Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Strange Events at Hogwarts

With the final Harry Potter novel just a couple months away, I recently decided I'd re-read the first six books in the series in time for the release. I was somewhere in the midst of chapter four of Sorcerer's Stone when I turned the page, and this 3x5 photo dropped out of my book:

I have never seen this photo before in my life. Clearly, at some point after reading the book the first time, I loaned it out to someone else, who used this photo as a bookmark and then unintentionally (one would think) passed it to me when returning the book. It has sat there, pressed between the pages for something like five years.

I really can't quite put this picture out of my head. I couldn't finish the chapter for some time after discovering it. I've been scratching my head regularly ever since, trying to figure out who this might have come from. And I'm at a loss for clues, because I don't recognize the person in the photo, nor the room in which it was taken.

I'm a little nervous about what I might find when I read Chamber of Secrets.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

All Hail Breaks Loose

My lunch crowd at work must really like the Mongolian barbeque, because today at lunch, halfway to our destination, it started to hail. And we kept going. By the time we arrived at our destination, it looked like this:

We were drenched and pelted, but it I think it probably was still worth it.

Surprising Developments

Here's a sign I saw in front of a building under construction in Las Vegas:

A building in Vegas to be used as a casino and resort hotel? What will they think of next?!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thar She Blows!

Tonight, I saw the last (please, please, let it be the last) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the nearly three hour long At World's End. It made me truly glad this is a three-day weekend, because if I had wasted that much of a regular weekend on it, I'd be livid.

Johnny Depp's fun-loving performance was the main thing keeping the second movie from being a total loss, but it's just not enough here. He's not on screen for what feel like large chunks of the movie, and he's simply not as amusing when he is.

The action scenes are completely ill-conceived. "More" is suppose to be "better." More people fighting, and manic intercutting between them -- but it just keeps you from tracking any one piece of the action enough to fully comprehend it, or even to care. More CG tricks to deliver impossible settings for the battle -- but they look exactly that: "impossible." You simply know that nothing you're seeing is real, and it removes all the sense of adventure. The fun of that first Jack/Will sword fight in the first movie (or even the "giant wheel" sequence of part two) has been left 20,000 leagues behind.

The acting takes on a soap opera quality this time around. You get the feeling that even the actors don't really know what they're saying or what's going on, but they're compensating by doing lots of very intense emoting and shouting about things.

If only anything that was happening had the fun escapism of a soap opera, that might be something to get swept up in. But instead, the story staggers along as if the movie was being filmed in order and completely invented on the set as they went along. All sorts of uninteresting new concepts and characters that made no appearance (nor even received a mention) in the first two installments start popping up all over the place. There's a complete lack of unity in the plot -- a dozen different characters each want a dozen different things. And you don't care much if any of them gets any of it. Like Jack's compass, the script doesn't seem to know what it wants, and just keeps spinning around in circles trying to figure it out.

I give the movie a D-. Originally, I thought I was going to give it an F, but I looked back on my blog and saw that it took a movie as unspeakably awful as The Hills Have Eyes to get an F last time I gave one out. This Pirates was mind-numbingly boring, often times exceedingly dumb, but it wasn't quite that bad.

Not quite.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Silence of the Ms

The M&M World store in Las Vegas is four stories of out of control M&M merchandise. Along the escalator between two of those floors is a mural depicting the way M&Ms looked in commercials at many different points in history. It includes this totally creepy-ass picture:

I can't be the only person who saw this and thought of the end of the movie Hannibal, where Lecter makes Ray Liotta's character eat part of his own brain. I'm not sure I ever want to have M&Ms again.

Friday, May 25, 2007

His Name is Earl

Well, it's the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars. And since something like seven of those 30 years actually didn't suck out loud, I'm going to honor the occasion with this video:

As with so much that is related to Star Wars, it's considerably better than the prequel movies. Arguably, I think it makes more sense too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Matter of Time

Sarcasm just doesn't work well in print. Case in point, this Letter to the Editor published in an Arkansas newspaper a month ago:

Now maybe some snobby prejudice of mine about people from Arkansas (despite the fact I don't personally know any) made me jump to this conclusion, but I swear my first reaction was: what a complete moron! But then I thought twice, and went to the ultimate arbiter of urban legends, They've got the full story on this letter. Sarcasm. Apparently, from someone who has been known to write these sorts of sarcastic missives to newspapers and such.

Well, all very clever. But I say be careful. One must be very precise in using sarcasm in writing. It's much less ambiguous when spoken.

I say this even though I'm a big fan of sarcasm. No, seriously. Really, I am.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

The third season of Lost has had quite its share of rough patches, but it went out in style with tonight's finale. It wasn't an ending that will have me waiting with baited breath like the "what the hell's in the damn hatch!" cliffhanger of season one, but strangely, at the same time, I'm more pleased by this ending.

It all comes down to this: I've said many times that I am more fascinated by the stories of the characters in the show than I am at the myriad mysteries of The Island. And a while back, before the announcement of Lost's "final end date" in 2010 (but when the talk about them actually setting an end date had begun), I was starting to wonder about how the show would ever be able to wrap up some of character issues it had dangling. Some of the questions about the characters seemed to demand knowing about their lives after The Island.

Will Sayid ever be reunited with Nadia? How will Kate avoid being arrested for murder when the survivors are all rescued? And if some of the characters who have been "healed" by The Island leave, would their problems return? Would Hurley's curse return? Rose's cancer? Would Locke lose the ability to walk? (Well... would he ever actually he leave, even if given the chance?)

Unfortunately for folks like me actually interested in the answers to some of those questions (and not just "what exactly is that smoke monster?"), it seemed inherent in the narrative structure of Lost that once they're rescued, the show is over. You couldn't really continue to do episodes after The Island -- hell, that would make AfterMASH seem brilliant by comparison.

