Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bublé That Funky Music

Monday night, out of the blue, my mother called me to offer me a free concert ticket for the following evening -- Michael Bublé. Now, I very rarely go to concerts, so it doesn't mean much when I say this isn't a concert ticket I probably would have bought for myself. But the chance to go for free with some of my family? Sure.

I actually do like "Big Band" and "Standards" music. (Lots of Star Trek fans were scratching their heads a bit when they did the whole Vic Fontaine thing during the last season-and-a-half of Deep Space Nine, but I was digging it.) I even have a couple of Michael Bublé's CDs, though not the new one he's actually on this tour to promote. I expected to have a good time.

It was actually had a great time. It even started with the opening act -- a tradition that's one of the many reasons I don't tend to go to many concerts. This opening act was fantastic, an a cappella group called Naturally 7. I've listened to quite a lot of a cappella music from professional artists, obscure college bootlegs, and more; this group was one of the best I've ever heard. They had a great beat-boxer, lots of very cool instrument impersonation, great arrangements, powerful lead singers, and the deepest (and strongest) bass singer I've ever heard. I would have happily enjoyed just hearing them perform for the entire evening.

But Michael Bublé did indeed come on, and gave a fantastic show. He rolled through many of the songs he's known for at a breakneck pace, his band sometimes starting new songs so quickly that musicians were rushing to change instruments while others in the band were still playing the final notes of the previous song. He did songs of all styles, from Tony Bennett to Nina Simone, Michael Jackson to the Beatles. He headed out into the audience for a few numbers. And impressively, he finished the last verse of his final song without a microphone; a hushed and stunned audience in the Pepsi Center could hear every word clearly.

Of course, there were also a lot of the concert tropes that generally keep me from attending them -- getting the audience to sing phrases of the songs instead of him (it's you I came to listen to!), or that particular Denver tradition of remarking about the altitude (we can see you're working harder than you're used to; I for one will be more impressed if you just tough it out without comment). But these things were far outweighed by the quality of the music throughout the evening.

This style of music may not be up most people's alleys, but if it suits you, you might want to look into seeing Michael Bublé if his tour brings him to your city. Knowing what I know now, I quite likely would have bought the ticket myself, and found it totally worth the money.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Package

Tonight's episode of Lost was significant for being the first episode since the season premiere to actually include all the main characters -- including even, in the final moments, Desmond. (Poor guy just wants to be off the Island with his Penny, but just can't get his happy ending!)

With all the characters having a part this week, you might think that episode was a bit short on drama or emotion, but that wasn't the case. Sun and Jin's Sideways story arc wasn't necessarily up there with Lost's most powerful stuff, but it was an interesting and at times poignant story. This story, in which the two were not married but very much in love with one another, contrasted nicely with their flashbacks of earlier seasons, in which they were married but not in love with one another (anymore).

Again, you have to wonder about Jacob a bit. Again, assuming that the Sideways world is a natural extension of events if Jacob had never interfered with the lives of his "candidates," Sun and Jin clearly end up happier this way. Granted, Jin and Sun did reconnect after arriving on the Island, but it was a bumpy road indeed. What's possibly more strange is that Jin was sterile until the Island healed him. In the Sideways world, Sun seemed to be pregnant with no supernatural/magical intervention. Did Jacob's manipulation of the couple include making Jin sterile?

Mental ticklers aside, the best moments of tonight's episode were simple and quick character beats well sprinkled throughout the episode. UnLocke telling Claire that soon enough, she would be free to kill Kate. Ilana telling Ben she knows he's lying because he's talking. Jin getting to see pictures of his daughter for the first time. Widmore's brief confrontation with Ol' Smokey. Sideways Sayid's reluctant concession to help Jin -- or at least, to put him in a position to help himself. The symmetry of Sideways Mikhail losing an eye.

This wasn't the feast that some of the episodes this season have been, but I nevertheless found it a very enjoyable and satisfying hour.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 8, 5:00-6:00 AM

And so we embark on the first episode of 24 since we all learned that this season would be the last one for the show.

Arlo has been trying to help Chloe widen her grid all season.

Oh yeah, remember the President of the United States? She's spent the last three hours traveling to New Jersey.

Renee is going to accompany Jack in case he needs to be stabbed again.

We're just keeping the radioactive rods in a duffel bag now?

They're going to take Hassan to New Jersey. So he's sneaking out through a sewer TO a sewer!

I don't think President Taylor needs to deliver a campaign speech to her own cabinet.

40 square blocks of Manhattan will become an irradiated, toxic wasteland. So... New New Jersey.

Now we're just handling the radioactive rods like pool cues.

The terrorist is able to just find parking in Manhattan?

Weiss tries to give a lame excuse to Ethan for using his computer. Maybe he should have gone with "I was surfing for porn on your machine because it's all blocked on mine."

"This is beyond madness," says Ethan, perhaps referring to the presence of yet another mole at CTU.

Even the heart attack plot point is a re-run. It was much cooler when Sherry Palmer talked a man to death with the power of her pure evil.

They've called one of the guys from The Unit to face off against Jack. No chance we'll see Jonas Blane, of course.

They couldn't clear the rest of this stuff out of the tunnel? There wasn't a fork lift handy?

If your mission is to take a subject alive, is it really correct terminology to refer to the ambush point as the "kill zone?"

I see that a few splinters are flying off these pallets, but really, shouldn't they be getting shot to nothing?

Hassan should just tuck his head down and run forward to the car. His helmet hair would surely protect him.

Who the hell is shipping all these empty pallets to the United Nations?

Why does the strike team leader have all this information about the nature of his operation? And why the hell is he just giving it all to Jack?

No drinking this episode? Lame!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Broken Promises

A few years ago, Viggo Mortensen received great acclaim -- and an Oscar nomination -- for his performance in a movie called Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg.

Naomi Watts plays a midwife in a London hospital who delivers the baby of an unknown girl who dies in childbirth. A diary in the girl's possession, filled with Russian, leads the midwife to a dangerous group of Russian mobsters. Viggo Mortensen is a driver working for the boss himself, and ends up caught between his duties and the need to protect this naive woman getting in over her head.

There's no reason for me to be coy about it: this is a slow-paced, boring movie. The trappings of the Russian Mafia -- the relationships, the tattoos, the danger -- are very well presented, and some people might find that very fascinating. I'm not one of those people. I wasn't even all that impressed the performances in the movie; I've liked Viggo Mortensen (and, for that matter, Naomi Watts) well enough in other movies, but I didn't think anyone was doing especially notable work here.

I was about to write off the movie entirely, until one particular scene at the top of the final act. It's a fight that takes place between Mortensen's character and two thugs sent to kill him. It is one of the most brutal, violent, and visceral scenes I've ever seen put on film. From the depths of my "I really should just turn this boring movie off" stupor, I was immediately snapped awake. It was the sort of scene you can't watch but can't look away from.

Viggo Mortensen's performance in this scene is top notch. It's easy to get caught up in the most superficial reason why this is so: the fight takes place in a bathhouse, and he is completely naked during the sequence. But his willingness to do this is not what makes the performance exceptional. It's the intensity he brings to it. What's more, the fight choreography was powerful, the makeup effects were impeccable, and the camera work amplified the action. It was just a perfectly executed sequence.


I would not recommend watching the movie for this scene alone. If some bizarre set of circumstances ever finds you watching this movie, my advice would be to hang in there -- this good piece is coming. But don't set out to see it unless you're a big fan of Mafia movies. I rate the film a D+ overall.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

End of Line

Last night was the last new Caprica episode for several months, and was mostly a strong one. But the main thing that didn't work about it -- other than the "can we please retire the XX Hours Earlier cliché from television writing for a while?" plot structure -- was that it was overstuffed. You see that a lot on television too; Caprica is hardly alone in it. They want to leave as many open threads for their cliffhanger as possible, so the writers slow down the pacing of the plot for a few episodes leading up to that ultimate episodes, and then find themselves with more than a mere 45 minutes can hold. Most of the weaknesses in the plot lines this week were a consequence of not having enough time to let them breathe.

