Friday, February 29, 2008

Feeling Exposed

How time flies... but it's been six months since my "fun" (not fun) epic wisdom tooth extraction. Time for the regular six-month cleaning.

The woman who cleaned my teeth was nice enough. She gave me the expected lines about good brushing and flossing, "do you drink soda? you shouldn't," and so forth. But she also was saying how generally great things were looking.

Well, you can't get off with "looks great" from the dentist, so while I've got a sharp metal scraping thingie dancing around my mouth, she whips out with this:

"So, you have these two teeth where the gums have receded a bit..."

Yeah, I'm thinking... I have noticed. Been that way for years. Every once in a long while, I suppose, something cold makes them hurt a bit. But whatever. Lots of people have greater sensitivity to cold food and drink than I ever have. Where is she going with this?

"There's this procedure that you could consider having done."

Oh, here we go. What is this going to be? I braced myself. But I could not imagine this.

"They can take a tissue graft off of your palate, and use it to cover the exposure at the base of the teeth."

What?! You want me to consider having the roof of my mouth scraped off and stuck to my teeth?

"The truth is, though, there is some pain associated with the taking of the tissue sample, so another option you can go with is to have a tissue sample taken from a cadaver. That avoids the discomfort of the procedure."

Wait, you want me to consider having the roof of a dead guy's mouth scraped off and stuck my teeth? Because that's not discomforting?

The whole thing smacked of, "let's sell you the perfect mouth," and was creepy and weird to boot.

I think I mustered something like "uh-huh." Which I meant to sound something like "thanks, but I don't think so," but I suspect the subtext came across pretty clearly as, "are you completely mental?!"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Constant

I was a bit torn about tonight's installment of Lost.

On the one hand, the strong character-centered drama got put in the backseat for a very sci-fi problem. Aside from the final scenes, of the phone call between Penny and Desmond, and the corresponding meeting back in 1996, there wasn't much emotional charge to this episode.

On the other hand, that sci-fi problem was pretty interesting, and definitely bizarre. Probably somehow related to Desmond's visions of the future (following his being at "ground zero" for the destruction of The Hatch) came this journey back to the past. It was cool that this became an unexpected vehicle for fleshing out the new Daniel Farraday character. It sheds a little more light on that strange scene with Charlotte and the playing cards last week.

The new question is, just where is Daniel traveling to in time?

Did they really cast Fisher Stevens to die of the crazies in the span of twenty minutes? Okay, so he's far from the "A list," but he's a relatively recognizable face, and the fact that he too was "unstuck" in time opens the possibility we'll be seeing him again.

Underscoring the fact that this episode was really one for the "Mysteries of the Island" fans, we got a quick mention of the Black Rock ship, and its apparent discovery by the ever-mysterious Alvar Hanso.

Overall, I was intrigued -- still jazzed about the season so far. Just not as affected as I've been by the last several killer episodes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Faded Copy

Leafing through my DVD collection not long ago, I decided to watch Copycat. Like Frailty, this is a movie I really enjoyed last I saw it. It has been in my top 100 list.

Unlike Frailty, it didn't quite hold up as well this time around.

Copycat is a serial killer movie with a clever little gimmick at the heart of it: it features a killer whose M.O. is to imitate the crime scenes and methods of other famous serial killers. Holly Hunter is the detective trying to capture him, and Sigourney Weaver plays a sort of psychologist specializing in serial murderers, housebound with agoraphobia after narrowing surviving an attempt on her own life.

I still found a lot to like about this movie. The gimmick is still pretty cool, even once you've seen the movie and know all the twists. Sigourney Weaver is excellent in this film, very convincing as this rather weak and frightened character, completely against the type of the strong roles she's most associated with. Even though the crimes are center stage, there's enough time for some meaningful interactions between the characters, rounding them out and making them more real.

But there are a few flaws. One is that the film, from 1995, has not aged well. It has a laughably inaccurate treatment of computers, from e-mail to the internet to Photoshop to viruses. What an audience could dismiss at the time (because hey, who knows how any of that stuff really works?!) breaks the suspension of disbelief today.

There's also a bit of a go-nowhere subplot involving an ex-lover of Holly Hunter's character, who also works as a detective. Though he does serve a key role as the final act of the movie arrives, he's needlessly standoffish the rest of the time, in a way that doesn't really illuminate the Holly Hunter character any better. If anything, you're left scratching your head as to how the two were ever together. It's a bit of awkward character background meant to disguise a very mechanical purpose in the story.

In all, though, good performances and that clever premise make it worth a look, if you haven't seen it. But I do think it's probably dropping off my list, and I'm downgrading it from the "A" it once held it my mind to an "A-".

Monday, February 25, 2008

Meet Charlie Bartlett

This weekend, I saw Charlie Bartlett, the new tough to categorize movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Anton Yelchin (arguably best known at this point for a role in a movie that won't even be out for a year yet -- as Chekov in the new Star Trek film).

I say tough to categorize because it's kind of a teen comedy, but at times a bit more adult, and generally with less raunch and more heart than most movies in the genre seem to have. My friend called it "Ferris Bueller's Day Off meets Juno," and I'd say that hits pretty close to the mark in tone, if not in quality.

Not that it's a bad film. It's rather enjoyable, overall. Though the main character is a rich "trust fund kid," he's developed in a fully-rounded way, quite sympathetic and fun to watch. The movie has a good deal of wit, and several very true moments. Many of them involve Robert Downey Jr's character struggling with alcoholism and unhappiness, and you can't help but feel some real life experience informed the performance.

Another great moment is the most hysterical depiction of what it is to be high on Ritalin you don't actually need that I imagine could ever be presented in any medium.

But every once in a while, the film veers off course just a touch. There are times when the sweetness turns a bit saccharine. There are other times where the handling of the "kids are more than their sterotypes" message comes off more awkwardly forced than others.

