Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Beginning of the End

I was struck by many things when watching tonight's new episode (at last!) of Lost. One was that this was by far the most emotional material that had ever been given to Hurley's character, and that the actor, Jorge Garcia, did an amazing job of delivering it.

Another realization was that I think I'm going to find these "post-island" mysteries the show is now creating to be far more compelling than the "on island" mysteries have been (both those that have been answered -- like "the button," and those that haven't, like "the smoke monster"). I say this because it seems the post-island mysteries are going to be much more grounded in character and personal drama than in exterior supernatural weirdness. What made Hurley go crazy again? What happened with Locke on the island that made him regret turning against Jack? What happened to Jack after between the event's of tonight's "flash-forward" and last season's finale that sent him to the edge of crazy too?

Most of all, though, I was struck with this: the writers of Lost have now taken on a very dangerous game. The flashback model of the first three season served the show very well. Not only were they a great vehicle for fleshing out the characters, but they often offered up mysteries of their own. And yet, even as pieces in the puzzle were laid out in the flashbacks, no major "spoilers," if you will, were at risk.

Let me try to put this better. Viewers paying close attention, for example, figured out ahead of time that the man who originally conned Sawyer's mother, and from whom he took his fake name, was actually the same as Locke's father -- some fans nearly a year ahead of the show actually confirming this. But nothing tremendous was lost in figuring out this revelation ahead of time. Some people got the thrill of saying "see, I was right!", but nothing of the final direction of the story was given away.

Now that we're getting glimpses of the future instead of the past, things have changed entirely. Thus far, of course, we only been given the thinnest of scraps. Hurley, Kate, and Jack all make it off the island alive. There's a group of survivors called "the Oceanic Six." Hurley's seeing the "ghost" of Charlie.

But already, with just these few pieces, you might start to speculate about what's going on. In Jack's flash-forward in the third season's finale, he has a moment where he refers to his father as though he were still alive. Is it possible that some time between tonight's future and that one that Jack also began to see the ghosts of the dead?

I'm not saying I guarantee this is right. I'm simply saying that as enough clues of the future trickle in, someone is gonna figure it out. And unlike with the flashbacks, here the direction of the story could be spoiled if the writers don't play things very, very carefully.

So, like I said, a very dangerous game they're now playing. And one I think they're bound to pepper with as many misdirections as possible. For example, just because there's a group known as "the Oceanic Six" doesn't mean that only six people made it off the island. Obviously, anyone who didn't get there because of the crash (the Others, Rousseau, Desmond) wouldn't count in that total. Possibly neither would Kate or Sawyer -- both were wanted criminals at the time of the crash, and might contrive a ways to simply vanish again once returned to the mainland.

Speculations aside though, I'm going to end where I began, by saying that I was most impressed by the emotional heft of tonight's episode. I actually felt Charlie's death more in this hour than I did in the previous installment in which he actually sacrificed himself. Good drama, which is Lost is first and foremost above all the mystery, in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Plus One

From the "I've got nothing else to talk about tonight" department:

Why are there eleven individual candies in a five-flavor roll of Life Savers? That math just doesn't work. Ten makes sense; two of each. Or hell, if there were twelve or thirteen candies in there... some number that wasn't almost perfectly round, thus not toying with your expectations.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Taking a Walk

An interesting conversation topic came up at lunch today that I'd like to throw open to my tiny corner of the internets. Under what circumstance is it hardest to "walk out" on a movie?

At an actual movie theater. The theory here would be that you've taken the time to go out and have paid money for a ticket (and possibly crazily overpriced concessions too). Your investment is a lot higher, so you're probably in a mindset to be more demanding about the quality of the movie you've come to. If it sucks, you're probably going to bail.

On the other hand... you've probably coordinated this outing, and that's an investment you can't recover. Maybe you paid for a babysitter, and just don't want to put a night of actually going out to waste. Maybe you've coordinated for friends to meet you at the theater, and now you can't easily walk out without trying to rally them all to do it too.

At home. You're just watching a movie you rented, or one that's showing on television. Your investment is minimal. You're at home, so in theory, there's all sorts of other things you could just go do instead. Easy to walk out on, right?

On the other hand, it might not have cost you a dime. So how high are your expectations really going to be here? Maybe you just don't feel like doing anything else. And your couch or recliner or whatever is oh-so-comfortable. So why not just keep watching the movie?

A bit of a debate topic, I figure. Although Tom may have won the debate with his suggestion of the hardest setting to walk out on a movie -- in a hotel room, when you've ordered the movie on the Pay-Per-View. This is the worst of all worlds. You're probably stuck in that hotel room. There's probably not anything else you could be doing instead but watching this crappy movie. And you paid some serious money for that crappy movie, at the prices hotels charge. You might well be stuck to the bitter end, even if you're watching the newest Uwe Boll crapsterpiece.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ahoy, Readers!

Last night, I finished reading Red Seas Under Red Skies. This fantasy book by Scott Lynch is the follow-up to his debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora.

It is an enjoyable book, like the one came before. It maintains a very adult tone compared to the "safe for pre-teens" attitude that a large amount of popular fantasy takes. It continues to delve into matters of ethics and politics, and does so in a way that is very engaging.

The book continues to focus on Locke Lamora, the leader of the "Gentlemen Bastards," as he works another elaborate con operation, this time in a new part of the same fictional world the author created before. It is once again fun to be pulled along, trying to guess the particulars of the heist before it comes off, and trying to figure out how Locke and his partner will weasel their way out of some truly nasty complications.

But the book is not quite as strong as its predecessor. This time out, there are just a couple problems with the pacing. First of all, the book begins with a short three page prologue that starts in the middle of the action, and ends on a cliffhanger. It then jumps back several months as the book proper begins, leading you eventually back to the point of introduction.

This is a technique that used to be (pardon the pun) novel, but has been absolutely done to death on television, to the point where I don't even think it works in a literary context anymore either. Especially not in this case. Trying not to give away particulars to anyone who reads the book, there's just something about the intro that rings immediately false to anyone who read book one, and the ultimate resolution of the scene, once the book leads back to that moment, isn't at all satisfying. Not worth waiting 450 pages for. Fortunately, there's another 100 pages afterward that are breezy and fun, and go a long way to redeeming this narrative misstep.

