Monday, March 31, 2008

What a Jerk!

I don't often mention the show How I Met Your Mother here, even though it's one of my favorite shows these days. (Certainly, it's my favorite comedy on the air right now.)

Tonight warrants a special mention, however. The show has gone "meta" before. Barney has an in-character blog on, updated regularly, and not-so-infrequently mentioned on the show. There was a "Slap Countdown" web site leading up to this season's Slapsgiving episode.

Now we have Ted Mosby is a If you don't watch the show, I suppose you won't find this half as funny as I did. But if you do watch the show, then this web site is like getting an entire extra episode -- the 21 minute audio file that plays on the page is worth listening to every single second of.

But beware if you're listening to it with headphones. There are some pretty radical volume fluctuations...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cold Deck

A confluence of elements got me to see the movie 21 this weekend, despite the fact that I'd been developing a "this doesn't look like it'll be that good" vibe about it over the last few weeks.

For one, I'd already read the book it was loosely based on, Bringing Down the House. It wasn't phenomenal, as I recall, but a decent enough, fun read. From what I remembered of it, though, I expected quite a lot of liberties would be taken with the story to transform it into a movie. I was hoping not to be disappointed in changes on that front.

On another count, Kevin Spacey is an actor I really enjoy watching in a film. Even when the movie sucks (and let's face it, not all of the movies he picks are winners), he builds a very compelling character, with unexpected nuances in the performance. He whispers when other actors would shout, zigs where others would zag, and yet makes it all believable.

In the end, I got what I suspected, though absolutely nothing more. The story of the movie did indeed depart from the book for the sake of "more conflict," and Kevin Spacey did indeed give a performance that elevated the material. Unfortunately, the material was in need of that helping hand.

Given the space and page count of a book, the author of Bringing Down the House was able to devote time both to explaining the nuances of card counting and the lure of being a high stakes player. You got both a full explanation of "the math" and of the intoxication of the experience. Probably, the movie should have tried to pick one of these aspects and really focus on it. Instead, it gives both short shrift.

The explanations of the card counting system, and the scenes about the training of the team, felt very rushed. I wondered, watching it, if they quite told enough for anyone not familiar with the book. Sure enough, after the film, the friends I went with had quite a lot of questions on this front.

As for the emotional side of it, that felt rushed too. Early on, you understand the desperation of the main character, a would-be doctor struggling to find money for his education. Later on, another character points out how his experiences have changed him. But the journey from A to B is mere lip service. You never feel Vegas "get its hooks" into the character, so his actions later in the film feel unmotivated -- they're simply what has to happen next to move the plot along.

Laurence Fishburne plays a one-note, thankless role as a manufactured villain, added to the film to put a face on the casinos out to break the MIT blackjack team. Kate Bosworth plays a love interest who doesn't really ever spark with the main character; during a supposedly passionate scene between the two of them, my eyes and mind wandered to the background, where incorrect Las Vegas geography was being displayed out the hotel window.

But man, Kevin Spacey does make a feast of every scene he's in. He kept the movie from being a total bore, but only raised it to "roughly average." There are plenty of other better "high stakes adventure" movies to watch before this C- effort.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nipples of Terror

There are loads of (juvenile) laughs in this story about a woman who was forced by TSA airport security screeners to remove her nipple rings:

First, the great headline: "Nipple ring search procedures faulty, TSA admits" -- We're already into territory where this could be confused with an article from The Onion.

"...they allegedly forced a woman to remove her nipple rings -- one with pliers..." -- (sharp intake of air)

"...but acknowledged the procedures should be changed." Gee, when people are allowed to forcibly remove things from your body with metal implements? Ya think?!

There's the ridiculous picture, with the fantastic caption: "Mandi Hamlin, at center with attorney Gloria Allred, demonstrates how she removed her nipple ring."

"...passengers with piercings can undergo a pat-down inspection if they do not want to take their piercings out..." -- And suddenly all these guys with Prince Alberts suddenly seem to be flying all over the country.

"Last time that I checked, a nipple was not a dangerous weapon." I guess she hasn't checked since the Superbowl XXXVIII halftime show, then.

"A hand wand used by a TSA officer beeped when it was waved over her breasts." Oh my.

"...bra bomb..." Two words that have certainly been used together before, but never to convey this meaning.

Just wow.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Digs

For those of you who have been following the ongoing saga of my search for a new place to live -- and perhaps wondering if I was actually going to be able to pull everything together on the rather tight timetable I have to get out of my current apartment -- here's the new update.

I've actually been farther along than I'd really let on before. I was just not wanting to "get my hopes up" or anything, in case something should fall through along the way. And while I suppose anything's still possible, I've cleared most of the major hurdles. I've found the place, reached an agreement and settled the contract, gone through the inspection with no major issues, and things seem on track for a close in two weeks.

And a quick move in right after that.

