Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Screened Scream

I let a holiday tradition slide this year -- I didn't watch John Carpenter's original Halloween tonight, even though I've done so for many years running. Maybe it's because I was a little underwhelmed the last time I saw it. Or maybe it's because the recent remake was quite disappointing. Whatever the reason, what was basically my last way of observing Halloween slipped away this year. Kinda sad, perhaps.

Though I did still decide the evening called for some kind of scary movie. So I went for Scream, a movie I've not seen in quite some time. And one somewhat related to Halloween as well, since they watch it on video in the movie. (Paradoxically, the characters in Halloween H2O actually watch Scream on video at one point. And their entire fictional universe is subsequently sucked into a black hole. Or should have been... it would have been way better than Halloween: Resurrection.)

Scream is still fairly amusing on a second viewing. The silly love relationship between Courtney Cox and David Arquette is funny (independent of the fact they got together in real life over it). Henry Winkler's couple of scenes are humorously over the top. Matthew Lillard's line delivery in the final act makes you almost bust a gut; you wonder why director Wes Craven didn't reign him in.

But as far as plot, the movie is kind of lacking on a second viewing. Now, I figure 11 years later is enough that I can freely talk about the ending. I remember how cool the revelation of there being two killers seemed at the time. But unlike other movies with clever twists, this one just doesn't work well on a repeat viewing. Oh sure, the logic of what's happening and when and by who is intact. But it feels to me like there's just not much to the movie other than fooling you -- which it can never do a second time. (Or a first time, for any of you who just read this without having seen it. Ha!) All that's left is a fairly amusing movie.

And I have to say, "amusing" isn't really quite what I was looking for on Halloween night.

Maybe next year I'll be ready to go back to the old Halloween (the movie) tradition. Or maybe I'll try some other film. I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going, Going.... to Gone

Sunday night, I caught the new movie Gone Baby Gone at the local theater. I was worried that I was heading into it with expectations too high. It had been getting almost universally positive reviews. A co-worker told me that the book on which it's based is one of his favorite books ever. Sounds like a recipe for failure, right?

Well, it's not top 100 material or anything. But it is a very fine movie.

In addition to it being Ben Affleck's first full-length film as a director, it's also the first time in a while he's returned to writing, sharing credit with someone in adapting the screenplay. In this latter role, he is getting back to the thing he's best at, in my opinion. Writing is what he won the Oscar for, remember. All those times in movie trailers (most recently, Hollywoodland) where they say "starring Academy Award winner, Ben Affleck"? Yeah, he didn't win it for acting, you disingenuous disembodied voice.

Without being able to compare and contrast to the book, I can only say that I think it's a very good script. It pulls you in and pulls you along. It surprises you at times. The ending is horrible and wrong... in a good way. By which I mean that it really eats at you, but is crafted to do so. And it's the correct ending, true to character, and makes you reflect all the way back to the main character's opening monologue of the movie to realize "he was telling us who he was to explain the choices he was ultimately going to make."

As a director, Ben Affleck does a pretty damn good job too. We've seen the "run-down parts of Boston" in more than a few movies (hell, even in Good Will Hunting), but it still doesn't feel cliche here, and is really used well as a backdrop for the tale. The staging and presentation helps build dramatic tension.

And he gets great performances from his actors. Now, granted, we're talking about Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman among them, and perhaps getting a good performance from them is little more than getting out of their way... but if so, then Ben Affleck had the good sense to do that and not try to be an artiste to mold the movie and those performances in inauthentic ways.

Anyway, more on the acting. Ed Harris is always great, as I hinted, but I feel like this is really one of his career best performances here. It's not as flashy or showy as some other roles he's had, but it feels really true. Morgan Freeman is also very strong in his role, though admittedly it doesn't stray far from characters we've seen him play before. More unexpectedly, though, are the two actors in the major roles, Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan. He's not just in it because he's Ben's little brother, and she's not just in it because she's a pretty face. They both bring some real meat to their scenes. A number of other characters are just as well cast, many by "working actors" whose faces you'll recognize from other places (The Wire, Deadwood, and so forth).

It's actually kind of funny.... walking out of the theater, I was thinking to myself, "that was really, really good. Not great, but very good." And yet thinking about it since then, and even writing about it now, I'm having a hard time figuring out just what reservation I might have had about the film. Reading back over what I just wrote, it seems like a gushing review to me. So let me make that official by giving it an A.


So, I would have posted this last night (as I usually post in the evening), but my internet came under a "malicious external attack" or something. (This topical reference brought to you coutesy of this -- link provided for historical context, because it won't be funny a few months from now.)

Anyway, the local CBS affiliate preempted the entire lineup last night to show Monday Night Football. The Broncos were playing, and these days Monday Night means ESPN, which means "no cable, no Broncos."

To which I say, "what makes sports so damn special?"

I happen to like The Riches. It airs on FX. Is there a local affiliate preempting programming so I can watch that? No! I have to frakkin' get a cable subscription.

