Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Not-at-All Miserable Experience

It might seem preposterous that Rob Reiner and William Goldman, the director and writer (respectively) who made The Princess Bride, would reteam to adapt Stephen King's Misery for the screen. It might seem even more preposterous that I had never seen the movie. Yet both are true. Well... the latter no longer.

Of course, it's not possible to come at a movie this much in the zeitgeist (full of catch phrases and notorious scenes) with a fresh perspective or expectations. What's more, I actually read the original book many years ago. It was one of a handful of Stephen King books I once tried, as I do about every three years or so. (After which, when I reveal that I didn't think it was particularly good -- or bad -- to a fan, said fan replies immediately that I didn't really read one of King's "best" books.)

But I think in this case, that background was a very helpful thing. Because I think Misery was a far better movie than a book. From my recollection of the book, Stephen King got a little too bogged down in the premise of a writer being terrorized by a crazed fan. The movie wisely refocused on a victim being terrorized by a crazy person.

King spends huge chunks of the book writing about things that obviously "scare" him -- being a writer worried about his reputation, about churning out mass market work when he really wants to try "something different"; having unreasonable fans that prevent him from doing the work he really wants to do, forcing him to write things he doesn't want to. Newsflash, Mr. King: most of your readers don't know what that's like. Perhaps some aspiring writers dream of being so lucky as to have such problems, but these woes are completely unrelatable to your audience.

The movie does include one or two choice scenes of the relationship between writer and fan. But mostly, it keeps things far more visceral and accessible. What if you were utterly helpless, and in the "care" of an unstable lunatic? Well... now we're talking!

Except that the movie introduces a few weird problems of its own. In order to expand the cast from a simple two-hand piece of theater, the movie adds a character of an old sheriff and his wife. And while the two are moderately entertaining to watch (and well played by Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen), they don't really service the story at all. The leaps in logic that clue the sheriff into what's really going on strain credibility. And then, after an entire subplot spent following his investigation... he doesn't save the day. The point of all that then being...?

But fortunately, the movie still rests mostly in the hands of two characters, and both Kathy Bates and James Caan are excellent in their roles. Bates won the Oscar for this, and deservedly so, because she somehow makes dialogue that's just this side of laughably stupid on the page seem truly menacing on the screen. Less praised, but just as good, is Caan -- all the stronger, in my mind, for playing so against his type. Aside from that unfortunate stop at a toll booth in The Godfather, Caan's characters have often been strong, head-bashing type toughs. But in Misery, he is weak and vulnerable almost from beginning to end.

It's not a perfect movie, but a very good one. And, I think, the best adaptation I could imagine of the original material. I rate it a B.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 7, 11:00 PM - 12:00 AM

I'm guessing that "Naked Jack Bauer" is not going to be the next exciting action figure released.

Why do torturers always say "I'm not going to ask you again" when they always do?

Everyone on the set was suddenly thinking "what the hell" to Jon Voight's weird-ass face slapping thing, but nobody was going to say anything to him, cause he's freakin' Jon Voight.

Olivia wants Rick Berman for Chief of Staff. So the guy that completely ruined Star Trek can go completely ruin the country.

I liked Olivia better with a knife to her eyeball.

There's an eminent threat to national security, so of course you want your President to convene a meeting.

Larry thinks Renee should be the one to debrief Jack. But someone else already did that this hour.

Aaron doesn't want to go back to work for Olivia. Olivia got him shot. Not even the batshit crazy First Lady got him shot.

The President says "this day is not over." Well, duh, it's like 11:20.

Why does Tony not take the other gun off the guy that just got shot?

This presidential pardon is brought to you by Cisco.

The villains decided a defining characteristic of Tony's to prey upon was that he was "good." He's also dead-but-not-dead. I would have liked to see zombie interrogators.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wrapped Up In Itself

That wacky writer Charlie Kaufman, the man behind Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is at it again. I recently saw his newest film, "Synecdoche, New York." The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a director with an unraveling family life who receives a grant to embark on a great new piece of theater -- a warehouse in New York City in which actors play everyone in New York City in a giant recreation of the city itself.

Yes, it's another strange Charlie Kaufman premise, but this movie is distinct in that it also marks his first directorial effort. But I found it difficult to say how successful it was, because it also turned out to be his weakest writing effort to date. For all the strangeness of the other movies I mentioned (and Adaptation as well), each earlier script from Kaufman had fairly coherent stories to tell and themes to explore. Synecdoche dabbles in a lot of what seems to me like weirdness for its own sake.

The opening scene plays out like a single morning at family breakfast, but various audio and visual clues casually dropped in the scene actually tell us that several months pass in the span of a single breakfast. A secondary character purchases a house that is literally on fire, despite the concerns she expresses to her realtor about the fire. (She then goes on to live in the house for years... Spoiler Alert! ... before ultimately dying of smoke inhalation.)

The movie had strangeness in spades, but very little sentiment. The cast is phenomenal, and fully engages in a blatantly false set of circumstances, but they only occasionally make things interesting. The movie is simultaneously very creative, and very boring. I'd suggest skipping this C- effort.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Room with a Review

Having recently had luck watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho ("luck" in that I found it to be one of the rare "classic" films that was indeed a good movie, in my opinion), I decided to take a look at another famous Hitchcock effort I'd never seen, Rear Window. It was another success, but a rockier road getting there.

Rear Window was very definitely divided into three acts, and not of equal length. Put simply, in the first act, the first 45 minutes of the film, nothing happens. It's a long, drawn out setting up of the main character played by James Stewart, his girlfriend played by Grace Kelly, and a couple other secondary characters. It's an even longer laying out of the geography -- the apartment complex in which the character lives, and information (too labored to call "vignettes") of all the neighbors across the way that can be glimpsed through their windows.

To some extent, all of this material is of course necessary for the tale that follows to have context and importance. You have to invest in the characters for any of it to matter. But I really started to get bored, almost nodding off, about 20 minutes in. I was heading toward a pretty dim view of the movie when, by nearly the halfway point of its hour and 50 minutes run time, nothing of importance had occured.