Things around current Chez Heimlich are slowly starting to get even more sparse than normal, with non-essentials already finding their way into boxes. I recently started digging through the storage closet on my apartment balcony, finding sealed boxes full of books I haven't missed since I first put them in there three years ago. Some of the boxes are in fact labeled with comments like "e-Bay" or "used book store" or such. So I'll be seeing just what I can get rid of here in the couple weeks I have.

Even if I don't, this is still going to be less of an effort than moving the last few friends I've helped out. Yikes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rest in McPeace

In today's "fill some space" news, the inventor of the Egg McMuffin died today. It's weird, but I never really imagined the Egg McMuffin as something that had to be invented. Not that I'm saying cavemen were drawing on cave walls and putting eggs and Canadian bacon on English muffins. But nearly every fast food place has some form of "breakfast sandwichy thingie" -- they're just ubiquitous, like oxygen, or sunshine, or something else, you know... not invented.

I wonder if this is a generational thing? According to the article, the invention happened in 1972. So there has never been a time in my life where there weren't Egg McMuffins. Is my reaction to this just like a high school kid today who hasn't ever seen a rotary phone, or a television with dials on it, or what have you?

Anyway, I salute you, Mr. Egg McMuffin Inventor. Because breakfast is the only thing remotely edible that they serve at McDonald's.

Stay of Execution

Prison Break fans -- rejoice? The word has come down from FOX that the series will be continuing on into a fourth season. 22 or 23 more episodes to follow the saga of Linc and Michael vs. The Company.

I remain as uncertain of this development as I was after the season three finale, when I was speculating about the possibility. On the one hand, I'm glad the show can now get more of an Ending. (Capital E.) But on the other, the show has become fairly ridiculous, a shadow of the high-quality fun fest that it used to be, and I must confess to watching it largely on inertia in the last few months. The writers seem to have run the story out, and I'm not sure what they're going to do to fill 22 more hours.

Perhaps there will be some sort of creative resurgence after the long strike-enforced break. Lots of other shows have hit the skids for a time only to rebound in the final season(s) -- The West Wing strikes me as a prominent recent example. I'm hoping against hope that 24 will prove to be another. So, hey... maybe Prison Break too.

We'll find out this fall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Truth is Out There -- Way, WAY Out There

I probably shouldn't oversell the following post by telling you that it's been over a year-and-a-half in the making. It's not going to live up to that. But the facts are these...

I have on occasion mentioned my friend who works in a book store. Sometime between a year and two ago, she had a letter delivered to "the manager." It was from this crazy-weirdo-conspiracy theorist that had given a copy of the letter to every place all up and down the mall.

Most people probably just threw the thing away, but my friend read it, and I'm glad she did, because a bunch of us got a lot of entertainment value out of it. It's been sitting here on my desk all this time, waiting for me to take a moment to scan it in and post it here, but I've just been too lazy for it. But now, faced with the prospect of actually packing it and moving it along with the rest of stuff, it's time to throw the thing away.

After preserving it here, of course.

Perhaps it's not quite right for me to laugh at this. We kind of got the barest hint that maybe this guy had actually witnessed some horrible event in his past that broke something loose in his head and sent him down this crazy conspiracy road. Maybe. Maybe I'm just trying to tell myself I'm a less horrible person for laughing at it.

Now that I've built it up more than anything could possibly deliver on, take a look:

I mean, there are just so many turns of phrase in this thing that blow my mind!

"It began as a simple sex club..." Anyone know where to enroll?

"...but quickly degenerated into... white slavery..." Because, you know, one inevitably follows the other.

"By allowing gang members from Aryan Nations, Queer Nations, National Organization of Women..." Three groups that historically co-mingle so well.

"...and various lesser witches covens..." Implying the above three organizations are all greater witches covens.

"...such as Red Brigades, Mossad, Al Qaeda, the religious right..." More matches made in heaven.

"...and pedophilia which is child's play..." I can't tell if that's an earnest explanation, an unintended double entendre, or something else entirely.

"...they really do profess to want people to accept demonic possession, but as you might know... the real scam is a pyramid life insurance scam." You! Accept Satan into you soul! Now, buy life insurance!!!

Well, I mean wow... that's not even a quarter of the letter. I'm left pretty speechless as it goes on to weave a conspiracy of gangs, life insurance, Federal bonds, Echelon, remote viewing, the local phone company, television, Houston bicycle cops, and now-presidential-candidate John McCain. And this has been going on since the 1890s, folks!

I truly hope if this kind of dementia ever happens to someone I know, they're able to get help early on.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Earache x3

Last week's Rock Band downloadable music was the "Earache Thrash Pack," three tunes for people with wildly divergent musical tastes than mine... or for people who think the game isn't hard enough, or something.

How insane are these songs? This guy thinks that three drumsticks is the solution:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Zorro Subject

Today, I finally got around to seeing the movie Zorro, The Gay Blade. Mind you, this was never that high on my "to do" list, but it's been there for something like 10 to 15 years, since someone in my circle of friends first fired off a quote from this unusual and somewhat obscure film.

