-in-while-you're-channel-surfing networks. But it has similar properties.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine----

"Born" February 18, 1930, the planet Pluto died today at the age of 76. Sources say the planet had been in "failing health" for a number of years. It is survived by eight older siblings, and three children: son Charon, age 28, and twins Nyx and Hydra, age 1.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Did Anyone Not See This Coming?

What goes best with Snakes on a Plane? If you answered popcorn or candy, you're thinking like a Stiffly Stifferson. Because the correct answer, dear pranksters, is "Snakes in a Theater!" That's just what happened at a movie theater in Arizona during a screening of the movie -- two live diamondback rattlesnakes were released into the theater.

I'm amazed it has only happened the one time so far.

I'm also confused how the reporter writing this article (or the "authorities" he cites) can know that it was pranksterS (plural) involved in releasing the snakes when no one was actually caught. As if there's no way a prank this obvious could be the work of one man.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Politics and Pastries

I saw a heavily-bestickered car on my drive into work this morning:

I think if you're really trying to make as strong a statement as "Axis of Greed - Cheney Bush Ashcroft," you seriously undercut your position by also putting a "Bagels suck... pastries rule" bumper sticker on your car. Do these two issues seriously hold equal weight in this driver's mind?

To say nothing of Tiny Town. Is it really a city-to-be-seen on the order of Munich?

Not that anyone in history has ever been persuaded to change their opinion by something they read on a bumper sticker, anyway.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Break Back

It's still August, and most of the summer TV series aren't having their season finales until this coming weekend. Nevertheless, the fall TV season kicked off tonight on FOX with the premieres of Prison Break and Vanished.

I don't think too many of my blog readers are Prison Break viewers, so I won't go into 24-esque detail commenting on the episode. (Shame if you aren't watching it, though -- I honestly enjoyed it more than season five of 24.) But I do have to make a few comments.

It will be interesting to see if the writers can make the show as suspenseful and tense this year as they did in year one. The environment has changed, which will definitely challenge them. I didn't feel as on the edge of my seat tonight as I did in the final few episodes of last season.

Nevertheless, I was very entertained. William Fichtner is going to be an awesome addition to the show. Playing the "Tommy Lee Jones role" (or, if you go way back, the "Barry Morse role"), they've already set up his character as an intellect worthy to pursue our hero, Michael Scofield. And the actor plays him perfectly. His series last season, Invasion, amounted to about 5 minutes of interesting television per every two or three episodes, and I wasn't sorry to see it get canceled. Now I'm even happier, because he has ended up on Prison Break.

We'll see how they carry on in the weeks ahead.

Oh, and a quick footnote about the new show FOX ran afterward, Vanished. Not terrible, but not very engaging either. I might give it one or two more episodes, simply because FOX has started their season weeks ahead of everyone else, and so there's nothing else on. (This was surely their plan.) Nevertheless, if it doesn't show immediate improvement, I'll be cutting it loose. There's an "encore performance" of the pilot episode tomorrow night, if you missed it. But at the moment, I'm going to have to say you didn't miss much if you did.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Snake Charmed

My curiosity got the best of me today, and I gave in and went to see Snakes on a Plane. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't that good, either.

This is a spectacular statement of the obvious, but with a title like "Snakes on a Plane," you form pretty clear expectations of what you're going to see. And the movie delivers exactly what you expect.

You get Samuel L. Jackson, playing another badass to the hilt, delivering his lines with that trademarked sing-song shout.

You get plenty of over-the-top deaths. In the first 15 minutes of the movie, as we're introduced to the characters as they board the plane, you can see everything coming from miles away. The pins are being set up to be knocked down. You know this character is going to die in this way. You know that character is going to be called upon to save the life of that character. You know this character is plucky comic relief, and that character is meat for the slaughter.

You get big time camp. I know the camp meter pegged during the movie. I'm just not sure whether it was during the "Snake Vision" camera angles, or with the repeated snake-genital sight gags.

You get the most terrible CG snakes too-much-money can buy, unconvincingly jumping, hissing, and biting their way around the screen.