But finally, act two began. And then things started to get considerably more interesting. The really neat twist on the film is that when the mystery finally arrives, it's not a "whodunit," it's a "wazitreallydunatall?" We aren't shown any conclusive evidence of a crime, and the film becomes just as much about the possible unraveling of the main character as the possible crime in the apartment across the courtyard.

And then came the last act, the final 20 minutes, and it was spectacular -- a wonderful sequence of tension and drama. Without resorting to modern cheap tricks of loud music stings and mischievous camera cutting, the movie draws you up in your seat, eager and engaged. It's 55 years since the movie was made, but the final act set me on edge more effectively than a great many supposed thrillers of the last decade.

All told, I still can't overlook a near-excruciating opening that runs at least 15 minutes too long, and so I didn't find it as great a movie as Psycho. But it's still one well worth seeing, to any of you who have some how missed it as I had. I rate it a B-.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Creme That Egg!

In honor of the upcoming Easter holiday, I present to you this fabulous Rube Goldberg device:



About the only thing keeping this video from its maximum awesome potential is the absence of the "Breakfast Machine" theme from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Less Than Half Interesting

Denver is buried under more than a foot of snow tonight -- our first credible snowfall all winter actually. It was a great day to not go outside, so I stayed at home today and watched a bunch of movies. Unfortunately, I can't say that most of them were good movies.

One movie on the "I can't recommend it" list is Half Nelson, a movie which garnered Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination for Best Actor a couple years back. It's the story of a school teacher in a poor neighborhood, battling a drug addiction.

The problem is, I basically just gave you the entire plot of the movie. There aren't many particulars beyond that premise. (No, he's not named Nelson, and no, he doesn't coach a wrestling team.) It's one of those independent movies that seems less concerned with telling a dramatic story with a beginning, middle, and end as it is seeking to "portray a world." Here's a slice of life of this guy. We'll start on a, say Thursday, and just sort of show you the things that happen to him for a week or two. If it happens that a plot develops, well maybe that's okay too.

If you don't yourself have a drug problem, or haven't dealt with a family member or friend who has one, then the movie probably won't be very relatable to you. Which is sort of the point I think people making these types of movies are after. The unspoken assumption is that people who tend to see these small, word-of-mouth films need an "education" on this sort of existence. Maybe so; I have nothing wrong with a movie that wants to teach (or even preach) a little. But I think it has to tell a story too. And I don't think this one did.

But I will say that, as advertised, Ryan Gosling is very, very good in this movie. He completely embodies the character; he's powerful and believable. And he's also, in my view, about the only thing going for the film. I rate it a D+.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

He's Our You

This week's Lost was the latest of several "fill in the blanks" episodes we're likely to get over the next few weeks. This one covered the events of how Sayid wound up on the flight back to The Island, and the answer there was pretty much as expected -- he was a prisoner being brought against his will.

For me, the element that felt missing from the proceedings was the explanation of what happened between the time Sayid finished killing for Ben and the time Ben reapproached him later in the Dominican Republic. We know that Sayid first aligned with Ben in search of revenge for the death of his beloved Nadia. We know that Ben led Sayid to believe that Widmore was responsible for this. Are we simply to assume that Sayid found out at some intervening point that this was a lie? Otherwise, I can't understand Sayid's sudden hatred of Ben. And given where this episode was leading, I'm surprised this would be left as a blank for us to fill in, that we wouldn't see exactly the reason Sayid came to hate Ben once again.

As for that ending, with Sayid murdering Young Ben, we have to remember the stance Lost has taken on time travel, "Farraday's Rule" that "whatever happened, happened." You can't change the past. Therefore, Ben is not dead. I suspect the resolution to this conundrum may have something in common with the end of season three, in which Adult Ben shot Locke and left him for dead. No, I doubt the strange "spectral residue" of Walt (or whatever the hell that was that saved Locke's life) is going to intervene on Ben's behalf, but just as the Island has twice disallowed Locke to die because of his importance, so it seems it won't allow Ben to die either. Perhaps this is part of what allowed both men to lead the Others (Richard notwithstanding).

Interesting, but all heady stuff. Character-based, yes, but all entwined in the big "What's with the Island?" mysteries. So I guess I'd call tonight a middle of the road episode. It was at least a good story for Sayid, a journey of his attempt to change, and his realization of (what he believes to be) his new destiny. But I think it lacked one or two more dramatic beats from his past (or his future, whatever perspective you want to take these days) to really strengthen the story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It Figures

As a kid, I owned a bunch of Star Wars action figures, including the stupidly obscure "Death Star Droid" figure. Why I wanted to own this then, I can't imagine now. The Droid in question appears on screen for all of about two seconds, as Luke, Han, and Chewie are waiting for the lift to get to the detention level. That had to be the "we're out of figures" figure.

If they're going to make toys that obscure, why not The Force?

Or Owen and Beru (charred)?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day 7, 10:00-11:00 PM

Senator Mayer continues the proud 24 tradition of getting a "re-cap freeze frame" after death.

They're setting up a "perimeter" at Mayer's house. (Drink!)

Ethan comes in to deliver bad news, and the President starts in on how the day might end of a positive note. Awkwaaaard.

This poor shipping yard security guard is expecting twins. Which makes it twice as sad that his life will be in jeopardy before the hour's over.

Jonas Hodges talks about 6 year olds eating their carrots. Okay, he's officially Weird Metaphor Guy.

Jack can't access the computer. "Dammit!" (Drink!)

Jack promises the security guard he'll be alright. This sort of plot point is almost becoming a new item on the 24 Drinking Game list.

Okay, now they're hitting this business with the security guard's family too hard. They're doing everything short of having him take out an actual photo of his wife. So now we all know he's NOT going to be killed.

The guard gets in the car with the bad guys. "Dammit!" (Drink!)

Ethan looks like Buddy Christ in that photo with the President.

Olivia reveals her nefarious machinations. What is with the writers of 24 and their issues with women? The women on the show all seem to either be evil, or wind up dead. Often both.