It's a weird place to start, but since I mentioned "leaving as many open threads as possible," let me begin by saying that I'm honestly surprised they showed Clarice Willow alive and well outside her car after the bomb detonated, as opposed to trying to play the "is she dead?" beat. Even though obviously, she wouldn't be dead, this understanding that the audience is smarter than "that" doesn't always keep TV writers -- even the good ones -- from trying to play such beats.

Actually, I'm interested to see where they pick up this thread with Sister Clarice upon the series' return, because it seems to me the most rich scenario, from a writing perspective, is to say that she stopped and got out of the car, while her husband in the passenger seat did not, and is now dead. I think it would be fascinating to show how people in a group marriage deal with the death of one of the spouses, and particularly interesting to see where it takes the character of Clarice.

But then, perhaps the writers chose not to leave us in doubt about Clarice's fate because they'd rung that narrative bell plenty when it came to Amanda and Zoe. In regards to Amanda, I know I said just a few weeks earlier that it felt natural to learn she'd had mental problems. Paradoxically, it felt to me that learning this week that she'd been suicidal was just a writing convenience to get us to the final moment. The quick flashes of her former suicide attempt were a nice bit of visual poetry, but I feel they would have been more effective and "earned" if they'd been peppered in an episode or two in advance of now, when they were needed. I can accept pushing Amanda to attempt another suicide for narrative reasons, and I think I accept it as part of the character too; I just feel like maybe that knowledge that this was where the character was heading could have better informed what we saw of Amanda over the whole season thus far. It could have made the impact here stronger.

It sucks being Zoe. She finally comes clean with Philomon about her true identity, but (understandably) he doesn't live up to his pledge that "what she looks like doesn't matter." And then? She accidentally kills him! I'd even go so far as to say it was her only real connection, because while Lacy knows her secrets too, the two aren't really sailing smoothly themselves at the moment. Zoe wasn't enjoying any relaxing moments on a floating virtual bed with Lacy -- and I don't even mean anything romantic or sexual about that. Philomon was the one person with which Zoe came closest to relaxing and enjoying herself, despite her predicament, and she killed him. Rough times for her.

Plus the whole exploding van thing at the end.

The Lacy plot was a bit of a mixed bag. That final conundrum where she was forced to commit an assassination or watch her friend be executed before being murdered herself -- that was pretty good (though I feel the real trauma of that situation might have been a bit beyond the actress' skills to fully portray). But with only one past episode featuring the Barnabas character, I don't think the feud between him and Clarice was really earned. I have no idea why they hate each other so much, or what they're truly fighting over. In fact, my memory may be failing me, because I don't even remember seeing that weird flier with the infinity bike chain in a previous episode. I think it was a cut scene, wedged into the re-cap when the creators realized, "hey, we actually shouldn't have cut this after all; we kind of need it now." This plot line will grow stronger if they round out Barnabas as they've rounded out Clarice. Until then, it's just generic mustache twirling.

Daniel honestly didn't get much to do this week. His timetable got pushed up on him, but this wasn't really done to play any new character moments with him; it was simply to give the "why all this must happen NOW" to this week's escape attempt by the Zoe robot. Still, Daniel had very strong material in the last couple episodes, and as I said -- this hour was overstuffed. Somebody had to sit out, I suppose.

That leaves Joseph Adama. He only really had one scene, but it was a big one. He found his daughter, only to lose her all over again. And in a pretty horrible way, too -- she "killed herself" right in front of him. Worse, even if he should have some reason to doubt her death, he's now dead himself in the "New Cap City" game; he can't go back in to look for her again. We didn't get to see the really meaty stuff -- the fallout of all this. Still, it will be a good place to pick up Adama's story when the show returns.

So there we leave it. I have to say that Caprica isn't amazing me at this point as Battlestar Galactica was by halfway through its first season, but perhaps that's an unreasonably high standard. I am enjoying it overall, and certainly don't think Stargate Universe (even though it is stronger than Atlantis, which it replaced) is going to be a good substitution while Caprica is on break.

Maybe I'll (gasp) read a book instead.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Holy 'cao

The newest board game in my collection is the newest in the esteemed "Alea Large-Box series" line of games, Macao. Designed by Stefan Feld, the same designer as the recent games in that series (including Notre Dame and In the Year of the Dragon), it's a clever game that's driven by a unique "currency" system.

Anyone familiar with German board games has probably seen a game where you have a certain number of "action points" to spend on your turn, on a variety of possible actions. Well, Macao has that too, but the number of action points you have each turn varies. And more importantly, they're color-coded. Action cubes are available in six colors, and it's the way you acquire them that makes Macao unique among board games I've played.

Each round, six different dice, each one corresponding to one of the cube colors, is rolled. Each player then chooses any two of those dice to go into his action cube supply -- the color indicates the ones you get; the number indicated how many you get. But the number also indicates how many turns from now you get them. You are thus faced with the sophisticated and interesting choice whether to get a small number of cubes for a turn coming up very soon in the game, or a large number of cubes that you won't get until the game is literally half over. And leftover cubes each round are lost -- you don't get to save them for future turns. Thus, part of your planning for a future "super turn" involves you getting the right numbers and colors of cubes set up over the course of multiple rolls. Fascinating stuff.

What's really clever about this whole system is that even though dice are involved, the "random element" is seldom a factor in the game -- not, at least, in the games I've played so far. Much more at issue is how you decide to allocate your two dice picks per round. You can pretty much always find two that will help you, no matter how the rolls come out; the question is, which two will be best?

In fact, the dice aren't nearly as much a random factor in the game as one other element in the game -- a deck of cards. The ample deck of cards represent different buildings you can construct and people you can recruit, each one asking for different numbers and colors of action cubes to start working for you. Only a few are revealed every round, and this is where the greatest element of randomness comes into the game. In fact, there are so many cards in the deck that fully 1/3 aren't used in any given game, so you have no guarantee of pursuing any one strategy based on a card you liked well in a previous game. The dice, you can control; this element, not so much.

Note that I haven't really explained what the game is about. Honestly, this is sort of unimportant next to the great dice-and-cards mechanics of the game. Basically, you're picking up goods in the city of Macao, then transporting them by ship to other cities across the globe, earning victory points in the process. After exactly 12 rounds, the player with the most points wins. (With there being a few other ways to earn victory points along the way -- including by some of those cards in that deck I mentioned.)

As I've said (probably a few times by now), it's quite a clever game. The only real problem I can say about it now, after having played it a few times, is that some players seem to become crippled with analysis paralysis while playing it. It's an especially frustrating problem here, as compared to other games I've played with a high AP factor, because for some reason I can't quite identify yet, the "spread" seems greater here. That is, when it comes to picking two dice for the round (and one new card for the round, from the six available for "drafting"), there seems to be an enormous gap of time between players who can consider their options and choose quickly and those who agonize about it for a long time. I think myself in the former category on this, which annoys me a few times every game. Perhaps this game needs a "shot clock." Or experienced players.

In either case, I do very much want to become an "experienced player." Every game I've played thus far has been great, barring those few times per game spent waiting on an AP victim. Here's hoping that problem shrinks over time, and here's me recommending the game for German board game fans. It's kind of a strange hybrid of Tikal and Puerto Rico (both of which I love), with unique ideas all its own.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just Cause

It's time for another classic. This time, it was James Dean's most famous movie, Rebel Without a Cause. I've actually never seen any of his movies before; I might as well start with the big one.

With just a few film appearances before his death, James Dean cemented an image and style that lasted generations. Many would call it "timeless." Unfortunately, the movies themselves are not.

I've written before about the trouble I often have watching movies made before a certain point in time. While there are occasional exceptions I discover -- enough to keep me checking in on classics -- I tend to find most older movies oddly paced, awkwardly acted, and stiffly written.

On most of these counts, Rebel Without a Cause fits the pattern. The script is slow to get going, doesn't really deliver tension when it's supposed to, and has a predictable conclusion. Most of the acting is over-the-top -- yes, even including James Dean himself at times. ("You're tearing me aPART!!") The middle chunk of it drags.

Put simply, it's not a movie I would ever recommend. And yet, I can see a few glimpses of what people regard so highly here. A lot of it begins and ends with James Dean. Even though a few scenes scattered throughout ring a bit false to me, he's powerfully charismatic in every moment he's on screen. You can't watch the movie and not "get" what it is that has made him an icon -- it's something more than his untimely death.