So, the solution? Change the narrative structure of the show. And so tonight, we have the first flash-forward. And it's great on many levels. For one, it was dramatic and emotional, and Matthew Fox gave a terrific performance. It was by far the most interesting Jack-centric episode we've seen in ages. Secondly, it "shows the way" by which some of the questions I mentioned above can actually be answered. And thirdly, it actually introduced some new questions to the mix that I for one find much more engaging. Sure, "what the hell is Jacob?" is an interesting brain tickler. But I can get emotionally invested in asking, "whose funeral was it that only Jack (as neither family nor friend) attended?" or "what happened to pull Kate and Jack apart in the future?"

I don't know if this flash-forward device is going to be used sparingly, or if we're now in store for entire seasons of nothing but "future flashes." Either way, the door is open now, and I like the possibilities behind that door.

But there was one thing about tonight's episode that did disappoint me a bit -- Charlie's death. I accept that it had to be done. We'd been strung along all season on Desmond's visions, far too long to buy out of them with any other ending than Charlie actually dying. But I find I wish he'd actually died last week. That episode was a perfect, emotional sendoff for him, and I wish the closure had just happened there.

This mini-escapade with the two women in the Looking Glass station didn't really add anything, dramatically speaking. And we didn't really need Penny to show up and tell us Naomi was bad -- I think it was pretty clear that Ben was telling the truth on that one. (Ben does actually tell the truth quite a lot -- just a ridiculously abbreviated version of it.) Instead, the moment of Charlie's actual sacrifice was separated from the buildup to it, and in the end... frankly... it didn't make a lot of sense to me. Why could Charlie not get on the other side of the door before he slammed it? Or why couldn't he stop to put on one of the wet suits they said were there before punching in the code that he had every reason to think would bring the water crushing in on him? Or hell, the water wasn't going to crush the whole station -- why in the world couldn't he just forget about sealing the door and try to swim out the same way he swam in?

In other words, Charlie's sacrifice was a meaningless one, when the episode last week had set us up for exactly the opposite. And as a character, he deserved that better ending.

At least even though Charlie no longer has a future on the show, the other characters do -- in a very vivid way I had not imagined just a few hours ago. Very good move by the writers, and I'll enjoy watching where the story goes from here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mars Descending

Tonight, the best show on television became another grave marker in the Brilliant But Cancelled cemetery -- tonight, the final episode(s) of Veronica Mars aired. (Sure, there's been gossip over the last month that a new incarnation of the show, jumped a few years in the future and featuring Veronica as an FBI agent, would surface -- but that's been pretty thoroughly shot down in the last few days.)

Unlike other shows I love, which have suffered creative downturns this season, the quality of Veronica Mars never really waned. The nature of the show changed pretty dramatically this season, as the show tried "mini-story arcs" instead of a season-long mystery (and, in the last five or six episodes, no major mystery at all). Nevertheless, on an episode-by-episode basis, the show remained entertaining and witty, well written and well acted.

The last hour in particular tonight made me really feel sorry for what we're losing. Things came back around full circle, with Jake Kane -- an integral part of the season one story -- returning to the mix. It made for a fine solo episode, but I couldn't help but wonder if the whole plot of "The Castle" was originally intended to be the final "mini story arc" for the last third of the season, compressed when the decision was made to finish the year with stand-alones. It felt like a story that demanded more than 42 minutes could contain.

And it left us with a host of unanswered questions. Not just "will Keith win the election?", but "will he stay out of prison for tampering with the evidence of Veronica's crime?" Will there be repercussions on Logan for going after someone "connected" to the Castle? We'll probably never know.

Still, it would be a shame to focus only on the loose ends left here at this ignominious finish -- and in doing so, lose sight of the three good years the show gave us. Other brilliant shows didn't even get that much of a chance. And the DVDs will always be there to enjoy.

But Veronica will be missed.

Monday, May 21, 2007

4:00 AM - 6:00 AM

Doyle explains to Josh how they're going to hand him over to his grandfather to get the component they need.

"This may sting a little." ("OW! SON OF A BITCH!!!")

They take Jack into temporary custody, but they don't take his cell phone away. That's like leaving him with a loaded gun. Temporary custody indeed.

In case you tuned in late, Chloe explains to Jack that Josh is going to be handed over to his grandfather in exchange for the component they need.

In case you're still confused, Vice President Daniels explains to the Russian President that they're going to make an exchange in order to get the component back.

Lennox doesn't understand how Jack was able to make phone calls while he was under arrest, either.

How much CTU equipment does Buchanan have at his house that they're still cleaning it out three-and-a-half hours after he was fired?

In case you're clinically dead, Karen explains to Bill how they're going to hand Josh over to his grandfather in exchange for the component they need.

Doyle doesn't even look inside the port-a-potty. Yup, that's checking the place out real good.

Of course Phillip Bauer has a tap into CTU's satellite surveillance. I think there's a homeless street mime in Des Moines that has a tap into CTU's satellite surveillance.

Doyle mentions our first "perimeter" of the evening! Drink!

Imagine if Josh had actually picked a fight with his grandfather over the phone even after Doyle told him not to.

Hey, wasn't there a schmuck from division here just last episode that came to relieve Nadia of command and question the entire team? He must have fallen in the hole the Chinese blew in the floor.

Nadia wants to be updated immediately if the tracker signal weakens "even a little." She says this precisely at the moment we see the signal strength on screen change from 98% to 100%. If it drops 2% again, does she want to know?

Bill intercepts Jack Bauer. You can't take an SUV off the road like that!

Chloe's right in the middle of an operation that might avert all-out war between the U.S. and Russia. So of course, she gets up and leaves to go help Milo's brother.

