Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Sick Feeling

Today, I went to see the new Michael Moore documentary, Sicko. It's actually a somewhat different film than his more recent efforts, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. I say this because, in the admittedly limited number of documentary films I've seen, I have found that documentary filmmakers rarely change their techniques even a little bit as they move from subject to subject and film to film.

So in what ways is this different from Moore's other recent documentaries? Well, most notably, he is not as significant a "character" this time as he's been before. Though he provides the narration as always, he himself does not appear on screen until 50 minutes into the 2-hour movie.

Part and parcel with the fact he has less camera time, Michael Moore does fewer of the sorts of "stunts" in this film than he's done in others -- things like driving around the Washington DC reading the Patriot Act on a loudspeaker. In fact, the only really "publicity stunt"-like material in Sicko comes in the last half hour of the movie, as he heads down to Guantanamo Bay and Cuba.

I think it's a better movie for it. I've felt that in all his movies, Michael Moore has presented a well-ordered and compelling argument. But then often these cheaper tricks have undermined the credibility of the argument a bit. Even if not, they certainly seem to be the moments that make him such a polarizing figure in the political arena, that makes so many people immediately tune out anything he has to say.

Obviously, health care coverage is not a simple issue, and the movie can't cover everything about it. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to argue against the central point of the movie: plenty of other civilized, democratic societies do it better than America does. So why not try following their examples? Sicko makes this point in a way that entertains: you laugh, you cry, you feel sympathy, shock, anger, and more.

That's what I look for in a movie -- to be taken on an emotional journey. So I give the movie an A-.

Friday, June 29, 2007

$1,000 Ringtones?

Recent spam e-mail subject line:

Prize Alert: You’ve won-either 5 Ringtones or $5000.00

Gee... let me guess which one. I don't even have to "Click Here" to find out.

And yet they only do it because somewhere out there are people falling for crap like this.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What Kind of Day Has It Been?

The final episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ran tonight (with the same episode title as the first season finales of The West Wing and Sports Night), and another brilliant-but-cancelled show has hit the scrap heap.

I'll be realistic and admit that of Aaron Sorkin's television creations, this was the weakest. I suppose if that's any mesasure, than it's appropriate this show ran only one season compared to the two years of Sports Night and seven of The West Wing. Still, weakest among that company is not faint praise.

While I do wish the show were continuing, I also have to admit that I don't feel the disappointment I felt over the end of some other favorite shows (such as Firefly, or the recently cut down Veronica Mars). I suppose I'd accepted the end of Studio 60 a long time ago, and it did get to play out its full season.

It was a good full season. These last few episodes have really been great. I think knowing their fate was sealed, the creative team behind the show quit trying to make little adjustments to try and appeal to a broader audience. They simply told the stories they wanted to tell. Well, story, in the singular, really -- this multi-part continuing plot of the last few episodes has been very engaging. And rather reminiscent of the first two years of The West Wing, which would routinely engage in long stories over several episodes. Which is a pretty good model to follow, I think, because even though The West Wing stayed good for most (not all) of its run, those first two seasons were certainly the best.

Best of all, the long final story arc ended with real closure. Matt and Harriet, Danny and Jordan, all settled. We could imagine further rocks in the road for them, were the story to have continued. But it's basically all tied up. Sure, there are a few dangling plots from earlier in the season that were abandoned (the FCC fines, and the whole "deal with Macau"), but really it's the personal relationships of the main characters that mattered, and we saw that dealt with.

So, a good end to a good show. And we even got the official announcement this week that the complete series will be out on DVD in October. Maybe I'm a little disappointed, but beyond all that, I'm satisfied.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Before I Kill You, Mr. Potter...

As I mentioned not long ago, I've recently been re-reading the first six Harry Potter books, refreshing my memory before the arrival of book seven. I just finished book four, Goblet of Fire, this evening.

I have not, as of yet, made any discoveries between the pages of the other books like the bewildering-but-amusing photo I found in book one.

But I have found several moments of clearly planned-out foreshadowing, placed in the earlier books to echo with greater meaning once one has knowledge of the later books. This is one very commendable aspect of J.K. Rowling's writing: it's abundantly clear she hasn't been making all of this up as she went along. The important pieces, she's obviously known from the beginning.

