Saturday, March 31, 2007


The new movie The Lookout is, in my opinion, an only somewhat above average film. But whoever was responsible for its marketing campaign has done it a real disservice.

Perhaps you've seen the trailer in the last few weeks. If you did, the catch phrase "whoever has the money has the power" no doubt stuck in your head. And if you're like me, you got the impression that this was basically a "heist" movie. Perhaps not an elaborate one, but a heist movie nonetheless.

Wrong. It's actually a very quiet and methodically paced character study about a young man struggling to overcome guilt and minor brain damage in the aftermath of a major car accident. He happens to become caught up in the plans of a group of criminals, who take advantage of his shaky memory and use him in their planned bank robbery, which frankly is not clever enough to call a "heist" -- nor is that the intended point of the movie.

Expecting a suspenseful little caper, it took me a good half hour of "waiting for something to happen" before I finally readjusted my expectations and started to take in the drama I was seeing. The writing is nothing dazzling, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a pretty good performance in the lead role, and Jeff Daniels is strong as an interesting supporting character. The movie doesn't really make any profound statements about putting one's life back together after a tragic event, but it paints a pretty good portrait of this single character, and makes his life interesting for the 100 minutes you spend with him.

Capable, but without much in the way of especially good moments to point to, I give the film a C+. Perhaps with expectations properly set going in, I might have better enjoyed it from the opening reel and given it B- instead. It's too late for me, but maybe this will help someone out there thinking of seeing the movie.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fleas, Sir? I Want Some More!

Here's some fun with pixels. Just choose a trick from the pulldown menu at the top right, then sit back and watch the fleas entertain you. I'm partial to #5 Knight Rider (could also be "Cylon"), #30 1939, and #17 Albino.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just Plain Nuts

So you're aware:

These peanuts, roasted in peanut and/or cottonseed oil, are manufactured on equipment that also processes peanuts!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I found myself very torn about tonight's episode of Lost. Overall, I think I enjoyed it. But it also left me completely unsatisfied and wondering "what the hell was the point of all that?"

At last, we got the tale of Nikki and Paulo. Not that any of us were dying to know. Now that it's all told, it appears the only reason the writers put these characters on the show in the first place was they thought it would be novel to show two new people standing in the background for half a season, then "cleverly" dispose of them and spring their backstory on us all in one swoop. But the problems with that idea are numerous:

We've seen this basic M.O. before. Shannon, Ana-Lucia, Eko -- it's become old hat for Lost to off characters in the same episodes that show us their flashbacks. (I'm making the assumption in this that they're not going to survive being buried alive.)

None of this in any way informed either the Island story or the stories of any of the characters we actually care about. Unless somewhere down the line, we learn that the machine that spits out the answers to every question you have about the show only runs on loose diamonds, none of this mattered in retrospect, nor will any of it matter in the future.

Seeing cameos from Shannon, Boone, Ethan, and Arzt only served to remind us how all of them (even Arzt!) were more interesting characters than Nikki and Paulo.

But, here's the paradox. Despite all those substantial flaws, I still had fun with the episode. Set aside the fact that it had anything to do with Lost for a moment, and it was an enjoyable little episode of some anthology series like a Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories, about two partners in a heist turning on each other and ending up punished for their crimes in a manner inspired by The Serpent and the Rainbow (or maybe one of Stephen King's stories in Nightmares and Dreamscapes).

It was also kind of neat to see the way so many characters on the show, past and present, were woven into the tale -- from Locke and Kate (currently off having a real adventure) to Shannon and Boone... even Juliet and Ben made an appearance.

The truth about Charlie dragging Sun off into the jungle back in season two was even revealed to the characters tonight, and should have interesting ramifications.

Good Hurley lines. Good Sawyer lines.

A cameo appearance by frakkin' Billy Dee Williams, as himself.

In short, plenty to actually enjoy about this episode. If you can just get around the whole pointlessness of ever adding Nikki and Paulo to the show in the first place. Which, at the moment, I'm not sure if I can or not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rag Time

Tonight, I finished reading The Armageddon Rag, by George R.R. Martin. This is a stand-alone novel written over 20 years ago by the genius writer behind the epic Song of Ice and Fire series, recently put back into print due to the success of those books. It has in common with two of his other stand-alone novels, Fevre Dream and Dying of the Light, the fact that it has little in common with his other writing.

This book is set in the real world, at the time of its original publication in the early 80s. It's the tale of a novelist who takes up his old job as a rock journalist to cover one more story -- a strange death relating to a fictional rock super group from the 60s, the Nazgûl. The novel is part mysterious crime novel, part 60s nostalgia piece. And in its second half, it begins to take on a touch of the fantastical familiar to those of us readers who first came to Martin in the last decade.

The quality of the writing is top notch. Even before the epic series that made him famous, this man had some real skill. The story being told, however, is a little uneven. This seems an awkward charge to level against a man who's currently writing a series with 100 notable characters, but the story in The Armageddon Rag meanders a bit too much. It really does feel like two separate books stitched together.

The first half is a big road trip in which the main character bounces from one interview to the next, also meeting with old friends of his from the 60s. By the time you reach the back cover, you realize in retrospect that a lot of this is completely wasted time, as far as the "plot" of the book goes. But I actually found it the more compelling chunk of the writing when I was reading it. Martin creates a series of very well-drawn characters that live fully in your mind, even though many only appear in a single chapter. I found myself being very drawn into the investigations of the reporter, too.

Then there's the second half, which deals with the reuniting of a classic rock group, and the oddly supernatural forces that are stirred up as events unfold. As I suggested above, this is ultimately the real meat of the book, but it ultimately went down less satisfyingly to me than what had preceeded -- perhaps because I found it rather predictable. (Though maybe I'm just used to the shocking twists and turns of the Ice and Fire series?)

Whatever flaws may be there, though, I would still recommend the book to most people. If you're a fan of Ice and Fire that doesn't subsist on a diet of only fantasy literature, you really have no reason not to read this book -- the next book after A Feast For Crows still isn't finished, and you've got time. If in your reading you look for quality craftsmanship in the words, or well-drawn characters, you'll enjoy it too. (To those interested in a somewhat more plot-driven novel, I'd instead recommend Martin's Fevre Dream -- assuming you've a taste for gothic horror.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

8:00 PM - 9:00 PM

In the recap, we get to see Jack and Doyle shoot up that pilot again. Thankfully, we're spared that meaningless grenade this time around.

When is Daniels planning his strike? "Within the hour." Drink!

Gredenko talks Fayed into continued cooperation with the time honored "go ahead, shoot me" ploy.

Then Gredenko calls the eggman.

Brady doesn't like red food. Not even total strangers stop to eat on 24.

Brady has to hack into some files before he can watch Wapner.

Milo's busy watching the 24-hour Interrogation Room Network.

We now welcome another bastard from Denver. (And he's a Tok'ra.)

Karen consoles Sandra about the really ugly wallpaper border outside Wayne's hospital room.

Daniels clarifies that 40 minutes is in fact "less than an hour," just so we're all clear on what's going to take place by the end of this episode.

Lennox isn't focused on the meeting. He's memorizing his lines for the next episode of Numb3rs.

Daniels' aid Lisa then hands him his Secret Santa.

Lisa has a source in the White House Med Bay? Damn, she's good.

This driver's license photo is brought to you by Sprint Picture Mail.

Brady explains to Jack what he was doing. It sounds like he got hold of Chloe's pages of script.

Jack still can't pronounce "nuclear."

