Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back on the Hogwarts Express... Sort Of

So, do you remember around nine months ago, J.K. Rowling's book of fairy tales as mentioned in the final Harry Potter novel? Only seven copies?

Well, not so much anymore.

It's now going to be released to the masses in early December. Oh, and that $62,000 minimum price tag? Try under $10. Or hell, even if you splurge for the British leather-bound edition, that'll still only set you back £50.

If you were out $62,000 right now, how pissed would you be? Then again, I suppose if you had that kinda money to spend on something like that, you probably wouldn't care, would you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Seven Years Later

I believe it was seven years ago that I saw Eddie Izzard's stand-up comedy for the first time, on the supernaturally funny DVD Dress to Kill. It's taken that long for things to line up properly with him on tour where I live and me hearing about it in time to get tickets, but tonight I finally got to see him live in his newest concert, Stripped.

I'm pleased to say that he is just as funny and enjoyable in person as he is on DVD. Sure, those concert films may be only the "best bits" culled together, but he's still very funny in the "parts that wouldn't make the final cut."

That said, this current tour was overall his weakest in a while. I would never curse him by measuring everything he ever does to Dress to Kill -- that was really lightning in a bottle, the best of the best. But Glorious and Circle also delivered a lot of laughs, and I'd say this material -- though good -- didn't quite measure up to those. Perhaps this is because with his television series, The Riches, he hasn't been doing stand-up as regularly now as he used to be.

Or... perhaps he was just as funny tonight, but I wasn't able to enjoy it because the theater in which he performed was hotter than the Seventeeth Circle of Hell. Yes, seventeeth; hell didn't have Circles deep enough to match this heat until it expanded to make room for Denver's Paramount Theater. I think my clothes were melting by the end of it.

I did marvel, though, at two particular facets of Eddie Izzard's comedy. He's displayed them both again and again, but they're still a delight to see.

First, he continues to find new avenues into areas he's discussed before. He likes to joke about organized religion, for example. But every time he's out touring with a new concert, he has brand new material about it unlike what you've heard before. Hell, tonight, he even talked about Noah's Ark -- a subject he covered at length in Glorious -- and had some fifteen minutes of hysterical and entirely new material about it.

Secondly, he always works very well with a crowd. He veers off his planned jokes frequently, exploring a random improvisation if the mood strikes him. If it winds up making the audience laugh, he'll often be laughing right along with them. If it leads to a dead end, he'll typically get a big laugh out of acknowledging what a screw-up it was, then deftly get back on track.

Whether it stacked up to past performances or not, it was still a great evening of comedy. If you've never seen Eddie Izzard on DVD, I suggest you give him a try. And if you like that and haven't seen him in person, I strongly suggest you start paying attention to his tour dates.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yo-Yo Man

I came across this online news story about a guy with an extreme talent for yo-yo tricks.

It first hooked my interest because I used to yo-yo myself a long time ago, and could probably still pull off most of the "intermediate tricks" if pressed.

It really grabbed me when I watched the video clip and saw the crazy stuff this guy was doing.

But what really sealed the deal for me, and what made it a thing I felt I must mention here, is what the guy said in the video. It's a very unnerving little minute-and-a-half of extreme introspection from a guy with a really geeky interest.

Ultimately not unlike the various geeky interests I have. And that I suspect you have too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Mole, Week 8

What can I say? It now looks as though me saying "I think [so and so] is the Mole" is now the sure fire way to get said person executed. But as FKL observed in his comments here, it's probably just as well that Paul turned out not to be the Mole. Nicole has mainly just been arrogant and stubborn. Paul was actively belligerent to the other players, which really would have been a disappointing strategy for the Mole to take.

I think tonight's games didn't do much to shed light on the identity of the Mole. In the first challenge with the blindfolded players being guided by cameras, there was plenty of suspicion all around -- obviously bad camera operation, performances just a bit too clumsy, and more. And in the second challenge, there was no reason for Mark to not go all out for the exemption. The only player who put money in the pot in that game was Paul, so all the surviving players look equally suspicious on this one.

So, what's the evidence now? I think I'm pretty well beyond making guesses at this point, and just looking forward to being surprised. But I'll offer these few quick words about who's left:

Mark. As I said last week, if he's the Mole, he's been a terrible Mole. He has been responsible for putting way too much money in the pot.

Nicole. Is blatant sabotage a workable Mole strategy? Can you act so overtly as the Mole that no one would suspect you? If you think yes, then she's your suspect.

Craig. I've never questioned his intelligence, only his physical limitations. Has he been playing on that expectation to mislead suspicions, or is he just that smart? Paul seemed to have gone out tonight believing Craig was the Mole; if you think he was telling the truth there (and that he was capable of selecting the quiz answers that were right for his suspicions), then you'd best look elsewhere.

The end is near!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't You Believe It

I have enough residual love for The X-Files that despite the generally unflattering buzz going around about the newest X-Files movie (subtitled "I Want to Believe"), I had to go and check it out for myself. I guess I wanted to believe it might be good.

But I should have listened to the word of mouth.

This isn't a "Bad Movie." But it's not a very good one, either. Actually, I'd say it's rather a stretch to call it a "movie" of any kind, because it was seriously lacking in the scope and expanse of a major motion picture. Watching the film, I felt like there was almost nothing being put on the screen that couldn't have been achieved within the budget and production values of the television series itself while it was in its prime.

The script and story was similarly lackluster. I'd sort of peg it as average "season five era" fare -- a period of time where the show would still often muster a very good episode, just on the cusp of where it would start to get its head too far up its own ass with the so-called "mythology" to be enjoyable anymore.

Guess how I felt about the "mythology" episodes of The X-Files.

That is actually about the one thing I can strongly say is "good" about this movie -- there's no trace of the show's complex and ongoing made-up-as-we-went-along serial story. There are a couple of name checks to great episodes of the show, a few lines of dialogue aimed at explaining how we got here in the intervening years since the show went off the air, and otherwise it's on with business.

The trouble is that as a "stand-alone" installment of The X-Files, this can't even rate anywhere near the good ones. This is no "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" or "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." There's not really any suspense, there's virtually no hint of the unexplainable, almost no action. There's plenty of Mulder/Scully banter, but basically no other trace of what makes The X-Files The X-Files.