I think I'm being honest when I say I had not built up a decade's worth of expectation for this movie. I simply wanted to finally have seen it. I figured on a few laughs, at least. And that's exactly what I got... a few laughs, with a fair amount of dead time in between.

It really comes across like a Mel Brooks film that Mel Brooks never got around to making himself. It's that same kind of recipe -- a dash of slapstick, a pinch of making jokes at the expense of foreign accents, a reasonable (but not extraordinary) story actually holding the jokes in place. Actually, I suppose you could say Mel Brooks did almost make this film many years later, when he did "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." It had very much the same sensibility, and very much the same sort of laugh-to-silence ratio. (Mel Brooks' last decent movie was Spaceballs, and even that was not as good as his earlier work.)

George Hamilton basically makes the movie with his ridiculous dual role (for which, if you can believe this, he was actually nominated for a Golden Globe), though coming in a close second is the costume designer, whose great work makes you laugh more than anything else in the film.

I don't know if it's really worth the time to watch the movie, but hey, now at least I'm in on the joke the next time someone talks about the "pippoles," or asks if something was "green like a lime," or cautions that it is "worse to be poor than to dress poorly."

Is it worth your time to be in on the joke, if you haven't seen the movie before? Well, you decide. Do you feel like sitting through a D+ movie for a half dozen good laughs?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lapse in the Pool

Have you ever taken a not-really-a-recommendation from someone? A co-worker loaned me a DVD of the movie Poolhall Junkies. He warned me in advance (though not exactly in these words) that it wasn't really that good. But we'd recently had a discussion about how completely awesome Christopher Walken is, whether the movie is actually good or not...

(by the way, I am not going to watch Balls of Fury to test that notion) he figured I might want to give it a shot. It's a short little hour-and-a-half movie, so I figured, what the hell?

It turned out not to be a terrible movie, but a long, long way from a good one. Really, this movie wants to be Rounders when it grows up. Many critics compared it to The Hustler or The Color of Money instead, but the point is there's nothing here that hasn't been done better in an earlier movie.

You've got a meandering hero who hasn't come to terms with his true life destiny.

The highly strung girlfriend who doesn't understand him and stands in his way.

The screw-up friend (brother in this case) whose care-free life style gets the hero into trouble.

The unlikely mentor from another walk of life who steers the hero onto the right track.

The skillful nemesis teased at the beginning of the film, whom the hero must defeat at the end of the film.

It's a soup made with all the ingredients of Rounders, but it just doesn't taste as good. I might have been willing to chalk some of that up to the fact I have a personal enthusiasm for poker that I don't have for pool, but I don't think that factors into it much. I actually saw Rounders in the theater when it was new, before I really discovered poker, and I found it excellent even then.

No, the key difference is that Rounders really hits the message perfectly: you have to be who you are. It might be a long journey with many obstacles to figure out who that is, but you'll never be happy unless you take it.

Poolhall Junkies never stays on this message (or any other) for long. It's a framework to get from one trick pool shot to the next. You never believe the main character's sense of self-doubt, never feel he's suffering much to get where he has to go, and doesn't really have to overcome much to triumph in the end. On every level -- writing, acting, directing (note that the guy playing the main character did all three) -- it plays like high school drama.

But you do get a few decent scenes here and there, mostly involving a circle of the main character's friends. (Though even they sometimes feel lifted from Good Will Hunting, yet another fairly recent "journey of self" movie.) And, as promised, Christopher Walken does rock in the movie. (Plus it's not as painful to watch as, say, The Rundown, if you're looking for a Walken fix.)

Still, like my co-worker, I must give it a non-recommendation. And not the kind where I'm suggesting you should watch it anyway. I'd rate it a C-.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Meet Kevin Johnson

Two seconds into tonight's episode, Michael let out that annoying "Waaaaaaaaaaaaalt!" again, and instantly every bit of hatred/disinterest I had over the character came rushing back. (Okay, so it was the recap, but still -- it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.)

I'm sorry to say that this episode wasn't really good enough to dispel that feeling of "starting off on the wrong foot again," either. It wasn't "bad," necessarily, but I think it was definitely the weakest installment so far this season. Maybe it suffered from being the last one in production before the writers went out on strike?

The opening scene in Locke's camp seemed to set out with this narrative objective: now we're going to tell all the other characters why it is Locke now trusts Ben. But by the end of the scene, nothing had changed! Sawyer, Hurley, Claire... they all seemed to still be asking (and rightfully so), why are we trusting Ben now?

Then things moved to the freighter, and into an uninterrupted Michael flashback that ran the bulk of the episode. Seeing "Mr. Friendly" again was a fun treat, and I have to applaud the razor accuracy with which he challenged Michael -- why the hell did he think telling a young boy he'd murdered two people was a good idea?

In any case, Michael remains a character with a one track mind. So, in the absence of a son to chase after or take care of, suicide became the track. (I must confess now to being a little pissed off at The Island for not letting him get on with it.) Failed suicides were not much more interesting than the previous track, if you ask me.

