Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Important Message From The TV and Film Guy's Reviews

Dear Reader(s),

As many of you probably know tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is also the day on which I will fly halfway around the world. I'll be spending the next two weeks out of the country and away from my computer. There will be no site updates during this two week period, but, do not worry, the start of the second week in December I'll be back, refreshed, renewed, and replenished.

Please do not take a lack of updates between now and then as a sign that I have abandoned you. Take heart knowing that I'll be back.

Until then, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays.


Josh Lasser

Thirteen is not an Unlucky Number for These Guys

When in doubt, return to your roots.  It is not a bad plan of attack and one that Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, and company deploy successfully in Ocean's Thirteen, the Ocean's franchise's third entry.  For the original film, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his band of thieves executed a heist in Las Vegas.  The film was fun, funny, and hugely entertaining.  The sequel, Ocean's Twelve, featured the gang planning a job in Europe, and was far less enjoyable of an experience.  In an effort to recapture some of the original's magic, for the most recent go round they returned to their Vegas roots.  

Directed by Soderbergh, the film has Ocean call in his friend Rusty (Brad Pitt), and subsequently the rest of the group, to help plot revenge against an evil casino owner that has harmed on of their won.  Said casino owner, Willie Bank (Al Pacino), cheated their friend, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), out of Tishkoff's part in a new hotel-casino.  Reuben is actually so distressed by being forced out of the casino that he suffers a breakdown and is unable to get out of bed for much of the film. 

Ocean and Rusty cannot let the slight against their friend go unanswered, so they call in the rest of the original gang to help them with their plans.  Before truly attacking Bank, the guys even offer Bank the chance to repent, to reinstall Reuben as a partner in the casino in exchange for which they will let bygones be bygones.  Bank refuses, suggesting that if Reuben can't handle the pressures of working in Vegas he should roll over and die.  The venom spewed by Bank towards Reuben clears they way for Ocean and company to do anything and everything in their power to make Bank pay.

The gang's goal is simple, unlike their first trip to Vegas they do not set out to gain personally by their actions, they solely wish to hurt Bank.  The plot that they devise is a multi-pronged attack designed to not only to stop Bank from winning an award he desperately covets for the new hotel, but that will also, with luck, have him lose enough money on opening night that he will lose control of the place altogether.

The scheme, as they devise it, revolves around rigging casino games to favor the players instead of the house.  Some of the most clever moments in the film are the explanations of exactly how the games are to be rigged.  However, as pointed out in the movie, the key to their schemes will be to get the casino guests to leave upon having won rather than keeping playing and giving their money back to the house.  Their plan – fake an earthquake.

Due to snags in this exit plan the boys find themselves needing additional finances and are forced to call in Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), their mark from the first film, in order to bankroll them.  Benedict is viable choice, the film explains, due to his own personal hatred of Bank.  However, in agreeing to join the group, Benedict also adds to the complexity of Ocean's plans by demanding an additional robbery (of some jewelry) be added to the scheme.

As with the other two Ocean's films, the plot is inordinately complex, with enough moving parts to make the entire proceeding highly improbable.  However, it's fun to watch the events unspool, however improbable they may be. 

Due to their plans, Ocean and company must harm one person that in now ay deserves it, the hotel reviewer.  In order to assure a bad review, they infest his room with bugs, give him good poisoning, and commit a number of other terrible acts towards him.  All of these acts are committed with the intent of harming Bank, and the boys do reward the reviewer at the end of the movie..

Pacino, as the smarmy Bank, is one of the highlights of the film.  He is so unrepentantly evil, in a truly corporate way, that watching him get taken for a ride is enjoyable.  The performance is one of Pacino's better ones in recent years.  He is great both controlling everyone around him and being controlled by Ocean.

The DVD contains few extra features.  There are a few extended/deleted scenes, a behind the scenes tour of the set, and a documentary on Las Vegas itself.

Ocean's Thirteen never quite gets back to the high points of the original film, but it certainly is more entertaining than the first sequel.  On the downside, there is little to no character development within Ocean's gang this outing, and to really understand who the vast majority of the people are it is essential that one see the first film.  It does, however, put the franchise back on the right track should they decide to put the band back together for Ocean's Fourteen.