And moments later, Nadia does the same.

Nadia stops to take a phone call, and just like that, Milo's brother is gone. Never to be seen again. So glad we took those moments, then.

Doyle ("Jack Jr.") says "dammit." Take a sip.

Doyle and Josh take off running toward the water. Phillip said walk, dammit!

"The component was a fake. It blew!" Yes, it really blew chunks. Of shrapnel.

Like Behrooz before him, Josh has learned how great CTU's "we'll rescue the boy after the exchange" plans work out.

Daniels says "until you sit in this chair, you don't know anything." And once you do sit in that chair, you really don't know anything.

Doyle is going to be blind in at least one eye thanks to the explosion. So if we see him again next season, it'll be as Pirate Doyle!

Everybody should be really glad it's not part of the drinking game to do a shot every time someone says "the boy."

Phillip shares a very peculiar "I am your father" kind of moment with Jack via split screen.

Chloe keels over from a sudden bout of spontaneous pregnancy! (It seems to happen on TV all the time. But does anyone know of this actually happening in real life?)

Big day for Josh. He got to ride in a helicopter, and now his grandfather wants to take him for a ride on a submarine, too!

Daniels has been itching to bomb someone or something for 12 hours now. Don't think for a moment he's not going to jump at the chance to order an air strike on this oil platform.

Hang on a second. This satellite coverage they've brought back up and used to get Phillip's location on the oil platform... wouldn't this be the same satellite coverage that Phillip demonstrated just half an hour ago that he had a tap on? Shouldn't Phillip be able to see all these scans being taken of his location and know that people are coming for him?

No one notices (or cares?) that Bill and Jack are loading down with assault weapons to head back for "immediate debrief?"

Cheng starts talking with his henchmen in Chinese, and Phillip asks "what is it?" So, he's planning to defect with his grandson to China to live for the rest of his life, and he doesn't understand a word of Chinese?

Is this oil platform really "decommissioned?" Because it seems like every stray bullet is causing an explosion half a mile high.

Phillip gives Josh a bit of the "control your emotions" philosophy he picked up from those Vulcans he made first contact with.

Josh steps up!

Jack knows exactly how Josh feels. I guess he shot his grandfather, too.

Jack turns and walks away from his dying father. What are you willing to believe, if you don't actually see the body?

BOOM! You can blame the rise in gas prices on Phillip Bauer and his evil plot.

Jack drops off the rope to do some body surfing, then washes on shore. Where are Locke and Sayid?

Lennox name checks every major plot development of the season in explaining to Daniels why he should let Karen and Bill off the hook.

He even leaves his blackmail tape on the table on the way out. What are you willing to believe, if you didn't actually see whether he made copies or not?

We know Chloe was having a relationship with Milo before getting back together with Morris. What are you willing to believe without a paternity test?

Next season, Pirate Doyle is teaming up with Chloe's baby.

Cheng looks like he competed in a pie-eating contest.

Well, it's been a rocky season, but it all wraps up with a really strong and emotional extended sequence involving Jack, Heller, and Audrey.

So, that's it for now. Let's sum up season six:

In the plus column, this season revolved around a single plotline and its natural offshoots more than the last two, which both bobbed from plot to plot every few weeks.

But, in the minus column, almost all of said plot felt like a rehash of material we've seen in the five prior seasons. It was almost like 24 had become a parody of itself, piling on the cliches. The good dramatic payoffs were few and far between. And absolutely no payoff on the whole "is Josh Jack's son or maybe Phillip's?" thing. (I guess he's really Graem's son after all.)

So, if I'm ranking all the seasons in order, I think it looks like this:

1) Season Two
2) Season One
3) Season Three
4) Season Five
5) Season Four
6) Season Six

Yes... we've hit an all-time low. Hopefully, the creative minds over at 24 will make good on their recent hints to take the show in a new direction next season. I know I'll be there when "day seven" begins, but I'm not going to be waiting on pins and needles for it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Tonight, I went to see Shrek the Third. While I never put the first two movies in the series on a high pedestal or anything, I found them both fairly entertaining. In other words, I don't think I had great expectations of this third installment.

But the movie manage to fall well short of them anyway. I really don't know what more to say other than simply this: it's boring, and it's not funny. Alright, so there are a few laughs in there, but I think a 90 minute movie's gotta manage a better average than one chuckle every half hour.

Yes, this is a kids' movie, but this one feels a lot more juvenile than the first two. The clever fish-out-of-water plotting of the first two movies is jettisoned in favor of putting the bodily function jokes that only peppered the first two front and center here.

So many characters have now been built up over the series that the movie can't hold them all. Fiona, once a major character, is now relegated to a go-nowhere side plot. Shrek himself is barely even the protagonist this time around; he shares the spotlight with the new and rather uninteresting character of Arthur.

Even the animation is rather shoddy, compared to what other CG studios are producing these days. Sure, the models get better with each installment, but the performances the animators give them ring false this time -- sometimes too fast, sometimes too stiff, but almost always very artificial.

I give the movie a D. There are an awful lot of "third movie in the series" scheduled for this summer, and unfortunately, in these first few weeks of the blockbuster movie season, we are not off to a good start.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Not that anyone needed proof that success is a good thing, but Blizzard really can do whatever the hell they want, it seems.

About a month ago, the rumor mill started churning that Blizzard would have a big announcement coming at a trade show this weekend. That sparked tons of speculation of a new MMO, new Diablo, new property entirely, whatever. But most of the speculation quickly settled on StarCraft II.

So then, last week, Blizzard came out with a release, saying essentially: "yes, we're going to announce something, but sorry, it's not going to be StarCraft II."