The other pitfall in the structure of the plot is that it reads almost like two different books joined somewhere at the 40% mark. From the title "Red Seas Under Red Skies," it would seem the book is to be about some sort of nautical adventure. And eventually it is... after about 200 pages. And it's not that that first chunk of the book isn't good. It's a lot of fun, actually. So is what comes after. But I couldn't help but feel like the one part didn't have much to do with the other, beyond merely setting up another obstacle in the main characters' way to have to negotiate before the conclusion of the book. Each piece wraps up fairly well, but they never quite fully blend together, in my opinion.

As I mentioned in my review of book one, the author has said he envisioned a long cycle of books about the Gentlemen Bastards -- as many as seven books. Of course, unlike when he wrote that first book and found success as an author, he's now not necessarily under any obligation to wrap up anything at the conclusion of any given volume of the cycle.

In short.... you may want to know, does this book actually have an ending like the first one, or is it a cliffhanger?

I'm pleased to inform those of you already mired in multiple unfinished series of books, this story does indeed end. There is certainly an unresolved issue at the end of the final page, but it's really more of a springboard for where the tale might lead next, rather than an outright cliffhanger that will leave one feeling anywhere from unsatisfied to betrayed were the author to suddenly die of cardiac amyloidosis or something.

I put Red Seas Under Red Skies at a B, just under the previous effort. I do recommend it, and I know that I'll pick up book three whenever it should come along, happy that I've found a new author I enjoy.

There Will Be Blood.... Eventually

Today, I took in one of this year's five Oscar nominees for Best Picture, There Will Be Blood. I've already seen two others, Juno and Atonement. This movie didn't measure up to either of them.

There were certainly some things to recommend about There Will Be Blood. Daniel Day-Lewis is extremely compelling. The moments in which his character lets fly with the full force of his anger are actually few and far between, but it's there boiling beneath the surface for almost the entire film, and it works to add a great deal of tension to the movie. Paul Dano (best known for Little Miss Sunshine) is also very strong here. He does an excellent job in portraying the early 20th century version of a televangelist, and at occasionally letting you glimpse beneath that veneer.

In a combination of interesting directing and cinematography, the film has several very strong sequences that tell the story visually. The entire first reel has not a single spoken word of dialogue in it, playing out almost like a silent movie. And peppered throughout the movie are several sequences with single camera takes and methodical pushes in on a character; very often they're full of tension and dread.

The music is very jarring and unsettling, and I mean that as a compliment. From the opening sustained chord that sets your nerves on edge, it's the perfect backdrop to the mood the story is trying to set.

So, with all this to praise, what's the problem? The script and the pacing. This is a two hour, forty minute movie, and it says nothing that couldn't have been said in a little over half that time. The main character is a real sonnavabitch. We "get it" in pretty short order. In fact, it's actually quite compelling to watch for the first hour or so.

But then the narrative we've been watching almost seems to be put on pause. Characters we've been watching thus far are shunted off screen uncermoniously, and an entirely new subplot is introduced to consume around 45 minutes of screen time. It ends up somewhere arguably interesting, but takes its sweet time getting there, and getting "back to the plot," as it were. It then meanders around for another 45 minutes or so before finally getting the final act.

In some ways, were it not for the grand scale and budget of it all, you might think this movie was actually three or four episodes of a one-hour television drama, stitched together and run back to back. The characters (mostly) remain the same, and there is an ongoing narrative of a sort, but the plots of each individual "episode" within the whole almost serve their own masters more than the whole. And they're in no particular hurry to do so.

I started out really enjoying the movie, but my attention and patience waned as it plodded on. In the end, it felt like a C+ overall.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Get Into the Game

Turning in the other direction from yesterday's "taking the game too far" video, comes this video of a guy who has done something really cool to mod his Wii:

Although I'm a little confused as to why, if you had figured out how to make something cool like this work, you'd just give it away for free? Does the fact that he's using Wii technology somehow prevent him from patenting the idea himself? (What do I know about patent law?)

There's a guy doing it "for the love of the game."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Just Start a Real Band Already

Whenever I'm carrying all my Rock Band accoutrements to someone else's house, or contemplating the fact that I and/or people I know have bought everything from mic stands to cowbells to drum thrones specifically to play the game... and I start to think, "am I taking this too far?"

That's when I see something like this that makes me say, "no, those guys are taking it too far."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Trivial Complaint

Most of you readers will know that I regularly go to a "trivia night" at a local bar/restaurant every Thursday night. This is an event held live, there in the place -- not to be confused with the NTN trivia that you can find in a lot of places.

But this place actually has that running too. So, since the pace of the live game is typically very slow (you get "one song" -- something around 5 minutes -- to answer any given question), a lot of us at our table play the NTN game at the same time.

NTN always runs the same types of games at the same time every week. They haven't changed for years and years, I think. Until about a month or two ago. Now, smack in the middle of the time we're there is this hideously awful and unfun new game called "Blur." It's nothing but celebrity gossip trivia from earlier in the current week.

I don't give a rat's ass what "Li-Lo" or Britney has done this week. (But one or both of them are in there for some damn thing every week.) I don't know most of the answers. On those rare occasions I do know one of the answers, I feel a deep chasm of shame and self-loathing open up inside.

Sure, I could choose just not to play, but it's on every other TV in the joint. You can't help but look up and see it, especially after years of being conditioned to look up at the TVs to follow the NTN game.

Man, do I hate those guys at NTN now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


About eight months ago, I had to buy a new MP3 player, following the destruction of my previous one. (Accidental droppage. Fortunately, I had a warranty that basically covered the price of the new one.) The new MP3 player was better in almost every respect. Better interface, sleeker look, thinner, more options for sorting and playing music.

But it did have less storage space -- 30 GB compared to the 40 of my previous player. Which doesn't really sound like a big deal, but it turns out I was pushing 30 GB of music at the time I bought. So when I reloaded all my music into the new player, I made some not-so-tough decisions at the time of albums I could really live without, and managed to buy myself a couple gigs of space.

I would need to find a way to keep culling the herd if I was to have to room for the new music I'd inevitably pick up.

I soon discovered that my new player supported attaching "ratings" to all the songs in it, which the old one did not do. And the virtual "DJ" (as it's called) can quickly pull up a random 20 song mix of things you haven't rated. So I got this crazy idea. What if I just rated every song when I played it, and kept pulling up random selections until I'd gone through the entire player? Along the way, I could delete everything I came across that got a low rating, and free up more space.

I have to say, though the space considerations were the original cause of the idea, it sort of took on a life of its own after that. Listening to every piece of music I own once. (Well, except the few I'd summarily dismissed in the first place.) How long would that take?