Heading to the Second Star to the Right

"Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

Few phrases from childhood are quite so iconic as that. Peter Pan is the dream of childhood. It's the dream of living in a magical land, never growing up, and always having fun. Believing that if one could only head towards the second star to the right they could venture to Never Land is a powerful fantasy. It's a fantasy worth revisiting from time to time, just as Disney has done with their sequel to the original film entitled Peter Pan in Return to Never Land.

The film takes place years after the original tale. Wendy is now all grown up with two children of her own. In London the Second World War is raging and Wendy's husband has to go off to help fight. Just before he goes, Wendy's husband tells their oldest child, Jane, that she must watch after her brother, Danny, and her mother. The words hit Wendy hard as she abandons her childhood as a frivolity and takes on more serious duties. She dismisses all of her mother's tales of Peter Pan as nonsense and kids' stuff, and encourages Danny and her mother to do the same.

Due to the Blitz, Jane and Danny are assigned a spot on a train to take them away from London. The night before they are to leave Wendy encourages Jane to tell her brother Peter Pan stories, to help alleviate the upset in Danny's life. Jane, again, dismisses the stories, but no sooner does she head to bed that night than Captain Hook, his crew, and ship appear outside of Jane's window and, mistaking Jane for her mother, kidnap her, bringing her to Never Land.

Even after being rescued by Peter, Jane still dismisses him, the Lost Boys, and Tinker Bell. She goes as far as to claim that she doesn't believe in fairies (an odd thing to say after having actually met Tink) and storms off.

As the film progresses, Jane teams up with Hook to find his stolen treasure as Peter and the Lost Boys search for Jane. They are desperate to find her and to make her a "Lost Girl," in hopes that if she becomes one of them she will begin to believe in fairies, which will save Tink, whose light is fading due to Jane's dismissal.

By the end of the film, all's right with the world, Tink's light is restored, Hook is put in his place, and Jane realizes the value of childhood and her mother's tales. It's a cheerful, decent, message in an otherwise humdrum film.

To suggest that things in Never Land need to progress with some sort of narrative logic may be foolish, but as Jane is from the real world, I do not believe that I am asking too much of her. The notion that after being kidnapped by Captain Hook she opts to team up with him against Pan makes little sense. The movie is not putting forth some sort of Stockholm Syndrome scenario, Jane just chooses to work with her kidnapper and would-be murderer.

Despite the lapses in logic, the film is sweet and enjoyable enough, though by no means anywhere near as iconic as the original. Returning to Never Land and seeing that Tinker Bell is still just as jealous as ever, the Lost Boys are just as fun-loving, and that Peter can still always gets the best of Hook is moderately diverting. There are, unquestionably, moments where the retread feels overwhelming, such as Tink's near death and the need to believe in fairies in order to restore her, which does dampen some of the joy the film would otherwise have.

The DVD, available on November 27 in a "Pixie-Powered Edition," comes with deleted scenes, an interactive game, and "Magical Fairies Moments," which are merely previews for Disney's Fairies line of products. The Fairies moments are cute, but add a cynical, monetary undertone to the DVD.

Peter Pan in Return to Never Land may not be the ideal sequel to the original Disney film, but it certainly has more going for it than other sequels and filmic adaptations of the original that have occurred through the years. The movie does show that there is still fun and merriment to be had in Never Land, and that while growing up may be valuable, there is something to be said for remaining young as long as possible.

And that is a valuable lesson for our children to learn.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You Just Got Slapped on HIMYM

The games people play.  Last night was rife with them.  The 8:00 hour of television alone featured Marshall's playing a first Slapsgiving game with Barney on How I Met Your Mother, and Chuck playing dating games with Lou over on NBC.

Thank goodness I'm married, because I couldn't date anyone, and Chuck proved that to me.  He sat there at the deli yesterday for a ludicrously long period of time in order to talk to Lou.  Her not being willing to talk to him unless he was ordering a sandwich was insane.  The semi-smile she gave as he took a second number (when his first number led to him being served by the wrong counterperson) and had to wait all over again was evil.  She wanted to see how long he would wait.  She wanted to see if he was dedicated.  I don't play those games. 

That show also featured Sarah's game with Chuck.  She lied to him the other week about not thinking their relationship could go anywhere, and then last night did things to hurt his relationship with Lou, because she does think her own relationship with Chuck might have a future.  I'm very much a "say what you mean and mean what you say" kind of person.  It's gotten me in trouble from time to time, but so be it.  Honesty is the best policy. 