Also enjoyable in the writing, I think, are the carefully constructed plots. Every detail falls into careful place. And I find the characters as enjoyable as ever. Writers who do tend to think their plots out so carefully often fall down when it comes to character, but not J.K. Rowling. The books are loaded with vivid and fun people.

But one thing that has always quietly nagged at me about her writing has felt particularly strong to me in reading these books for the second time. The conclusions of her books are like the endings of episodes of Scooby Doo. All the mayhem and mirth complete, things always wrap up with a long and laborious sequence of exposition, where we're walked point by point through every way in which we were fooled by the mystery that has just taken place. You know what I'm talking about.

In Scooby Doo, it's something like "he really just made us think we were hearing ghosts by putting marmalade in this blender and leaving it running on top of this stack of paint cans!"

In Sorcerer's Stone, it's Quirell/Voldemort's long explanation of Voldemort's not-quite-dead existence, feeding on unicorns and trying to get his hands on the immortality of the Stone.

In Chamber of Secrets, it's the epic tale of everything that has been going on between Ginny and Riddle's diary all year, the explanation of how four different people (plus a ghost and a cat) survived an encounter with the basilisk, how it was moving around the school, blah, blah, blah.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, it's a ponderous climax explaining every detail of Peter Pettigrew's faked death, discovery by Lupin and Sirius, and exactly how Sirius escaped from prison -- every single step of the process.

In Goblet of Fire, Voldemort chatters away like a James Bond villain, describing almost every detail of the last 13 years of his sort-of life. And then we get another chapter of Veritaserum-influenced Crouch Jr. explaining every bit of mischief he's been up to for the last 700 pages, disguised as Mad-Eye Moody.

I suppose this is the downside of having so intricate a plot, and not ordering it in such a manner that details are exposed along the way. Where many writers open their books with three or four chapters of expository background before getting to the meat of the story, J.K. Rowling seems to end her books this way.

Frankly, it's a wonder than the movie adaptations of these books have turned out (generally) as good as they have -- a climax of five to ten minutes of talking and explanations doesn't really make for riveting cinema.

And while I wouldn't expect J.K. Rowling to now, at the end, alter this formula that has made her more money than could fit in all the vaults at Gringott's, I do hope she at least continues with book seven to craft a book that is enjoyable overall despite this rather significant, recurring flaw.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Comedy Tonight

Last week, I went to see a Denver area theater production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Though I'm no expert on all of Stephen Sondheim's musicals, I have certainly liked the ones I have seen. (In particular, performances by the original Broadway casts of Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods are available on video. I also was actually in a production of the latter, back in high school.)

I was eager to take in this, Sondheim's very first musical. As his first, it was created in the early 1960s. And in my opinion, it's showing its age a bit. I suppose that's an odd thing to say, when the play itself is set in ancient Rome -- but much of the attitudes and sense of humor the show contains feel very much of the early 60s.

The story and dialogue is salted with an undercurrent of prejudice and negative stereotypes, mostly all against women. It's all very playful and anything but malicious, but it is pervasive throughout, and seems a little awkward today. I suppose Sondheim "atoned" for this in later works, creating some very strong female characters.

The characters do an awful lot of breaking through the fourth wall to mug at the audience for cheap laughs. Again, it's playful and not unfunny, but it feels very much like a style of comedy that hasn't been popular for many decades.

But the music is well-crafted, and the lyrics fiercely clever -- as you would expect from one of the true masters of musical theater. It's just that this show is more of a sugary dessert that's very enjoyable at the time, but not ultimately filling. It's intended as such, so in that respect should be applauded for achieving its goal -- but it's not quite what I was expecting, given the greater weight of the Sondheim musicals I knew before.

Still, an enjoyable night out at the theater.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Enjoy Your Stay

This evening, I went to see Stephen King's newest movie, about an "evil fucking room" in an old hotel: 1408. And though not quite a "five star experience," there was certainly much to commend about the movie.

