Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Pleasant Trip to Hell

Spurred on by some surprisingly good press, I decided to give the new movie Drag Me to Hell a try. This marks a return to form for Sam Raimi, who has taken a break from his multi-million dollar Spider-Man movies to co-write and direct this classic-style horror movie. This plot comes right out of the handbook: a young woman has been cursed by an old gypsy and has three days to figure out how to keep from being sent to hell by the vengeful demon set upon her.

The cast is good, led by Alison Lohman and Justin Long (the latter of whom has his own "this horror movie shouldn't be good, but it kind of is" pedigree with the original Jeepers Creepers). The other characters, especially the old crone who curses our heroine, flesh out the piece effectively.

The movie's soundscape is worthy of special praise. The sound design is just phenomenal, full of a variety of unsettling, shrill, ghostly noises that set you on edge. And the musical score, by Christopher Young, is just what this kind of movie should have. If you like horror movies, and don't have a great sound system in your own home, you'll want to get the theater to see this just to have this great sound experience.

But perhaps the most effective aspect of the movie is the writing. It makes very effective use of audience expectations. The script knows you're going to try and figure out where it's going, and twice manages to double-cross you. The ending is particularly good in this regard -- you get more than enough clues to deduce that a twist has occurred of which the characters are unaware, and yet it still left me unsure of just which way things were going to end up.

But the movie does get more than a bit campy in moments. This should probably be expected, given Sam Raimi's history. There's nothing so crazy as being attacked by your own severed hand, but plenty of moments that start very effective and chilling go just that one notch farther over the top to elicit laughter mixed with disgust.

Ordinarily, this kind of camp completely puts me off. But the thing is, for most of the film, including the scenes that contain these big moments, the movie is good. It's tense, effective, and scary. In my experience, most campy horror movies can make no such claims. They ultimately go for the over-the-top because they can't actually scare you -- they can only gross you out or make you laugh. Not so here. So while I ultimately wish the movie had just "played in straight" the entire time, these grand moments weren't enough to make me dislike it.

I rate the movie a B- overall. If you like scary movies, this is one you won't want to miss.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Touched By an Angle (and a Zoom, and Slow Motion...)

I finally saw The Untouchables for the first time, and when it was all done, I thought to myself, "there's a really good movie made really badly."

It started out with a lot of great elements. It was a compelling story, very well written by David Mamet. He managed here to balance telling the tale with his trademarks turns of phrase. There are plenty of lines of dialogue in the movie that have become famous, but they feel very natural in the context of the film.

Things continued to roll on well with most of the casting. Robert De Niro is a great choice for Al Capone. Sean Connery is perfect for Malone, an old beat cop picked to work on the team trying to bring down the gangster. Andy Garcia doesn't have that much to do as another member of the team, but does his part well.

But things start to turn sour with the casting of Kevin Costner. In my opinion, there aren't many actors working today with a more narrow range than Kevin Costner. (Not that he's working all that much today.) His acting runs the gamut from "present" to "mostly present," and he's a very poor choice indeed to lead this team against Capone. He doesn't do "hard boiled cop," nor "tender family man," nor "shrewd detective," nor anything else that would go well in this movie. In every major "two hand" scene in the film, the other actors run rings around him -- De Niro when Eliot Ness confronts Capone, Connery in three or four significant scenes. Costner can't even yell and muster up a convincing level of anger.

And it's pretty much downhill from there. Ennio Morricone provides a bombastic and unsubtle musical score. I suppose that's what you should expect from him, given his body of work, but his use here of synthesized rock percussion doesn't fit the time frame of the movie, while simultaneously dating it in the decade in which it was made. It sweeps when it should play tense, pulses when it should flow... virtually every note is a distracting, sour one.

Yet it's still far less distracting than the work of director Brian De Palma and his cinematographer. The camera work is the heavy-handed technique of people who seem to want you to know just how many tricks are in their arsenal. There are awkward and fast zooms, self-conscious pans, ridiculous slow motion, overt Dutch angles, annoying moments of fake dual focus (through use of a split diopter, for you film buffs), long single takes that call too much attention to themselves... you name it, it's here. This movie should be required viewing in film school, as it shows almost every trick in the book, and how clumsy they all look when they're not employed well.

With all these complaints, you're probably expecting a really low grade from me on this film. But no, I'm actually giving it a B-. That's how good it was on paper; that's how good most of the acting is in this movie. It manages to bubble up to the surface, through the morass trying to drag it under, and still deliver a tale that is entertaining to watch. But it does make me really disappointed to think of how good a movie this could have been in the hands of another director, an "actor's director."

Who knows, the way they seem to keep remaking older movies all the time, maybe I'll get the chance to see in a decade or so.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Day of the Triffids

It's coming soon, now that some scientist has invented a device that lets your plants ask you to be watered. By text messaging you.

I'm already lukewarm at best on the whole text messaging thing, though I know a lot of my friends are into it. I can't get past the "there's a phone in my hand, can't I just call the person?" factor. So combine that with the creepiness of being nagged by a plant to be fed, and we have a Little Shop of Horrors for the new century.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Running the Whole Mamet

Late last year, I saw a production of Glengarry Glen Ross here in Denver, and noted that I planned to add the film version of the play to my "Things to See" list. Well, I can now cross it off that list, having now seen the film.

I can say that the movie is not substantially different from the play. Aside from relocating a few key scenes to open up the action from a limited number of sets (as all play adaptations do), there are only two significant changes in this film version. The first act of the play is divided into three scenes that introduce characters to us in pairs; in the film, these three vignettes are integrated slightly, with a few small pieces cut together rather than presented in succession.

The second alteration is more significant, the addition of a new character, played by Alec Baldwin. He has only one scene in the movie, of five to ten minutes, but it's one of those larger-than-life characters realized in a powerhouse performance. These days, Alec Baldwin seems to be better known for his skills in comedy (which are considerable). But a look at this movie will remind you he has the dramatic chops too. It's actually an all-star cast from top to bottom. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce fill it out, each outstanding and a perfect fit for their roles.

In commenting on the play, I mentioned that I'd heard the movie portrayed some of the men as more sympathetic, rather than purely immoral scam artists. Judging it now for myself, I wouldn't really say that's the case. Jack Lemmon's performance adds some nuance to the piece, but these are all basically low-lifes on the page.

The crisp and polished writing of David Mamet is just as strong on screen as on stage. But this is also the area in which the story falls short a bit for me. Well, really, there isn't much story. Yes, there is a plot that could be encapsulated and explained, but ultimately this script is more about painting a picture than telling that story. The particulars of plot run a distant second to demonstrating these people, the way they act, the way they speak.

It's certainly an enjoyable movie, and worth seeing for some top notch acting. But it doesn't quite have it all. I rate it a B.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Risky Venture

Pretty much everyone in the world has seen those 70 seconds of Risky Business, set to that famous Bob Seger tune. But until recently, I'd managed to avoid the other 90-odd minutes of it.