Perhaps the flashback was deliberately leaving areas open to be visited in future episodes, but it seemed particularly lacking to me. And not in the ways that Lost is usually vague. For instace, why did we never see Charlotte or Faraday on the freighter?

The poor woman who plays Libby... getting canned from the show, and now brought back just to haunt Michael with maybe three lines of dialogue.

And in the final scene. After three years of interesting side adventures with Rousseau, she's gone just like that? Kinda not cool. She didn't have any really great final story like other characters we've lost along the way, nor is her death coming at a time where it's likely to propel the story in an exciting new direction. I mean, sure, it sucks for Alex, but it's really not going to be much to the story or anyone else in it. It was more like they just decided they didn't want to keep flying Mira Furlan out to Hawaii. Disappointing.

Still, even the great seasons of my favorite shows hit a few bumps in the road. This is just one of them. When Lost returns in a month, I'm hopeful it'll be back on its game.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Come On, We Didn't Mean It

Getting into a new place to live is going to be good. Packing and moving is going to suck, of course, because moving just sucks. Period. But there are little moments of joy to be taken from the process. Like tonight, when I found a letter from my apartment management hanging on my front door.

Last Saturday, I had to give my 30-day notice of my intention not to renew my lease on my current apartment. They asked me to fill out a short couple papers, bla bla bla.

The letter I found tonight read, in a nutshell, "oh, we're sorry our stupid practices are driving you away! Please stay here!" They oh-so-magnanimously informed me they were not going to raise my rent as much as they'd said before, and would also let me re-sign for a shorter lease term if I would please just consider staying.

What's especially funny was that walking up my steps to my place on the third floor, I saw two envelopes with the same handwriting on the outside attached to two other doors just in my building alone. It seems maybe this apartment complex has a mass exodus on its hands.

Imagine -- when the housing market is in the cellar, you can't charge higher rent than a typical monthly mortgage would amount to. Who knew?!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Perspective

For those keeping track, my condo search is still in progress -- I don't have firm news to report on that front.

But I have noticed that once you decide you're moving, everything about your current residence changes. The clock is ticking, you're not going to be in this place much longer. And though you've lived there for however-long-it's-been, the things that never really bothered you start to eat at you.

My current apartment is pretty close to a major road in Denver. For three years, I haven't really noticed the traffic noise -- not since the first week or two I've lived here. But now? I can't not notice it. I've been there in bed for an extra hour every night, trying to fall asleep, suddenly hyper-aware of every car that goes by.

The refrigerator has been sort of on the fritz...ish, for a while. Oh, it still works fine, but every so often it starts to make this strange noise like an old coffee percolator or something. And now that's not so cute. And there's been the occasional new noise about once or twice a night.

I need to vacuum. Haven't done it in a couple weeks. But now the thought of doing it just seems ridiculous. I'll only be here another month. Just move the stuff out, then vacuum -- maybe -- one last time, before the landlord inspects it. Why waste another minute on it between now and then?

These sorts of feelings are probably why I found last night's new How I Met Your Mother episode so hilarious, with the plot line of Marshall and Lily's slanted apartment. Once you know it, everything changes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mixed Messages

I'm so confused. My box of tea tells me that a daily routine is a wonderful thing:

But "Mr. Brain Age" on my Nintendo DS tells me that routine is one of my brain's greatest enemies, and cautions:

I guess the lesson to learn here is not to take advice from your tea or your game system.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Surfers Fiddle While Alaska Melts

Glacier crumblage is now routine enough that you can plan your extreme sports around it. Behold, glacier surfing. Just wait for a wave to kick up when a giant chunk of ice drops off the frozen wall (sadly, this might not take long), and hang ten.

Oh, if you're going to check out that link while you're at work, keep your headphones handy. There's a lot of talk of... divine excrement... at the beginning of the clip.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Mathematical Argument

Sangediver recently posted a picture of a suspect food label. I recently encountered an example of weird "food copy" myself. While not chock full of salmonella goodness, it made me pause:

Look near the bottom, under the bold "No Cholesterol" heading: "Contains 100% less cholesterol than butter."

If it has no cholesterol, then it has 100% less cholesterol than every other food product in the world that has any amount of cholesterol in it.

Who convinced whom that "100% less" sounded even better than "none?"

Friday, March 14, 2008

An Obvious Tie-in

Because of the writers' strike, there will be no 24 this season. Jack Bauer is all out of ass to kick, for the moment.

So I guess he'll just have to chew bubble gum.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ji Yeon

I really enjoyed tonight's installment of Lost, but I figured out the final twist of the hour during the first Jin flashback. My "writer's brain" was in full gear tonight, and it just seemed to me too perfect an opportunity not to tweak the normal format of Jin and Sun's flashbacks to have one character flashing forward while the other was flashing back. I'd have used that same device, though I do have to say I'm a bit disappointed that to pull off their trick, the writers gave us a completely meaningless flashback for Jin. We learned nothing new about his character, and his adventure in the past in no way reflected on the story happening on the Island in the present.