Jack's "best shot" is now to put Brady in harm's way. But we all know he'll be fine, because the number of letters FOX would get if anything bad happened to him would make all the "you're anti-Muslim" mail look like a drop in the bucket.

Mark and Brady are much better brotherly role models than Jack and Graem.

People from Denver are such schmucks that they don't stop being schmucks to each other long enough to take care of the nuclear weapons on the loose.

Doyle: "You've screwed with the wrong guy for the last time, pal." It's like two cliches for the price of one!

Buchanan tells Nadia this crisis is far from over. (About nine hours from over.)

Milo still wanted to say "I'm sorry" to Nadia... in French.

Palmer's crashing. And again, one must ask, where's the crash team right now that's more important than there with the President of the United States?

Jack (sotfly): "Dammit." Take a quiet drink.

Gredenko pulls up. Brady: "I'm not supposed to tell you about the guy in my ear."

In a true reversal from the norm for 24, Jack successfully catches the most recently introduced "big bad guy" first.

As we come back from commercial, the beeping of Wayne Palmer's vital signs forms a pleasant counterpoint to the ticking clock.

Lisa gives Daniels another one of her "you're so hot when you threaten nuclear annihilation" looks.

This week ends basically the same as last week, with Daniels descending to another level of irrational insanity to demonstrate just how much he's wanting to nuke something today.

Fin Del Camino

This week's Prison Break episode wasn't as solid throughout as the last several have been, but it still delivered one huge moment essentially two years in the making: we finally got to see Michael and T-Bag's big showdown. And it was everything we'd been waiting for. Great banter between the two, Michael finally pushed too far... but not so far as to actually kill T-Bag. And it appears T-Bag has at last been caught. The show seriously won't be the same without his delicious villainy, but justice has been served.

On the Sara plot, I'm honestly not sure why Kellerman makes such a credible witness. Surely there's a way his testimony can be framed to sound like lunacy as much as everything else surrounding the conspiracy? Though I suppose we haven't actually seen Sara be acquitted yet -- we just saw Kellerman enter the courtroom.

What's going to happen to Sucre now? With medical attention, his wound may not be fatal, but how can he avoid being sent back to prison? And how will he save Maricruz before she dies wherever Bellick stashed her? Who ever expected we'd be hoping for one of our heroes to come to the aid of Bellick?

And finally, the stage is set for what seems must inevitably be the final showdown between Mahone and Michael in next week's season finale. Don't miss it!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Crossroads, Part 2

I thought tonight's season finale of Battlestar Galactica was an enjoyable episode, but it didn't really blow me away like the finales of seasons one and two, for one major reason -- I found it entirely predictable.

With season one, I found myself truly shocked when Boomer shot Adama. Part of me even actually believed there was at least some tiny chance they might actually write him out of the show to really drive home the drama. And of course, with season two, who could have predicted the "one year later" jump of the finale?

This time, I was well on my way to figuring out this season's finale... well, frankly, last week during Part 1. This week, before the first commercial break, I had it all. I knew Tigh, Tyrol, Anders, and Tori were all going to be revealed as Cylons. I knew Baltar was going to be acquitted. And I knew Starbuck would come back at the end of the episode for the final cliffhanger-y punch. (Though that didn't quite happen the way I expected. I figured it as a pure question of the math -- there's a "Final Five" out there to be revealed, and we were one short. And the only reason the fifth one wouldn't have ended up in that room with the other four was if she couldn't... she was "dead" already.)

Frankly, the biggest surprise of the episode was the highly unusual musical choice of putting "All Along the Watchtower" in the final few minutes.

But fortunately, surprise isn't everything. I found that knowing what was coming didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the episode. And I attribute that entirely to the quality of the performances -- one great moment after another.

How great was James Callis as Baltar in this episode? Practically climbing the walls at the thought of a mistrial leaving him imprisoned for who-knows-how-much-longer. Then more arrogant than ever in the immediate aftermath of his acquittal. And then so clearly small, terrified, and alone in his march through the Galactica corridors with his single box of possessions, without even his "head Six" to offer reassurances.

Strong performances from Mary McDonnell, Grace Park, and Tricia Helfer made a scene stand out that could easily have been completely buried and forgotten in the midst of everything else. Their moment in Six's jail cell where they all confront the fact they've shared the same dream actually got me quite interested in seeing where that storyline will go. And not only for what it means to those three women -- I'm also curious whether Hera is really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things anymore, now that Tyrol has also been revealed as a Cylon, and he has also fathered a child with a human.

Which takes us to the "revelation" scene, where the four Cylons who have just learned of their true natures meet together and resolve not to change who they thought they were. Well, okay... the woman who plays Tori has always been a bit of a weak link on the show compared to the rest of the main and recurring cast, and here was unfortunately no exception. But the other three? Wow. Especially Michael Hogan as Tigh, pitch perfect as always.

Last week, the announcement came that Galactica's fourth season renewal is going to be for a full run of 22 episodes after all (not 13, as during the first year). In light of the events of this third season finale, it seems to me that the coming fourth season maybe ought to be the last. The comment Ron Moore made in his podcast a few weeks ago that "it feels like the third chapter has begun."? Yeah, I feel that too. And after watching the show slip a bit in quality this year, I'd much rather watch it go out strong than slowly fade away.

But whether it roars back or tapers off, finishes after year four or continues on beyond that -- none of that is going to be answered any time remotely soon. You think it's rough when Jack Bauer disappears in May not to return for eight months? Battlestar Galactica isn't going to return for nearly ten. Like 24, the plan is for Galactica not to return until January. Problem is, it's only March now.

So hunker down, take whatever notes you need to be able to remember what the hell was going on in the show by the time 2008 comes along... and wait.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Professional Courtesy

Last night, I went out to the theater for a production of Mrs. Warren's Profession, by George Bernard Shaw. Anyone who has spent time studying theater is probably at least passingly familiar with the play. I knew a bit of its subject matter and themes myself, but I'd never before read it or seen it performed.

The play is by now a little over 100 years old, and so it's quite interesting from a historical perspective to now look back through a modern lens at how scandalous it was in its day. Of course, it seems quite tame by today's standards; even well before the end of Shaw's life, he himself remarked that the play seemed quite innocuous with the changing times.

But it's not quite "irrelevant." While the topics of prostitution and incest aren't dealt with in any way that's particularly compelling today, the play can still spark interesting conversations on the subject of "working women" in society. Just what options are open to a career-minded woman, and in what ways is her life different from that of a career-minded man? Obviously, the world is completely changed since the original writing of the play, at the very beginnings of the suffrage movement. But even today, do all women get the same opportunities as all men?

And even another century into the future, when the times have changed even more than any of us can likely imagine, this play will still portray an interesting roller coaster of a ride in the relationship between a mother and daughter. In the course of the play, Mrs. Warren and her daughter go from distant but cordial, to well-bonded and adoring of one another, to separated irrevocably once and for all. And there's not really any clear, easy answer to who is in the right and who is in the wrong, come the end of the play.

As for this particular performance itself, it was much like the play -- enjoyable, while not exceptional. About half the cast of six turned in solid performances. The others were more spotty, though good at times. The sets were an exercise in excess. Traps in the stage brought in new furnishings for set changes, and yet a group of stage hands were still used to bring in some of the dressing. Why bother with the unnecessary expense of the traps if they weren't to be used to do the entire job anyway? Are they just showing off that they're the major local theater in town and can therefore afford to do this kind of thing?