The agents say someone accessed Mayer's computer files "within the last hour." So, does that mean we all have to regurgitate a drink?

Renee's whole "look like I'm trying to give up smoking" look with the bandage is starting to get really distracting.

Tony and Jack seem to be playing a round of Wild Gunman.

Tony got caught. "Dammit!" (Drink!) Unfortunately for Tony, he wasn't expecting twins.

The bad guys steal the bomb back from Jack. "Dammit!" (Drink! Man, this hour's out of control!)

Jack Bauer exposes himself to dangerous biological agents. Kiefer Sutherland, on the other hand, exposes himself all the time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Rather Like It, Man

This afternoon, I saw the new comedy "I Love You, Man." It stars Paul Rudd as a newly engaged man who, having found the woman he wants to spend his life with, embarks on a quest to find a "bro" the fill the best friend (and best man) void in his life.

The cast includes a "deep bench" of funny people including Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, and Jane Curtin. And while they all bring the laughs, it's really Paul Rudd who makes the movie. The story hangs on the premise that his character is too awkward to have every formed any lasting guy friendships. And he pulls it off perfectly. There are so many funny, "oh stop talking now" moments, you sometimes feel like you're watching skin-crawling British comedy like The Office. And that's all Paul Rudd's skill.

But there's also good romance (and bro-mance) comedy, slapstick (including the best use of CG vomit that I expect film will ever see), and thankfully, a minimal amount of sentiment -- which movies like this often seem to have in excess.

Though while the movie is funny, it's not the kind of "can't breathe funny" that a comedy has to achieve for it to get the highest marks from me. I certainly recommend seeing it, but I don't think it's the sort of thing that would hold up well enough for me to want to see it again. (Also a rare thing for a comedy, in my book.) I rate it a B+.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spinsters

It's getting to be that time of year... spring, when all the sign spinners come out to the street corners to ply their trade. (Well, actually -- to shill someone else's stuff.)



I don't think I quite understand sign spinning as a method of advertising. I get that the principle is supposed to be that you notice the sign more because somebody is standing there waving it, but I for one thinks it makes it a hell of a lot harder to read the sign.

It almost seems to me like part of the sign spinning principle is supposed to be playing on people's emotions and getting them to pity the poor spinner. I mean sure, the weather's nice now, but there will be even more spinners out on street corners when it gets to be 90 degrees or more this summer. And when you see that poor guy standing there in the blazing sun (ear buds in, naturally), doesn't part of you want to take a little more interest in what he's pushing?

If that's really what's going on, I think it might just say something slightly disturbing about our society.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Daybreak, Part 2

Close the cover. This story is done.

Tonight was the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. (Upcoming movie not included. Spin-off series Caprica included less.) And it was a good ending. I have to say that it was not the "best" episode of Battlestar Galactica. Other episodes featured better moments of tension, better spectacular space battles, better moments of character drama. By most any measure, I think you could find some other episode of the series to rank above this one.

But... the whole was greater than the sum of the parts here, I think. And more importantly, it was the right ending. So even if other episodes impact me more strongly, I was nevertheless satisfied by this one.

Indeed, the "before the fall" flashbacks did turn out to be more relevant upon seeing them in the full three-hour context rather than the one-hour sampling from last week. Particularly potent was Adama coming that close to retiring before his role in the grand adventure could take place, and Starbuck confiding her fear of not being remembered (as "on point" a moment as there could possibly be).

Some fun bits, if not momentous ones, included the brief presidency of Romo Lampkin, Roslin breaking into tears as she thanked the Doctor, and "can we not tell her the plan?"

So then... the Big Stuff. It turns out that Earth was not Earth. Not our Earth, anyway. The people who used to joke online that the end would have Baltar appearing in our past and becoming Jesus were kinda-sorta warm. Really, it was all there in the Adama monologue from the opening credits of the original series -- the notion that "life here began out there," and that stellar travelers were the ancestors of our ancient cultures. That basically had to be the end of the series. And so while the mid-season point of "finding Earth" turned out to be a bait-and-switch, I forgive it. I think it was wise to put that mislead earlier in the season so as to bring doubt that the ending would be anything other than what it was.

So Head Six and Head Baltar turn out not to be psychological hallucinations, but actual angels. (I suppose in that one early season four episode where Baltar saw Head Baltar rather than Head Six, it was actually the other angel appearing to him for a change.) It's a bit hard to buy these angels stalking Baltar and Caprica for four years and trumping up their destinies which turn out only to be being there to pick up Hera. Still, if it lacks anything in strength of plot, it makes up for it in thematic and visual strength. The portrayal of all the events of the opera house vision coming to pass made from some cool-looking moments.

Then there was the conclusion of Starbuck's story. She was apparently an agent of God or the gods, sent back from beyond death to get them all to Earth. (Now that had the narrative potence that the Baltar/Six business lacked a bit, in my opinion.) And being on borrowed time, she simply vanished once her task was done. Cool stuff. The only flaw there -- and a small one, I think -- is that I don't think it quite meshed with the "hybrid's prophecy" we heard back in Razor. "She is the herald of the apocalypse. The harbinger of death. They must not follow her." No, as it turned out, they actually must follow her. By why quibble over the random babblings of a hybrid?

Then there was the death of Roslin, another mythic event for the show. I don't think anyone was surprised that she at last succumbed to her cancer in the final episode, but it was still powerful to see that moment, and Adama's reaction to it.

Yet for all the great moments Mary McDonnell delivered in this finale, I was strangely most moved by a brief, almost thrown-away moment between Baltar and Caprica Six. When Baltar broke down telling her that he knew something about farming, it was a powerfully resonant moment for the character, knowing how much he despised his "common" background.

And I think that's about all I have to say. Again, the right ending to satisfy for this series.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When a Head Out the Window Just Isn't Enough

It appears that 70 years ago, a "doggie bag" was an entirely different thing -- at least, according to the folks at Popular Mechanics magazine:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Namaste

I have no idea why we were made to wait an extra week for tonight's episode of Lost, but it did a fairly good job of being worth the wait.