And yet, somehow, even though the whole thing is as familiar as a drive to work and as ridiculous as an Abbott and Costello routine... it's sort of entertaining. It's no masterpiece, but there's no denying that the movie essentially works. You'll laugh, you'll lean forward in your chair, you'll jump back into it. It's a fun ride. I think I give it a B-. But it's sort of a movie that defies thought.

I wonder now that it has finally been released, will we finally stop hearing about it?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Longest 15 Minutes Ever

Last month, I took note of the stupidity required to greelight a TV show about whether reality-TV personality Rob (of RobAnAmbuh) can play poker. But given the popularity of poker shows on television right now, I'd say it's not as steep as the stupidity required to greenlight a TV show about whether reality-TV personality Rob believes in the paranormal.

Those two must have an amazing agent.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Little Ditty...

It's still around five months until new episodes of 24 return, and I'm still trying to find ways to fill in the long gap. This isn't really all that great, but it'll have to do for now. (Beware spoilers, anyone who hasn't seen at least through the first half of season five.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's What's On the Inside That Counts

I know they've been around for quite a while now, but I believe I have yet to comment on them: Reese's "Inside Out" Peanut Butter Cups are an abomination.

Anyone who has ever had those "mini cups" Reese's has out around the candy holidays (Halloween, Easter, Valentine's Day) knows that they don't taste the same as a regular Reese's cup. The reason is simple: there is a perfect ratio of peanut butter to chocolate that tastes right. That is the genius of the Reese's. Mess up the ratio, and you've messed up the candy. Irredeemably.

Which is why the Inside Out Reese's is just a crime against candy. They've taken the perfect ratio, and they've inverted it! Not to mention that they've changed the actual ingredients involved. The strange, magical, sort-of-chunky, sort-of-creamy peanut butter that lives at the golden core of each regular Reese's cup could never serve as the "outer shell," so they've substituted some sort of peanut-butter-fudge-like concoction for the skin. Meanwhile, some unholy form of frothy brown stuff that only wishes it were chocolate dwells in the black heart of this impostor.

They've whored out and cheapened the glory of Reese's by associating it with this foul beast trading on the name.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Today, on a one-day business-related trip, I flew into and back out of LAX. And it was really interesting (I'd say annoying) to see how one of the nation's largest airports handles security now that we're all acting like we're the Wicked Witch of the West. (You know, the whole liquids thing...)

Actually, let me start with the liquid ban itself. When I flew last week to Indianapolis, I departed on the same morning as the crazy "attack scare." The hastily printed notices at the airport said just flat-out "no liquids." It went on with a long list of things "this includes," making no mentions of any exceptions. Now, a few days later, the notices have been updated. It's okay to bring baby formula, if you have a child with you. It's okay to bring some quantity of insulin or another "critical medication." And one or two other things that...

Well, I was going to say, "that make sense." Except that somewhat implies that I think everything else doesn't make sense to bring on a plane. And that's crap. Look, I know absolutely nothing about making liquid explosives, but it seems to me that if the original plotters were going to make it look like whatever it was going to look like (a can of Coke? a jar of hair gel?) that they could just as easily make it look like a supply of insulin or a bottle of formula. In other words, I don't see how these new security measures could stop someone with enough determination. (Bear in mind, the successfully-foiled plot of last week was so foiled not at an airport, but through outside investigation!) Instead, it's just one more inconvenience for the rest of us, like taking off our shoes to put on the x-ray belt, that serves very little purpose.

But I digress. Let's get to subject of LAX in particular. When it came time to board our plane for Denver, a dozen U.S. Army soldiers in full camo fatigues appeared at the gate, flanked the path to the ticket scanner, and proceed to start hand-inspecting the carry-ons of people boarding the flight.

My first thought was, "what the hell is this? Join the army, inspect luggage? We unpack more bags before 9AM than most people pack all day?" Of course, the thought that almost immediately followed was, "hell, if I were in the army, you bet I'd rather have that assignment than a tour of duty in Iraq!"

