Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tales from the Internets 4

It's been a while since I last took a look at some of the strange Google searches that have brought people here to the blog. In that time, I've had some truly weird ones.

Threadneedle Faire - I've had three different people use various words coupled with this phrase ("Williamsburg" and "Busch") to wind up here at my blog. Which I find unfathomable, because I have no idea what the Threadneedle Faire is, and this is the first time I have ever mentioned it on my blog.

slap bet commissioner shirt - Ever since I casually mentioned owning one of these t-shirts in another post, I've had steady hits about it. Sorry folks, but they were available for a limited time from Glarkware, and they've been long gone. And I'm sure I'm going to get more hits about this in the weeks ahead, now that How I Met Your Mother has begun its Slap Countdown.

oreo denzel washington - Celebrity dessert fetishes will have to be satisfied on someone else's blog.

sweet torture - Must be all those 24 posts that brought this person here. But I don't think I want to know what he was really looking for.

felicity huffman clunk - Hey buddy, I happen to think she's pretty damn talented.

"does it come in" size - Does what come in size... and what size? Wait, don't answer that.

delivering democracy desert t-bag - What version of Prison Break is this person watching?

How to get miis sick - I don't know... I guess create one with a case of chicken pox and set it to "mingle"?

breathless with bad wisdom tooth - Sounds like the signature on a letter to the American Dental Association's version of Penthouse Forum. (I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but I swear every word of it is true. One time in my office, I was drilling one of my patients...)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Still Still Waiting for a Big Winner

On Thursday and Friday, I tried out a couple more new TV series, and I still have to say, I don't have anything "great" to report.

Thursday was Big Shots on ABC. Frankly, most of the reviews I saw of the show were pretty savage. But I felt obligated to give it a try anyway because of the presence of three actors I liked from other shows (Dylan McDermott from The Practice, Michael Vartan from Alias, and Joshua Malina from The West Wing and Sports Night).

I didn't even finish watching the entire episode.

The writing was just excruciating. It was like Sex and the City with guys, but guys acting and talking like the women on SatC talked (sanitized for non-HBO, anyway). It was preposterous and false that these kinds of discussions would be taking place anywhere among guys like this.

What's sad is that Rob Thomas, creator of the brilliant Veronica Mars (which I recently praised for the 47th time at least) has taken over as "show runner" since that first episode was made, and so it's not unreasonable to think that maybe the dialogue could get more real and more witty a few episodes down the road when his influence kicks in.

And yet, despite the fact that it now means four people I like are associated with show, I just can't make it from here to there. It was that bad, trying to watch that first episode. So I'm out.

Then, Friday night brought Moonlight to CBS. This is the story of a moral vampire working as a private investigator in Los Angeles to fight crime and evil-doers. So, you know, the exact premise of Angel. Only with less good.

Let me just start by saying that where "supernatural" tales are concerned, I pretty much hate it when the writers depart too far from conventional lore. It seems like almost every time a writer deals with vampires, they throw at least one bit of the legend out the window. "Oh, my vampires aren't repelled by crosses." "Yeah, they're totally like vampires, only they don't need permission to enter your house." "Yes, sunlight kills them, but if they put on sunblock, they're just fine."

The way I see it, okay, give the writer one, maybe two cheats. (Except that last example, which was a ridiculous bit of nonsense from the frakking awful movie Blade.) But I say if you're going to deviate any more than that, then you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. You want people to watch your show or read your book or whatever by drawing them in to "ooo, vampires!" But you're totally cheating, because your vampires really aren't vampire-like. You've got to take the bad with the good, I say.

Well, in Moonlight, not only do we learn these vampires aren't repelled by crosses and don't need permission to enter private places, they ALSO aren't affected by garlic, and a stake through the heart won't actually kill them. Oh, AND forget sunblock -- they're just flat out able to spend limited amounts of time in the sun.

So... they're pretty much not vampires. And he tells us all this in a very shoddily written monologue spoken straight to the camera in the opening 30 seconds of the show.

Which just leaves us with a private detective with superpowers... and ham-fisted, badly written film noir style dialogue, spoon-feeding us a boring and predictable plot.

Once again, a bad new show tried to tempt me to overlook its flaws by dangling another Veronica Mars-related carrot in front of me, by having one of the regulars from VM in its cast. But the price was too high. Anyone watching Moonlight should be watching Angel on DVD instead. No excuses.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Next Generation, A Generation Later

Twenty years ago this week (on the last Saturday of September, here in Denver), the very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. After getting over the harsh reality that I'm now old enough to have clear memories of things that happened twenty years ago, I have to say I'm pretty nostalgic about the whole thing.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is where I actually became a Star Trek fan. I had seen all the movies (four only, at that point), and caught a few episodes of the original series here and there, but didn't really go out out of my way to find the ones I'd missed. But I was curious about The Next Generation.

I can remember it so clearly because it aired the week my family moved into a new house (the one my parents have to this day). I watched the show on the floor of my new bedroom, which at that point in time had nothing in it but a mattress and the television itself -- with rabbit ears, since the cable hadn't been hooked up yet.

Today, I look back and realize that the show didn't really get consistently "good" until its third season, but at the time, I thought it was pretty amazing. I remember a few weeks later, the new episode aired on Halloween, and I actually ditched out on half my trick-or-treating plans to be home at the time of the new episode. I was hooked.