Sadly, I found that the more the movie dragged on, the more I realized I wasn't really missing the old television series very much. Other shows have come along to fill the void, and have done so far greater than this movie did. Supernatural springs to mind as tops on that list -- it does truly scary tales of the unexplainable on a weekly basis, and I'm far more invested in the relationship between the two brothers who are its main characters than I was in Scully and Mulder after their deep entanglement in the "mythology" made me start to actually dislike them a bit.

But despite the fact that an X-Files movie turned out not to really be necessary, one could have still been good. Ultimately, this movie feels like the script draft they could get finished before last year's Writer's Strike. A few more drafts probably could have turned out a good-but-not-great product from this same idea. Instead, lacking the proper time to gestate, it's a stillborn mess.

I wouldn't say it's actively bad. It's frankly too boring to be good or bad. I rate it a C-. If you're an X-Files fan and haven't seen it yet, I recommend saving the two hours, staying at home, and watching two of your favorite old episodes in a mini-marathon instead.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rant (not the kind you're thinking of)

I recently finished reading Rant, one of the newer novels by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. To say that it was a strange book would be redundant, as I'm sure anyone who has read even one of his novels could tell you. But it was, as most of his books are, enjoyable.

This story is a fictitious biography of one Rant Casey, as told through snippets of interviews with several dozen people in his life. There are three fairly distinct pieces to the tale.

Much of Rant concerns the title character's childhood. We read about how his early fascination with rabid and poisonous animals, both in letting himself be bitten or stung, and in using the diseases and poisons to inflict harm on others.

The "second third" of the book deals with his adulthood in a big city, where he falls in with a group of "Party Crashers," people who tool around town in a sort of underground auto club for the sole purpose of getting into car accidents.

The "final third" of the book I'd best not spoil for anyone interested in reading it themselves. Suffice it to say, things take a very bizarre left turn into an area that doesn't really feel related to anything I've just described.

But somehow it is related, because much of the course of the novel is foreshadowed in the very first chapter. I wouldn't recommend scrutinizing that chapter so you can prove yourself clever by figuring out some sort of "twist ending"; that's not really what's at play, and I think it would diminish one's enjoyment of the book to dig into the intro too thoroughly. But it is all there from the outset.

Yet despite the fact the author "plays fair" and lays all his cards out on the table, I still walked away from the book feeling like it was three separate ideas that didn't effectively intertwine. The writing style is as good as always -- punchy, sometimes humorous, often unsettling, brute but somehow polished. Each of the three pieces I've described works well on its own. And yet I feel like each was its own book, and the whole of Rant was simply the strange anthology that contained them all.

I'd rate the book a B, and definitely recommend it to anyone who has liked other Chuck Palahniuk books. But it's not in danger of becoming my favorite of his novels. If you haven't read him before and are curious, I'd point you to Lullaby or Choke instead. (I'd suggest Fight Club, but really the movie is in my opinion a quite effective and faithful adaptation. If you've seen it, you may well find the book to be redundant.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dual Purpose

When you're a bicycle cop, you don't have to spring for an actual bike lock:

And by the way, may I say, damn, that is a serious set of handcuffs?!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It's Not Rock, It's Rock Band

As Rock Band has climbed in notoriety and popularity, Harmonix (the studio behind it) has run a few interviews with various musicians included in the game. (Text, audio, and video.) A few, like the B-52's Fred Schneider and Jimmy Buffett, have admitted to trying out Rock Band, typically to dismal results.

But now those prog rock legends, Rush, have actually let themselves be filmed in the act. Not surprisingly, it took someone like Stephen Colbert to make it happen.

The outcome was not too surprising, either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Mole, Week 7

Alright, color me completely confused. Clay's execution last night left me so at a loss, I don't even know what to make of it. Perhaps the most bewildering thing about it in my mind was that last night, I felt like he looked more like the Mole than ever.

There was his preposterous "subtract 8 twice" method of doing math during the first mission, which not only ate up lots of time, but would have led to the wrong answer had Mark not been there. There were more strange lies in his interviews that would seem to be for no one's benefit but that of the home audience -- talking about all the games Mark has sabotaged, for example. (Huh?) And yet out he goes, my second wrong guess on the identity of the Mole.

Since I'd be out of the game twice over by now, and since there's now just a one in four chance of randomly guessing the "right answer," it seems almost silly to move onto another suspect at this point. But I think that's what this show is all about, so here goes one more stab. Let's look at the options.

Mark. If Mark is the Mole, he's basically the worst Mole ever in terms of keeping money out of the pot. He's single-handedly won missions for the team (like with his run on the treadmill last week), and on many occasions has corrected mistakes other players have made that would have cost the team money (like Clay's math error this week). He simply can't be the Mole.

Nicole. Last week, Alex went out saying he suspected Nicole of being the Mole. This week, Clay was saying the same thing. Both Alex and Clay said this not in a private interview, but in front of other players, so one would think they were each lying about their true suspicions. So could that mean Nicole really is the Mole? Lunacy! Each week, her attempts to sabotage the game look even more desperate.

My best explanation to reconcile this apparent contradiction is this. Clay really did suspect Nicole, and was being truthful with his coalition partner (Mark) when he said this. He steered most or all of his answers toward Nicole, thus doing badly on the quiz and getting himself eliminated.

As for the tie on the quiz, what about this? Nicole really was trying to "self execute" from the game. All that stuff she was saying at the end about, "I was sitting at the computer and couldn't go through with it." Crap she started spewing to save face when confronted with the fact she couldn't exit the game deliberately on her own terms. Pretty much Pee-Wee Herman "I meant to do that" kind of nonsense.

Because what would a contestant do if he or she were deliberately trying to blow the quiz? Answer everything as if they themselves were the Mole, knowing that it's not right. Nicole's problem was, she sped through the quiz, easily able to answer more complicated questions about herself. (Where was I sitting in relation to Jon? How many people picked me as "most trusted" in the family mission?) Clay, meanwhile, had to stop and take just a little more time to work out his answers, and consequently was the slower of the two players to completely bomb the quiz. Out goes Clay, in stays Nicole.

Who is not the Mole.