Once over the shock of seeing the soldiers there in the first place, I looked around the concourse and developed still more questions. These army people were dispatched only to our flight, out of several other gates within "eyeshot" (including two others also in the boarding process). What made our flight so special?

By this point, they're already "inviting first class and zone 1" to board the plane, and these grunts are opening up the carry-ons of every single passenger and thoroughly looking through their stuff. Never mind that it had all been inspected already on the x-ray machine. Never mind some grimy stranger messing up your stuff (all due respect to our men and women in the armed forces). And never mind the fact that takeoff is scheduled in about 15-20 minutes. There's no chance this flight is taking off anywhere close to on time.

Minutes later... "Zone 2" is called. And then "zone 3 and 4." And that's when it got even stranger. Now, they suddenly started letting people on without checking their bags at all! If one of the soldiers finished up, well then the next person in line traded the new car for the live llama hiding behind curtain #2, and had to submit to the search. Otherwise, on the plane with you! So halfway through, they abandoned the little pretense they had going of this not being a random, arbitrary, and ineffective search, and the sham was fully exposed.

How can people not realize this emperor has no clothes? When is enough going to be enough?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Slow to Half Impulse

Even people who aren't Star Trek fans have possibly seen the famous image of the "giant space amoeba" from the classic series episode "The Immunity Syndrome."

It turns out that this wasn't one of those silly 1960s notions that looks ridiculous in re-runs. Well... okay, maybe it does look a little silly. But it's basically true, according to some astronomers.

I am still wondering how I missed the Eugenics Wars last decade, though.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Reading Voices

This evening, I finished reading the book The Man Who Heard Voices. I don't typically read much non-fiction, but an excerpt from this book, published in an Entertainment Weekly not long ago, caught my interest. (Well done marketing, that.) This book chronicles M. Night Shyamalan's journey in making his recent movie, Lady in the Water. You'll perhaps recall that I was a big fan of it, which raised still more curiosity in me about the book.

Having now read it, I'm rather more fascinated by the book itself than the events it covers. It sort of comes off as a case study of someone coming under the sway of a cult of personality.

In the book, M. Night Shyamalan is not always portrayed in a flattering light. Indeed, the book shows him more often as insecure than confident, and occasionally shows him behaving quite badly. But the book also really strives to convey how important it is to the director to have people "get" his films, how important it is to him to win over an audience. He's described in the opening pages as someone with a very powerful charisma and powers of persuasion. Before long, it becomes clear that even though the author of the book is showing both good sides and bad to his subject, he's not really being objective. He's been drawn fully -- perhaps even a bit against his will -- into the "cult of Night." Which all by itself makes the book a fascinating read.

Unfortunately, it also feels like a rather incomplete tale. Since the events that close the book (set in April of this year), the Disney exec that "didn't get" the Lady in the Water script has been fired, and Night's movie has gone on to be a relative box office failure largely trashed by critics. These events seem like more than a missing epilogue to the tale, but rather like the ending, wholly absent. The reader can't help but be interested in how Shyamalan reacted to it all. Maybe there will be an extra chapter or two in a forthcoming paperback version of the book.

Anyway, it's a quick and worthwhile read for anyone that thinks the subject matter might be interesting.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I Have Returned

I've returned from Indianapolis, having had a really wonderful time, despite the unfortunate circumstances. Thanks to everyone for their kind thoughts.

I'm also thoroughly exhausted. So, while I'm trying to get my normal, random thoughts composed once again, I thought you might "enjoy" these totally creepy-ass pictures of bunnies yawning. Just one or two of these, and you'll know Anya (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was right -- bunnies are evil, "not just cute like everybody supposes."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

48 Hours

Forgive me, but I'm going to get a bit maudlin tonight.

My grandfather died this morning. It came up relatively early, by modern standards, at just a bit past 70. It also came up rather suddenly. Just three weeks ago, he was fairly active. Then he started having extreme muscle fatigue that quickly wore him down. (I don't have the exact details of what happened. I'm not even sure if my grandmother and the doctors know, either.)

I don't bring this up seeking condolences. Sadly, all of us have lost or will lose family -- it's part of the package. I bring it up to make a point about how monumental a time 48 hours can be.