Still, there are good intentions behind it all. The movie is quite funny, delivering plenty of laughs. And in the end, it paints a great picture of a teenager finding out what he wants to do with his life. I rate the movie a B-.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Oscar Ceremony

So, the introduction with all the moments from different movies spliced together with computers? Clearly, this was planned weeks ago during the strike when they weren't sure if any stars would show up, and this was their way of getting a metric ton of stars on the program all at once. And it cost way too much money to scrap once the strike ended.

Great monologue by Jon Stewart. He rocks.

Why is it the winner for Best Costume Design has such an ugly dress on?

What's with "My Heart Will Go On" during the "Oscar history" montage? Did the Oscars die?

Why is it the woman who won for Best Makeup has such hideous makeup on?

The woman who won for Best Art Direction on Sweeney Todd looks like one of the bad guys from Star Trek: Insurrection.

It's one "I've been in a hurricane" hairstyle after another. Are hair stylists on strike now?

Oscar's Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes. Awesome.

Anyone else think it's weird that The Bourne Ultimatum won as many Oscars (three) as the movie that actually ended up winning Best Picture this year?

The best moment of the night was coming back after the commercial to bring the co-writer of the Best Song back out on the stage to give the speech she was rudely cut off from delivering in the first place.

I'd prepared myself for my favorite of the nominated movies, Juno, to get snubbed. Fortunately, at least writer Diablo Cody won a richly deserved award. And she was the only one rockin' the prominent tattoo as well.

Also, I figure that, with the strike still on everyone's mind, it can't be a coincidence that the Original Screenplay award was pushed (what seemed to me like) much later in the show than usual.

I can't believe they showed us James Cameron's bonehead "I'm king of the world!" moment again.

And No Country for Old Men won, as expected. No surprise there. Really, not many surprises at all tonight. And don't you be surprised, either, if you decide to see this movie. Cause remember, I warned you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Do you remember when the comic strip Garfield was funny?

Yeah, me neither. I mean, I guess I thought it was funny when I was a kid, but I suspect that had to do much more with the lower standards of my youth than any decline in quality over time.

The thing is, Garfield is quite the punching bag around the internets.

There's the Random Panel Generator, which illustrates that Garfield isn't any worse (and is sometimes better) when random panels from different strips are thrown together.

There's Garfield Minus Garfield, which shows the strip is more effective as a depiction of a schizophrenic Jon Arbuckle, by removing Garfield from the strip using Photoshop.

There's an article from a few years back, maintaining that Garfield was actually manufactured to suck, so as to avoid any pop culture backlash that could damage its lucrative merchandising.

Not that I think any of that criticism is undeserved. Man, does that comic strip suck out loud.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Sad Development

Here's a short read, but I found it interesting: Polaroid recently announced that they are ending production of instant film. Though it does stink for those very few that have some rather special use for such film, it's really no surprise, given the rise of digital photography.

I know that many technologies have fallen by the wayside during my lifetime. Hell, some have even been invented, used, outdated, then discarded in my lifetime. (3.5" diskettes, anyone?) But I'm kind of hard pressed to think of many technologies this iconic that have vanished since I've been old enough to remember. I mean, no one calls it "instant film," of course -- they're "Polaroids." On some level, this is like an end to Kleenex, or Band-Aids, or Jell-O, or some such.

Maybe I'm not making much sense here. It just struck me as momentous, in a very odd way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Tonight was another excellent episode of Lost. I say this without reservation, even though I figured out the final twist, of the true identity of Kate's son, ahead of time. I praise the episode because, once again, it delivered a lot of great twists, turns, and developments that were all grounded in character.

Kate and Sawyer are back on the outs again, but we now see that things aren't going to really work out for her and Jack either. We got major change in the nature of Kate's character, as we see that in the future she is finally settled down and no longer has to -- nor, much more importantly, wants to -- avoid being tied down to one place. This is a pretty sharp contrast to the flash-forwards we've seen so far. Jack, Hurley, and Sayid all end up much worse off in the future, but Kate has grown and seems better off.

This would seem to be a large part of why when we saw Jack approach her about going "back to the island," she dismissed him.

Plot-wise, we got final resolution on Kate's criminal past. We learned that she is indeed one of "the Oceanic Six." And we've learned that they all (well, Kate and Jack at least) seem to have agreed on a fiction that only eight of them survived the plane crash.

This opens up all kinds of crazy threads on the future. It suggests that no one else is around that knows the truth and wants to contradict them -- not "Others," not the boat rescuers, not Penny, or Desmond, or anyone else. More telling than Hurley's "I wish I hadn't gone with Locke" statement, it says that some major changes are going to happen to the characters before we're done. I can't imagine the current Jack, for example, not wanting to honor all the lives lost so far (from Boone to Charlie and everyone in between) and deciding to lie and ignore any sacrifices they made.

The episode also seems to tell us that Claire is destined not to survive, since Kate winds up raising Aaron. In a way, it sets us up for her fate to match Charlie's, from a storytelling standpoint. We knew all season that Charlie "was going to die." There were only two questions: when and how would it happen, and might the writers show us a way out of that predicament? Well, now it seems Claire is also destined to die, and there is no way out of it for her. So now the clock is ticking... when is she going to come to an end? How? Why?

All of this, plus some other intriguing character moments too. Ben still managing to get under Locke's skin, suggesting he still hasn't changed and probably never will. But Locke shoving a live grenade into a prisoner's mouth -- an extreme he's arguably never gone to -- suggesting maybe he already has. The strange hint that the new character Dan has some sort of condition of short term memory loss. The first hints that Jin and Sun don't want the same thing for their future, if they get off the island.