Craig. Having been so wrong about the Mole twice now, I wonder if I've been wrong to dismiss him so completely as a suspect. His frostbite and oxygen deprivation back in the Gold mission a few weeks ago doesn't have to have been fake -- he could have had a serious health emergency and be the Mole, unrelated to one another. I'm hard pressed to find moments from past missions where I could point to him as a viable Mole, and yet maybe that's because it's always been out of my mind to even be looking? I almost get there, but then I think...

Paul. I said last week he was a viable "second choice" in my mind. And now that Clay's gone, I guess that's where I'm going. He has thrown a wrench into a few missions, and it does seem like they've been subtle. He got his team lost tonight during the first mission. He refused to settle the math dispute between Mark and Clay, perhaps hoping they'd continue to argue and chew up time without a need for sabotage by him. As I've mentioned before, he's always encouraged strangling players to take breaks during time-related challenges (Liz in the Soccer mission, Craig in the Gold hike).

It's looking like Paul to me. And yet, having been wrong before, I can't really claim I feel this with any certainty now. At least in a few weeks I'll know for sure.

Then I'll be able to go back and see where I went so completely wrong.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Much

Last night, I got around to seeing The Dark Knight. I didn't rush here to review it, though, because I wanted to spend a little time rolling it around in my head to figure out exactly what I thought about it. Watching it, I was at first totally on board and loving it. Then somewhere along the way, that transformed into "I can't believe this isn't over yet. I'm getting bored." And I was a little hard-pressed to figure out when and how that happened.

I've decided that it's ultimately the same problem that plagues so many superhero movies: "villain creep." The first installment of a superhero franchise almost always centers around a single baddie, but when the sequels start spooling out, everyone stupidly assumes that "more is better," and they pile on two, three, more baddies. (See Spider-man 3 for one example.)

I didn't recognize this fault in The Dark Knight at first, for two reasons.

First, the "first" film in this franchise -- by which I mean Batman Begins -- also had two villains, Ra's Al Ghul and Scarecrow. But that movie "got it right" by basically making one totally subservient to the other. It was like the way the "real" bad guys of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker hired Jaws to be their "man in the field"; Scarecrow wasn't out doing his own weird thing, he was serving the one plot of the film.

Second... well, hang on a moment. It's possible that if you're fairly ignorant of the Batman universe, or have managed to avoid any gossip about the movie, then what I'm going to say in the rest of this review might constitute a spoiler. Maybe. So...


Okay, second, the Dark Knight does a pretty damn good job in its first 90 minutes or so of juggling all the stories and avoiding the appearance of "villain creep." The story is about the mob in Gotham City (just like the first film) and how one crazy nutjob threatens them (the Joker, in this case). Running parallel to that story is the tale of Harvey Dent, the "white knight" who's going to clean up Gotham once and for all.

But ultimately Dent transforms into Two-Face and then becomes a second villain running around in the plot. He has his own agenda, is making his own chaos, and isn't really tied into the Joker/mob plot we've been following anymore. It all becomes too much, and it takes way too much screen time to resolve it.

The conundrum is, I don't know quite what I'd wish to be pulled out. The Harvey Dent storyline is the actual emotional thrust of the whole affair. Really, it's his movie, a tale of his rise and fall. And yet, chalk it up to writing, acting, or just plain lack of time, when the fall actually does come and Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face, he stops being interesting. I found myself not believing the transformation. Yes, he'd been through a trauma... but why again was he blaming Gordon and not the Joker for this? Pure insanity? Then how about giving us any hints before the transformation that he's prone to such a thing?

Then there's the Joker storyline. Sadly, I think when you get right down to it, this is the meaningless storyline of this movie. The Joker spreads chaos as a means of ultimately setting up the Harvey Dent transformation. But I think there could have been a one-villain movie around Dent where the mob was solely responsible for what happens to him, thus cleaning up the clutter.

And yet, I kind of don't want to see that movie either, because Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is the best thing about the movie. Every scene he's in is electric. "Watch me make this pencil disappear" is probably the single best villain moment I've ever seen in a movie. Whenever he's off-screen, you're impatiently waiting for him to return. Whenever he's on-screen, you're legitimately tense most of the time, believing he really could be capable of anything.

So ultimately, you've got a pretty tasty stew with too many ingredients. And they crowd out other material too, as a result -- for example, there weren't nearly as many strong moments between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in this film as there were in the first.

Having now gone on this long, and mostly negatively, about the movie, you'd probably expect a really bad mark. But the thing is, if you can get past the bloated length of the movie, and ignore the fact that all the pieces don't quite hang together right, those pieces themselves are outstanding.

As I said, Heath Ledger is beyond incredible. The rest of the cast is great as well. Gary Oldman in particular steps up from an already ace performance the first time around. And Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in taking over the Katie Holmes role from the first film, basically shoring up the only "weak link" in the stellar recurring cast of this series.

Nearly all the action sequences work great and get the blood racing. (I'd say only an unnecessary "Batman vs. a SWAT Team" beat near the end fails, and that only due to logic -- wouldn't a simple radio/phone call have gotten the job done?)

So, lots to praise. But ultimately, I can't simply ignore the overcrowded nature of this tale, and I end up rating it a B. (This puts it just a peg below the B+ I gave the first one.)

Though as someone suggested today, if I rate a "comic book movie" a B, then any comic book fan is probably going to frakking love it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Journey at the Center of the Earth

On a few occasions, I've mentioned disliking movie trailers. Most of them lie, setting your expectations for a movie other than the one you'll see. Others expose too much, giving away the entire film. A movie trailer can make you see whatever the folks making it want you to see, as a few people have demonstrated with their own personal computers and ingenuity.

But the folks over at Black20 took it to a new level when they put this gem together:

Battle of the Batmans is pretty good too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Return of the Attack of the Monster Parents

Some of you may recall last month when I mentioned the so-called "Monster Parent" phenomenon in Japan. My friend who is living in Japan right now to teach English to children recently informed me of another disgusting level to the whole thing: Monster Parent Insurance.

Here's an article that discusses how last year, nearly 22,000 teachers in Japan paid out the rough equivalent of $50 a year to be insured up to roughly $1,000,000 against the lawsuits of Monster Parents.

