Saturday, September 30, 2006

Stupid iPod Tricks

You've all heard of the Magic 8 Ball, of course. Well, why use a cheap plastic sphere to tell your future when you can put your multi-hundred-dollar piece of technology to good use?! Try putting your MP3 player on random shuffle, asking your questions, pushing "forward," and trying to make sense of the answer.

Question: "Am I going to have a good week at work this week?" Answer: "Easy (Barenaked Ladies)"

Question: "Should I take that vacation I've been thinking about?" Answer: "Anakin and Group to Coruscant (John Williams)"

Loads of fun and confusion for the whole family, without the pesky "Ask Again Later."

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Latest in Weirdness

"Weird Al" Yankovic has a new album out this week, Straight Outta Lynwood.

"Weird Al" is one of the very few things from my childhood that seems just as funny and good to me now as it did then. It's 25 years later, but this guy is still making great music (in his original material), and showcasing a great sense of humor. There are certainly not many musicians with that history in the former category, and only a few more comedians in the latter category.

That said, every few years when Al does put out a new album, it makes me feel old. Back in the 80s, when a new record would hit (yes, I owned most of them on vinyl, not CD), I'd recognize every song he'd selected to parody, and most of the music referenced in his regular polka medleys. But with each new CD, I recognize less and less of the music he's tackling, and end up finding more and more enjoyment in the original material instead.

This time out, the only song I can truly claim to recognize is the parody of Green Day's American Idiot. I recognize most of the other names in the crosshairs -- Usher, R. Kelly, Taylor Hicks. But then there's Al's song White & Nerdy, a parody of Ridin' by Chamillionaire. Yes, for the first time ever with a "Weird Al" album, there's a parody of song I'd never heard from a musician I'd never heard of either.

When I was buying the CD tonight at Best Buy, a high-school-aged kid was ringing me up, sees the disc, and says, "oh, is this the one with the 10-minute R. Kelly song on there? Yes! This is awesome!" Kind of an unintentional back-handed compliment. I was buying an "awesome" CD, but not for this song I'd never heard.

So, yeah, these kids today are totally leaving me behind.

That said, I've listened to about half the CD so far, and it has been as great as all the others -- maybe more so -- even with my relative ignorance of pop music. A lot of the originals are "sound-alikes" of more (ugh... I suppose I have to say "classic") classic music that I do recognize. And the lyrics are very clever and completely hilarious regardless. I give it the big thumbs up.

...Or whatever the cool kids do these days to convey their approval.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Are you a fan of Lost? You think you're hardcore? Did you participate in The Lost Experience?

For the unaware who don't want to read through all of that wiki article, here's the deal in a nutshell. All summer long, pieces of a "Dharma Initiative" video (like those seen on the series) have been slowly gathered by fans, who have pieced together the data one bit at a time by jumping through some of the most ridiculous hoops imaginable:

Find the hidden messages in advertisements in Entertainment Weekly magazine.

Go to a particular spot in a particular city at a particular time and watch for a brief message to flash on a digital billboard.

Assemble info from inside the wrappers of a few select chocolate bars.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, those of us who watched in stunned amazement from the sidelines (or who were unaware) can now view the fruits of the crazy labor, without all the work.

Behold, the completed Dharma video, the newest chapter in the unfolding conundrum that is Lost:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When You Own a Large Table...

I like the game Carcassonne as much as the next guy. Maybe even a little more. But not when "the next guy" is one of these people over at BoardGameGeek. I don't even want to imagine how long this game took to play:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


That most famous of board games, popular despite being completely devoid of fun, is making news again. Monopoly is introducing its 217th new edition, the Here and Now edition. Apparently, they invited "millions of fans" to vote on what properties they thought would be placed on the Monopoly board had it been invented today.

It's not like you need much more proof that Americans can be pretty stupid when it comes to voting, but here you go.

Take the red properties, for example. We have DisneyWorld in Orlando, Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, and.... Camelback Mountain in Phoenix?

Over in the greens, we have the White House? Available for purchase, is it? Are there plans to bulldoze it to put up houses and hotels on that land? (I'll bet there would be some takers.)

And at the former locations of Boardwalk and Park Place, the most valuable properties in the game, we have all of Times Square and... Fenway Park in Boston? I'd say the Times Square mogul is getting a hell of a bargain.

Of course, I don't understand why this version is hopping all around the country anyway. The original Monopoly depicted streets in Atlantic City. If the game were really being released today, wouldn't it depict nothing but streets in some other well-traveled city? Las Vegas, maybe? Or... hey... here's a thought: Atlantic City! It's still there, you know.

Not that Monopoly was ever a game high on logic. Why am I hopping around town in a thimble when I've got $2,000 in my pocket? Why do I stay in other people's ridiculously overpriced hotels when I actually own the hotel next door?

German board games aren't the only ones sometimes thin on story.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday Roundup

Two new shows "rolled off the lot" tonight. The first, NBC's Heroes, did so with great fanfare. The other, the CW's (Canine Whistlers?) Runaway, arrived softly.

The best comparison I can make for Heroes is FX's summer series, The 4400. Both of them revolve around a group of unrelated characters suddenly developing "super powers." In both cases, the audience has been told that these people are destined to save the world. Both shows are played for realism, even though the concepts both crib from comic books (X-Men, chiefly). But there are two important differences between the two shows.