Minor quibbles, though. In all, it was an enjoyable night at the theater.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Retro Typing

You can read here all the gory details of how some engineering-minded guy turned a standard computer keyboard into this:

And I won't deny, it looks kind of cool, a computer keyboard styled like a typewriter. But I have to believe that it would trick my brain to use such a thing, in ways that would be a real display of form over function. It's been years since I've used a real typewriter (and longer still since I used one that wasn't electric, and had a keyboard like this), and I remember two things about it that really slowed down my usual typing speed:

1) You know that if you go too fast, it's possible for multiple keys to get jammed up at the point of contact with the paper. (Granted, this is working on a rather subconscious level.)

2) You know that if you mess up, you can't just push "backspace" a bunch of times to correct your mistake. This, I felt very much aware of while using a typewriter.

I have to believe that if I were to use a computer keyboard that really felt like computer keyboard, there would be some level of subconscious sense memory there that kicked in and made me slow down. I suppose maybe I could get used to it, if I had to.

Fortunately, I don't have to.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What Players Enjoy

All my efforts at designing fun games over the years, and what I apparently should have learned long ago is this:

Now, if I can just figure out how to get a train into a new game for players to control. Directly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Man From Tallahassee

Tonight's episode of Lost continued the general upward trend of the show, I think. And I'm a bit surprised and pleased to say it, actually, because the structure of the episode was the same as some problem episodes this year -- this episode left most of the main cast off-screen, focusing only on a single small group. It worked this time out because of who we were focused on.

First, there were Locke's flashbacks. For a long time, I think most people had expected that his father was responsible for putting him in the wheelchair. But I know I for one didn't expect he had done so personally, and in such a spectacular and especially violent way.

Then there was a full force return of Ben. In his "Henry Gale" persona, he was one of the best things about season two. And tonight, the writers delivered more top quality dialogue for him, and actor Michael Emerson gave an absolutely perfect performance. Ben may be the one in the wheelchair, but he has all the power, and he remains one of the best things about Lost.

I saved for last the thing that will surely have people speculating the most, as another tiny piece of the Lost puzzle was doled out. Somehow, Locke's father has been transported to The Island. Apparently, this is because some part of Locke consciously or unconsciously wanted that confrontation. Or perhaps more accurately, he wanted to avoid that confrontation, and thus it was thrust upon him.

If you accept Ben's description of how this works as fact (which, admittedly, is not necessarily the wise thing to do) and the whole supernatural "wish for something" nature of this "Box," then it would seem that this is the cause of many of the strange things that have popped up on The Island since day one: Walt's polar bears, Jack's visions of his dead father, the black horse from Kate's flashbacks (which Sawyer also saw)... hell, maybe even the crashed Nigerian plane complete with Eko's dead brother inside.

An explanation of this may not be coming any time soon, but it's something at least to see that the "piece" responsible has now been moved onto the board.

Monday, March 19, 2007

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

I guess former president Charles Logan must indeed be unrecoverably dead, because his stabbing and subsequent ambulance ride doesn't even make the recap this week.

Somehow, in the last five minutes, it's become the dead of night in Los Angeles.

Gredenko's in possession of RQ2 drones. Well I RQ too.

Gredenko's henchman has been taught to fly planes by Matthew Broderick, and taught sign language by Helen Hunt.

The drone comes equipped with a cloaking device.

Vice President Daniels knows you have to be cruel to be in-kind.

It appears that some city other than Los Angeles is finally going to be the target of a terrorist attack.

"Running point" is coming very close to being worthy of taking a drink.

Graem's wife is making a pass at Jack only five hours or so after her husband's death.

You didn't hear what happened to Audrey Raines? Well, she went into a bank one day with eight other people... and 50 hours later, no one knew what the hell happened.

So Audrey is dead, which will surely have Dave Barry leaping for joy. (But is it possible that instead her death was faked and now she is in a Chinese prison?)

Daniels says it's a mistake to underestimate Karen Hayes. Except when it comes to her ability to make travel arrangements.

Tom Lennox tripped over her ineptitude... at making travel arrangements.

Daniels is here to drop nukes and chew gum. And he's down to his last stick of gum. With that, he stands up from the table from Dr. Strangelove, and exits upstage.

Milo: "Hey, what are you doing?"
Chloe: "Setting up a reverse data stream on the drone's satellite intel, okay?"
Milo: "Uhhhh.... ummmm.... yeah, so what are you doing?"

Chloe shows what a great undercover operative she'd make with her cunning subterfuge.

Chloe comes into the conference room with the shocking -- SHOCKING, I TELL YOU -- revelation that there's a leak in CTU.

Milo says "Muz-lim," Doyle says "Mooz-lim." Let's call the whole thing pointless.

So... pretty much seems like Milo's the leak and he set Nadia up, right?

"Actors don't like to play coma. They feel it limits them."

Where does this Dr. Welton have to go that could possibly be more important than being at the president's hospital bed?

The president's sister is credited as a series regular this year, so by God, we're gonna see her even if she doesn't have a single line of dialogue!

People from Denver are not only bastards, they're sadists too.

Jack is now wearing William Shatner's corset.

Bill tells Marcie to seal off the perimeter. Drink!

The drone will reach the target perimeter within three minutes. Drink!

It will detonate automatically when it reaches the perimeter line. Drink!

Doyle will defer to Jack and no one else. Because if he didn't, then we'd really think he was a bastard.

Um... shouldn't someone do something about that grenade we just saw rolling across the floor?

Jack says the bomb will detonate as soon as it passes the designated perimeter. Drink! Ugh, my vision's getting blurry...

On is curren course the drone will corss th perimeter n 30 seccconds....

So why exactly did they show us that closeup of the grenade?

Daniels really had his heart set on nuking something, dammit!


Prison Break is only a few episodes away from the end of the season, and just like at the end of season one, is really delivering great episodes on the way to the finish line.

It seems too good to be true on this show, but it appears that C-Note is actually going to have a happy ending, free and clear on the outside and with his family. Indeed, it might be the last we'll ever see of him on the series, since it seems doubtful Mahone will end up in a courtroom as opposed to dead or on the run.

After a brief appearance in the teaser, Sara has also vanished. And of all the "how will they get out of this?" scenarios that have appeared on the show (all 9000 of them), I really have to wonder how she'll ever get out of being arrested and taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the brothers have finally reached Panama. As expected, Michael can take no pleasure in what he's accomplished. I really enjoyed the scene that put him at odds with Linc, and the fight that nearly broke out between them. It's a different dimension between them that had to surface eventually, and the two actors played it very well.

Sucre and Bellick made interesting "buddy cops" on the trail of T-Bag, who was at his most terrible this week. T-Bag remains the one character outside the brothers that's still easy to take an interest in, and tying Sucre into that plot (and Bellick back into that plot) has helped his character be more interesting as well.

The way things are shaping up, it feels like a lot of characters aren't going to be around should Prison Break go on to a third season. But this sense of impending doom around some of the characters doesn't feel as "stunt-like" as some of the deaths of characters on other shows have become (24 and Lost, I'm looking at you). I'm eager to see what happens.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


There's the high quality Battlestar Galactica I've been missing for a while now. There was a down side, and that's that it was perhaps a little "overstuffed" in the plot department, somewhat like the mid-season cliffhanger. Tons of sudden momentum and change in the plot, most of which could have been pieced out a bit over some of the duller recent hours to fire things up -- instead, squirreled away for now.