HIMYM was also all about the game, but in this case it was the much happier notion of Marshall's toying with Barney over their slap bet.  Marshall invented a new holiday, Slapsgiving, which is kind of like a Festivus for the rest of us.  The entire holiday centered around Marshall taunting Barney about the impending slap (number three out of a possible five Marshall is allowed to give Barney).  Lilly actually kiboshed the whole thing for a while due to it ruining her Thanksgiving, but Barney was a major pain in the butt and she reinstituted Slapsgiving just in time to have Barney get the slap of his life.  Plus, Marshall sang a song about it.  I loved the song.  I also loved the music video.  Check it out:

 

 

Journeyman, on the other hand, feels entirely like a game.  I know that it's deadly serious to Dan, his wife, and brother, but the way they play with the timeline feels like it's all sort of done in jest.  Looking at last night's episode, Dan finally started to convince his brother, Jack, that he was actually traveling through time.  Jack then helped Dan out with information about the episode's bad guy, Bennett.  Dan saved the day, which altered the timeline so that Jack never had the conversation with Dan about Bennett (Bennett was already in jail in 2007 so there was nothing for Jack to check up on).  This then meant that Jack no longer believed Dan about time-traveling because the convincing conversation never occurred.  Head spinning yet?  No?  Well try this then:  if they never had the conversation Jack never fed Dan the necessary information to help Dan get Bennett which means that he didn't get Bennett in the past which would mean that they did have the conversation and that he did get Bennett which would mean that… you get the idea. 

Normally I avoid this sort of logic in a time-travel show, or I try to anyway.  I attempt not to go down the circular logic rabbit hole, unless the show forces it.  Which they did in this case.  I think they tried to be far too clever. 

Enough, I'm off to play some Crazy Eights. 

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Amazing Race: Why I'll Never be on it

I am not going to lie to you, I would love to go on The Amazing Race.  Seriously, this is not just another part of my unhealthy obsession with 30 Rock (or, more accurately, their unhealthy obsession with me).  I would love to go on… a race around the world.

Make no mistake, I never will.  I will never even apply to go on The Amazing Race.  Sure, if they were to contact me and beg (or even ask politely) I would, but I would never go out and apply.

Do watch the people on the show?  They come off looking like terrible human beings.  I choose whom to root for based solely on which group bothers me the least.  I know that if I went on the show, I would be one of the bad people.  I would be a yeller and a screamer and come off looking like a total tool. 

Look at last night's episode and the team of Lorena and Jason.  It said right there on the clue for "Milking It," the task in which one person a team had to milk a camel to stay quiet and calm.  The clue said that the camels would spook if you didn't.  Lorena, already high-strung, ended up with a camel that she had trouble milking.  She cried and screamed and yelled.  Needless to say (but I'm going to anyway), her difficulties with the camel only increased when she began to lose her cool.  Now, here's why I can't go on the show.  If I was Jason I very well may have completely lost it.  I would have been livid, completely and totally livid with Lorena.  Is she that dumb?  Is she that stupid?  Does she not want to win so badly that she completely does the opposite of what they're told to do?  How Jason didn't completely lose it with her I have no idea.

Actually, I'd most likely end up exactly like Ronald, the father of the father-daughter pair.  I wouldn't necessarily get the hernia, but I would absolutely, every time my partner did any little thing wrong, criticize.  He doesn't mean to, I'm sure he doesn't mean to, it's just who he is.  He does it with a good heart and wanting only the best for his daughter, but he criticizes anyway.  I feel bad every time I see him get upset because I know he doesn't mean it, it just happens. 

So, there it is.  Producers of The Amazing Race, are you looking for someone who would yell and get angry and make a fool of themselves on camera no matter what kind of person they might be in reality?  Yeah, that's me.  However, I'm never going to apply, so there.

Is it Football or is it Soccer? Either Way, it Makes Me Say Wii!!

The sport of soccer is, perhaps, the most popular sport in the world, yet it has never taken off in the country.  Perhaps it is the slow pace of play or the low scoring games, but it has never quite captured the imagination of the American public.  Certainly there have been numerous attempts at making the sport more popular, but nothing quite seems to have taken off.  However, that doesn't stop soccer videogames, like EA Sports's FIFA Soccer 08, appearing on a yearly basis. 