There were several good character moments scattered throughout the hour, beginning with the reunion of Sawyer with Jack, Hurley, and Kate, and ending with Sawyer putting Jack in his place and showing who's in charge now. In between were other interesting scenes. We got to see a taste of Sun's dark side again, when she blindsided Ben with an oar to the head. We got to see Juliet's uneasiness over the return of Kate. (Was she deliberately screwing with Kate just to watch her squirm for a minute? After all, Juliet apparently had no trouble getting Jack on "the list." It seems like she just wanted Kate to twist in the wind for a minute or two.)

There were also a few interesting character mysteries exposed along the way. Why was Sayid in handcuffs? (It certainly goes a long way toward the theory that he was in the custody of a marshal.)

Where has Farraday gone? Did he leave the Island? Die? Join the Others?

What about Sun made her exempt from the same time travel flash that claimed the other Oceanic Six-ers on the plane?

And then there was the final moment where Sayid met a young Ben. Just how much does older Ben remember of that in the present? Has he known something about Sayid all along?

In all, a good installment that fit into place a few more tiles of the strange mosaic that is season five.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Lack of Brevity

I recently watched the long-titled film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. A Western from a few years ago starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the two title roles, I reckon you can guess the subject matter.

The film has some very nuanced performances in it, from the leads as well as a supporting cast featuring Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, and a number of other faces that would be recognized by regular movie watchers. You really feel the menace of Jesse James at choice moments in the film, and strongly identify with the hero worship of Robert Ford.

There are many striking visuals in the movie, from a holdup of a train in the black of night to sweeping wilderness vistas blanketed in snow. And also of particular note are the few select moments of violence in the movie. While the film depicts only a handful of violent acts, each manages to pack a jarring realism.

But oh, that script. It's not very clever, but yet incredibly apt, for me to say that this movie is perfectly described by its unwieldy title. It runs two hours and forty-five minutes, seems like it should be maybe half as long, and feels like it might be twice as long. It meanders rather aimlessly for longer than most movies' entire run time. Only about 20 minutes from the end does it finally start to get truly interesting. But it's not remotely enough to redeem the boredom inflicted so far. I'm not even sure if there's really a more compelling movie that could have been edited from this one; there's really only about five minutes' worth of interesting material before that final push.

If you like your Westerns slow, this might be the film for you. I suppose the television series Deadwood has conditioned me to expect more. I rate this movie a D+.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day 7, 9:00-10:00 PM

Jack Bauer is the Fastest Hotwire in the East.

Suddenly, I'm feeling validated in my choice of Sprint for my cell phone service, but I'm not sure why.

"If Bauer connects us to Juma, it could seriously impede this operation." Impede?

In a further effort to make us believe this hitman guy as the credible Evil Jack Bauer, they even put the same number of letters in his name -- John Quinn.

Is there a piano player at Senator Mayer's house?

Ethan: "I said no comment." Actually, no, he didn't.

The little O'Brian is named "Prescott?" Rough enough having Chloe and Morris for parents.

Ooo... Blowfish 148! Deadly if not encrypted properly.

As Eddie Izzard has taught us, there's always a "backdoor."

Okay, this whole "Quinn's good" thing is a little ridiculous. A call goes out over the radio to send cops to Senator Mayer's house, and the nearest police station can't get people there before him?

CSI has taught me that what Jack is leaving is a trail of "gravitational blood drops."

Jack doesn't need a license to operate heavy machinery.

So, is it some kind of professional courtesy that a guy like Quinn tells Jack what he knows just because Jack killed him? Seriously, if the situation were somehow reversed, can you imagine Jack Bauer saying anything other than "go to hell!"?

Why does Quinn have any info on his cell phone about the weapons shipment? He's a hitman. How is he even in the loop on this other thing?

Looks like Tony might finally be seeing some action again next week. But for now, just three lines or so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Home-Grown Movie

I hesitate to blog about a movie many of you reading this won't have any chance to see in the near future, but I've decided to go for it anyway. Last night, I saw Ink, a very small independent film made by a local Colorado filmmaker. The movie has yet to pick up a distributor, but is making the rounds at a few film festivals and is starting to get some notice. So who knows, maybe late this year it might be showing at the art house near you. In the meantime, if you're in the Denver area, you can take advantage of a limited run at the Starz FilmCenter at the Tivoli.

Ink is an unusual, fantastical tale somewhat in the mold of Dark City or Donnie Darko. It's the story of a hidden world co-existing with our own, in which two forces do battle against each other -- one responsible for bringing us dreams when we sleep, the other responsible for bringing us nightmares. An incubus looking to prove himself to the nightmare faction has been given a mission to abduct a little girl and deliver her for a sacrificial rite. Meanwhile, in the real world, that girl falls into a coma, as her estranged father becomes a focal point in the struggle between unseen forces as well.

Let me say that while I hope this film is picked up for wide distribution (and I believe it will be), I don't think it was a spectacular piece. The writing is a bit convoluted at times. The pace of the film occasionally drags, and the direction sometimes leaves it a bit unclear what is occuring in the real world and what is transpiring in the dream world (and not in a good way).

But the film does have more good points than bad. When the story is firing, it's very engaging. You do care for many of the characters, and the revelations of the final act are very strong.

But the single greatest thing I can praise about Ink is the look of the film. This movie was made on a budget in the neighborhood of "hey guys, wanna help me make a movie?" But it looks better than most multi-million dollar pictures coming out of Hollywood. The shadowy creatures that make up the nightmare army have a truly inspired and unsettling look to them. What visual effects the movie has are employed in specific and incredibly effective ways. Visually, this movie really is a work of art.

As it happens, Ink is not the first film from this Colorado director, and one of his earlier efforts, 11:59, is actually available on DVD now. So perhaps regardless of what happens as Ink runs the festival circuit in search of backers, you might one day get the chance to see it. If you're a fan of the visual side of filmmaking, you will definitely want to. I rate it a B-.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Network Notes

I recently watched Network, the 1976 movie that made "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" famous. One of the movies many people will say "you must see," I decided to cross it off the list.