But it doesn't diminish their impact here. As usual whenever Michael Hogan is given something meaty to play, the scenes involving Colonel Tigh were the best among many great moments. His confrontation with Caprica Six had me on the edge of my seat. His scene on the witness stand left me uncertain whether I was sorry to see him brought low, or a little pleased to see more consequences for some of his behavior at the start of season three. As for his apparent sudden decent into madness? Well, that's one of those things I wish had been built up to a little more in earlier episodes. And I think I know where it's going. But it's still interesting to watch.

Then there's the Lee plot. (Doesn't seem right calling him Apollo right at the moment.) The confrontation between him and the Admiral was pretty chilling, and seeing him out of uniform a few moments later was plain unsettling. With Starbuck gone, Lee resigned, and Helo serving as Executive Officer ("It's just temporary." "Right."), we're suddenly quite short on pilots we know. Who's the CAG? Racetrack?

Finally, the revelation that Roslin's cancer has returned. I think this is a great development for the show. When her cancer was cured through the magic of science fiction and technobabble back in the second season, I commented that while I was very pleased that she would be able to continue on the show, I was very disappointed that it had removed some of the gritty, harsh reality from the series.

Not so much, it now appears. Instead, it seems the ticking clock on her life was merely reset. And I hope the writers stick to their guns this time. In his podcast a few weeks ago, Ronald Moore said he thought that the "third chapter" of Battlestar Galactica had begun. And time has been rather flexible on the show (with the entire first season taking place in only about a month, while the second season finale famously skipped an entire year). If he's right, then it seems possible for Roslin to still live to the end of the series even with the threat of her cancer. I hope that's the way they'll play it.

That's it until next week, when that's really "it" until the fourth season rolls around.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Little Ronny Howard

A few weeks ago, I went to another film in the Flashback movie series running on the giant screen over at Denver's Continental theater. This time, I went with Shocho and his LWC to see American Graffiti, which I had never before seen. (Yes, talking about this nearly three weeks after the fact is odd, but I figure as a movie review, I'm already actually about 35 years late.)

As it turned out, I'm very glad that I went out to see this in a theater with people who loved the movie, because I don't think I would have enjoyed it much at all just sitting and watching it alone on DVD. It has somewhat interesting characters, and makes good use of its all-takes-place-on-one-night narrative conceit. But it has some flaws too, chiefly a thin plot made even thinner as it splits off into four separate character arcs that really don't interact at all through the movie.

It was a little interesting to me (though I suppose not surprising) to learn that the 2 LP soundtrack of this movie I'd listened to so much as a kid was simply a faithful presentation of all the songs in the movie, in the exact order they appear in the movie. In my head, I'm almost thinking, "that's where side 2 begins... that's where you got to put on the second record..."

In fact, that soundtrack is one of several ways in which American Graffiti is a movie that could not possibly be made today. No one would ever be able to secure the rights to a lineup of songs that long and varied anymore. Nor would a "nostalgia movie" be made in quite this way. The movie is all about conveying a love of life in 1962, which works much better today than I imagine it could have at the time of its release in 1973. I mean, could you imagine today going to see a movie that was all about "the nostalgia of 1996?" I don't know about you, but I'm just not missing it yet.

Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention the director, frakkin' George Lucas. With my own personal nostalgia of my youth about Star Wars long since stripped away, I was able to look at this movie and recognize that he wasn't much of a filmmaker even back then. American Graffiti has moments of the same wooden, fake-sounding dialogue that would dominate the Star Wars movies he wrote without outside script help. He displays that same uncanny ability to take actors who we know are capable of delivering great performances (in this case, Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard), and dragging them down a few notches.

Still, you just can't deny that there is some fun and liveliness to the movie, despite whatever flaws might be there. As I said, maybe it came from the crowd at the theater, but I still found I enjoyed it well enough. If you haven't seen the movie yourself, though, I'd recommend you be careful to view it in the right circumstances, should you ever catch it. Because even with things working in the movie's favor, the fact remains that I'm not an enthusiast of classic cars and I don't remember the early 1960s, so the movie couldn't really do much better than a C+ for me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I Must Be Traveling On Now

To some of you, the significance of this image will not be readily apparent...

...but some of you will immediately know why I was bouncing off the walls this afternoon. I finally managed to beat Free Bird on Expert difficulty in Guitar Hero II. And well ahead of schedule, if you use the first Guitar Hero as a benchmark, anyway. I pounded my head against the wall of Bark at the Moon and Cowboys From Hell in the first one until literally the night before Guitar Hero II was released, and it seemed only knowing that the new game was imminent drove me to finally beat them. This time, just a happy moment of zen focus or whatever, and there it was.

I suppose you could say I still have challenges to beat in getting 5 stars on all the songs. But yeah, like that'll happen.

(Anyway, I should now in theory focus more attention on learning to play my real guitar.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greece is the Word

This will come as a surprise to no one, but if you go to see the movie 300, you will probably get exactly what you expect.

If you're a fan of Frank Miller, and are looking for another film with the style and attitude of Sin City, you'll find 300 to be an equally artistic film. Every shot is carefully calculated down to each droplet of computer generated blood, and nearly every one of those shots could be printed and framed as art. (It would be a very gory museum, but nonetheless...)

If you're looking for great scenes of battle, 300's got 'em. The creation of the Battle of Thermopylae is well put together, separated into four or five "acts," with each one presenting very different objectives, tactics, and gimmicks. The film expertly changes things up to avoid becoming one senseless, desensitizing mess after another.

My problem is that my expectations were a little off going into this movie, just slightly. I said to myself I was just going hoping that it would look great, and as I've said, it delivered in every way on that count. But I also went hoping that the comic book trappings I knew would be there wouldn't be quite so pervasive. I'd hoped that maybe the work of director Zack Snyder (who delivered the absolutely kick-ass remake of Dawn of the Dead a few years back) would maybe elevate things a bit.

It comes down to character and dialogue. In my opinion, comic books (or graphic novels, take your pick) absolutely suck at these two things. I know there are fans who would leap to the defense with some examples to the contrary, and yes, there are exceptions to this rule. But by and large, one does not enjoy this medium if one does not have a high threshold for shallow characters and wooden dialogue.

My threshold, when it came to 300, was simply not high enough. There were a number of good one-liners sprinkled throughout, but it was not enough to save the horrible, cliche speeches of the narrator who would simply not shut up and let us see for ourselves what was happening on screen.

I had my expectations about right, but hoped for more, and I shouldn't have done that. In the end, the movie was exactly what I thought it would be -- absolutely beautiful, fun on a visceral level, and excruciating on an intellectual level. And it all balanced out for me at right about the C grade I expected I'd be giving it.

I suspect you can pick your own review for this movie before you see it too, and be right on the mark.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Par Avion

There we are... a much better episode of Lost tonight than the last few. Much of its strength came from the fact that it kept more than one of the major stories in motion: the saga of the team exploring to reach the Others' camp, Desmond's visions of Charlie's death, and even (in the last few moments of the episode) Jack's time with the Others.

I'll comment quickly on that last point first. I think we all knew that Jack would have to "come around" eventually. And I really like the approach they've taken here, to have that conversion happen off-screen, so we'll have to explore along with the main cast how that came to pass. But all that said, Jack must have really drank the Kool-Aid since we saw him last. I'm sure some of the major Lost nuts know the exact timeline, but I believe Kate and Sawyer were only back for a day or two before she set out again in search of Jack. And they haven't been traveling long either. So it's only been about three or four days tops (I think) since Jack was taken off the second island by the Others. What the hell could have happened in such a short time to make stubborn ol' Jack change his views?