This great season keeps on rolling strong.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Briar Engagement

Five years ago, I first read the fantasy book The Briar King, by Greg Keyes. It had just been published, and came with the recommendation of another author whose writing I liked. It was also the first book of a four-book series.

The second book, The Charnel Prince, arrived a very reasonable year later, but for whatever reason, I decided I didn't want to continue the journey at that time. I chose instead to wait until the series was complete. I would then go back and begin again with book one, and read the series straight through to its conclusion.

Well, the time has come. In about a month from now, the fourth and final book will be hitting stores. I've got the first three books here on my shelf, and I figure that mixed in with whatever else I do with my time, it might take me a few weeks to get through just those anyway.

This week, I finished the first book, for the second time. After the intervening years, I still remembered the broad shape of the story and a fair amount about the characters, but some of the details had faded a bit.

One thing that had happened between then and now is that I read the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (what exists of it thus far). Perhaps my opinion is colored a bit by how highly I regard those books, but I feel like Keyes is another author heavily influenced by what Martin has been doing with his series over the last decade. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

But he's definitely not doing it as well as Martin. The Briar King does dabble in courtly politics, and is fairly interesting at it. It has a somewhat large cast of characters, though tries to restrict the storytelling "points of view" to a subset of that group. The author is not above killing important characters to progress the story. All elements I associate with Martin.

The story is interesting. What grabbed me then did get hold of me again this time through, and I still want to see how it all turns out. The book deals with the signs of an apocalypse manifesting in a fantasy land, as evil forces try to hasten the end of the world. It has just the right amount of magic to be a unique setting, while not introducing too much to offer "easy ways out" in the narrative.

But the writing is a bit hit and miss. When it takes its time, it's at its best. There are passages where you do get into the mind of a character, and watch the story unfold with a sense of the dread that "the end of the world" truly merits. But other times, the writing feels incredibly clipped and rushed. Not at times of action or urgency, necessarily, so I don't chalk it up to stylistic choice. Some chapters in the book have as many as eight or nine single-page pieces, spaced with time jumps, a bit too hasty and superficial. In a film, they'd be reduced to montages, or cut entirely.

I suppose all that is to say that while I still enjoyed the book overall and intend to see the series through, I didn't think as highly of it this time around as I did before. I recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre, but I don't want anyone to take the literal facts of my situation -- that I've been waiting five years for this series to be complete -- as high anticipation or fervent love of the book. I'd rate The Briar King a B-.

More on the rest of the series as I work my way through.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Movies

I really can't stand the Coen brothers. I've seen several of their movies, trying to give them a chance, and I really haven't liked any of them.

It started years ago with Raising Arizona, thoroughly unfunny, thoroughly weird, and thoroughly obnoxious. This was really before I even paid attention much to who wrote or directed films (yeah, that long ago), so it didn't really register with me that there was anybody I ought to be putting on my shit list.

Years later, I saw The Big Lebowski. Also thoroughly weird. Arguably not unfunny. The thing is, seeing the movie itself didn't make me laugh at all. Didn't even make me crack a smile. But this is one of the most-quoted movies there is among a certain circle of my friends, and for whatever reason, a Lebowski line (whether well impersonated or not) always gets me to grin. The movie itself, though? I find it pretty unbearable. Go figure.

When A.F.I. released its original top 100 movies list, I had it in my head for a short while to try and see them all. I gave up on that probably not long after suffering through Fargo, a movie far too interested in conveying an atmosphere rather than telling a story. "Isn't this quirky?!" the film seems to ask with a nudge at every turn. Quirky, yes. Entertaining, no.

That was when I swore off Coen brothers movies. Over the years, various friends who thought highly of their films tried to get me to watch their particular favorite, each making claims along the lines of "oh, but you'll like this movie" or "well, sure, those three films you saw weren't really their best."

Finally, someone wore me down enough to get me to try one more Coen movie, The Hudsucker Proxy. Well, it would be hard to make a movie as unbearable as Raising Arizona, so I can't say it was the worst of them all. But I found it obnoxious and boring like all the others. So then I really, really swore off Coen movies.

No matter people tried how many times to get me to watch O Brother, Where Art Thou.

But then it came down to Best Picture Oscar nominations. And, more to the point, "four out of five." Since I became a more avid movie buff, I've generally seen around three of the five Oscar-nominated movies every year. Last year, I saw four -- for the first time, I think. But the one I missed was Letters from Iwo Jima, which everyone seemed convinced had no chance of winning. I felt no pull to go, no problem letting that one slide through the cracks.

But this year, I'd seen four of the five, and the one that was left No Country for Old Men.

But it's by those damn Coen brothers.

But it's supposed to have this incredible performance in it too, by Javier Bardem.

But it's by those damn Coen brothers.

But it's the movie all the oddsmakers say is destined to win.


So this last weekend, I sucked it up and went to complete the "quintfecta."

I'll say this: this was by far the best Coen brothers movie I've seen, in my opinion. And it's going to piss me off when this wins and Juno doesn't.

No Country for Old Men is like two movies in one. And not in a peanut butter and chocolate kind of way. The two movies really have no relation to one another, and barely interact over the course of the two hours. There's the movie the Coen brothers appear to be interested in, and the one in which they successfully engage audience interest.

If you take a step back, the movie is really supposed to be about Tommy Lee Jones' character, the sheriff of a small desert town. He delivers the opening monologue. In his scenes, the things he talks about clearly resonate with the title of the film. He talks about how his father was a sheriff, and his father was a sheriff, and muses about how he's getting too old and too tired for it all. By all rights, this is the "point" of the movie.

And it goes absolutely nowhere. This supposed protagonist does nothing proactive. He's engaged in no plot of his own; he trails some two or three chapters behind the rest of the movie for the entire two hours, never catching up, never doing anything to propel the story at all. Were this a short story, I think I could buy this kind of inactivity and fatigue as a cool way of conveying a message. As a feature film, it's aimless and boring.