It's a bit of an odd comparison to make, but I found it to be somehow similar to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, had that movie been made with an R rating and a generous helping of nudity. At least, the raw formula is rather the same: a high school student with rich parents and a pretty charmed life goes through a series of wacky hijinks but comes out smelling like a rose. Ferris is, of course, almost completely unflappable, while Tom Cruise's Joel Goodson gets more "flapped" in the course of the movie.

Probably because of this comparison, fair or not, I found Risky Business to be rather lacking. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, after all, is one of my favorite movies. Anything like it is sure to fall short in my book.

But there were bright spots among the supporting cast, which included Curtis Armstrong (you most likely know him as Booger), Bronson Pinchot (you most likely know him as Balki), and Joe Pantoliano (from all sorts of places). Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay are fine too.

Still, the movie comes off to me like a mixed bag. It's not in the "gross-out comedy" style, nor the romantic comedy style. Actually, it's not really consistently funny enough to be an all-out comedy. It dances near the edge of some darker themes, but never lets the jeopardy get real enough to be suspenseful, or even all that engaging. It's good for a few smiles, overall, but is ultimately nothing that great.

Too much a product of its time, perhaps? In any case, I rate it a C+.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Totally a Time Waster

If you're anything like me, this site is about to waste a ton of your spare time: It's... well... totally what it sounds like.

For example, have you ever noticed how Ed Harris totally looks like Robocop?

Or how Lauren Hutton totally looks like Willem Dafoe?

Or how Lindsay Lohan totally looks like Gollum?

Or how that terrifyinging creepy Burger King Mascot totally looks like Mel Gibson?

All these and more kept me clicking for an hour.

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Uneventful Wait

I recently watched the movie Waiting... A friend had mentioned it was "pretty funny," and it did have a number of very funny people in it, including Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, and Justin Long. Still, I didn't have a lot of expectations of it.

Which was about right, as I didn't get a lot out of it. I actually found it somewhat comparable to this year's Adventureland, another comedy revolving around a tough "service industry" job. Adventureland, however, offered more of a plot.

Put simply, this movie didn't have much of a plot at all. It was simply one day at a restaurant, with loose elements of one character having a crisis over what his life has amounted to, and another having to show around a new trainee at the restaurant. Neither one of these threads gather enough momentum to truly constitute a story, though.

Really, the movie is just a framework for a bunch of jokes, many of them of the "gross out" variety, a few of them rather homophobic. (And not really excused by them "hanging a bell on it" by having one of the characters point it out.) Though when it's not being overly juvenile (which is most of the time), it does generate a few laughs. More in total, I think, than the movie I likened it to, Adventureland. Or perhaps it was just personal familiarity (having once worked the longest couple months of my life at a restaurant) making me give a average movie a bit of a pass.

Not too much of a pass, though. This still only amounted to a C+ movie. It's probably not a waste of time, given that it barely runs 90 minutes. Still, you could easily spend the time in better ways.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

B (minus) is for Brown

Today, I saw the new film Angels and Demons, based on the Dan Brown book of the same name.

I wouldn't consider myself a "Dan Brown fan," but I have read all four of the books he's written. He's a real paradox of a writer. His stories, though elaborately researched, come off very shallow. The way in which he puts words together isn't particularly noteworthy, and yet he has a way to pull a reader through a book in a matter of hours -- you don't want to put it down.

Regardless of whatever talents or flaws Dan Brown may have, Angels and Demons is definitely his best book. Though it strains believability at times, it's never boring. And so, while I didn't think much of the film adaptation of his most popular book, The Da Vinci Code, I expected that a better job could be done with his better source material.

For the most part, it was. The movie benefits as the book does, from a "time sensitivity" that The Da Vinci Code lacks. Protagonist Robert Langdon has only a matter of hours to avert a major catastrophe, so there's no time to stop for languid lectures on history dressed up with a little fiction. There are also more moments of drama, tension, and action throughout Angels and Demons, with a series of murders amping the proceedings before the chance can come for things to bog down.

As with The Da Vinci Code, a number of talented actors aren't asked to do much. Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, and the rest of the cast all get the job done without ever really having the chance to shine. Ron Howard's direction is strong, but a bit indulgent at times. For example, an opening sequence involving the Large Hadron Collider lasts for far too long, heaping on silly techno jargon by scientists looking at ridiculously Hollywood-ized computer graphics.

But just moments before you can start to look on the movie as a really expensive Roger Corman film, things start to pick up. The movie does get interesting, and even exciting at times. The pace keeps up for most of two hours, until you reach a "why isn't the movie over yet?" coda whose very existence tips the audience on the "shocking plot twist" about to be revealed. Or perhaps I just felt it that obvious because, having read the book, I knew it was coming.

Though this is a far better adaptation of its book than The Da Vinci Code, I still think the story works better on the page, if for no other reason than you can pause while reading to reflect on how neat the ambigrams are, and how they really are identical right-side-up and upside-down. (That comment probably means nothing to you if you haven't read the book or seen the film.) In any case, it's a modestly entertaining trip to the movies. I rate it a B-.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Call Up the Yard

It had been years since I'd last had the chance to play it, but not long ago I dusted off my copy of Scotland Yard and gave it a go.

This is one of those games I have fond memories of from when I was younger, one of the first games I ever played that was not from Parker Brothers, Hasbro, or some such. Unlike many games from back then, which I seem to find underwhelming when I try them again as an adult, I always seem to enjoy this one when it comes back around. Why I still manage to go years between games, I'm not sure, but it's a fun one.

If you've never played it, Scotland Yard pits one player as "Mr. X" against all the other players, who cooperatively try to capture him. X moves around the board in secret, tracking every step on paper, and only revealing his true location every five turns. Armed only with these intermittent reveals, and the knowledge of what mode of transportation X is using to travel each turn, the detectives must tighten a net around him and move any one of their number to the same space as X.

The game honestly rests just on the edge of what might be too tedious, if you let it. The detectives can talk with each other about the best moves to make, and if they spend too much time overanalyzing everything, I could imagine it easily letting all the fun out of the proceedings. Fortunately, it seems to always stop just short of that when I play, as it did on this occasion.

One thing I seem to remember about the game, no matter how long I go between playing it, is that I think it's optimal for three or five players. The box says three to six, but there's definitely a sweet spot for "number of detectives facing off against Mr. X." With three players, the two detectives each move two pawns, which brings it in sync with the five player experience. With four players (three detectives), I seem to remember there not being enough detectives to build a net that X can't easily slip through. And with six players (five detectives), my memory is that X hasn't got a chance of winning. Four detective pawns on the board seems to me to be that perfect balance where either side has a chance for victory.