Along the way, the article also mentions a parent demanding that since the school was forbidding the use of cell phones on a class trip, that it should pay the portion of a child's phone bill for the period in which it could not be used.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Your Doom Waits... and Waits

It's a weekend of weddings for me. I just got back from attending one tonight, and I have another to attend tomorrow night. On the way to tonight's wedding, we drove past Elitch Gardens, the local amusement park. (Which used to be cool and historic and such before they relocated it about a decade ago. Now it just sucks. But that's off point...)

One of the rides they have, that's pretty common to amusement parks, is a tall tower where people are cranked up to the top and then freefall dropped to the bottom. Ours is called the "Tower of Doom," and is the one on the right here. (Ignore the skateboard looking ride.) It hoists riders on three or four sides -- I can't remember exactly which.

This afternoon, as we drove by on the highway, I saw the seats from one set of riders held up at the top of the tower. None of the other sets of seats were anywhere in sight. There were indeed riders in those seats at the top of the tower.

It took us maybe two minutes from the time the amusement park first came into view until we'd wound around on the highway to pass it and leave it behind. And in that time, those riders atop the Tower of Doom stayed right where they were. No one else came up; they didn't drop down.

Now, no one wants to suffer an amusement park ride malfunction. But I suppose this one not being instantly-throw-you-to-the-ground fatal is desirable, should you have to be stuck in one. But still... dangling at the top of this Tower for who knows how long? Just waiting for someone to figure something out? Yikes.

At least, I assume it was a ride malfunction. I checked a bunch of local news sites tonight when I got home, and didn't see anything about a problem at the amusement park.

But I certainly now have one fewer reason to visit the crummy Elitch Gardens.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Ph.D. in Horribleness!

Joss Whedon fans, rejoice! It's been a long time since Our Master has produced any video-type material, having busied himself with comic book stories and other stuff. But if you thought you'd be waiting until the mid-season debut of Dollhouse for that to change, think again! This week has brought the premiere of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!!

Brought about as one of the few good things to come out of the recent writer's strike, this is Whedon's first musical since the Buffy episode "Once More With Feeling." Like that Buffy episode, it's a roughly 45-minute endeavor. But this time, it's divided up into three acts which are being revealed one at a time throughout the week on a special web site. They're also available for purchase on iTunes, and will eventually be compiled on a special DVD release. (Which, Joss has said, may also have a special commentary track that's also a musical.)

This is the awesomely hysterical tale of a would-be super villain played by Neil Patrick Harris, trying to commit the last, heinous act that will gain him membership in the Evil League of Evil. But his nemesis, the superhero Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion, stands in his way. What's worse, the do-gooder is moving in on the woman our Evil Doctor has secretly pined for for months at the local laundromat.

The story is great. The jokes are hysterical. The music is brilliant, and already has me longing for the soundtrack to sit along side my Once More With Feeling playlist. The casting is perfect, and the acting equally so.

If you don't like this, there must be cold lumps of coal where your heart and funny bone should be.

No pressure.

I've heard the free viewing on the Dr. Horrible web site will only be available for a limited time. Don't mistake me; it's totally worth paying for, and I'm going to be getting that eventual DVD for certain. But if you want a chance to sample it now at no cost to you, act fast and go to


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Picture This

A friend recently loaned me his DVD of the movie The Big Picture. I'm now one step closer to having seen every Kevin Bacon movie. (Well, I'm one step closer to having seen every movie ever made, but anywho...) Written (in part) and directed by Christopher Guest, this movie definitely has his wry brand of humor, though it's not a "mockumentary."

In the movie, Kevin Bacon plays a young director just out of film school who has won a "promising newcomer" sort of award that garners the attention of a manipulative producer and a do-nothing agent. They stuff up his ego, help him transform into a bit of a jerk, and then completely sabotage his efforts to make the movie he wants to make.

This is not really a "laugh out loud" sort of film, but it is really funny. And perhaps a bit painful. Anyone who has ever worked on any kind of shared creative endeavor will recognize the compromises, fights, and frustrations of trying to bring "your vision" to fruition.

Kevin Bacon heads a cast full of recognizable faces. Jennifer Jason Leigh, J.T. Walsh, and Michael McKean all have fairly significant roles, as does a very young Seinfeld/Soapdish-era Teri Hatcher. Martin Short has a few killer scenes in a strangely uncredited role. Throw in some bizarre cameos by Elliott Gould, Roddy McDowall, June Lockhart, John Cleese, and others, and you've got a very eclectic mix.

It's by no means a great movie, but it is certainly a good movie for the right audience. I'd give it a B-.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It Turns Blue When You're a Moron

Coors beer may be made here in Colorado, but I'm not one of those people who thinks all things from my home state/province/country/what-have-you are by definition good. Coors beer is crap. Granted, I think most beer tastes like crap, but really, crap gets offended when you say Coors tastes like it.

And it makes you stupid too. Or at least, that's what one must conclude from the latest in Coors "technology":

The mountains on the can turn blue when the beer is cold! Is the fact that it came from your refrigerator not a clue? Are Coors drinkers so damn lazy that they can't put a hand on the can to feel if it's cold?

"Oh, I only have the energy to reach out and grab the can so many times, and thanks for drinking it. I don't want to waste one of those times only to find out the damn thing isn't cold."

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Mole, Week 6

In my reexamination last week of The Mole so far, I mostly eliminated Alex as a suspect due to his failure to keep a journal as I assume a true Mole would do. Admittedly, that was not the strongest of evidence, but it panned out for truth this week when Alex was eliminated from the game. The timing of it was somewhat amusing, too, I thought -- in the hour long "re-cap with new footage" show before the true installment tonight, it seemed like every other time Jon Kelley spoke the word "Mole" in his voice-over, the editors put an image of Alex on screen. They almost had me doubting myself before the actual execution tonight, which I imagine was exactly the point.

As for the new episode, and what clues can be drawn about the remaining contestants, I'll work backward and start with the bungee jumping mission. I do this simply for expedience. Everybody still in the game missed the target. And it seemed impossible to me to tell who missed it deliberately, who tried and failed anyway, and who couldn't cope with the fear of heights enough to even make a real attempt. Call that a wash.

