Thursday, November 30, 2006

From the Window of the Nike Store

Seriously? Does anyone actually need shoes to match their iPod? Or an iPod to match their shoes? I say we've taken accessorizing too far.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Groundhog Taye

I'm actually making this post on Thursday the 30th, not Wednesday the 29th. Technical issues kept me from posting this last night like I wanted to. But given the subject matter, I figured I'd go ahead and date it yesterday anyway.

I've got a little to say about the new TV series Day Break, starring Taye Diggs. You've probably seen the ads, even if you haven't watched it -- this is the show about a police officer framed for a murder, who is re-living the same day over and over again.

It's not one of the great new shows of the season, nor one of the worst. Actually, given the ratings it's been pulling in, it's probably very soon going to be one of the most cancelled series of the season. It's likely just one serial drama too many (and launched two months after most of the others, on top of it), and thus people aren't giving it a chance. Which is a shame, because I find myself quite enjoying it.

It's a strange thing, but it's actually the technique of the writing I'm most enjoying. They have their premise of re-living the same, single day over and over again. And they're doing a truly remarkable job of identifying trouble spots with that premise and addressing them.

For example, in the movie Groundhog Day (played for comedy, of course), Bill Murray's character goes through a suicidal phase where he just kills himself over and over again. In this TV series, one potential dramatic pitfall would be that there are no lasting "stakes" for the hero. If he's out to solve this mystery, he could just rush into any danger in his search for clues -- even danger that might get him killed -- knowing that he'll just wake up the next day, safe and sound, and hopefully wiser for what he's learned.

The writers tackled this issue very early on, by establishing that whatever physically happens to the main character actually carries over as he begins the day again. In one episode, he's shot and loses a lot of blood. In the next iteration of the day, he doesn't even wake up -- his girlfriend awakens to find him unconscious and bleeding from the bullet wound, and has to rush him to the hospital. Must have consequences, and can't have an invincible hero. Check.

Another issue that worked fine in Groundhog Day (again, because it's a comedy, and a movie that only need sustain itself for under two hours) was that the main character slowly built up a "laundry list" of the perfect day he had to go through. He had to be in place X by a certain time to do a certain thing, then place Y by a certain time to do a certain other thing, and so on.

That would be very impractical for a TV series for several reasons. First, episodes would just gather more and more fluff -- uninteresting motions the character has to go through just because he learned in previous incarnations that they were the right things to do. Furthermore, each such encounter that involved a new guest actor would just continue to bloat the list of actors needed to tell the story of each successive episode.

This problem was addressed in last night's installment. After multiple failed attempts by the main character to safely separate his partner from her drug-addicted boyfriend, he finally succeeded in one iteration of the day, saving both their lives. And then, when the next day began, his partner actually behaved differently. She called him, out of the blue, to say she woke up with the feeling that she needed to get her boyfriend into rehab. In short, we learned that not only can each new iteration of the day affect the main character, but each new iteration he does "correctly" can have a lasting effect on others in future iterations. Gone is the need for a laundry list, or the need for the monotony of the "re-living the day" concept.

As I said, the show has been getting dismal ratings. At this rate, it's not likely to still be around by Christmas. But for however long it lasts, I'll remain very interested to see how the writers diagnose and repair other pitfalls in their "feels more like a movie than a TV series" concept.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Say Hi to Stranger

More "movie catch-up" for the weekend took me to see Stranger Than Fiction, or as Shocho calls it, "The Harold Crick Movie."

I've always had a very polarized opinion about Will Ferrell. This is because there are basically two different Will Ferrells. One of them is very funny, whether putting on a character or just playing it "straight." The other is "naked Will Ferrell." Too often, he seems to resort to taking his clothes off to try to generate laughs. Others may find that funny for some strange reason, but not me. Actually, Will Ferrell's percentage of funny and likeable is inversely proportional to the percentage of his body covered in clothing.

Fortunately, this movie did not star the naked Will Ferrell. It starred the funny one. Not that he's really delivering the lion's share of the humor in this one. Actually, that honor would go to Dustin Hoffman. A very funny and quirky character was written on the page, and he lifted even more out of it. It's a truly outstanding comedic performance.

Some critics have referred to the movie itself as "Charlie Kaufman lite," saying it aspires to that writer's bizarre and brilliant movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But I don't really think this movie aspires to be surreal throughout like those other movies -- it just happens to have a surreal premise. I don't mind that it's not completely wacky, and I think anyone who was expecting that had incorrectly set their expectations.

Also, some critics have been down about the ending. But I think they're really off the mark. It's difficult to say much without giving things away, but put simply, the ending has an interesting statement to make about the technique of storytelling. And while it does resolve the story conclusively, it poses a very interesting question to the audience at the same time: which ending to this story would be the best one? In a way, you're asked if you want to "choose" an alternative ending to the story, and I think people who do are reacting to the material in a very interesting way of their own.

This is by no means a laugh-riot you should drop everything to see. But it did keep me smiling, and it actually provoked some conversation among my friends after leaving the theater. That's something a comedy rarely does (beyond simply repeating favorite jokes to one another).

I suppose in that respect, maybe it is a little like a "Charlie Kaufman lite" after all.