First and foremost, the movie does what very few horror movies do successfully -- it manages to generate moments of genuine tension without relying on gore and cheap scare tactics. (The movie does have some of the latter, but laudably, none of the former.) I was never quite as unsettled as I was, say, watching The Ring for the first time, but that isn't necessarily a mark I'm asking every scary movie to meet.

Secondly, the key bits of casting are outstanding. John Cusack is remarkable. The movie is just one notch shy of being a "one man show," and they found "one man" very capable of the performance. This movie simply wouldn't work without him. Samuel Jackson also delivers in the way he always has throughout his career, taking a small character role and knocking it out of the park.

Thirdly, though the film stumbles just a bit in the third act, it ultimately reaches the right ending. And I don't use that phrase lightly here. As I was starting to get just a little restless in the final 20 minutes or so, I was suddenly struck with the thought, "there is no good ending for this story." You've got a great set-up ("Skeptic gets trapped in an evil, haunted hotel room; scare-larity ensues"), but no real prospects for a satisfying ending. Yet then, from out of the woods, an option I had not anticipated appeared, and when it did, I found myself saying, "yes, that's actually the only way you could end this story well."

And I must note that I've been told it was not the ending of the original short story.

Which brings me to the one strike against the film, in my mind. It's front-loaded with a bunch of Stephen King cliches that I found as annoying as ever. The history of the hotel room in question is just a little too over the top to be properly unsettling. 56 people died in there? And only after number 56 did someone get the bright idea to just close up the room and stop letting people stay there? Was there nothing appropriately disquieting about deaths 10 through 55 to give past hotel managers pause?

As expected, the lead character of the story is a writer. I know they say "write what you know," but Stephen King always seems to fall back on a writer as his stock Everyman, apparently oblivious to fact that few of us know what it's like to publish multiple bestselling books. This time, the main character's initials even spell it out for you: Mike Enslin. ME. Really subtle there. And I would have found it unrelatable as usual, were it not for John Cusack's solid performance.

But most cloying of all is the way Stephen King continues to believe that pop music is scary. I think every single story he's ever written has prominently featured some song in a repetitive manner. This time, we're supposed to be filled with a sense of dread every time we hear The Carpenters. I'll bypass the opportunity for a low joke there and simply say, nuh-unh. Not scary.

Fortunately, these problems are really just minor details that tarnish the opening act of the movie. The rest of the set-up, and the bulk of what follows, really rises above those problems. I rate the movie a B+. And I hope that more horror films of this type start appearing to kick the so-called "torture porn" genre off the top of the scary movie heap.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dexter's Ambulatory

A friend pointed me to this interesting video of Dexter, the world's first dynamically balancing bipedal robot. Which is to say, it walks on two legs, and it does so without the walking motion being pre-programmed; it is able to move about in unfamiliar terrain and actually make the calculations to stay upright.

I found this cool on a couple of levels. First, there's the obvious engineering feat here. I don't know much about software programming, and less still about robotics, but I understand enough to know what a ridiculously complicated task this was to achieve. And while we may be a ways off from putting this to a practical use, you have to take the first step somewhere. (Pun intended.)

But on a second level, I find it cool that understanding just how crazy-complicated it is to create a program that can walk dynamically gives you a new appreciation of how the human brain does this. You do this all the time, without giving it any thought. The mind is making all these calculations with each step you take, and it's nothing. Whoa.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Miis So Corny

Those of you out there who own a Nintendo Wii know that, as we're still early in the life of the console, there aren't that many really good games available for it yet. I personally enjoy playing the Wii Sports game it came with more than anything else I've picked up.

Then there are people who have just as fun making "Mii" characters as playing any actual games. If you're one of these people, I invite you to look at what the web has to offer in the wonderful world of Celebrity Miis.

Just this one contest alone produced a truly funny Zach Braff, an uncannily accurate Jack Black, and an "I didn't even know you could make the Mii creation program do that" Admiral Ackbar. And that's just one link among many.

Anyway, something to keep everyone occupied until Super Mario Galaxy comes along.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Tonight, the final episode of Stargate SG-1 aired in the U.S. It was a decent enough episode, but not in my view a great finale for the show.