First, The 4400 has a built-in "MacGuffin" to build stories around -- the "superhumans" were all abducted over a period of decades, and miraculously returned all at once having experienced no passage of time; a pair of government investigators digs into their lives in every new episode. Heroes has no such underpinning. Apparently, these people are all simply undergoing random genetic mutation. And the only connections between any of them are happenstance intersections that could well be cribbed from flashbacks on Lost.

Second, The 4400 is consistently a very well written show that is unfortunately saddled with some bad acting. (Not across the board, but it's a decidedly mixed bag.) Heroes, on the other hand, has a fairly good pool of actors, but the writing was seriously lacking. Ridiculous situations, unengaging characters, cliche dialogue, predictable "plot twists" -- this first episode had it all.

All told, I'd much rather have the bad acting than the bad writing. I can't see picking up Heroes.

Meanwhile, Runaway was premiering on the CW. (Cowboy Whittlers?) The two actors at the center of this show are great -- Donnie Wahlberg was brilliant on Boomtown, and Leslie Hope was outstanding on 24 (even in a few moments when the plotlines -- amnesia? really? -- let her down). And the writing was generally better than Heroes as well.

But... I do have a complaint, and a concern. The complaint: for the 147th time, we got a clone of that moment from The Silence of the Lambs where the authorities show up at the wrong place, but we're supposed to think they're about to bust in on the criminals. The first time, it was worth an Oscar. By today? I think it's cause to have your Writer's Guild membership revoked.

As for the concern -- here we have another show with a shallow premise. A family is living together in hiding, as the father tries to clear his name of a murder he didn't commit. Unlike The Fugitive, or Prison Break, they're not on the run. They're trying to stay settled in one town. How many times can the "will they get caught this week? Naaah!" beat be played? (Maybe ask the writers of HBO's Big Love?) How deep can this conspiracy to frame the father possibly go, that many little clues could be doled out in different episodes?

In other words, even if the acting stays as good as it is, and the writers find some other Oscar-winning films to rip off, where is there to go? I'm not sure that I care to find out, given how Monday night is as packed as it is.

Because after all, Prison Break and Studio 60 were both great tonight.

Prison Break once again found away to play some great tension over "getting caught" even outside the prison walls. They left at a nasty cliffhanger that leaves you dying to see how they'll get out of it. There were great character moments as we got to see: Haywire return for the first time this season, Michael come seriously unraveled early in the episode as once again his careful plans were disrupted, T-Bag being utterly creepy. I don't mind the dramatic conceits that Sucre would just happen upon C-Note hitchhiking, because it gets the characters back together again. The show is not at its best with the cons all split up.

And Studio 60 was even better this week than last. While the ultimate payoff of the Gilbert & Sullivan parody was not itself very funny (especially compared to other moments in the episode), I accept that you can't always play these moments off screen (like the "Crazy Christians" sketch, which I guarantee would be funnier in your imagination than it would be on your television) -- you can't always just tease. In any case, the 40-odd minutes leading up to the song were wonderful.

I'm guessing most of you didn't watch all of these shows. (Who could blame you?) But I'm betting that with a "menu" this diverse, you probably caught at least one of them. Anyone have favorite (or least favorite) moments to share with the class?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sibling Rivalry

It's "new shows" week two (don't worry, the TV talk will taper off to a more regular level fairly soon), and tonight I sampled one more new show, Brothers & Sisters.

This is a family relationship drama, starring a pretty amazing cast. More than half of the regulars could probably be the lead in a show of their own -- or have been in the past. There's Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Ron Rifkin, Patricia Wettig, and several other recognizable faces that haven't quite hit big with long-term, successful series (despite good work in several).

Of course, a liability of having such a stellar cast is that you expect some truly phenomenal material to go with it. Unfortunately, this show doesn't quite have that. It's not bad. I'm interested to see at least another episode or two (which is more than I can say for most of this fall's new series so far). But I'm certainly feeling no instant love for this show, either. And, though it may not be fair, the bar here is set higher.

Basically, I'm either looking for quick improvement in the next episode or two, or a quick cancellation that frees these actors up for more work elsewhere.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Familiar Ring

Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, has recently finished one of his father's unfinished Middle-earth tales, The Children of Hurin. He's done it before with other stories, so there's nothing that unusual here. But I'm entertained by the quote he gave in this article.
"It has seemed to me for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of the 'Children of Hurin' as an independent work, between its own covers," Christopher Tolkien said.
The case would be... what? The New Line royalties on the films has now trickled off, and it's time to find a new source of income?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Now You See It; Now You Don't

Finally, a night off with no new TV shows premiering (of interest to me, anyway). That's Friday for you. (But Battlestar Galactica returns in just two weeks. That's the TV event I'm looking forward to more than any other.)

Given the gap, I thought I'd backtrack a bit and talk about the newly "remastered Star Trek." It's been a few weeks since I first mentioned it, and now it has actually begun. At some point during this past week (depending on when your local station carried it), the remastered version of Balance of Terror debuted.

I'm going to wait to form my own final judgment on this... teehee... enterprise after I see a few more episodes. But my early thoughts on it are that these updated versions are probably going to have something for everybody... to be annoyed by.