On this occasion, I was with the detectives. And this time, X eluded us, although we came oh-so-close to capturing him at about the halfway point, and remained right on his tail until we ran out of our own travel tokens, ending the game. Even in defeat, it was a lot of fun. And I hope I don't go another several years before playing it again.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Turn Down the Heat

I recently watched Heat, the Michael Mann movie about a top notch thief and his crew, and the obsessive detective trying to capture him. Holy crap, what a cast this this movie has. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Natalie Portman... and more.

And therein is the first hint of trouble with this film. The script tries to give too many of them their due. Ultimately, the story is just about these two consummate professionals -- in opposing professions -- going against each other. But the movie gets mired down in the lives of their families, their contacts, their other adversaries. Though this is surely intentional, to help give a full context for events, things linger on these bits of backdrop at the expense of narrative momentum.

The film starts off quite exciting, and outlines the interesting stakes within the first 15 minutes. But the more the movie drags on, the less engaging it becomes. And boy, does it drag on, for a total of nearly three hours. It's sad that the action beats become the most interesting thing in the movie, because this shouldn't be evaluated as a "Big Dumb Action Movie." The cat-and-mouse game of two incredibly intelligent characters should be enough to sustain.

Instead, what's left isn't smart enough for a battle of wits. It's not exciting enough for an action movie. It's not emotional enough for a drama. It's not clever enough for a heist movie. It's not tense enough for a suspense movie. It's just a bloated mess of half-baked movies all swirled together.

With, yes, incredible acting.

But that wasn't nearly enough to hold my interest for three hours. I rate Heat a D+. You'd be better off going actor by actor through the cast and finding better films in their filmographies, even though that would take considerably more time. I think it would feel like a lot less, actually.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hold It... Or Don't

You may have noticed that, while I've given some low, low marks to a number of movies in reviewing them, I don't talk about turning them off (at home) or walking out (of the theater). I was just talking with some friends last night about how I just can't seem to give up on a movie, no matter how bad I think it is. In fact, the only time in the last, say, five years that I remember quitting on a movie was I'm Not There, which should tell you how bad I thought it was.

In fact, I don't even like to get up to go to the bathroom or anything in the middle of a movie. I want to see every single second of it. So this web site I discovered today really isn't for me.

But on the chance that it's a public service to any of you, let me point you to a new web site, It just got started, it seems, but it plans to be a big catalogue of what times during a movie it's "safe" to get up and pee without missing anything critical.

I think there's still some work to be done here. For example, they'd have you miss Luke and Han shooting down TIE Fighters while escaping the Death Star in Star Wars. Though it would properly have you skipping out on mood-setting crap about 40 minutes into Jurassic Park, so there you go.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Last Year's Models

I saw this year's new Paul Rudd film, I Love You Man, in theaters, but I missed last year's Role Models the first time around. Now I'm all caught up.

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott star in this comedy about two guys sentenced to a month of community service working as mentors for a pair of kids -- one of them the immortal "McLovin" from Superbad. There's plenty of juvenile humor, and some good laughs along the way too.

Both the leads are good, but neither is at the top of their game here. Seann William Scott isn't half as funny as he was in American Pie or Road Trip, while Paul Rudd was better in his newer movie (the aforementioned I Love You Man). The two kids are good, but the real scene stealer is Jane Lynch, in a silly-wacky performance as the founder of the mentor organization. (If you don't know her by name, I'll bet you've seen her in a movie or two.)

The script is funny at times, but it also bogs down a bit too much in Live Action Role Playing. One of the kids is a LARPer, and a rather large amount of the plot is dedicated to his hobby. The jokes are at their weakest when the movie is dwelling on the Renaissance Festival-like atmosphere of the LARP group's gatherings.

Overall, I still give the movie a B-. It could be worth seeing if you haven't, but I'd sooner steer you toward I Love You Man for a better story and more consistent laughs.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Imperfect Beauty

I've said here on a few occasions that I don't think much of Russell Crowe. On the other hand, I tend to think quite highly of director Ron Howard. These two "forces" have been playing against each other for a while, favoring my distaste, and so I had not seen the Academy Award winning movie, A Beautiful Mind. Not long ago, however, the scales finally tipped in the other direction, and I decided to give the film a chance.

My reaction was similarly mixed. It is, unsurprisingly, a skillfully made movie. The actors give good performances all around (yes, even Crowe), though Jennifer Connelly should be particularly commended. (And Ed Harris, though great, is sadly rather wasted in his unusual and limited role.)

The script is a bit at odds with itself. Mostly, it wants to focus around a particular period in the life of its subject, John Nash; the vast bulk of the action takes place in the span of a few months. But it also wants to be an entire life story, as the first half hour covers his time as a college student, while the final twenty minutes compresses the subsequent four decades of his life.

The "before" is probably necessary, from a narrative standpoint, to show us that the man is in fact a genius, for the main chunk of the movie is going to take us far away from this. The "after" is also necessary, as a sort of redemption of the character, a triumph over his challenges. And yet it isn't put together deftly at all in the writing. When the truly necessary comes off as a time-consuming distraction, something isn't quite clicking with the story.

That said, the movie is very effective in its middle act. There's plenty of drama, plenty of emotion, and a clever reversal that is appropriately hidden from and hinted to the audience at the same time. If the movie were somehow more tightly drawn around these elements, it would be very high on my list indeed. But sandwiched between the stale bread of the awkward opening and closing acts, I rate it a B- overall.

It's still a movie worth seeing, but I think it neither Ron Howard's best effort (that would be Apollo 13), nor the true Best Picture of 2001. (Memento and Moulin Rouge would have to share the honor, likely favoring whichever film I'd watched again more recently.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 7, 6:00-8:00 AM

The President holds a briefing in front of a "24 season re-cap" screen saver.

Jack almost shoots someone in the thigh again!

The TSA employees that let these two in with the gun and the shank are SO fired.

Kim's long history with jeopardy finally pays off as she gets the best of her captor.

Do we drink when a Bauer that's not Jack says "dammit"?

Seven years, and a cell phone battery dies on 24 for the first time now?

Why are these evil doctors wearing masks? If they're so good, don't they know Jack's not contagious?

Aren't spinal taps usually done at the base of the spine? Are evil pathogens carried in the neck?

A significant portion of America is rooting for that car to explode on Kim.

Doesn't Kim know to "stop, drop, and roll?"

Jack finally gets to sleep.

Why is Ethan starting his car to play this recording? Is this okay because he drives a Prius?

So I guess the doctor from Stargate Atlantis won't be having a multi-episode arc.

Not even Jack Bauer can get a cab in DC.

Tony tries to fork Jack.

Ethan's plan regarding Olivia seems to be, "I'm gonna tell Mommy on you."

"Dammit, Tony, look at me!" (Drink!)

Evil drives two Hummers and a limo.

Renee rides handgun on the FBI vehicle. (Outside, shooting.)

Alan Wilson is "on the way to the perimeter." (Drink!)