In the flashbacks, we got confirmation of what many have suspected since last season's final Ana Lucia flashback -- that Claire and Jack have the same father. It does add a bit of an interesting piece to her character to know the fate of her own mother. And that story was certainly a more moving, emotional one than most of the flashbacks this season have been. Score there.

As for the Charlie/Desmond plot, I'm currently finding it the most compelling on the whole show, because I really don't see where they're going with it. Clearly, Desmond can't just keep saving Charlie forever. It would get old, and would eventually undermine the sense that Charlie's in any real danger. But that leaves only two possibilities: 1) Charlie dies; or 2) Some "Major Event" happens to undo his curse. And what would that be? I suppose speculating would be helped by knowing exactly how he came to be cursed in the first place. My friend "Roland Deschain" offered up a good guess on that one -- these death visions of Charlie seemed to start right after he was near ground zero of the Hatch's destruction. It seems to have changed everyone who was there. Charlie's now one wrong move away from death, Eko went from being favored by The Island and its smoke monster sentry to becoming its next victim, Desmond was given his visions, and Locke... well, we don't quite know what's going on with him yet. But he's definitely hiding even more than usual these days, as we saw in his confrontation with Sayid over the C4.

As for Claire's note... well, they didn't seem to have anything waterproof to pack the message in, so I'm guessing that'll never amount to anything. Not that that's an important issue in the grand scheme of things. It made for a good MacGuffin in this episode.

Another good episode next week, and we may officially be able to say Lost is "trending up" again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

From Gags to Riches

Since my blog is basically named in honor of Eddie Izzard, you'd better believe I was eager to check out the new TV series he's starring in with Minnie Driver, The Riches, which debuted last night on FX. I was encouraged by the first episode, yet also found it hard to judge, since it seemed to clearly not be representative of a typical episode of the series to come.

The Riches depicts a family of con artists who steal the identities of a family moving into a luxurious house. And this first episode chronicles how all this comes to pass. In superhero terms, as Shocho put it, this was essentially the "origin story." So you got a sense of who these people are and how they behave, but little sense of what's to come.

One mark against the show right out of the gate is what appears to be a very limited premise. How long can this family really keep up their charade? The same problem has dogged other shows, notably HBO's Big Love (which I sampled early on, but couldn't get hooked into). Will the characters ultimately prove interesting enough to compensate for the claustrophobic setting in which they've been placed?

Fortunately, it seems they might. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver were both excellent in this first episode, and their three children also seemed to make a good first impression. Those expecting long runs of stand-up-like humor from Eddie will be disappointed, as this show is primarily a drama. Still, he does here and there toss off the very oddball one liner or turn of phrase that recalls his great concerts, Glorious and Dress to Kill. And fun though that is, seeing him display some true dramatic chops is even better. A scene in this first episode in which he interacts with the wounded victim of a serious car accident is one highlight among several great scenes.

In short, my early feelings are that the show is going to need to find its way from a writing standpoint before I can say "I like it" without reservation. But with strong characters and acting, I'll easily find the patience to wait and see if that happens.

Monday, March 12, 2007

6:00 PM - 7:00 PM

"I'm just Chloe O'Brian." If only it were that simple.

(When did Rick Schroder become RickY Schroder again?)

"Sorry, I'm feeling ambivalent." Anything else that may be wrong with this episode, the writers are forgiven for coming up with such a genius line.

The years since NYPD Blue have not been kind to Mr. Schroder. He's developing Olmos Jowls.

Milo, you haven't been around for the last two hours, so stop with the dumb questions.

Doyle, like most people from Denver, is a complete jerk.

Jack takes out his captor with Belt Jitsu!

And then there's the sound of a coolant link in the engine core!

As more Russians search the room, we see Jack peek out from his cunning hiding place in the... well, I'm not sure exactly what's going on there.

The Russians are setting up a perimeter! Everybody drink! Vodka!

If only Denethor had thought to shut down the phone lines and DSL when Minas Tirith was under siege.

Jack's phone call is disconnected. "Dammit!" Drink!

Here comes Martha Logan. She's apparently been institutionalized at some point in the last two years. She was looking fairly together (for her) at the end of day five. What kind of hell must she have gone through since then?

To prove how manly he is, Doyle roughs up... Morris?

Morris then passes up a perfectly fair opportunity to point out that what just happened to him was nothing compared to a frakking drill to the shoulder!

Lennox has had no qualms about being a bastard, until now, when it's going to become a "matter of record."

Vice President Daniels has recently watched the movie Network, because America is as "mad as hell."

Fayed finally arrives at this damn air strip Gredenko's been hanging out at for the past several weeks. And even Gredenko acknowledges, "it's about time he got here."

Bill Buchanan is quite silver-tongued. When declaring war on foreign countries, "the politics are sticky."

Aaron Pierce! Like... half of him! Apparently, being out of the Secret Service and living with a complete loon agrees with him.

Mel has secretly been lacing Martha's produce with stuff to make her crazy for years.

Charles Logan is making his phone call from a black box theater. After he's through, there will be a performance by the Mummenschanz.

Logan says he wouldn't be playing games on a day like today. Isn't a day like today exactly the sort of day on which he last played these kinds of games?

Meanwhile, Jack has spent the last half hour playing Splinter Cell.

At Martha's funny farm, the helipad is right next to the tennis courts.

Dear God, Martha and Aaron have a lot of wine glasses. And way more than they should have, I think.

Daniels meets with the foreign ambassador, and shows he's a really special kind of crazy that only gets on an election ticket by offering a dozen or so electoral votes in a key swing state.

Karen Hayes' worst travel day ever is apparently still ongoing. How long does it take to get back to the White House from the airport?

This must be one hell of a speech Anya Suvarov is giving in Omsk, because it's about 5:45 in the morning there.

If Martha loves Mel so much, why is she treating his produce like that?

Charles Logan gets Monica Selesed by his own ex-wife!

Martha thinks she should be given a medal for stabbing Charles. Because she didn't win an Emmy for all the crap she went through last season.

The Russians still haven't got any guards posted along the back wall. You know, the wall that's apparently only about three feet higher than the ground on the outside?

At last, a drone is ready to launch! Prepare it for emergency saucer separation!

Why are they taking Logan to the hospital in an ambulance when there was a perfectly good helicopter sitting right there?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Son Also Rises

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica episode was clearly all about setting the stage for the season finale, and as such, it didn't really stand very well on its own as something to be reviewed in isolation. Not that that'll stop me from sharing a few thoughts.

Mark Sheppard was perfectly cast as Baltar's lawyer, Lampkin. This is exactly the sort of thing this actor has exceled at on Firefly, Medium, and more -- taking a small role and making it hugely memorable. Watching the way he manipulated Six and Baltar both, I'd almost say I cared more about watching him this week than I did about watching the show's regular characters.

Almost. Except that the scenes about the absence of Starbuck all landed very strongly. From Anders' drunken tumble off the Viper, to Adama's reading through her personal file (loaded with disciplinary actions, of course), to Lee's slip of her name in the pilots' briefing, to the moment where even Colonel Tigh acknowledges he misses her -- all these beats gave the appropriate magnitude to Starbuck's death that I felt was sort of missing from last week's episode where it actually happened.

But there was also a lot of shoe leathery material this week. Lots of exposition setting up how characters are going to be involved in the trial. A simple and boring plot about a bomber, just to offer some kind of element that tries to make this feel like a single episode and not act one of a three-act play. Not that it worked very well.