Still, whether or not the audience was "duped," and whether the switch was handled perfectly or not... none of that's really the point. Once again, an episode centered around Sun and Jin proves to be very poignant and emotional. Not only was there the revelation in the present of Sun's affair and Jin's forgiveness of that, but we learn that in the future, Sun has survived while Jin has not. It's a very tragic ending to their story. One has to assume, though, that Jin will at some point sacrifice himself to protect Sun and their unborn child, and I expect that moment, when it comes, will be even more powerful.

For the detail hounds, the date of Jin's death was shown in English on the tombstone, and it was the date of the crash on the Island. This is another affirmation that in the future, all the Oceanic Six (and it seems we know five of them now) have agreed on this lie that everyone else died in the crash. I'm still interested to see how we get there.

Of course, there was one other major reveal in this episode, but sadly, it can't in any way be called a surprise -- the return of Michael to the show. I truly wish this twist in the plot hadn't been ruined, because man, what a shock it would have been to have him turn up there on the boat, had I not known in advance. The trouble is, the network and the producers shouted of the return of Harold Perrineau from the rooftops. They made a big announcement at Comic Con about it, where the actor showed up in person to meet fans. Every web site that covers entertainment news in any measure has commented on it several times.

What's more, after having Harold Perrineau's name out of the credits for all of season three, it returned in this season's premiere, and has been there for every episode we've seen so far. So, to not have known about this in advance, you'd have to have been in a cave and completely oblivious. If that's somehow miraculously what happened to you, I hope you're not insulted by my words, because I'm actually totally jealous of you right now. Your jaw probably hit the floor tonight. But I'm guessing that right now, I'm talking to someone who doesn't actually exist.

At least, even though the surprise moments didn't really deliver for me tonight, other moments did. Hurley as the one to show up from Sun was perfect, and touching. Juliet's scenes with Sun were also great. And the nice moments between Jin and Jack, and Jin and Bernard, were also very real and sweet... and also sad, when you think that Jin's days are numbered.

One more episode to go before a strike-created break of a few weeks. I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Good Intentions

What's the least patience you've ever shown a book? I'm betting I've got your personal record beat -- I just gave up on a book after four pages.

A couple months ago, I went to a night of staged readings of suspense short stories. As I mentioned then, I liked four of the five. The one I found lacking happened to be the one written by a Denver local author, Manuel Ramos. To further pimp his writing at the performance, they gave out a free copy of his book, Moony's Road to Hell, to everyone who attended.

Free book, right? And give the small guy a chance, right? After all, I or someone I know could be that poor tiny guy trying to get people to read a book some day, right?

I finally sat down to read it, though, and I instantly knew that what I'd disliked that night at the theater was no mere fluke. In fact, the short story I saw at the theater must have been this writer's "A game," because this was just terrible. It was stilted and cliche, too self-aware of the genre it was trying to ape, and instantly off-putting.

This really relates my back to my question: when is it easiest to walk out of a movie? With this book, I had no investment whatsoever. It didn't cost me a penny. No one had recommended it to me. There was no reason to try to pull through one more page if I wasn't feeling it.

So, after the first Dan Brown-esque length four-page chapter, I gave up. Even this atrocious Piers Anthony book I once read, I gave three chapters. (I'm drifting off subject here, but Piers Anthony mentioned in the foreword of that book that he wrote it in something like three weeks. And man did it show. But I majorly digress....)

As I was looking online for a photo of the book to illustrate this post, I couldn't help but notice that, though only three reviews had been posted at, they were all glowing, five star raves. And for half a second, I thought, "well hell, it looks like a short book. And be honest with yourself, you didn't really give it a fair chance. Maybe you should start reading it again."

Then I noticed that all three reviews were written by the same person. Two of the three were even identical reviews, word for word. And it seems like they were written by the author's editor. So, props to the editor for trying to push the book... but we're going to have to take a deduction for not making any attempt at subtlety.

The next new author, I'll give a fairer chance, I promise.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hot Commodity

Sometimes, the universe provides in very strange ways.

I was recently watching junky television with one of my friends working on the play I just saw, and she was talking about how their company's creative director is searching for the next play to mount. She told me that he was apparently starting to get excited about this one particular mystery play he'd been reading until he neared the end.

It seems a hot tub figures inextricably into the finale of the story. A hot tub, right there on the stage, filled with water and everything. An "I really wanted to write a screenplay, but for some crazy reason, I turned it into a play instead, so now I've got something you can't really do easily in a small budget theater" hot tub.

We had a laugh about it, and then the thought fell completely out of my mind.

Only a day later, I'm having a gaming evening with other friends of mine, one of whom has a dumpster business. Out of the blue, he says to me, "do you know anybody who wants a hot tub?"

I do a complete double take. As I'm staring blankly at the coincidence, he explains that someone has just had him pick up and haul off a perfectly usable, intact hot tub.

So I got back in touch with the first friend and told her, "I don't know if you were actually, seriously considering the hot tub play... and I can't do anything about the whole maintaining a full hot tub in your theater aspect... but if you want it, I know where to get you a hot tub."