Then there's the second movie, in which Josh Brolin's character finds a bag full of drug money after a massacre and runs off with it, only to be pursued by bad hombre Javier Bardem's character -- relentlessly. This story is riveting. It puts you on the edge of your seat early on, and keeps you there the entire time. Both actors are compelling. Both characters are well-written, each clever and capable. From a literary, "tonal" standpoint, the movie isn't supposed to ultimately be "about" these guys, but the story is too fascinating.

Though it's not without two major flaws. First, there's a sidetrack in the middle of it, in which a character portrayed by Woody Harrelson is introduced. He chews up screen time, twirls a figurative mustache in a few scenes, and does nothing ultimately meaningful to the plot before exiting the film permanently. It's a complete waste of time, and derails a lot of the momentum the cat-and-mouse plot has built up.

But the bigger flaw is a symptom of the fact that the movie is not supposed to be about this story. Imagine if you will, reading a 20 chapter novel. Then imagine that chapters 17 through 19 were torn out of that novel. You get to read up through chapter 16, then you skip the climax and go straight to chapter 20, the aftermath.

That's exactly what happens in this "other movie" within No Country for Old Men. Remember, it's not supposed to be about these other guys... it's supposed to be about Tommy Lee Jones. So you're not supposed to care what happens to those other two guys. And to drive that home in an oh-aren't-we-so-clever way, the final climax of that story takes place off screen. The see only the aftermath of the only story you've actually cared about for two hours.

There's another meandering monologue to close the film, and then a sudden, startling cut to black that might have been inspired by the infamous final episode of The Sopranos. And then credits.

I've rarely heard such a reaction in a movie theater as I heard at that point. "What?!" screamed one man. "What the hell?" another young voice wondered. "Geez!" exclaimed some woman. "Well, I hope everyone enjoyed that!" declared an older man near the back. And then everybody stormed out in silence.

I honestly don't know whether to condemn the overall mess of the total film, or to praise the half movie the Coen brothers actually got right for once. (Well, let's say one-third film, taking points off for the Woody Harrelson side trip.) That piece was so good. But the whole was such a breach of contract with the audience. They knew damn well what they were trying to say with the movie, and knew just as well that they were making the rest of the movie more interesting. They decided to hoodwink the audience deliberately.

So I feel that the praise being lavished on this movie is a case of the emperor wearing no clothes. The intellectual critique of the film has to acknowledge the narrative structure, and laud the cruel joke. To deny this and focus on your sense of betrayal is to basically say, "I didn't get it."

So of course anyone trying to appear intellectual and worthy of giving their criticism is going to say what a wonderful movie No Country for Old Men was. Because they can't say "they didn't get it," or anything that could be construed by snobbish peers as having not gotten it.

I fall back on my own measuring stick, though, which is to judge a movie by how it makes me feel. This movie pissed me off. And not in a way that should be praised. It jacks with its audience.

That said, it's damn weird, but I can't quite say "don't see it," either. If only there could exist some cut of just the "good parts" -- and with an imagined "missing reel" that puts the climax of the story in there. That would be indeed be one of the best movies of 2007.

But as a whole, I have to give the movie a C+. If you decide to see it, you've been warned.

The Art of the Deal

So, for Prison Break, it all comes down to this. Tonight's installment may well have been our last ever.

As just a season finale, this episode was a lot less tense than the ends of seasons one or two. Not as much exciting action, not as much wondering how things would resolve themselves, very few surprises. And it didn't leave things in as dramatic a cliffhanger, either.

So perhaps, as a series finale, if it ends up being that, this is an okay place to leave things. Linc and LJ are reunited; Linc and Sofia are together. A happy ending for them. Hell, a "happy ending" for T-Bag too, as he appears to be in a great position at Sona. Of course, an unhappy ending Sucre -- but one rather fitting for the consistent stupidity his character has displayed on the show.

But as for the rest of what's unresolved? Kind of aggravating, but in my mind, not in the ways you might think. It's not that I'm dying to see Michael chase down Gretchen and put a bullet in her head. It's not that I'm eager to see Mahone teamed up with Whistler. It's really more aggravation that we had this long tease about Whistler that ultimately didn't amount to anything.

Sure, "the coordinates" Whistler was supposed to have had were very MacGuffin-esque from day one -- not themselves as important as the fact that the company wanted Whistler out of Sona. But now we find out they literally meant nothing; they were a ruse. We really don't know a damn thing about Whistler, it turns out. And it's not that I'm itching to see the truth revealed... I'm more annoyed that we spent all season on him and didn't get any closer than we were when we started.

As I said last week, I'm not sure I can envision an entire new season of the show being very interesting. I think I stand by that even more now, after this week's episode. But I'm also disappointed to now feel so jerked around by this show I used to like so much. I'm sorry to say that if it doesn't come back in the fall, I'm probably not going to miss it.

But at least I'll still have that great first season to enjoy on DVD whenever I like.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Look Before You Leap

So, this will sound like damning with faint praise, but I saw the movie Jumper this weekend, and it mostly didn't suck. Why did I go to a movie I had such low expectations for? Well, part of it may be the Samuel L. Jackson factor -- I'm a sucker for his peculiar speech patterns and wacky hairstyles. Part of it was that I was just in the mood for an actiony, effects-laden romp.

On those counts, the film delivered fairly well. There were a lot of points on which it was fairly interesting, actually.

First, the main character was not really depicted as heroic, and that was a refreshing change. We see him discover his teleporting powers as a teenager, and he proceeds to do stupid and selfish things with it, like you'd realistically expect. Even as a twenty-something (as in the bulk of the film), he's not an example of virtue. He ignores a situation in which he could help save lives, indulges in all manner of petty (and a few not-so-petty) crimes, and sometimes uses his abilities for taking revenge. I liked that this nominally "super-hero" film did not, in fact, center around a "hero."