Well, it's not like this was the only way I listened to music on my player. I never went out of my way to avoid listening to favorite albums I wanted to hear, or new ones I'd become obsessed with. But sooner or later, I'd come floating back to these "Not Yet Rated" random mixes.

I'm not one to just sit around and listen to my MP3 player; generally, I use it for background music while I'm at work. Which means, of course, there are a variety of things taking precedence over the music. If I'm working on a task that takes greater concentration, or I need to have a meeting or conversation, or what-have-you, no music. Sometimes the music would fade so far in the background of my thoughts that I'd forget I'm supposed to be assigning a rating to every song when I hear it, so the machine knows not to play it again in some future random shuffle.

Point is, this was a slow-going project. One I wasn't sure I'd ever see the end of.

Well, that end came today, mid-morning. I went to the DJ, dialed up the "Not Yet Rated" random 20 page, and was met with the message: "No tracks in this category." I've now listened to all my music at least once.

I'm not sure what weird project I might undertake now, but I will say this. Now I can dial up some "Highest Rated" random mixes with a whole lot of variety in them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

That Number's Been Disconnected

I've had a cell phone for about three years now. (No, this is not a story about how anti-cell phone I was before that.... or for that matter, still am, when you see how the Average Person tends to use his cell phone in defiance of all good manners. Point being, save your snickering for the appropriate place in this story.)

In those three years, I've never once lost my phone for any length of time. I've left it at home once or twice when I've gone out for a short trip, but that's been the extent of that.

Until yesterday.

I was visiting at my parent's house, and at one point felt in my pocket where I always carry my phone and found it wasn't there. "Huh," I said aloud, "I guess I left my phone at home." And that was all the thought I gave to it at the time.

Then I got home.

I checked the "obvious place," one of the pretty much only two places I ever have my phone when it's not in my pocket. Not there. I checked the other. Not there.

I'd received a phone call about 10 minutes before I'd left for my parents earlier. So maybe for some odd reason I'd left the phone in a strange place after that call?

I scoured my apartment, searching increasingly illogical places. There's no earthly reason my phone should be behind my couch, or in my kitchen trash can, but dammit, I looked.


And then the full scope of my conundrum presented itself. I don't have a house line anymore. (It was simply a vehicle for solicitors to reach me with their crap. There were really only two people who ever called me on that line that I wanted to talk to, and they could use my cell number.)

If my phone was indeed lost somewhere in my place, I couldn't really just call it and listen for the ring.

If I had actually left the phone at my parents', I couldn't call them to ask if they'd seen it.

I was completely cut off.

Ultimately, the only solution was to travel on to a friend's house and lamely ask to use their phone. Shocho helpfully served as that friend, and to his credit he did not even laugh at my plight. He even responded with a sympathetic "oh no!" when I told him my phone had up and vanished. (Perhaps somewhere in the back of his mind was the knowledge that, since he too lives in a no-land-line domicile, that the same fate could befall him. Though I suppose it would have to simultaneously happen to LWC, since her cell phone could serve as the obvious "back-up" in case of calamity.)

Anyway, I made the call to my parents', and they had already found my phone there. It had apparently fallen out on the couch while I was sitting there. Which, to those of you who have lost keys, change, or yes, even your cell phones, in the depths of your couches, may seem like a real "well, duh, of course!" Except I say again: in three years of owning a cell phone, this has never happened to me.

These weren't new pants with unusually shallow pockets I was unaccustomed to. I wasn't doing handstands on my parents' couch. There's simply no explanation for my sudden inability to keep it in my pants (my phone, people!), aside from perhaps Dennis Kucinich using his his strange power over pockets against me.

Anyway, I have my phone back now.

The End

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dirt Nap

I had a much better opinion of this week's Prison Break episode than the previous installment, and it all boiled down to a single element.

On the whole, the episode still had some issues with being mostly predictable. We knew there was no way Lechero's old lieutenant was making it out of this hour alive. We knew there was no way Gretchen would be so stupid as to fall for Sucre's con. And so forth.

But the great moment of the episode was that Michael deliberately killed a man by removing the support brace. This was a huge moment for his character. For two-and-a-half seasons, he's gone out of his way to avoid taking that last step. He's had other people do the dirty work around him on occasion, but never had to pull the trigger himself. And now he's crossed the line.

It's been a while since such a defining moment for one of the characters has come along for the show. And I hope that the writing continues to give this change proper weight in the episodes ahead. This rightfully ought to mess Scofield up pretty good, no matter how terrible the man he killed was.

I suppose I should also point out that T-Bag was again a treat. It's easy to take that for granted, since he's fun to watch in every episode. But it's really the most amazing collaboration, the dialogue written for him, and the actor who plays him. The most perfect, oily choices of words ("outsource"); the perfect, oily way he speaks them. I can't recall the last "bad guy" on television who has been this much fun to watch.

So, we close on the revelation that Whistler is really a.... what door-to-door briefcase salesman? I guess we'll find out more about that next week.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

El Horror

Today, I went to see El Orfanato -- "The Orphanage," as it's known in English. This is a horror/suspense film from Spain brought to prominence by the Toronto Film Festival, among others. It sounded like a fun presmise, and I was interested to see another country's take on the horror genre, particularly when the U.S.'s take on it has basically devolved into either so-called "torture porn" or remaking horror films from other countries.

The film is the story of a married couple living in a house that was converted from the old orphanage where the wife grew up. Their young adopted son goes missing shortly after speaking of "imaginary friends" he's been playing with, and soon it seems that he may actually have been taken by the ghosts of dead children that still haunt the place.

Occasionally, the movie evoked a sense of some other films I've seen. Perhaps it was just me searching for a way to get my bearings in what was literally a foreign environment. But for whatever the reason, there were touches of Poltergeist, maybe a dash of The Others, and one or two other U.S. movies.

Still, the movie undeniably brought something different to the table. For example, though there were definitely moments of gore, they didn't really have anything to do with the ghosts themselves. In an time when the least gruesome movie ghosts still typically take forms as ghoulish as the evil wet girl from The Ring, the ghosts in this movie were much more mundane in appearance -- though still effectively creepy at the right moments.

The conclusion of the tale was a satisfying one, although the pace in getting there was rather slow at times. One could chalk this up to cultural differences, but I did find myself checking my watch here and there up until what felt like the halfway point of the movie.