FIFA Soccer 08 is the first version of EA's soccer title to appear on the Nintendo Wii, and as such feels like something of an incomplete work.  There are some wonderful strengths to the game, but also some incredibly frustrating weaknesses.

As with all Wii games, the first thing that has to be considered is the control scheme.  FIFA Soccer 08 includes EA Sports's "Family Play" simplified control scheme as well as a more in-depth one.  Family Play allows users to play the game with just the Wii remote instead of the Wii remote and nunchuk.  While this does not allow for some of the more spectacular soccer moves to be performed, it does make controlling the player far more simple.  The Family Play notion fits well with the Wii's overall "gaming for everyone" ideal. 

The more in-depth control scheme features innumerable button pushing, Wii remote turning possibilities to truly get the most out of the players on the field.  Surprisingly, despite the pages and pages of control combinations listed in the manual, it is very easy to get the hang of the game and play successfully. 

The graphics in the game are decent, but nothing too sharp or spectacular.  The field is seen from a distance in order for more of it to be pictured at a single time (zooming in is possible but hampers one's ability to see what is taking place).  As the goal gets closer to one of the goals, the game does zoom in slightly to allow for a better look at the way plays are being setup.  Penalty shots, corner kicks, goal kicks, etc., are all played from a much closer perspective and are adequate looking.

For the most part, gameplay is fun and enjoyable.  Between tournament modes, online play, numerous "challenges" that require certain tasks to be completed (usually beating an opponent by a specified number of points), and minigames (see below), there is plenty of fun to be had.  Regular gameplay is brisk without feeling overly short.  Additionally, the game features numerous soccer leagues, and has 570 actual teams with over 12,500 real players.  The amount of data packed into the game is incredible.

The biggest downfall of the game is not the graphics, or the inability to play keeper effectively during a penalty shootout (trust me, that gets very frustrating in a tournament setting), but the incredibly unintelligent AI.  No matter what defensive control scheme is used, computer controlled AI players never effectively attack the ball.  Rather, they might go in for a quick attack but then back off.  As a rule, they continually give ground to the opposing players, even close in to the goal.  The issue is present both on human controlled and computer controlled teams, and makes goals scoring too simple – the computer can almost always be beat (or beat itself) using the same play time and again within a single match.  It is always necessary for a user to take control of defensive players in order to try and stop goals, allowing the computer to run the defense is, inevitably, disastrous.

FIFA Soccer 08 features a special section called "Footii Party" which consists of three minigames, Juggling, Boot It, and Table Soccer (which I've always known as foosball).  The games are very basic, requiring only very simple controls to play.  Juggling uses the Nintendo Wii system based, user created, Miis as the visual representation of the player's character.  Thus, one can play Juggling as a cartoonish version of themselves (or anyone they choose to make).  Boot It has the user take shots on and try to defend penalty kicks.  The Wii remote's motion sensing controls are great fun here, as one takes a shot by thrusting the Wii remote forward and to the sides to determine where the shot will go.  Table Soccer features a static view of a foosball table, and by twisting and turning the Wii remote one moves the players. 

The first iteration of EA Sports's FIFA Soccer line for the Nintendo Wii is a decent title that shows huge promise for the future.  The use of Mii's in the game (including a likeness of Ronaldinho) is a fantastic way to capitalize on some of the Wii's built-in software.  Additionally, while the control scheme is complicated, proficiency is easy to achieve.  With some tweaks to graphics, gameplay, and AI, the series should have a wonderful run on the Wii.

 

FIFA Soccer 08 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

 

Three stars out of five.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Do You Want to Catch the Excitement? Do You Want to Catch the Adventure? Do You want to Catch the Hawk?

At some point in its life cycle, a bad movie becomes a cult classic. When exactly that becomes the case is unclear; the moment a film crosses over from being just downright bad to being so bad its good is an indistinct line. Somewhere beyond the line, somewhere in cult classic territory lies the 1991 Bruce Willis feature, Hudson Hawk.

Directed by Michael Lehman, the movie tells the story of a cat burglar, Eddie "Hudson Hawk" Hawkins (Willis), who has just gotten out of prison. On his way out the door, he is approached by his parole officer, who wants him to do one last job. Hawk, trying to go straight, refuses. However, that same night, Hawk is pushed into doing the job by the mob.