Or how about a comparison that's slightly less apples-and-oranges? When election season rolls around, one of the local cable access channels typically carries a debate between the local mayoral or gubernatorial debate. (Yes, "guber" is part of the word... that's another issue.) That's of "local interest." But does one of the local networks stop to carry that for the people that might want to know and don't have cable? No!

But the Bronocs? Oh, heaven forbid someone might not get to watch that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sox Rock Rocks' Socks

You know, I'm not sure I have anything meaningful to say here. I just wanted to use the headline. It kind of sounds like a Dr. Seuss outtake.

But okay, attempt at meaningful... here goes...

Tonight, I'm glad not to be a sports fan. Sure, I'm sure there are things in my life that I build myself up for only to be disappointed later. But I'd have to say that by and large, my time investment typically isn't very large on such things.

Like, say, maybe there's a movie that comes out that I've been really looking forward to, and it totally sucks when I see it. I'm out about two hours, plus the odd minutes here and there leading up to it, talking about the anticipation with people I know.

On the other hand, imagine being a long-suffering fan who has been, well, suffering long to see the Rockies get into the playoffs, and then... CRUSH. I'm not talking about the come-lately fans that invariably come flocking at the end when the team is doing well. Someone who's been weathering the ups and downs since April? Or hell, since 1995? Or longer than that, if you're a fan of the Cubs or something?

Disappointment sucks.

And neener-neener-neener.... better you than me. (That's right. Come get me, karma! The Golden Rule of the Church of Schadenfreude? Laugh at others as you expect they'll laugh at you.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pick Up the Pace

These awards are hanging on the wall of my local KFC:

I'm not sure what's going on here. There's really not any information on what it is to be in the "President's Pace-Setters Club." What are the criteria? How good is it? What am I as a customer supposed to take away when I see these on the wall?

I'll tell you what I take away -- confusion. Because even though I don't know what we're measuring, 65.17% of it doesn't sound like a very impressive number to me. Only if you're comparing it to batting in baseball, which (paraphrasing Stephen Colbert) has got to be the only profession where a 35% job performance rating is considered really incredible.

And even if 65.17% of whatever makes you a Pace-Setter really is good, then what happened between 2005 and 2006? Because the plaque on the right is a paltry 25.38%. Even if 65.17% really is phenomenal, the one on the right seems like a sad joke.

So what the hell are we measuring here?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mars Attacked

The third and (sniff) final season of Veronica Mars came out on DVD this week. Since it did actually last three seasons on the air, it was a little easier to let it go when it was cancelled a few months ago. It hadn't been cut down so quickly (and stupidly) like Firefly, Wonderfalls, Freaks and Geeks, and others. Even with most of the new fall shows this season being crap, I thought I'd gotten over the whole Veronica Mars cancellation.

Until the DVD this week. Because one of the features included is the full 12-minute presentation they put together to try to sell a season four to the network. In an effort to try and help them "re-market" the show to viewers (and, according the creator, jumping ahead to where he'd intended to take the character one day anyway), season four would have skipped several years to Veronica having graduated from Quantico, beginning her rookie year as an FBI agent. No more Veronica Mars, Teen P.I. Instead, meet Veronica Mars, FBI.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this 12-minute presentation (a sort of "mini-pilot" of all original material) is complete brilliance. But then, it is only 12 minutes. It was meant to show the idea.

And the idea was pretty damn good. Maybe ultimately not as enjoyable as the high school Veronica I first enjoyed, but something I want to see more of. So now it's kind of like having the show cancelled all over again.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vespa'd Interest

When Blogger upgraded a while back, they added the ability to put "tags" (they call them "labels") on your posts for easy reference. For those of you who don't have blogs yourself, it's pretty straight-forward: there's a field at the bottom of the post composition window where you can add your tags. And it helpfully provides these instructions:

Labels for this post:
e.g. scooters, vacation, fall

I realize that blogs can get pretty specific. And that not everyone finds the same things interesting that I do. Still, is there anyone out there posting about "scooters" on such a regular basis that they need such a tag? More even than they need "vacation?"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Arrival

Today, I became an uncle. My sister and her husband welcomed a baby girl into the family -- ever so considerately doing so exactly one month before my own birthday, so it'll be really easy to remember when to make ready for parties in years to come.

It was a little tough on my sister, though. I've been getting updates from my mother all day, and things seem to be alright now, though she wasn't really up to a mob of visitors. So I'm shy a few of the particular details people tend to share on these occasions (weight, time, so forth), and I have yet to meet my niece myself.

But the main point: cause for celebration. Congratulations to my sister and brother-and-law!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Denver Mascot

A short while back, when I was discussing the unusual art of downtown Indianapolis, a friend from here in Denver commented on our city's own bizarre entry into public art: cow-bulls. Or bull-cows. Or maybe just b-ow-ls (pronounced "bowels"). Whichever's funniest. Anyway, they look like this:

Horns and udders both, like the freaky-ass characters from that CG movie Barnyard. Just not quite right.