The irony of it all is that from seasons 5 through 8, the creators of the show wrote each season expecting it to be the last, each time receiving a "surprise renewal" (after making what they'd thought was the series finale) to extend the show for another year. And each of those four season finales, as they turned out to be, would have served excellently as a conclusion to the entire show.

This time out, however, there had been more of an expectation that there would indeed be another season after this one. The principle actors had all already signed contracts that would cover it. But this time, the show really did end -- and the creators only found out about it with five episodes in the season left to be written.

And that's what frankly showed in this series finale. It looked hastily cobbled together. Having written four other "series finales" before this, they clearly knew the sorts of emotional touchstones the writing needed to hit upon. But, having written four other "series finales" before this, they'd exhausted all the best ways to do that with any degree of originality. All that remained was to be derivative, or go with "second best" options. They did some of both, cribbing an "alternate reality" tale in the fashion of their eighth season ("series") finale, and stuffing in as many beats of closure as the mere 42 minutes could hold. (Not many.)

While I've never held Stargate in as high esteem as, say, Deep Space Nine or Battlestar Galactica, I think it deserved to go out on a stronger note than this. But then, perhaps that's fitting, since (once again) it's not quite ending. The Atlantis spin-off lives on (with a character from SG-1 hopping over next season), and a pair of direct-to-DVD movies are already being made. Perhaps a better ending is still to be had down the road.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

End of the Journey

I've never really been a fan of The Sopranos. I've never really met a mob-centered movie/tv show I liked, and the once or twice I tried sampling the show, it proved no exception.

I stood at quite a distance and read all the commotion generated by creator David Chase's finale last week. I'm careful to say "finale" there, and not "ending," because as I understand it, the show just sort of stopped right in the middle of everything. It seems a few critics have come out defending this "bold decision," while a greater major of viewers are upset that it's a big cop out.

I was somewhat amused by the whole thing. Until I saw this. Ronald Moore, creator and show runner of the new Battlestar Galactica, has used the he almost nevers updates to post how much he loved the utter-lack-of-closure, thumb-your-nose-at-convention (and your fans, depending on your perspective) ending.

Mind you, this is the man who, right around this time next year, will have just delivered us the series finale of Galactica. And now I have to worry a bit that maybe he liked this approach enough to draw some inspiration from it.

I'm not making any particular claim as to what I think the ending of Galactica should be. But I am saying right now, there had better be a frakkin' ending. None of that "Sam Beckett never returned home," "Lois and Clark, this baby's for you," "How's Annie? How's Annie? How's Annie?," "Journey got cut off mid-chorus" crap here. This is not a situation where an open-ended "the fight continues" kind of ending like Angel (brilliantly) had is appropriate. This story demands a real resolution.

And I'm saying now: there had better be one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What's the Nassty Thing Got In Itss... Pouch Thingy?

I saw this product at the store the other day:

If I understand it correctly, they appear to be basically "clip on pockets" that attach to.... well...

Okay, there's issue number one. Is it meant to attach to a keyring? Not a practical place for a pocket. You want keys to go in a pocket, not a pocket to go on your keys. Are they meant to attach to a belt loop, maybe?

Which leads us to issue number two. If you're going to attach a pocket to your clothes... why not get clothes that already have a pocket? About the only reasonable response to that I can think of is that you have some favorite pair of pants or shorts that don't have pockets. But if this is the case, I have to assume it's unlikely that the god awful array of colors you see here are going to actually go with that piece of clothing anyway.

I guess I just don't understand "fashion," if that's what this is. Cause I have no idea what the hell this is for.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

185 and Counting...

Those of you who have been in Jack Bauer withdraws for the last month might find small comfort in visiting the Jack Bauer Kill Count web site, where a fan has dutifully recorded every death Bauer has racked up over his six long days. Spoilers abound, of course, if you're not current on the show.

Most kills in a day? That would be the just completed season, with a staggering 49 kills. And that's not even counting you-can't-prove-he's-dead-if-you-didn't-see-a-corpse Phillip Bauer.

Fewest? The original first season, in which Jack's surprising lack of bloodshed topped out with 10 kills.