While the job goes down without a hitch, soon afterward Hawk's life falls apart. Hawk and his partner, Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello), stole a wooden horse crafted by da Vinci from an auction house, but despite successfully completing the job, Tommy and Hawk read the next day in the paper about how the caper was foiled and the horse will be auctioned as planned.

Going to the art auction, Hawk ends up continuing down a path that quickly finds him kidnapped and brought to Rome. In Rome, Hawk learns that the original heist was requested by Darwin and Minerva Mayflower (Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard, respectively). The husband and wife pair are billionaires with a penchant for insanity. Their current scheme, of which the theft of the horse was but one part, is for world domination.

The basic outline of the Mayflowers' plan is to devalue the price of gold. The horse that Hawk stole was crafted by Leonardo da Vinci, and within the horse lay one part of a crystal that had been split into three by the Master himself. Once the crystal is reunited and placed in a machine created by da Vinci (which, amazingly, is still operational), ordinary lead can be changed to gold. The Mayflowers, Hawk finds out, wish for him to steal the other two parts of the crystal.

Threatened with death by the Mayflowers and a branch of the CIA, headed by George Kaplan (James Coburn), who happens to be the man who got Hawk arrested years ago, Hawk finds himself with little choice for the time being. Eventually, everything becomes more clear to Hawk, including the fact that Tommy was in on the plan from the beginning, and that the woman that Hawk is falling for, Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell), who works for the Vatican, is also a nun.

Before the end of the film, Hawk saves the day, destroys the machine, and defeats all who have done him wrong (save Tommy, whom he forgives nearly instantly). Plus, his charm and wit manage to win Anna away from her service to the Lord.

The story is incredibly far-fetched, full of massive plot holes, horrific jokes, and more than one loud explosion. At one point Hudson Hawk finds himself racing down the highway on a hospital gurney, grabbing exact change from his pocket, and tossing it into a toll basket just in time for the bar to go up and let him pass.

Perhaps one of the reasons the film has become a cult classic, outside of the ridiculous screwball comedy aspects, is Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello singing songs like "Swinging on a Star" and "Side by Side" during their heists. Perhaps, the reason is that throughout the whole film, Hawk only wants to get himself a nice cappuccino. Maybe it's just Sandra Bernhard's presence.

Whatever the reason for the film's achieving its cult status, and despite the film's over-the-top humor and plot, it can still be a fun trip. There is nothing intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) about it, and thinking only hurts the ride. Willis, Aiello, Bernhard, and everyone else in the film seem to be having a fun time, so why not the audience too?

Assuredly, there is nothing deep about the film, and at times it comes awfully close to the bad movie side of the divide. For many people it probably even crosses the line, but if bad screwball comedy, and silly action are your thing, it's worth checking out.

The new "Special Edition" release of the film includes, among other things, deleted scenes, a director's commentary, and a trivia track (as subtitles). Sandra Bernhard also recorded a new 10 minute piece in which she talks about playing Minerva, and there is a discussion between Willis and Robert Kraft (with whom Willis developed the story for the film) about their friendship and the movie.

No one who appears in Hudson Hawk could possibly believe it to be their best work. Yet, it is the type of film that will always have a devoted, if small, fan base. It's silly, it's ridiculous, and depending on who you are, can be a decent 100 minute diversion.

Either that, or you'll hate it.

Shrek the Third Ventures Into Well-Charted Territory

When an extremely funny movie, like Shrek, puts out an extremely funny sequel, like Shrek 2, the expectations for the third entry into the series are only heightened.  Thus, when the third entry is a disappointment, like Shrek the Third, the disappointment is greater.  Where exactly the third entry in the franchise went awry is unclear.  Certainly, however, the result is a 92 minute film that feels much longer.

The plot for Shrek's third outing revolves around the death of King Harold (John Cleese), Fiona's (Cameron Diaz) father and ruler of Far, Far Away.  Nominally, this puts Shrek (Mike Myers) in charge of the land, a task the ogre does not relish (why exactly Harold's only child, Fiona, cannot rule is never established).  In King Harold's dying words, Shrek finds solace, there is another possible ruler for the kingdom.