I give it a B-.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Break Out

Prison Break's "fall finale" aired tonight, and the show didn't quite go out on the best possible note. It wasn't a "bad" episode, but it didn't deliver a cliffhanger to wait on pins and needles over, like the mid-first-season and end-of-first-season cliffhangers did.

I'm curious as to why the episode didn't just end about 20 seconds sooner. The gun standoff between Mahone, Kellerman, and the brothers could have been a really tense place to leave things. You'd spend the break wondering how the brothers would escape -- would Mahone turn on Kellerman, would Kellerman turn on Mahone, would the brothers outsmart the both of them? Instead, we get to see the "resolution," and are left with too much comfort in knowing the direction of the show when it returns in January.

The T-Bag plot was a... heh-heh, mixed bag. It's always fun to watch just how charming and creepy he can be, as he was with the post office worker. But now that he has found the woman who sent him to prison, what are we in for next episode -- scene after scene of torture? Anything too quick would seem a cop-out for a confrontation some twenty episodes in the making, yet anything too drawn out probably wouldn't be anything close to entertaining to watch.

Then there was the Bellick plot. I know Prison Break is probably the most escapist, fanciful show on television (even more so than 24), and so I'll forgive a lot. It's fun to see Bellick get a come-uppance, but the terms in which it was delivered are simply ridiculous. We're supposed to accept that a former prison guard would be sentenced to serve time in the same prison he once guarded? We're supposed to accept that a new warden trying to establish a good reputation would throw a former guard as an inmate into the general population? You can guarantee that guard would get shanked inside of a week, and then how great is the warden going to look? It makes no sense whatsoever, and I'm not even sure I can accept it in service of the narrative opportunities it presents. (Namely, getting the show back into the prison that started it all, and providing the opportunity to see some of the old characters from season one again.) It just seems like too great a stretch to me.

That said, there were things to like in this episode. Sarah seemed to smartening up a bit more, Linc and Michael had some good moments of brotherly rapport, and Mahone continued to unravel (and in doing so, continued to become even more menacing and dangerous). I'll be glad when this show returns in January -- I just don't feel I've been left waiting for that moment holding my breath.

Interesting, I'm finding my love for Studio 60 has tapered off a bit too. Now that the show has its full season order and I don't have to worry from week to week whether the episode I just saw is the last one I'll ever see, I don't feel as much pressure to lap it up greedily as "the Aaron Sorkin show" on the air.

Don't get me wrong. I still love it. I still think Aaron Sorkin should always have some TV show on the air, as long as he wants to be making one. But now I find myself looking at the show more objectively. It's still great. It's still "can't miss" for me. I'll still want it on DVD when they put out a season (series?) box set down the road. But realistically, it's not as good as either Sports Night or The West Wing were in year one.

Though granted, that's a high bar to clear.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Good Movies Go Bad

I've been using the extra-long weekend afforded by Thanksgiving to catch up on a few movies. Last week, I saw Deja Vu, the new Denzel Washington movie.

It may or may not be apparent to some of you who have seen the trailer or commercials for this movie, but this story is science fiction disguised as a mainstream movie. This isn't like Groundhog Day or something, where explanations for the warping of time aren't even mentioned -- no, they lay a lot of expositional pipe to justify the time-tripping MacGuffin at the heart of this movie. I don't know that it's really necessary, and it certainly felt out of place in a Denzel Washington movie, but at least they cram it all in in about three minutes, and then continue on with the movie.

As for that movie... what a letdown. I say that, because the first half is absolutely great. A+ material. Everyone I went to see it with was completely in agreement with this. There's a sequence near the middle of the movie involving a helmet (that'll be enough for people who've seen it to know exactly what I'm talking about, while tipping nothing for those who haven't) -- everything up to and including this sequence was on course to be perhaps the best movie of the year.

Everything after that was complete, non-sensical crap. They veer off the spirit of the concept, start violating the "rules" set-up in this narrative, and abandon everything for obnoxious, paper-thin allegories to recent real-life acts of terrorism as they plow their way to a stupid Hollywood ending.

It came as no surprise to me to look on IMDB after the fact and learn that there are two writers credited on this movie. This is one of the clearest cases of one writer re-writing another's draft that I can ever recall seeing. I'd wager the "splice" comes right at the halfway mark, where a new writer was brought in to give the studio the changes it wanted to the ending.

If only the movie had stayed the course, it would have been an easy A. As it stands... I think it rates around a C+. I almost want to recommend that people see it anyway (on video, at least) so they can know just what I'm talking about, and appreciate the movie that might have been here.

I'm going to get SPOILERY now, so those of you who haven't seen it and don't want to know more, it's time to go. For the rest of you, here's the exact nature of my complaint.

The movie starts out with the premise that it's only possible to observe the past, not travel into it. That's just a neat way to tell a mystery story. Then they start to violate that premise just a bit by allowing small objects (a hand-written note) to be sent back in time. I was starting to get nervous at this point, but then it turned out that the note they sent back trying to change the past only resulted in the main charcater's partner getting killed, as we'd already learned he had been. That suggested a neat "pre-destined paradox" that would have also been interesting to see -- how did these investigators actually end up causing the tragedy they're trying to prevent?