See, my grandfather lived in Indianapolis. The GenCon game convention is being held there this weekend, I am going there on a work trip starting tomorrow. I'd talked to my grandparents just this past weekend to tell them I was coming, and we had already made plans -- Friday night, after my work for the day at the convention was finished, we were going to be getting together for dinner, them, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Barely 48 hours from when I got the news today.

There are times when a day or two can fly by at breakneck speed. Don't take it for granted. There are other times when a day or two can crawl by like they'll never end. And though circumstances might make you think that's a bad thing, it isn't. Either way, 48 hours can make a world of difference.

That's all I'm trying to say.

So, as I mentioned... I'm leaving for GenCon tomorrow morning. Which means you'll have to last through the weekend with no new Heimlich Maneuvers. I'd planned to leave on a sillier note, but... well... every now and then you get something more thought provoking.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sweeter With Age

There is the sweetest old woman working as a ticket-tearer at the movie theater I usually go to.

It doesn't seem to matter what time of day I go to the movies; she's always there. When I caught Clerks II on Friday night a few weeks ago, then came back the next morning for the first showing of Lady in the Water, she was there both times.

It doesn't matter what I'm going to see; she always has an enthusiastic comment about the film as she tears my ticket. And here's the part where she goes from just being an old woman to being a sweet old woman:

(tearing my Lady in the Water ticket): "This is supposed to be delightful. Enjoy your movie."

(tearing my Superman Returns ticket): "People are saying this is so exciting! Enjoy the show!"

She had always been just "one of the people in my neighborhood" that I never really thought twice about until the night she made this comment:

(tearing my Clerks II ticket): "Oh, I've heard this is so funny. I hope you enjoy it."

I couldn't help but stop short and think. Really? She just didn't strike me as the sort of person I could ever picture in a Kevin Smith movie. It got me thinking about all the possibilities. Maybe she is the sort of person who'd be there, and I'm totally misjudging her on superficial traits. Maybe she's just lying through her teeth as a form of customer service, and is really good at it.

Or, maybe she's just a really sweet old woman.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Perfect Suck

This week, the movie World Trade Center is opening in theaters. This movie basically has a full trifecta of reasons I don't have any interest in seeing it whatsoever. (Or, as my friend put it: this movie is "The Perfect Suck.")

First, it's directed by Oliver Stone. I suppose I have to admit that it's possible I haven't given this guy's films a chance. I've hardly seen any. But the opinions I've heard from those I trust give me no feeling that my snap judgments here are off base.

Second, it stars Nicholas Cage. This guy annoyed me in Raising Arizona when I saw it in theaters over 15 years ago, and he's never let up since. He has this "movie star" way about him, where he doesn't so much become a different character in a movie as the characters all become him. I can't stand watching him.

And finally (as you might have guessed), there's the subject matter. I simply don't want to see it. I don't believe this film can add anything to my knowledge of and feeling about the events that I don't already have.

Now, don't mistake me for being part of the "it's too soon" crowd. My feeling is basically this: it's not "too soon" as long as there's anyone out there who thinks it's not. A movie is not made for everyone; its audience will be some portion of the population at large. And the bulk of the population who, say, don't like Star Trek movies didn't stop ten of them from getting made just because they didn't want to see them. The same applies here; just because there are some people out there who think it's too soon shouldn't stop the movie from being available to the portion of the people -- the intended audience -- who think it's not.

But I'm not in that portion, for the three reasons cited above. Those of you who are planning to hit the theaters for this, I hope you get what you're looking for.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Going Down

The Descent finally made its way into US theaters this weekend, long after it played pretty much everywhere else abroad. This horror film was generating quite the buzz from its home country (the UK), and Lions Gate was only too happy to snap it up for US release, trumpeting the film as though they'd created it themselves.

Having now seen it, I'm not sure the buzz was entirely warranted. The movie was certainly not bad, but for everything it did well, I felt it really messed something else up.