Of course, that addiction ultimately had a really huge impact on my life, since it led to me finding the CCG based on it, which in turn led to my becoming a game designer.

And it all started there on the floor of my empty bedroom twenty years ago.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Most Amazing Thing Ever (Today)

Proving once again that you can make a statistic say damn near anything you want it to, TV Guide reported today that the opening day sales for Halo 3 made it the "biggest entertainment launch in history" when it sold $170 million on its launch day.

Don't get me wrong. It's an impressive figure. But the article tries to make a meal out of the fact that it out-dollar-amounted the highest opening day film (Spider-man 3) and opening day book (the last Harry Potter book). And this is like comparing apples and walruses.

Movie ticket prices continue to rise what seems like every other month, but a copy of Halo still costs around 5 or 6 times what a movie ticket costs. Even Harry Potter, at $35 (like anyone paid the cover price for it, though) -- you could almost buy two of them for one Halo 3. (And I know of a few households that did indeed buy more than one). So if they're trying to deceieve anyone into thinking, "holy crap, more people bought this game than saw Spider-man!", just stop.

Not that even if we were just talking films, Spider-man 3's tally should be seen as impressive. The fact is, when you adjust for inflation, I believe the all time movie money maker (Gone With the Wind) has set a record that will never be broken.

You simply don't have to go to the movies anymore. If you don't like the experience (and with its many flaws, it's not hard to sympathize with that opinion), then you can just wait a couple months for the DVD. Or even on the other end of the spectrum, if you go to a movie and absolutely love it? Well, you still probably won't go see it again in the theater. You'll still wait a couple months for the DVD. Neither case applying when Gone With the Wind ran in theaters, of course.

But whoa... major digression. Point being, raw data can be trustworthy. (Sometimes.) Interpretations of that data? Look out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Still Waiting for a Big Winner

The big TV premiere week is now half over. (Which means, for those of you not into such things, I'll be back to my regular random chatter soon enough.) Tonight, I sampled two new shows.

First up was the new incarnation of Bionic Woman, from producer David Eick. We the viewers are clearly meant to think of this "update" with the fondness we have for the other update he helps produce, Battlestar Galactica. It included two of Galactica's main cast members (and another who played a prominent guest role on the show). It had a musical score very evocative of the "Pegasus" motifs used on Galactica. It even used the same font for its credits that brings us "The Cylons Were Created By Man" every week.

But the show didn't measure up to Galactica, not by a long shot. Not that anything easily could, but hey -- they're the ones inviting the comparison. It wasn't really a bad show, but like all "superhero origin stories," this episode could hardly be an indicator of what to expect from later stories to come.

There are some threads woven in that could be interesting down the road. There are the many personal character connections -- Jamie and her sister, Jamie and Wells as lovers in this incarnation, Jamie and her new bionic nemesis, and the relationship that woman has in turn with a member of the project's staff. The show seemed to want to be dramatic and serious and moody, and that's promising too.

But I really can't claim to be more than "sort of entertained" by what I saw. Maybe my expectations were too high here. I plan to give it another shot, but I'm looking for more next time to pick up the show regularly.

The other show I sampled was Dirty Sexy Money, on the generally favorable word of mouth from critics, and the fact that it stars Peter Krause, whose television pedigree includes the excellent shows Six Feet Under and Sports Night.

In short, to me this series suffers from being too realistic. It's the story of a family man lawyer (Krause) thrust into the position of helping a ridiculously wealthy family through all their turmoils. The pilot episode bounced the poor lawyer around like a pinball from family member to family member, to handle one "crisis" after another. And it didn't feel like entertainment -- it felt at times like a tabloid, and at other times far too much like a real newspaper.

We had a politician and a priest each hiding a sex scandal. We had a drug addicted party animal spoiled rich kid. We had a serial marriage seeker. We had a talentless hack coasting on the family wealth.

We had ciphers for Paris Hilton, Larry Craig (or whatever other two-faced politician du jour you'd care to point the finger at), and more.

It's uninteresting and deplorable to me to see the real-life versions in the limelight so much. And I have no interest in watching these barely fictionalized versions of them on a weekly basis. It was escapist fluff without the escapism. However good or not Peter Krause was in it couldn't begin to rise above the rest of the whole. (But for the record, likeable though he remains, it's not like his role was giving him any of the kind of meat to work with that he had on his past series.)

So, with another mediocre reception and my first really bad reaction, I'm still basically lacking a new series to be totally excited about at this point. Which might suit me (and you?) just fine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sinfully Sweet

Tonight was the premiere of the buzzed-about new series Reaper, which I decided to check out. It's the story of a young man who discovers on his 21st birthday that his soul has been sold by his parents (before birth) to the devil, who now appears in his life to enlist him as a bounty hunter to return escaped souls to hell. Depending on your perspective, it was either pretty good, or a bit of a disappointment.

From one perspective, it's very hard not to compare this new series to last night's NBC debut, Chuck. Both feature protagonists in dead-end retail jobs, suddenly thrust into positions where they wield unnatural abilities to "fight crime" (or what-not) for powerful overseers. Both try to keep a funny and light tone on the proceedings (at least, in their first episodes).