The scope of the film was pretty damn impressive. The film jumps (had to take that chance for a lame pun) to a half-dozen different countries, and appears to have actually been filmed in a good number of them -- pretty damn rare for a movie these days.

The action sequences were pretty good. Interesting fights, an eye-catching sequence with a car, and lots of good visual effects.

Of course, the down side of centering the story on a character that's so shallow is that the film ends up being rather shallow too. But, having come to the theater just to be mindlessly entertained, I was willing to look the other way on that. To a point.

That point came in the final act, when just about everything in the movie went terribly wrong. I'll try to be vague for those planning to see it and not wanting to be spoiled. The movie sets up some pretty iron-clad rules about what can and can't be done (which you have to do in a fantasy/science fiction story), and then violates them in the climax. The main character does something we've been told can't be done. He hasn't shown any indication to that point that he might be capable of more than we've been told. And he does it under circumstances which we've seen should make it impossible. That's three strikes, and that means "you're out!"

Moreover, the movie fails to resolve the story in any way. It ultimately plays like the opening act of some trilogy or series you can imagine the writer and/or director had in mind. We don't get any closure on any of the characters, and we don't get the feeling that we've actually witnessed the end of anything.

In short, I was willing to try keeping my mind turned off to "just have fun," but mistakes in the final 20 minutes forced it to reboot. In the final analysis, despite being on board for much of the time, I give Jumper a C+.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Obey Your Powerthirst

I have nothing interesting to say today. But though I may be out of energy, fortunately I have Menergy!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Suspect Math

I recently read this local news story about the sale of alcohol in Colorado. It's not the smoothest read, because it's really two issues being tangled together: one being the law governing how strong the beer can be if sold in a supermarket, and the other being the law that requires liquor stores here to be closed on Sunday.

It was the second issue that pulled my interest enough to read the article. I've mentioned the so-called "blue law" in passing before. For the paltry amount of alcohol I consume, not being able to buy it on Sunday has rarely affected me. Still, I think the fact that that kind of "morality" is being legislated to me is total crap. I'm happy that a step was recently taken toward reversing the law (even if there are still more steps to come).

But the last sentence of this news story I just didn't get:
Analysts estimate that Sunday sales could bring Colorado an extra $4 million in taxes in the first year.
Now, as I mentioned, I don't drink much alcohol, so maybe I'm missing something here. But since you can't buy your liquor on Sundays here, isn't everybody just buying it on another day? If you're throwing a party on Sunday night, you buy the booze on Saturday. If you drank the last of your vodka or whatever, you go buy a new bottle. Just not on Sunday.

So where the hell are these $4 million in taxes going to come from? Are there that many people refusing to buy alcohol, period, just because they can't on Sunday? Are we to believe they're going to come out of the woodwork if the law changes? Are there millions of dollars' worth of alcohol that for some reason needs drinking in Colorado on Sunday and only Sunday? Alcohol that wouldn't be purchased at all on any other day of the week?

Are these "analysts" by any chance the same people who send me spam telling me not to buy gas on a specific day because they somehow think that's gonna force gas prices to drop?

Can I get a job as one of these analysts? Clearly there isn't much work involved.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Economist

What a wonderfully perplexing piece of the puzzle was tonight's episode of Lost! Once again, we were shown how much more compelling the mysteries of the future will be than the mysteries of the island itself. (Although Daniel's strange experiment -- a la Doc Brown in Back to the Future -- seemed to suggest a new aspect to the island's weirdness, some kind of weird time distortion?)

But once again, dramatic changes in character were put front and center. So much of Sayid's story over three seasons of the show has been about his attempt to distance himself from who he was before the crash. He tries to put his dark past as a ruthless soldier and torturer behind him, but inevitably keeps coming to crossroads that pull him back into the shadows. He always had the "carrot" of a woman waiting for him, should he ever get off the island and find her.

Now it would seem that's not to be his destiny, and that he'll backslide even farther than ever and become an assassin. What could have happened to him to make him regress so far on his path to redemption? And to throw in with Ben in the course of it? (As the writers skillfully foreshadowed, the day Sayid starts trusting Ben does indeed seem to be the day he sells his soul.)

Along the way, there were other great moments involving other characters. Hurley has rarely been so duplicitous, and his participation in Locke's ruse put a real dark streak in him. (And I feel foolish for even falling for it for a moment. Nothing had really happened yet to Hurley that could have made him "sorry he went with Locke" in the future.)

Kate and Sawyer had to confront each other and the way they're already drifting apart. In ways, it echoed Kate's backstory involving her husband, and was a big moment for her and Sawyer.

I'm feeling completely into the show right now to a degree I've not felt since the first season. And I'm looking forward to the future (pun intended).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dumping on Gump

So, by request, let me talk about why I hated the movie Forrest Gump. Please bear in mind that the following is not really what I'd consider a review; I haven't watched the film recently (nor do I intend to ever again). This is simply going by my memory of seeing it many years ago.

In short, I feel the movie glorifies stupidity. And in these times when a shocking number of people seem not to care how our educational standards slip ever lower, I find that an incredibly dangerous message. It's not that I believe only the intelligent should be entitled to success. Nor do I equate a person born with a physical learning impairment to a person who simply doesn't make any effort to be "not dumb." But the film paints this absolutely charmed life for its title character that says "don't worry; you can have a good life, and you don't even have to try."

And if that were that, I'd merely find the film unlikable. But it goes one step farther and actually punishes characters who do want something in life. "Lieutenant Dan" gets his legs blown off. Jenny ends up so down-and-out, she's basically living on the streets. The subtext seems to be that "if only they'd just bobbed about aimlessly through life without actively trying to figure out what they wanted, they could have just fallen ass backwards into happiness by dumb luck like Forrest Gump."