In the plus column, the structure of the story is a major throwback to really classic horror movies. Like the original Halloween, a tension gets ratcheted up slowly for a huge chunk of the movie before "stuff starts to happen." By the time the creature in the dark makes its first appearance, you're primed to jump out of your seat at the slightest sound.

The sense of claustrophobia inside the underground caves is realized tremendously well. There are many scenes where, even sitting in the theater, you feel very uncomfortable. The rock walls and passages are so oppressive at times, I think there's no force on this earth to get me to go caving, even without a freaky monster trying to eat me.

But, in the minus column... despite doing such a great job in using darkness in the first half of the film, it flops in the second half with regards to the monster. Everyone knows a film monster is scarier the less you see of it. Sadly, we see all too much of the "crawler," as it is called in the end credits. And it's not a terribly original monster either, evoking a little bit of the Flukeman from The X-Files, a little bit of "larval Dracula" from the Francis Ford Coppola film, and a little bit of Voldemort from the last Harry Potter movie. We see too much, and what we see, we've seen before.

Two of the six women that venture down into the caves carry the bulk of the story, and both of them are drawn fairly well. Sadly, the other four are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Once they're all dressed up in similar climbing gear, and lit only by flashlights, headlamps, and flares, I honestly could not tell them apart. Sure, many characters in a horror movie are only so much meat to be slaughtered anyway, but you do at least want to be able to tell who's who.

And then there was the gore. I don't really have problems with gory movies, but this one went way over the top. Again, I must mention the first half of the film, which gradually (and more or less bloodlessly) ratcheted up the tension. But in the final reels, it suddenly felt like a completely different movie had been spliced onto the reel. We had fountains of blood, geysers of blood, giant pools of blood. So much blood, it was literally funny. I almost laughed out loud at one point, it was so over the top -- and that was most definitely not the reaction the movie was trying to evoke.

Add it all up, and I think I'm going to give the film a C. That's pretty much a true average of my feelings about it, because I could see myself dissecting it into parts that would get an A and other parts that would get an F.

Oh... one final footnote. As was the case when the UK film 28 Days Later was brought over to the US a few years ago, the studio decided not to give America the original ending. The US release of The Descent has the last 60-90 seconds or so of the film chopped off. If you're at all curious what that was, it can be viewed online. (Man, what did we do before YouTube?)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Stop, Look: Listener

This afternoon, I went to see the new movie The Night Listener. It's a small picture starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette. For the last while, Robin Williams has been far better in his serious movies (One Hour Photo, Insomnia) than his comedies (RV). Add to this an interesting premise (a man develops a telephone friendship with a young writer who may in fact be a fabrication -- oooo, Oprah would be pissed!), and I was curious enough to check it out.

There's not much to be said without giving anything away. It's a short, taut little tale, not even 90 minutes long. It is pretty engaging along the way, with a few moments of surprising tension, given that it's not really meant to be a "thriller" so much as a psychological mystery at best. But at the same time, it's not particularly amazing. As the end credits rolled, I found myself feeling more or less satisfied, but not from having been on any emotional journey, or having been exposed to any great revelation; I was sort of just nodding with a detached, intellectual feeling of "well, that was interesting."

The movie is based on a novel, and I found myself wondering if the story wouldn't have played a little better in that medium rather than on film. Without the need to put a picture on a screen, I think there would be more question as to what was real and what was not, and a more forced, subjective view on events from within the main character's head.

Still, I can't really point to anything I felt was flawed about the movie. Ultimately, if you like the "serious Robin Williams," you'll probably want to check this out... though it might be a Netflix-er, once it's out on DVD. I give it a B-.