Tony says the only thing that kept him alive was the thirst for revenge. That, and the miracle zombification chemicals they gave him.

Tony would have had his revenge, but he had to get all Goldfinger on the guy.

Renee asks WWJD? (What Would Jack Do?)

Chloe and Janis hug it out.

Aaron has got to be looking to re-retire at this point.

Good, Agent Walker. Your training is now complete.

No cell phones in the hospital!!

The end.

Well, I have to say that even though this season of 24 got stupid at times, it was overall the best year they've managed to put together in a long, long while. The show hasn't been this good since season three, in my opinion. (And even back then, things got pretty lousy during the middle chunk.)

It helped to have some more personal stakes this year, to cut the problem of 24 always having to top itself with disaster after disaster. It also helped to have a villain with a personal connection to Jack in Tony -- the show hasn't had that since they offed Nina. Unfortunately, it turned out that Tony wasn't really quite evil, but they did get good play out of it all the same.

Here's hoping they can craft a season next time that maintains the connection to personal elements that scored this year, while eliminating the "Russian nesting doll" of villains that they've relied on... well, basically every season.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Half a Clue

It's not award material, but Clueless was a fairly influential movie in the "high school comedy" genre. And until recently, it had also slid through the cracks for me. I was in the mood for something lighter, so I gave it a go.

Clueless does have good scenes, and its fair share of laughs. But it's a meandering mess when it comes to storytelling. It's based on the Jane Austen novel Emma, which I have never read, but seeing this movie compelled me to go skim the synopsis, and quiz a friend of mine who has read it. Were the flaws moments when the movie strayed in its adaptation, or were they baked in the original?

The problem with Clueless, as I see it, is that it's littered with subplots. It begins with the lead character (played by Alicia Silverstone) fixing up two teachers at her school, an "inciting incident" to make her see herself as a potential matchmaker for all sorts of people in her life. But the teachers don't reappear until the final moments of the movie.

It moves on to our heroine and her best friend trying to makeover "the new girl" at school so they can fix her up with a guy. But after maybe 20 minutes and one comic misunderstanding, she too fades into the background, and not long after also vanishes until the final act.

There's a guy interested in our heroine, but she's not interested in him. Follow that story? No, dump him from the movie entirely after 45 minutes.

Instead, the lead wants to pursue a different guy of her own, who only arrives in the story to begin with at the start of act two. That takes another 15-20 minutes, then he's gone from the movie.

And so the movie progresses, like a procession of four or five half-hour sitcom episodes stitched together to form a feature film. My Emma-reading friend told me the book was much the same way. I suppose one could praise the faithful modernization of the movie. I don't think the "warts and all" approach was the right one here.

The thing is, these little sitcom episodes aren't unfunny. There aren't many laugh out loud moments in Clueless, but it does bring a smile to your face. Alicia Silverstone is fantastic as the lead, and Paul Rudd entertains as her often sardonic step-brother. The "world" of the film is strong and vivid, and the dialog weirdly authentic within that setting.

But the whole is less -- far less -- than the sum of its parts. I found Clueless to be a C+ overall. Not a waste of time, but nothing to get excited about.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Final Destination

For a while now, I'd been hearing good things about the movie United 93, the story of the fourth plane hijacked in the September 11th attacks, that crashed in Pennsylvania when the passengers fought back in an effort to reclaim the plane. I finally took a chance and saw it, and was not disappointed.

I was not interested in the question of whether it was "too soon" (now, or when it was first released three years ago) for this movie. On that level, I tried to think of it no different than, say, a movie about Pearl Harbor. (Though I was desperately hoping it was going to be better than the actual movie Pearl Harbor. Egads.) Was it simply a well-made movie?

For the very large part, yes. An interesting choice was made in the writing: after the first 10 minutes, which basically covers "early that morning," the remainder of the movie unfolds in real time. As the fated flight waits in line at Newark to take off, we jump around to other locations where signs are beginning to amass that hint at what's to come. In fact, events on the plane itself are a very distant second in prominence for more than half the film.

This minute-by-minute presentation is extremely effective for ratcheting up tension for the audience. Director Paul Greengrass doesn't just rely on people's knowledge of events to do it, nor does he resort to any cheap cinematic tricks. Things just keep building and building in a natural and compelling way.

But the drawback here is that since we're following so many people in so many places, and over a tight 90-or-so minutes, there's simply no time to get to know any of them as characters. Pretend for a moment (if possible) that this was fiction. Would you tell a story like this and have absolutely every character in it be a near-cipher? Yes, actions (and occasionally dialogue) do paint in a bit for us, but I'd challenge anyone to be able to actually give the name of a single character in the movie when the end credits arrive.

Still... maybe it's not necessary. What's there is really gripping. The cast is really spectacular from top to bottom, even though you'd probably only recognize one or two of them from anywhere else, depending on how many movies and TV series you watch. (One of the passengers, for example, is Christian Clemenson, who played Jerry "Hands" Espenson on Boston Legal.) The direction, as I mentioned earlier, is commendable, worthy of the Oscar for which Paul Greengrass was nominated. And he also wrote the script, which is solid. I might not have done that 10 minutes of "non-real time" at the beginning, given where the rest of the script was going, but aside from that, I don't know how it could have been done better.

I'd rate the movie a B+. You can see it because "you should," if that's what you feel. But I'd say see it because it's actually a very good movie.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rate of Exchange / Killing Your Number

The ride has come to a complete stop; Prison Break's final episode has aired. (Well, there's that strange two-hour straight-to-DVD thing arriving in July, but let's not count that.) I wouldn't say that it punched out strong, but that's largely because they'd dug such a hole for themselves in the back half of this season that there was probably no clawing all the way out of it. At least they improved for their finish.

It was nice to bring some old faces back for the final curtain, particularly Sucre and C-Note. Somewhat so Kellerman, who was at least last shown not as definitively dead as head-in-a-box Sara, so hey, why not say he was still alive? Linc's squeeze Sophia was a bit of a whatever; I'd have much preferred to see LJ rather than just have him talked about, but I guess you can't have it all.

There were still some hokey moments, like people running all over Miami bleeding, tearing parts off the Scylla circuitboard for the 47th time, and villainous threats by the shovelful. But there were also some good scenes, like the full-on slimy T-Bag taunting Sara, Sara ultimately being the one to take out evil Mom Christina, and Mahone actually getting one more chance to show his cunning and kick some ass.

I'll forgive the sudden convenience of a miracle stack of immunity agreements to get all the characters off the hook. (Even that plot point we've visited before, at the end of season two.) You can't very well end the show with everyone on the run forever.

How they did choose to end it was with a flash-forward. (Or flash-to-present, if you will, since four seasons' worth of Prison Break actually took place in the span of only a few months of story time.) Most of the "where they are now"s were not particularly surprising, yet each was appropriate enough.