The movie begins with a network news anchor being given two weeks' notice of losing his job. The next night, he blurts out on his broadcast that without his job he has nothing left to live for, and so he plans to kill himself live on an upcoming broadcast. The producers yank him off the air, but then reluctantly agree to allow him one final on-air editorial in which to apologize for the outburst. Instead, he rants and curses on the air... and stirs up big ratings, leading to an all new format in which he rails against society.

Some have lauded the movie as prescient, and indeed parts of it seem quaint and lose all context now, three decades later. Essentially, this news anchor character's ranting, which is supposed to seem so shocking and risque at the time, is exactly the sort of show that Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, or Keith Olbermann has today -- and there's little or nothing outrageous about it. How times have changed, right?

But there are still a few "jokes," if you will, about television gone too far that still play today. (Maybe not for much longer, though.) For example, as part of a subplot, a ball-busting producer played by Faye Dunaway champions a one-hour drama that opens every episode with footage shot by a domestic terrorist organization as they carry out one of their missions, then expanding into a "story behind the story" dramatized hour. We see television executives meeting to discuss the practicalities of such a program, and even handling contract negotiations with representatives of the terrorist group to get the footage they need.

The idea of the story still plays, and the acting is mostly good (though a bit over the top at times). But unfortunately, I still regard Network as a weak movie. The problem is that it doesn't stay focused on skewering television. Instead, the back half of the movie gets bogged down in a completely unnecessary subplot about a romance between the fired head of news and Faye Dunaway's executive character. It wouldn't even actually be fair to call it a "subplot"; the story actually takes over the film and dominates the final 45 minutes. And it lacks any trace of the satire or drama that the first chunk of the movie has.

Between the flaws I feel were baked in from day one, and the fact the movie really hasn't aged well, I can't give it more than a C-.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Daybreak, Part 1

Tonight was the beginning of the end, the first hour of the three-hour Battlestar Galactica finale (with the remaining two to follow next week). And it was very tough to know what to make of just this first piece without the rest to follow. Still, I'll give it a go.

So far, I must confess I'm a bit disappointed. Tonight's hour wasn't bad, but it was rather strange. My reaction mostly had to do with the flashbacks to Caprica, prior to the holocaust. Many of the scenes were neat for long time fans of the show to see and geek out over -- Starbuck's relationship with Zack Adama, for instance. Other scenes had strong emotion to them, like watching Laura have to clean up baby shower gifts for her now-dead sister.

But unforunately, what struck me more than any of that was the simple question: why? Why bother showing us this material now? Whatever dramatic content the scenes had was completely self-contained; the flashback material didn't appear to have any emotional resonance with events transpiring in the present. It was simply "here they were then; here they are now," with neither corrolation or contrast between the two being offered. I felt like all this material might have been better presented as a single episode called "Before the Fall," aired sometime far earlier in season four. Or perhaps as a separate movie like "Razor." But unless there's considerably more significance to this material coming in the last two hours, I really don't see what all of it is adding to the experience.

As for events in the present, everything was running up to what we'll see in a week's time. There were a few nice moments, but not really any fantastic ones. The sight of Adama's quarters all boxed up, Baltar's admission to Lee that "I wouldn't trust me either," a visibly shaky Roslin showing up on the hangar deck at the end of the hour. All nice, but Battlestar Galactica has given us better before. (Speaking of that hangar deck scene, I do have to give praise for staying true to the nature of the show. Not everyone volunteered for the resuce mission. Indeed, it seemed like barely one-third did. Hooray for playing the likely truth, rather than the gooey television moment... just as Galactica always does at its best.)

Still, it seems very possible to me -- even likely -- that tonight's hour will look better once seen in the context of the last two to which it is tied completely. So until then...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No News, Not Good News

So, the recent movement on the embezzlement case involving my former company was not the only occasion I've had recently to reflect on a former job. Just days ago, one of Denver's two major newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News, went out of business.

Those of you who know me even a little know what a night owl I am. It's practically unfathomable, but true -- I had a paper route for several years early in high school. I've even mentioned it once here, a bike route that eventually turned into a larger car route. I noted on the subject last time that bike routes had all surely been eliminated everywhere by now, making the job of "paper boy" extinct. Now, of course, news on the internet and television is putting newspapers out of business, so even newspaper delivery by adults is probably on a very short life span.

It's not really that I had any special connection to that first job. Hell, if anything, I spent years not getting enough sleep, not keeping the schedule that works best for me, and being an especially grumpy jerk throughout the day as a result. My quality of life improved notably the day I finally gave up that paper route.

Still, it's a little strange to see street corners in downtown Denver now, where the two papers used to sit side by side in vending machines; now the Rocky Mountain News machines have been ripped out, leaving little stains on the cement where they sat for years on end.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bogey

In my recent efforts to see a bunch of well-known movies I've somehow missed, I watched Caddyshack the other night. I'd actually caught parts of the movie here and there on the many, many occasions it's been shown on television -- a scene here, a scene there. But I'd never sat and watched the movie all the way through.

At least, that's what I thought.

As the movie rolled on, each scene was somehow as familiar to me as the last. And a few times, I was suddenly even able to recall what scene was coming next. By somewhere around the halfway point, I realized/decided that actually, I had seen Caddyshack before. In its entirety. Which I think speaks to some major flaws with the movie.

When it comes down to it, Caddyshack is one of the most disjointed comedies I can think of. Each of the major characters, as played by Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray, feels like they come from a completely different movie. Each is doing his own schtick. (Hell, Bill Murray's character only even has one scene with the rest of the main cast.) They don't blend together well at all.

The plot is similarly piecemeal, to what extent there even is a plot. The movie is supposed to be about a young caddy trying to earn money to go to college, but as said caddy is not played by Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, or Bill Murray, the movie (probably rightly) spends little time on his story. Instead, there are unconnected vignettes from "playing the perfect game in the middle of a torrential rain storm," "a wild party in a swimming pool," "being caught in bed with your girfriend by her parents," and so on and so on. The movie is, essentially a series of five-minute sketches with a little bit of character continuity and an occasional central theme of golf.