I'm sure there are people with an opinion between the two possible extremes here, but basically the two camps on this are: "why are they messing with this stuff?" and "wow, they could really update this and make it look really cool now!" And based on Balance of Terror, I think neither camp is going to be satisfied.

The "why are they messing with this camp" is probably breathing a sigh of relief when they compare images like this one of the Romulan warbird from the original version: this version from the "remaster":

Can you tell the difference? Well, not everyone can -- and very few people would know anything was up without seeing the images side by side. I played some tidbits of the new CG stuff in this episode for a couple of my friends who aren't Trek fans, and they had absolutely no idea. And really, if you hadn't watched this episode frame-by-frame like I did in my time at The Company, how the hell would you know? Purists, breathe easy -- no one is messing with your baby.

At least, so it seemed until the minor plot point in the episode about the Romulan ship and the Enterprise passing through the tail of a comet. Here's what that comet looked like originally:

...and here's how it looked in the remaster:

Now here, I think anybody could easily spot that there's stuff going on that wasn't possible for television in the 1960s. It was particularly striking in motion, watching the tail swirl with more subtle detail and realism than even the comet from the opening credits of Deep Space Nine. It looked pretty. And it stuck out like a sore thumb.

And herein lies the problem: consistency. Yes, some people don't want anyone to mess with the original. Others want to see these new CG artists to take full advantage of their modern equipment and serve up exciting new material. I say they need to figure out which group they're going to piss off, and go for it full tilt. Either make it look amazing, or don't bother.

I'd say three-quarters of the new effects (or more) in this remastered Trek episode were like the first example -- essentially indistinguishable to all but the incredibly geeky. Consequently, the other quarter or so that were like the second example looked all the more out of place.

We'll see if they achieve a more consistent look in future episodes -- starting with The Devil in the Dark in the coming week. (If you're curious about what lies ahead, the full schedule for an entire year is available at

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Musty TV"

Premiere week rolls on. Or, I should say, lumbers on, because there wasn't any new stuff tonight that excited me.

J.J. Abrams needs to be a little more selective about whoring his name out to dramas he's not deeply involved with. The cachet he built up with Felicity, Alias, and Lost took a little bit of a hit with What About Brian last spring (a show that critics generally didn't like, but that nevertheless is returning for a second season in a few weeks). I think it's taking an even bigger one with Six Degrees.

Six Degrees is a pure character-driven drama. As such, it needs to have characters capable of driving the viewer somewhere. Anywhere. But instead, I found them all completely uninteresting. I sat through about half the pilot, waiting for something to hook me, and I couldn't even finish the hour. Oh well, I guess J.J. Abrams is transitioning into movies now anyway.

In the same time slot over on CBS, James Woods was enjoying a healthy diet of scenery (as in, chewing it) in Shark, the 97th lawyer show on television right now. Like FOX's Justice, this is a show centered around a cranky-but-brilliant jerk-genius, in the mold of House. In both cases, the roles are being handled by deft actors (Victor Garber, in the other show's case).

...and in both cases, the shows surrounding them are merely average at best. Shark's plotting was predictable, and the courtroom theatrics were ridiculous (and not in a good, Boston Legal kind of way). Like Justice, I could see giving it one or two more episodes just from a desire to watch a good actor have fun with a flamboyant role. But, just like Justice, I imagine the one-note "symphony," even in the hands of even a gifted "musician," is just going to become monotonous. I've given up Justice already, and I think I'm not picking up Shark either.

The highlight of the night was instead a returning show from last season, as has been the case for me most of the week. Tonight's episode of The Office was just great. Laugh out loud funny, cringe-at-how-terrible-it-is awkward for the characters, cutting edge. This show has come so far since its rather lackluster first season, it's almost unbelievable.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Two Bombs -- Only One Intentional

I checked out two more new shows tonight, and once again, I'm not sure either of them is going to make a long-term dent in my schedule -- but for different reasons this time.

First up was Jericho, following the people of a small town in Kansas as they deal with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. I actually quite liked this first episode. In a way, it touched some of the vibes that the Battlestar Galactica mini-series hit (though, to be clear, not with the same exceptional quality). There was definite moodiness to the entire hour. There was a true sense of something terrible having taken place. And truly heroic moments were mixed with truly terrible ones. (Sure, Skeet Ulrich's character saved a school bus full of children -- but let's not forget the couple he killed earlier by smashing into their car.)

There are two troubles I see facing this show. The first is creative. Where does this story go from here? Is there going to be sustainable drama in watching these people trying to survive week after week? Lost is mining similar territory, in a way, but rather than focusing on the castaway's efforts to survive (they really seem to have no trouble in that regard), the show makes its drama out of the lives of the characters prior to the crash, and the mysteries of the island. There's nothing approaching that richer backdrop here.

The second trouble facing Jericho is one of marketing. A show about the apocalypse on prime time's lead-off hour? In the middle of the week? On CBS, the "families and older demographics" network? Maybe I shouldn't be worried that this story seems to have limited places to go.