But then the wheels came off the wagon -- they sent Denzel Washington's character back into the past. And sure, it made for a few neat explanations after the fact (like how certain clues earlier in the movie came to be there), but it totally messed up the nature of the story. The investigation was no longer limited in how it could pursue the solution to the mystery. The constraints that had made this tale different from other time travel-ish stories were completely lifted, and so it became just like all the other time travel-ish stories.

Worse than those stories, actually, because this story's internal logic fell apart after the main character journied to the past. The evidence he'd been at the apartment "the first time around" was explained by his arrival "the second time around," except that the second time around, he goes on to save the girl and save the day! If indeed he did that, and the evidence shows he was there "the first time around," then how did the explosion even happen the first place?

All just to get to a lame Hollywood ending where DW gets the girl and lives happily after. Damn. Whichever writer wrote the first half, my hat's off to you. To the other -- shame on you.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sunday Mass

After putting up with the no-good pancakes and other breakfast offerings of the hotel last weekend, I decided to quest in search of the "real thing," and found an IHOP nearby. It was the last morning of my trip, and a Sunday, so the place was pretty busy. Still, it didn't take long to just get a table for one.

When they start to show me the way to the table, I get asked a question I would never have expected to be asked at an IHOP: "Is it alright if you're on the second floor?"

Second floor? A two story IHOP? Sure enough, they take me up a flight of stairs (after asking me first if I'd prefer to use the elevator instead!) and up to a second floor.

Now, you're all probably aware of how much IHOPs are shaped like little churches -- especially the older, blue-roofed ones. I think some stand-up comedian (Brian Regan?) did a whole bit about worshipping at the cathedral of pancakes. Well, I was basically sitting in the steeple. You could easily see the slope of the roof in this strange loft of a second floor. All that was missing was the stained-glass window.

Particularly strange, it being a Sunday morning.

Despite the strangeness, though, the food was exactly the sort of breakfast I was craving by that point in my trip. So I guess I'm saying: if you're ever hungry for breakfast near Disneyland, check out the two-story IHOP.

Unless anyone out there happens to know of any other two-story IHOPs.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Royale Treatment

As I mentioned earlier, I did get the chance to see the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, while I was on my work trip to GenCon SoCal. I've now had nearly a week to think about my response to the film, and I have to say that my opinion of it has diminished a bit the more I think about it.

As I felt at the time, I have to say the film was "good, but not great." They did a number of things that I really liked. This movie is more physical, realistic, and visceral than any Bond movie has been for a long time... maybe ever. It honestly feels more like the two Bourne movies (Identity and Supremacy) than a James Bond movie. You could decide to see that as a good thing or a bad thing, but I'm going to call it a good thing. It made it possible to enjoy the movie emotionally, and not just on a whiz-bang level.

There are a number of sequences in the movie that are excellent. The first fifteen minutes or so are superb. The prologue is very artfully done, letting you know clearly that this isn't going to be the run-of-the-mill approach to Bond. The opening credits sequence (always a point to mention when discussing a Bond movie) is one of the best the franchise has ever had. And the following action sequence involving "free running" is really neat -- it wonderfully straddles a line of being over-the-top-James-Bond fantasy without actually seeming implausible, because you know that much of it is not camera or special effects tricks.

The acting is great. Daniel Craig makes a solid James Bond, and I'll look forward to more movies with him. I think Pierce Brosnan got a bit of a bum deal, since of the four Bond movies he made, only the first one (GoldenEye) was any good -- and because of the scripts, not for any fault of his own. In any case, Craig (and the other actors in the cast) elevate the material.

And therein is my big problem. It is material in need of elevating. After a rock solid opening salvo, the film starts to lose steam. By about an hour into it, I found myself impatiently checking my watch. The middle crawls. The poker scenes are fairly bad -- but I admit to coming at as someone way too into poker. In dumbing down the set-up of the hands enough for them to play to a broad audience, they became laughable to anyone who knows anything about poker. I found it no challenge to read the hole cards of every player in every significant hand, and it made the actual characters silly and stupid that they could not. No tension, either.

The movie picked up again in the last twenty minutes or so, but noticeably, many people had already left the theater. There came a point after about two hours where literally a dozen or two dozen people got up and left the theater. Did they really think the movie was over at that point? Were they just bored regardless? I suppose I'll never know, but it's pretty telling that you've got that many people walking out of a James Bond movie.

So, great cast, great stylistic take. Outstanding opening, decent ending. But it was like an Oreo where the cream in the middle had somehow gone bad. (I don't know if that can even actually happen to an Oreo. Probably not.)

I'm left with a good feeling for future Bond films in the franchise, even though I'm not left with an altogether favorable opinion of this one. I give it a B-.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Feliz Thanksgiving, everyone! I'd share some tale in honor of the day, but I don't really have one. So instead, the other big aspect of my trip to Anaheim -- being sick, sick, sick.

Many of you reading this have attended these big game conventions. You know they're places where the hale and hearty become sick, not where the sickly go to get well. When I woke up last Monday, I knew I was sick, and it was too late to stop it. I figured I'd take last Tuesday off (which I did) and use the day to get well in anticipation of the trip. Not so much with the working.