Friday, August 04, 2006

When "Wash Me" is Too Cliche

Do you perhaps like sand castles or ice sculptures, but find those forms of art are simply too permanent for your sensibilities? Then might I suggest you give consideration to dirty car art. Artist Scott Wade has a frighteningly impressive gallery of his work, all drawn on dirty car windows.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


The good people behind the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have an offshoot of their site where every day they post at least one choice bit of hate mail they've received. This stuff is pretty much a source of non-stop laughter. (Actually, it's often funnier than their published book itself, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

I'm sure they receive some e-mail that is thoughtful and well-presented. Naturally, those don't make the cut. (Though they do sometimes post e-mails of the "I shake my head at you poor, lost souls" variety, as opposed to the "you people deserve to burn in hellfire for all eternity" variety -- and I don't really have much quarrel with folks in the former category. Live and let live, and such.) One of my recent favorites:
hey,u know what none cares Wat u think about God's sense of humor,u know what u may not be christian but,there's lot of people out there trying 2 seek God n they don't need any info, about God by u so,i think it will b better if u stop n start acting more like a christian even if u r not .
RAmen, brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Nightmare is Over

The mini-series Nightmares and Dreamscapes, based on the short story collection of the same name by Stephen King, concluded tonight on TNT. The eight one-hour installments each portrayed a different story from the book (all of them total?). If you're a Stephen King fan that somehow missed it, don't fret -- the DVD set has already been announced for release this Halloween.

If you're not a Stephen King fan, however, I don't believe you missed a thing. I'm glad it finally ended tonight, because I don't think I could have taken another week. Looking back now, I don't quite understand what pulled me through all eight episodes. Maybe it was knowing that, good or bad, it would all be over in four weeks. Maybe it was the assumption that they'd get better. They'd have to get better, wouldn't they? Otherwise, why would TNT have shelled out the money to make them? Well, I've seen them all now, and I cannot answer that question. I can, however, give you my quickie, one paragraph review of each episode:

Battleground. Perhaps I stayed with the miniseries for the whole run because it started on an interesting note. This tale of a hired hitman tormented by animate toy soldiers wielding functional weaponry wasn't great, but it was interesting in its execution. It ran one hour with no commercial breaks and not one word of spoken dialogue. William Hurt gave a good enough performance, given no other live actors to play off of. Still, the story didn't really demand he convey a wide range of emotion without dialogue.

Crouch End. Airing the same night as Battleground, I should have known to jump ship right there. Friends of mine who have read the original story tell me it's full of creepy, Lovecraft-ian imagery and is damn unsettling. Whether that's true or not, on screen it was an endless stream of the worst aspects of Stephen King's writing: cardboard characters were shepherded through a flimsy plot like cattle. Married couple is on vacation. Man is excited to explore a creepy place that seems to be in another plane of existence. Woman constantly tells him it's a bad idea, but they go anyway. After a procession of minor set pieces, man goes bat-shit crazy. Ambiguous ending leaves you uncertain what the point of the whole damn thing was.

Umney's Last Stand. Despite a great performance by William H. Macy, this story of a pulp detective novel writer who wants to switch places with his fictional detective suffered from really bad pacing. The first 15-20 minutes are chewed up by a bunch of larger-than-life "bad crime novel" cliches featuring the fictional detective. Anyone who hasn't figured out within half that time that none of what is being shown is real needs to be exposed to more storytelling. The writer character finally appears to make things interesting, but by then so much time has been wasted on the introduction that the episode appears to get hacked off. I'm sure the conclusion of the tale was meant to be open-ended, but instead it simply comes across as unfinished. Curiously, this episode was directed by the same man who made the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye." He did all the dime-store detective gags there already, with a smaller budget, and to greater effect.

The End of the Whole Mess. Ron Livingston continues the trend of good acting elevating weak material in this tale of a documentary filmmaker with a genius brother who wants to cure the human race of aggression. I certainly hope the ending of this one wasn't meant to be a surprise, because it's telegraphed like a neon sign from practically the opening frame. Waiting for that foregone conclusion of an ending to arrive was a long wait indeed.

The Road Virus Heads North. It seems to me that Stephen King sure likes to write stories in which the lead characters are writers. Maybe it's supposed to be self-depracating. Maybe he's simply sticking to the old adage "write what you know," and he's writing what scares him. I don't typically find these set-ups he keeps using very accessible. This story of being threatened by a creepy-looking, animate painting failed for me on two levels. One, it doesn't seem to have a consistent internal logic. By that I mean, supernatural tales can violate the laws of the real world, but ought to have interal laws that make sense. Two, well -- speaking of "supernatural," let me bring up the WB (soon CW) show of that title. A surprisingly good little show that I wasn't expecting to last or to even like when it started last fall. Instead, it was one of my favorite new shows of the year. In their first season, they did a "creepy-looking, animate painting" episode that was on every level more scary and effective than this episode of the mini-series.