Later, on NBC, I caught the pilot episode of Kidnapped. This one was just boring. It mined no new territory that hasn't been thoroughly tapped out by countless other television shows and movies. We had all the time-tested abduction cliches, from victimized parents delivering ridiculously overwrought monologues, to a bait-and-switch as a SWAT team closes in on a supposed location of the victim, and everything in between. Hell, we even had Delroy Lindo playing basically the exact same character he played in the movie Ransom. Yawn. I've seen all this before. And two weeks from now, it's going to be airing at the same time as The Nine. That all makes this show a no-brainer "opt out" for me.

So far this season, it looks like my TiVo will be thanking me for the extra rest.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

No New Tuesday "Appointments"

On the "TV front" tonight, the only new show I checked out was Smith. I doubt I'll be continuing. Much like The Class, it's not exactly "bad." But it's not exactly that good either.

Plenty of good actors on this show, but the whole played out less than the sum of the parts. This series is clearly going to revolve around "heists," and the one they mustered for this pilot couldn't match even mediocre episodes of Alias -- not in ingenuity, not in execution, not in plain ol' fun. Compounding that problem was a growing epidemic facing television writing: for the love of all that is holy, can we please call a cease fire on the whole "XX Hours Earlier" gimmick? It sapped nearly all the suspense from the (anti-)climactic sequence of the show!

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll spend my hour watching Boston Legal instead. (Which returned tonight as crazy and delicious as ever. Denny Crane!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

On With the Shows

"Premiere week" is here for most of the fall television shows, and it was a full slate tonight. I'm fresh from the TV screen and now at my computer screen, ready to spew my random thoughts about what I saw tonight.

First up was Prison Break. My love-nervousness relationship with this show continued this week.

On the love side, I'm still fascinated by the development of William Fichtner's character, Mahone. Every week, they paint him one more shade darker, and he becomes more interesting to watch. T-Bag remains the one of the most creepy, infuriating, and entertaining characters on television. As per usual, he got the best line of the night: "I'd have tattooed it to my body, but I didn't have the time." It was great to see so many of the escapees interacting once again, as they did back in season one. And suspense-wise, there were some good moments of tension with Tweener, C-Note, and Sucre all facing brushes with "almost caught."

On the nervousness side, they're careening towards this "loot in Utah" plot point at breakneck speed, and it's not entirely clear where the story has to go after it gets there. It's the same nervousness I've felt throughout this season, wondering if the show will be as good as it was in the first season. And so far, it's been pretty close, so you'd think the nervousness would have gone away by now. I guess that's just one more facet to the fun tension of watching Prison Break.

Second up was the return of How I Met Your Mother, the only watchable comedy on CBS. (It's actually quite a lot better than just "watchable," too.) I don't really have much to say here, because I recognize that as silly as it may be to spend so much time watching and talking about television, it's sillier still to talk about the ongoing plot of a sitcom. (Although you could with this sitcom.) Suffice to say, it's back, and still funny. Add to the weird stupidity of this year's Emmy nominations the fact that Neil Patrick Harris didn't get noticed for his role here.

Incidentally, I say that HIMYM is "only watchable comedy" on CBS, taking into account tonight's premiere of The Class before it. It's been available for sneak previewing on TiVo for a week, and, while not bad, there's nothing that great about it either. Its creative and directorial pedigree includes folks involved with Friends, Cheers, and more, but it doesn't really show any of that brilliance. Given how many great shows are on TV these days, there's no need to make room for one this mediocre.

And speaking of "great shows," the club got one larger tonight with the premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I tuned in, hoping for a proud continuation of Aaron Sorkin's brilliant work on Sports Night and The West Wing, and I was not disappointed. (In fact, they even stole the type face from The West Wing for their credits.) The writing was excellent; the dense discussions of censorship, politics, religion, and other such weighty matters was provocative; the acting was top notch. If any other new fall shows had to be this good for me to start watching them, I probably wouldn't be adding any to my rotation. (Which for me, might not be so bad.)

Anybody else out there have Monday night favorites (new or old) they want to share with the group?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Race Begins

The tenth installment of The Amazing Race began tonight, and to... well, I don't know, I guess "spice things up a little," some of my friends decided to have a pool on the outcome this time around.

It came about when I was looking in TV Guide's Fall Preview issue last week, and there was a picture of all 12 teams in the back. All you could see was their tiny little faces, their names, and the quick one or two word description of their relationship: "Best Friends," "Father and Daughter," "Dating," etc. I was commenting with another Amazing Race fan that I thought you could just take one look at that picture and instantly tell which teams were going to place in the top four.

The trouble was, she basically agreed with me. Not much of a pool if everyone wanted to take the same teams. So we did a random draw. Everybody pulled a number from a hat, and then we assigned teams to everyone based on the order the teams were introduced in the first episode.

It worked out that I drew number 10, which translated to Tyler and James, one of the three teams I'd identified in the cast photo as most likely to succeed. I found out in the first few minutes that they were recovered drug addicts (I don't know whether you'd count that a plus or a minus), that they were both models (ugh), and both a bit conceited (like Eric and Jeremy from last season). But then, they did take first place in tonight's episode, so I guess so far, I've gotta like my chances of winning in this pool.