But anything Chuck can do, Reaper does better. The jokes were funnier. Reaper's main character Sam got cooler powers (in that he actually got some) than Chuck. The slacker banter was more entertaining and not slightly insulting to geekdom as the "nerd dialogue" for Chuck was. The social commentary was more humorous (DMV as hell on Earth). The premise seemed to have more legs in it for ongoing series storytelling. It was just better, all around.

On the other hand, it's also hard not to compare Reaper to the cancelled show whose time slot on the CW it usurped: Veronica Mars. And through that lens, the show comes up short in every conceivable way.

Veronica Mars, even in just its pilot episode, could deliver the funny while still offering dramatic pathos. The parent/child relationship felt more real. The stakes, while technically smaller, felt somehow higher. The show stayed with you in a way that Reaper, however entertaining, hasn't seemed to since I switched the TV off.

Reaper was a sugary, "fun" kind of television that's certainly okay, but not the sort of deeply satisfying thing you'll talk about around the "watercooler" the next day. And to an extent, there's nothing wrong with that. But there seem to be an awful lot of shows on these days that are all about delivering these sort of "empty entertainment calories." Hell, I watch some of them -- Psych, The Amazing Race, (in a weak moment) Las Vegas. I'm just not sure I need to pick up another show like that.

Especially not when I think about what it would be like to have season four of Veronica Mars instead. Which I know is irrational. It's not like that show was cancelled specifically so that this show could exist. But there it is.

So in short, I enjoyed myself, but I don't know if I'm won over. If anything, it probably got me to be harsher on Chuck than I would otherwise have been. Now I'm almost thinking that show needs to put up or shut up next week.

Candy's good, but one should only have so much.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fire/Water (and more)

Fall is now here officially, as you would know from the suddenly cold and rainy weather this evening here in Denver... or from the blast of new TV shows that started up tonight. Of course, the former made it all the more inviting to stay inside and observe the latter.

It kicked off with what I found to be a fairly striking episode of Prison Break. It's not necessarily that I thought it was one of their finest hours of the show, but I was really surprised by the pace of it all. They covered more plot ground in this single hour than I expected would be traversed for the next several episodes.

I had somehow expected it would be weeks before Scofield coaxed his new target Whistler out of the walls, or before Mahone got wise to what Scofield was really in there to do. Instead, the writers vaulted right through the whole issue of trying to rescue a man marked for death even within the prison. I was entertained, but still surprised that things are moving along so quickly.

Oh, I'm sure there's plenty more story to be told in the weeks ahead, but in a way it feels like exactly the opposite sort of reaction than the one I had to last week's premiere. Before, I felt like things were a bit slow, laying track for the thrill ride to come. Here, I thought I'd made it to the top of the first hill and was ready for a big drop, but instead got twisted and corkscrewed off in another direction. But I'm eager to see where things go next. (Particularly for Sucre. Now that he's finally let the Maricruz plotline go, I wonder how his formerly rather one-note character will figure into the story.)

Meanwhile, NBC was rolling out two new shows tonight -- Chuck and Journeyman. Neither one of them blew me away, but I found enough in both to get me to sample another episode or two.

Chuck was fun enough. The whole thing sort of felt like its heart and spirit were in the right place, but the actual delivery was a little off the mark. The whole take on "nerd-dom" felt too much like the Hollywood cliche of what people who know nothing about how actual geeks behave think geeks act like. Bandages on the fingers from playing too much XBox? Worries over who gets to drive the company Volkswagen? No way. Over the top, and frankly just slightly insulting. Before the writers create any more episodes, somebody should strap them into chairs and force them to watch Free Enterprise for a better, more realistic take on how geeks actually talk and act.

As I said, though, it did kind of feel like their heart was in the right place. They were trying to be fun and whimsical, and sometimes it worked. And I love seeing Adam Baldwin in just about anything. But is it wrong that I found myself more wishing that the show had been about this super-agent that got killed in the opening five minutes than about the actual protagonist and his friends and family?

Then there was Journeyman. It more or less hit the right intellectual beats. The Macguffin of what exactly Our Hero was doing in repeatedly intersecting with this one man's life at different points in the past? That worked. The twist at the end of it all having been about his son instead... also interesting.

But the emotional beats fell rather flat. It wasn't remotely interesting to watch the people around the main character worry about whether he was crazy or drugged up or what-not. We the audience knew he wasn't. And we also knew there wouldn't be any lasting consequences (like being locked up in a psych hospital or something), because then there wouldn't be a series. It was all just devoid of tension, dramatically speaking, and the actors weren't able to inject enough emotion into it in just these brief 42 minutes to overcome that.

So, perhaps both these new shows will iron out their flaws and make it into my "appointment book." I'm willing to give them a few more chances. But they've got some work to do.

In the meantime, I'll just keep looking forward to Prison Break.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Manhattan Melodies

I talk about going to the Continental Theater for "flashback movies" fairly often, but they're actually not the only game in town when it comes to showing older movies on the big screen. (It just happens they have the biggest screen for several states around.) One of the local "art house" theaters, the Esquire, also gets in on the act.

There at least one major difference at the Esquire, however. They show their movies at mignight on Friday and Saturday nights. The type of crowd you get for a movie at midnight is an entirely different animal. Frankly, I'm getting too old for whatever enthusiasm I used to have for midnight movies to still hold much sway. (Getting home from The Fellowship of the Ring at around 3:45 in the morning a few years back made me swear off ever doing it for a first-run movie, in fact. I was completely exhausted, and I think I actually enjoyed the movie less than I otherwise would have, too.)