To be fair, some of the sketches are funny. Bill Murray wrings more out of his meager "man-against-gopher" subplot than any other comedian probably could manage. Rodney Dangerfield's "do-it-all golf bag" provides some good prop comedy. But none of that changes the fact that ultimately, there isn't really a movie here, just a high-budget episode of Saturday Night Live.

When it comes down to it, all the big names you'd watch this movie to see have far better movies on their resum├ęs. Go watch Chevy Chase in Fletch, or even the less-widely-praised Modern Problems. Watch Back to School for Rodney Dangerfield at his best. (His best; I'm not sure I'd call it all that great.) For Bill Murray, hell, take your pick -- Ghostbusters, Stripes, Scrooged, Groundhog Day... and that's not even getting into his more recent work.

In short, I found Caddyshack good for a few laughs, but certainly not lasting ones. How else could it be that I was able to have watched the entire movie at some point a few years ago and then completely lost the memory of having done so? I rate the movie a D+.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blast From the Past

Shocho's LWC found a story at the web site for the Norfolk area newspaper today that was a weird reminder of days gone by. Many of you readers know of the game company I used to work for out in Virginia. Hell, more than a few of you used to work there yourselves.

What some of you may not know is the saga of how the brother-in-law of the company founder embezzled $1.5 million. The lawsuit against him claimed that the lack of operating capital led to nearly $9 million in business losses, and ultimately "contributed to the company's decision to lay off more than 90 employees." (Including me.)

It's been just over four years now since that lay off. Weirdly, the subject had come up in a couple of conversations I had recently with different friends -- coincidentally, not having anything to do with the "anniversary" of sorts. Everyone agreed that this is one case where it doesn't feel like "time flies." For everyone I discussed this with, both former co-workers and local friends I kept as I moved away from Colorado and then back, we agreed that those four years seem like a lifetime ago.

Reading this news story made me pause for just a moment, though, even though I'd learned the details of it years ago during my employment. If it weren't for the embezzlement, would I still working there, living in Virginia? Given that it does seem like a lifetime ago, it's pretty hard to imagine.

I guess this just gave me a few seconds of pondering "the road not taken," even though in this particular case, I had absolutely no control over which road I took.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Day 7, 8:00-9:00 PM

The TV anchor starts off the hour by mentioning a "perimeter." (Drink.)

The Vice President wants a message relayed to Moss that he already gave him 10 minutes ago. A "re-relay," if you will.

Bill becomes the second Buchanan to make a giant mess in the White House.

And the Candyman's incredibly short run on 24 comes to an end as well.

We get a silent clock to close the act, just so we're all sure than Bill is actually "dead dead" and not "Tony dead."

It's not a good day to be one of Olivia Taylor's parents.

I've forgotten... where was Ethan supposed to have been during this whole White House takeover?

We learn that "damn bitch" doesn't warrant a "Language" warning at the start of the episode. At least, not when Jon Voight says it.

Agent Moss sends Agent Walker to her room.

Maybe last week, when Jack Bauer told you to fight climate change, you weren't listening. Maybe you'll listen to the President of the United States?

All the explosions on 24 must be very eco-friendly.

Jack gives the hospital doctor a look that says: "I promised I wouldn't hurt Burnett. And you're not Burnett."

You don't drink when Moss screams "dammit," no matter how loudly.

Chloe and Tony are off somewhere for a week. But not getting killed, though, so probably for the best for them.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Keep it Elevated... or "High," Anyway

Here's a story of a resourceful drug smuggler who had his broken leg covered in a cast made of cocaine. Among the great details in this story:

The man was 66 years old. No retirement for him, no sir. He's still spry enough to hide more drugs than guys half his age!

The leg was actually broken; it wasn't just a phony cast. You might hope that the broken leg happened first, and then the germ of the idea came later. But probably not. The only question is whether he had his leg broken voluntarily for this scheme, or if it was some kind of punishment by... let's say "co-workers," for a past job gone wrong?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watch Out

Comic fans, you may want to just turn back now, because I'm about to take a massive dump on something many of you hold nigh-sacred.

Yesterday, I went to go see the new movie, Watchmen. I had not been planning to do so. Not too long ago, I basically swore off comic book movies. It wasn't that I had been burned by one recently -- in fact, I think the last one I'd seen was The Dark Knight, which I thought was rather good. But I'd seen a lot of them over the years that I thought were garbage, including a handful that were well-regarded by many people. I think I'd just heard some announcement about how 17 more obscure superheroes that no one would know who doesn't frequent a comic book shop had been optioned to appear in soulless summer blockbusters, and I just decided enough was enough. These movies weren't going to get any of my money.

Well, Watchmen didn't either. Someone else bought the ticket for me. But I confess, even as the generous offer was being made, a voice in my head was telling me to politely decline. If indeed I was doing anything like a boycott on anything like a principle, this was a pretty lame cheat around it. But more to the point, everything I'd seen about this movie (and it was absolutely everywhere -- trailers before every movie, spreads in Entertainment Weekly, and much more) told me I probably wasn't going to like it.

But free movie, right?

Well, as I was painfully reminded, one's time is also a currency. I may not have given any dollars to this film, but I still had to give it 160 minutes. (Holy crap! Who makes a comic book movie that's nearly three hours long?!) And what an expensive price that was.

Watchmen is a boring, meandering mess. It starts off on the wrong foot by thwarting its own attempts to establish a narrative. The plot begins with the murder of a superhero; who did it, and for what purpose was he wanted out of the way? Are other heroes' lives in danger? Possibly interesting stuff, except that for the first 90 minutes of the film's considerable running time, there are barely ever five consecutive minutes addresssing this plot. Instead, momentum is repeatedly interrupted for flashbacks to the histories or "origin stories" of the considerable cast of characters.