And then this weekend, the big day came, and as Shocho (among countless others) have pointed out, the announcement was StarCraft II. So, Blizzard just flat out lied to everyone. And of course, they can totally get away with it. What are you going to do, not buy it even though you liked the first one? If you're a hopeless WoW addict, are you going to give up your account now?

You could argue that it's not such a bad thing, because in the end, they were giving the people something they really wanted. But I still say it's a flat out lie, and an odd one at that, because all it really bought them was about 7 days of people scratching their heads.

So the point of all this would be what, if not: "we can do whatever the hell we want to"?

Friday, May 18, 2007

False Branding

It was about this time last year that I talked about Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novel, Outbound Flight. I remarked that Zahn was one of the few writers that seemed to be able to transcend the limitations of licensed fiction, a pretty good writer without even having to qualify it with a statement like "for a writer of Star Wars books." But I also noted that Outbound Flight was his weakest Star Wars novel to date.

Unfortunately, that was until now. His newest book, Allegiance, is set in between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. And the problem is, it's barely a Star Wars novel. The story is primarily concerned with a group of stormtroopers who desert from their unit after experiencing an Imperial atrocity firsthand. Along the way, they sort of bump into Luke, Han, and Leia for a few pages. Alright, so I'm exaggerating their lack of involvement in the story a bit, but their role is incredibly minimized.

As a general piece of fiction, it's not really a "bad" book, though it is a bit short and shallow. The story of the deserters' disillusionment from the military doesn't carry much emotional weight, because the characters aren't particularly fleshed out. It's like Zahn knows on some level that he really shouldn't spend much time with these strangers, since it's supposed to be a Star Wars novel, and yet the plot revolves around them so much that not fleshing them out as characters keeps you from ever really investing in the book.

So without enough focus on the principle Star Wars characters to read well as a "Star Wars book," yet also not a strong enough tale to carry a stand-alone science fiction tale, the book is just a short little distraction that doesn't amount to much. Really short, actually, when compared to Zahn's past books.

I don't mind that Timothy Zahn wants to write something different. (I've actually read some of his original work, and enjoyed it.) But he really can't do that under the "Star Wars" banner. That's not what people are paying for in that instance.

But it's still better than any of the prequel movies.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Grand Night Out

While I was in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago, I went to see one of the newer Cirque du Soliel shows, Ka, at the MGM Grand. On prior trips to Vegas, I've seen Mystere (fantastic) and O (a major disappointment), so I went with a full knowledge of the kind of spectacle a Cirque show is. And I actually recommend that people don't go to Ka if they've never seen a Cirque show before.

If you've seen one of these shows before, then you know they're a dizzying array of acrobatic feats that boggles the mind and the senses. Ka takes that another step beyond into sensory overload by adding the most outlandish stage and staging of any piece of live performance I've ever seen. My thinking is that someone simultaneously confronted with the grandeur of the stage and the wonder of the gymnastics will simply have too much to focus on and take in if seeing it all for the first time.

The set for Ka has been covered in cable documentaries and featured in an episode of CSI. It's insane. It has a giant platform that can rotate in any direction (360 degrees on both axes). At times, they cover it completely with sand to simulate a desert, and pour it off over the edge into the trap below. It's all touch sensitive, and in another segment of the show, it's turned completely vertical for a segment in which performers enact a climbing routine where every touch sets watery ripples in motion across the surface. To say nothing of the fireballs that shoot out from below before the show. Or the indoor fireworks display that makes up the finale. And a dozen other wonders in between.

Aside from the juiced-up staging, there's one other significant way in which Ka differs from the other Cirque shows I've seen. It has a story. Well, more or less. Other Cirque shows have a loose theme around which all the acts in the show are based. Ka's theme is a loose story of a separated twin brother and sister, heirs to an empire under attack. It's not a detailed story, and still largely just serves as a framework to hold a series of acrobatic pieces together. But it still is a different approach than Mystere or O.

In all, I enjoyed the show very much. Mystere is still better, I think, but anyone who goes to Vegas and has seen that would probably really enjoy this. And since, like all these sorts of shows in Las Vegas, it's sure to run for years and years, you may well have the chance to get out there and see it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Greatest Hits

Judging solely on the merits of the Charlie storyline (and its related flashbacks), tonight's episode of Lost was, in my opinion, the best one this season.

I'm not really sure I ever completely believed that Charlie would die in his big dive at the end of the episode... but that was completely irrelevant for the story to pack a powerful emotional punch. Every single moment played strong and perfectly: The flashback when Charlie (and the rest of Drive Shaft) first hears their song on the radio. The moment during a down-and-out stretch in his life when someone called him a hero. The fact that the best moment of his life actually took place there on the island. His guarded "non-goodbyes" to Claire and Hurley. Especially his goodbye to Aaron, and leaving behind the ring (whose significance we'd just learned). And most of all, the last moments in the boat with Desmond, as he embraces his fate. Like I said, I found all of this to be the best Lost has been this entire season. (And that, by the way, is not really a slam on this season. I thought it was pretty worthy of sitting along side many of the more emotional storylines from earlier seasons, too.)

The rest of the plot in the present? Well, it did have its moments -- mostly those featuring Rose and Bernard. Man, have I missed them this season. I'm not sure I even realized until seeing them back on screen again just how much I've missed them this season. Their moments were sweet and funny, and welcome.

But the rest was just moving the pieces into position for the finale next week. And at times in a very hamfisted and showy way that held no internal logic -- it was just for the sake of setting up a season finale. Why Jack's insistence that "everything has to happen at once?" Well, no other real, logical reason other than "so that it will all take place in the season finale." Why drag everyone up to that clearing to waste some of their limited supply of dynamite on blowing up a demonstration tree when a simple "we've got some dynamite from the Black Rock" would have sufficed? Well, no logical reason other than "it looked cool."