As for the Race itself? Well, based on just the one episode, I can only draw a few quick conclusions. I don't think there are any instantly likeable teams like the last installment of the Race had (except for Peter and Sarah, I suppose). There are so many teams that look destined to fail (compared to usual) that trying to guess who is going to go out next is a bit of a challenge. I feel like I could divide the pack into thirds (who will be out early, middle, or there until the end), but beyond that... it's anybody's guess. And I'm very curious to see more of these "surprises" Phil promised at the start of the Race. We're off to a juicy start there with an elimination that took out a team before they could even complete a full episode. Yikes.

And, of course, I'm cheering on my druggies.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hello Dahlia

This afternoon, I went to see The Black Dahlia. The movie-going experience was great. The movie? Not so much.

As for the experience... this was the first time in over a year I got to go to the movies with Shocho and LWC, who are still in the unpacking process, but nevertheless starting to feel more like Colorado residents. It was a nice old tradition to return to.

In addition, because I was showing off "things about Denver" to them, we went to the movie at the Continental Theater. It's an enormous, four-story tall, curved screen theater that seats over 800, the place to see a "movie meant for the big screen." Over the years, I've seen Terminator 2, the classic Star Wars trilogy, Independence Day... really, more "big screen" movies than I can even remember, on this screen. The Black Dahlia, of course, is not really that kind of movie. But the new Denver residents needed to see it anyway. And strangely, I realized today that despite having been back in town for over 18 months, I had not been to the Continental myself in several years. So I needed to go too.

But... as I said, the movie was not so great. It was absolutely the epitome of a classic film noir detective story -- or at least, what someone like me (who hasn't seen many, but who has a pretty clear mental image of what they're supposed to be like in terms of character, style, and dialogue) thinks of as "film noir" style. Every frame of this movie looked like a million bucks and days of thought had gone into it. The dialogue dripped with the trappings of film noir, complete with "hard-boiled detective narration" (though at times, overdone, even for the genre).

Director Brian de Palma, notorious for incredibly self-conscious camera work, does a better job here of hiding his art in the art of the genre. Still, there are a few conspicuous uses of long, crane-cam "oners" (lengthy sequences shot in a single take with no cuts), and jarring uses of a split diopter (a special lens that is capable of presenting two different things on screen at two different distances from the camera in perfect focus simultaneously).

But even if you like film noir (and/or Brian de Palma's cinegymnastics), style will only get you so far. For me, this movie fell down for lack of an interesting plot. It crawled along at a pace that made Hollywoodland look brisk by comparison. I actually was dangerously close to nodding off once or twice, when a sudden loud noise in the film jarred me back to attention.

One point to be praised, at least, is that the story did take a strong stance on what it believed was the solution to a real-life unsolved crime. Hollywoodland tried to present multiple versions of the truth and "leave it to you to decide" what you believed -- and came out watered down for it. No such problem here.

Still, I really can't give very high praise to a movie that nearly put to me to sleep. Though the elements of the equation were quite different between this movie and Hollywood, it still adds up to the same result: I give The Black Dahlia a D+.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dumber Than Advertised

I don't understand this recent trend with DVD box sets of complete seasons of TV shows: they get elaborate names like "Desperate Housewives Season 2: The Extra Juicy Edition" or "Lost Season 2: The Extended Experience." There's no other version of these things out there. So what the hell? "Extra Juicy" as compared to what? "Extended Experience" as compared to what?

What kinds of people were on the fence about buying these DVDs, and were pushed over the edge when they thought to themselves "oh, well, if it's extra juicy, I have to go for it!!!" ??

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Survivors Ready! Go!

I've noted in the past that Survivor is one of the junkiest of the "junk food TV" shows on the air, but that the group dynamic of having friends to watch the show with keeps pulling me along. Well, tonight's premiere of the new Cook Islands edition (or, as it's much more fun to call it, "racist Survivor") was the most fun Survivor has been in a long time.

First, they got some quality mileage from the segregation gimmick, with many of the teams making cheeky remarks about their own groups (though, as of yet, rarely about the other tribes). But more importantly, there seemed to be more interesting personalities in this group of castaways than the show has had in several seasons. From the "tree-climbing Mowgli" to the "tribe that's only good at snuggling and losing chickens" to the "I need a break from all that failing to build a fire" to the "red forehead dot of healing," all buoyed by the largest crowd I've had at my place for Survivor since its very first season (six guests), it was a laugh riot.

And don't forget the most awesome Tribal Council set the show has ever had. That pirate ship totally kicks ass.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Casting "Day 6"

If you want to remain completely, 100% unspoiled about the upcoming sixth season of 24, then turn away now. I hope by now you know I generally try to avoid spoilers, so it should be clear I'm not giving away much if I say I'm not giving away anything I myself regret knowing. Still, fair warning. I'm going to name drop a few actors who have been cast to appear next year in new roles.


The news broke this week that Jack Bauer's father will be appearing next season, played by James Cromwell (of Babe, Star Trek: First Contact, and many more). Maybe not as fun as stunt casting Donald Sutherland would have been, but still a fine actor for a choice role.

But even more exciting to me (since the name of my blog is largely inspired by this guy), Eddie Izzard will be appearing in some sort of "bad guy" role. Frankly, knowing any more than that would be more than I would want to know. I'm psyched enough as it is. Not that I'm expecting him to start mugging to the camera about Englebert Humperdinck or beekeeping... but it still ought to be a fun ride. I hope he lasts a few episodes before Jack Bauer or some higher-up-in-the-conspiracy villain kills him.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Their Fire Has Gone Out of the Universe

I think it's pretty much official -- the love is totally gone.