Shrek quickly sets off on a mission to find the replacement, one Arthur Pendragon (King Arthur of Camelot to you and me), or Artie (Justin Timberlake) as he likes to be called.  With the help of Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) Shrek finds young Artie in, horror of horrors, a high school.  The film attempts to derive much mirth from Artie's high school setting.  Shrek, Donkey, and Puss apparently find the very notion of high school terrifying, and the school lives up to their worst, clichéd, expectations.  Mocking and humiliation play a huge role at the school, which is replete with nerds, cool kids, dweebs, geeks, jocks, cheerleaders, and Artie, who is the low man on the totem pole.  Artie is mocked by one and all, including Lancelot (John Krasinski).  Upon learning that he is going to be king of Far, Far Away Artie is only too happy to leave the school.

All is not well though in Far, Far Away as Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is convinced that he ought to be King (see Shrek 2 for his backstory).  Charming teams up with a bunch of fairytale baddies, including Captain Hook (Ian McShane), and stages a take over of the kingdom.  Upon Shrek's return our ogre hero, with more than a little help from his wife and her mother, Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews), are able to restore peace to the kingdom and live happily ever after.  At least, that is, until Shrek Goes Fourth is released on May 21, 2010 (tickets on sale soon!).

While the first two Shrek movies managed to find wit and enjoyment in mocking fairytales while creating enjoyable yarns of their own, this installment does neither of these things.  There is no subversive humor present this go around, and what jokes are present are hugely predictable.  Jokey story signs (Versarchery) do not a funny movie make.

It is possible that the series has mined all the humor it can from making referencing other fairytales.  But, this movie could have been enjoyable without that element, the bigger failing of the film is that its plot is in no way enjoyable.  As a villain, Prince Charming is bland and boring, he lacks the over-the-top true evil of Lord Farquaad from the original or the wonderfully different take on Fairy Godmother of the second.  Prince Charming is as bland as the dinner theatre productions he acts in. 

One of the other main plot points of Shrek the Third is Shrek's impending fatherhood and fears thereof.  Shrek's fears, complete with nightmares, feel like a bad sitcom plot, particularly following Donkey and Dragon having children in the last film. 

There are a multitude of special features included with DVD, including the usual "making of" behind-the-scenes featurettes.  There is one that includes the cast members discussing the film, and another has members of the DreamWorks team pitching various scenes that did not make it into the film.

The most interesting of the special features is a "yearbook" that goes through a plethora of characters from Arthur's high school.  This feature is both funny and depressing.  The sheer number of characters included in the yearbook is staggering.  There is a profile for each, and while somewhat formulaic, the characters are interesting.  However, sadly, most of the characters say nary a word in the main film.  Yet, here they are, thought out and complete on the DVD.  Clearly the ideas about the movie and its characters are far more deep than what appears on screen during the feature.

Shrek the Third certainly has funny moments, but they are few and far between.  If the bar had not been set so high by the previous films this one would not be nearly as disappointing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jimmy Buffett, Martha Stewart, and Me

Okay, it's dead horse beating time, but as long as I have a baseball bat and there is some dead horse sitting in front of me, I may as well, right? 

30 Rock (that's right, we're doing a Kenneth the Page thing again, deal with it).  Kenneth the Page referenced Martha Stewart last night… Martha Stewart.  You know, the Martha Stewart I used to work for after I was a Page.  The insight that Tina Fey has into my life is disturbing.  Does she have some sort of mystical powers that allow her to perceive into the depths of my soul? 

Actually, much of NBC's lineup parroted my life.  Like that good old Dr. Cox on Scrubs.  The man has had my attitude for years, but last night he called himself a Parrothead!  A Parrothead!  I've always wanted to be a Parrothead!  Some would call me a Parrothead, but I really haven't gone to that many Jimmy Buffett concerts.  I think to call me a Parrothead cheapens the name.  I'm a fan, but not a Parrothead.  Do you think I could become an honorary one, is that sort of thing done?

Seriously though (not that the above wasn't), I thought 30 Rock was great last night, particularly that Verizon scene where they kept mentioning Jack's phone.  Tina Fey looking at the camera at the end of the scene and asking if they could have their money now was genius.  What's even better though is that I'm sure that Verizon did in fact pay, that the integration of Verizon Wireless into the show was orchestrated at higher levels. 