So what dragged me out at midnight this weekend? An odd selection, to be sure: The Muppets Take Manhattan.

I don't really have too many memories from 1984, but I do remember going to see this movie. Of course, this was long before I'd discover that the Muppets are aimed as much at adults as children (perhaps, you could argue, more so). Add the "midnight crowd" to that equation, and it was a unique experience. It was not a large crowd, but it included people laughing before the punchlines, people rolling after the punchlines, people quite likely drunk off their ass (though, amazingly, kind of adding to the experience rather than spoiling it), and more.

I was surprised at what I'd remembered and forgotten from this movie. For example, it had somehow completely slipped from my mind that this was where the concept of the "Muppet Babies" was introduced for the very first time, in Miss Piggy's dream sequence.

In any case, I still found it a pretty funny movie, though somewhat awkwardly paced. After an opening half hour that flew so fast, I was wondering if the movie was going to be far shorter than I remembered, things dragged a bit in the middle (except when a few entertaining cameos were dropped in to liven things up). The finale was fun, but the ending sure does come abruptly. Not Sopranos abrupt, but still, you could kind of feel a whole vibe in the audience (even as well as most knew the movie) of: "wait, that's it?"

When they're on their A game, the Muppets are still a lot of fun. And they were pretty close to that in this movie. I'm glad I went. Even though it meant another midnight movie.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


There's another new expansion for the board game Carcassonne on the way: Abbey and Mayor.

For those keeping score, we've got The River, Inns and Cathedrals, Traders and Builders, The Count of Carcassonne, King and Scout, The Princess and Dragon, The River II, and The Tower already. To say nothing of several tiny "expansions" that have been released through magazines over the years. Or of the spin-off games, Hunters and Gatherers, The Discovery, The City, and The Castle.

This thing has more expansions than most trading card games got even back in the heyday of TCGs. Beware the mega-farm.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Return to Form

I recently finished reading The Elves of Cintra, Terry Brooks' newest book, and the middle volume of his current trilogy linking his well-known Shannara series with his less well-known Word and Void series. "Middle installments" of trilogies are often the weak links of stories, doing little more than setting up epic conclusions for the final volume, while offering little satisfaction on their own. There are exceptions to this, of course, but it's often the rule.

Not this time. I found The Elves of Cintra to be a very engaging and suspenseful read. This was one of those books that pulls you through at a rapid pace. When you finish a chapter, you don't want to put it down until you've read "just one more." This was not just meandering to wait for the third book, it was exciting, tense, and fun.

After a positive but slightly reserved response to the first book, Armageddon's Children, and true disappointment in the book Terry Brooks wrote prior to it, Straken, I'm pleased to say that one of my favorite authors is back in his best form here. This is his most enjoyable book in the last five or six he's written.

I do have to reserve a little judgment, I suppose, until I see how the story finishes. Fortunately, of all the authors I read who are leaving me hanging in the middle of a series, Terry Brooks has never been one to do so for long. Every August, the man publishes a new book -- like clockwork. Odds are he'll finish this series and another after that before George R.R. Martin finally finishes A Song of Ice and Fire. (Sigh.) Though with books like this one, I don't think he's having to sacrifice quality for this relative speed.

It's not quite up there with my favorite books of his (The Heritage of Shannara four-book series), but it's well worthy of an A- in my view. I recommend this series to fantasy readers, particularly any who have enjoyed Terry Brooks in the past.

Though I suppose I'd understand if you wanted to wait until next year for the final book to arrive.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everybody Cut...

This past weekend, the flashback movie at the Continental was Footloose. This time, the trip to the theater was different from the norm, as I'd never actually seen the movie before.

I know, revoke my "Child of the 80s" membership card. Shriek "How can you not have seen Footloose?!" at the top of your lungs. Whatever. It slipped through the cracks. And really, it's one of those movies that you almost feel like you don't have to see. The plot is pretty well-known, coming up in plenty of other pop culture references. And of course, every other person in the late 80s owned a copy of the soundtrack and played the crap out of it.

Anyway, I decided I'd better actually cross Footloose off "the list" and go see it. It was perhaps the most familiar experience I've ever had seeing a movie for the first time. As I expected, I did feel like I knew the whole thing already. Not that that was entirely a bad thing.

It was every bit as cheesy as I expected, and more. And not that that was entirely a bad thing either.

Ultimately, it was a fairly harmless but fun little bit of fluff. I guess it had a "message" as well, though in the context of the movie, I'm not sure whether that can be considered a plus or a minus.

Basically, I left the theater ambivalent on whether I'd actually liked the movie or not, but still feeling like I'd generally had a fun time at the movies. Call that... I don't know.... a B-?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Wheel Has Stopped

I have read quite a few fantasy novels, but I've never tried out the well-known Robert Jordan series The Wheel of Time. Though it had been suggested to me by some, others warned me that it started to meander a bit in the later books. Ultimately, I decided that I was stuck waiting in the midst of too many other unfinished series (A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, whatever Terry Brooks is writing at the moment, and up until recently, Harry Potter). I was going to wait until the tale was complete, and then give it a crack.

Now the news has come that it never will be. Not by Robert Jordan, at least. He died on Sunday of cardiac amyloidosis, a rare disease with a poor prognosis for those diagnosed with it.