One could easily imagine how an American director would remake this same basic story, juicing it with more moments of scariness, making the ghosts more sinister in appearance, and so forth. And that might make a good movie too, though in that translation, the film would lose many of the things that made it distinctive. Although I guess I am saying I'd want it to have a tweak or two before I'd give it a more enthusiastic endorsement. I give it a B-.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


For some time now, I had been interested, though perhaps not quite "eager," to see the movie Cloverfield. Produced by J.J. Abrams, directed by his creative partner Matt Reeves, and written by Buffy/Alias/Lost writer Drew Goddard, it seemed like it had a good pedigree.

As word from preview screenings began trickling out in recent weeks, I think I started to let myself expect a little more. Word was this was really good. But ultimately, I fought against the considerable hype and went to the theater planning on having a good time. Not necessarily to be blown away.

That turned out to be about the right level of anticipation. Cloverfield is pretty good for a "monster movie." It manages to build a small cast of characters you actually care a little for; they're not just meat for the slaughter. It has some pretty cool sequences, some surprising, some tense. It moves along at a fast clip, never leaving you bored. And yet, the things it does "pretty well" have been done better in other films.

Much of this movie's tone echoed that of the recent, excellent movie The Mist. The treatment of the creatures was similar in both -- rarely seen in full, not as one-dimensional as originally assumed to be. You become more invested in that movie's characters, too.

The "real home video footage" conceit of the film, though realized quite well here, seemed to work better to me in The Blair Witch Project. Perhaps it was just that the other film's premise and scope were so simple that you could let yourself believe it could be real, if you wanted to. Here, though the filmmakers did an impressive job in staying true to their gimmick, the scale of the situation (and of the visual effects you do occasionally see) perhaps keeps you from ever completely surrendering your disbelief.

Nevertheless, it is a fun ride, and a far more effective "giant monster attacks" movie that we've had in other recent efforts than I can think of. (Peter Jackson's surprisingly boring King Kong springs to mind.) Go with your expectations set appropriately, and I think you'll have a good time. I give it a B-.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Choppy Reception

So, if you watch Boston Legal, then you know that iPhones are sexy. (Or maybe you've noticed it yourself.)

But the real question is, Will It Blend?

(I swear I just heard something... as though millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Days the Music Died

As it has turned out, my copy of the Rock Band video game included in it another "game": the "UPS Store Run" game. I've now had to use EA's warranty/exchange service four times, and a fifth is on the horizon.

In the original box I purchased back on release day was a faulty guitar that had the rather well-known "up strum" problem -- that when strumming both up and down at any reasonable speed, half your strums weren't registering. In addition, it had a crappy strap that kept coming off the studs in the middle of a song.

Hearing about fairly widespread problems with these controllers online, I decided to take advantage of EA's good exchange policy. Leave them a credit card number, they'll send you a new controller by 2nd Day Air. Just put the defective one back in the box, send it back to them (pre-paid!), and as long as they receive it within four weeks, you'll never be charged a penny.

Sure enough, my replacement guitar arrived very quickly. But unfortunately, the only problem taken care of was the strap. While I no longer had to deal with the possibility of the strap coming off in the middle of a song, guitar #2 has the exact same upstrum problem as #1.

So I sent off for guitar #3. Came just as quickly. Eureka! Working stummer! Working strap! Things were great!

Then my drum kick pedal cracked in half. Sangediver kindly took the blame for this, but it didn't entirely matter. The thing had broken when it really shouldn't have. I at least had the means to get a free replacement.

This replacement took a bit longer. Bt this time, it was after Christmas, so I figure a whole lot more Rock Bands were suddenly out there, and with them a whole lot of defective hardware that the EA Exchange Department was trying desperately to keep on top of. But after about a week, my pedal arrived, the old pedal went back into the box, and it was time to rock on!

Until literally the next night. I was playing my guitar, using the whammy during a nice long chord in the song Epic, when suddenly: CRACK! The "snap back" tension on the bar was gone, and it now just hung there lifelessly. It was still functional if you wiggled it back and forth... for a day. Then it gave out entirely.

Last night, guitar #4 arrived. I plugged in and starting playing, fearing a return of the "up strum" malfunction. But things were going great. Until it came time to deploy my Overdrive Energy. I lifted the neck, and.... nothing. Dropped it, raised it again... nothing. "Do it, you son of a...." SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE! At last it worked. I messed around with it for a while longer to mixed results. Sometimes, it works easy on the first try. Other times, you're forced to twist it into every angle the body can place it before the Overdrive kicks in.

So, fail. Again. I don't know what the hell is going on. Are they just taking back other people's defective controllers and then shipping them out again, hoping no one will notice? Are they really this unable to make functioning hardware? Am I this unlucky? I mean, out of the 10 or so people I know who own a Rock Band, over half have had to exchange one of the pieces -- but I've nearly got them all beat put together. And I'm not doing anything with these controls I didn't do for two years on my Guitar Hero controller.

I want to get someone, somewhere on the phone and just let them have it. But of course, the poor operator in the warranty department at EA isn't responsible. And they haven't hassled me once in any of this. I say "it's broken again," and they just send a new one, no problem.

I suppose I can derive some satisfaction in knowing that it's not likely their company has made any profit off of me by this point in time. This many back-and-forth 2nd Day Air shipments can't be cheap; the profit margin of my copy of Rock Band almost has to have been wiped out by now.

But if there is indeed any satisfaction to be had there, it's cancelled out by learning that instead of focusing on making instruments that actually work, the hardware team at EA has instead been developing a "flashing light and smoke" accessory for you to buy.

This is way past frakkin' ridiculous.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Worry -- My Enthusiasm is Indeed Curbed

It can be a really hard thing to look a friend straight in the eye and tell him, "sorry, but I don't like this thing you love."

A co-worker recently discovered the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm by receiving the first season DVDs for Christmas. I'd sampled a random episode once before, and had not had a favorable enough impression to ever repeat that experience. But I do love Seinfeld, and the two shows do have Larry David in common. So when we all came back from the holiday break, and my friend was raving about the show, I decided I'd give it a chance.

But I just don't like it. Larry David is almost the entire reason why. He may be a funny writer, but he is not a funny actor. I find he actually kills any comedy that might otherwise be in progress when he's on the screen. And since Curb Your Enthusiasm is entirely about him, he's in virtually every scene.

I've tried three episodes so far, and found each as joyless and hard to watch as the last. Halfway through the third episode, I whipped out my Nintendo DS to solve a Sudoku puzzle while I left the show on in the background.