Today, the new (old) version of the Star Wars trilogy was released on DVD, as George Lucas originally swore not to do (until he decided he wanted the money). I saw it in the store when I made my fairly regular Tuesday stop for new stuff... but I was there for Season 2 of The Office. And the new Barenaked Ladies CD.

I felt absolutely no pull whatsoever to buy the Star Wars DVDs. And I think I was a little surprised.

After all, I still went to see the prequel movies in the theater, despite my disappointment in each and every one. Of course they soured me on Star Wars. But I would have assumed I'd still muster a little excitement for the original trilogy in its original form.

I mean, I'm the guy that owns two copies of Ferris Bueller's Day Off on DVD, only because when they did the "special edition" version last year, they didn't put the John Hughes director's commentary from the first release on it. I kept both so I could have all the features.

I have the original one disc DVD of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, as well as the 2-disc special edition, only because in the 2-disc version they put 3 minutes of scenes back into the film that weren't part of the theatrical version -- and there's no option to view the original film.

So you see, I can be a pretty completist nutcase when it comes to movies I like.

But I didn't want to buy Star Wars again. It's not out of any great protest I'm aspiring to, refusing to give George Lucas another dollar, or anything like that. I just wasn't really interested anymore. The love is gone.

Is anyone else feeling as I do? Did anyone actually spring for the new (old) DVD versions of the trilogy? If you did, are you keeping the old (new, meaning "futzed with") versions?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Call Mulder and Scully recently ran this article, talking about the persistence of conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks.

It's not a terrible article, but I certainly don't need that many words to tell you "Why the Conspiracy Theories Won't Go Away." It's because nearly all the big historical events have conspiracy theories surrounding them. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate. (In the proper ratios, anyway.) Conspiracies about the moon landing and the JFK assassination have had traction for decades. Why should it be surprising that some 9/11 conspiracies would still be floating around five years on?

And though I said the Time article isn't bad, I did find one particular nugget in it a little sloppy:
A Scripps-Howard poll of 1,010 adults last month found that 36% of Americans consider it "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that government officials either allowed the attacks to be carried out or carried out the attacks themselves.
That's a rather imprecisely worded question. What exactly is meant by "allowed the attacks to be carried out"? Because if that means "had knowledge, but took no action," well then certainly I would think the infamous Condoleezza Rice testimony about the "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" briefing would be enough to put more than 36% of Americans in doubt.

But anyway.... drifting afield of the main point, which is: it's almost not a modern historic event without at least one accompanying conspiracy theory.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Amas De Casa Desperadas

You know all those cliche, over-the-top, Spanish-language soap operas? Well, now the U.S. is responsible for creating some. Behold the cast of the Argentinian version of Desperate Housewives:

Apparently, a single duplicate of the Wisteria Lane stages has been built near Buenos Aires, and is being used to simultaneously shoot clones of the show for Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador. (Here's an article about it, but it's on ABC news, and so marketing/press-releasey it's disgusting.)

Now, I'm well aware that the hit American TV shows always get dubbed over in countless languages and exported to other countries. And I'm also aware that other countries try to remake hit US shows for local audiences. (Coupling, for example, was essentially the UK's version of Friends. Making it all the more bizarre that we ever tried to re-import that.) But I can't think of any other examples that sound like this -- where a television series is being remade essentially plot-for-plot, week after week, for another country.

What's up with that? What could one read into this? That South America would rather go to all this trouble than look at the faces of Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, and Eva Longoria? That's messed up.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The "S" is for "Sleepytime"

This evening, I went to see the movie Hollywoodland, the story of the death of Superman actor George Reeves: suicide, or murder?

If you decide to go see this (which, as you'll see, I don't recommend), it's important you get your expectations in order. The movie trailer makes this look like a suspense thriller, or a hard-boiled crime story. It's neither. It's an essentially an art house docudrama with an unusually high-profile cast, and a lot more emphasis on the "docu" than the "drama." In short, this movie is ploddingly slow-paced.

I went with three friends, and we all talked about what we'd seen over dinner afterward, and it seemed as though we each had different (and I think, all completely viable) feelings about what was wrong with the movie.

One line of thought was that the film suffered from an inability to have an "ending." It's based on a true story, and ambiguities remain as to the nature of George Reeves' death. Other movies based on true events deal with unknowns by forging ahead and taken a single, concrete stand on what they're going to show as "the truth." This movie plays the options, and so to some comes off as a bit aimless.

My line of thought was that the alternate death theories were actually the most interesting thing about the movie. Spread throughout the film as they are, they were actual the "tent poles" of the piece that rekindled my interest. Unfortunately, between them are 30-45 minute chunks of material that puts the viewer to sleep.

As to which of that material was the boring stuff, it depends on who you ask. Some in my group thought there was too much biographical scene-setting in the backstory of George Reeves, introducing more characters than needed to tell the tale. Others of us thought the interlaced story of the private investigator played by Adrien Brody was the mismatched element, dragging focus away from the more compelling flashbacks.