Since I've had one eye on the books for a while, I'd been aware of Jordan's condition since not long after he was diagnosed early last year. It's been a very weird situation for his fans.

On the one hand, the man was dying of a terminal disease. One wants to be respectful of him and his family, and not be a complete bastard.

On the other hand, the author had cultivated what essentially was another family -- and a very large one -- who can't be thought completely unreasonable in wanting their beloved series of books finished.

When diagnosed with the condition, which even with treatment offers a typical life expectancy of about four years, Robert Jordan scoffed it off. "That's just the average," he said, and he claimed he'd live 30 more years and write the whole time because he still had other stories to tell. And on the one hand, who could fault a person facing a terminal disease for wanting to keep a positive attitude!

But on the other, with just one book to go in a twelve book series, how could you not step to it?

I think no matter whether you're looking at this from the author's perspective or a fan's perspective, there's a good measure of selfishness.

Now the weirdness of the situation will transform. Robert Jordan did say in at last one interview he gave last year that he had confided enough details of the final book to his family that "someone" could finish the book after his death, should it come to that. So now rabid fans will have to walk the line between trying to be respectful of a grieving family, while waiting on pins and needles to know if the series is ever going to be finished.

And if it is finished by someone else (I for one have to wager heavily that it will be), then there will almost surely be debate about the last book. Will it be "good enough?" Will the last half or two-thirds of the final book (or whatever it amounts to being) really be "what Robert Jordan would have wanted?" Will it be satisfying to have the end if it's not really the end, in the author's own voice? And would it be disrespectful of the late author to say that it isn't? Or worse, if it is?

I'm somewhat reminded of the day the news hit that Stephen King had nearly been killed in that automobile accident, and how for a short flash of time, his fans had to wonder if he would never finish The Dark Tower series. But this time the scythe has fallen the other way.

Again, all of this comes from the detached perspective of someone who has not yet read the books, nor is part of the family who has now lost a member. It's easy to sit and think about the situation intellectually from that standpoint. But I am curious to see what happens with that final, unfinished book.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back in Prison

The fall television season has now officially begun with the return of Prison Break. I followed it enthusiastically last year (as many of you know), watching it continue to tell engaging stories while 24, airing right after it, sort of flopped around all over the place. (Really, I think it made Prison Break look even better by comparison.)

So, what's the prognosis on season three?

Well, I have to say that tonight's episode never really had me on the edge of my seat like almost every episode of seasons one and two did. This was a more sedate episode of the show. But you could almost expect that, since the writers were really laying all new track, all but starting over again from scratch.

No real surprises in the plot. You could easily figure out the "twists" ahead of time. (Why Michael was in Sona. What had happened to LJ and Sara.) And yet, there was a certain satisfaction in seeing so many of the characters, separated for large chunks of season two, back together under one roof. Mahone and Scofield, for example, might have interacted with each other more in person in this one episode than they did in the whole of last season. If there was a down side to season two, it was the loss of many of the character relationships of the first year of the show, and this re-invented Prison Break offers a chance to return to that.

But I'm not hooked yet. Not disliking it, by any means. Just not hooked yet.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Emmy Thoughts

Here are a few random musings of mine from watching tonight's Emmy broadcast:

The Family Guy episode which brought us the original version of that opening song (about the "freakin' FCC") was probably the best episode of that show ever. This re-tread of it tonight was not all that great. Except maybe for The Sopranos joke, but then who couldn't see that punch line coming from a thousand miles away? (And that close-up of T.R. Knight right after the mention of Isaiah Washington? Painfully awkward. Like an episode of The Office, without the funny.)

Ryan Seacrest was a pretty lame host. Fortunately, the show producers seemed to realize this, and hardly had him on camera at all. I think Ellen DeGeneres got as much screen time as he did. (And she was awesome, naturally.)

Putting the ceremony in the round was the dumbest idea in the history of award shows. Clearly this decision was made by people who don't understand how to actually stage performances in the round. Of course, there were many great digs on this ill-informed choice (perhaps the best from James Spader, who remarked about having been to thousands of concerts and never having had worse seats), and there are sure to be more in critical coverage after the fact. In short, they'll never do this again.

I don't know what force in the fashion world handed down the decree that "floppy, unevenly mashed-down breasts in dresses slit almost to the navel" is the it look, but that person is wrong, wrong, wrong. It was really unflattering on every woman who wore it, which sadly seemed to be all but about three women in all of Hollywood.

I'm really pleased the vote for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama went against expectations and that Terry O'Quinn won. Though I like Michael Emerson's performance on Lost even more, both are consistently excellent on the show. And Terry O'Quinn's acceptance speech was both funny and classy.

As Stephen Colbert playfully foreshadowed on his most recent show (Thursday night), he again lost the award to a famous pop idol in a one-time only performance of songs he's sung countless times before. Tony Bennett will no doubt replace Barry Manilow as a new object of (loving) scorn to the Colbert Nation.

And speaking of scorn, so many television critics heap undeserved scorn on Boston Legal. And I'm sure it's going to double with James Spader's win tonight.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's presentation was quite funny. It ran longer than it should have, but was still good. Though not as funny as their decision to give the award to Steve Carell in winner Ricky Gervais' absence.

Lewis Black's monologue was awesome. But like any TV network is going to act upon anything he said, no matter how much applause it received. Not even FOX, the network that actually aired the rant, I'm sure.