I guess that just leaves us all waiting for "act two."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Source Material

I recently finished reading The Prestige, the 1995 book on which Christopher Nolan's brilliant movie (it's in my top 100!) was made. And when I finished, it made me feel that the movie should have been nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Not because the book was bad. No, the book was actually very enjoyable. But the book and the movie offer a textbook example of how two different writers (or groups of writers, as two men wrote the screenplay) can take the same handful of elements and present them in completely different ways.

I wish to spoil neither the film nor the book, so talking about how they differ is going to be a very tall order. And hopefully I can still do so in a way that intrigues people who did see the movie. Here goes:

The book still contains most of the same basic plot elements and revelations. The true nature of Alfred Borden (Christian Bale's character in the film) is the same. The way in which Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman's character) is able to ultimately "out-perform" Borden's famous illusion is the same. Generally, the story follows the same path.

But in the book, the reason their feud begins in the first place is completely different. The level of retaliations back and forth between the two does not escalate so greatly. Borden is never arrested for any crime. (But, paradoxically, he does turn out to be more involved in Angier's ultimate fate than he is in the movie!) Tesla's machine does not function in exactly the same way in the book as it does in the movie -- the book version requires less "dirty work" of the user.

The book contains a subplot entirely excised from the film, involving the great-grandchildren of Angier and Borden interacting in modern times. The book seems to be much less cagey about hiding the true nature of Borden's character from the reader, but it trades that surprise for a very interesting and enjoyable narrative style when it comes to reading passages from his diary.

In short, I recommend the book to anyone who liked the movie. I ultimately didn't like it quite as much as the movie, but nevertheless found the comparisons between the two absolutely fascinating.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Day Broken

Months ago, I dedicated a single post to the series Day Break. I noted it as very likely to be canceled (not that I had to be Nostradamus to have gotten that one right), and as a very interesting exercise in writing (specifically, writers dealing with problems).

Fortunately, for the maybe 6 people like me out there who were actually curious to see where this story was heading, ABC has finally put up all the remaining episodes on their web site. And the series was apparented always planned for a limited run, because it does actually have an ending.

Unfortunately, though, the writing didn't really stay up to snuff as the 13 episodes went on. Maybe it's just that I took a two month break between episodes and lost track of the major plot threads, but I think that the whole thing became increasingly incoherent. A raft of characters were involved by the end of the tale, too many to reasonably track how exactly everyone was supposed to be involved. There weren't really any more examples of the specific cleverness I'd seen in the writing during the episodes that actually aired.

In short, it just fizzled out. Just like its life on the air did. But like I said, it does have an ending, unlike so many canceled shows. So if you're curious, go check it out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

And They Lived Disfunctionally Ever After

Recently, I went to see Black Snake Moan, the movie that asks the question "How many movies with 'snake' in the title can Samuel Jackson make?" And coincidentally, I went with the same friend that came along with me to see Alpha Dog, which apparently means we're all over movies with Justin Timberlake. Shrek III next, I suppose.

The strength of this movie is in its two leading actors, Samuel Jackson and Christina Ricci. They play off each other and off the handful of other characters in the film very well. Supporting characters are well-realized too. Samuel Jackson is in usual form: completely different physical appearance, same ol' speaking patterns that everybody knows and loves. Christina Ricci appears as you've never seen her before. (And I don't just mean half-naked for half the movie, but she appears that way too.)

It's just that the story itself didn't really pull me in much. I can't really say much about it and avoid spoiling anything for anyone planning to see the movie -- there just isn't much to it to be talking about. Bonus points, though, for a very "unpretty" message that changing one's character is a journey and not a destination.

Overall, I think it averages out to a middle-of-the-road C for me. But if you value good acting in your movies over good story, it would probably rate quite a bit higher for you.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Enter 77

A fairly good episode of Lost tonight; the best since the Juliet episode, at least. It focused on Sayid, and as usual, his flashback was an emotional and engaging one. It's possible this "torture is bad, mm-kay?" sentiment was a calculated reaction to all the flak Lost and 24 have been getting on this issue lately, but the motivations didn't really matter -- this storyline was really solid.

In the present, well... it seemed to be "one step forward, one step back." Which, I suppose for those dying for answers, was an improvement over the "one step forward, twelve steps back" of most episodes this season. From a purely thematic standpoint, we had a full season already of "station with computer in it," so the Flame just couldn't possibly have been meant to last. And the second you saw that shelf full of Dharma binders, packed full of information that would have actually explained things? Yeah, you knew the Flame was going to live up to its name by the end of the episode. (What is this thing Locke has with destroying Dharma stations?)

But at least the little hunting party has indeed found their way of getting to where they want to go. Forward momentum in the narrative seems likely from here.

Then there was the fluffy little ping-pong side plot with Hurley and Sawyer. Pretty fun. I can't decide whether seeing more of the game would have been better, or whether it wasn't really necessary. It's probably just the urge to see Sawyer taken down a peg that makes me wish to have seen more, when really, we all got the point from the opening serve we did get to see.

And yet, as fun as it is to see Sawyer lose, I'm not sure I'm happy he actually lost this bet. No nicknames for a week?! On Lost, that could be something five or six episodes without any Sawyer gems like "Zorro" or "Avalanche" or "Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon." That frankly sucks.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Revisiting Mars

Recently, I was asked if I still watch Veronica Mars, since I don't blog about it anymore. I guess I was just trying to keep the number of TV shows I talk about in check, so there'd be other stuff here to read about too.

But the fact is, not only do I still watch it and love it, but with the way Battlestar Galactica has stumbled a bit in season three, Veronica Mars is now my favorite show currently running. I think the way they've traded one season-long "uber mystery" for the "mini arcs" of this year hasn't hurt their game at all.

If I had to find something negative to say about the show, it might be that they haven't used some of the secondary characters particularly well this season. Wallace has been "Sir Not Appearing In This Episode" quite a lot this year, and he doesn't always really have anything good to do when he does. Mac got promoted to regular status, and Parker and Piz were added to the mix, but you hardly see them either.

But it's a minor issue. Everything about the show has been great. The relationship between Keith and Veronica must be the best parent/child relationship on the air. The "Hearst rapes" storyline that began the season was strong, and had all the fun twists and turns of past ongoing plots. The recently-wrapped-up Dean O'Dell murder was even better, as it touched on the same tones as the original season one "Lilly Kane murder" story -- someone Veronica cared about had been taken from her.

Now, for what could be (but I hope isn't) the show's final few episodes, they're in brand new territory. Keith's back to sheriff again (interrim sheriff, anyway), as has always been in the backstory but never seen on the show. The loss of Lamb as a foil for Keith and Veronica is a shame, but it opens up some doors to do something different for a while, and that's good too.

I think the quality is just as good now as it's ever been, and I hope they get rewarded with a fourth season.

Sweet Caroline

Prison Break continues to roll out great episodes as they careen towards the end of their season. Last night's episode was once again crammed full of goodness.

First of all, I have to say: thank God they didn't do a lame "they lose T-Bag's luggage" plot. No, instead, he loses his own luggage in a moment of panic and impatience. And now it's set into motion another race for the money. It's the unlikely pair of Sucre and Bellick against T-Bag (who surely won't let it go that easily, no matter how hard it will be for him to get back to the airport unseen).

Speaking of pairings, Mahone and Sara made another good one. Once again, Mahone shows his fierce intelligence, tricking her into leading him back to the brothers' location.