Another interesting aspect to the film is its portrayal of teenagers of the time. The dialogue may be strained, but you still have gangs, street fights, gun violence, underaged drinking, and more. Many would romanticize the 1950s as a "more innocent time," but this movie is Exhibit A in the case against that. Go watch a movie like Grease for a more romanticized look at the decade; this is not that movie.

Nevertheless, I can't really say I enjoyed Rebel Without a Cause overall. I'd give it a D+.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The "O.K." Corral

I'd heard a few good thing over the years about the movie Tombstone. Well, specifically, I'd heard that Val Kilmer gives an amazing performance in it as Doc Holliday that was probably worth the "price of admission" all on its own. I finally decided to check it out.

On the acting front, this movie is really an embarrassment of riches. Indeed, Val Kilmer does shine in his role. But he's really only sitting at the top of a very large mountain of actors here. You have very accomplished actors giving great performances here: Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Dana Delaney. You have actors I can normally either take or leave, but are perfectly cast in their roles here: Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, and even a brief cameo by Charlton Heston. And then you have still more actors appearing here years before they would become more known: Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, Terry O'Quinn, John Corbett, Paula Malcomson -- and yes, that's Jason Priestly, too.

Yes, it's an amazing cast, and director George P. Cosmatos either gets good work out of them, or knows enough to stay the hell out of their way and let the good work happen. Either way, the actors make a feast of this movie.

The thing is, they make it out of relatively slim pickings. The script falls very short. Perhaps I'm too jaded for this nearly 20 year old movie now, thanks to Deadwood. (It doesn't help that two of the regulars from that series are here in this movie.) In any case, the dialogue feels dull, the pacing comes in fits and starts, and the narrative awkwardly brings up a few too many subplots and then just abandons them for lack of time.

The script plays fast and loose with the actual events of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, particularly the revenge sought upon the brothers afterwards. There's a romantic subplot that feels shoehorned into the film in the way such things often feel shoehorned into Hollywood movies to "broaden the appeal" of films that draw a predominately male audience.

In short, it all feels like the right cast -- maybe the perfect cast -- making the wrong movie. I was entertained but impatient, impressed even as I was disappointed. I rate Tombstone a C+ overall.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ab Aeterno

Tonight brought a fantastic episode of Lost, finally bringing us the story of Richard Alpert... or should I say Ricardo?

The Richard back story was a powerful one, taking us through the grief of losing his wife despite doing the unthinkable to try to save her life. We saw the suffering he had to endure chained in the hold of the Black Rock. And we got to see exactly how the Man in Black played upon his vulnerability and almost claimed Richard as a servant. Twice; for one of the few moments to take place in the "present" showed Richard almost giving in, only to be pulled back from the brink in an outstanding scene with Hurley serving as medium.

Of course, there were plenty of little details about the history of the Island filled in for the people most interested in such things -- how the Black Rock came to rest in the middle of the Island; how the statue was destroyed. Fun stuff there too.

And yet there was another great facet to the episode as well, the further illumination of the struggle between Jacob and the Man in Black. This episode really showed just how similar, yet opposite, the two really are. Both can apparently be killed by the very knife that Dogan gave Sayid to use against MiB a few episodes back... but neither can be allowed to speak even a "single word" before you plunge the knife in, or else they work their charms upon you.

Whoever or whatever these two figures are, it has now been made expressly clear that one has dominion over life, and the other over death. The Man in Black has been manifesting in the forms of people who have died; Jacob tells Richard that he cannot bring his wife back to life, though he can extend Richard's eternally. According to Jacob, the Man in Black seeks to corrupt people, while Jacob believes in the core good within them.

And while I do believe Jacob's explanation of the Island being a prison for Ol' Smokey (who himself has all but said as much in his actions this season), there is still something of a gap between the Jacob of the past and the one who apparently decided to get out into the world and start influencing people after all. He told Richard that this is something he did not want to do, and expressly "hired" Richard for the job. And yet we saw in the season five finale how Jacob himself went out into the world and touched the lives of the "candidates" that would eventually end up on Oceanic 815.

Was this a violation of "the rules?" Is this how the Man in Black was ultimately able to find his "loophole," get Jacob killed, and assume the form of Locke?

Questions still abound, but the stakes of Lost have never been more explicitly stated. Good stuff.

And here's one last parting thought. Though the "Sideways World" took a week off, that storyline is still alive. And now I have to wonder... if a world in which the Man in Black escapes the Island really is a world in which hell comes to Earth, just what exactly is the Sideways World? After all, we saw the Island, sunk to the bottom of the ocean, in the season premiere. Is Smokey still imprisoned there on the ocean floor? Was he killed? Or is he out roaming free? Perhaps that last scenario is the real thing that all of the Sideways storyline is leading to?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 8, 4:00-5:00 AM

Da system... is down.

"CTU is blind, deaf, and dumb." Before, they were just dumb.

Do they want to open the box and look at the nuclear rods one more time? I mean, David Blaine could have crawled in there since they last checked.

"They're here, dammit!" (Drink!)

Cue the annual CTU inter-agency jurisdictional turf war.

Renee has an unusually large phone for this show, specifically so that she can use both hands to do things and tuck the phone under her chin while she talks to Chloe.

Parole Officer Prady says if Dana finds anything, she's got his number. Yes, but it doesn't work, since his phone was just in an EMP, right?

Last time Chloe pulled a gun, back in like season 5, she got that crazy James Bond music. Strangely, I kinda miss it.

The agent with Jack and Cole learned impatience from the same place as President Hassan's brother... keep your cool until 10 seconds before you're in the clear, and then completely freak out and run!

Helmets are the red shirts of 24.

Hassan has to be strong too. Just like his hair spray.

For the third straight week, no President Taylor. Does anyone miss her?

If Chloe does start a fire like that guy thinks, at least there's six inches of standing water in the basement.

Hastings stands up straight for the first time in his life.

Dana has officially become the proxy for the writers. She's making it up as she goes along.

I don't think I've seen a vent that big even in a sci-fi film.

Okay... whoa... wait. TIME OUT.

Have we now officially merged the worst ongoing plotline in the history of 24 with the most recurring plot device in the history of 24? Dana's a frakking mole?!!! This does not even remotely track retroactively. Why did she not just plug Kevin and be done with it if she's a heartless killer? Why did she need Cole to do her dirty work? And why in the world did she spend three hours away from CTU when she should have been there passing valuable intel to her associates?

This officially undoes ANY cool factor the show earned with the good Renee and Chloe moments this week. Ugh.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tooth and Consequences

At my regular dental cleaning six months ago, the hygienist was asking me in that polite but very pointed way whether I drink a lot of soda. Apparently, the enamel on my lower teeth was pretty worn down. Yes, I admitted, I drank quite a bit of it.

So between that and just a general thought that a tiny bit less high fructose corn syrup in my diet would be a good thing, I decided to cut back. Not cut entirely by any means. But the afternoon soda at work? Not necessary. The one or two every evening? That could easily be zero or one. And while I wasn't really strict about this or anything, I was definitely able to cut my soda consumption down to somewhere less than half what it was before.

But I do find water pretty flavorless. I want a taste to whatever it is I'm drinking. So in place of the soda, I started to drink a fair amount more tea -- trying not to sweeten it so much as to render the whole conversion moot.

Well folks, this is a no win scenario here. Because instead, about five weeks ago or so, I first notice this rather disgusting stain on one of my lower front teeth. It was looking positively British, if you subscribe to all those bad teeth clichés. I recently went in to the dentist for my latest cleaning and check-up, and find out this is a consequence of the tea. (It apparently could have been red wine also, were I the sort of person to indulge in that.)

I didn't get that "you really shouldn't do that" type of scolding from the hygienist this time that I did over the soda the time before. So I guess if I'm willing to endure a lot more scraping noises upon my appointments, this tea thing seems to meet with professional approval more than a Pepsi habit. (Hmmm... that last sentence really benefited from the fact that I prefer Pepsi, not Coke.)