30 Rock in a bit of a surprise upset win for Best Comedy Series... kinda reminds me a bit of when Arrested Development won in its first year. Except I watched Arrested Development. (Sorry, Tina Fey... I think you're great, but I tried your show for a month when it first came on, and I thought it was strangely unfunny, coming from you.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Antici........................... pation

Earlier this week, as I'm fast forwarding through commercials during an episode of The Daily Show, I noticed an ad for the upcoming movie Iron Man. I was pretty surprised, since from what I'd remembered at Comic-Con earlier this summer, the movie wasn't even supposed to be out this year. And sure enough, when I slowed down to take a longer look at this TV trailer, I saw it end with the release date: May 2, 2008.

May of 2008, and they're showing commercials for it on TV now.

There is no possible way any movie could live up to this level of hype, if indeed we're going to be blitzkrieged with ads for this show from now until release date. We're talking eight months in advance here.

The fall TV season hasn't even started yet, but it will be nearly over by the time this movie is in theaters.

There are women out there who possibly don't yet know they're pregnant, but will actually give birth before this movie is in theaters.

In other words, shut the hell up, Marvel Studios, and get back to us in... like, March of next year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Border Crossings

How genius is the marketing department behind Taco Bell?

It seems like every month (hell, maybe even once every two weeks or so), they're introducing some new menu item at Taco Bell. Chicken Taquitos. Grande Quesadillas. Or their latest, the new Cheesy Beefy Melt. And damned if I don't want to try most of these things on those infrequent occasions I find myself making a "run for the border."

But when you get down to it, there's nothing new going on here. Everything at Taco Bell is some "crossing" of about six or seven different things. In some way or another, every new menu item is working a tortilla or torilla-like thing, ground beef or chicken, cheese, and some mix of lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole. And that's basically it.

Until it's a Cheesy Beefy Melt. Then, somehow, it's brand frakking new food technology heretofore unseen. And we all pretty much swallow it. Literally.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Full Contact Opera

I'm quite positive that tonight during trivia, my friends and I were in the only sports bar in all of Denver (maybe even the whole country) that had a television showing opera. Actual opera.

Some channel was on something like a PBS or some such for the entire two-plus hours we were there, and they were doing some extended tribute to Pavarotti by showing one of his performances with bits of interviews sprinkled in.

On the big screen next to Pavarotti? Major League Baseball for a while. Then a soccer game for a while after that.

Just bizarre.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Kinder, Gentler Mass-Murdering Weapon

A nice, succinct sentence of utter stupidity from, in their story today about the recent Russian bomb test. Well, actually, they're paraphrasing Colonel-General Alexander Rukshin, so I guess it's his fault. Anyway, the fifth paragraph down reads:

Unlike a nuclear weapon, the bomb doesn't hurt the environment, he added.

First of all, from the picture, it sure seems like this bomb will "hurt the environment" to me. Okay, maybe not in a whole "nuclear winter" kind of way, but I think the environment within a 990 foot radius of the impact point is going to feel a little "hurt."

Secondly... isn't it nice to know that when a weapon is being designed to kill large numbers of people at a distance, the designers are worried about the innocent trees and plants and stuff that might be collateral damage?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


On Sunday a couple nights ago, I sat down to watch the newest episode of The 4400. A few minutes into the show, I notice a modest-sized spider sitting on one side of my screen. So I hit pause on the TiVo, go over and grab a paper towel, and come back to pick off the offending critter.

Imagine my surprise to see the little guy still there when I pull my hand away.

I tilt my head a little bit and realize that there's no spider on my TV. It appears to be one of those little "gotchas" that sometimes creeps up in commercials or movies (or the kickass video game Eternal Darkness). I can't decide whether to be amused or annoyed that I've been had.

But then I stop and think about it for a second. Why in the hell would they just randomly put a spider on the screen in an episode of The 4400? So I grab my remote again and change the channel.

And the spider is still there.

See, I'm not one of those FancyPants with a plasma or LCD TV. I'm still rockin' the rear projection (and liking it just fine, thanks). And a spider has actually somehow crawled inside it and is now sitting on the other side of my screen, perfectly silhouetted in the projection. And it's utterly content there, it would seem -- it hasn't moved a bit since this whole escapade began.

Or maybe it's dead and somehow stuck there?

So I gently start smacking the edge of the box to maybe try and shock the thing to life. Sure enough, it starts to skitter for the far side of the screen and soon vanishes from sight.

I haven't seen the spider return in the two days since, but I've got my fingers crossed that it wasn't an egg layer that actually set up long-term shop inside my prized possession. Halloween may be coming up soon and all, but as freaky-fun as it might be to suddenly see a dozen spiders crawling across my screen when I invite someone over for a scary movie, the novelty would surely wear off almost immediately.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday in the Park

Yesterday evening, I went to a small concert in the park where the a cappella group The Nylons were performing.

I've always been a fan of a cappella music, though The Nylons are admittedly not my favorite among the more widely known groups. Several years back, as one of the many random questions that comes up during the annual KVSC Trivia Contest, I discovered an unconventional group called The Bobs. They "play around" with sound, for lack of a better way to describe it -- frequently employing strange vocal sound effects to produce a richer sound. And they're just a lot more fun than most other a cappella groups. (Drunken college efforts notwithstanding.)