In the end, there were only about two things we could agree on. One, more of the film is boring than not (we're just not in agreement on which were the boring parts). Two, Ben Affleck actually gives a very good performance -- some would say his first in a long, long while. But that performance alone is not enough to recommend seeing the film in theaters, and it would be a quite iffy proposition for later viewing on DVD. If you have a comfortable couch, I'd defy you to stay awake all the way to the end.

This is a D+ movie.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Want Some Poo Squares?

Maybe it's South Park conjuring images of Mr. Hankey in my mind, but I cannot fathom how this commercial is supposed to make me want to order the new "Brownie Squares" from Domino's Pizza:

(The audio is totally messed up for the first half of this YouTube video, but it's the only copy available at present. Anyway, it's the visuals creeping me out more than the audio.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Join The Resistance

If you're a fan of Battlestar Galactica (and if you're not, why the hell not?), you need to be heading over to the Sci Fi Channel's web site with all due haste. A series of 10 original four-minutes mini-episodes, titled "The Resistance," is being rolled out every Tuesday and Thursday from now until the early October premiere of the third season. Once finished, it will basically amount to an entire extra episode of the show! Not to mention that anything that cuts down on the agonizing wait for new Galactica is a Good Thing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hail the Sunshine

Sunday was actually an "independent film" double feature for me and my friends, as we followed The Illusionist with Little Miss Sunshine.

Little Miss Sunshine is a pretty simple little movie, but a really, really good one. The six actors in the family at the center of the movie are all perfect. Plus, some familiar faces from various TV shows pop up in small roles throughout.

The movie is laugh out loud funny. Well, at least it certainly is for the first half. And I'm not sure that it stopped being funny in the second half, but the way I was reacting to the movie certainly changed.

The thing is, there's a hell of a lot of personal tragedy happening to this family in the course of this movie. It's played for comedy, but there came a point where I reacted far more to the sadness of it all. And after that, I came unraveled emotionally for a bit. By the third major blow to this family, I actually was more on the verge of tears than laughter. (I'll talk about all this more in the comments, in spoiler-ific detail for those who have seen the movie. I hope not to reveal too much here for those who haven't.)

It's basically my main requirement to liking a movie that it make me feel something. The stronger the feelings, the more I like the movie. It can be a tragedy evoking great sadness, or a comedy keeping me in stitches, a thriller or an adventure keeping me tense and excited, or a clever tale intriguing me with its twist and turns. So, by this criteria, this movie really took me on a ride.

And the ending is perfect. I hope this isn't giving away too much, but I'll simply say that there isn't really any ultimate resolution for the heap of troubles visited on this family. Instead, they simply have one massive, cathartic moment together where they just let it all go. Nothing is solved, but presumably they've found whatever "reserves" they need to jump back into life and keep going.

I give this movie an A. However, I'm not quite sure it cracks the top 100 list -- which is a further clue that I need to go back at some point here and really tweak the top 100 list, particularly the bottom quarter. There are some A- movies hanging out around there that probably shouldn't be.

But that's a matter for another time. For now, I'm recommending Little Miss Sunshine.

Monday, September 04, 2006

End of the Hunt

As many of the other bloggers have noted already, Steve Irwin was killed this morning by a stingray.

Some have noted that it's perhaps not that unexpected that the Crocodile Hunter would be killed in an accident involving an animal. Others have noted that he died doing what he loved, that he essentially would have wanted to go this way. But I have to wonder if both of those observations are a little off the mark.

Sure, Steve Irwin was poking and prodding things full of teeth and venom for years and years. But he was ultimately killed by a stingray. In the broad spectrum of nasty nature, this actually ranks on the relatively benign side. It's been said this is only the third confirmed death by a stingray in Australia, ever.

So... does that make it neater and more special somehow, that a man of extreme adventure and notoriety was killed in a highly unusual way? Or is a sad letdown of sorts that it wasn't one of those poisonous snakes, or most fittingly, a crocodile, that got to him?

And perhaps just as importantly, am I a completely morbid and insensitive bastard for even posing a question like this?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cinema Magic

This afternoon, I went to see The Illusionist. I've found that most people I've talked to have never heard of this movie, so here's the nutshell description:

Edward Norton plays a stage magician at the turn of the century in Vienna. You are at times meant to wonder whether everything he does is truly just an act, or whether he does actually possess supernatural powers. He is in love with a woman (Jessica Biel), and this brings him into conflict with the Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell, of Dark City), who dispatches a police inspector (Paul Giamatti) to deal with him.

It's definitely an "independent film" in the vein of the most classic expectations conjured up by that term. Slow pacing. Lush scenery. Heavy emphasis on performance by the actors. Everything but Eddie Izzard's "arranging matches" scene.

The film is not outstanding, but it is good. And, as performances are king in movies of this sort, it is helpful that the performances here are quite good -- though not in a "showy" sort of way. The main flaw in the movie is that it telegraphs information to the audience too clearly. It takes too seriously the old adage that "that which becomes important in act three must be glimpsed by the audience in act one or two." That's an adage I completely believe in, by the way. But there's an unfortunate lack of subtlety here, and any regular movie-goer will likely reason out the entire course of the story by a little after the halfway mark.