(Of course, those of us in Jack Bauer withdraws have arguably been in that state for far longer than a month. Season six really didn't satisfy like 24 used to.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Air Cars (or, as this fellow says, "Ayuh Caahz")

Well, it's the 21st century. And though I was promised flying cars, this still struck me as pretty cool:

If the car can't fly through the air, at least it can run on it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Surf Bored

Today, I caught up a bit with last week's new movies and saw Surf's Up. The premise is this was a computer-animated documentary film, about an Antarctic penguin who travels north to participate in a surfing competition. It's a novel idea, a legitimately different style of movie from that which animation is usually used.

The problem is, the filmmakers fail to stay true to that vision for the whole of the movie. About half the time, they're really working it to good effect. There are good jokes commenting on documentary style (particularly the trappings of reality television). There are some truly amazing bits of animation done in creating "8mm home video from the 60s" style video clips.

But the problem seems to be that all that material is appealing and funny to adults. And the filmmakers seem to know that, and know that in America, for good or ill, animation is for children. They could have let the movie all be like that, and be really funny, distinct, and clever... or they could go the commercial route and toss in the stuff to appeal to kids.

Thus comes the other half of Surf's Up, a procession of the animated kids' film cliches that keep popping up all over the place. An over-the-top action/adventure sequence that involves fast motion through a sweeping set (an underground lava floe, in this case -- a place the "documentary crew" could not possibly have set up cameras to film the action). Lots of cheap jokes about poop and other bodily functions. Some pop song taken from the last five years of top 40 radio taking over the soundtrack about every four minutes. Stuff you've seen before, are well past tired of, and that compromises the integrity of the "documentary" concept of the movie.

It's a real shame, because in the moments when the film is being true to itself, it really works, and is really clever. And then it reverts to a Shrek the Third caliber of derivative boredom. Which really wouldn't be so disappointing if you weren't occasionally seeing that glimpse of what could have been so great.

Some brilliant animation work, particularly in delivering the most realistic CG water yet created, gives the eye a little to be distracted with in the moments the movie sags, but unfortunately, it still all adds up to a C- for me.

I really wish I could see the version of this film that wasn't compromised for the kiddies.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


In stark contrast to the hearse I'll happily ride away in is this thing:

I'm not sure this picture does this thing proper injustice. Sure, you can see most of the bumper stickers. What you maybe can't tell is that all around the windows (covering parts that are completely rusted through) is this carpeting of rubber bats.

Premium tacky.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's in a Name?

I have never seen this movie, The Guy with Secret Kung Fu. But I've decided it might possibly have the most perfectly terrible title of any movie ever made. Alright, granted, it's a translation, but what a translation!

First of all, "Kung Fu" is in the title. From the song "Kung Fu Fighting" to the most famous line of Keanu Reeves' career ("I know kung fu!"), this martial art has become a punch line. I'm sure anyone who knows it could kick my ass just as expediently as someone who knows another combat form, but it's still funny, pure and simple. Aikido -- cool. Kung fu -- funny.

But better still, it's Secret Kung Fu. At least, it's secret up until he starts booting some heads. At that point, I think the secret is pretty much out. But ooooo.... doesn't it sound cooler when it's secret?

And then, not "The Warrior" with Secret Kung Fu, or even "The Man" with Secret Kung Fu. No, it's "The Guy" with Secret Kung Fu. Which is barely one notch from "Some Guy" with Secret Kung Fu. You can be "The Man," but you can't be "The Guy." Not even "The Guy with Secret Kung Fu."

It's like one of those evocative six word stories. The Guy with Secret Kung Fu. Brilliant.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bringing Democracy to Information

Stephen Colbert's repeated mentions of and digs at Wikipedia have led to something that is simultaneously both ridiculous and frightening -- even by Colbert Nation standards.

Behold Wikiality, Stephen Colbert's (fan's) own personal Wikipedia. You can read all about the world of truthiness, including Colbert's thoughts on The Greatest President Ever, global warming, and (of course) bears. And loads of other things in between.

I think this level of fandom makes the Nuts nuts that saved Jericho look positively normal.