By contrast, The Nylons are pretty straight up (aside from their use of a drum machine, which some a cappella purists frown upon). It's a clean sound; not really "barbershop quartet," but not quite a sound distinctly of its own either.

Nevertheless, they give a throughly enjoyable concert. Despite the fact it was the first really cold evening in Denver this season, and that a sprinkle of rain bookended the two-hour show, it was a rather pleasant night to be out. The group performed most of the songs they're best known for, did a few "deeper cuts" from their various albums, and even offered up a few new songs (like an improvised take on a Smokey Robinson classic, and a version of John Mayer's Waiting on the World to Change).

Their finale, as you'd expect, was The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and it actually went completely against my expectations from the group. Everything I just said about not playing with odd vocalizations or unusual styles? Well, that may be true of their studio recordings, but this live performance of the song was a complete departure from the recorded version, and really very neat.

So, as I said, an enjoyable evening out. The group has changed all but one of its original members, but it still tours quite regularly, so if you're a fan of a cappella music and they happen to stop near you, you should check them out.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Sometimes, the toys are just too cool for only the kids to have them. The Noble Collection, which has previously released replicas of just about every major character's wand from the Harry Potter movies, has totally upped the ante with this: The Illuminating Wand. When you flick the wand, the tip lights up.

My friend who works at a bookstore recently picked one up, even though her store had previously sold out of them in the 24 hours after the release of Deathly Hallows. For whatever silly reason (I'm going to go with "I've never heard of eBay"), some lady returned one she'd purchased to the bookstore, and my friend quickly snatched it up.

I imagine it sounds like first year Charms class over at her house these days.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

So Close, Yet So Far

Sadly, the official rules of Disc Golf say this doesn't count:

Even if it is harder to do.

Even though I did this from about 40 feet away.

I'm a sad panda.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Now It Goes to 11

I don't have much in the way of a detailed review to go with this, but I did want to throw my recommendation behind a new board game I've been playing a fair amount recently, Notre Dame. This is the latest in Alea's "big box" series of games (number 11), and a vast improvement over some of the recent entries which, while not bad, have not been worthy of the others.

This game has a really satisfying mix of solitary "infrastructure management" and ability to "screw your neighbor." (Similarly to Puerto Rico, the primary source of the latter comes in how "crap rolls downhill" toward the players sitting clockwise of you.)

It has a nice rules set that seems a bit daunting at first, but quite clean and clear before you finish your first game.

There seem to be a least a couple viable and different ways to win.

It plays a bit more quickly than some of the "thinkiest" of the games in the series, while still delivering a healthy dose of strategy.

This isn't suddenly my favorite game or anything, but is a game I'm happy to suggest at the moment, or pleased to play when it is suggested. Any fan of German board games should probably give this a look.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


A friend pointed me to this spot on the intarwebs tonight. I try not to simply post links to other places on the net without comment, but this really sort of defies comment. At least, comment more profound than "that's damn funny."

So behold! Video game reviews with Zero Punctuation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Partly Cloudy Day

This past Saturday brought another flashback movie to the Continental theater, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Again, this was a movie I'd never seen before on the big screen. Again, seeing it with an audience was a whole lot of fun.

But unfortunately, the experience was also different from others I've had with these flashback movies. This time, I was forced to admit that I really don't quite like this movie as much as I thought. It's still top 100 material, for certain. But I'd actually had it in my top 10 before this, and now having watched it again for the first time in a while, I can't really see it there any more.

However this movie might have "spoken to me" (to use a cliche) when I was younger, I'm not sure it does anymore. And unlike other movies I may have outgrown a bit over time, I don't have a really strong memory of seeing this one for the first time (as I do with many other films of the 80s I actually saw in the theater, or with close friends or family).

I think it comes down to my feeling this time around that the movie was just a little too "candy"-like for me to hold it in such high esteem. Oh, it's well made candy, and incredibly fun. The cast is great. The jokes still make me laugh. But it's not really part of a bigger package. There's no real tension, little adventure, very little in the way of serious emotion (though Cameron's awakening at the conclusion of the film comes close)... nothing but the laughs, really.

The laughs are good. Good enough that I'm sure when I get around to revising that movie list of mine (like I keep saying I'm going to), I'm sure Ferris Bueller's Day Off will still be in the top half. But it's fallen from the top 10.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Nobel Prize for Duh

I understand that the sort of scientific skill set that can research stupid things like "frozen things are cold" can't be turned around and readily applied to curing cancer.

But I want to know how I can get a research grant for a study like this one. "Men want hot women"? Go figure!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Unbearable Dream

I first read David Eddings' Belgariad series back in high school. I hardly remember anything of it today, other than a generally warm and fuzzy feeling of liking it, and the Mallorean series that followed.

Years later, I tried one of his other series, and found it somehow less enjoyable than I remembered his writing being. The characters seemed pretty derivative of the vague recollections I'd had of the the previous series.

Still more years later, I tried his standalone book, The Redemption of Althalus. By this point, he was officially writing in partnership with his wife, Leigh. It seemed likely he'd been doing this all along and simply not putting her name on the books, but in any case, I'd found the new book to have another drop in quality. Maybe I blamed it on the co-author, maybe not, but either way, I swore off David Eddings for a while.