Sometimes, though, getting exactly what you expect is not a bad thing. So I give the film a B-. I don't expect this will make any critic's "top 10 list" come year's end, but there's certainly a lot of good work here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Factory Disincentives

This week, Dance Factory was released for the PS2. This is the game I mentioned a while back, that allows you to use your own CDs to dance to. Put in any disc, it spends about a minute analyzing a song and generating dance steps for it, then you're on with the stepping.

Here's the breakdown:

On the good side, the "step generation" actually does work, and not too badly. You really need to be using music that has a strong, regular beat to it. Given that, it'll correctly find the rhythm more than half the time, and generate a dance-able pattern.

Try to use music that's a little more complex, or that's missing a strong beat throughout, and you get mixed results. It'll be right on target for big chunks of the song, and then just lose the rhythm in obnoxious ways. But realistically, who could have expected it to work for every song? It works better than I expected it to. I mean... take a look at your music collection, think about the "dance music" in there, and assume that more than half of is going to work pretty well. That's a whole lot more music than DDR ever offers, and none of it is that maddeningly annoying J-Pop. So here, Dance Factory earns a big mark in the plus column.

On the so-so side is the actual step patterns. They're usually possible, but they're not always completely sensical. It's amazing enough that a program can find the beat and generate the steps. It can't really analyze the structure of a song. though. It can't recognize "this is a verse, that's a chorus, and that's a bridge." So you won't get some of the fun repetitions in patterns of a human-generated step pattern. You won't get "verse B" being like "verse A," but with variations. Instead, you'll often get a pattern that stops mid-verse in favor of something new. It's not a "bad thing," really, but it does make you appreciate the human-generated patterns in ways you probably never did before.

But, on the bad side, the art team on this game needs to be taken out and shot. There are four major strikes in the "look" of this game:

1) The arrows are not compressed onto half the screen, as in DDR and In the Groove. They run the full width of the picture. In this day and age, it's foolish not to design for people with big-screen TVs and/or 16:9 aspect ratios. This layout is bad for both. When a "left-right" jump comes, depending on the steps immediately before it, you may not see one of the arrows.

2) The backgrounds during the dances are horrible. There are more than two dozen to choose from, but each is worse than the last. They're all too busy, too full of movement, and in many cases colored too closely to the arrows themselves. You can easily lose track of the arrows -- the whole point of the game.

3) In both DDR and In the Groove, the dance arrows are laid out in the order: Left-Down-Up-Right. For no possible reason I can think of, Dance Factory has reversed the Down and Up arrow placement. I was having a bout of "up/down dyslexia" that I could not understand, until it finally dawned on me. If you've played a lot of DDR, then the "proper" arrow order is subconsciously etched in your brain. When you really focus, you can get the transposition here right. But if you hit a complex pattern of steps and start to go on auto-pilot for even a second, you're screwed. And like I said, I can't think of any reason why they would have changed this for this game.

4) There is no option to change the color of the arrows. I have both my DDR and In the Groove configured to display quarter notes in red, eighth notes in blue, and sixteenth notes in yellow (or green, depending on the game). Here, all arrows are a psychedelic morphing red-blue-green. They'll rotate colors somewhat differently depending on whether they're falling on or off the beat, but it's not easy to tell what's going on.

Unfortunately, when the analysis is all done, the bad things about this game far outweigh the good. Sure, Dance Factory broadens my steppin' possibilities by literally hundreds, if not thousands of songs. But I can't really have that much fun playing them, because the visual layout of the game makes it harder to play than it should be, in almost every respect.

Now, I already have more untouched video games piled up than I'll ever hope to complete. My usual policy with new games is to just take note of things I'm interested in upon release, wait for the price to drop to $20 (as they usually do around six months later), and then pick them up. If I had done that for Dance Factory, I might have felt it worth that $20. But buying it new like I did? I should have done what I normally do.

I might still give it the recommendation for people who are actually not big DDR enthusiasts. I say this under the theory that a lot of my interface complaints may not be as big a deal to someone not so familiar with the way it's "usually" done." For the veterans, though, I say rent first and decide for yourself.

...especially considering that in just a few weeks, official DDR games are being released for both PS2 and Xbox.

In short, if you are a "dance step writer" for the real DDR franchise, don't worry. Your job is not really in jeopardy.

Friday, September 01, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood...

A few of my readers have no doubt been following the great cross-country adventures of Shocho and LWC.

Shocho is a former co-worker from my Virginia-based days, who as of Tuesday will once again be my co-worker. I'm quite happy about this. LWC is, well, his lovely wife. I'm just as happy to have her back in my neighborhood again.

They both arrived safe and sound in their new place today, though bereft of their stuff -- the moving truck was delayed, and is not expected to arrive until next Thursday. And their cable and internet is not expected to be hooked up until... ugh... next Sunday. Some crap about the three-day weekend, a big influx of college students to the area at this time of year, bla bla bla.

So they're going to be "roughing it" a bit. Fortunately, my own family has a nice air mattress I was able to loan to them. (Some of you who have visited me have used the very same mattress.)

Anyway, the bottom line is: they're here, and fine, though you may not be hearing about it from Shocho himself for a time... unless someone's bleeding a wireless connection somewhere near his place, or he wants to give you an update from my place sometime.

If you don't know who either of these people are, well... sorry. Your loss. Anyway, I'll return to my regularly-scheduled inane blather tomorrow.