Anyway, I'm frustrated that my choices seem to be rotting teeth, grungy teeth, or a lack of flavor. Is the cosmic message here "don't even bother"??

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ghost in the Machine

This week's episode of Caprica tracked three storylines: Daniel trying to prove the Zoe avatar was hiding inside the robot; Adama searching the V-world for Tamara; and Amanda's continued descent, pushed further than ever by her confrontation with Vergis.

For me, the Daniel plot was by far the most interesting of the three. The battle of wills between Daniel and Zoe was really something to watch, with so much psychology playing into it. There's was plenty of mental torture in store for Zoe, but even more fascinating was just how ruthless a customer Daniel was presented to be. On the one hand, he claimed the need to connect with Zoe, the only remaining vestige of his daughter. And that grief seemed genuine, particularly in the episode's final moments as he collapsed on his sofa to watch old home movies of his daughter.

And yet... paradoxically, he spent the hour torturing the daughter he loved, making her endure the sensation of being burned alive, reliving a childhood trauma, and more. Wow... not cool, Dad.

The Adama plotline wasn't nearly as compelling to watch. It was the sort of "scavenger hunt" you've seen in many other "searching for a missing loved one" stories before. Just another series of go here, talk to this person, avoid this trap, sort of shoe leather than didn't really add up to much. But there was one interesting thread woven into it, about the mind-enhancing drug that Adama felt compelled to take twice during his journey. If his decisions now leave him with a drug addiction as a result, that could be the springboard for some more compelling drama down the road. Meanwhile, though, we're just marking time until the likely revelation in this story coming for next week's mid-season cliffhanger.

The Amanda storyline fell somewhere between the two for me. Clearly, she is aware of some of the darkness we saw in her husband this week. She may have dismissed Vergis' allegations as an almost involuntary reflex, but when she really thought about it, she clearly believes there might be something to the claim. More of the "might she be crazy" plot didn't quite do it for me, but planting the seeds of a new breakdown between Daniel and Amanda more than made up for it.

Next week, we'll find out where the show intends to leave us hanging for the summer.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Dicey Proposition

A lot of companies publishing German board games here in the U.S. have taken to numbering those games so that they're part of a series. The games usually have no mechanical or thematic connections; they're rarely even designed by the same designer. But once you collect a couple, you feel the pull to have them all. So goes the theory.

I think the first company to do this was Alea, with their "Large Box," "Medium Box," and "Small Box" game series. And the collection theory has totally worked with me, at least for the "Medium Box" games. I hang on to #3 in that series, Augsburg 1520, even though I don't think highly of it and hardly ever play it. And now, the collection bug pushed me to buy #5, the newest entry -- Alea Iacta Est. (Translation: The Die Has Been Cast.)

It took that collection bug to get me over the hurdle, because the game honestly sounded like something I wasn't sure I'd like. There's a lot of dice rolling involved, and I'm not usually a big fan of too much randomness in my strategy games. I've slowly soured on The Settlers of Catan over time, for example, because the fickle dice rolls of the opening few turns can often set the path of the entire game.

But then #5... had to have it! And dice aren't a complete deal-breaker for me in a game; I love Perudo (Liar's Dice), for example. Plus, the Alea games (of any size) haven't typically featured too much chaos, so there was certainly the possibility the game would turn out decent.

That about sums it up -- it's decent. Maybe even a little better than that. Each player has eight dice in his own color, and rolls them all when it's his turn. He then arranges his roll in certain combinations that can be assigned to different spaces on a "game board" -- for example, sets of the same number or straights of consecutive numbers. But you only get to assign dice to one space at a time. When your next turn comes around, you roll only the remaining, unassigned dice you have, and a round continues until one player assigns all his dice.

The assigned dice are then the measure by which different point giving chips are handed out to players, which at the end of the game will be maximized in the best possible combinations to produce a winning score. Players with unassigned dice left over at the end of a round get consolation in the form of "reroll chips," that let you reroll any number of dice you wish from a roll you don't like. Pretty straightforward stuff.

It turns out that while there is randomness, the game has some things going on to break that up and inject more strategy. First of all, there are those reroll chips I mentioned. Secondly, a "bad roll" can still be useful. Some areas of the "board" only want one or two dice, and there's a balance of places where low numbers are best and where high numbers are best. In other words, you can often assign your dice in ways that minimize the ill effects of a "bad roll."

It's fun, but not flawless. There's not a lot of variety in the gameplay; the main thing the game has going in its favor is that it's short enough that you enjoy yourself while playing it. A game that took longer might wear out its welcome for such randomness, but this one doesn't, clocking in usually at 30 minutes.

That said, there is another game we play regularly that hits some of the same areas, but that I like better. It's in Sangediver's collection, not mine: Yspahan. It also uses dice as a major mechanic, but in a way I find to be much more balanced for all players, and with much more room for strategic maneuvering. The game is also quick; it tends to take only 45 minutes. Basically, though I did find Alea Iacta Est to be a decent game, I'd probably never choose to play it in any situation where I also had a copy of Yspahan handy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shakespeare... ish

Back in college, when I was both reading and seeing more plays on a regular basis than I do today, I read Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It takes the two minor characters from Hamlet and spins a story interwoven with Shakespeare's actual play, an existential and introspective affair loaded with wit and wordplay.

Even at the time, I knew there was a film adaptation of the play, written and directed by Stoppard himself. It even featured a promising cast, with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in the title roles, and Richard Dreyfuss taking on the part of the Player (another minor role from Hamlet, enlarged to leading status here). Nevertheless, it was only recently that I finally got around to watching the movie.

I'm sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed. I'd like to chalk it up to the notion this is a better play than a movie, but the truth is I'd only ever read the original play; I've never seen it performed. In actuality, as I watched the movie, I became more and more convinced that perhaps this is a better piece for the writer who penned it, and for the actors performing it, than it is for the audience watching it.

It is, after all, damn clever. There are scenes of dizzying wordplay that are a triumph of the man who created them, and would be a blast to play as an actor taking on the roles. There are even interesting philosophical arguments raised, worthy of debate that the dialogue provides a healthy start on.

And yet, as a story, it's a rather disjointed thing. It's really only a loose collection of clever phrases and intellectual puzzlers, bound together by the conceit of "happening in the background as Hamlet transpired." It manages to suggest a lot of things without really saying much of anything, and even left me bored at times -- me, who had simply loved it years ago on the page.

But the acting is good at least. As I said, it must be great fun to perform, and it certainly seems as though the three main actors are relishing that. All give good performances, and handle the tricky dialogue with great skill. Still, I was more impressed with the technique than I was moved by anything they were presenting.

In the end, I concluded that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead -- at least in its film incarnation -- is a better intellectual exercise than a piece of entertainment. I rate it a C+.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bad Touch

I had never heard of the movie The Entity. I was at a friend's house, borrowing a couple of DVDs, and in my browsing of some other movie entirely, she says basically, "oh, that reminds me of this movie here, The Entity! You should watch this."

She went on to describe in a nutshell what the movie was about: "a woman gets raped by a ghost." I can't say I felt convinced to watch the movie. But somehow, I walked out the door with a handful of movies I wanted to see... and The Entity.

Here's the thing. That nutshell description is really about all the explanation this movie requires. It's basically all that's going on. And there's no tiptoeing up to the subject matter, either. Six minutes into the movie, and Barbara Hershey is being raped by a ghost... for the first of many times, more than I cared to count, in the film.

And so, six minutes into the movie, we basically arrived at the first problem with it. Not to be too crass, but this movie needed a little "foreplay." I think there was some suspense to build up here, some sense of foreboding, a small taste of the supernatural before things kick into high gear. This ghost doesn't waste any time moving objects or making eerie noises, though... just BOOM.

This movie is based on a book that in turn claims to be based on a true story. Regardless of facts, I have to say that a book would be a vastly better medium for this story. Film just can't make this work; at least early 1980s film sure can't. A book could find the words to tell us what it would be like to be a helpless victim in this situation, to put us there in the moment. A movie must try to show us, and "attacked by something invisible" is a near-impossible thing to make convincing. Special effects wizard Stan Winston serves up a rather cool and convincing "invisible fingers squeezing flesh" gag, but ultimately it falls on poor actress Barbara Hershey to thrash around and sell this attack as real.