But I did learn another annoying way in which the Patriot Act is making the life of the average American just a bit more hassled, for little measureable effect.

The last time I was this sick with this kind of head cold was some time maybe in early 2005. At the time, a friend told me about the wonderous powers of Advil Cold & Sinus. One pill, 12 hours of ass-kicking relief and clear-headedness. I went out and bought a box of 10 pills, and it only took about two to see me through to total health. This stuff is amazing.

I was still working off the leftovers of that box of 10 last Tuesday, on my sick day off, but they just weren't doing the job. Then I noticed the expiration date on the package -- sometime in the middle of 2005. I was a little nervous that I'd downed two or three pills of a year-expired medication, but I figured if anything was going to happen to me, it already would have. But at least now I had a pretty good idea of why it wasn't working. Of course, by this point, it was too late on Tuesday to go out and get fresh medicine, so I resolved to pick some up on the way into work the next morning.

I hit the grocery store on the drive in, sometime around 8:40 AM in the morning. I know exactly what I'm looking for, heading straight to the medicine aisle. I stand there, double and triple checking the shelves for two minutes. No sign of the good stuff. What the hell? Did they stop making it?

Then I see the little papers sticking on the rack: "Bring this to the pharmacy counter to purchase this product." Advil Cold & Sinus is one of about six products not actually out on the shelf. And the pharmacy isn't open yet, that early in the morning. I was too addled and mucus-brained to understand why the medicine I bought off the shelf about 18 months earlier was now locked behind a stupid gate, but there was nothing I could do about it. So I bought some Sudafed instead.

Worthless crap. Did nothing for me. So why was the Advil the good stuff?


I don't know exactly what is so wonderful about it, but that is the good stuff. And apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so, because as I learned last week, it's apparently useful in making bathtub meth, or something like that. I guess people were buying it by the crates, and chemistrying up themselves a great old time.

Hence why the federal government, in their amendments of the Patriot Act in mid-2005, decided they needed to make it more of a pain in the ass for law-abiding citizens like me who actually need the stuff to actually get it when we want it.

Which is why I still wasn't healthy by the time I left on my trip Thursday.

Which is why I remained sick for the entire duration of the trip.

And you know who else could have used some psuedophedrine? The guy in the hotel room next to mine on Saturday night. Let me tell you, the walls at the Anaheim Hilton are paper thin. And how shall I put this...?

Have you ever seen Poltergeist II? You know when Craig T. Nelson swallows the demonic tequila worm that possesses him, and then later he gags and vomits up this foot-long evil sandworm-baby looking thing? Well, it sounded like four or five of those things were trying to escape from this guy. It was vile. It woke me up every hour for the entire night.

So, in summation, I think I'm saying this: I don't believe my having the flu makes this country safer from terrorism, nor is it helping us win the "war on drugs." Same goes for the guy in room 5-250.

All this fuss over psuedophedrine. Imagine how good the phedrine must be!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Waving to Mickey

It's the first of several accounts of my adventures in Anaheim for GenCon SoCal last weekend. I'll start by answering the question some of you may be asking: did I go to Disneyland? The real answer is no, not really. But I did get a bit of the Disney experience -- a minor contact high or something, if you will.

It started Friday night, when I met up with my old roommate from back in my Virginia days. He and his mother drove down (fighting monster traffic) to spend the evening with me. We had dinner and caught a movie (Casino Royale -- my review of which will be coming at some point here). The theater was in Downtown Disney, the big outdoor mall-ish area near the theme park. I got to see a lot of the tourist shops, and the fun "rare signatures and memorabilia" store there.

Then on Saturday night, I ended up having another throwback to days with "Da Company," meeting up with former co-workers and some old volunteers to have the traditional dinner at Buca di Beppo. ("Buca di Beppo!") Afterward, we went to the executive lounge on the top floor of the hotel, with a perfect view overlooking Disneyland as they ran their fireworks show for the evening. I got to see the whole thing -- though granted, without the narration.

So, no rides. No visit inside the actual theme park. But reasonably close to it. I got to spend good time with some friends -- sort of the extended family, really. I think I enjoyed that more than I would have the amusement park, certainly given that I was sick for the entire duration of my trip.

But that's a story for next time...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Barenaked in Denver

Alright! Cable's back, and everything's back up and running again. I have a fair number of trip stories to share, but I'm gonna backtrack and catch up on them in the days ahead, because I'm more excited about what I did tonight.

I don't often attend concerts. There's a variety of tiny reasons why, but they all add up to the fact that I don't usually enjoy myself. But years back, one concert I remember having a very good time at was Barenaked Ladies, when they were touring for Stunt. Tonight, they were in Denver on their tour for Barenaked Ladies Are Me, and I was eager to check it out.

I'm happy to say it was a great show. I think I enjoyed them even more than the last time. I would hope that anybody who considers themselves a BNL fan has seen them in concert at least once, because they really put on a great show. They have a lot of fun on stage. It shows, and it's infectious.

Times and technology have moved on a lot since Stunt, and now BNL tours with a nifty technological twist: you can buy a USB stick at the show with that night's concert, right there at the event. So the concert doesn't have to be a one-shot, flash-in-the-pan sort of thing you might struggle to remember years later. Now you can listen to the very concert you attended, any time you want.