The final insult is that the movie simply reeks of artifice. It doesn't generate any real emotion in the audience, but boy, is it meant to. You can feel the craftsmanship in every dramatic scene, the way it's all been engineered by the EmotoTron 2000. It's calculated and unnatural, and it's sad to see actors like Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Sally Field -- all of whom are fantastic and genuine in other movies -- shilling for tears here.

So, that's why I hate Forrest Gump. From the hints I got in the comments of my recent Quiz Show review, I gather I'm not the only one. Anyone else want to share their reasons?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strike Out

The Writers' Guild has spoken -- the strike is over. Tonight will be the last episode of A Daily Show with Jon Stewart; tomorrow will mark the return of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

It's come in time to salvage (rumor has it) 13 episodes total of a planned 16 episode season of Lost, and to bring a few more episodes in which the awesome and totally underrated (both in the critical and the Nielsen sense) Supernatural can wrap up its season story arc in case of the show's cancellation.

And to save me from watching the new Knight Rider TV movie out of desperation for anything new in the next several months. Man, that would have sucked.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hell or High Water

This week's installment of Prison Break was one of the strongest in a long time. One could argue it's a bit of a double standard, me saying that, because tonight's episode was long on plot and pure action, and had few character beats -- exactly what I criticized in the most recent episode of Lost. But to me, it's a matter of expectation, of what we tune into these shows to see. Lost consistently delivers powerful character studies; Prison Break is all about action and suspense.

Not that this episode of Prison Break was completely devoid of good character moments. The moments that played well included Linc's confrontation with Mahone, the plight of poor McGrady and his father, and (as usual) the total weasel-ishness of T-Bag.

But like I said, this show's about the action and suspense, and tonight finally delivered on the promise of that which has been building now for weeks. Car chases, foot races, swimming, boating, gun fights, ruses... this was a jam-packed forty-two minutes.

It was great to see Michael use Bellick, Lechero, and T-Bag for bait, and the fact that we saw T-Bag come up with the Whistler's bird guide means we can't yet count them completely out of the plot. (And possibly Sucre will soon be joining them?)

The ending was also a nice return to the form of season one (and parts of season two), with everything completely falling apart in the last few minutes, leaving a seemingly impossible situation to get out of. The cliffhangers of late have not been nearly so effective.

All that said, the thing that had me most on the edge of my seat during the entire hour wasn't actually anything in the episode. It was the FOX announcer voice that came on after it was over to say, "stay tuned for scenes from next week's season finale of Prison Break."

Season finale.

Not "mid-season finale," or "winter finale," or any of those other fancy invented terms we've heard before. No, pretty much "no more episodes." And the writers' strike is now just waiting for a few formalities before finally being resolved. It's likely to be officially over tomorrow, with writers returning to work on Wednesday. In fact, there have been rumors that some show runners were actually back at work today, prepping for a full restoration of production.

In short, FOX didn't have to say "season finale" for lack of knowing when the strike might get resolved. It would seem they said it because they have no intention of bringing the show back -- not this season, at least.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm actually just about tired of the Prison Break ride, and ready to get off. I don't think I actually want another full 22-episode season of the show. I can't see it being very interesting from here. And with the ratings of Prison Break sagging ever lower, I'm not sure FOX is actually up for another full 22-episode season either.

But neither do I expect things to come to a satisfying resolution in the one remaining episode. I suppose I'd figured/hoped that, with the strike resolved, they'd come back, do maybe four or five more episodes (as most series are expected to do this season), and that would be that. But now, what kind of "ending" are we going to get?

That's the real suspense we have to look forward to in the next week or two.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Things You Never Knew About St. Cloud

What can I say... winning is more fun than losing.

This weekend was the annual KVSC trivia contest out of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and as I have done before, I played remotely for Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. We placed 5th this year, and though you'd say out of 78 teams that that's not bad, it wasn't really so great for us.

I don't know whether "feeling" fairly early on that we were going to lose took some of the wind out of my sails, but for whatever reason, I didn't enjoy myself as much this time around. The questions seemed a lot harder, and there weren't as many that were as memorable as years past, or that led to particularly fun discoveries on odd corners of the internet. (Though one question did send me scrambling to play a particular song on Guitar Hero for an answer at 1:00 in the morning.)

The company was good, in any case.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Next Guitar Hero

No... not the rumored expansion pack by Activision that is said to be coming "some time in the first half of the year." Apparently, some people think they've got a software that can actually teach you to play an actual guitar. I'm skeptical, because there's technique that's more than just having your fingers on the right frets. (And that's why I still get buzzing strings all the time and can't really stand to hear myself play.)

But hey, take a look and you be the judge.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Resolution of the Resolution

For those of you who somehow managed to become interested in my plight last month regarding my fuzzy computer monitor resolution, here's how it all turned out. No matter how many times computers try to teach you to "check the stupidest, simplest things first," it's a lesson that must be re-learned again and again. In this case, it was a bad monitor cable. Which I only learned after taking my computer and monitor over a friend's place for what might have been elaborate testing... until we plugged the damn thing in (using one of his monitor cables -- I'd appropriately enough forgotten to bring mine), and discovered the problem had suddenly vanished.

To everyone who had plenty of helpful suggestions though, thanks!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Confirmed Dead

After last week's installment of Lost, I have to say this week's was a bit of a letdown. Truly, it wasn't a "bad" episode by any stretch. But this episode was all about laying track. It lacked any real emotional weight to it -- in fact, you could say it was rather jarring how quickly characters like Hurley and Claire appeared to get over Charlie's recent death.

But there was simply no room for true drama as this episode introduced us to "the Rescuers," the "other Others," if you will. The AnOthers. Necessary material, of course, to get us caught up in the story. But it wasn't presented with Lost's usual deft touch for backstory.