Monday, October 22, 2007


It's been two weeks since the last Prison Break, and it'll be two weeks until the next one, thanks to the World Series. This is an especially tough place in the story for this to come, because tonight felt like a "connective tissue" between last chapter and the next one.

It's not that tonight was a bad episode. I actually rather liked it. As someone commented here recently, the show is at its best when Michael is concocting some elaborate plan, and there was more of that at the heart of tonight's episode.

But on the other hand, the momentum of the story seems to be pushing to an escape attempt happening imminently -- within a few episodes. Which can't go well, because it seems way too early in the season for them to actually escape. But how will it fail? What will be the consequences when it does? Tonight's episode did a great job of ratcheting up the tension on those questions, so it's especially bad that we won't get any more answers next Monday.

On the down side, I'm almost wishing they'd just written Sucre off the show. His subplot all revolved around him being stupid and getting caught up in something bad. Hopefully it will pay off well down the road when we see what he was paid to smuggle into the prison. But for now? His parts of the episodes are definitely the weakest.

On the up side, the new character (played by Dominic Keating of Enterprise) is as potentially intriguing as Sucre is boring. Finding more about his backstory with Whistler should be interesting. He's not an instantly great addition to the show, but could grow into something with more episodes. Which is fine... some of the first season's early characters ended up growing in importance in the same way (Tweener and Haywire come to mind).

Until next time...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cheering for the Bad Guys

I called it.

About five months ago, George Lucas and Rick McCallum were trying to talk up their planned Star Wars television series... all the plans they had for it, how it would run 100 episodes, and so forth. I pointed out that they were living in even more of a fantasy land than usual, that television doesn't work like they think it does, and just willing it to happen their way wasn't going to make it so.

Well last week, their TV plans made the news rounds again, and whadaya know, they're having some initial resistance getting a network to bite on their proposal. Said Lucas in this interview, "They are having a hard time. They're saying, 'This doesn't fit into our little square boxes,' and I say, 'Well, yeah, but it's "Star Wars." And "Star Wars" doesn't fit into that box.'"

Newsflash, asshole. That "little square box" is called a television. And you've pegged it: Star Wars doesn't fit into it. I'm not ready for another round of you violating my childhood.

Only Lucas could make me applaud the decisions of a television executive.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This Movie Sucks (Not Blood)

I saw the new movie 30 Days of Night yesterday evening. Since then, I've been trying to decide whether I would give the movie an F review or not.

On the one hand, I think about the God-awful movie The Hills Have Eyes, and think, well this movie sucked, but did it really suck that bad? On the other hand, I look at some recent movies where I found tiny shreds of quality buried in crap and managed to give the whole effort a D-. Transformers comes to mind. And I definitely found this movie worse than Transformers.

So there you have it. 30 Days of Night is my first F movie in quite a long time. Where to begin with how awful this movie is?

Well, first -- it commits one of the cardinal sin of horror movies (in my book). None of the scares in the movie are generated from genuine suspense. They're all cheap theatrics. Loud noises, jump cuts, crazy sound effects, and musical stings. It takes no skill to make someone jump out of their seat. To make someone sit on the edge of it or shrink back in it? That's true horror.

Second, it commits the cardinal sin of misusing vampires as subject matter, as I just outlined recently in my panning of the new TV series Moonlight -- it features vampires who aren't vampires. They're much much closer to zombies. And what is the rule they break? Apparently, they don't actually need to feed on blood to survive. They just kill because they seem to like it.

Not that this is expressly stated in the movie anywhere, but it's the only way you can interpret the film based on what you're shown. See, this group of about 25 vampires heads north to the most extreme town in Alaska to feast on the locals while the sun is permanently set for a month. The town population during this period of time is 162 people, as stated in the film. This works out to be about 6 people per vampire to feed them for an entire month, or about one kill per vampire every five days. What vampire is going to live off that?

Of course, they don't "ration" like this or anything. Actually, they kill all but about a dozen people in the town on night one. But they're still alive and stalking on night 29, even though it's impossible that any of them has had any blood to drink in weeks.

And it's a good thing they don't actually need to drink blood, because all these vampires are way too stupid to ever get it. Why they don't just burn every supply store in town the second they second they get there is beyond me. Deny all the humans any refuge to help them survive! Instead, they only think of this for the "big climax" of the movie, when the lead vamp informs his followers of the need to kill all the survivors (oh, gee, thanks -- didn't think of that) in this ridiculously crap faux-Carpathian kind of language subtitled with writing so bad, it makes me long for the genius of an episode of Cop Rock.

Dumber still is the fact that not one vampire ever thinks to just follow someone's footprints in the damn snow. Sure, they show us a couple of blizzards in the movie that would obviously obscure any tracks for a brief few hours. But most of the time, the town of Barrow is potrayed as this pastoral winter still life where the cold just hangs there motionless. It ought to be child's play to track everyone to any hiding place.