I've told my friend of my reaction, and could just feel the wind fall out of his sails. To his credit, he didn't get all in my grill with the whole "how could you not like it?" bit, but his crestfallen sort of expression, laced with confusion, was almost as bad.

I asked him to recommend what he thought the funniest episode of the season was, and I've pledged to try that one out, giving the show one last chance. But even though I'm now armed with that information, I can't quite bring myself to watch it. I'll stop for a moment to think about what else I could do with that half hour, and end up reading another chapter or two of a book, playing another set in Rock Band, or whatever.

I need to either watch this or give the DVD back. It just sits there next to my TV, taunting me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wavering Tone

This weekend, I saw the movie Atonement. In fact, this was in the afternoon of the day it went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama. To put it simply, it's not a bad movie. But it was not deserving of the award.

The longer answer is that, while I haven't seen many of the other films that were nominated in that category, I feel this movie had enough flaws that something else had to be better. (I could rattle off five movies from 2007 I enjoyed more, but few of those were nominated in any catgeory.)

Calling upon Eddie Izzard's stand-up (which I love to reference), this was a very "British" movie: a room with a view, and a staircase, and a pond. A movie where all the drama is subsumed, subdued, sub something. A movie with dialogue like:

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"What is it? I'm arranging matches."

"I... uh, think I'd better go."

"Yes, I think you'd better had."

The kind of movie you cannot eat popcorn to.

The movie was not devoid of emotion. The romance in the story evoked a real sense of passion. At other times, it evoked equally strong sadness. But the movie had some rough spots in between.

The main problem was that the movie felt cleaved in two, at the halfway point. The first hour felt like it was moving along, albeit at a leisurely pace. Then suddenly, you learn that everything you've seen was really just preamble for getting to the rest of the story... it was almost just exposition, and when viewed back through that lens, you couldn't help but think it could have been dealt with more quickly and concisely.

Oddly, the second half of the movie felt like it too was cleaved in two at the halfway point. The first half hour (that is, the "third quarter" of the film, if you're following me) was a stark depiction of warfare, centered on James McAvoy's character. This was problematic on two levels. The sudden focus on "what it means to be at war" felt like a jarring narrative mismatch to what had come before. And, more importantly, the film isn't truly about his character.

It's not about Kiera Knightley's character, either. The real center of the tale is a young girl (who grows up in the course of the film). And she drops out of that "third quarter" of the movie entirely, only to return for the final act. (And for the ultimate "point" of the film.)

Trying not to give many particulars away for anyone wanting to see the movie, I'll just say that there's a bit of an explanation at the end that tries to set straight why the movie "fills in" details about events not directly involving this real main character. But even if you accept it, you again have to ask the same question I found myself asking about the first half of the movie: given that this was only preamble, couldn't there have been a faster, better way to tell that chunk of the story?

In short, none of the movie is "bad." Much of the movie is emotional. And yet, once you've seen it all, only about a third of what you saw (excepting the final 30 minutes) feels like it's of actual importance to the story, like it really matters.

Before reckoning the final "grade" in all of this, I have to give some marks for a few good stylistic choices in the film. One is an interesting choice in the writing to have certain key scenes shown more than once, each time from a different perspective. It's fairly effective in conveying the mindsets of different characters in the moment, and at the end of the film, there's a final revelation that makes you consider these multiple points of view again. (Let's not call it a "twist ending" or anything cliché like that. Simply a "summing up" that better illuminates what you've been watching.)

Second is the musical score. The composer makes the interesting choice to use the sounds of a typewriter as a percussive instrument, and this instrument plays at key moments throughout the entire score. It's a very appropriate choice for the film, and results in a score not quite like any you tend to hear in these sorts of movies.

So... in the end, I give Atonement a B-. Which sums up what I've said. It's not a "bad" movie. Just not a movie of enough quality to merit major film awards, in my opinion.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boxed In

Prison Break returned tonight with what interestingly proved to be an episode both compelling and boring at the same time.

On the compelling side, it was a fun hour of "wheels within wheels." Characters hatched plots and counterplots, against each other, in collaboration with each other, you name it. T-Bag works with Mahone, Sucre pretends to work against Linc while working with him, Michael tests Whistler, Whistler tests Michael back... on and on. This was the sort of fun rat's nest of problems that made season one so enjoyable. And it was all grounded in character tonight, which made it doubly more enjoyable than simple advancement of the plot would be.

But on the boring side, there weren't really any surprises to speak of. Despite all the entangled scheming, you knew what it would all amount to. You knew T-Bag wouldn't get his hooks into Mahone (not with the lucky coin on his side), you knew Sucre was only pretending to be working against Linc, you knew that Michael and Whistler's confessions weren't going to get them anywhere, you knew that Gretchen would escape by the end of the hour (and that it would spell doom for the stupid general)... on and on.

In short, it was sort of fun in the way that riding a roller coaster at the local amusement park is fun. Sure, it's a good time. But you've been on that ride probably at least once every summer as long as you've lived in the city. You know every twist and turn, and going to the amusement park just isn't as fun as it used to be.

Perhaps I'm just disillusioned, knowing that this is traditionally the part of a season of Prison Break where the writers "mark time" for a bit, drawing things out for a more exciting final run of episodes to end the season. Only this season, that run isn't going to come. I hope that the next of these few new episodes we're getting will be better, but I fear they won't be.

On the other hand, The Sarah Connor Chronicles seemed to still be on a good and improving course from last night. Not quite as much an action-packed thrill ride as the first episode (and you could tell by comparison that they spent a lot more money on making that pilot), but with some better emphasis on character, and with more threads of an original plot line than last night's cribbed-from-movie-two story. I'm still on board, hoping to see more development in future episodes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chronicles Chronicle

It wasn't just the dwindling reserves of new television that made me check out tonight's premiere of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"; I'd been planning to at least sample the show since when I first heard about it months ago. That was even before I'd learned that Summer Glau or Firefly fame was in it, never mind the fact she was playing a Terminator. I think I was predisposed to "probably like it."

And that's almost exactly what I got, sampling this pilot episode. In the end, "I probably liked it."

On the plus side, this felt like a much more worthy continuation of the Terminator universe than the pretty lousy movie Terminator 3. I hated the fact that that movie wiped Sarah Connor out of the story with a few casual keystrokes (much like other great characters James Cameron created were wiped out to start Alien 3). It's strange to say this, since Arnold Schwarzenegger played the title character in the films, but I think the story needs Sarah Connor a whole lot more than it needs him.