C-Note! Not dead after all! And now caught up in an interesting new subplot. How much longer is Mahone going to be "on the case?" I mean, he now not only knows Linc is innocent, but his office nemesis of several weeks might be getting ammunition against him from C-Note. It's a plotline that can't last forever, but should at least be more entertaining while it lasts than "C-Note on the run with his daughter" was.

But of course, the biggest stuff of the hour was the return of President Reynolds to the screen. Obviously, the show has to keep going, so obviously, something had to happent to render the evidence against the conspiracy worthless. I just wonder if it would have been this specific thing (the President stepping down), had the actress not been so tied up with another TV series. No matter, really. This played as a great development, and it was fun to see another old character back on the show, if only for an episode (like Pope, a few weeks ago).

And then there was the big revelation in the President's plotline, the contents of that tape. What could possibly have been on there that justified them playing the "withholding game" last week and not letting us hear it when the characters did? Well, we found out now, and it actually lived up to the hype. She and her brother were having an incestuous relationship. Yikes! I'm pretty sure no one saw that coming.

As an aside, I was struck as I sat with a friend watching this episode -- if you're a viewer of Prison Break, you're soon conditioned to distrust everyone on the show, and to expect the worst possible thing to happen. So much so, that my friend didn't even trust Lincoln's buddy -- to the point where she's saying, "did he do something to the beer? What's wrong with that fifty he gave him?!" I may not have been that suspicious, but I admit, I didn't trust the guy either. Because more bad crap happens to the characters on this show even than on 24.

(Though maybe not more than on Battlestar Galactica.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Logan assures Jack, "You don't have to threaten me." No, but he wants to threaten you.

Doubling his already impossibly high "weasel factor," Logan tries to compare house arrest for a year with nearly two years in a Chinese prison.

No one points out that the assassination attempt on Wayne Palmer would never have come as close as it did if Aaron Pierce had been in his security detail.

It's the warden from The Shawshank Redemption, as the cast of notorious "weaselly actors" continues to grow.

Lennox might rather die than be speechified at by the assassin.

Reed doesn't seem to realize that "or you'll have to kill me too" is not a very effective threat to an assassin.

Lennox has visited the Wizard, where he got a spine! Or maybe he "had it all along." Either way, he exposes the conspirators!

Uh-oh. The actress who played the alien hybrid wife on last year's Invasion is a member of the Vice President's staff. And this just two weeks after she made a guest appearance on Studio 60. This must mean 24 is going to get canceled now, too!

Anyone who doesn't take notice of Markov's cigar trimmer and start speculating how Jack Bauer is going to use it later must not be a regular viewer.

Logan asks where Gredenko is. Psst! Look in the box right above your head!

Looks like Jack is going to get Russia punched on his "Invasion of Foreign Embassies Punch Card."

Apparently, Karen Hayes was flying standby back to L.A.

Did Chloe also program something to arrange for all the guards along the back wall to move away so Jack could get in?

So, Jack's Russian phrase book: "Where is the library?" "How are you doing today?" "I was told to guard the back of the building." You know, conversational Russian.

Jack ought to be easy to spot once he's inside the building. He's the only one there who hasn't played a "stereotypical Russian" in like 17 other movies and TV shows.

Jack calls Buchanan to explain the new mess he's gotten himself into. Soon, Buchanan is going to stop answering when he sees Jack on the caller ID.

You know, Alias fans? The windows in the president's office kind of look like Rambaldi symbols.

Looks like Vice President Daniels picked the wrong week to stop cussing.

If Markov doesn't tell Jack what he wants to know, by God, Jack is going to light up and smoke his severed finger.

Morris appears in a box at the beginning of the final act. Oh, so he's actually in this episode after all?

Buchanan shows his inner Jack. Not 15 minutes after telling the Vice President he in no way sanctioned Jack's actions, he makes plans to invade the consulate himself.

Donald Trump's separated-at-birth Russian twin comes in to be sweet-talked by Jack. (He probably doesn't know what is this strange word 'nookyaler' the American uses.)

Listening to Jack really doesn't work out for him.

Alright, the season is now halfway over. Let's take stock. On the plus side, we're still following the same single main plotline and its logical fallout (pun not intended) as was introduced at the start of the season. This is a major improvement over seasons four and five. But on the down side, most of actual episodes thus far haven't really packed the visceral thrills of last season -- watching Jack go up against Christopher Henderson, watching the adventures of Aaron Pierce, and the like.

Still, there's still 12 hours to bring more moments worthy of the improved overall story. Maintain the perimeter. Send in the Tac Teams! Bring on act two!

(Oh, and Prison Break fans... I've had to postpone my viewing of the latest episode until tomorrow. I'll be here with my thoughts then.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007


What to say about tonight's episode of Battlestar Galactica? This 43 minute episode was 40 minutes of boredom capped with 3 minutes of "what the frak just happened?!"

Pussyfooting up to the major issue (and giving people who haven't seen it yet a chance to back out from the spoilers), let me start by saying why I didn't like the bulk of the episode: it felt completely untethered.

Suddenly, Starbuck's having trouble sleeping. We're told she's had this problem since the mid-season cliffhanger wrapped up, but we've never had any on screen indication of this until tonight. This new development is completely untethered with the events of the last six weeks.

Here are all these flashbacks of Starbuck's past history with her mother. But to me, they aren't really connected to events in the present in a meaningful way. Really, there isn't a meaningful plot happening in the present -- just Starbuck's spontaneous cracking up that nobody's seen coming.

Of course, just when I'd be about to write this episode off completely, along comes the blindsiding ending. What are we supposed to think now? Has Starbuck now completely thwarted the notion that she had a greater destiny by essentially having killed herself? Is she supposed to not actually be dead, but off on some supernatural spiritual journey? Is this in any way connected to D'Anna's exploration of the "space between life and death" (from a Cylon point of view) in the first half of this season?

Suddenly, the stark realism and harsh reality that the show has always portrayed (and which would now say Starbuck is dead, dead, dead) comes in complete opposition with the mythic aspect to the story (that says that can't be it if Starbuck indeed has a destiny to fulfill).

But narratively, everything in the episode adds up to a clear message: So long, Starbuck. There was an elaborate re-cap at the start of the hour, covering virtually every key moment involving her going back to season one. There was a callback to one of her first scenes ever on the show, with the "nothin' but the rain" exchange with Adama. There was the "when I die, I want you to do this for me" conversation with Lee.

Man, I really have absolutely no clue where the show is going from here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


With Fight Club, The Game, and Seven all appearing on my (in need of some revision, but for now it is what it is) Top 100 Movies List, there was no question that I'd be rushing out to see David Fincher's newest movie, Zodiac. And rush I did -- I went Friday, opening night.

This is actually Fincher's least Fincher-like movie to date, and that's not really a bad thing. It shows that he's expanding his style a bit. There aren't many of his signature "impossible one-take shots" (two exceptions: a birdseye view of a cab moving through the city streets, the construction of the Transamerica Pyramid). It's generally much more brightly lit than his other movies (exceptions: scenes in which the face of the Zodiac killer is being deliberately obscured in shadow). It has nothing approaching the level of gore in his earlier movies (only real exception here is a depiction of a stabbing, but it's really much more violent than it is gory).

Be warned in advance, should you go -- this movie is 2 hours, 40 minutes long. And that is its major weakness. It feels like a long movie. Lots of people got up and walked out from the screening I attended. (Though I couldn't say whether it's because they weren't liking the movie, or because our showing started at 9:55 pm, and they simply didn't know they were going to have to be awake until 1:00, what with previews.) I can't say for sure exactly what I'd cut to make the movie more manageable, but I can tell you exactly where I felt things start to drag.