(And not to get sidetracked, but... I didn't think Jericho was a bad show, and I'll probably continue to watch the new episodes when they return... but of all the shows that have been cancelled over the years that I wish had been brought back from the dead, the one that gets the reprieve is Jericho? That's a ruddin' shame, dong ma?)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Get Away From Her, You Bitch!

Personally, I always preferred the original movie Alien to its sequel, Aliens. (Yet they're both on my top 100 movie list, and I give plenty of credit to the latter for being as great an action film as the former was a horror film.)

Regardless of favorites, I have to stop and be impressed at the time and effort this guy put in creating a replica of the "M41-A Pulse Rifle" prop from the second movie. It's totally geeky, in a completely kickass kind of way. Or kickass in a geeky way.

Or totally geeky. Or totally kickass. I'm not sure.

(Thanks to FKL for the link!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who is Driving?

I saw this car in traffic the other day:

I know it doesn't look it, but there actually was a person driving this car. I first noticed her going past me, yakking on her cell phone. My annoyance gave way to bewilderment when she appeared to completely vanish after I pulled into the lane behind her.

(Oh, and bonus points to anyone who looked at the title of this post and thought "Oh my god, bear is driving how can that be?!")

Monday, June 11, 2007

Farm Ecology

According to the label on the bottom left, this is a package of "Farm Stickers."

What kind of farm is this? On this farm, we have foxes, pandas, giraffes, and a monkey. To say nothing of the strange, spotted, antlered thing that might be the product of a reindeer mating with a leopard.

Old MacDonald just died of heart failure.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lucky Thirteen

This weekend, I caught the movie Ocean's Thirteen, the latest in the procession of third-movie-in-a-series films to assail us this summer. Director Steven Soderbergh has gone on record basically saying this movie is an apology for the disappointing Ocean's Twelve, calling this third installment "The Film We Should Have Made Last Time."

Fortunately, he's not wrong. This movie manages to recapture all the elements that worked so well in that movie, and were notably absent in the second one. The quirkiness of the characters is back in the spotlight. The "stakes" are more important. The capers are more clever. Some suspense is working again. The new roles are well-cast (not only Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin, but smaller roles such as one played by Julian Sands). Even the music has stepped back up from the strange lull of Ocean's Twelve. And most of all, the sense of "fun" is back.

It's not as good a movie as the original, but it's very enjoyable. And not just in comparison to the other "third films" this summer that have been a bust. If you enjoyed Ocean's Eleven, or like watching Al Pacino chew upon a healthy quantity of scenery, you're going to like this movie. I give it a B+.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Flying Fickle Finger of Hate

Alright, I know I've complained about air travel before, but I have a slightly new take on the subject to offer this time.

On my Vegas trip last month, I happened to notice this posted sign detailing the current security procedures:

For whatever reason, it was the very top line that got my attention. These security procedures went into effect on September 26th of last year, at precisely 1:00 AM. If you had a red eye flight to catch at 12:59, well, that's one set of rules, but exactly 60 seconds later... that's something else entirely.

To me, that's just a perfect illustration of how capricious the whole "here's how many ounces of your shampoo we feel is a menace to air travel" thing really is.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Does It Come in a Size K?

Be aware when I say the following that my own personal t-shirt collection includes an MST3K "Dr. Forrester" shirt, a "Slap Bet Commissioner" shirt, a Guitar Hero II "concert tour" shirt, and a "Classically Trained" NES controller shirt, among others. I believe this is the most geeky t-shirt I have ever seen:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Congressional Force

Over at the History Channel, they've been running and re-running and re-re-running their new special, Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed. In general, it's a pretty good special.

They have lots of interviews with academics who try to point out allegories to mythology. Some of them seem quite reasonable; only a few seem like a big stretch.

They have lots of interviews with creators of other modern "genre" pieces, such as J.J. Abrams (creator of Alias and Lost), and Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, and Firefly).

They have lots of interviews with notable celebrity "fanboys" of Star Wars, such as Kevin Smith and Stephen Colbert.

All of this makes sense to me.