Well, she tries her best. She acts the hell out of it. But every other element of the film works against her. There are ineffective camera angles. The sequences run awkwardly long. (And while I praised the "invisible fingers" effect, I should elaborate by saying every other special or visual effect in the movie is just awful.)

And oh God, the music. This is one of the worst musical scores I've ever heard in a film. It's loud and too on the nose; it basically sounds like a symphony written for "headboard." It's so preposterous that Quentin Tarantino actually lifted this music to use for a scene in Inglourious Basterds, to scream "over the top!!"

The sum total of it all is that even though you're watching something truly horrifying if you could suspend your disbelief, you almost can't help but laugh. It comes off incredibly amateur, or at best, like a movie composed by an accomplished director deliberately trying to look amateur. (Refer back to some of the moments in Inglourious Basterds.)

Basically, I tip my hat to Barbara Hershey. I even give a polite nod to Ron Silver, who has to give his all to make credible a therapist character who remains an obstinate disbeliever beyond the point of reason. Their considerable talents were utterly wasted here. I give The Entity a D.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Tonight's installment of Lost wasn't bad, but I didn't find it nearly as strong as the last few episodes have been. Mostly, I chalk it up to the "Sideways" storyline. I imagine there are some people out there who think they've been a waste of time this season, a distraction from the business of answering questions on the Island. I myself have found them a continuation of what Lost does in its very best episodes -- using off-Island stories in the lives of the characters to reflect the drama happening on the Island.

That's where the episode came up short for me this time -- the Sideways storyline was neither illuminating or particularly compelling. Oh sure, it was fun to imagine what a cop show starring James Ford and Miles would be like. It was fun to see Charlotte appear again on the show. (The fact that "the girl" didn't turn out to be Juliet must mean that "bigger things" are still in store for Juliet in the Sideways reality.) It was even fun to spot other little details, such as the brief appearance of Charlie's brother at the police station, or the book "A Wrinkle in Time" sitting on top of the dresser.

But ultimately, the tale of Sideways James Ford wasn't very different from that of the true Sawyer. It may seem a strange thing to say, but it doesn't actually seem like that big a difference that he became a cop and not a con man -- particularly when he was still pursuing "Sawyer" for the purpose of killing him, just like he did in the original sequence of events.

I suppose this did all reflect on the Island story. Sideways Sawyer had not changed, and Island Sawyer hasn't either. He was still trying to run cons against both Widmore and Smokey, reverting to his old self even after really changing in his years living on the Island. Yes, there was a thematic connection here, but not a particularly illuminating one.

Actually, the more illuminating moments in the episode were tiny ones that had nothing to do with the featured character of the hour. For example, I once again found myself contemplating just how "good" Jacob might really be. If Sideways James Ford became a cop rather than a criminal, and the primary difference between the two of them was that Jacob wasn't there manipulating him any more, what does that say about Jacob?

And Sayid has gone majorly dark. He sat there with complete disinterest, not making any move at all to save Kate when Claire ambushed her and threatened to kill her. Had UnLocke not intervened, it seems clear Sayid would have just watched Kate die. Yikes.

Food for thought until next Tuesday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 8, 3:00-4:00 AM

They outline the entire season's plot thus far and manage to name drop just about every person in the cast right there in the first 45 seconds of the show. What does that say about how interesting the plot thus far has truly been?

NYPD needs to set up a "perimeter." (Drink!)

The NYPD has absolutely worthless bulletproof vests.

Jack gives the very important clarification that the cab Tarin and Kayla are escaping in is yellow.

They put Kayla in a blindfold. It's kind of like a burka, but in reverse.

Tarin can't watch them put the plastic bag over Kayla's head. She only likes it when he does that.

Do we not think it might be a good idea to tell President Taylor about all the compromised national security information? I mean, she's right there in the same building and everything.

A 100 gig thumb drive? (Well, but then, this is several years in the future, thanks to all the in-between-seasons time-jumping 24 has done.)

Dalia Hassan basically psyches her husband up to talk to the terrorists by telling him he's a very good liar. Gee, thanks, wife.

What Tarin does with the fire extinguisher is not half as cool as what Jack did with the fire axe back in the first hour.

There was a series of tunnels leading directly into this bank's vault? One wonders how it went out of business.

I guess they just had an EMP sitting around for just this sort of emergency.

Any chance the parole officer had a pacemaker? I wouldn't mind really being rid of the Dana subplot.

"Dammit, we're blind!" (Drink!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crazy Little Thing

When it first opened a few weeks back, I passed on The Crazies, the new remake of the George Romero 1970s film. But then it sort of "wore me down," and today I went out to the theater to catch it.

"Wore me down" isn't quite the right phrase. I did want to see the movie. I passed initially because I was somewhat skeptical from the trailer. But the word of mouth on it was pretty good. Plus, the star was Timothy Olyphant. Loved him in Deadwood, of course, and I've seen him elevate his share of "probably shouldn't have been good, but it kind of was" movies, like A Perfect Getaway.

With all the zombie movies around these days, any new entry in the field (even if it is a remake) needs to have a spin on it. There, Zombieland excelled by coming at it from a comedic angle. The Crazies comes at it by having the enemy not be zombies -- not exactly. The victims of the strange virus in this film slowly lose their minds, and ultimately become very zombie-like killing machines. But they never completely lose their intelligence, keep them a thinking menace. They also don't always completely lose the personality they had as people either, keeping them a reminder that the folks coming at you were "the folks next door" just a short while ago. It's an interesting enough take on the subject to set The Crazies in new territory as it gets underway.

It manages to stay in this good space for quite some time, too. A number of sequences in the first half of the movie are very cleverly devised. They amp the suspense, and present some just plain unsettling situations; they don't rely on conventional make-you-jump scares, and never come at you with a sequence that would have worked in just any other zombie film.

But alas, the originality (if you can call it that, being a remake) and creativity dry up somewhere around the halfway mark. It's as though the writing process began with these few cool sequences in mind, but without a clear idea of the film's final destination. And left with the need to fill 45 more minutes of screen time with something, the script starts falling back on all the sad tropes of the genre.

The last truly suspenseful, horrific sequence occurs somewhere in act two, and from there, it's a non-stop parade of "you've seen this before." Suspense is dropped in favor of loud music stings and quick camera cuts, conspiring to make you jump rather than make your skin crawl. Plot holes spring open like the films is tearing at the seams. (So, they're just hanging out in a random car wash somewhere in case someone comes in worth attacking? And how exactly is these disease transferred, because it seems to me that if our hero didn't have it before, he'd surely have it after one particular sequence in the movie -- no matter how bad-ass it makes him look.) The film even starts to copy itself, pulling the same "character doesn't see what we the audience see as the camera pans across the background" schtick in act three that it used on us in act two.

It's a real shame the movie couldn't make good on the promise it showed so early on. I wouldn't say it ended up being something to avoid, but neither is it something I can recommend overall. I rate it a C+.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Imperfections of Memory

A pretty good hour of Caprica this week. Part of the appeal for me was that the episode addressed a few dangling threads for me in the story thus far.

For example, the final moment of the episode -- at long last -- got to the question I've been asking since hour one. If Daniel tried to put his daughter's avatar in his robot, and now has ONE robot that actually works, how does it not occur to him that perhaps the avatar was not lost after all? I really don't know why it took him so long to put two and two together on this one, but at least he finally did, and now we can move on with the story.

Did we always know that Amanda spent time in a mental institution? Somehow, I have this recollection of a little throwaway bit of dialogue in a conversation between her and Daniel... and yet I can't really pinpoint it. Perhaps it's just that this revelation was just so logical, it feels like it must have been part of the story all along. This mentally fragile past certainly explains why Zoe's death pushed her so far over the edge. Certainly, any parent losing a child would go through anguish, maybe even forget herself long enough to out her daughter as a terrorist on national television. But now, I don't feel that moment from the first episode feels strained at all.

At last, Zoe's flirtation with Daniel's lab geek Philomon is going somewhere. I suppose this motive -- to get his help in escaping the lab -- was obvious all along, but it's nice to have her spell it out, to better tether into the plot all these odd scenes between the two of them. The moments when it was between him and the robot were especially awkward, and should now benefit from laying out the stakes more clearly.