Though the vampires are consistently dumb, they're not consistently anything else. The movie varies greatly, depending on the needs of what little plot there is. Sometimes, they run fast. Like Six-Million-Dollar-Man fast. Other times, our heroes have no trouble outrunning them. Sometimes, they can't detect someone standing on the other side of a bathroom door. Later, we learn they can actually smell living blood in the air. On and on like this, for two hours.

Even if you could forgive the abounding stupidity and look the other way, there's still nothing in this movie that wasn't done a hundred times better in 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, John Carpenter's The Thing.... take your pick. Even if you're just there for some uber-violence, I'm sure you'd find any random Saw movie more to your tastes.

Absolutely dreadful. Not to be watched under any circumstances.

Friday, October 19, 2007

First Hit's Free

When I picked up the 10th season of South Park on DVD, I was surprised to find this included in the package:

Although perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. But the thing is, if you don't already play World of Warcraft, who's going to watch that episode of South Park and think "man, I'd really like to get me some of that!"???

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Numbers Games

I know it's probably bad form to diss the home team right now, but I feel there's room for counterbalance to all the people jumping on the Colorado Rockies bandwagon right now anyway.

Much has been made out of how the Rockies "have won 21 of their last 22 games." And of course, that's true. But baseball is full of statistics, and many of them are built to stretch the truth or paint a different picture.

It's also true that the Rockies have won 21 of their last 23 games. Actually, they've won 21 of their last 25 games. But it just doesn't sound as impressive when you say they've won 97 of their last 170 games.

The point I'm trying to make is, it seems completely arbitrary and unilluminating to me to just start counting the record at the point where it makes the team look best.

I mean, you could also say that they've won 1122 of their last 2375 games.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Colbert '08

For those of you who haven't heard, last night on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, in a "cross-over event," if you will, Stephen Colbert announced that he is running for President of the United States -- though only in his home state of South Carolina. He stated that he plans to run as both a Democrat and a Republican. All very funny material, well delivered.

But the joke was just getting started. Unbelievably, actual media sources have picked up the "story" and started running with it in their Political sections. has already done two stories about it, one seriously investigating whether Colbert could run for both parties simultaneously.

This thing is just getting warmed up, and already it's starting to take on an Andy Kaufman sort of vibe. And once encouraged like this, you'd better believe Stephen Colbert and his writing staff are going to milk it as far as it'll possibly go.

Of course, in an environment where whether or not a candidate wears a US flag pin on his lapel is considered a major story and actual cause to question his fitness for office, I shouldn't be surprised. Yes, news media is that frakking stupid. Now it's clear they're even stupid enough to take part in actually making fun of themselves and pointing out how dumb they are.

I'm so sad.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Let Me Sell You a Pack of Lies

Tonight, I finished reading a fantasy novel called The Lies of Locke Lamora. This was the book I mentioned recently (by way of bitching about George R.R. Martin's slow writing pace), recommended by a friend.

First of all, I need to let that friend off the hook. Yes, this book is part of what its author projects as a seven book series. And while I don't know what sorts of cliffhangers he may or may not have in store for the future, I can at least say this about this first book -- it has a strong ending. It doesn't leave you cursing the day the book came into your life. It plays as completely standalone, and one could read it without ever reading what follows.

I lay all this track as partial assurance and insurance against what I'm now going to do: highly recommend the book. Don't let fear of being stranded in another incomplete fantasy series deter you from it, because you won't be. And if you don't read it, you'll be missing out.

The setting of the book is a fantastical take on a city styled like Renaissance-era Venice. The main character is a high-dollar con artist, and the book revolves around his various schemes. The term "anti-hero" gets used a lot these days, to the point of cliche, but in this case it fits well.

For those waiting for another Martin book, this novel can serve as a bit of a salve. Not that it's as expertly written (not much is) or that the scope is anywhere near as vast (again, what is?), but the style feels very much like Martin's.

The language is at times quite vulgar and base, and unapologetic for it, in the style of Martin. This is in pretty stark contrast to the most popular books in fantasy, which tend to be rather heightened and even stilted.

Much of the action is politically driven. It's not the wheels within wheels of A Song of Ice and Fire, but social status is very much key to the setting and the plot. And the social system here is certainly well-thought out, and built in a way to support the story.

Also like Martin, as I mentioned earlier, the main character is a thief and con man. If some of your favorite chapters of A Song of Ice and Fire are the ones centered on Tyrion, Cersei, or even Jaime, you'll find a lot to love here. Sometimes, it's just fun to have a rogue at the heart of the story. That's certainly the case here.

Once you settle into the book, it pulls you along at a good pace. Along the way, I found myself frustrated on evenings when other things would intrude on my planned reading time... I was quite eager to see what happened next.

I'm certainly now interested in seeing what author Scott Lynch has done for the second book, just recently published in hardcover -- even knowing that may be no guarantees that this book will end without cliffhangers (now that he's writing knowing in advance that his work will indeed be published.) But I'm over that hurdle, because I just plain enjoyed it.

I make the book to be about a B+, with perhaps extra praise for it being his first book and showing a good level of style and quality.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Come On Down!