You might argue that's the story structure of the TV series Lost, which I love. But that's a story being told over more than 100 hours, not meant to be digested in one sitting. And Lost didn't delve into the backstories of its characters until the "series proper" began; the two-hour pilot episode dealt solely with the plane crash and its immediate aftermath. It also helps that the flashbacks of Lost were interesting mysteries in and of themselves. In Watchmen, each digression from the plot is more boring than the one preceding it.

By the time the movie finally started to move forward, it was already too late for me to care much. Not that it had much momentum even then. There are time-wasting digressions like sight-seeing on the planet Mars, and looking in on the bunkered war room of alternate-reality President Nixon (the worst attempt to use makeup to create a look-alike ever committed to film).

Even if the plot of the movie didn't engage me, you might think I'd have to award points for the stylish visuals. But no, I find the whole thing too self-aware. The movie went out of its way to create one comic book frame after another -- re-creating art from the original book, I'd imagine. The moments called attention to themselves through annoying usage of things like slow motion and fake looking CG (used so that the exact position of things like falling objects could be meticulously controlled).

More than anything, I was bored. Bored for nearly three hours straight. I thought at the time that I wasn't actually hating the movie like I did The Hills Have Eyes or 30 Days of Night, so I wasn't going to give it an F when I reviewed it. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I had to ask myself: what thing about the movie did I think was decent to salvage anything out of the experience?

I couldn't think of a single thing.

So, Watchmen gets the first F of the year. I believe it to be a movie only a fan of the comic could love.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Islanded in a Stream of Stars

I thought the "whole" of tonight's Battlestar Galactica wasn't too extraordinary tonight. We're well past the point now where any one story is being told within the confines of a single episode; instead, many plot threads are leading up to the ultimate conclusion. So there wasn't really one narrative like the recent mutiny episodes, or the finding of Earth, or some such to rally around.

However, there were many smaller "parts" which transcended the whole, a number of really outstanding scenes and moments sprinkled throughout the episode.

Helo's scene with Adama, pleading for a chance to go after his daughter and breaking down when refused, was probably the strongest material the character has ever been given on the show, and actor Tahmoh Penikett really delivered.

The nice callback between Roslin and Adama, to their happy time on New Caprica, was a quiet and sweet scene.

The wonderfully crafted funeral montage was deeply moving, with its overlapping and intercut eulogies from several different religions and values.

The scenes between Boomer and Hera hit entirely different emotions. Boomer's threat near the beginning to drug the child to shut her up was particularly horrific, and yet the final scene involving the two, in which Hera pleads to Boomer for help, was just as effective.

I didn't find Adama's breakdown this episode as compelling as he's had facing earlier trials this season, though the final scene between he and Tigh was another triumph. The last shot, pulling back on the two as they sit side by side, spent, was perfect.

Just two weeks remain...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Attraction is Not Mutual

Continuing to work my ways through "movies I've been told I should see," I recently watched Fatal Attraction. While I'd by no means been promised a classic along the lines of Psycho, I'd been well... told it was a movie I should see.

I wish I could now remember who exactly told me that, and start considering their recommendations less seriously.

Put simply, Fatal Attraction is too preposterous to enjoy. Could a husband have an affair? Oh, of course. Could the woman be completely wrong for him, on more than just the breaking-of-marriage-vows level? Again, of course. But in this movie, the woman is a complete lunatic. I suppose the writer wanted to tell the story that way to cement the theme of "a guy's worst nightmare," but it's simply not believable here.

This "other woman" is portrayed as so bat-shit crazy that you can't believe she'd ever appear normal long enough for any man to want to have a relationship with her in the first place. She's so unstable, you have to even wonder how she could hold the job at a publishing company she's supposed to have (the one we only see her actually performing for about 45 seconds). And even if you can get on board with all that, she says in the movie she's 36 years old. If she was this close to the edge of a breakdown this massive, it's impossible to think it wouldn't have happened to her already at some earlier point in her life.

You can't look for realism in that character, nor can you get behind the leading male. He cheats on his wife. Does it mean he deserves that insane hell that's unleashed upon him? Possibly not. But he's certainly not a likeable guy for an audience in any case.

The movie just piles on ever-escalating craziness, and at a surprisingly slow pace. I almost couldn't like it on any level.

But there was one -- Glenn Close. No, she does not make her character believable. (As you have surely surmised from my review.) But I don't think any actress could do so with the material as it came on the page. What she does do is commit herself fully to the role. She found some logic that let her play the role to the hilt, and she chews up the scenery in a very skillful way. It's a truly great performance in that she accomplishes anything at all.

I rate the movie a D. But again, the only redeeming quality is Glenn Close, and you could see her in any number of other, much better, places. (Say, the TV series Damages.) This is one recommendation I'm not passing along.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

LaFleur

Tonight's was a pretty good episode of Lost -- but better, I think, if your mind starts to fill in the blanks.

We now know that three years passed for the five still on the Island after the departure of the Oceanic Six. (The same three years that passed in the 2000s for those Six themselves -- surely not a coincidence.) Think about what things were like for those five, and it's an intriguing picture.

The survivors of Flight 815 lived on the Island for a period of just over three months. So Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Farraday, and Miles all spent over ten times that amount of time together among the Dharma Initiative in the 1970s. That's a whole lot more time to form tighter friendships than any of the other main characters had in the first four seasons. And of course, we saw that in particular between Sawyer and Juliet. Indeed, in Sawyer's touching speech near the end of the hour, he admits to barely even remembering Kate anymore.

Of course now, that'll be put to the test. But that's a matter for the time ahead.

Along the way were some other great character moments. Farraday's complete collapse at the loss of Charlotte (her body, following her true loss), and later bittersweet "reunion" of sorts at seeing the child incarnation of her. Juliet's joy at finally, successfully delivering a baby on the Island. Even just the realization of a now fully-English-fluent Jin. Nice stuff.

But as always, questions. What did happen in those first few weeks to make everyone agree to stay on the Island?

What about any other Flight 815 survivors? Say, specifically, Bernard and Rose? They weren't impaled on the beach by flaming arrows... did they not end up in the 1970s with the other "major characters," for some reason? And where did Sayid and Sun end up? Perhaps in the same not-1970s time?