And then, they have interviews with Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich. Which is where I stop and ask, "what the hell?" Why should I or anyone else care what the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (past or present) has to say about Star Wars? Were the makers of the special having that hard a time filling the last two-and-a-half minutes or so of their two hour program? Did none of those other people I mentioned have anything else worthwhile to say to fill that time?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

May Be Hazardous

Some of my readers are Canadian, but most of the rest of you probably haven't seen some of the extreme anti-smoking warnings from that country. I don't know if this pack of cigarettes in particular came from Canada -- I just know we found it thrown on the ground while in Las Vegas:

In my opinion, there's something a little too playful about this one. You know, like when Dumbledore casually tosses away, "the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death." (Although... I guess he was serious.)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Can You Dig It?

When my time comes, they can take me away in this:

(Hint: You might want to click to enlarge the picture, if you can't read the license plate.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brooks Report

This weekend's other major film offering, Mr. Brooks, is not a "bad" movie. It's just not a particularly good one. Strangely, it almost is a victim of high expectations, even though I can't say I had many expectations at all when I went to see it.

The expectations develop very quickly though, as the movie starts to unfold in a way that is evocative of many other kinds of movies. It's sort of like a script blender into which elements of movies from The Silence of the Lambs to Copycat to several other "serial killer movies" in between were thrown. Not that I started expecting the movie would reach the creative heights of those films. But I did feel that if the writers were doing everything short of name-checking those other good movies, they might have a creative idea or two of their own to toss into the soup.

No such luck. Every element of Mr. Brooks feels like something you've seen done better in some other movie. And there are lots of elements. It reaches an almost "superhero sequel" level of cramming in too many subplots to pay off emotionally in the alloted time. There's a father/daughter plot, a student/mentor plot, a detective on the hunt plot, and the inner psychosis of the lead character and his ongoing dialog with his imaginary alter ego. None of it is outright bad, but none of it amounts to much, and the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

In short, the movie feels like a script based on an existing book -- even though it wasn't. You get the sense that hundreds of pages were cut from some larger manuscript that would have given more emotional weight to what was happening, but it was all excised to fit a two-hour running time.

One bright spot that helped things a bit was a great performance from William Hurt as the killer's inner psyche. An actor of his skill is frankly slumming it a bit to play such a one-note character, but he elevated the material he had. (And said material wasn't much. Any given episode of Battlestar Galactica uses Baltar and Six to portray a far more intriguing broken-man-and-his-imaginary-Id relationship.)

The movie rates a middle of the road C.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pregnant Applause

This afternoon, I went to see the new movie Knocked Up, from Judd Apatow, brilliant mind behind the television series Freaks and Geeks. (In fact, it features much of the cast from that series.) It's not up to that short-lived show's level of brilliance, but it's still a good movie.

The major strength of it is in the writing, as those familiar with Apatow's work might expect. The dialogue is very entertaining, and very realistic. The jokes are funny without the punch lines feeling like something that was labored on for hours by a writer. The charming moments are charming while not being sugar-coated in the pre-processed gooey sort of "you had me at hello" crap.

The acting then takes that good foundation and builds on it. From the major roles to the minor characters, everyone is really excellent. Paul Rudd comes very near stealing the movie in his supporting role, but both the leads are solid too. And a couple of people that appear in only one scene each deliver some of the best moments of the films -- one guy an "unknown" playing a bouncer at a night club, and the other Ryan Seacrest in a great cameo.

I wouldn't say the movie ever reaches a height of "I can't breathe from laughing so hard" hilarity that makes a grade A comedy in my book, but it really is a good movie on top of keeping the chuckles coming steadily. I rate it a B+.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Think of the Children

It's that time of year, when many students are finally graduating from high school, college, what-have-you. A friend of mine recently sent me a news story from Dallas/Fort Worth, of a group of high school students in organized protest because their failure to pass a standardized test was keeping them from walking through the commencement ceremony.

Now ordinarily, I'm not one to put much stock in test scores as a measure of intelligence. But this news story was accompanied by an image of a couple of the protesting students. Take a look at the sign on the left:

"Let Are Kids Walk"??? Dam strait -- give them they're just deserts four awl there hard work.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or shake my head. Or both.