As for the rest of the episode, I'll just go suspect by suspect; easy enough to do that now that only five remain.

Clay. He was my new number one after my review last week. He wasn't particularly suspicious in the "Grapes of Cache" mission. Again, his most suspicious behavior this week was in his interviews. This time, he tried to suggest to the audience that Mark was a worthy Mole candidate. This after Mark's stellar performance in the mission, and after being in a coalition with him for five weeks and counting. Preposterous!

Craig. I've mostly dismissed Craig as a Mole suspect, but if you're looking for evidence in support of him this week, you've got it. He was almost completely silent in the Grapes of Cache mission. He worked the problems somewhat, but let Nicole steamroll him at every turn with right answers, wrong answers, whatever. Sure, Nicole's a powerful force, but Craig kept a strangely low profile here. A Mole could have done that knowing that Nicole's bogus attempts at sabotage would be detriment enough to the task.

Mark. I'd also dismissed Mark as a suspect too, and tonight's performance feels like it locks that in. I suppose you could argue that every once in a while, a Mole does want to do well at a mission to get suspicion away. But he was a frakkin' rock star tonight. He basically solved all the problems himself, kept Nicole's raging personality largely in check from his position on a treadmill, and stayed running on that treadmill for almost a full hour. I'm pretty damn sure I couldn't keep all that up, and there seems little point in a Mole doing so either. He could have easily "gotten too tired" about, say, 35 or 40 minutes in and still looked like he'd given it a major effort.

Nicole. Nicole's been off my list from day one, even after the recalculations. Her mistakes tonight continue to appear like the work of someone trying to make people think she's the Mole. I can't believe anyone would still buy that at this point. (And for the record, I don't think Alex did either, despite what he was saying. Why would he have publicly told everyone of his suspicions if that's really what he thought?) Plus, we learned tonight that she keeps even fewer journal notes than Alex. So I apply the same logic -- a real Mole would make more of an effort to keep a journal and look like a real player.

Paul. Here's the only other suspect besides Clay that I lend any real credibility to at this point. Tonight's two suspicious moments in the Grapes missions: he misread the coordinates to the Runners at one point (and then tried to blame the mistake on the Thinkers), and he wasted a lot of time arguing with Nicole, keeping the Thinkers from working the puzzles. You could possibly argue a third act of sabotage in the way he relayed coordinates to the Runners. With all of the answers having been worked out before even half the bottles had been found, he could have arranged the coordinates in more of a "straight line" order that made less back and forth for the Runners, and less time on the treadmill for Mark. Of course, to believe this, you have to assume he knows enough about how latitude and longitude coordinates work to lay them out in a line in his head. I know that I and most people I know could do it, but I wouldn't call that a given for the average schmoe. In any case, Paul remains a solid "second choice" in my mind.

There you have it for this week.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Blue Night at the Comedy Club

Last night I went to one of the major comedy clubs in Denver, Comedy Works, and saw Joe Rogan. I didn't particularly have any feelings one way or another about him before the show, but I did have certain expectations going in.

I knew that he'd been a stand-up for a long time, and that his material was fairly "edgy." And I assumed that any comic with that background who then went on to be known for things as mainstream and often put upon as News Radio and Fear Factor was likely to start going even raunchier in his stand-up act. Call this the Bob Saget Effect.

I was not disappointed in this respect. But I was also very entertained. Both Joe Rogan and the opening act, a comedian named Ari Shafir, were on fire from beginning to end. Probably the least uncomfortable material in either set was a riff on the girl who got her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing, who after recovering got right back into surfing again. ("Where are the parents to say, 'now honey... we've already established that you're delicious, so do you think maybe you could try something else?'") And seeing as how that girl is one of the poster children for the "Pass It On" ad campaign, I could see how some people might get offended even by the jokes on that end of the spectrum.

On the other end of the spectrum were references to web sites I'm not about to mention here. Scary. But damn funny. I had actually tears coming down my face at one point from laughing so hard, an experience I've not had I think since the first time I saw Eddie Izzard on DVD.

So if your threshold for this sort of thing is sufficiently high, I would definitely recommend going to see Joe Rogan's stand-up if he happens to swing by your town.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Holy Squirt Gun!

This old Batman squirt gun was offered up on eBay recently:

This thing is just so wrong, you have to wonder how any licensor could have ever approved it. I could maybe see someone somehow not having a problem with the fact that this is Batman projectile spitting on you. I could maybe see someone not taking exception to the very unfortunate placement of the trigger. I could maybe see someone not having an issue with Batman being bent over with his butt sticking out at you.

But to overlook all three of these issues?

Friday, July 11, 2008

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

The 2008 World Series of Poker had recently gotten started when I was in Las Vegas for my vacation not long ago. And I thought that by right about now, it would be culminating in the conclusion of the Main Event.

Not so.

This year, the decision was made to play the Main Event down to the final table of nine players, and then send them all away with no outcome. This gives ESPN time to lazily spool out their coverage as they have done for the last several years, stretching the Main Event out to provide around two months of weekly content for their network. And only then, when they've finally caught up and aired everything leading up to the final table... only then will they reconvene those nine players to actually conclude the event.

That won't be happening until November.

I think this sucks royally on a few levels. Some of the reasons are mentioned in that article I linked to.

First, the down time of four months will give players time to thoroughly research the play styles of any famous competitors at the final table. This definitely goes against the "just your wits and endurance" ethic I feel the WSoP Main Event has always had.

Secondly, there was something to be said about the marathon of endurance to play the whole event in one stretch. That much concentration, that much sleep deprivation, that much focus, all in one run.... that's also part of what the event is about. Now granted, this wasn't always the case, since the size of the Main Event has increased by literally dozens of times since the poker boom of this decade. Nevertheless, I think that's part of what the event has become today, and you know this change isn't happening to "return to the ways of old." It was done because ESPN asked for it.

But there's one other thing that bugs me about this the most. This wasn't even mentioned in the article, I suppose because only nine people in the world will be affected by it: can you imagine being one of the people who actually made that final table? There you are, right on the cusp, just a few more hours to go, and you might win $9,000,000!

In four months.