The movie has three central characters, and no one of them really comes off as the sole protagonist of the piece. There's Jake Gyllenhaal as a cartoonist for the San Francisco chronicle who becomes obsessed with the details of the case. There's Mark Ruffalo as the main detective investigating the crimes (and the "fourth" significant character, his partner played by Anthony Edwards). And there's Robert Downey Jr, playing a reporter also working at the Chronicle.

Ruffalo and Downey both have excellent characters. They're compelling, funny at times, interesting to watch. Gyllenhaal's character is flat. I don't believe this is a fault of his acting, but is more an issue of the script -- he just doesn't command your attention like the other guys. In the first two-thirds of the movie, Ruffalo and Downey's characters are really the "stars" of the film, and most of the action revolves around them. But for the last third, the reins are handed almost solely to Gyllenhaal's character, and almost instantly the pace starts to drag.

It's particularly interesting to me that this character would be the weak link, since it's the man who in real life wrote the book on the Zodiac killer on which the movie is based. It makes me a little curious as to what sort of writing style he used, and just how he and the other real life people come off in his book. Perhaps the screenwriter has done an overly-faithful adaptation, and this man really comes off as the worst "character" in his own book?

In any case, the slow final hour does bring my opinion of the movie down a lot, but not beyond redemption. I give the movie a B-.

As a short footnote to this post, I'd like to nominate someone for Worst Parent of the Year. As my friend ("Roland Deschain") and I walked into the theater, there in the first seats of the first row was a woman who had her two kids on either side of her, who appeared to be about ages 8 and 4. This woman is taking two children under 10 to a rated R movie about a serial killer at 10:00 at night. (Amazingly, they were well-behaved -- but this is so much not the point I hesitate even to mention it.) Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Born to Be Bad

Look out! It's a meme! This guy made all the cool kids starting talking about their 5 favorite movie villains. Or, at the least, five solid movie villains. Movie nut that I am, I couldn't resist throwing my hat in the ring.

1) "John Doe," played by Kevin Spacey in Seven. You never even learn this guy's name. His entire identity is the acts he commits. The chilling, disturbing, horrifying acts. And he's fiendishly intelligent; he would not even have been caught had he not turned himself in to complete his master plan.

2) Teddy KGB, played by John Malkovich in Rounders. You could argue that more scenery gets chewed than Oreos in this character's two bookending scenes. But they're the best scenes in the movie, and the character has made an indelible impression on anybody even slightly interested in poker.

3) Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. I admit, this isn't a surprising choice. In fact, it was #1 on AFI's List when they did their Top 50 Heroes and Villains. You could also argue that Buffalo Bill, not Lecter, is the true villain of this film. But you can't deny what a powerful character and iconic performance this was. Before subsequent sequel and prequel movies and books ran it all into the ground.

4) Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II. You can tell what an impression this performance made on movie villainy by how often it was imitated in later films (both further Star Trek films and film/television in general), from the spouting of Melville to the driving the hero to scream his adversary's name into the camera. And of course, because of Khan, Spock was killed.

5) Michael Myers, aka "The Shape," from Halloween. Another character whose power is clear from the influence he would have on later films. Michael was the first of the "unstoppable, unfeeling killing machines" that would dominate horror films for decades. And he had the most memorable and recognizable "theme music" of any villain in all of cinema (with the possible exception of Darth Vader, who I'll discount for: a) not having actually had his theme until the first sequel, Empire; and b) sharing his theme with the pretty much all Imperials).

Honorable Mention: Ed Rooney, played by Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. One of the most entertaining villains in any movie, but I couldn't really put him on my list because he never really seemed worthy of the hero. (Though I suppose he did actually catch Ferris in the end, but for sister Jeannie's intervention.)

Second Honorable Mention: Elmer Fudd in "What's Opera Doc?" With the aid of his spear and magic helmet, the determined hunter actually succeeded in "killing da wabbit" in this famous cartoon. Killing Bugs Bunny? Evil indeed.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Festival of Frights

This past weekend, I caught the movie The Abandoned. At a swift 90 minutes, the movie tells the story of a woman in her early 40s who goes to the Russian countryside to investigate the truth of her real birth parents, and once there is swept up in a supernatural hauntstravaganza. This was the winner of last year's After Dark HorrorFest, a showcase of low-budget horror films whose winner received a wider theatrical release. Logic would dictate that the winner of such a festival would probably be a diamond in the rough that is 90% of all horror movies. And to some extent, it was. But it was not that wonderful.

In the plus column, there are lots of sequences in this movie that are genuinely scary -- and not just the "cheap tricks" of sudden noises and rapid cutting, but some drawn-out moments of dread and tension. Though speaking of sudden noises, the sound design in the film is excellent. Very evocative, very effective -- definitely a movie to showcase a home theater system on eventual DVD. The acting is quite good (without even having to qualify the statement with "for an independent film"), and the directing ably sets up the dread and tension I spoke of.

On the flip side, the writing is very weak. Even the supernatural needs to follow some sort of logic and rules (at least one sensical within the context of a given story), and this story fails to do that. Also, the notion of "pre-destination" and fate plays a big role in the story, and unfortunately it's so significant and telegraphed from miles away that the last 15 minutes of the film deflate all the tension -- you know exactly how it's going to conclude. (And the film's partial aversion to logic isn't so extreme that it shuns this inevitable outcome.)

Still, a grade A horror film is a truly rare bird to find, and this movie has a lot more good than bad about it. I give it a B. If you're into the genre, I suspect you'll find something about it to like if you check it out for yourself.

Tricia Tanaka is Dead

Technical difficulties last night prevented me from bringing you this post when I'd planned, but depending on how regularly you stop by (and when in the day), you won't even know the difference.

This newest episode of Lost was not fantastic, but it did continue the general season three trend: episodes about The Others are not as good as episodes focusing on the rest of the group.

The Hurley flashbacks were fun, but more for getting to see Cheech Marin worked into the tapestry as his father than for any way it which they illuminated Hurley's character. It is interesting that he would still carry the "gotta have hope" lesson with him in life 17 years after the man who taught it to him had abandoned him. But then, since Hurley believes he's cursed, he'd probably grasp at anything that might convince him that can be changed.

Which takes us the story on the island. I was impressed at the way the "let's fix the car" storyline put me so squarely in the emotions of the characters. When Hurley was all gung-ho about it at the beginning, I very much shared everyone else's view: who gives a crap? But damned if at the end, I didn't really feel some of the euphoria that he, Charlie, Jin, and Sawyer felt as they cruised around the meadow in their odd version of Little Miss Sunshine. (Two years before that movie existed, in the timeline of the show, of course.)

I don't think we've seen the last of the "Charlie marked for death" plot thread, though. (At least, I certainly hope we haven't.) Still, it was a nice bonding for he and Hurley. They've been good friends since the beginning, and you could see why in this episode.

Other nice touches: Hurley visiting Libby's grave, him welcoming Sawyer back to the group, the nickname "Jumbotron," Sawyer's teaching to Jin ("the three things a woman wants to hear"), and the revisiting of Rousseau. Although curse me and my opening credits curiosity, because I'd spotted Mira Furlan's name at the beginning of the episode, taking away all the surprise and getting me even a little exasperated when Kate didn't actually even find her until the closing minute.