Immortalized in 1s and 0s is the one-night-only performance of the improvised rap about 14th & Arapahoe (cross streets in downtown Denver). There for you to enjoy every November is their uh... heart-warming(?)... tribute to the season, "Feliz Thanksgiving." And rockin' versions of nearly all their most well-known songs along the way.

It may well be that I don't go to another concert again until the next time Barenaked Ladies are coming through town. But I'll be sure not to miss it when they do.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Less-Than-Triumphant Return

Hello, one and all!

I have returned from my trip, to discover that some time Friday night, the cable (and cable modem) in my apartment went out. So, I'm back, but Heimlich Maneuvers, for another day or two, is not.

Let me just take this moment to say how dumb cable phone operators can be. I call to schedule an appointment last night.

"Have you turned the box off and back on?" Sure, I'll do that to humor you, but that's not it -- my cable AND my internet are out, and I have a splitter going into two TiVos, and they're getting no picture either.

"We're not currently showing any outages in your area." Um, I beg to differ, dumbass!

"We showed an outage early today that was repaired." Well, my cable has been out since Friday, champ. I know this from the nothing I got when I was supposed to be recording Battlestar Galactica while I was away.

"We can schedule you for 3:00 - 5:00 on Tuesday." I work. What person living alone is home at that time on a weekday? "Well, otherwise my next window is next Monday, the 27th?" Is that supposed to make me laugh, suggesting you're going to do nothing about my lack of service for a week?

Anyway, Shocho's LWC has graciously volunteered to be at my place tomorrow for the appointment I can't make. So, with any luck, I'll be back to my regular blather tomorrow night. Thanks to her for the assist, and all of you for your patience.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Are You Going To Do Next?

Heimlich Maneuvers is taking a few days off. I know what you're thinking:

Okay... maybe not. But nevertheless, I'm heading to Anaheim, to attend GenCon SoCal in a work capacity, demoing the upcoming Stargate TCG my company is working on.

I'm actually going to be walking distance from Disneyland, to which I have never been. Somebody suggested to me that maybe I should take advantage of the after-hours time and actually go. I wondered what I could do that would possibly be worth doing in the few evening hours I'd have, particularly for the price I'm sure it costs to get in. But who knows... this is one of those rare work trips where I'm traveling alone, so maybe I'll be looking for something to do to pass the time.

In any case, you'll have to get by until Sunday without your daily dose of the inane courtesy of yours truly.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Impersonal Touch

Nearly all the grocery chains now have their own special "membership cards" you sign up for to get the prices they ought to be charging anyway. I suppose it's supposed to inspire customer loyalty -- but I personally believe the vast majority would either pick the nearest grocery store, or the one with the best produce. I don't think a membership card is going to put one over the hump.

In fact, my grocery card is a regular source of annoyance. I had to fill out a form when I signed up for one, providing my name and such. It's in their computer, so that every time I swipe it at the checkout, my name shows up on the receipt. And it's part of the spiel that every time the clerk finishes ringing up a customer, he says "thank you, Mr./Ms. So-and-so."

They never pronounce my last name right. It's part of the ritual; they hand me the receipt and then mangle my name horribly. The last clerk to check me out somehow managed to insert an extra syllable or two.

Why do they do this? I have to figure they get it wrong somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third of the time. For every "Smith" out there, there's a "Nahasapeemapetilon." You can test this yourself -- just imagine some circle of people you know. It could be a group of friends, the people you work with, whoever. Roll through their last names in your mind and imagine how many you honestly think someone would pronounce correctly if seeing it for the first time.

In short, are the number of people out there stupidly thinking, "wow, he knew my name!" larger than the number of people thinking, "here he goes, about to totally mess up my name again"?

You know, I don't think I'm going to let it slide anymore. Next time one of these grocery clerks messes up my name, I'm gonna make a buzzer noise, or say "not even close," or something like that.

It's my name. I'm taking it back.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Case of the Mondays

My Monday one-hours both stumbled a bit tonight. Or maybe that it's that I have a major head cold and I feel foggy and cranky.

Prison Break put the brakes on major plot developments this week in favor of trying to show some "vignettes" of character insight. Ordinarily, I like it when a television series delves more deeply into its characters. But tonight didn't feel all that deep at all.

From Michael wrestling with the wrongs he has done for the "greater good," to Lincoln having to leave his son again, to Kellerman having trouble torturing Sarah, to Mahone's connection with his ex-wife and child... the material was there, but it all felt fairly superficial. It didn't seem like we were really getting too deeply into any of these situations. And without that emotional connection, we're left with an episode with lots of sitting around -- Michael sitting in a shack in the desert, Sarah sitting over a bathtub of water, Mahone sitting in his car talking on his phone, and so on.

It seems like things should be better next week. Threads were dangled tonight that implied lots more momentum for the next installment, and Michael's reunion with his father could provide more character drama than tonight offered.