Then there's that giant statue we saw for a few seconds in the teaser. Ordinarily, I don't go too much for Lost mysteries that aren't more rooted in character. But now I suddenly think this mystery actually is. That old four-toed foot Sayid spotted back in season two appears to have at some time long gone had a whole statue attached to it. And I think it was very deliberate that we saw only the back of it tonight.

I think it's a monument to someone we know. With time travel part of the show (and since our 1970s bound characters have to eventually reunite with the rest of the gang, it has to be again at some point), it could easily be. Perhaps someone is going to lose a toe? Or maybe we have yet to see a particular character with their shoes off? In any case, the possibility that this statue could be a familiar face has me caring about it more than the average Island-centric mystery.

It's strange, but we now have more of a road map to upcoming episodes of Lost than we've probably ever had before. We have to pick up the thread of Ben and Locke in the present. There's probably more of the missing three years on the Island to tell. We need to know of the missing 24 hours in 2007 for Ben, Hurley, Sayid, Kate, and Desmond. That seems like enough to take us nearly all the way to the end of the season.

And despite the sketch of what's to come, I actually find myself no less interested in seeing it. Cool.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

High Speed Food Fight

Here's one police pursuit I wish had been televised. The "chasees" tried to thwart the cops by throwing "chilled meat and dairy products" in their path.

It kind of sounds to me like the premise of a 1980s arcade game. Part Spy Hunter, part Donkey Kong.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Day 7, 6:00-8:00 PM

No one could ever penetrate this amazing "take a cursory glance at your name tag" security they have at the hospital.

Juma is sight-seeing in D.C.

The guy who just killed Dubaku is so evil, he's using a cell phone in a hospital!

Chloe's a Mac; Janis is a PC.

Even Chloe can't overcome TV computer logic, where pushing the DELETE key actually makes a file delete.

Senator Mayer just made himself comfortable behind the desk.

There will be an attack "within the hour!" (Drink!)

Chloe vs. Janis. Tech fight!

A tazer. Not Jack's first weapon of choice, but it'll do.

"Dammit!" (Drink!)

Jack's on a rampage! He tazed the phone!

Mayer: "I know the man." President Taylor: "Apparently, you don't." Zing!

It's a damn good thing Renee's phone is on vibrate as she sneaks around this warehouse.

Juma needs "Dubaku Jr." on the "perimeter." (Drink!)

Renee continues to sneak around as a dozen soldiers all repeatedly fail their perception rolls.

Time for Renee to do some wakeboarding, sans board.

Something finally manages to kill a cell phone on 24.

What possible purpose does that picture of the White House serve in planning an attack on the White House, other than to tell someone spying on you where you're intending to attack?

Agent Moss just keeps circling the Capitol in his helicopter.

That little tiny drill bit opens up a four foot hole in less than three minutes. I need to get me a drill like that!

Agent Moss says he has "every reason" to think Walker is alive and in pursuit of the terrorists. Wait, does he even have any reason to think that?

Renee, you want to maybe take the ranger's car?

"Dammit, Bill!" (Drink! Ugh, that's four....)

Bill is too tortured to torture.

"THAT'S what I think of your damn Chinese food!" (Maybe he wouldn't have been killed if he'd been serving lasagna, a terrorist's favorite dinner.)

Renee tells Dubaku Jr. to eat shovel!

Bill is an important character, so he gets to be the first hostage, rather than casualty #47.

Juma cut off communications. "Dammit!" (Drink! That's five.)

If Juma's group can watch all these cameras, why can't anyone on the Secret Service do it?

They're hacking the electronic lock on the door. "Dammit!" (Drink... okay, I can't see straight anymore.)

Jon Voight is pissed. Don't call during his noodles.

"Stress is the fertilizer of creativity." And shit is fertilizer. Therefore, stress is shit to creativity. Yeah, that's true.

The Vice President won't act because he doesn't have enough intelligence. In more ways than one.

Jack Bauer says it's time to stop climate change. You'd better damn well do it!

Senator Mayer gets the Prime Weasel moment. What has Jack done?!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Checking Out the Motel

I've now heard "you mean you've never seen Psycho?!" for the last time. Yes, somehow, incredibly, a film nut like me had managed to come this far having never seen the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller. But I rectified that oversight yesterday.

I've often found with classic movies that one has to make a great deal of allowances for the time frame in which they were originally created. Put another way, most "old films" just don't hold up for me when I watch them with my modern sensibilities. And there's no question, Psycho was distinct in many ways in its time, a first of its kind. But I don't think you have to make any of those allowances for it to still be a very good film.

The greatest testament I can make for the film is that it still managed to generate a good amount of suspense for me even though, as one of the "classic movies," all the big moments had been long ago spoiled for me. The shower scene, the revelations at the end... no real surprises were waiting for me in this movie. But it was still tense. The direction was great, the camera work very dramatic, the writing mostly clever, and the acting in all the major roles compelling.

Of course, next year, Psycho will be 50 years old, if you can believe it. And I can scarcely imagine what the movie would have been like to see in its time. An onscreen murder, surely more grisly than anything that had been previously presented in a mainstream movie. A ghoulish corpse presented in a shocking reveal. A main character dispatched barely halfway into the proceedings? You can thank Psycho for a lot of good movies that followed. (And blame it for a lot of bad knockoffs, too.)

Still, it did hurt my full enjoyment of the movie to know every major beat before it happened. It did sometimes intrude that the acting of so many minor characters was stilted and old-fashioned. (There's a scenery-chewing psychiatrist in the final scene that's pretty laughably bad, but then he's working with the one truly bad monologue in the film. Or perhaps it just seems that way today, reflecting on the attitudes on psychology of the past era?) It may not be fair to hold that against Psycho, but it is the perspective I bring to it.

In any case, I'm very glad I watched it. And I'll join the chorus saying this movie is a classic that should be seen. (I certainly don't feel that about all -- or even most -- classic movies.) I rate Psycho a B.