And I feel like maybe I've been cheated out of a piece of story between Carl and Alex. Last we saw, Carl just ran off into the jungle. Now we find out Alex has been helping him live there all along. Surely they can't have been getting away with this without someone noticing. Ben, or someone loyal to him? Or someone against Ben, helping keep the secret perhaps? All I know is, I feel like "secret love," while perhaps a bit cliche (and maybe not actually all that interesting between two characters we don't really know all that well), still sounds more interesting to me than some of the tales we actually have been shown this season.

But even with the flaws, there was far more good about this episode than not. Now here's hoping it leads us into a quality finale next week.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Actually, We DO Need Another "Hero"

After months of rumors and speculations, this recent press release has finally made it official: an all-80s music mini-edition of Guitar Hero is hitting this summer.

With the announcement, they revealed seven of the songs to be included in the game, and the set list is definitely off to a great start. There's quintessentially 80s songs like I Want Candy, I Ran, and Heat of the Moment, and iconic tracks from metal bands that haven't yet made it into Guitar Hero, like Twisted Sister (I Wanna Rock) and Quiet Riot (Metal Health).

As I said, a great start. But what could fill some of those 23 other slots in the set list to make things perfect? I'm hoping for:

867-5309 by Tommy Tutone
Beat It by Michael Jackson (gotta have the Van Halen solo, right?)
Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
I Wanna New Drug by Huey Lewis and the News
White Wedding by Billy Idol

And let's see... maybe Fire and Ice by Pat Benetar? Maybe Talk Dirty to Me by Poison for one of the "Opening Licks"? Gotta get some INXS in there -- Suicide Blonde? Devil Inside? And hey, I was basically kidding with that Tina Turner "Thunderdome" reference in the post title, but hey, there's guitar in that song...

It looks like this is going to be the smallest song selection of any Guitar Hero yet. But I expect I'll get more play out of it than either of the games that came before.

Monday, May 14, 2007

3:00 AM - 4:00 AM

We open on everyone taking turns getting punched and slapped around by the Chinese thugs.

The Chinese plan is to move everyone to a secure room in CTU, and then leave. Flaw in the plan: there are no rooms in CTU that are secure.

Into the garbage chute, Josh!

Wait, how do I know if I'm group one or group two?

Jack is trying to set a record for strangulations in one 24-hour period. Oh wait, neck snap. Never mind.

They make it a point to show us that Morris stands up and does something heroic to earn a little redemption... but then don't bother to show us that he's actually okay after the fight is over.

Josh will fit right in in China, don't you think?

All this talk of legacy and promise when Josh was born. Someone in my viewing group is getting suspicious that maybe Josh is actually Phillip's son. Ew. Well... ooooh. But ew.

Cheng tells Josh his grandfather is a visionary. He did invent warp drive, after all.

Check out Jack's badass Slip 'N' Slide action!

Josh failed gym class.

Jack lost Cheng. You know what time it is, folks! "We're setting up a perimeter around the building." (Drink!)

Oh, right! I forgot during all the action and excitement that was interesting that Lisa was busy getting "debriefed."

Karen Hayes missed an episode. And in case you did too, they're going to cram you with some exposition about what's going on in this subplot right now.

Peter MacNicol deserves an Emmy for his delivery of the line: "And... finally, we're done."

Lisa to Bishop: "I'll have what you're having." Bishop to Lisa: "Oh, I doubt it, because your drink might come with untimely death!"

Lennox has Bishop put in the bedroom. Because that seems to be where he spends all his time.

"Operational incapacities"?? What a bizarre turn of phrase.

Nadia should have received a flash memo about this division guy showing up. But she doesn't have Flash installed on her machine.

Looks like Lisa can join Wayne Palmer in the coma ward.

The Russians' position: Because of you, we're about to go to war with a major superpower. So we might as well take on two at the same time.

Suvarov gives Daniels an ultimatum "within two hours." So everybody, take a drink next Monday.

Russians have perimeters too! (Drink! Vodka!)

"He is a sociopath, she's right about that." See... give MacNicol a frakkin' Emmy.

Apparently, U.S.-hating generals leftover from the Cold War are making Suvarov act this way. "It certainly sounds plausible, sir." And by 24 standards? Sure!

Somehow, it doesn't seem like Josh will enjoy the fact that he's getting to ride in a helicopter.

See you next week for the finale, everyone!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

See You, Later

This afternoon, I went to see 28 Weeks Later. I was almost coming to the movie with a clean slate. I saw the original 28 Days Later when it was in theaters, and today I find I can barely remember anything about that first film at all. I guess I didn't think it was that great, or particularly bad. It was before I started blogging, so I can't even look back to read what I thought at the time. I suppose that means, if anything, I had somewhat low expectations of the sequel.

Whatever indifference I might have over the original, I can't say that at all of the sequel. 28 Weeks Later was a really good movie. And I really chalk it up to one key element -- it was relentlessly dark in tone, harsh and cruel. In every single situation that came up in the film, it seemed like the worst possible thing that could happen did.

Deaths weren't just ugly, they were horrifying. People weren't just forced to the point of making difficult decisions, they were really forced to suffer the emotional consequences of what they'd done. Noble sacrifices weren't quick and easy, they were painful and brutal. In some ways, it reminded me a bit of the first season (and original mini-series) of the current Battlestar Galactica, which I thought was so incredible. It was a stark and realistic look at how people might behave in a fantastical situation.

Sprinkled throughout the movie were some great "sequences," very well-conceived set-ups for action and/or suspense. And while a lot of the scares did rely on the cheap parlor tricks of jump cuts and sudden noises, there were also some moments of genuine, sustained dread.