The Fifth Quarter. Not too much to commend or condemn about this tale of an ex-con (played by Jeremy Sisto) on a killing rampage/treasure hunt to find the loot from a bank heist. It wasn't particularly boring or exciting. It wasn't exactly surprising, but neither was it predictable. This episode was quite watchable, really, but surrounded by other weak content, probably seemed worse to me than it actually was.

Autopsy Room Four. Probably the best episode of the bunch, and yet still not without a big flaw. In this case, a one-note gimmick -- a still-living man lying paralyzed on an autopsy table -- is strecthed past its limits to fill the one-hour time slot. As an episode of a half hour anthology series, a Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories, this would probably have been a winner. As it was, the "are they about to do something horrible to him, or is something going to stop them?" card a few too many times, and we're subjected to one or two too many irrelevant flashbacks.

You Know They Got a Hell of a Band. This could easily have been titled "Crouch End, Redux." The only difference between the two stories was that dead rock idols were substituted for wacky Lovecraft-ian imagery. Otherwise, here's the plot: Married couple is on vacation. Man is excited to explore a creepy place that seems to be in another plane of existence. Woman constantly tells him it's a bad idea, but they go anyway. After a procession of minor set pieces, man goes bat-shit crazy. Oh, I guess you can scratch the "ambiguous ending" part this time. There's really no doubt here as to what happened, or what will happen, after the last fade to black. That is, unless you count my own doubt as to why the makers of this mini-series would do two versions of basically the same damn story -- the worst story in the bunch, to boot!

I've given Stephen King a chance on many occasions. It's always ended up average, with me not exactly hating him, but neither understanding what so many see in his writing. Fans of his have faulted my choices in his books I've read over the years: Misery, It, and The Dead Zone. All three pulled me through to the last page, but didn't leave me rushing to grab another Stephen King book. So I guess that it's just putting things back into balance that after reading The Dark Tower series and actually really liking it overall (despite finding books 1, 3, and 5 pretty awful), I'd have my opinion of Stephen King re-adjusted by this sad collection of stories on TNT.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Scanners (Without Exploding Heads)

Tonight, I went to see the (as it turned out) very bizarre movie A Scanner Darkly. I hesitated to even mention it here, because I truly didn't know what I was going to say about it.

I didn't dislike the movie. At the same time, there's really only one thing about it I can point to and say I definitely liked about it -- Robert Downey Jr.'s performance. But even that was channeling Brad Pitt's character in 12 Monkeys much of the time. Actually, the acting in general wasn't bad, but you'd expect that this group of actors (quite known for real life drug problems) would be able to realistically bring "drug addicts" to life on the screen.

The story was hard to find any anchors in, and intentionally crafted to be that way to put the viewer in the same perspective as the central character. So you can chalk that up as a visceral and emotional success, while at the same time as a narrative disaster.

The rotoscope animation style in which the film is presented is either going to annoy you, or not impact on you in any way. If you're at all skeptical about this aspect of the film before seeing it, I suggest you don't. It's not at any point going to win you over. In fact, the animation quite calls attention to itself from time to time. Some moments are rendered so broadly they look like an amateur's paint-by-numbers portrait. Other moments have flashes so detailed that you think for an instant you're looking at real photography with no animation layered on top of it. And as with the disjointed approach to the storytelling, this inconsistency is also likely intentionally included to induce disorientation.

Lots of funny dialogue, but not often of the quotable variety, so don't feel like you need to see it to "join the club."

In short, if you'd noticed this movie, wanted to go, but just hadn't gotten around to it -- it's probably your thing, and you would get at least a little something out it. If you were on the fence, or unfamiliar with it, it's probably not for you.

Me, I give it a C+.