Can you imagine what a hell your life would be for those four months? Would you be able to think about anything else, ever? How could you get through a day without drowning in the anxiety of thinking that there might somehow be something you could be doing to improve your chances for the battle of your life coming up in November? How could you not begin to doubt the skills that got you that far in the first place, and find yourself getting rattled and in fact sabotaging your chances to win?

Man, that would suck. I mean, don't get me wrong, if it could be me waiting four months for a chance to sit at the final table of the WSoP Main Event, don't think I wouldn't want that.

I'm just sayin'...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Funnier Than Monkeys or Robots? Monkey Robots!

I hesitate to post a video that any of you who frequent Penny Arcade have probably already seen, but it's just too damn funny not too. If you have kids, or remember being a kid, then odds are you know who the Rock-afire Explosion is -- Showbiz Pizza's animatronic band. But you've never seen them like this:

Whether you're a fan of "monkey humor" or "robot humor," this video has something for you.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This Just In...

There's a high pressure system moving up into Ohio. Expect some precipitation before it withdraws.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Great WALL-E

Last night, things finally aligned to get me to the theater to see WALL-E -- a friend who hadn't seen it yet was available, and enough time had passed since the opening to expect the rude audience factor to have disappeared. I find myself agreeing largely with Shocho's review of it, which in a nutshell is that I thought it was pretty great, but as time passes and I think more about it, my opinion has diminished a bit.

There's certainly a lot to praise here. The risk of doing a major motion picture built around two characters who basically don't talk is pretty huge. They aren't human either, so they can't emote in the traditional ways. And yet both these barriers are utterly crushed with some truly brilliant animation.

The story is very much character driven, and very effective on an emotional level. The old cliché, "you'll laugh, you'll cry," is apt here, because the film does evoke feelings of joy and sadness.

With a little distance from it, though, I must confess I felt that a few of those moments felt overly manufactured. The character of WALL-E doesn't really drive the narrative much; he's along for the ride. The real characters with a mission are Eve and the Axiom Captain, the latter of which isn't even introduced until halfway through the movie. Because the title character is such a "tumbleweed" in his own story, he's just pushed into whatever situation results in a good "set piece" for the movie.

Now don't get me wrong, each of those pieces is really great. Even the ones that ring false. For example (but trying to be circumspect here for those trying not to be spoiled), there's a manufactured moment sad beat at the end that sent me screaming for the logic police... and yet I have to admit I was still moved by it emotionally even as my intellectual side is going, "wait a minute" and well aware I'm being manipulated.

All told, my reservations about the film don't amount to much, and I'd still rate WALL-E an A-. It's definitely worth seeing. A must-see if you like Fred Willard. Even if for some reason you don't like it, I think you'll love the short preceeding it, Presto. It's hilarious, and a bit of a throwback to the classic Looney Tunes style of zany gags at a frenetic pace.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Mole in Review

There was no new installment of The Mole tonight, but after last week's debacle, in which my prime suspect was executed, I felt compelled to go back over everything so far and see if I could somehow get back on track. Looking back over the first five episodes, I've decided the most likely Mole in my mind is Clay.

I still begin with the assumption that the Mole would want to perform well in the first mission of the game, so as not to arouse suspicions right away that could never be discouraged. Clay successfully nabbed a bag in the "Over the Falls" mission, putting him on my list. It is true, though, that the fickle falls could have kept someone who legitimately wanted to grab a bag from doing so -- so this time I won't eliminate other possibilities just on this one criteria.

Actually, I think the stronger Clay evidence in that first episode was in the "Crusoe" mission, in which he was placed on the Scavengers team that had to find items on the beach and retrieve them for the guessers. At the conclusion of the mission, host Jon revealed the two correct items that were never found. There was a copper tea kettle, which was then shown on camera, and a tobacco box, which was not.

Why not show the tobacco box too? Perhaps because it was not sitting out in the open to be filmed at the conclusion of the mission? In other words, a tobacco box is a really small object. If the Mole were out there among the Scavengers, it would be a simple matter to just kick some sand over it and leave it where it would never be found -- not even by the camera crew. But of the remaining players in the game, Clay, Alex, and Craig were all on the Scavengers team in that mission, so this doesn't conclusively point to Clay either.

What finally put it over the top for me was listening again to some of Clay's comments in his interviews. All the players are occasionally given sound bites, describing who they don't trust, or who they think could be the Mole. Frankly, most of Clay's sound like bullshit.

After failing the "Fruit of the Luge" mission because he continued talking after crossing the finish line, Clay complained about Bobby's "many mistakes." Yes, Bobby called an avocado a pear. How is that "many mistakes?" Clay himself made more in the same mission -- speaking after the finish line, and getting two of the fruit in the wrong order.

In discussing last week's mission in which the players were chained up in the cold and only able to leave by trusting one another, when Craig argued to be let go because of his health, Clay said in his interview: "I don't know if Craig is telling the truth about his health." What kind of crap is that? The man was just driven off in an ambulance after the Andes mission. I'm pretty damn sure his health issues are the real deal.

And also last week, after the entire team "mutinied" in the final mission and refused to use the transportation chosen by Craig, Clay said "I can't remember a time I've ever quit without trying in my life." Try two weeks earlier, when you were the first player to opt out of the Dress Code mission!

In my mind, the only player who needs to lie that much to the viewing audience is The Mole. It's a private interview -- none of the other players are seeing it, so who is Clay trying to deceive if not all of us?

So, when The Mole returns next week with a new episode, my attention will be focused on Clay. But just to be sure, a quick examination of the other five remaining players might be in order:

Mark. Mark's anguish at losing his journal seemed too genuine for him to remain a viable suspect in my mind. He was already moving away from the list before that because of a few moments in which he really tried to rally for teamwork. (I've mentioned before that getting the players to work together is something the Mole should never, never do.) During the When Pigs Fly mission, he tried to help load the slingshot faster, arguing that any "unlaunched pigs" when the time ran out was just a stupid waste. And during the Midas Rush mission to hike up the mountain, he reminded his team of the time pressure. (Unnecessarily, were he the Mole.)