But I do have to "take a deduction" for some of the cinematography. Most of the action sequences were shot hand-held, a common camera technique for injecting more energy into a scene, and/or a sense of documentary filmmaking. To a point, that approach was effective here. But often, specifically when the "infected" were on screen, the hand-held went too far, into a frenetic, blurry shaking. While I do believe in the "less is more" approach when it comes to seeing the monsters of horror movies on camera, this strangely felt to me like the opposite, or a "more is more" take on the hand-held instability. It felt a bit over the top to me at times.

Nevertheless, a small mark against what was otherwise a very effective movie. I give it an A-. I don't quite think as highly of it as I did the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but it is nevertheless the most solid horror movie to come along in some time.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Cinco de Mayo

I'd had no idea when my Las Vegas trip was scheduled, but May 5th was a particularly crazy day to be there, because of two big events taking place that day.

First up was the running of the Kentucky Derby. I was playing poker at the Bellagio at the time, and TVs were tuned to it all afternoon. It seemed like three or four hours of non-stop sports coverage on a major network, for what in the end is two minutes that actually "matters." (I guess it's rather like a basketball game that way...)

The sports book at Bellagio is located right next to the poker room, and as the afternoon wore on, more and more people were packing in back there. And when the race actually began -- pandemonium. People were spilling out the door, unable to get into the sports book. Half the players at poker tables stood up and left their games to jam in at the window/openings looking into the sports book. Which is just as well, because for all the screaming, those of us left couldn't really hear a thing to keep going anyway.

And when the two minutes were up? Well, nobody had really won much of anything. The favored horse won the event as expected, so no instant riches were claimed by anybody betting a long shot. Still, quite an experience to see in person. Manic, crazy energy.

Then, later that same night, there was a much touted boxing match between Mayweather and de la Hoya. I learned later that it drew the biggest ratings of any pay-per-view fight ever. At the time, I only knew that you didn't want to be anywhere near the MGM Grand that night (if you could even push your way through the door).

Lots of celebrities were in town for the fight. I personally didn't bump into any, but my sisters had at least one encounter with, of all the random people, Patricia Arquette. (I would have pegged David as the Arquette interested in going to Vegas for a fight. Go figure.)

Just because MGM Grand was the hotel actually hosting the event didn't keep nearly every other place in Vegas from cashing in, too. Most of them set up special closed circuit simulcasts of the fight, and sold tickets to watch. Treasure Island actually closed their Cirque du Soliel show, Mystere, for that evening. We found out because we tried to get tickets earlier in the day. (I've seen Mystere twice, actually, and I think it's the best show in town.)

Oddly, the woman on the box office telephone told us that "Mystere is on vacation" when we called. "On vacation?" What a strange choice of words. Where does Las Vegas go for vacation, I wonder?

In any case, I didn't really get to experience the craziness of the fight as much as the running of the Derby. But I could certainly feel that there were a lot of people in town. Even for Vegas. Even on a weekend. Definitely a fun energy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Web and Mud Slinging

As has been pointed out in the comments of my Spider-man 3 review, George Lucas has recently been quoted as calling the movie "silly." Yes, this is like the pot calling the kettle a talentless hack. And I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Spidey just beat Sith's box office records. Jealousy is an ugly thing.

Even if Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith had somehow not sucked even more than The Phantom Menace, George Lucas would still be the man who gave us Jar Jar Binks. He has about as much standing to judge silly as a FOX television executive has to evaluate what makes a quality show.

Speaking of television... there's another area where George Lucas and the folks surrounding him have no clue what's what. For a while now, there have been occasional news stories about the Star Wars television series under development. Rick McCallum has said on a few occasions that "it will run 100 episodes."

Do they honestly think that's how television works? You just decide a show is going to run 100 episodes, and it does? Someone tell Tim Minear, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Sorkin! I suppose that yes, on the basis of it being Star Wars, they could probably get some network to commit to a full season of it sight unseen. An HBO or a cable network might even sign up for two seasons (though at 13 or so episodes each, I'd imagine). Producing television is not at all like being the "small, independent filmmaker" George Lucas fancies himself. (None of the three words in that description is really true, is it?)

I don't know why I'm at all surprised to hear new tales of the anti-reality bubble that seems to surround George Lucas' brain. I think he had us at "ex-squueeeeze me."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Third "Man"

This week, I caught up from the weekend and went to see Spider-man 3. Since I wasn't part of the big opening weekend press, I'd had the chance to hear some feedback on it in advance -- not just the critics who were saying it fell far short of the first two movies, but friends of mine saying different versions of the same thing. Accordingly, I tried to lower my expectations going into the theater.

It wasn't enough.

While I'm not really saying it was a "bad" movie, it's hard to look at it any other way in comparison to the two that came before it. It's harder still to believe it was made by the same people. The first movies both had good stories, emotional and dramatic, and the superhero elements were skillfully layered on top of that. This film had the kernel of an emotional story arc, smothered in too much other "stuff."

One thing's for sure, this film did not need as many villains as it had. I blame Batman for this "villain creep" that seems to occur in superhero movies. And not just the Batman movie sequels, I'm talking about the TV movie Batman made in the 60s with Adam West and Burt Ward. The series, campy and ridiculous though it was, would rotate through bad guys in every pair of episodes, but when the movie came along, it was the Joker and the Penguin and the Riddler and the Catwoman. What the hell? As Shocho put it quite aptly in a discussion earlier this week, in Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone didn't box three people at once.

You could make a reasonable argument as to exactly which of several different characters you think could be stripped from the movie. Sandman gets my vote. He's a completely manufactured villain in every sense of the word. The book was closed on the whole "how Peter's uncle died" thing, but now, out of the blue, it's this other guy -- just so Peter can get on a vengeance kick. And then Sandman doesn't even appear in a large chunk of the movie, because the plot's too busy with other things to hold him.