I did like the return of Mahone's partner Felicia as his new love. Really, she stood by him through all sorts of crap throughout the series, so that just makes sense, when you get down to it.

T-Bag wound up back in prison, of course. But it's interesting to think that it may not really be all that much of a punishment for him. He always thrived in the prison environment (in both seasons one and three), and his little coda scene illustrated this well.

So then, Michael's end. On the one hand, it's basically crap that the same surgery that cured Mom and kept her alive another 25 years to do evil didn't work for Michael. On the other hand, I think it's actually the right ending for Michael. It really just made me wish they'd never "cured" him in the first place, so his death would make more sense. From a story crafting perspective, it does make sense. From day one, his character was all about making sacrifices for others, getting thrown in prison to help his brother. So it's perfectly fitting that he should end up dead while all the others live happily ever after. He didn't quite actually sacrifice himself for them, but I think let's call it close enough.

Ultimately, I think Prison Break can now go down in the book with shows like Alias, blazing meteors that streaked brilliantly across the sky at first only to flame out. One outstanding season, one fairly good season...

And two other seasons.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Struggle for Venice

I recently played the board game San Marco for the first time in several years. It's set in Venice, with player vying to establish control over the different districts of the city through careful deploying of followers, bridges, and a piece that causes scoring in the district where it lands.

The clever mechanic at the core of the game is the "cake cutting" technique used in folklore by parents against their arguing children. Players are paired off at the start of each round. One player in the pair must take his hand of cards for the round and divide it into two piles. He then presents these options to the other player in the pair, who selects which of the two piles he wants for himself to play that round. The divider keeps the other one and uses it.

It's an interesting little game that I mostly liked, but really wish I liked more. Because when it comes down to it, it seems to have a very compelling early and middle game with an unfortunate bust of an endgame.

The divide-and-choose system really lends itself to a lot of strategy. When you're the divider, you must always try to craft piles where you'll be happy with either outcome. But you must also take into account the chooser's board position. What may seem like two great options to you may be not at all equal in the eyes of the other player. Sometimes, you can create a real bargain for yourself by putting more cards in one pile, squared against a slim pile that happens to have a critical card the chooser is sure to want.

This strategy continues to grow in subtlety as the game moves on, becoming more and more enjoyable. But then you abruptly reach the end. The game is divided into three phases, and while players do have a bit of control over just when a phase ends, there isn't much wiggle room there. And when it does end, there can be enormous advantage for one player on that final turn. Knowing that there's "no tomorrow," it seems easy for one player to have a "super turn" to punch out with. It happened in this recent game of San Marco I played, and seeing it occur, I suddenly remembered how that had happened the last few times I'd tried it too.

So I'm ultimately not quite sure what to make of the game. It's really fun for the bulk of play, but then has this abrupt ending that can sometimes be just this side of random. I'm probably not going to give up on San Marco, but then again, I don't know if it's going to come into the "regular rotation" either.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Incident

Tonight's episode of Lost ended the season with a bang. Pun most certainly intended, but really, this was a fine bit of writing to cap things off.

The series of flashbacks dealing with Jacob were a really nice, character-based texture to the show. Most of them didn't provide us with new information, but were still great moments to see, that synched up with many great details we've seen in the past.

Revisiting the letter written by "our Sawyer" to the "Con Man Sawyer" nicely evoked a personal character's pain from earlier seasons.

Seeing Jack actually live a moment in which his father gave him the "count to five" advice he'd later pass on to Kate had great resonance. It was particularly interesting in that, at the time, Jack actually resented his father for doing so.

We haven't seen Sun and Jin together on screen once all season, so their flashback, even while providing no new information, was sweet -- a reminder of when they were happy together.

And then there were new bits of information too. We saw Hurley pushed to board the Ajira flight not by a ghostly Charlie, but by Jacob. And we saw the moment in which Nadia was killed -- it would seem not orchestrated by Ben after all. Both cool things to tweak what our assumptions might have been. (Well, mine anyway.)

The great character beats weren't just restricted to the flashbacks, either. Checking in on Bernard and Rose, happily living out their "retirement," Robinson Crusoe style (with Vincent!), was a touching scene. It was also great to see Sawyer finally unload on Jack for ruining the good thing he had going. Meanwhile, in the present, we were treated to "vulnerable Ben," a texture of that character we so rarely get to see.

But for me, perhaps the single greatest triumph in the writing tonight was having Miles actually voice the theory I'd become absolutely convinced was the truth -- that setting off the warhead was in fact the very "incident" that required the building of the Swan in the first place, a "predestination paradox."

Now that he's said it, it's really shaken my certainty. I would have waited rather patiently for 2010, expecting that I knew how this season's big cliffhanger would be resolved. But now that both the "this will undo everything" and the "this will cause the very thing you're trying to avoid" theories have been placed on the table by the characters themselves? Well, now I expect it's not likely to be either of those things. Not entirely, anyway. In any case, I'm a lot less sure about what is going to happen next.

While we're all spending the next long months stewing over that, we can ask ourselves plenty of other questions too. Are Sayid or Juliet gonna make it? Are we to take it that "Locke" is actually an incarnation of the man from the teaser? And given Ben and Richard's emphatic statements that no one comes back from the dead, what are we to make of Jack's father, Christian? Was he also an incarnation of this new stranger, working a Rube Goldberg-like plot to put Locke in a position to, well, become "possessed?" Does any of this Benjamin Linus vs. Charles Widmore even really matter anymore, or is the real struggle at the core of Lost that between Jacob and this character we've only now just met?

We've got some time now to talk amongst ourselves.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bird Crap

When I found Vertigo to be a big disappointment upon seeing it recently, I decided to take a bit of a break from Alfred Hitchcock films. I picked the wrong movie to come back to, when I decided to give The Birds a chance.

This is a movie that has not aged well at all, in my opinion. Even trying to allow for 45-year-old visual effects that couldn't hope to capture any of the realism we'd expect today, the movie is dated from top to bottom.

The movie begins with the sort of laborious pacing that has made me shy away from so many films of decades past. It takes a full hour for anything to really get up and running. Up until that point, we must instead content ourselves with what, to today's mindset, seems to me like one of the stranger love stories imaginable.

After a chance meeting with a charming man in a pet store, Our Young Heroine decides to pursue him. That's putting it kindly. By any lens my modern sensibilities can put to it, she becomes a stalker. She has a connection run his license plate number so she can get a name. She tracks down his apartment. Upon learning he's traveled upstate to the countryside for the weekend, she decides to follow.

Things getting even more peculiar from there, as people proceed to essentially aid her in her stalking in a way that traps the film as a product of its time. The local post office gives her the man's home address, helpfully mentions the younger sister he lives with, and gives the home address of the girl's school teacher. The school teacher happily provides our stalker heroine with the girl's name, and a room to stay in for the night. Someone helps her charter a boat so she can sneak out across the bay toward the man's house, even after she specifically tells him she wants the boat so it's less likely she'll be seen coming. She then sneaks into his house to leave a gift. And upon finding it, the object of her "affections" finds it all endearing.