I was glad to see the Vergis thread kept alive this week, though disappointed not to have the Barnabas thread progressed. So far, though, Vergis has popped more as a character than Barnabas -- so if I had to pick one of those two to sit out a week, I'd make the same choice the writers did.

Joseph Adama's story just hasn't been as interesting since his brother Sam faded more into the background, though. I was also a little disappointed to see them "trade up" the character of Tad in favor of a new guide through New Cap City. Tad was an interesting character, interacting with Tamara a few weeks back, and was just as interesting this week with Joseph. I particularly liked the moment where Tad just messed with him, preparing him to "fly" in the virtual world. But now that Tad has died in the game, it seems unlikely we'll be seeing him again.

It turns out that we only have two more hours to go here before we reach mid-season, and a months-long break per Syfy's usual operating procedure. I don't like to be left on cliffhangers, really, but I'm actually kind of hoping that Caprica gets to something compelling enough to really make me miss it while it's away. We'll see...

Friday, March 12, 2010

(Gimme a) Shotgun Wedding

About half a year ago, a friend loaned me her DVD of The Wedding Singer. She basically forced me to borrow it, bringing it to my house and leaving it there. I made her no promises that I would ever watch it. I told her: I do not like Adam Sandler. I sometimes don't even like him when he's not being "Adam Sandler"; I certainly wasn't going to like him in a movie like this, where he most certainly was being "Adam Sandler."

But then the apocalypse happened. Specifically, the "apocalyPS3" happened, that fateful March 1 where nearly every "fat" (older) Playstation 3 on the planet thought it was a leap year when it wasn't, rendering the consoles basically incapable of doing almost anything for a 24-hour period.

On that night, I'd already watched everything I had from Netflix and was sending it back. I'd been thinking about maybe watching a movie using their instant service on PS3 -- but that suddenly wasn't working. So my eyes fell upon that Wedding Singer DVD, sitting there on my counter in exactly the spot it had been for months. Only a calamity of this magnitude could make me watch it.

No surprises... I thought it was awful. Adam Sandler's one-note schtick was on full display in this piece of standard romantic comedy fare. You know, that only way he can deliver a "joke," by first talking really softly and then suddenly GETTING VERY LOUD! Because shouting at you will trick you into thinking he's funny. He does it in almost every scene of the movie. In fact, there's a whole song about halfway through that's built on the gimmick -- quiet in the verses, shouty in the chorus. Unfunny throughout.

I've heard it said that a redeeming quality of this movie is that its set in the 1980s and has a great soundtrack of 80s music. That may be true, but I don't need to sit through 90 minutes of crap for the music. It's not like you even get to actually listen to more than a few pieces of it scattered in the background. In fact, some of it you have to suffer through in karaoke fashion as rendered by Sandler. If I want to listen to 1980s music, I have an iPod.

No, the only truly redeeming quality of this movie is Drew Barrymore, who gives a good performance this movie is not worthy to contain. She works her ass off to make a sympathetic character and to make you believe anyone could fall in love with Adam Sandler. And she does it all working within the binds of awful, cliched writing. That it succeeds on any level is a major miracle.

Otherwise, the movie is just beyond awful -- a D- waste of time at best.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

There Are Many Copies

I'm not really into the whole MMO thing, but there was an announcement that caught my attention earlier this week. A company has announced their plans to release a Battlestar Galactica MMO.

Oh, no -- it's not that I'm interested in playing it. Rather, it occurred to me that once this thing is up and running, it's entirely possible that there will be more players running around in it than there were survivors of the Cylon destruction of the colonies on the TV show itself. There were, after all, only around 50,000 survivors as of the end of the mini-series.

I guess this another form of the How Big Is Azeroth? question.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This past weekend, I went to see Tim Burton's latest film, Alice in Wonderland. To paraphrase a line from the film, the director seemed to have "lost his muchness" on this one. I found the film to be a disappointment.

Known to me (but not to some) before watching the movie, the plot was not an actual telling of Alice in Wonderland, but rather a sequel invented to take place several years later as the title character has reached age 20. You might assume this unique new approach would be the jumping-off point for an interesting new story. Instead, the story isn't much of one, an incoherent jumble of vignettes that doesn't hold together very well.

Ah, you might say, but that's precisely what Alice in Wonderland is -- an incoherent jumble of vignettes, designed to be weird fever dreams. Yes, but that was an original incoherent jumble of vignettes. This film doesn't bring much new to the table, simply revisiting the characters and situations of the original story with an almost "Chris Farley Show"-esque spirit of "you remember that? That was awesome."

There are moments where it does get clever. Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter is entertaining, even though it seems a little schtickier and less novel than his characters from other Burton films. Anne Hathaway is marvelous as The White Queen, capturing a flighty, spritely character whose hands are in constant comical motion.

But it never really looks quite right. This film made me actually grow a deeper appreciation for Avatar, of all things. When I saw Avatar, within minutes, I'd "bought in" completely, and never once questioned the realism of what was projected on the screen. This movie made me renegotiate my "suspension of disbelief" every scene. Fully CG creations rarely seemed to have the right sense of weight to them; people of different sizes in the same scene didn't always seem to have consistent light cast on them. The awareness of all the green screen fakery was as high as in any film I've seen since George Lucas last directed.

There were some fun moments, but mostly the whole experience was jarring... when it wasn't just plain boring. I'd rate it a C+ at best.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Dr. Linus

Season six of Lost rolls on with another solid episode tonight. Though Ben wasn't part of Lost from the beginning, he quickly became one of the most interesting characters on the show, and tonight's episode didn't disappoint.

The Sideways Ben plot was a great one, showing that Ben's coercive, insidious nature is a part of him in any incarnation. And yet, this version of Ben, when it came down to it, ultimately could not make the selfish choice. It was a great use of his "daughter" Alex in this storyline as the focus for this revealing character moment.

Perhaps even more interesting is how this wasn't just revealing of Ben, but how it may be revealing of Jacob. After all, this Sideways version of reality is one in which Jacob never pulled people's strings to get them to the Island and alter their destiny. It was only as a result of Jacob's tampering, and of Ben's trip through the Temple resurrection spa, that Ben turned out the way he did. Crafty in any reality, but only actually carrying through with his plans in a world where he was touched by Jacob. Hmmm....

Of course, it's looking like perhaps Island Ben is turning over a new leaf. Actor Michael Emerson did an amazing job in the climactic scene where he broke down and confessed his guilt and remorse over killing Jacob. This moment really informs the glib eulogy Ben gave Locke just a few episodes ago -- you know now just how much all that was pure bluster.

Along with the great Ben storylines, we got a number of other good tidbits. Some were just purely entertaining character beats. ("Cheese curds.") Others were fun tie-ins to reward the long-time fans. (Miles using his psychic gift to discover the diamonds buried with Nikki and Paolo.) And then there were tantalizing hints at some things yet to be addressed. (It appears that the ageless Richard Alpert first arrived on the Island aboard the Black Rock... as a slave?)

Plenty of stuff to keep us thinking until the next new episode. Not the least of which is that final moment. How did Widmore find the Island? Is there any chance that he's the person Jacob alluded to in the Lighthouse episode when he told Hurley that someone was coming that needed help getting there?

Does anybody else think Jacob is looking a little less like the "good guy" with each passing week?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Day 8, 2:00-3:00 AM

The terrorist group is actually named the I.R.K.? I find that irksome.

Are Cole and Dana really having this conversation in an elevator where they know a camera is located?

Hastings tells those two that how they perform from this point will determine whether 24 gets another season.

At what point might the terrorists decide that constantly opening the box with the radioactive rods in it might not be such a good idea?

Arlo rushes to make up for two hours of not being able to harass Dana.

Why does it not occur to ANYONE that gee, this suspect has locked himself in a hyperbaric chamber... could we maybe do something with the air pressure in there to knock him out?!

After their episode-spanning sexcapade, Kayla is all sweaty. Her man, not so much.

"Our daughter is God knows where." Don't you mean Allah?

Marcos called his Mom in the dead of night and told her to leave the city. Obviously he failed to convey the urgency here, since Mom's still packing one full hour later.