Ultimately, it seems the hot tub play wasn't really clever enough to warrant the effort. Thanks, but no thanks. But we all had a nice "what the hell?" at the universe deciding to spit out a hot tub on cue.

So, next thought: "boy... I sure could use a million dollars."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Merry Men

You may be indifferent to learn that this past weekend, the previous record for "number of people dressed as Robin Hood in one place at one time" was practically doubled.

This proves a few interesting things to me about "records":

First, you can pretty much think of anything to set a record for. I mean, would you have thought: "I'm gonna wrangle a thousand people together and we're all going to dress as Robin Hood!"? Similarly, nobody else out there is going to think of trying to stuff as many pretzels as possible into an ocelot, or whatever fever dream you might concoct to get your tiny slice of fame. In short, if you want to set a World Record, there is nothing stopping you but your own imagination.

Secondly, no matter how ridiculous your record is, you're not going to hold on to it for very long. Once you throw down the gauntlet, it's a big wide world, and someone's going to take it up. In this instance, somebody saw that a mere 606 people had dressed up as Robin Hood, and thought, "that's nothing... we can break a thousand, easy!" And poof! Record fallen. Someone's going to come along with a bigger ocelot, or smaller pretzels, and then you're handing over your slice of fame to somebody else. So enjoy it while it lasts.

Some people I know actually set a Guiness World Record once. It appeared in one printing of the book, before the record fell the following year. I learned from that process that there are actually a few hoops you have to jump through to make your record "official." One of these is that you have to have some sort of doctor certification that says you are in a state of health such that you can make the attempt. And lest you think this is only for strenuous, physically demanding records, the people I know had to do this in order to sit there and play cards for 40+ hours.

So, what I'm getting at here is, I think that 1,116 doctor's notes were drafted to certify people fit to dress as Robin Hood. I have no idea how that appointment would be billed to your insurance.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Decent Job

Today, I caught the new movie The Bank Job. Based on true events (though how faithfully, I couldn't say) and set in the early 1970s, it's the story of a bank robbery arranged by the British government to acquire compromising photos of a political figure from a safety deposit box.

There are lot of ways in which this film is a bit outside usual, current convention for this genre. And I have to say that in most cases, this brings both good and bad with it.

It stars Jason Statham, who we've come to expect (and enjoy) kicking ass in movies like The Transporter. His character is a bit more of a pushover in this film, only really getting into one real (and brief) fistfight in the movie. So, points to him for playing a somewhat different character than we've come to expect. But at the same time, a bit of a disappointment, if you were expected crazy fight chereography.

As I mentioned, it's set in the early 1970s. This means that the "bank job" of the title is decidedly low tech. When you stop and think about all the crazy tricks and technology that we've been conditioned to expect through Mission Impossibles, James Bond films, and the "Ocean's" trilogy, the heist movie genre has become more than a little ridiculous. It's rather refreshing and different to see something so base and simple. And yet, and the same time, it's definitely less exciting than those other movies. These crooks aren't particularly clever, don't have a particularly genius plan, and their crime isn't particularly suspenseful in execution.

The government intrigue and fallout surrounding the heist is an intriguing layer to the film that sets it apart from many other heist movies. The typical model is for the crime to be very personal, very contained. Even recent capers like Inside Man were still really just about "one man and the assistance he contracts to pull off his crime." So points here for a new dimension. And yet, the movie doesn't really make you care much what happens to any of the various government figures it parades by the audience; if anything, you'd almost rather see them screwed. Your investment is much more in the core characters pulling off the job, so screen time away from them starts to make you want to check your watch.

The Bank Job is really not a "bad" movie, though. It's just that, in trying to craft something different, it has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated a few examples of why these other methods have been avoided lately. I give it a B-. It's not for everybody, but I think there's a fair number of people out there who would find it at least decent.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Now You're Cooking with Bleach

My apartment lease is coming to an end once again, and once again it's bringing another rent increase. This one finally feels like "the last straw!!!", so I've started to look around, entertaining the notion of getting my own place.

I went on a whirlwind tour of condos this afternoon, and I saw a lot of crazy crap. The photo at the right isn't actually one from my explorations today, but it's an example I found on the nets that shows what I think is one of the craziest things of all -- a washer/dryer in your kitchen.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty groggy in the mornings sometimes. It doesn't happen often, but I can recall once or twice in my life where I've been getting a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and I've put the milk away in the cupboard and the cereal away in the refrigerator. (I figured it out before walking away, but I did get as far as closing both doors!)

What unfortunate possibilities get added there when you throw a washer and dryer into the mix?!

Now, at least in this photo here, there appears to be a door that closes on this stacked washer/dryer. I actually saw one place today that didn't even have that much -- just here's your refrigerator, next to it, your laundry.

And door or no door, do you really want to be keeping detergents, bleach, and who knows what else, that close to where you're preparing your food?