Folks, Alfred Hitchcock may have thought he was making a movie about killer birds, but in my opinion, he missed out on the chance to make Fatal Attraction some 25 years before its time. It's just mind-bogglingly weird.

Finally, the attack of the title characters begins, but things don't get any more interesting. Action arrives, but logic takes a permanent vacation. Sometimes the birds will attack; sometimes they won't. Sometimes they attack with enough ferocity to kill (non-main characters); sometimes they just scratch you up a little (main characters). People who are safe indoors (relatively) decide to head outside for absolutely no reason other than to have a little episode of "terror," to then run right back inside the very building they just left, having accomplished nothing to help themselves or further the plot. (That's the famous "phone booth scene.")

The film feels like a bit of an overreach for Hitchcock, rather like when this generation's would-be Hitchcock, M. Night Shyamalan, made The Happening. Small, more intimate suspense seems to be where both thrive, but The Birds tries to portray a much larger problem, and the scope seems beyond him. We're even deprived of a good Bernard Herrmann score here -- Hitchcock decided to make this movie with no music.

And it's all capped off with one of the biggest "you mean that's it?!" endings I've ever seen on a movie. No resolution, no explanations, no nothing. Because the movie was made in the 60s, no end credits. Not even a "The End." It just sort of seems to run out of film.

I simply couldn't find anything to like about this movie, other than that it made Vertigo seem brilliant to me by comparison. It may be a classic, but I must rate The Birds an F.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 7, 5:00-6:00 AM

The bad guys are going to release the gas "within the hour." (Drink!)

Oops, after that little test, now they'll only have enough to kill between 7,995 and 9,995.

The evil Miss Bowden seems to think she's on Alias instead of 24.

Renee's not really even on the fence anymore -- she's all dark side.

Cue "Dueling Banjos" for Chloe and Janis.

"Dammit, Chloe!" (Drink!)

A protected witness died in federal custody, but Olivia didn't foresee "justice" getting involved. She's more cynical about government than I am.

Of course Kim Bauer's flight is delayed. She has power over calamities great and small.

Tony's device is "damaged badly?" Looks like the screen is cracked to me. Hell, I have friends who used cell phones that looked just like that for months.

More Dueling Banjos.

Tony throws Jack for a loop. He's not used to having his bluff called. (Not that Jack bluffs that often.)

Nice thinking, Jibraan, with the "I have a bomb!" ploy. Well, then it wasn't really a ploy, was it?

Jack comes out of the van proclaiming, "do NOT light a match."

Jack knows his daughter too well, and has assigned an agent to make sure she doesn't get into trouble. Unfortunately, if your agent is so lame that Kim can actually spot him, he's not going to be up to the job.

Her plane will arrive "within the hour." (Drink!)

Come on, Kim! NEVER leave your bags unattended!

Ethan can be at the White House "within the half hour." What? Do I take half a drink now?

Really, writers? After all we've been through together, all the ridicule you've taken over the years, and you're going to really end this season on "Kim in jeopardy?"

They're monitoring Jack's phone call. So, what, he couldn't write something down? Are we just supposed to assume his shakes have gotten so bad he can't hold a pen?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Razor Sharp

It seems strange that while I've seen more than a few Tim Buton movies that I knew ahead of time I probably wasn't going to like (my lukewarm opinion of his Batman, for example, didn't give me high hopes for Batman Returns), I'd never gotten around to seeing one that has been fairly widely praised -- Edward Scissorhands. But now I've corrected that oversight. And I'm sorry I waited so long to do it, because I think it might just be his very best movie. (You've got competition, Sweeney Todd.)

To me, the most commendable thing about the movie is its script. It is, of course, a familiar blend of existing stories, Frankenstein, most noticeably. But the first half of the movie runs a different course. This gothic character comes to suburbia... and is an absolute hit. Housewives, children, animals all love him; he even makes an appearance on television. We all know it's going to turn sour eventually, but I think it really deepens the movie that it waits so long to go dark. Coming from Tim Burton, the restraint is even more remarkable.

Perhaps he could muster it because the "lighter" side of this concept had so much meat in it. He's directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory since then, so perhaps it's no surprise that Burton could put weird undertones into a bright and colorful world. Nevertheless, the suburban backdrop here is just perfect. Every house is a different solid pastel tone (without even any trim), like every day is Easter. People leave for work and arrive home all at the same minute, a line of cars on parade. And looming over it all, this sinister mansion on an impossible hill. It's a perfect storybook.

Of course, it is presented as a story, with Winona Ryder bookending it with remarkable emotion. Johnny Depp, of course, is also incredible, doing a lot with a little in a very subtle performance. The supporting cast, from Kathy Baker to Alan Arkin to Vincent Price, are all wonderful.

But the real star of the show is Dianne Wiest. I think she has the most "heavy lifting" in the movie, and every single moment of it works. She makes you feel everything the audience supposed to feel, without once making it seem unnatural or like you're being led deliberately.

It's a grade A movie, and I plan on adding it to my collection.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Unfortunate Event

A friend recently persuaded me to watch the movie Event Horizon. I hadn't heard very good things about the film, but I decided I'd give it a try anyway.

In retrospect, I should have made my friend "sell me" a whole lot harder, because this movie was everything bad I'd heard about it and then some.

Set 40 years in the future (50, at the time it was made), it tells the tale of a rescue ship dispatched to the planet Neptune to recover a spacecraft that went missing years earlier during the testing of a space-time warping form of propulsion. Strange and horrific events befall the rescuers from the moment they board the derelict, as the truth of where the ship has been all these years unfolds.

Neat setup, if a bit cliché. Unfortunately, that's only the beginning of a list of clichés so long, it feels as though the script was dealt from a deck of Sci-Fi Plot cards. Stealing from Alien, The Black Hole, 2001, The Shining, and a half dozen other superior movies, while offering nothing new or unique of its own, this movie comes off all the worse for trying to stand of the shoulders of greater movies.

Every decision in both the writing and design of the film was made solely with an eye toward what would "look cool," and whenever that flew in the face of logic (as it often does), so be it. A ship with sharp, spiky objects all over the interior on which its crew might easily be impaled? Sure. A strange distress call in Latin that no one bothers to translate before sending the rescue ship? What's your problem? Venting oxygen from your space suit to propel yourself from high Neptune orbit down into its atmosphere in a matter of minutes? I don't see what you're getting at.

The movie is as much a failure on a horror-thriller level as it is on a science fiction level. The movie never met a cheap trick it didn't like. Music stings, jump cuts, loud noises, spiraling cameras, Dutch angles... even a ham-fisted Vertigo zoom. There's an endless procession of moments to make you jump, but never a second of genuine suspense.

Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Kathleen Quinlan lead the cast. You'd expect good work from these actors, and they do give it their all. But mostly, you're just left wondering how even one of them could have been coerced into appearing in this movie. It couldn't have looked any better on the page than it did on the screen.

I can say only one good thing about the movie. Because they made all their decisions based on what would look good (rather than what would make sense), it's a very pretty movie, in a dark and moody way. The CG is laughable, even just a decade later, but the sets and lighting look fantastic. The "emperor" has clothes, as it were, and nothing else.

I rate Event Horizon a D-, and I feel almost generous in that.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cowboys & Indians

There was, after three long weeks of mind-numbing nonsense, at least one good moment in tonight's Prison Break episode. That was the cliffhanger dilemma in which the General has Sara, while Christina has Lincoln -- each threatening Michael with their leverage. Not that Prison Break is even a shadow of what it once was, but this sort of puzzle, requiring Michael to figure out how to achieve both goals, is as close to some of the classic problems of season one as we've seen in a long, long time.

But really, that was the only good thing going tonight. The rest was just noisy boredom. Blah, blah, blah, extended chase sequence, blah, blah, evil mustache twirling, blah, blah, more evil mustache twirling, blah, blah, uninteresting action sequence, blah, blah, blah.

I figure at this point I might actually understand how fans of the TV series Heroes must feel, to see a show they liked so much in its first year become so bad you could scarcely find ways to make it worse. The show is an obligation now, and I'm afraid if next week's finale can't deliver more than the "one good idea" of this week's, it will have slipped so far as to tarnish the thought of the show ever having been good. Even when Alias dipped after season two, and flatlined in season four, I never remember feeling as down on the show as I feel now about Prison Break.

Since its return three weeks ago, it has saddled the struggling Dollhouse with a worse lead-in than even Terminator was providing, resulting in the worst ratings yet. This after Dollhouse finally managed to transform from the show that you hoped would get better to the show you'd actually miss if it were gone. The final insult in the blighting of Prison Break is that it may have driven the last nail in the coffin and taken another Joss Whedon show with it.

One last obligation to fulfill next week, and then I can wash my hands of it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


It's been four years since the last new Star Trek beamed our way. And frankly, since I regarded Enterprise as only slightly less obnoxious than Star Trek Voyager, it's been a decade in my mind (since the 1999 finale of Deep Space Nine). But now it has returned with director J.J. Abrams' new movie, Star Trek. And it has returned in a wonderful fashion.

I think the best way to sum up my feelings of the movie is to say that the moment it was over, I wanted more. Not just the next Star Trek movie, sure to arrive in two or three years -- I want a whole new series, entrusted to these writers, featuring these actors. I would love to see this team telling stories on a weekly basis.

The film does a remarkable job of giving every character his or her moment to shine. In this regard, it's better than any of the ten films preceding it. We really get to see who everyone is, discovering the characters all over again. The plot is engaging, but it's really less important than the characters and their relationships. And this is something that Star Trek hasn't really seemed to understand for a decade.

The seven actors taking over these classic characters are, every one of them, fantastic. It starts in the captain's chair with Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. I went to the movie with Kathy, who as the credits rolled said it more succinctly than I ever could: he's a better Kirk than William Shatner ever was. Some will probably say that's sacrilege. I say it's simply the truth. He's the perfect mix of confidence, humor, and leadership -- he is the captain.

Zachary Quinto as Spock is equally impressive. His triumph in the role is perhaps more impressive for the fact that the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, is in the same movie with him.

Karl Urban is some kind of ghost whisperer. He's nailed McCoy so perfectly, it's like DeForest Kelley never left.

Simon Pegg's take on Scotty is arguably where a character departs furthest from the original conception. Where James Doohan's Scotty was jovial, Pegg's is slightly lunatic. It's different, but comes off believably and entertaining.

Zoe Saldana as Uhura has the benefit of good material written for her. I think you could argue Uhura's treatment in this movie is better than anything that was written in her window-dressing role of three TV seasons. In any case, she doesn't waste it.

John Cho as Sulu probably has the least showcase time of any of the seven, but still has some good moments thrown his way.

Anton Yelchin plays a likeable Chekov. Where Walter Koenig's came off a bit cocky and green at times, this Chekov is just as young, but enthusiastic. He's fun.

So... this is where the movie trips just a little bit. Having drawn these seven characters so well, you expect a great villain to showdown against them. Nero, however, is a lackluster presence, and Eric Bana brings nothing more than what's on the page. On an intellectual level, we understand what his motivations are in the story, and why it's personal for him. But we're basically just told these things. By contrast, we've been shown just what's what with our seven heroes. They are characters. The villain is simply a caricature. So when the movie focuses more on him, as it inevitably must to reach its climax, the quality sags a bit.

Ultimately, though, it's a fairly small blemish on an otherwise wonderful piece. The visual effects are incredible, the action tense, the music engaging, the pacing great. Other actors in the cast are strong, particularly Bruce Greenwood and Winona Ryder -- the latter delivering a performance good enough to overcome being awkwardly cast to wear makeup to age 20 years. (You'd ask why not just cast an older actress, except that she does the job perfectly.) It's great direction from J.J. Abrams, of a script from two of his former Alias writers who clearly love the sandbox they got to play in.

If the villain had been worthy of the rest of the film, it would have undeniably been the best Star Trek film ever. But even as it is, Wrath of Khan and First Contact fans are going to have to work harder than ever now to defend their choice. I give this new Star Trek an A-.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Follow the Leader

We've reached that point in this season of Lost. It's full speed ahead from here. No real time for deep character exploration; they've got a story to tell. There were a few good, personal moments scattered here and there in tonight's installment, but for the most part, pieces were just being moved where they need to be for the big finale next week.

For example, it was interesting to me to see the return of the "old Jack." Granted, this one's a crazy man of faith -- as Kate pointed out, just like Locke. I'm refering more to the return of Jack's patented stubbornness. He'd always been the character to decide on a course of action and pursue it in the face of all opposition. Much of this season, though, he's been the aimless, nearly useless tumbleweed getting blown around. Now that he thinks he has a purpose, he's back in classic mode. It's not really that I like this aspect of Jack. I don't, in fact. But it is very true to his character.

There were a few sweet moments between Sawyer and Juliet. Of course they aren't going to get the ending they were talking about, betting on future knowledge and living happily ever after. But it was nice to hear them talk about.

Where we seem to be heading is this: Faraday was dead wrong. (Pun sort of intended.) You really cannot change the past. In fact, setting off the hydrogen bomb is likely what caused "the incident," and necessitated the building of the Swan station and "the button." Is this disaster also what causes pregnancies on the Island to be fatal? In any case, it will likely end up appearing to Richard Alpert that the gang from the future is killed, when really they're just being thrown back to their own time.