John Connor felt "back" as well. The version of his character in the third film (through no particular fault of actor Nick Stahl) didn't feel much connected with the teenager we saw in Terminator 2. Sure, it was a decade on, and "kids grow up," but there seemed to be no connective tissue between the two versions at all. This John Connor in the television series felt like the right progression of the character from the second movie; he was written well.

The writing was also commendable in other ways. It "name-checked" some classic Terminator moments in fun ways ("Come with me if you want to live"), but more than that, the entire action vibe of the movies felt present too -- a pretty impressive feat for a show that in its entire run won't cost as much to make as that second movie did.

But all this continuity and familiarity had a slight cost, too. You could say that not a lot of new ground was covered here. This first episode felt very similar to the plot of the second movie. Two Terminators sent back to find John Connor -- one to eliminate, one to protect. Sarah argues that running isn't enough, they have to go after the creator of Skynet instead. They even make a stop back at Miles Dyson's house in their search. I guess you could say, "of course it was pretty good." It was a faithful homage to a good movie, and didn't stray far enough from that to risk being bad. It didn't really risk anything at all.

So we'll see. What this series does as it moves on to subsequent episodes will really tell the tale. They got a decent start, but I think it will need to carve out its own territory -- and quickly -- to really start to shine. The question is, did they get to finish enough episodes before the writers' strike to get to that point?

And will FOX, of the notoriously itchy trigger fingers, leave it on long enough for us to find out?

Saturday, January 12, 2008


It's Saturday, a day for play, and so in lieu of any not-really-profound thoughts from me, I'll offer you a game that slid my way earlier this week.

It's time to "cooperate with yourself." If you know what I mean. And until you've played this, you probably don't.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I've always known in the back of my mind that I look pretty silly when I'm playing Wii Sports, flailing around with this widget strapped to my wrist, swatting at the air like I'm hearing voices. But I've recently had it highlighted that I probably look even more foolish than I'd possibly imagined.

The people in an apartment directly across from mine recently got a Wii. (As a matter of fact, they're in Roland Deschain's former residence.) Their television is backed right against the patio door that leads out into the open space between that building and mine. Said television isn't large enough to really block the view in through the window.

And it's not that I'm going out of my way to look. But that's pretty much what you see when you're going up or down the stairs to get to my place. And someone twitching like they're swatting away bees is going to get your attention; that's just the way it is.

So, in the last week, I've seen my anonymous neighbors playing tennis, boxing, baseball, whatever (the motions are all oh-so-familiar, and thus easily identified), and generally looking pretty damn silly.

I'm making sure my blinds are shut when I play Wii.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Low Calibur

This is surely an example of what Shocho calls "cool-stupid" (something that every person will find either "cool" or "stupid," with no possibility of an in-between opinion).

The makers of the upcoming Soul Calibur IV have revealed that among the old, familiar characters that appear in every Soul Calibur game, this time you will be able to fight as Darth Vader or Yoda.

I find this the stupidest thing I've heard in ages. It's not the fact that characters from other properties are being put in the game -- they did that ages ago by putting Link (from the Zelda games) and Spawn and others into Soul Calibur II. No, I object to them putting Star Wars in it.

Specifically, putting Yoda in it. Because you know how he's going to fight in the game. He's gonna hop around in the air like a rabid monkey on drugs, just like in Attack of the Clones. That remains the dumbest thing put on film during this decade (including the "dog gets revenge" subplot of The Hills Have Eyes).

This has ruined a game that was until this moment an auto-purchase for me. Soul Calibur is about the only "button masher" fighting series I like, because I've always felt that someone just randomly mashing buttons, without really knowing all the coolest moves or having lightning reflexes, can actually win an occasional match against a better player. Other games in the genre are not remotely as forgiving -- or therefore, remotely as fun.

But there is no way I want to see stupid dervish Yoda on my television screen. I don't want to play it. I don't want to play against it. I would not, could not, with a mouse.

I've never really subscribed to Brad's "not another dime" policy when it comes to things Lucas, but I think I'm drawing the line here.

Way to blow it, Namco.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

V for Victory... Sort Of

Poor Pyrrhus of Epirus. How much would it suck to be famous for basically snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? Well, okay, so that's not quite what happened, but the bottom line is, he is synonymous with "a victory that doesn't feel like a victory." Being famous for that totally cancels out the cool factor of still being known over 2,000 years after you were alive, if you ask me.

And yes, dpending on your political leanings, there are all sorts of modern ways you could twist the phrase. A Gore victory? An Iraq victory? Take your pick.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tales from the Internets 6

Time for another installment in my irregular series that asks, "What are people out there Googling that sends them here to my neck of the internets?"

as i choke veronica mars - What? You bastard! Thems fightin' words!

the ending of the movie, Pack of Lies and a pack of lies ending and the book A Pack of Lies Chapter 12 - I've never heard of such a book or movie, never mind seen/read it or know how it ends.

snake genital picture - I was completely scared and disturbed by this, one that someone would look for it, and two that my blog might somehow be thought to satisfy that search. Then I realized someone was probably looking for a still photo from the movie Snakes on a Plane. Which explained it, but didn't make the desire to see a picture of it any less disturbing.

"28 days later" "Danny Boyle" "horrible smell" - No, no, that would be wafting out of the theater next door showing the Uwe Boll film.

plot lather and nothing else - This would be what, scenes set in showers?

comic strips of whittlers - Ah yes, cause what a long, proud tradition of those there is.

the most amazing thing ever - I'm not sure what's weirder: that my blog is a destination for this search term, or that four separate people have gotten here this way. I guess I should be flattered.

why does the cube produce evil robots? - See?! I'm not the only one!

hellfire and dalmations comic - Okay, seriously... what's with the weird taste in comics?

wtf eddings - I couldn't have said it better myself. But here's what I did say.

john madden restraining order - If I thought there was any chance of him ever coming within 100 feet of me in my life time, I'd get one.

blank barnyard animal cards – If they're blank, then how do you know they’re barnyard animal cards?

nerfnipple - Letting people enjoy all the fun of playing with nipples without the risk of serious injury.

Monday, January 07, 2008

2007 In Review -- Movies

As with "games I played," I also summed up my moviegoing habits in 2006.

2007 marked a sharp increase in the number of movies I saw. Not counting the one I walked out on, I saw 91 movies in their entirety last year. That's blowing by the "barely one a week" average of before and sneaking up on two a week. (I could saw "bi-weekly," but thanks to the peculiarities of English, that could mean once every two weeks or twice a week.)