Seeing that I recently acknowledged my soft spot for game shows, it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that I just had to set my TiVo to check out Drew Carey's first episode of The Price is Right today.

As it turned out, I could almost guarantee you that this was not the first episode he filmed. All six of the contestants playing the "pricing games" won their games -- something that Carey himself said during the episode has happened only 76 other times in the 30+ year history of the show. What's more, contestants hit the $1,000 bonus on "the Big Wheel" in both halves of the show.

I suppose a real cynic could call it rigged. I prefer to think that, having banked a handful of new episodes, the network decided to "start" Carey's run as host by airing the one that turned out best -- that happened to have wall-to-wall winners.

In any case, the show had a decidely different tone than it did with Bob Barker hosting. Bob Barker brought the closest thing to... call it "stateliness," that one could possibly bring to people jumping up around with enthusiasm at winning tens of thousands of dollars. The whole thing was a circus, but the man in charge was a quite distinguished ringmaster.

Drew Carey had an ever so slight edge of snarkiness in his delivery, though a forgiveable one since he simultaneously seemed to genuinely enjoy being there. And let's face it, if some crazy stranger actually did a cartwheel in front of me (as one woman did when she made it up on stage), I'd probably say something a lot more mean spirited than Drew's pithy, "Wow, if you actually win, what are you going to do for an encore?" (She fell over backward and collapsed to the floor. I couldn't tell if it was on purpose or not.)

Throughout the hour, Carey transformed Bob Barker's "gentlemen" in control of the classic One Away car giveaway game into "Oh Master of the Sound Effects," pulled out a reference to the classic comedy line "And slowly I turned....", got a contestant to yodel for him before embarking on the Cliffhanger game, and more. I suppose some might call it a little irreverent. But then, it's a game show, not a church. I think it's the right move for Drew Carey to adopt his own style.

I'm not setting a Season Pass for The Price is Right or anything. But I think the next time I'm home sick from work or some such, the show will be as it has always been -- a fairly breezy and fun way to pass the time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Night at the Improv

Last night, I got to see improv comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood (famous from Whose Line Is It Anyway?) appear in a one-night only performance here in town. Sometimes, going to live improv can be a real hit-or-miss proposition. Whose Line is as consistently funny as it is because they tape a lot more material than ever actually airs, and cut the "bad stuff." There's no guarantee that when you see live improv, it's going to score every time.

But man, did they score last night. These two were just non-stop brilliant for what amounted without intermission to two-and-a-half hours of your-face-hurts-from-laughing funny.

Some of the improvs they performed were familiar games to anyone that's watched Whose Line, but very often they were given a different twist. For example, they played the Moving Bodies game (in which the performers can move only if posed by an audience volunteer) with only one volunteer having to move both the performers -- a variation that seriously upped the funny.

They also had games not played on Whose Line (but still likely familiar to fans of improv), such as one in which Brad had to confess to a "crime" that had been constructed from audience suggestions while he was out of the room. From Colin's clues, he had to confess that he had "spray painted a turtle and fed it Triscuits while wearing a banana suit and threatening it with rhubarb in Kanesatake at Genghis Khan's Sheep Shaving Emporium -- with a Q-Tip." And though it probably took like 20 minutes, he did finally get it, with both performers keeping the audience laughing the entire time.

The penultimate game they played was something they dubbed "The Torture Game," because (in rotation) it combined five of the harder improv games around: Questions Only, One-Syllable Words, If You Know What I Mean..., Letter Substitution, and Rap. Torture for them, perhaps. Hilarious for us.

And continuing that torture/hilarity theme was their grand finale, dubbed The Most Dangerous Improv Game in the World. The basic game was the simple enough Alphabet Game, in which the performers must begin each line they invent with the next letter of the alphabet. For a bit of "culture," they also forced themselves to perform the scene as an opera. But for that extra punch that surely no one else had ever done before, they laid out 100 live mouse traps on the stage, then performed the scene in that space -- barefoot and blindfolded. It was cruel and ridiculous and can't-breathe hysterical.

These two are out on the road with their show nearly every weekend. If their schedule takes them anywhere near you, I can't recommend them highly enough. I haven't laughed so hard in years, since the very first time I ever saw an Eddie Izzard stand-up concert. (Though sadly, that wasn't live and in person.) I'm already thinking seriously about heading up to Aspen when they swing back through Colorado in December.

In their own words, they're "that frickin' good."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Old Ad Ages

The Game Show Network thinks I'm old and helpless.

While I was home for a few days recovering from my wisdom teeth extraction, I watched some DVDs, but mostly I found I didn't have much focus for anything demanding even a little concentration. So I watched a lot of the Game Show Network. Mindless and way entertaining.

But the commercials during a television show say a lot about who they think watches their shows. (Not that I normally see many commercials, thanks to TiVo. But I was just vegging out and changing my gauze at the time.) In the case of GSN, they think they've got a lot of old fogies watching.

Medic Alert bracelets, power mobility scooters, life insurance, things to help you open jars even with your arthritis, pain relievers for said arthritis... each ad seemed even more squarely aimed at the "watching this in the common room at the home" set than the one before.