Even if this is all exactly the way it goes down, I suspect there will still be a few surprises in store during this season's final hours next week.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Half-Good Day

Not long ago, I saw Training Day, starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. It's the widely praised story of a young cop trying to impress the leader of his new undercover unit, who turns out to be a dangerous and corrupt officer.

The movie turned out to be 45 outstanding minutes sandwiched in the middle of two far less worthy pieces. The film starts off in a drowsy, almost meandering fashion, with lots of slow action that doesn't do much to capture interest. Paradoxically, the movie really has to open this way; it wouldn't be plausible to jump in showing Denzel Washington's character for the real crook he is. We have to see the character take a tiny step too far, and then a step farther than that, and so on, so that Ethan Hawke's character is believably in too deep before he has a chance to back out. And yet, narrative necessity doesn't make the first plodding 45 minutes play any faster.

When the second act arrives, things really kick into high gear. Both actors are phenomenal, and the story becomes tense and immediate. Though the film is mostly meant to be a drama, it has several scenes of real tension and suspense, the equal of many good thrillers. It soon gets good enough to make you forgive and forget the long, slow journey of the first act.

And then it drops the ball again. The last half hour is implausible and ridiculous for a movie that has spent so much time and effort painting a gritty reality. Characters endure more physical punishment than a Schwarzeneggerian action hero. Dangerous street toughs behave decidedly out of character. Things make less and less sense with each passing minute. Ultimately, the movie veers far enough from realism that it becomes borderline pretentious of it to have ever pretended at "docu-drama" in the first place.

That middle act is too powerful to be completely denied, though. And the performances of Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke are everything critics have said and more. It all adds up to a B- in my mind. Probably still worth seeing, but it's a real shame that a grade A movie slipped off the hook and swam away.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Day 7, 4:00-5:00 AM

I'm ruling that "perimeters" in the re-cap don't count; we've already had a drink for them.

What?! Jack Bauer doesn't get his own "box" in the re-cap this week? Is that the first time ever? No one makes Jack a secondary character!

The best thing Tony and his thugs could tie this poor guy to is a patio chair?

Jack says we're gonna have to widen our "perimeter." (Drink!)

Jack has one season, maybe two to live.

Jack says "please" to Chloe? I don't know this man anymore!

Note how the writers are very carefully avoiding any mention of Allah.

Jack says "please" again? Is "please" the new "dammit?"

Jonas will be released from witness protection "within the hour." (Drink!)

I can believe that a president's chief of staff knows how to get in touch with a hitman. But I'm a little disturbed that this was a contact she'd already developed before she even took the job.

There are people who make new identities working at 4:00 in the morning? What is this, Dark City?

Renee is sorry to bother the man at "such a late hour." Are we not now officially at an "early hour?"

This guy saw Jack on television, making him possibly the only person other than Daily Show writers and political science undergrad majors who actually watches C-SPAN.

They're going to set up an "envelope" around the apartment. I guess that's like a perimeter that people don't escape from.

Is Olivia really planning to pay off a hitman on her computer connected to the White House servers?

Hmmm, the command "Execute" takes on a whole new meaning here.

The man is surprised that Jack won't throw away an innocent man's life. But then, they're not exactly turning around and taking him back, either.

Jonas looks at photos of that family that meant less to him than his own name. We're not touched.

Of course, when a person on television or in the movies looks at a photo of his family, we all know that means he's going to be dead in a matter of-- Oh, see, look there.

That FBI agent appears to be giving the wall a physical.

"Dammit!" (Drink!) There's the Jack we all know!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Auto-Tune the News

I hate the ear-bleeding scourge in music that is auto-tuning. Fortunately, I don't listen to much pop music, particularly in the R&B genre that seems to use it more extensively.

But now someone has found a way to turn this Evil into a force for Good, by Auto-Tuning the News.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

High Times

I recently saw High Fidelity for the first time, the romantic comedy starring John Cusack as a disgruntled record store owner whose latest breakup makes him examine the worst of his past relationships. There are a good number of movies out there that play around in a similar space. You could mark this movie on a timeline and see what it borrowed from compared to what it later inspired, but regardless, you're likely to compare it to many other movies you've seen.

Clerks, for example, is a stronger movie about misanthropic store clerks. Clerks II, for that matter, is a better movie about slacker-adults in a third-life crisis. For my money, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a funnier "breakup movie."

But none of that really means that High Fidelity isn't good. It's actually still quite enjoyable to watch, and much of that has to do with John Cusack. His performance balances the right amounts of brooding, wit, sarcasm, and occasional sweetness, and makes the movie better than I imagine it would otherwise be. He pulls off the "talking straight to the camera" thing better than nearly any other actor.

I wouldn't say the movie ever generates big laughs or big emotions, but it is fun from beginning to end. I'd give it a B-, and a general (if not wildly enthusiastic) recommendation.

Friday, May 01, 2009


Tonight's Prison Break installment showed marginal improvement over the past few weeks, but that's damning it with faint praise to say the least. It had a few interesting scenes of verbal jousting between the characters, but remained almost stubbornly undramatic.

Christina's revelation that Lincoln and Michael aren't really brothers was essentially pointless. I suppose there's room for debate on this point, but I say family is who you're raised with. The fact that there's not any blood relation between the two gets a big "so what?" from me. As Michael said, Lincoln was like a brother to him in the ways that really matter.

And frankly, if the writers are actually asking us to have any other reaction to this reveal other than "so what," then I'm actually a little upset with them. If we're supposed to say take it that Linc is less worthy because he's not related by blood to Michael, then that's perilously close to saying that Michael should never have gone the extra mile for him. That is, the whole show should never have happened. And while I might feel that about the last two seasons or so, them's fightin' words about that exhilirating first year (and pretty good second year, overall).

It was not the only bit of stupidity to spew from the writers tonight, though. The T-Bag plot, as it pertained to the General, was just stupid. Specifically, it was making one or the other of them stupid.

Option one, the General is leading T-Bag on for his own jollies. He's never been that way before, and T-Bag has rarely been so stupid as to not see when he's being played. If this is true, it cheapens both characters here, as we arrive at the end.

Option two, the General really is trying to test and groom T-Bag to work for him. In that case, the General is a complete idiot for thinking that the things he has asked T-Bag to do are in any way difficult for him. "I want you to kill Lincoln when the time comes." "Take this gun and you shoot that guy." Has the General even been paying attention? T-Bag is a killer, and will do anything out of self-interest. I mean, at least the writers correctly had T-Bag take the gun without question and commit murder, but still, the already seriously de-fanged General is looking even more like the idiot in this scenario.

This final arc, with its major driving element to sell technological secrets to a foreign country/organization, is so far removed from the "assassination conspiracy" that began the series that things are unrecognizable at this point.

I have to say again, though I'm still sorry to be saying it, that I'm rather eagerly awaiting the end of the show now. And not in the good way.