Now I have recently completed reading their newest series, The Dreamers, and I can tell you that I have now sworn off David Eddings permanently. This four book series was absolutely horrible, and I can think of nothing in it to recommend to anybody, no matter how much they like fantasy fiction, or how forgiving they are when it's written badly.

The cast of characters -- which numbers a few dozen -- all act and speak with essentially one voice. They all speak with "a wry smile," or "no hint of a joke," or "a grin," when they deliver painfully unfunny punch lines to close out passages of prose that rarely run more than two pages in length. When a character is described to the reader, it's always in the exact same language, whether it's the authors' narration, or the voice of an actual character. We hear repeatedly of "the archer who doesn't know how to miss," "the warrior queen," "the cunning little smith," and so on, again and again and again.

And again. Because the books repeat themselves endlessly. The plot often sees characters breaking off into groups, and then reuniting a few pages down the road to then explain to the other characters in excruciating detail everything that happened while they were separated. Everything we the readers have already read. Probably more than once, actually, because the narrative perspective shifts frequently, very often covering the exact same plot points two or three times. (But never offering a truly new perspective, since the characters all act and sound alike.) Put simply, it was quite common for any significant plot point in the story to be covered five or six times -- three or four times "as it happened" from different characters' perspectives, and another two or three times as those characters then retold what happened to other characters they met later.

And if only the repetition had been confined to a single book of the series. The structure of each of the four books is all but identical. A fantasy land, divided by geographical features into northern, eastern, southern, and western domains, is coming under attack by foul creatures encroaching from the desert at the center of the land. The plot of each of the four books is exactly as follows: one of the four domains is the next to be threatened; an army is brought to defend it; they spend hundreds of pages building fortifications and making preparations; the enemy army makes its advance; before any interesting combat or meaningful jeopardy can occur, supernatural forces erupt from nowhere to shut off the invasion for good. Lather, rinse, repeat for four books.

There's no sense of risk, no investment in any of the caricatures, no quality language in the prose, nothing but a reprehensible waste of ink and paper.

Why then would I actually wade through four books and actually read the whole damn series? Well, because of all these work trips I'd been taking in the last month and a half. See I had book one and two with me on one such trip, and nothing else to read. I knew before my flight landed in San Diego for Comic-Con than the first book of the series was pretty lame, but it was all I had with me to read. There was nothing else to fill the evenings in the hotel rooms, nothing else to read on the airplane back. By the time I'd returned to Denver, I was basically halfway through the four book series. And maybe thinking of liking those older Eddings books from years ago, I stupidly thought that maybe it would turn around in the last two books, and forged ahead.

Instead, the ending was the worst literary atrocity of all. In the last ten pages, the authors had the god characters involved in the story disrupt time and essentially render all the events of the four book series as never having happened.

I'm way against burning books, let me tell you. But I want to burn these books. I want to leave a flaming bag of poo on the Eddings' doorstep. I want my money back. I want my time back.

Most of all, I want to make sure that no one else I know ever wastes their time on these books like I wasted mine. Life is too short to read crap like this.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


This road sign can't be right.

Speed monitored or checked by aircraft, I believe. Enforced? What, is a fighter going to strafe the road in front of you if you go too fast? Is a helicopter going to come land on top of your car?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Vegas Maneuver

Early last month while I was in Las Vegas for work, I got stuck with several of my co-workers on one of those interminable elevator rides that seems to happen quite frequently in large hotels -- you know, your room is on the 38th floor or something, and you have to stop at every second or third floor all the way down to the ground. By the high 20s, you've already got as many people as you want crowding an elevator with you. By the low 20s, you're jam-packed well past that point, but you're still going to stop another dozen times or so before you finally get to the ground floor.

Well, not on this particular elevator trip.

Somewhere about halfway through the trip, when we already had about 10 people on, a total stranger on the ride with us decided that enough was enough. "Everybody move forward!" he encouraged us. And we did. And then the biggest guy in the elevator turns around and puts his back right up against the doors.

Now at this point, in the back of the elevator, there's clearly room for maybe four or five more people. You know, if we weren't all sick of jamming more people in with us. But sure enough, the next stop, the doors come open, and a handful of faces looking to get on just turn white with shock. "Whoa!" they exclaim, peering at the back of this huge guy, and nine or so other faces crowded as far forward as we can get. "We'll wait for the next one."

No sooner do the doors close that we all bust out laughing, congratulating each other on this well-devised ruse. Sure, you could argue we were all being curmudgeonly and selfish... but it was also a strangely cool group experience, us and these strangers, figuring out how to squeeze a modicum of comfort (and a lot of enjoyment) out of this elevator ride.

Flash-forward to Gen Con in Indianapolis a few weeks later. Most of the same co-workers were again crowded with me in an elevator heading down from one of the top floors in the hotel. People kept crowding on. It was getting a little uncomfortable.

And then "my rich friend" says, "Vegas Maneuver?"

Instantly, I know what he's talking about. I'm with Shocho at the front of the elevator -- the tallest guys there. We both turn our backs to the door, all of us encouraging everyone to move as far forward as possible.

Next floor... doors pop open.... "Holy crap! We'll wait for the next one."

Doors close. The jaws of these strangers in the elevator with us seem to drop in amazement, like we've discovered fire or the wheel or something. Which got me to thinking, maybe this elevator technique, this "Vegas Maneuver" really is something to be shared.

And now I've done that with all of you.