What kind of probation officer works at 2:30 in the morning and crosses multiple states to pursue just one of his assigned people? I understand that Dana has proven stupid enough so far this season to believe a story like that, but do the writers really think we are stupid enough to think this guy is legit?

Or maybe the writers are stupid enough to actually make him legit?

Suddenly Agent Owen is really sweaty. Maybe he was the one having sex with Kayla Hassan.

"Marcos [middle name] Al-Zacar, you get out here right now!"

Jack can't say on FOX the other things he'll do to Mom if Marcos doesn't cooperate.

There are FOUR lights!

"Dammit!" (Drink!)

"Dammit, Marcos! Give me a name!" (Drink!)

Marcos goes all Jackson Pollock.

Can they not do a GPS trace on Kayla's phone?

Was that the quickest shower ever?

NYPD is going to set up a "perimeter." (Drink!)

If the writers keep us drinking enough, maybe we won't keep noticing all these plot holes!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

And the Oscar Snark Goes To...

Neil Patrick Harris strides out in the best jacket EVER.

Steve Martin is too cool to hide his harness under his coat.

Everyone nods “hey, that’s true” when Steve Martin mentions being borne a “poor black child” in his first movie.

Everyone nods even more knowingly when they say Woody Harrelson is so high… “hey, that’s true.”

What’s with Dumbledore sitting behind Quentin Tarantino?

Even with their “category intro” piece, the Up people show why they deserve the Oscar.

Robert Downey Jr. has takent he time to match his big-ass bow tie to his goofy sunglasses.

It says a lot about John Hughes that he gets his own segment, separate from the conventional “death montage,” in a year when so many celebrities passed away.

I have to say, Logorama looks pretty sweet. And the French man’s acceptance speech is the best of the night to that point.

The Music by Prudence guy looks like he's getting Kanye Wested by this crazy lady in purple.

Clearly, no one thought Star Trek would win the Makeup Oscar, since they sat the winners way the hell in back. I think they played the entire musical score of the film before they reached the stage.

Steve Martin: "I wrote that speech for him." Oh, snap!

Why is Robin Williams presenting in front of lamp shades?

Mo'nique thanks the Academy for not letting "politics" affect her category... and in the next breath, thanks Oprah Winfrey for telling everyone to go see the movie.

Now the lamp shades have been replaced with bookcases?

"This Oscar sees you. Your vision is so deep." Unlike this speech.

Is Sarah Jessica Parker's dress Doric, Corinthian, or Ionic?

The woman who won for Best Costumes dressed very ironically for the occasion.

Charlize Theron is dressed as "Stare-At-My-Boobs Barbie."

Kristen Stewart, as always, looks pissed off to be wherever she is.

The Sound Design winner for The Hurt Locker looks like he should be conducting an orchestra somewhere. "It's such a great honor to be hair."

Let me get this straight. The show is running behind, so you decide that the thing you should cut is the clips from the films nominated for Best CINEMATOGRAPHY?

From a distance, it looks like Jennifer Lopez is wearing bubble wrap.

And is Sam Worthington actually chewing GUM on stage at the Oscars? What a tool.

Hip-hop, breakdancing, and capaweta to the music from Fantastic Mr. Fox just looks weird.

Almost as weird as doing The Robot to the music from Up.

The Milk of Sorrow could have won Best Foreign Film on title alone. That just sounds like the most depressing movie ever.

Jeff Bridges has waited decades for this Oscar. His speech may run decades more.

Steisand needs some boy to help her down three stairs.

Kathryn Bigelow wins a much-deserved best Director award. She deserves another award for having been married to James Cameron.

James Cameron will have to console himself with a treasure bath in his ridiculous profits from Avatar; the Best Picture goes to The Hurt Locker.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Death of Innocents

I recently became aware of a documentary film made in 1996 by HBO, and was immediately compelled to check it out from even just the brief description I heard. It's called Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

Back in the early 90s, the bodies of three young boys, all around age 8, were found murdered in Arkansas. The killings were horrifying enough at just that, that children so young were victims; the particulars of the crime took it to an even more chilling level. The body were all hogtied, stripped, and mutilated -- some in ways I don't care to describe here in detail.

But that's only the "back story" of this documentary. Instead, the film focus on the trials of the three teenagers (ages 16 through 18) arrested for these crimes. In short, the state in which the victims had been found led police to suspect "Satanists" were responsible. And so attention turned to one aloof teenager who seemed to fit the bill: he dressed all in black, had a strange haircut, listened to Metallica, and read Stephen King. There also happened to be no substantive physical evidence linking him to the crime... which for a month, kept him only a suspect under investigation.

That all changed when another teenager who knew him gave a statement claiming he'd witnessed this prime suspect -- and his best friend -- perform the murders, and even acted himself as an accomplice. But this confession came after hours of possible coercive interrogation. And this witness was mentally disabled, thus more easily manipulated. And his confession was filled with inconsistencies both with itself and with several established facts in the case.

Nevertheless, it was enough. Confession, fear of Satanists, a desperate need to avenge brutal slayings, and people who look abnormal. (I mean, look at the picture on the DVD -- it's honestly chilling all on its own.) This is the subject of the documentary, an in depth look at the trials and the miscarriage of justice in this case. And it's a very well put together film that stirs up a plenty of emotions and intellectual quandaries.

Never for a moment does this documentary want you to actually believe these teenagers are guilty. That issue isn't even on the table. But you are constantly forced to face the anguish of the parents of the murdered boys. You can absolutely understand their grief; you might even understand their own sort of bloodthirst when it comes to these suspects (even if that's not in your own nature). And yet it blinds them all to obvious truths.

Watching the film, you're faced with a lot of cliches of "Rednecks from Arkansas." In one scene, two parents actually give an interview to the documentary makers, sitting in their decades-old recliners, one smoking a cigarette, both nursing alcohol in their foam beer cozies, neither sounding remotely intelligent. Part of you wants to grab them and shake them; all of you feels intellectually superior; and yet, you must feel compassion for them. They're still people, you can still identify what they're going through.

The prime suspect in this case, Damien Echols, takes to the stand in his own defense. You feel such sympathy for his situation, given the utter lack of evidence. You feel the unbridled bloodlust of everyone around him, out to see him executed, and you want to root him on. And yet he often comes across himself like an impossible-to-like punk of a teenager who almost defiantly seems to not want to help his own cause. He doesn't deserve his fate, and yet you wish he'd appear to take things more seriously!

The documentary runs rather long at two-and-a-half hours, but it throws these tough contradictions at you the entire time. A good watch, if you can stomach it. I'd rate it a B. I was enthralled enough to dig into further information about the case -- which included learning of a sequel documentary made by HBO (which I'll probably also watch), and watching a recent episode of 48 Hours Mystery that is still trying to bring more attention to this case even all these years later.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Know Thy Enemy

Unfortunately, I found this week's Caprica to be a bit of a backslide from last week's episode. It wasn't a big step back, but this episode was short some of the more interesting dramatic moments of last week.

The ideas were often there. For example, the meeting between Clarice and Amanda was a very neat concept, having the sister go all "covert agent" to infiltrate the Graystones' home. And yet the emotion of it didn't quite land solidly for me, I think mainly because the ransacking of Zoe's room by the police is no longer a fresh wound -- it occurred two episodes ago. Had this been more recent, I think more could have been made of how devious Clarice was to worm her way in there, and I think Amanda's feelings in the moment would have seemed more natural for the character, and less created by the actress (talented though Paula Malcomson is).

Much like the "robot dancing" of two weeks ago, the Zoe plotline of this episode just felt like a waste of time. It's a shame, because I really like the work that Alessandra Torresani did in the pilot. I just don't think the writers have figured out what to do with her since then.

But, on the up side, it did seem like some new pieces were being laid in place tonight that can pay off in future episodes. The rivalry set up between Daniel and Tomas Vergis has great potential. The last scene was chilling and effective, as Vergis menaced all without ever raising his voice or making any specific threat. The general threat, to "destroy Daniel's dream," whatever that is, was strong enough.