Nicole. It's so hard to think of her as a viable suspect, because her actions every week are blatantly those of a player wanting everyone to think she's the Mole. And yet, I have to admit to a doubt or two on that. She has claimed two or three times that the player she most suspected was the one eliminated the previous week. I'd have to think if that were true, wouldn't she have been eliminated by now? Could a viable Mole strategy be to be so overt in repeated sabotage that nobody would suspect you?

Craig. He helped make the slingshot work in the When Pigs Fly mission when he didn't need to. He found the clothes in the in the Dress Code mission when he could have just walked right by the laundromat. And it seems unlikely the producers of the show would select a Mole with the kinds of health issues he's displayed. He's been off my list for a while, and even though I was thrown for a loop last week, he remains off the list now. It may be a bit of a stereotype, but there it is. But speaking of stereotypes, I would have bet in week one that he'd be executed from the game by now. Every week he sticks around adds just a little glimmer of possibility that he's the Mole. (Though in fairness, he has displayed that he's a very smart and clever person. That must be how he's remained in the game.)

Alex. The biggest strike against Alex, in my mind, is that he doesn't keep a journal. He left his journal behind in someone else's room in the second episode, and when the players looked through it, they found nothing of any real note. I would think the Mole would have to go through the motions of being a player, and that would include note taking in the journal. Not necessarily with the same obsession as a Mark-type player, but some kind of notes. Throw in his repeated helpfulness with his Spanish, and he just seems like too unlikely a candidate to me. But for a tiny bit of doubt, consider this: he mentioned in one interview that Nicole was one of his top suspects. And yet he's still in the game. Either he's changed his mind, he's right and Nicole is the Mole, or he is the Mole himself.

Paul. To accept that Paul is the Mole, as with Nicole, you have to expand your idea of what a viable Mole strategy could be. He's been so standoffish, so in everybody's face, that it's hard to believe a Mole wouldn't try to keep a lower profile. And yet for all his bluster, talking about how he's not there to make any friends, he's shown some unusual moments of concern during the game... at times when it stood a chance of ruining a mission. After the soccer match, he stopped at the side of the road with Liz while she took off her shoes and waited for her to catch her breath, and encouraged her to stop again whenever she needed to. During the Andes climb, he was more encouraging for Craig to stop and rest than anyone. You could easily construe this as Mole behavior, trying to make other players take the fall for a failure rather than yourself. If the Mole turns out not to be Clay, I admit Paul looks like a viable alternative.

I hope all this pontificating has satisfied in this week with no new episode. Let's see what happens next Monday when we're back in action.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Resolutions of Thorn and Bone

I'm pleased to report that I've finally finished reading the series The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, and that it took me far less time to finish the fourth and final book than it did book three, The Blood Knight.

Does that mean I liked this book better? Well, yes... but I still didn't love it. The series took some rather unusual turns in its final book. Adversaries were turned into allies, allies into adversaries. Characters we've spent three books (and then some) with were somewhat unceremoniously killed in the final 150 pages for shock value.

In a way, the whole thing smacked a little of George R.R. Martin envy, of the great things he's done with his Song of Ice and Fire series. And I have to say, if it's a deliberate choice to imitate, then Greg Keyes has picked a damn good author to imitate. And yet, these strange twists in the final book didn't feel very earned. Nor did they ultimately carry any of the shock value of those Martin twists I mentioned, because we the readers are not really made to live with the consquences. Major characters have died in Martin's books, but the series keeps going, and so we're left to deal with the shock of how the series continues without them. By contrast, Keyes' ending just feels like whizbang Hollywood blockbuster action to cap the series.

And yet, that's not a bad way to cap a series. The final book pulls you through, and it does ultimately entertain despite a few moments where disbelief doesn't quite stay in total suspension. I'd rate The Born Queen a B-.

So for those keeping score, I thought the series had a decent beginning, and now a decent ending, but that it got lost a little bit in the middle books. I'd have to say that overall, I probably would not recommend reading it, unless you have tons of time to read and want to check out any high fantasy series you can get your hands on.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


On Sunday this week, the newest installment of the Guitar Hero series was released, Guitar Hero Aerosmith. This is really more like "Guitar Hero III, Part 2" in that it uses the same graphics engine and presentation... it's just new songs (and mostly Aerosmith songs, as you might have guessed).

I picked up the game for three reasons. First, I do mostly like Aerosmith, so I figured a game made about 70% of their music would be okay.

Secondly, I wanted to actually pick up one of the Guitar Hero games for PS3 so I could have a controller that worked on that system. In a giant bastardly move, the folks at Activision made it so that the Rock Band controllers don't cross over into their game (nor their controllers into Rock Band). Also, since there's no PS2-style controller jack on the PS3, none of the previous Guitar Hero games can be played on it either -- not without buying a USB adapter that from what I've heard doesn't even make the old guitar controller fully compatible. (The whammy bar still won't work, I'm read.)

Well, here's the first strike against the game, because even though I now have an official guitar controller from Red Octane/Activision that's PS3 compatible, not even it will allow me to play the earlier Guitar Hero games on my system. This seems like an incredibly straightforward thing to do. I can only reason it was deliberately manufactured not to allow playing the earlier (pre-Activision) games in the series. Another schmuckly move on the company's part.

My third motive in buying the game was to see if Activision (or specifically, this game's developers, Neversoft) had learned anything from it's many, many mistakes with Guitar Hero III. Now, as I mentioned earlier, this wasn't really a full-fledged new game in the series, so one can't reasonably expect too many things to have been fixed here. But one of the biggest beefs I had with the game (along with virtually every reviewer on the planet) was its sickeningly hard level of difficulty.

Basically, I was (and am) using Guitar Hero Aerosmith as an audition to see if I'm going to actually want to buy Guitar Hero World Tour in a few months. See, the next GH game is adding drums and vocals, just like Rock Band. And in yet another dickish move, the game is going to use its own new controllers that aren't Rock Band compatible. So we're talking about the prospect of buying another $150-$200 worth of fake plastic instruments and finding somewhere in the house to store them. Is it likely the game will be worth that?

Based on GH Aerosmith, I have to say, "Signs Point to No." It didn't take much playing of the game to see that the people at Neversoft clearly don't "get it." Yes, the difficulty of this game is dialed down from GH3. But there's more to "getting it right" than that. The "note charts" (as fans of these games have dubbed the patterns you have to play) don't really make you feel like you're actually playing the song.