Friday, March 07, 2008

l33t hax0r sk1llz

It's been a long week, and I'm bone tired, so no great story tonight. Just a simple observation, for those of you who know, work with, or have worked with computer programmers: have you ever noticed that almost every programmer thinks the code written by every other programmer is garbage? It's like every code wizard is simultaneously both artist and art critic.

Ah, those Code Monkeys.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Other Woman

Season four keeps on going strong. The "Juliet episodes" of season three were really among the best of that year, and this one was strong too.

Romantic threads were everywhere, and all of them interesting. There was Juliet's past relationship with Goodwin. There was Ben's interest in Juliet, now played in full. And of course, at the end, the kiss between Juliet and Jack, for those fans who aren't about the Jack-Kate relationship.

Trust was a huge narrative throughline in this episode. Juliet had to deal with the issue of whether to trust Charlotte and Farraday, or the information she'd received from Ben. Meanwhile, in the second story, Ben finally confided information to Locke that appears to have instantaneously won his trust.

This episode was also big in terms of story structure. It finally confirmed the identity of Ben's nemesis -- Penny's father! -- and in doing so, shed more light on the role that man has played in some of Desmond's flashbacks. This episode also established that "flashbacks" aren't completely gone from the Lost structure. Sure, we had the episode with multiple flashbacks of "the Rescuers," but then, they were all new characters. And last week's Desmond episode could be argued as taking place entirely in the present. This week confirmed that we still have stories in the pasts of the existing characters that remain to be told.

My only complaint tonight would be that the possessive tone in the Ben-Juliet relationship didn't quite feel entirely earned to me. I couldn't help but feel that it hadn't been set up as well as it could have been -- couldn't Ben have done something to Jack during all that time Jack was a captive of the Others, had he really wanted to keep Juliet to himself? But then again, we did see Ben using surveillance cameras to spy on Juliet and Jack, so I wouldn't argue this development was completely unearned.

Even that minor quibble is overcome by the big piece of the emotional puzzle this filled in. When we first met Juliet in season three, she was trying to enlist Jack's help to kill Ben. And nothing we'd seen so far quite explained how she'd reached that point. Sure, Ben was keeping her on the Island against her will, but was that enough for her to want him dead? It didn't seem like it. And now we see that indeed it wasn't -- it was Ben sending Goodwin to his death that was the trigger for her change of heart.

So, great stuff! And no reason not to expect more next week!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Tonight, on a whim, I decided to watch the movie Malice from my DVD collection. It made a pretty big impression on me when I saw it in its original theatrical run back in 1993. I think I've watched it once, maybe twice since then, and still recalled enjoying it. But until tonight, I'd never watched it knowing beforehand that it was written by Aaron Sorkin.

All those previous viewings were before Sports Night, or The West Wing, or Studio 60 ever came around. Somewhere in there, the films A Few Good Men and The American President were made, but it was only in the last few years that I connected it all to writer Aaron Sorkin.

The thing is, the writing isn't entirely his. It turns out this movie is based fairly closely on a made-for-TV movie that came three years earlier. Sorkin was brought in to add a subplot and give the dialogue a polish. But his stamp definitely shows. While there may not any of the "walk and talks" that would become his television trademark, there are many memorable lines, at least one epic monologue, and plenty of other speech patterns familiar to anyone who's a fan of any of the television shows I mentioned.

The cast is pretty unbelievable. Headlining it are Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman, and mixing it up with them is Bill Pullman (in a role that actually comes off just like Bradley Whitford, had Sorkin only known him a few years earlier and had the clout at that time to cast him). George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft have small but very important cameos (especially the latter). Bebe Neuwirth and Peter Gallagher fill in secondary roles. And the rest of the movie is littered with faces who would, over the next 15 years, become far more famous: Brenda Strong, Joshua Malina, Tobin Bell, and even Gwyneth Paltrow, years before anyone knew who she was.

The writing is incredibly precise, like some fragile structure perfectly held together from which no piece could be removed. Seemingly unimportant characters create red herrings as the plot twists along. Minor moments along the way pay off larger moments in the final act. There is a bit of a strange subplot involving a serial rapist, a plot that actually gets resolved halfway through the movie, yet even that serves a very specific purpose, bringing certain information to light that's vital to moving the main story along.

But I have to admit, that no matter how well-crafted the writing, no matter how great the acting, there is something just slightly... well... trashy about the whole affair. How Malice wasn't the most completely over-the-top thing put on film that year is a testament to just how well those other elements were working; without them, the whole thing would play like some "Very Special Episode" of a schlocky daytime soap opera.

Yet, what can I say? I liked it. I still like it. I rate it an A-. And really, the "minus" is just cause I think I feel a little guilty for liking it. I recommend it, and yet, if you saw it and hated it, I probably couldn't think any less of you.

But then, we all have a movie or two like that, don't we?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Retiring a Character

In case you hadn't seen this bit of news, this morning, Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died. I wanted to make some kind of comment about "failing a saving throw" here, but a quick Google search revealed the nets are already loaded with people making that joke (whether you judge it to be in poor taste or not).