I reviewed most of what I saw throughout the year, so like last year, I'll skip the list and just take note of some of the trends and thoughts.

The only movie I saw more than once in 2007 was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It wasn't my favorite film of 2007, but I did like it quite a lot, so it makes some sense to me that I caught it twice.

I watched a lot more movies at home this year -- mostly that drawn out James Bond marathon -- but still ended up going to the theater by a margin of about two to one. In other words, it doesn't appear I'm actually watching much of that ridiculously large DVD collection I've got going. I'm already buying less these days than I use to. Maybe I should be even more picky?

The "dry spells" of last year? February and September. I had months where I saw more movies than in those two put together. And it makes sense... all the movies competing for Oscars open in "wide release" in January, and the "summer movie season" comes to a close at the end of August. After each of those rushes, a month of mind-numbing crap invariably ensues.

I wonder if the writer's strike, in soon taking (or having already taken) away nearly all the TV shows I watch, will lead me to watch more movies this year? I've long been keeping a list of movies I'd like to see, based on various recommendations. Maybe it's time to start chiseling away at that? Or perhaps read a few more books?

In the short term at least, it probably just means more Rock Band.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Suspense Is Killing Them

This weekend, I got the chance to combine two recent good theater experiences into a new third one. The Stories on Stage series I caught before Christmas offered up a new installment. And this one was done by the cast of the Buntport Theater, whose hilarious Titus Andronicus! The Musical! recently had me rolling.

There was actually a third great ingredient in the mix this time around, the evening's subject matter: "Tales of Mystery and Suspense." The stories this time were "8" by Jack Ritchie, "If We Had Been Dancing" by Denver local author Manuel Ramos, "The Landlady" by Roald Dahl, "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe, and "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" by Neil Gaiman.

The team at the Buntport opted to "stage" their stories a little more than the previous batch I saw had been. Where my previous Stories on Stage experience was simply single actors standing at a lecturn and reading (though to good effect), these stories were read primarily by one of the five company members, with other members taking up dialogue of some of the characters in the story. They also incorporated a small but effective number of props in their presentations.

With only one exception, the stories were really phenomenal. Sadly, the weak link was the one by the Denver local author. It wasn't "bad," but it did feel out of place in the evening's presentation. It didn't really offer any mystery or suspense. It actually felt more like the pre-credits sequence of an episode of CSI or something. It put pieces into motion, got to what might be considered an interesting plot twist at the end, but without anything on the way to make you feel like you'd heard a complete story.

But everything else was great. Jack Ritchie's "8" is a very short story I highly recommend. It's not too difficult to ferret out the plot ahead of time, but the quality of the writing (particularly the characterizations) make it well worth the journey anyway.

"The Landlady" reiterates what a sick puppy Roald Dahl really was, though the mean streak in stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory probably already have made that clear. I must say I didn't think this short story had quite the right ending -- it probably ended either a little bit too late, or a little bit too early -- but it's still a great deal of fun.

Poe's "The Black Cat" is... well... vintage Poe. Makes you wonder and worry how much of his writing might have been informed by urges he might really have had. This story is particularly good if you love a very heightened and calculated use of language.

Finally, Neil Gaiman's "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" is just awesome. Very witty and very funny, as I'm sure any fans of his would expect. This story is great for its dark touches, and for having the perfect amount of very evocative details peppered throughout.

Of course, much of the joy I took from these stories was in how wonderfully these actors presented them in their readings. Nonetheless, I'm sure that lovers of suspense would enjoy reading them for themselves.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Preparing for the Worst

I recently finished reading The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks. This was the book he wrote prior to the simply brilliant World War Z. This is a pretty good book too, though to me it very much comes across like an intermediate step he took as a writer to get to writing that second book.

While both books treat zombies as starkly real, it's interesting the ways in which the two books are different. The Guide is presented more like non-fiction, a "how to" manual in getting through zombie outbreaks of varying degrees. And yet, though more matter of fact, the book also feels like it has tongue planted firmly in cheek more than World War Z. The Guide feels like a good joke told in a very deadpan manner, but World War Z feels very serious.

The bottom line is, I think anyone who enjoys one would enjoy the other. I do recommend this book, and give it a B+. But World War Z is a far superior work, and if you've only got time to read one, that's the one you should go for.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rock Banned

First of all, thanks to everyone who offered me computer advice (both here, and in e-mails). I didn't get home until late tonight, so it'll be tomorrow that I try to figure it all out. We'll see what happens.

I dare you to check out this net video of a band that really, really needs to pack it in. Take note of the kids that go running from the stage at the beginning of the clip. It's like they know the suffering that's about to come:

If you actually make it all the way to the end of the video, you're made of sterner (or crazier?) stuff than I.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

So, I started up my computer a couple days ago... you know, like you do. Only this time, when it booted up to the desktop, my monitor's resolution had been reset to 640 x 480, for some reason I didn't understand.

I hadn't installed any new software. There hadn't been a power outage while my computer was on. I hadn't had any trouble shutting down previously. I don't think there had been a Windows update. Anyway, I went in and changed my monitor resolution back to the higher setting I normally enjoy.

Only now, everything looks like crap. Fonts aren't drawing correctly. They're all jagged and blocky, with some lines thicker than others. It's all generally really annoying to read. I've tried several other monitor resolutions in the neighborhood of what I've become used to, but no joy.

I've hunted for new graphics drivers and tried installing them. The one that was supposed to work for my machine left everything completely screwed -- "Windows Safe Mode" screwed. So I then let Windows try to automatically search for the appropriate driver. It found something other than what I was using in the first place, and now at least I'm out of Safe Mode, but I'm right back to crappy jagged fonts.

It totally sucks, and I didn't even do anything.

Those of you with Macs, please stop sniggering right now. I can play tons of games without partitioning my hard drive and using Boot Camp.

Those of you with PCs.... HELP! Anyone?

However, on the flip side of the resolution spectrum, yesterday I learned that the 4:3 rear projection television I bought new several years back (not long before 16:9s completely took over the market) actually supports display resolutions up to 1080i on two of its sets of component video input jacks. Even then, these guys were thinking ahead. So, I went over and toggled some settings on my new Playstation 3, and voila! Rock Band now looks friggin' sweet, and I can actually enjoy those free Blu-ray discs that came with my system.