The thing is, I've always been a bit of a game show junkie, what with the love of games and all. And I never thought this a pastime I shared with retirees. Don't other people my age enjoy a good game show every now and then?

Friday, October 12, 2007


I went back to the dentist last week for a "re-surfacing" and some other minor issue, the first time I'd been since my quick follow-up appointment a week after my wisdom teeth extraction. (And my last until the next regular cleaning.)

When I say "ah" and the dentist looks inside, he remarks about the ever-shrinking holes where my wisdom teeth used to be: "Wow! You're really healing up nicely."

What do you say to that?

"Why, thank you?" I guess as in, "Gee, I've always felt I possess extraordinary healing powers, and it's nice of you to notice."

I mean, I guess what I'm getting at here is: it had the tone of a compliment, but I'm not really being compleminted over anything I think I have control over. And would he actually say something like, "Man, look at these craters still back here! I thought for sure you'd have been healed up a little since I saw you last!"

Fortunately, you don't really have to say anything in reply, because there are metal instruments sticking in your mouth, and it just sort of comes out "ainkoo."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Feast or Famine

A friend recently loaned me a book I've started reading. (More on the book itself later, once I actually finish.) I got a little ways into it before discovering that it is the first of a projected series of seven books, only two of which have been published so far.

The prospect of now being adrift in another incomplete series is making me really jones for George R.R. Martin to get his shit together and finish the next Ice and Fire book. I understand these things are epic. (A Storm of Swords had a word count about three times longer than the average published novel.) I understand that quality should not suffer for speed. (The first four books have been great, and I don't want that to change with the next book.)

But still...

It's been almost two years now since book four (A Feast for Crows) was published. And Martin had some of the next book (A Dance with Dragons) finished already at that time -- he'd originally planned it all as one larger novel that ultimately was separated into two. I don't think I'm unreasonable to expect the thing should be done by now.

Here's my reasoning. I don't ask that he work weekends. I don't ask that he work holidays. Go ahead, let him take vacations, say a more-than-typical vacation package in the standards of the white-collar business world. I make that an extremely modest 200 work days in the year.

Now let's say that on a work day, he has to write 1,000 words. That's it. A thousand words is not a lot. I've written that much on my blog just this week, not even including this rant thus far. Of course, I'm not saying this is Martin-caliber writing. But A) he's the professional writer, not me; and 2) I spent a collected total of maybe 30 minutes producing those 1,000 words. If I spent, say, something like a normalish eight hour work day on them, I'll bet I could produce something pretty damn clever. (Again, perhaps not Martinly, but... see point A.)

So, a thousand words a work day. Seems to me this book should be done by now, even if it's longer than A Storm of Swords.

The old cliche goes that "writers write." So snap to it, man!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Only in Southern California

From a restaurant wall in San Diego:

To me, the way the lobster is posed kinda makes it look like a flasher.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The World Series (Not About Baseball)

Tonight, ESPN finally got around to airing the final table of the Main Event at this year's World Series of Poker. For years now, I've been a bit perplexed as to why they drag it out so long (well, okay, ratings in theory) and why they wait to air it until so long after the fact. The final table actually took place almost two-and-a-half months ago.

So again, as usual, I've known for a while now who the ultimate winner was destined to be, and was watching on a week to week basis to see the how rather than the who. The who in this case being another amateur, Jerry Yang -- reinforcing the theory that the Main Event field of competition (over 6,000 this year) has grown too large for a pro player to ever be likely to overcome the combined luck of so many amateurs and win again.

This time, though, I have to say that the last few pros in the event gave it away. Almost to a man, every pro in the top 36 (the field on the penultimate day) copped an attitude at some point. They saw "some amateur" pushing at them, responded with a high and mighty "you can't push me around," and then ended up losing a big hand. And then they went on tilt and threw the rest of their chips away trying to undo the damage. It happened most notably to Scotty Nguyen, but also to a half dozen other lesser known professional players that had the winner's bracelet within their grasp.

Sure, this year's winner got stupidly lucky at the right times, like Jamie Gold and Chris Moneymaker in other recent years. But where I'd say luck was almost the only factor in their wins, bad pro play contributed to the new champion Jerry Yang. Those two factors together gave Yang a big chip stack, and then he played reasonable (if not completely skilled) "big stack poker" and muscled his opponents into defeat.

It was a disappointing few hours of poker to watch.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Good Fences

Good episode of Prison Break tonight. Very thought provoking, in my opinion.

I wasn't sure the writers were really going to go all the way with the Seven homage and actually put Sara's head in the box, but it appears they did. But I suppose if the actress wasn't coming back to the show anyway, that's one way to deal with it and maximize the dramatic impact. Now Lincoln will have to keep this secret from Michael, and that's going to be a major source of tension between them.