Hearing this news made me realize that D&D was the first non-Monopoly, non-Sorry, you-get-the-idea game I ever played. I wasn't with the game very long before moving on to West End's Star Wars RPG, then Vampire, then ultimately out of role-playing games and into German board games and CCGs. But I actually still have all my books for it, packed away in a box somewhere. Probably with hand-drawn dungeon maps and character sheets stuffed in the pages.

The fact I never got rid of those things is probably just another sign of what the news today made me realize: there's still just a bit of a connection there, because it's really where this gaming thing started for me.

I'm sure a huge number of game fans out there are having similar thoughts today.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Movie Night at the Theater

Over the weekend, I went to see a newly written play being performed by a local theater company, entitled Contrived Ending. Friends of mine were responsible for set and sound design, so it was worth a look. (Actually, I'd read the play a few months back, for a short day or two maybe thinking of auditioning and trying to dip a toe back into the acting thing. Another time, perhaps.)

It turned out to be a pretty good, but not fantastic night of theater. And I think the parts that were a bit lacking had nothing to do with this production of the piece. The acting was pretty strong, the staging fine. And the set rocked. (I'm not just saying that cause my friend built it. Odds are she won't read this anyway. But it rocked. There it is.)

No, to me, what problems there were existed in the writing. And no, not in the ending the title teases you about. It was more that I felt like the writer really wants to be Kevin Smith. This play struck me very strongly as a combination of the pithy and rapid fire banter of Clerks with the more effective emotional message of Clerks II.

Even the plot was a strong echo of those films. A young twenty-something has just returned to his home town, having dropped out of film school. His old high school friend gets him a job working in a crappy, run-down movie theater. They stand around in the lobby all day and all night, talking about the past, talking about sex, talking about missed opportunities.... talking. It's not bad stuff, but it feels not quite polished yet, like some rewrites could and should be made after this production that could really elevate the play.

But there are plenty of good moments. Many stem from a clever conceit of a "holiday party night" where all the theater employees have to dress up as somebody. The costumes they wear reflect on the characters with razor precision -- the aimless and apathetic lead as Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange, the drugged-out bipolar maniac as Val Kilmer (as Jim Morrison) from The Doors, the quite sad and a bit disturbed girl who doesn't know what she wants as Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, the quirky and sexually confused habitual liar as Tim Curry from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the dismal old man who regrets his life choices as Dan Aykroyd (as Santa Claus) from Trading Places, and the sex predator theater manager as Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct. It's all not just funny, but leads to a few poignant moments, too.

Still, the whole thing has just a hint too much of "here are some people I know that I think are interesting and I want to put them into a play." But again, with a little more polish on the thing, I could see it being produced in more places beyond this local venue. I'd say it's about a "B" at the moment.

But those of you around Denver who sometimes check out the local theater scene might want to give it a look.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Beautiful House

I've mentioned on a few occasions that I don't like to use my blog to just talk about things from -- but this was too funny. The Denver FOX affiliate recently decided to fill time by doing a story on Casa Bonita, the actual restuarant featured in an episode of South Park.

This has led to a thread of people realizing for the first time that no, the creators of South Park did not make this place up. And of people describing in ways better than I could just how painfully awful the food is there. Ah, I remember being so naive. On both counts.

Anyway, big laughs, if you've ever had the misfortune of going to Casa Bonita. And maybe even for those who haven't, for moments like the poster who wrote that you'd probably like the food at Casa Bonita if this looks appealing to you:

The "Middle" Chapter

I've now finished reading the second book in The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series, The Charnel Prince. This is the follow up to the good-but-not-great-and-maybe-not-as-good-as-I-remembered-it The Briar King. Book two also wasn't "bad." I'm still committed to continuing the series. But I'm not any more committed to recommending it to others than I was before.

Book two suffers from "middle chapter" syndrome. In any multi-volume story, the middle volume(s) almost always drags. The characters don't move very far along in terms of the plot; pieces get set in place for the coming finale, but you tend to find things not much further along at the end of the story than you were at the beginning.

Here, a lot of disparate plot threads from book one sort of wander around in the hopes of meeting up with one another. They don't really quite do it until the final 50 pages or so. (And even then, not all of them do.) It's debatable how much really "happens" to the characters in the preceding 450 pages. Still, you get the hints of where things are going, and that at least still seems interesting, even if the current plot isn't at times.

There is one new addition to the overall story, however, and it's one of the best elements of the book. A new character, a court composer, is introduced in The Charnel Prince, and a good deal of the story is told from his perspective. He becomes an unlikely hero, gets commissioned to create a grand musical work in a style that has never before been heard, and attracts the ire of the church for his heretical ideas on composition. This character does have a dramatic arc throughout the book, which is greatly appreciated in the midst of other characters that are sort of treading water through this volume.

I'd rate this book a C+. So, as I said, I'm not exactly recommending it at this point. But we'll see where the story goes in the remaining two books...