This was the first time we'd ever been presented with so many stories in flashback. Sure, we've seen episodes shared by two characters: Boone and Shannon, Bernard and Rose, Nikki and Paulo. The very first episode even had three separate flashback threads featuring Jack, Kate, and Charlie, though all of those were simply flashing back to being on the plane right before the crash.

This was far more disjointed, a different character and different flasback for each new act. This presentation left only enough time to give us the barest information on these new characters. Not that some of the factoids weren't interesting (hey, we've got a Jennifer Love Hewitt; the would-be pilot of flight 815, and an anthropolgist who found a Dharma polar bear in Tunisia!), but they didn't echo or illuminate the current story on the island in the way character flashbacks usually do.

Plus, the writers cheated a rule of flashbacking that has never yet been violated. The final act began with a flashback to Naomi's past... even though she is now dead in the present. In 70+ hours of Lost, flashbacks from the point of view of a dead person have been a strict no-no. This very rule was used to bait and switch the audience last season when we were were meant to think Nikki and Paulo were dead, only to learn at the end that they were paralyzed and being buried alive. Sorry, writers, but this doesn't quite seem to be playing fair.

Still, though the episode was emotionally shallow, I have to admit it introduced a lot of plot, much of which could lead in intriguing new directions on the show. Who are these people that they know about Ben? Are they actually in some way affiliated with the Dharma Initiative, there to avenge the massacre he spear-headed in his past? Are these rescuers actually going to lead to our gang getting off the island any time soon, or are they new chess pieces to be moved around in more island-bound drama to play out the rest season?

Perhaps most interesting, from a narrative perspective, is this question: are we done with "flash-forwards" for a while now, or was this return to flashbacking just a one time thing, done out of necessity to introduce the rescuers?

Tune in next week...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Still On the List

So, continuing in my plan to review here any movie I see, whether it's new or not... this weekend I watched the movie Frailty. I put this in my top 100 list when I first made it years ago, but I have to admit that since then, some of the details of the movie had become a bit fuzzy for me. I own the DVD, so I decided to watch it again -- not expecting my opinion of it to change, just to "refresh my memory" of it again.

I'm pleased to say I did enjoy the movie just as much this time around. For those who don't know, this is a movie directed by (and starring) Bill Paxton, about a man who believes he is visited by an angel and tasked with the duty to destroy demons that walk among us here on Earth. Demons, mind you, that look exactly like regular people. He has two pre-teen sons, one who embraces the holy cause, and one who sees his father as a cold-blooded killer that has to be stopped somehow.

The thing that impressed me most about this movie, both the first time around and now in this subsequent viewing, was that it's really and truly a horror film. That word is used to describe a genre that generally consists of movies designed to scare you, or provoke disgust and revulsion. And I'm not saying that's not valid, nor that there aren't some great movies of that kind out there. But Frailty is a movie about a situation that is truly horrific -- what if you're a young child and your father is a serial killer? How do you cope? What do you do? What can you do?

The pacing of the movie is excellent. It zips along at a brisk hour-and-a-half that leaves you tense all the way. The writing does an excellent job of putting you, the viewer, with the plight of the young boy trying to stop his father. The direction is taut; Bill Paxton knows better than to be showy for no reason in his major theatrical debut behind the camera.

The acting is also top notch. Bill Paxton himself plays a character that could have easily been a wild, crazy man, and does it with complete believability. Matthew McConaughey is incredibly contained and restrained, compared to the sorts of things we tend to see him in these days, and it's unsettling and absolutely right for this film. Powers Boothe takes a pretty thankless and uninteresting part on paper and portrays it in a way where you see the wheels turning in his head as well.

And young Matt O'Leary, who plays the doubter of the two boys, is simply phenomenal. From his performance in this film, I'm pretty mystified that he didn't show up in tons and tons of movies afterward. You go through the wringer with his character, and he sells it every step of the way.

The movie has a very interesting ending which I assume for some could be the most enjoyable aspect of it all. And don't get me wrong, I think it's pretty cool, too. But the real treats in the film are, in my mind, all the other elements I've mentioned.

If you haven't seen it, I give it my strong recommendation. It's still an A in my book.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Say It Ain't So, My Little Butterfly

In my circle of friends, there has been occasional joking about simultaneously playing DDR and Rock Band. Well, here you go -- these guys actually did it:

Although I kind of thought it was assumed that you'd be playing the same song in each game. This is an assault on the ears, to be sure.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Under & Out

It was an unfortunately underwhelming episode of Prison Break this week. Sure, it was ramping up to something big -- the apparent (at last) escape from Sona prison. But all that's to happen next week.

Instead, this week we got more of Susan/Gretchen threatening people. More of Sucre being kind of a dope. More waffling back and forth on whether Whistler is to be trusted or doubted, pitied or hated. In short, this week was almost entirely just iterations on material we've seen before.

There was a bright spot. Michael's dilemma about whether to invite his young pseudo-friend on the escape was an issue we'd actually not seen before in Prison Break. Before, it's always been about him having to throw in with people out of necessity, from the crazy to the dangerously evil. Unless you count Tweener as a genuinely nice soul -- and I'm not sure I'd go that far -- Michael had never been faced with someone like this, which was a nice new dimension to have. (Though it didn't get much screen time.)

But that's about all the real sustenance in an otherwise empty batch of calories this week. There are still two episodes left of those completed before the strike, so here's hoping they deliver the goods.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Fourth Down

Those who were expecting a football related post out of that title -- psych! No, this is about me seeing my fourth of the five nominees for this year's Best Picture Oscar, Michael Clayton.