Meanwhile, on Studio 60, the resolution to the Nevada Day two-parter had several good moments, but overall didn't live up to the promise of part one. The dialogue between Harriet and Jordan at the beginning was great, Jack's confrontation with the potential investor at the end was a defining moment for that character, and Nate Corddry showed some real acting chops in the revelation about his brother. But in between, the dialogue was a little less snappy than usual, the debates a little less articulate than usual, the humor a little less funny than usual. I probably wouldn't have been so down on it, had the set-up last week not been so great.

Or, as I said, I may just be cranky sick person right now. So I'm gonna go get some rest.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Welcome Reprieve

Things were looking dark for Studio 60, but a few days ago the word came down that NBC has ordered a full season of the series after all. Now, I'd be the first to admit this show is not as good as The West Wing or Sports Night, but I still think it's pretty damn good, and I'm glad it's going to be sticking around. Perhaps it will improve and be even better now that the axe is not threatening to fall any minute.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rock On!

It's been a few days now since Guitar Hero II was released, and I figured it was about time for me to comment or review it or something. Except that I really don't know that I have much to say other than... it's awesome.

They could have done absolutely nothing different and just released a new song set, and I would have been enthused. That's sort of the DDR model, after all. But of course, they did not rest on their laurels.

There's the much awaited two-player cooperative mode, where one player takes lead guitar and the other takes rhythm or bass. Lots of fun. The first Guitar Hero was really only a single-player proposition. Sure, it had head-to-head for two players, but since you had to play at the same difficulty level, you had to find someone who was the same skill level for it to be any fun. No more... now you work together to rock out.

But really, some of the biggest improvements come in the graphics, and in the fun little additions to career mode. The stages all have wild, over-the-top effects that kick in for certain songs. Crowds demand that you play encores. Giant "fiberglass set pieces" roll in. Your drummer spontaneously combusts when you finish the Spinal Tap song. A UFO rolls into Stonehenge and transports you away when you complete a level of career mode.

It's cliche to say they took Guitar Hero and turned it up to 11. But hey... it's the perfect cliche. If you liked the first, you'll like the new one even more (unless your taste for the songs skews toward the original). If you didn't pick it up the first time around, you should check out what you've been missing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Measure of Salvation

I got a little nervous during the first 10 minutes of tonight's new Battlestar Galactica episode -- it felt like the set-up to a thoroughly average episode of Star Trek. The "away team" boarded the derlict Cylon base star, and stumbled on an entire crew wiped out by an "unknown virus" that had quite likely infected one of the main characters. I was sure we were in for an agonizing hour of watching Doc Cottle struggle to find a cure before time ran out.

I should have kept the faith, because what we actually got was a strong episode. The whole "will Sharon get sick?" thread turned out to be nothing more than a red herring. She was pronounced immune barely halfway into the episode, and so on we went with the real meat of the plot: the topic of genocide.

It's starting to be more than a little chilling that Roslin, in one situation after another, seems to be more and more at ease with making some truly ghastly decisions -- in this case, the decision to attempt to wipe out the entire Cylon race. I suppose, given her recent experiences in the occupation, her attitude is not surprising. I think I'm just saying that it used to be that Adama was more the "hawk" while Roslin was the "dove," but those roles seem to be reversed a lot more often now. Interesting stuff.

The Baltar material aboard the base star was unusual to say the least. As a television viewer now conditioned by 24 to expect a "discretion" warning to be related to violence (usually torture), it was pretty jarring to see this take on torture completely entwined with a rather racy (for television) sexual encounter. Things really are very different aboard the Cylon base star. And more twisted than ever inside Baltar's head.

Ronald Moore's podcast commentaries are always entertaining to listen to, but I'm particularly looking forward to hearing what he has to say about this episode.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dance Dance Immolation

At this year's "Burning Man," they found a way to really put the "extreme" in DDR Extreme. Because you know what was really missing from DDR? Flame-retardant suits.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Losing Lost

Tonight was the last new episode of Lost until February, and they went out with a definite... shrug. I suppose I was expecting a more elaborate cliffhanger than it delivered -- not that it was an uninteresting episode, though.

For one, we had Nathan Fillion playing Kate's husband in the flashbacks. I'd rather he was playing Malcolm Reynolds in the fourth season of Firefly right now, but I suppose this will have to do.

I don't think I have much of a stake in Kate/Jack vs. Kate/Sawyer, but it was nice to see that storyline finally arrive somewhere as it did tonight. And Ben's line about how he would have been on Kate/Jack instead was great.

Not the greatest line in the episode, though. That would go to Locke: "I'd like to think you died for a reason, Mr. Eko. I just hope it's not too long before we find out what the heck it might be." Amen to that!

So, it ends in a standoff where the lives of Ben (who was just made a series regular six episodes ago, so we know he's not going to die) and Jack, Kate, and Sawyer (who, because of their ongoing love triangle and the general sex appeal they're intended to bring to the series, we also know are not going to die) hang in the balance. Not dramatically inappropriate, but not even remotely suspenseful.

Season one's cliffhanger had me itching all summer to start season two. Season two's cliffhanger had me contemplating the possible implications of what season three would bring all summer long. This mid-season finale? Whatever. I'll be there when it comes back, but I'm not going to be spending much time worrying about it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Speaking for the Dead

When I saw the ballot this election, I was surprised to see that one of the positions being voted on was County Coroner. I suppose many of you were asked to cast a vote for your local coroner. For whatever reason, it didn't strike me until now:

Why is this an elected position?