Then there's Venom. You might argue he was the "point" of the movie, but I say that plot could have been stripped out as well. Venom himself only appears in a couple scenes in the movie (one of them the stereotypically cringe-worthy "one villain approaches the other to take on the hero together" scenes). The whole "black suit" build-up to it is a complete misfire. We're supposed to feel concern that Peter is being corrupted and turned dark, but with few exceptions, every "black suit" moment isn't played to build a sense of dread -- it's played for comedy. We get far more laughs out of seeing Peter's behavior under the black suit's influence (some intentional, but unfortunately, some not) than we get serious moments.

All of this could have been jettisoned to pay off the true emotional throughline that's now been building for several movies: Peter's relationship with Harry. In my opinion, the New Goblin was the only villain this story needed. I just think the writers chickened out, fearing that approach would be rejected because "we'd already seen the Goblin" as the villain in the first film. Well, to continue that Rocky analogy... who did Rocky fight in the second movie? Apollo Creed. Again! As it played out in this movie, the conflict between Harry in Peter is shoved into a corner for the first third of the movie. Harry conveniently gets amnesia, just so the plot can ignore him until all the nonsense with Sandman and Venom gets put into motion.

There are a few scenes and sequences in the movie that are really damn good. The scenes with J.K. Simmons (as J. Jonah Jameson) and Bruce Campbell are outstanding. The "fist fight" between Harry and Peter is great, visceral stuff.

But there are also sequences that fall flat. The first big action scene of the movie, a clash between the New Goblin and Spidey, is a mess. It's "lit" darker than a cheaply made horror movie, and the camera moves so fast through the confined spaces, I honestly could not follow half of what was happening in the scene. And the moment when Harry's butler delivers the big revelation just had me thinking, "this couldn't have come up, oh, a movie-and-a-half ago?" In this one moment, this is how the writers decide to resolve this storyline?

I looked back at how I reviewed Superman Returns, another muddled mess of a superhero movie. I gave that a C, and I can't honestly say I thought this a worse movie. So as harsh as I may be sounding, I'm still going to give Spider-man 3 a C. I just come off strongly against it because I guess despite all the warnings, I was still expecting more from the people that made two good movies before this one. Not just two good superhero movies -- two good movies.

The third time is not the charm.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Man Behind the Curtain

Before I talk about this week's episode of Lost, let me "flashback" for a quick moment or two and talk about last week's episode, that aired the night I left on my trip.

The Brig was a great episode of Lost. Not surprising, as the Locke-centric episodes are usually pretty good. Although the clues dropped in previous episodes (going all the way back to season two) had pretty well informed us that Locke's dad was the "real Sawyer," the episode wasn't really about the surprise of that information, but about Sawyer's reaction when he finally found the man he was looking for. It carried all the dramatic weight we'd been expecting since we first learned of Sawyer's backstory, and so the episode was a winner.

Of course, the death of Locke's father basically tied up the emotional baggage both Locke and Sawyer were carrying. And that's a dangerous thing on The Island -- just ask Shannon, or Ana Lucia, or Eko, etc. etc. Which takes us to this week.

I'd long been anticipating the day we finally saw a Ben flashback. Of course, it took so long to get there that I was only likely to be disappointed. And I think I was. I think. The truth is, I'm left completely confused about just what I think about the episode.

Lost has often been a show that gives an answer without giving an answer, but I think at no time has that been more the case than tonight. We now seem to know what happened to the Dharma Initiative -- and yet we learned this without ever really having learned quite what the Dharma Initiative really was. An answer without an answer. An answer to a question we weren't really asking, actually, since we all pretty well believed that the Others were the Dharma Initiative.

Now enter the newest piece of the Lost chess game: Jacob. His name has been dropped before, as the "maker of the lists" of who was to be taken from the plane crash survivors. And now we have a little more to go with that name -- though, humorously enough, not a face. I'm not even sure I want to begin speculating about what Jacob is or might be, because the possibilities are practically endless. Is Jacob actually The Island itself? Is Ben some kind of schizophrenic telekinetic who actually is making Jacob up? Something else?

Is it just me, or did the "Other" that Ben first met in his flashback look just as young back then (some... I'll say 30 years earlier?) as he does on The Island today? What's that all about? Do the regenerative healing properties of The Island do even more for people who were actually born there? Or was that man conjured from the same place as Ben's mother? And if so, would that be from "the box" we've been hearing about lately? Again, so many possibilities, I can't even begin to set my brain in order.

I'm not even sure what to make of the final scene. Ben shot Locke. Once main characters started dying off around the end of season one, I convinced myself that there were four characters on the show so central to the dramatic underpinnings of this story that they could never be killed off: Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Locke. So my first thought is: show me a body, and then maybe I'll believe it.

I started casting around in my mind for scenarios where Locke will be okay. We know he's favored by The Island, so maybe he can be healed. We saw last week that Rousseau might be following him around The Island; maybe she'll come along to help?

But then, Locke's backstory certainly seems wrapped up at this point. Could this really be the end of him? The double shooting of Ana Lucia and Libby last season certainly showed us that death can come swiftly and unceremoniously for main characters.

Two more episodes to go before season three is at an end.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Cadillac of Poker

Sunday night, after a delayed airplane flight, I returned from Las Vegas a winner -- both in the sense that I had a great time (which was the main thing I was looking to get), and that I was up a bit in the money from the time I spent at the casino.

Most of that was at the poker table. The last time I visited Las Vegas was around eight years ago, before I really starting playing and following poker. So this was the first time I'd ever actually played poker in any of the Vegas casinos. I hit most of the big ones -- and one decidedly "not big" one.