I'll put this very succinctly up front: this movie stank on ice. I get this out of way first, because I'm not sure I'm going to be able to effectively articulate why I thought it was terrible. If I start to meander a bit, then you've already got the headline: this movie sucks.

The friend I saw it with made the observation: "this might have been a good movie about 20 years ago." By which he meant that in the last two decades, there have been plenty of other sort of "legal thriller"/"whistle blower"/"emotionally stunted hero" kind of movies in this same basic genre. And they've all been better, or had neater twists and turns along the way, or stronger endings. If I'd been in a cave for two decades and not seen A Few Good Men, or The Insider (hell, and I don't even like Russell Crowe!), or even a sub-par John Grisham adaptation, I might have found some suspense in this movie.

Instead, it's just ploddingly boring. The movie doesn't seem to want to string together a clear narrative, or demonstrate character behavior by showing them engaging with the plot. The movie is more of a "poem" if anything, more trying to convey the "sense" of who people are and what the hell is going on than laying it out.

We hear that the main character, Michael Clayton, is some kind of rock star "fixer" lawyer. But we never see him in action at this. Indeed, the opening act actually features someone calling him out on the carpet for being bad at this situation. He seems to be a soulless and unhappy fellow, but we don't get this in the course of him doing legal work, we see it in watching him fail to connect with his son, trying to avoid his alcoholic brother, coping with a large debt, trying to deal with a crazed attorney.

The plot, such as it is, involves a... I'm going to say senior partner and possibly mentor, although the movie fails to say so clearly... going off his meds and breaking down in the middle of defending a big class action suit against a large company. What the company does exactly and what the suit's about is left largely as a McGuffin without explanation. But we know that this crazy guy now thinks he's backing the wrong side, and he's going to expose the truth.

But he doesn't go about it in anyway that's believable if this guy has the long superstar career we're meant to accept he's had. He's just this side of batshit crazy in the movie, and our hero Michael Clayton is pretty damn stupid too for taking an hour and forty-five minutes to put together the pieces we the audience all see in a fraction of that time. (Because we've all seen a movie like this before.)

The movie even indulges in that now-cliche opening I've recently railed against, starting late in the action and then jumping back "four days earlier" to carry things forward.

There are only two good things in this entire film. One is the final scene between Michael Clayton and the character played by Tilda Swinton. It's really a great confrontation that you've been waiting for the whole movie (even more so for nothing interesting having happened along the way), and it actually does give you the "hell yes!" payoff you want.

The other is the entire performance of Tilda Swinton in general. She does an amazing job of portraying a self-doubting, unassured, nervous character. But even this gave me issues, because the story puts her as the PR face of a billion dollar company. I can't accept the reality of a person of this disposition in a position of that power. She would have been a fabulous character in some other movie, but it feels totally false in this one.

I rate this movie a D-. Even if you really want to say you've seen all five of this year's Best Picture nominees, I still say you should stop and reconsider that goal before stepping into this mess.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Buy Bread Alone

You can go to the grocery store and buy a half-gallon of milk or a half-dozen eggs -- sizes that work well if you're living alone. But you can't buy a half loaf of bread.

I don't particularly like to cook, so I have a pretty limited "repertoire" of foods in my place, all of them extremely easy to prepare. Sandwiches would be a great entry in that short list, except that even if I had a sandwich every single day (and even I'm not that boring with my food), there's no way I can get through an entire loaf of bread before it goes moldy.

It's not that bread is a super expensive shopping item or anything. It's just really wasteful to just buy a loaf of bread knowing I'm going to throw out half to two-thirds of it in a week or two.

I've had some people suggest trying to freeze the unneeded portion of the loaf and using it a little at a time. So I'm giving that a shot right now; there's about two-thirds of a bread loaf in my freezer right now. We'll see how that goes.

But why couldn't just one of the many bread companies make my life easier by selling half loaves?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Graded Quiz

In the nearly three years of Heimlich Maneuvers, I've written a number of movies reviews. But aside from my overview of the James Bond movies, I always stuck to movies that were currently playing in the theaters. Recently, though, I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't necessarily matter if the movie is actually new or not; if I haven't reviewed it here, then it's "new" to me.

With that in mind, I'm stepping back tonight to 1994 to review director Robert Redford's movie Quiz Show, which I only just saw for the first time this week. This was a movie that's been on my "I should get around to that" list for a while. I'd had a few friends praise the story, the acting, and so forth. And it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Overall, I'd say it was a good movie. The acting was indeed top notch. John Turturro does his typically excellent job of building a quirky, but totally believable character. Ralph Fiennes nails one of his earliest roles with perfection. Rob Morrow takes what might have been a more thankless part as a legal investigator, and gives it some nuance. And the film is peppered with other good performances, big and small, from such as David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and others.

Robert Redford manages to keep the pace going well with his direction. But I'd have to say the script wasn't entirely up to the level at which the rest of the film was operating. The film never bores, but neither does it ever really engage you. There are some moments of good emotion, mainly in scenes with Ralph Fiennes' character and either his father or Rob Morrow's character.

The bulk of the movie, however, seems to play along like it wants to be almost a "whodunnit," even though there's no real mystery. When will our lead "detective" find the critical clues? Will he convince witnesses to come forward and testify? Well, these may be the trappings of a mystery, but waiting to see who is going to get caught in what lie isn't particularly compelling in this context. There's not really a crime at the core of this story. And it's an even less intriguing mystery if you have any familiarity with the real live events on which the story is based.

For some great performances and a number of good moments, I think the movie's worth seeing. But it's not hard to imagine how this movie failed to win the Oscar. (To The Shawshank Redemption at least; how it lost to the disingenuous piece of crap that is Forrest Gump, I'll never know. But that movie's a topic for another time, perhaps?)

In any case, I give Quiz Show a B-. Worth seeing if you're a fan of anyone involved in the movie, but not a Movie You Must See.