What the hell do I (or the average voter) know about what makes a good coroner? Is this some sort of check and balance on whether or not we like the way that he or she pronounces people dead? I mean, I actually saw signs up around town for one of these candidates -- the whole ball of wax.

I was a little too young to remember watching Quincy. Were there ever any episodes about him trying to get re-elected?

And here's perhaps the best part: on the ballot, it actually showed the political affiliation of the coroner candidates. Can this possibly matter?

"I think this man died of a homosexual disease."

"I think he died of a lack of government-sponsored health care."


Monday, November 06, 2006

Trekking Around the West

Tonight's Prison Break was not nearly as exciting as last week's episode, but still managed to deliver lots of good moments.

At last, the reunion of Sarah and Michael in New Mexico. And, as was right, she did not immediately forgive him for all he'd done. Getting Michael into another war of words with Mahone at the end of the episode was once again a treat.

The Bellick/T-Bag plot was every bit as horrible as promised. Big bonus points for the mention of "sliders" -- nothing is quite as diarrhea-invoking as White Castle. (Gee, what a surprise they came in a generic brown paper bag, though. You think they even tried to get permission for the real thing?) It seems pretty clear that T-Bag will escape in the next episode by once again losing his hand. That doesn't make it any less horrible to contemplate. But I suppose, fun as it is to watch this character, he does deserve some pain and suffering. The mallet-to-head dealt to Bellick was a fun bit of justice, too.

Watching how Linc got away from the law wasn't terribly exciting, but at least his escape was with help from his father, and not through some total random stupidity on the part of the police. I guess they drew the red X through his picture too hastily.

I wonder how much longer they're going to keep advancing the Sucre/Maricruz storyline without actually showing Maricruz on screen? I don't know how much longer they can keep playing the "can I talk to her?" "No, she's on The Nine now, Fernando!" business.

Still, a fun episode.

In other come-uppance news, tonight was an interesting Studio 60. It seemed almost tailor-made in response to the criticisms that the show is too snobbish toward Americans in "the heartland," too contemptful of religion, too self-important. The plot involved watching the characters get skewered for all those things by a Nevada judge played by Sorkin veteran John Goodman.

I wonder, was it too on the nose? Will the complaints continue, arguing that this one act of contrition played hollow in the face of the attitudes that preceded it? Will it help that John Goodman was enjoyably playing a sympathetic, apparently right-wing character? Most importantly, will it help the ratings? (Because last we heard, Studio 60 seemed to have one foot in the television grave.)

I am determined to enjoy it for however long it lasts, though -- as I have for every episode thus far, including tonight's.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Very Niiice

After a number of glowing reviews (including from friends), I decided to go see the movie Borat this afternoon. I don't think I'm going to heap quite the lavish praise on it as most people seem to be giving it -- but I do have to say it's quite good.

Foremost, it's funny. Laugh out loud funny, most of the time. I don't usually go for the sort of "Candid Camera" style humor (normal folks being taped), or for Andy Kaufman style humor (comedian who never ever breaks character and finds much humor at the audience's expense), but strangely, when the two get swirled together in this bizarre blender, it works.

But really, it's the satire of this movie that is strongest of all. Sacha Baron Cohen has created an absolutely proposterous character, and yet when he interacts with real people, he's often not the most outlandish persona on the screen. There are times when I'm not sure whether to laugh at or be horrified by some of the attitudes of the people he's found.

Speaking of horrifying, this movie contains possibly the most awful scene ever committed to film. Oh, it's funny -- can't catch your breath, tears streaming down your face funny. And it leaves "cringe worthy" so far in its dust that I can't even find words to do it justice. There was a couple behind us in the theater, a man and woman perhaps in their early 20s, and she was actually shrieking and stomping on the floor in discomfort. I think a basket of live tarantulas dropped on her head would not have garnered a stronger response.

Oddly, in the row in front of us were three old ladies in their 60s -- there at the movie with no one else. I wonder if they knew what they were getting into, and what they thought afterward?

In any case, I give it a B+ -- in part not marking it higher because I'm not sure it would hold up well to repeat viewings. If you do think you want to see it, though, I strongly recommend you go in the theater and not wait for home video. This is the sort of movie where at least half the experience is the reaction of the crowd around you.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Block the Vote

Colorado has a freakin' huge list of amendments and initiatives on the ballot this election, so I decided that the lines to vote on Tuesday will be unbearable. Besides, I don't want to be standing in line during what could be valuable Guitar Hero II time on its release date, right?

So I went to vote early a couple mornings ago. It was a snap. I arrived at the license plate branch as it opened on Thursday morning. There were only two other people waiting with me. All of us went right in, got our ballots and off we went.

I had a very strange sensation come over me as I was doing it, though. One of the people waiting with me for the place to open was a nice enough woman in her 40s. We only exchanged a couple of words -- it's not like we had a meaningful conversation, or that she gave me any indication of her personality or opinions. And yet, for a reason I can't explain, I had the overwhelming sensation that I was there "canceling out" her vote by voting exactly the opposite from her on each issue. I have nothing to back this up at all, but I felt a sense of certainty that I have rarely known.