They often have crazy-long "Star Power" phrases required to earn your big crowd pleasing moments. The phrases are also often non-sensical. Rock Band (and Guitar Hero, in the old days under Harmonix) almost always puts them at logical "big moments" in the song, and they usually last an understandable number of beats or measures in the music. In GH Aerosmith, they tend to last an almost random number of notes... as long as the designers damn well please.

The note charts often don't match the music. For example, in the Expert rendering of Rag Doll, a musical phrase that steps straight up the scale from low to high ("...get it while it's easy...") plays alternating notes on the guitar (1-3-2-5-4-5). It's not musically logical' it can be that way only to make the song more difficult to play.

So, as I said, the folks at Neversoft just don't "get it." These games are supposed to be about giving the player the illusion that they're a rock star in their own band. But playing the songs feels more like playing Soul Calibur. (Dodge... jump... now do your three-button combo to launch your attack!) It's impossible to get lost in the fantasy for even a second. You're playing a game.

As for the other trappings of Guitar Hero Aerosmith? Well, the soundtrack's okay. It turns out either I don't like Aerosmith as much as I thought, or that playing that much of any one band wears thin after a while. (I think it's a measure of both.)

The motion capture of the Aerosmith members is incredibly authentic, at least. The game's Steven Tyler, in particular, moves just like the real thing. But unfortunately, he doesn't quite look like the real thing. There's something fake and plastic-looking about all the characters. (Though none is as butt ugly as the dog-faced lead singer from Guitar Hero III.)

And perhaps most humorous of all, the big "final song" in the game is "Train Kept a Rollin'," which is the one and only Aerosmith song already in Rock Band. That's pretty much cementing that anything Guitar Hero does these days, Rock Band does better. Much, much better.

I'd rate Guitar Hero Aerosmith a D+. And if you don't like the band, then lower than that. Basically, don't get this game. And, based on this game, right now I'm thinking don't buy Guitar Hero World Tour either, when it comes out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Drink Up!

This Sunday, something is going to occur in Colorado that hasn't happened in my lifetime. Folks are going to purchase alcohol from liquor stores!

Shock! Horror! Amorality!

I've mentioned before the "blue law" that's kept liquor stores closed on Sundays in the state. I also mentioned efforts to get that repealed. Well, they were successful. The law was stricken effective July 1st, and this Sunday is the first one after that date.

I mentioned last time I talked about this subject that I wasn't entirely convinced that there was tons of alcohol waiting to be bought on a Sunday that wouldn't otherwise be purchased on another day. And I still basically stand by that. With one exception...

If only I could own a liquor store on this Sunday.

Almost everybody I know has said they're going out to buy something on Sunday just because they can. I've had the same bottle of Kahlua in my fridge for two homes and possibly as many years now, telling you how much I drink, but I'm seriously contemplating going out to buy some thing or other on Sunday.

It's shaping up to be a record sales day for liquor stores, I think.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Don't Cross the Streams

Have you ever heard of a Luther Burger? Apparently, it's a bacon cheeseburger with a glazed donut for a bun:

I'll be in the corner, fighting my gag reflex.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Play the Song, Buy the Album

I have a few CDs by The Offspring, though I'm not a completist. They get a lot of radio play, but in truth it has always been video games that have driven me to their music. Or more accurately, I have driven to their music, because that old classic Crazy Taxi is where I really was first exposed to the band. I ended up buying their album, "Ixnay on the Hombre," as a result.

With that catchy song "Hammerhead" now a downloadable song in Rock Band, I was pushed to checking out their latest album, "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace." This sort of cross-promotion is exactly what they're after, I know. I'm corporate America's bitch in this story. But the point is, this is another really good album.

Hammerhead is a wonderfully subversive track in which the heroic Iraq soldier you're imagining the character to be turns out to be a deluded school kid on a shooting spree. And the rest of the album is a very refreshing blend of styles.

There are a few songs firmly in the high octane "heavy punk" (if you will) genre they're most known for: "Half-Truism" and "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" are particularly good.

There are a couple of slower songs that land some genuine tender emotion, "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" and "Fix You."

There's the scathing "Stuff is Messed Up," an hysterical "album cover friendly" rendering of what the actual song lyric is.

Not too many of the other songs jump out at me, but neither do I find myself skipping over them. It's a solid album of "threes" and "fours" (out of five) with a couple "fives" and not a single "one" or "two" in the bunch. I'd rate it a B+.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Show Me the Funny

Last weekend, I went to a late afternoon performance at the Wit's End Comedy Club, the small local place I've been to on a few occasions. As last time, it's unlikely you've heard of either of the performers that made up the show, but both had some good laughs to offer.

The opening act was Ray Devito. (Here's his MySpace page, with clips including some of the material he performed at my show.) I found him to be pretty entertaining, if not hysterical. What was really funny about him, though, was the way he handled a "tough crowd." Chalk it up to it being a tight audience, not the late night show, or whatever, but it really wasn't an extremely vocal audience. Oh, people were laughing at the jokes, but not very loud. And it wasn't always the same people for every joke; he'd get a few here, then a few there, and so on. I was at the least smiling the whole time.

But whether fair or not, he played it like he was bombing the entire set. "Ah, good for that side of the room." "You all must be out early on Saturday so you can make it to church the next day." "See, I tried to be highbrow with the Edison's brother joke, but no, you didn't want that. So look where it led us!" Like I said, I don't think he was bombing, but his "crap, I'm bombing!" material was pretty damn awesome. Highlight of the show.

Second up was Leif Skyving. (Here's his MySpace page, with clips.) I didn't find him as funny overall as the first comedian, but still pretty good for a small venue such as this. He capped his act with a virtuoso performance on harmonica, complete with a simulation of the bagpipes created by inflating a balloon and stretching the neck over the "A" hole as he continued playing on the upper registers of the instrument. Okay, not quite standup there, but damn impressive nonetheless.

Let's be honest, it's not likely you'll ever see either of these two comedians live. But hey, they travel back and forth all over the country, so if you do ever get out to support live comedy in your area, you never know. (And if you don't, maybe you should!)