First was the Tropicana. I went there my first night in Vegas, just because it was close to where I was staying. Their poker room was only about five tables, and only two of those were in play when I arrived. (Though there are some casinos in Vegas that have no poker room at all, such as New York New York, so I suppose it could be worse.) The only game they were running was a $1-$2 No Limit Hold 'Em game. I hadn't had any intention of playing a No Limit game, but that's the one I found that first night, so in I went. And I was doing well for a time. But then came the no-win scenario:

I'm dealt pocket Kings, and make a big raise. I'm called by only one player, who had limped in before me pre-flop. The flop comes. Three different suits, nothing higher than a Jack. My opponent bets into me. I go all in. I'm instantly called. You probably know where this story is going -- pocket Aces. And an Ace came on the turn, just for good measure. That was the end of the No Limit story that should never have happened to begin with.

Day two was Caesar's Palace. A curious environment. On the one hand, spacious and upscale in appearance. On the other, they seemed to be the only casino on the strip "slumming it" (in my opinion) with a bad beat jackpot drop. But on this occasion, I was waiting while my sisters took in a show at Caesar's, so I decided to stay there and play it out. No major hands to speak of. I was close to even when my time was up.

Day three, The Mirage. Nice place. Cold cards. Frigid. By the time I finally got some hands worth playing, I'd actually been recognized as a tight player, even at a low limit table -- which, folks, is pretty hard to do. Everyone was folding to any raise from me, but the good hands were still few and far between. I'd opened things up to raising just on any Ace, regardless of table position. Completely ridiculous behavior. But nobody would even take a flop with me. Before I could ever learn whether any kind of equilibrium could be established, it was time for me to pick up and head to a show we had tickets for.

Day four, Bellagio. Really nice place. And a really drunk trio of people from Seattle who sat at my table the entire time, buying in for $100 after $100, and losing it all. I spent four happy hours there, making up for all my poker losses thus far, not to mention a few $20s dropped for fun on a craps table the night before. My only complaint was about the Bellagio poker chips. They must have recently changed them or something, because the paint was coming off them something awful. I happened to notice after a few deals that the dealer's palms were so covered, he could have been strangling Smurfs during his breaks. By the end of the session, my fingertips were so covered, I had to constantly remind myself not to scratch my face unless I wanted to audition for the Blue Man Group.

The final day, MGM Grand. For some reason, they want to be different from all the other kids, and their poker tables have a thick marble border surrounding the felt playing area. A little awkward, but worth living with, since I won again there.

For all the coverage Texas Hold 'Em gets on television these days, it's remarkable how many people you'll find in a casino are still really bad at it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

2:00 AM - 3:00 AM

I'm back from Las Vegas, with stories to tell of my vacation. But Jack Bauer takes no vacations, so all that will have to wait.

Josh Bauer hasn't been seen for weeks, and suddenly he's got his own re-cap box. Quite a promotion.

So I guess they called up William Devane for that one scene last week and then sent him out the door.

"Dammit, Nadia, you have the authority!" (Drink!)

Even Jack-logic is not powerful enough to talk his way out of the holding cell in his current situation. (I'm sure we will see the right situation "within the hour," though.)

Morris says it's pointless he and Chloe being coy about their breakup. As if either one of them could possibly act coy.

"LAPD is setting up a five block perimeter." (Drink!)

Nadia seems to be completely over that whole you're-a-sadistic-bastard thing with Doyle now. What happens in Denver stays in Denver.

Now cut to Cheng's warehouse, where it's looking like an outtake from Big Trouble in Little China. (Starring the villain from The Karate Kid, Part II.)

Bad guys have perimeters too! (Drink!)

12 hours of watching cable news would make me feel as bad as Josh does, too.

Whenever Chloe has something to tell you, run and hide.

Michael Shanks didn't really have to get a wardrobe fitting when he signed on to 24.

Jack doesn't want to talk to Marilyn about the Audrey situation. Good, because we don't want to hear about a bunch of stuff we already know.

Doyle's team is moving in. Everybody get ready for the "the bad guys are actually meeting in a completely different building" gimmick.

And Doyle's whole "Junior Jack" thing is still going -- he doesn't wear a helmet during the raid, even though everyone else does.

Doyle's guessing they could have "gotten out before we locked down the perimeter." On 24? Perish the thought! (And also, take a drink!)

Suddenly, the cold and prickly banter doesn't work for Chloe. But it's worked fine for three other seasons.

Lennox says as soon as Lisa's in, she's to create an opportunity for Bishop to "access her PDA." If you know what I mean.

Bishop to Lisa: "You taste like the Old West."

Now we know why Lennox really wanted to leave the White House and tag along. He knew there would be a show.

Nadia saw that look from Milo. Yes, he says, he was hurt. But that could have been the bullet in the arm.

A Code Red is confirmed. Did Jack Nicholson order it? You can't handle the truth!

A white (red) shirt lets Jack out. Jack: "I need a weapon." White Shirt: (drops dead) "Here, take mine."

See, the problem these Chinese thugs have hitting Jack is that they aren't aiming for the windows like Jack is.

Suddenly, Karen firing Bill from being in charge of CTU looks like the best thing to ever happen to their marriage.

Are there any good guys but Jack still alive from season one now?

The Chinese squad is after Josh Bauer. Of course, we all already knew this because 1) Josh got his own box in the re-cap; and 2) James Cromwell's name was shown in the opening credits.

Josh is now about one motion tracker and one flame thrower shy of being ready to take out the Alien.

What? Grandpa Bauer is working with Cheng?! Shock!!!!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

Choose your favorite movie quote about Las Vegas... it all amounts to the same thing. I'm heading there on a much-needed vacation, to return Sunday night. All "maneuvers" are on hold until then.

See you on the flip side.