I was entertained by the Mahone storyline in this episode. I'll bet the actor who played Haywire never thought he'd get a call from the folks at Prison Break again, but how appropriate for Mahone to start seeing a crazy person from his past as he himself goes crazy. And I loved the end of the episode, where we were reminded that Mahone was a very credible threat and adversary to Michael for an entire season. He's not to be taken lightly in this newly retooled version of the show, either.

Things seemed to progress considerably in the escape plan this week, and it got me wondering what sort of game plan the writers have in store for the season. Thinking back to year one, things seemed to move quickly early on as well, but it all was stalled by the mid-season mini-cliffhanger with the replaced pipe that forced a second try at the escape in the season finale.

Clearly, just what Whistler did near Seattle and what The Company wants with it is a matter that will need to be answered for this chapter of the story to conclude. So the question is, are we on another "two year cycle," where (like before) one year is devoted to the escape from the prison, and the next devoted to what happens next on the outside? Until this week, I might have thought the answer was yes. Now, I'm feeling another scenario is far more likely. For one, it's probably in the best interests of the show to not repeat exactly the same model again. But the progression in this episode also seemed to hint that our heroes are destined to escape at a point somewhere around halfway to two-thirds of the way through the season, with the back few episodes left to explain "what happened in Seattle."


Who knows. Prison Break is one of the better shows around when it comes to leading you to think one thing and then turning around to give you another. I'm sure I'll be surprised with where it goes next.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Whale of a Time

I'm a bit late writing about it, but last weekend's "Continental Flashback Movie" was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. (That's the "save the whales" installment, for those of you who might be less familiar.) Having had such a good time when that theater showed The Wrath of Khan, there was no way I was going to miss this one.

Unlike Wrath of Khan, which I only had the dimmest recollections of seeing in the theater (worms in the ear = bad), I could remember exactly where I saw The Voyage Home back in 1986 and who I went with. Seeing it on the big screen last weekend was a much more familiar experience.

It's still a good movie, though. Most of the jokes are still funny, despite me (and the rest of the crowd) knowing them up, down, and sideways. They had to be funny for fans to have ever embraced this film as "one of the good ones." Sure, the original series had comedic episodes that were fan favorites (The Trouble With Tribbles, A Piece of the Action, etc.), but it seems to me now like a real risk to have gone with such a light touch in this movie when all the previous movies had been so very serious. But they got the mix right.

Except for that bizarre time travel sequence. Weird CG-morphing heads? A stryofoam mannequin falling into jet exhaust or something? Reeds in a swamp? That sequence made me go "what the hell?" then, and it still does to this day.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Best Spam I've Ever Had

This past week, I was able to see the touring production of Monty Python's Spamalot as it nears the end of its run here in Denver. I was going into the show from a somewhat odd mix of circumstances.

First, I'm not much of a fan of Monty Python. I've seen The Holy Grail, and The Life of Brian, and neither one made that huge an impact on me. I'd heard a few of their more known sketches when the audio was played on Dr. Demento's show, back in high school when I used to listen to that regularly -- bits like the Dead Parrot, Spam, and so forth. Some laughs, but again, I didn't ever really revere Monty Python in the way many people do. I had much greater respect for some of the work its members would do later, once separated from the troupe.

Secondly, I actually knew this musical rather well, despite never having seen it. Paradoxically, given my relative indifference to Monty Python, I actually own the soundtrack to Spamalot. I haven't listened to it a ton, but enough to be familiar with most of the lyrics, and certainly to know the plot of the show. I just didn't have visuals to go with the music.

The play does lift a great deal of dialogue and scenes from the movie, as one would probably expect. You could tell there were plenty of Python fans in the crowd, because they'd cheer the moment characters like The French Taunter or The Knights Who Say Ni took the stage -- the audience knew what they were about to get.

However, unlike the Disney stage production of The Lion King, which felt like a near-verbatim transcription of the film onto the stage (and I've heard the same is true of their other play adaptations), Spamalot did manage to carve out a good amount of original material as well. Most of it was actually leveraging the new setting, too -- humor that was self-aware and self-referential of the fact that the characters were in fact in a play.

In large part because of this, I think the Monty Python take on the quest for the grail actually worked better as a stage play than as a film. The friends I saw it with thought so too, and one opined that perhaps this was because a play is less bound by the need to have a coherent plot. It can be more experiemental. And musicals in particular ask you to accept the unrealistic. The momentarily flights of... oddness... that both Holy Grail and Spamalot take just seem to fit more naturally on the stage.

And furthermore, a lot of the songs invented for the stage version were real show stoppers. "You Won't Succeed On Broadway" (performed originally and on the soundtrack album by David Hyde Pierce) brought the house down, and the actor playing Sir Robin consequently received more applause at the final curtain than the supposed star, King Arthur. The hilariously showy diva role of The Lady of the Lake is a great parody of Broadway ingenue parts in general.

Not to mention that if there had been nothing else good about the show, it probably still would have been worth seeing for one line, when Arthur's servant reveals he's Jewish and, when asked why this wasn't revealed earlier, replies, "it's not the sort of thing one says to a heavily-armed Christian." A good half minute of deafening laughter and applause, that got.