But why must I take the bad with the good here?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2007 in Review -- Games

For two years running now, odd curiosity has led me to keep a list of every game I played throughout the year. The time has come to look at the results and ponder.

First, the "rules" of this list:

* I'm cataloging board games, card games, and the like; computer and console games need not apply. (I wouldn't need to log the results to tell you that: copious amounts of Guitar Hero II and Rock Band, with a handful of other things splashed in.)

* I did not count games of my own design that I played in the capacity of working on that design.

Weirdly enough, I played exactly one more game in 2007 than I did in 2006 -- 234 total compared to the previous 233. I played a considerably greater variety of games in 2007, however -- over 90 different games, compared to only 60 in 2006.

Here's the full breakdown:

25 Words or Less (2)
Amazing Race DVD Board Game (1)
AMC Reel Clues (1)
Apples to Apples (2)
Attika (1)
Augsburg 1520 (4)
Avalanche (1)
Beyond Balderdash (3)
Big Boggle (3)
Blackjack (1)
Blokus (1)
Bolide (1)
Candy Land (1)
Carcassonne (with The Expansion and Traders and Builders) (1)
Carcassonne (with The Towers) (3)
Carolus Magnus (1)
Cartagena (1)
Castle (1)
Catch Phrases (3)
Caylus (5)
Chess (2)
Cities and Knights of Catan (1)
Craps (1)
Deal or No Deal DVD Game (1)
Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix (3)
Do You Worship Cthulhu? (1)
El Grande (1)
Fact or Crap (1)
Fearsome Floors (1)
Goa (1)
Grave Robbers II: Skippy's Revenge (1)
Guillotine (1)
Hare and Tortoise (1)
Hearts (1)
Hey! That's My Fish! (5)
High Society (1)
In a Pickle (1)
Linie 1 (1)
Loaded Questions (3)
King of the Hill (1)
Louis XIV (1)
Maharaja (3)
Metro (1)
Mexica (1)
Movie Mania (1)
No Merci! (2)
Notre Dame (10)
Once Upon a Time (1)
Othello (1)
Palazzo (1)
Perudo (3)
Poker (20)
Princes of Florence (2)
Pueblo (1)
Puerto Rico (1)
Pyramidis (1)
Quad (1)
Quelf (1)
Rack-O (1)
Ricochet Robot (11)
Rummikub (1)
Scattergories (4)
Scene It! - TV Edition (1)
Scrutineyes (1)
Set (10)
Settlers of Catan (3)
Sleuth (3)
Snorta! (12)
Squint (11)
Stonehenge - Chariots of Stonehenge (1)
Stonehenge - Magic of Stonehenge (2)
Taboo (1)
Terra Nova (1)
ThinkBlot (1)
Through the Desert (1)
Thurn and Taxis (2)
Thurn and Taxis - Power and Glory (4)
Ticket to Ride (1)
Ticket to Ride - Marklin Edition (3)
Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 (4)
Ticket to Ride: Switzerland (3)
Tikal (1)
Time's Up (7)
Titan: The Arena (2)
Too Many Cooks (2)
TransAmerica (4)
TransEuropa (2)
Tri-Ominos (1)
Uno (1)
Untergang von Pompeji (3)
Up and Down (10)
Vampire (1)

Some specific thoughts and memories conjured up by this list:

Avalanche. This is an old game involving marbles and an inclined plastic track they're dropped down. This was my grandmother's copy. I remember her having it back when I was about 5 years old, and the one time I played it this year was with my little cousin who is now that age.

Chess. I haven't played chess in years. But a friend of mine has a son in school who's now learning to play as part of a chess club. I ended up playing the both of them once each in the course of the year.

Cities and Knights of Catan. In principle, I love some of the things this expansion adds to the basic Settlers of Catan game. Unfortunately, they also make it take over twice as long to play, which is not cool. I had fun playing it for the first hour and change, but as hour two was drawing to a close, I remembered why I hadn't played the expansion in years.

Deal or No Deal DVD Game. Yes, I actually did play this "game." I don't want to talk about it.

Poker. I actually played poker more than any other game this year, which pretty much feels "right." Two trips to Las Vegas in one year certainly helped juice that number.

Tikal and Mexica. I was so glad both these games came out to play near the end of the year. I hope they keep coming back in the new year. I haven't played either in a while, and I still like them both.

Attika and Goa. Despite what I said last year about wanting to play these more, I still only wound up playing each of these once in 2007. (sniff)

Ra and New England. Aw, what happened to you guys? You deserved to get played a couple times. And Doge, absent two years in a row? Do I even remember how to play that game now?

So that's it for 2007. Am I destined to play 235 games in 2008? We'll see.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Juno = Awesome

I could simply go with the comment left in my I'm Not There post: "Juno = Awesome." That says it pretty damn well, in my estimation. But I figure those of you who actually read (and enjoy? shock!) my movie reviews might expect a little more. Well, in short: I can't think of a level on which Juno doesn't work flawlessly.

The writing is superb. It's concise, with no unneeded scenes and a total running length of roughly 90 minutes. It's character oriented, allowing a number of major and secondary characters to feel fully developed with their own quirks and motivations. It's clever, loaded with enough pithy remarks and wit to make you feel like you might be watching a lost episode of Veronica Mars or a Joss Whedon show. A lot of entertainment news has covered that this newcomer writer, Diablo Cody, is already in demand in Hollywood. I hope she goes on to have the long and stellar career she deserves. If she continues to produce scripts even half as good as this one, it's guaranteed.

The casting and acting are wonderful. Ellen Page plays the title character believably, evoking laughs and sympathy all in turn. Michael Cera, funny for years on Arrested Development and finally gaining more attention with Superbad, is hilariously awkward yet likeable. Jennifer Garner hasn't been this good in years -- that's including the last several seasons of Alias -- in creating a character you think you want to hate early on, but then turning it effortlessly as the movie progresses. Jason Bateman is a wonderfully relatable Peter Pan-type trying to hold on to his youth. Allison Janney displays the same gift for comedy as she did in the more broad episodes of The West Wing. And J.K. Simmons makes a realistic character grab your attention just as skillfully as he did his broad caricature in the Spider-man movies.

Juno is a funny, touching, effective movie that delivers the whole package, and does it all with a very simple and personal story. It has slid its way into the bottom of my personal top 100. That's the oft-mentioned-as-messed-up-and-needing-some-revision section of the list, but I have no doubt that when that revision finally does come, Juno will still be on there somewhere. This is a grade A movie, and I can't recommend it highly enough.