Maybe it's just that I'm trying to shore up my psyche against the blow of watching the general population vote for things I believe to be patently stupid, if not morally reprehensible. That's the way I've felt pretty much every other time I've voted. Oh well, this Tuesday, I can bury myself in my new Guitar Hero II and try to ignore any potentially depressing results.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Even though tonight's Battlestar Galactica ended with "to be continued," it was less like getting half an episode and more like getting two episodes in one.

On the one hand, there was the Galactica-based half of the episode. I had commented a few week ago, after the death of Ellen, that I didn't see how they were ever going to redeem Colonel Tigh. This week, the answer seemed to come that they have no immediate plans to do so. We've seen "messed up Tigh" before, but as he said himself so perfectly in the episode, he's not "that man" anymore -- he's sunk even lower. And Starbuck seemed to "hit bottom" as well, but appears to have turned around and begun the journey back. Pivotal character moments for both of them.

Sharon continues to be a polarizing figure on the ship. The people who don't accept her seem to reject her even more, while those who accept her grow ever more accepting. (They've now renamed her Athena, even.)

Plus, no more "fat Lee."

On the other half of the episode, we had the adventures of Baltar aboard the base star. And this was weird stuff. It almost felt like it was coming from another series. Galactica has always been a series grounded in gritty, docu-drama-esque reality. Everything about the Cylon plot in this episode was science fiction. And not exactly "television science fiction" either; it flirted with heady, psychological -- some might even say trippy -- stuff. It wasn't paced like a normal Galactica episode, it didn't look like a normal Galactica episode. It was out of order, mixed, and jumbled at times. And all of this perfectly sold the fact that Baltar now finds himself in a totally alien environment.

It's all very interesting, because to hear the podcast, a great deal of what I liked in this episode was manufactured after the fact, to redeem an episode that was otherwise considered to be "not working." Unlike last season's "Black Market," which they saw as trouble, and it finished that way (probably the worst episode of the season), this one I thought crawled back out of their perceived hole quite a lot. I wouldn't have pegged it for a "bad episode."

What was your take?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Trick or Swe-eet!

If your Halloween costume this year was a bit of a disappointment, maybe you can steal this guy's idea for next year and impress everyone. I know I for one would actually have to get started on it about now to have any prayer of getting it ready in time for Halloween 2007.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Eko Dislocation

Mostly, I really enjoyed tonight's episode of Lost. It had all the right pieces. Eko's flashback (which picked up immediately where his previous one ended) fleshed out more of his back story, and had thematic connections with the "present" on the island. We came to understand that Eko's apparent transformation and redemption following his brother's death did not happen immediately -- if indeed it fully happened at all. We learned the full reason behind why Eko was building a new church on the island (he "owed" one to his brother).

Meanwhile, intriguing new threads were exposed in the plot. Who is this crazy eye patch guy in this Yet Another Hatch? What's he doing on the island? How did he know he was being watched?

The head games with Jack finally got interesting, where they'd been somewhat aimless until this point. Ben seemed to come clean and say "no more games," dropping his plans to manipulate Jack. Juliet approached Jack covertly with a plan to instead off Ben. And yet, it seemed virtually impossible that either of them could actually be laying all the cards on the table. Are they working together? Separately? Are their agendas really what they say they are? It's far more interesting psychological brinksmanship than we'd seen before.

There was even some love for the island explanation junkies, as we saw more of "The Monster," and seemed to be shown that it can appear as a flesh and blood human (or works in tandem with someone/something that can). Perhaps this is how Jack's dead father appeared to lead him to the caves in season one? And how Kate (and Sawyer) saw the horse from her past there on the island in season two?

But then came the ending. Yes, they've killed off main characters on Lost before. I shouldn't be surprised they've done it again. You can guarantee they'll do it still more before the show is done. But after Libby left last season with so many unanswered questions, I'm pretty annoyed that they've offed another character whose role seemed far from complete on the show.

We'll never know what happened in London to Eko to change him into the man we saw for the first 60 days on the island. (Or did he even go to London?)

We'll never know how he ended up in Australia, and on flight 815.

We'll no longer have his "true faith" counterbalance to the wavering beliefs of Locke. (And we're losing it at a key juncture -- Locke appears to have had his faith restored after the destruction of the hatch, while Eko had just been revealed to not really have been the changed true believer we thought him to be... not completely, anyway.)

And essentially, we have no more "tailies." All the tail section characters introduced in season two are now gone. (Alright, Bernard is still around and reunited with Rose, but we don't see either of them regularly. In fact, we haven't seen them at all this season.) It almost begs the question of whether any of the time spent on any of the tailie storylines ultimately amounted to anything more than a temporary diversion in the whole tale. They weren't around at the beginning, they won't be around at the end.

I guess I'm reacting to this character's death more strongly than that of Boone, Ana-Lucia, or Libby... and you could argue that is evidence of it being a powerful creative decision that makes for good storytelling. But the reaction I'm having doesn't feel like a recognition of good storytelling. I feel like I've been played. I'm feeling unsatisfied, and uncertain of what they'll be able to do in just a single one-hour episode next week to make me "miss the show" while it's on a three month break.

What was your reaction?