Also showing potential was the introduction of James Marsters of Buffy/Angel notoriety. His character in this first episode has begun unfortunately a little stock, only generally creepy (torturing himself with barbed wire) and generally threatening (his instructions to get closer to Lacy). Yet my thinking is that they wouldn't have bothered to get someone as revered in the sci-fi geek circles as Marsters to play such a conventional character. That must be going somewhere.

So my hope is that down the road, we can look back in retrospect at this episode and say that this is where some important and cool plot lines first began. Hey, if we can start saying that as early as next week, that would be nice.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Politics as Unusual

The entertainment sites have been talking about the Oscars for weeks here, but now, with just days to go, it has risen to a crescendo. Often discussed are the "obscure" or "surprising" nominations, including the Best Original Screenplay nod for a British movie called In the Loop. I'd heard incredibly positive things about the movie apart from the fact of that nomination, and decided to check it out.

Start with all the high-speed dialogue stuffed full of wit and intelligence that you find on The West Wing. Split it across two continents, with a look at both British and American politics. Now turn the dial fully away from the serious and dramatic and put things into the farcical and surreal. Finally, throw the switch to foul-mouthed and R-rated, and ta-da! You have In the Loop.

The story revolves around the British Prime Minister and American President (neither actually shown on screen), who both desperately want to press the United Nations Security Council to declare war on an anonymous Middle Eastern country. We see aides working in arms of their administrations scrambling to support justifications for the action, and repressing arguments against. And let me say again -- this is all played for humor. Despite the "ripped from the headlines" feel of what I've described, the material is meant to get laughs.

And boy, how it does! I laughed out loud, even though all alone watching it, all throughout the film. The caliber of wit, the hilarity of the cursing, the quality of the insults, the snap of the dialogue, and the pitch perfect performances from the cast... this was damn near a perfect comedy. The only thing I could really say against it that while it entertained throughout, it didn't ultimately feel like a complete story as it came to an end. In fact, I thought that it really came across more like the bedrock on which a fantastic television series could and should have been built.

Lo and behold, I find out that's exactly what In the Loop was first -- a three season (thus, only 17 episodes, keeping with the British TV norm) television series called The Thick of It, that ran from 2005 to 2009. And now, I feel I must somehow find a way to get my hands on it, though it could take some work, as it has not been released on DVD here in the States.

Though I feel this material would be better packaged as a series than as a movie, it's still an outstanding and entertaining film. In fact, it's rocketing to the echelons of my "best of 2009" list, nestling in at #2, just behind Up. Coming into this movie, I was wondering if I'd be resentful of the film that was said to have possibly pushed (500) Days of Summer out of a screenplay nomination. Now, I think I'm rooting for it to win (against the odds). This film gets an A.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Punch Out

Until recently, I'd had basically no interest in seeing the movie Punch-Drunk Love. But it popped up on a few "top movies of the decade" lists I saw last month, and started to get my interest. And the promise everywhere seemed to be "this is not your typical Adam Sandler movie." Well, good, because I hate typical Adam Sandler. Finally, I broke down and watched it.

I'll say first that it's true, Adam Sandler isn't being at all Adam Sandlery in this movie. I didn't find him unbearable to watch as I usually do. No, this time "unbearable to watch" was everything else around him.

I watched the movie, and I'm not even sure I can tell you what it is, or what exactly it's about. It's has all the disjointed dementia of a movie like Being John Malkovich, without the ingenuity or cleverness that tells you it's being weird for a purpose, not just weird for the sake of being weird. Nor does it seem to have any point to make, never mind one as dramatic or powerful as a BJM. Hell, it doesn't even have the message, craft, or creativity of a lesser Charlie Kaufman work like Synecdoche, New York.

Each scene just piles weirdness on top of the last, without rhyme or reason. The main character finds an abandoned harmonium on the road. Then he witnesses a violent car crash. Then he's being flirted with by a boring woman. Then he's buying pudding to win a contest. Then some kind of mob is chasing after him for standing up to a phone sex operator trying to blackmail him? Alright, I'm skipping a few steps here, but not that knowing them would help.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson tries to throw art on screen for our amazement/enjoyment, but each salvo fails to land. Years later, he'd do much better in my mind with There Will Be Blood, which, though dense and even boring at times, still has moments of skill and beauty. Strip away any such transcendent moments, and you have Punch-Drunk Love.

I think any critic putting this on a top film list is only doing it in the spirit of "the emperor's new clothes," claiming to see brilliance here when there is in truth nothing. It's tedious, sloppy, disjointed, and boring. An absolute F.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Let the Game Begin!

HBO actually did it!

Today, they officially ordered a full season (10 episodes) of the series adapting George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire. At the very least, they got me to subscribe, when the time comes.

Now, if only the man behind it all would stop dragging his feet and finish the next book. It's been five years here, man.


Sayid's episode of Lost tonight was another strong hit for me in this final season. So far, the "flash-sideways" have been used to really call out the differences between who are castaways are and who they "might have been." This time out was an interesting episode if for no other reason than this: it was very much open to debate whether Sayid was any different at all.

In the Island world, you had him siding with UnLocke -- Evil Incarnate, if you believe the Temple-dwelling others. He still thinks of himself as good, while acknowledging a darkness in himself; and yet none of that really matters in terms of his actions. In the Sideways world, he still tries to do the right thing by Nadia, and yet still finds himself in situations where he's murdering people. Regardless of his reasons, he still has this darkness in himself.

As this compelling character study played out, we got to enjoy lots of other fun moments along the way:

The delicious but brief return of Keamy.

The dark look in Claire's eyes when Kate told her she had been raising Aaron.

That kick-ass extended fight sequence in the opening.

That fantastic moment when UnLocke promises Sayid whatever he wants. How could you not know that's not on the level; and yet, how could you say no?

That look of terror that flashed on Ben's face as he confronted Sayid. If you're scaring Ben of all people, you know you've gone seriously dark.

Based on the loose thread of Sayid finding Jin in the Sideways world as that storyline closed, it seems we'll be in for a story about him and/or Sun next week. Either way, I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Day 8, 1:00-2:00 AM

Ooo... we get "Sexual Situations" this week!

The terrorists are going to use their rods to make a dirty bomb. Could that by the sexual situations?

The president wants to schedule a briefing. Cause that's what I was really missing when she wasn't in last week's episode -- more briefings.

The Chief of Staff doesn't seem to realize that it does no good to slam a phone down when the other person has already hung up on you. It's even lamer when it was on speakerphone, so you have to pick it up to slam it down.

Seriously? Farhad sat in that one spot for half an hour, and couldn't wait the literally 15 more seconds for CTU to arrive?

What the hell is going on here? CTU arrives on a scene without setting up a "perimeter," and Jack's only lead is about to die on him without a "dammit!"

The dirty bomb could render parts of New York uninhabitable for 40 years. You know, more parts than are already uninhabitable.

Seriously, what possible explanation can Cole and Dana come up with for leaving the office during a crisis for two hours?

They're reporting a false story on Fox News? Get out!

"Marcos?" (Polos.)

Why did they get Mare Winningham for this tiny little part?

A little kissing on the bed? That's it for sexual situations?

When is being the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States not challenging?

When Hassan says "Madame President," it kind of sounds like "my damn President."

Jack and Renee are trying to share a moment. But we all know how "chatter on the comm" kills a mood.

Chloe's gonna do whatnow to the detonator? I've never heard such technobabble!

Because a bomb vest is involved, this is one problem Jack won't be able to shoot in the thigh.

Okay, seriously... this Owens guy looks so young, I think 24 had already started airing when he was born.

The vest is in a DDR configuration? So the disarm sequence is what, left arrow, right arrow, up, up, down...

Marcos goes out the window, even though it would be pretty much impossible to throw your own body at a hospital window hard enough to break through the glass.

Finally! A "perimeter!" I think we might have to investigate new additions for the 24 drinking game. ("Intel reports" would have been a good one this episode.)

The bomb's disarmed. NOW would be the time for that thigh shooting!

Marcos locks himself in, and now we get a sense of why we got Mare Winningham to play his mom. Wait next week for the "we have someone who wants to talk to you" scene...

Ah, at last, there's the sexual situation. In a tiny box taking up just part of the screen.