Ultimately, it was not the sort of show that leaves a lasting impact on you, but it was still a fluffy bit of fun at the theater. With only a few nights' vacation in New York or Las Vegas, you'd probably do better to see some other show with your limited time, rather than the regular productions of Spamalot that play there. But if the show should happen to come to you as it did for me, I'd give it my recommendation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Service Needed?

When elevators that just go up and down seem boring, try these buttons on for size:

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dogged Pursuit

I found this just the most absurdly wonderful sign ordering people to pick up their dog's poo:

It's hard to capture motion or emotion in a stick figure, but I feel this sign somehow grabs both. It looks to me like this dog owner is actually walking his dog by following behind it bent over with a shovel held under its rear. That's one loyal pet owner.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pushing Pushing Daisies

Critics had been saying that tonight's new show Pushing Daisies was the best of this fall's new crop. Commenters right here on my blog had been telling me the same. And now that I've seen the first episode myself, I have to agree -- this is the show I've been waiting to be excited about.

Pushing Daisies was most surprising to me in how extremely stylized it was. I have no idea how something like that could have gotten on television. I can't think of another show in recent memory that strays so far off the path of realism that most television embraces. This was a fairy tale, and damn proud to be one.

The pilot episode was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of the Addams Family and Men in Black movies, and it had his stamp all over it. The material was just this side of darkness, while somehow being whimsical and light about it.

The writing was just pure entertainment, fun and clever, and at moments snarky or serious in just the right measure. This is the sort of work that creator Bryan Fuller did on his also excellent but unfortunately short-lived television series Wonderfalls, and I'm happy he's got another medium for it here.

My only concern is this: as of right now, having seen just this one episode, I'm not sure I see where the series is here. It felt like a tight, perfect little 42 minute fairy tale that might have been perfectly at home in some light-hearted anthology series. Is there much variety to be mined here from the gruff and self-serving detective, the revived woman who brings tenderness from her own brush with death, and the sadly detached hero with the powers of life and death? The roles seem defined pretty tightly for there to be much room to play with in a series.

But, on the other hand, I think you could easily have drawn the same conclusion from just the pilot episode of Wonderfalls. And though it of course didn't really ever face the problem of how to change things up season after season, it did show in its slim 13 episodes that there was plenty of fun to be had within its concept. I hope the same will prove true here.

And I hope that unlike Wonderfalls, people catch on to Pushing Daisies, and that it can enjoy a longer life because of it. I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Indeed, it's the only one of this fall's new series I can say that about.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


It's funny what having a sports team in (or on the verge of) the playoffs will do to a city. For the last week, Denver's been gaga over the Rockies, and as someone who has lived in Denver for over half the years the Rockies have even existed, I have to tell you, it's really disorienting. Because normally, it seems hard to find someone who gives a crap.

During trivia last week at my group's regular spot (this would be the spot showing opera on the television a week earlier), the place was loaded with people screaming their heads off for the Rockies. There was more apeshittery than that place has seen since March Madness. And I just couldn't get over the fact that they were cheering for the Rockies. It's really a Twilight Zone moment.

Coors Field, which I think probably hasn't been more than half full (outside of opening days) since 1995, was sold out and surrounded by scalpers for yesterday's extra game against San Diego, and with my work located just a block and a half from the field, it made for a fun "people watching" afternoon. Even that morning, just driving in to the office, the stadium was already completely surrounded by news vans (for a game not scheduled to begin for eight hours). And when the game did begin, we could clearly hear the cheers from the stadium any time something went well for the Rockies, even with the windows shut.

I think the situation is magnified further by the fact that the Broncos, Denver's usual outlet for sports mania, have lost their last two games. But whatever the reason, I'm sure things are going to get nuttier in this city for however long the rest of the ride lasts.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Call Waiting

Tonight's Prison Break episode was an entertaining, though considerably more sedate outing than last week's. It felt like after all the plot momentum last week, things were largely put on pause again this week to give us the story of Michael trying to get his hands on a cell phone.

On the plus side, it did lead to some fun detective work for Lincoln, and a short but engaging action sequence of him attempting a rescue. Also on the plus side, we got to see T-Bag use his silver tongue to worm his way further into the inner circle of Sona prison. It's always fun to watch T-Bag at his most devious.

But on the down side, there was dead weight in the story too. Last week, I found myself wondering what they'd find for Sucre to do now that his one-track plot thread about Maricruz appears to be wrapped up. So far, the answer is "lie around in a drunken stupor," which is not really an improvement.

Watching Bellick be stupid over a shoe wasn't particularly entertaining either, though at least that storyline finally ended in an interesting place, with him overhearing the argument between Mahone and Scofield. Bellick has shown many times in the past (including already this season) that he's very dangerous with just a little information. It always spells trouble for Our Heroes.

And for the first time this season, Prison Break ended on the sort of cliffhanger it used to wrap up with on a regular basis. As the movie Seven made us ask, "aawww, what's in the box?!"