I wish I could do that sort of thing.  I'm not above it.  Microsoft, if you're listening, you give me an Xbox 360 Elite (with HD-DVD player attachment) and I'll be more than willing to surreptitiously float a line here and there for weeks on end about how the greatest shows on television are just like an Xbox 360.  Or, maybe Disney would be willing to finance a trip to Disney World if I work in lines about how the greatest shows on television are a fantasy on par with the wonder and excitement of a Disney vacation.

I'm only sort of joking here.  It feels silly and wrong and really smart at the same time.  Television networks and production companies (everyone really) tries to wring every last dollar they can get out of advertisers.  And, why not, it's another revenue source.  The best part of it all was, as I said above, that Tina Fey looked at the camera and asked for her money.  She was very clear about what she was doing and I'm all for that.

Really what I'm saying though is that I'm available for product integrations.  Shoot me an e-mail and we can talk.  Everything has to be above board though, if I take anything I'm going to be very clear to everyone about my receiving compensation, it's the right way to do it I think.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Michelle Ryan and Gordon Ramsay Get Formulaic

I wonder if Bionic Woman will actually stick to the formula it's used for the last three episodes. Certainly, the show has managed to maintain, finally, a relatively consistent tone in its recent episodes, but the ratings aren't very good and I don't think the formulaic approach the producers are currently using will lead to better numbers.

For three weeks now we've had geek boy, Nathan, feed info to Jaime and company, be funny, and disappear. Tom, Jaime's CIA boyfriend, appears and then alternately helps her, keeps information from her, and bats his eyelashes at her. Jonas acts all high and mighty, he is impressed with Jaime's results but not necessarily the way she goes about her job. The show has also thrown in more nods to the old series, especially in terms of the depiction of bionic abilities. When Jaime starts running bionic-style, the show briefly flips to slow motion, like its namesake did, before going hyper-fast.

This new-found consistency has virtually eliminated the original plot of the show. Gone is Sarah Corvus, gone is Anthony Anthros, gone are some of the best moments, plots, and ideas of the series. While that could be a problem, the weakest moments of the show have also disappeared. It's as though the show has gone from wildly vacillating between "A" and "F" material to deciding to stick with solid "C+" material. I don't know which I prefer.

Of course, I must say that I was quite pleased that the show gave a nod to James Bond last night. When Antonio suggested that dating was not compatible with her job, Jaime asked if that was the reason Bond never had the same girlfriend. Bond did in fact get married in one of the movies, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but his wife was promptly murdered. Jaime and Antonio's analysis is a good interpretation of Bond's actions (but, it should be noted, not new).

Always new and different though is Pushing Daisies. What a quirky, fun, wonderful show that is. Like the current incarnation of Bionic Woman, Pushing Daisies has a consistent formula that it follows on a weekly basis: someone dies; Ned, Chuck, Olive, and Emerson figure out who done it; and along the way Ned and Chuck discover new difficulties in the non-physicalness of their relationship. The show works so well because within the established formula the show has lots of room. Every character is hyper-quirky, and everything that happens is hyper-whimsical. It is a fairytale take on the world in which we live and a joy to watch on a weekly basis.

One last bit of formula for today, Kitchen Nightmares. Week after week this show does the same episode over and over and over again, it's just at different restaurants. Every week there is a villain (the owner, manager, and/or chef), every week the villain disagrees with Gordon Ramsay until about 40 or 45 minutes in, and then they finally accept what he says as gospel. The restaurant (almost always) is fixed and becomes a huge success. I like it, but I would also like to see one episode where the restaurant is just a failure due to bad circumstances, not due to a villain. I want to see a place where everyone tries hard, is a good person, and the place has just fallen on hard times.

Ah, to dream the impossible dream.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What do the Grim Reaper and Jimmy Smits Have in Common?

What is it about Cane that I like, can someone explain it to me, but I can't figure it out.  Partly it's Nestor Carbonell, it's more Jimmy Smits, but a lot of my reasons are wholly unknown.  Look at last night's episode.  They started off with the most hackneyed, over-used addicted to gambling clichés ever, even poor Frank's (Carbonell) Ferrari was taken from him.  Threats were made.  Soon there was even talk that it was quite possible for Frank to wind up with some broken bones.

I wonder when such things appear on television if writers have a catalog of recycled scripts and plots that they're allowed to use without paying royalties.  You know, like one can buy canned music to use on TV, radio, film, web, etc., without paying any royalty fees. It seems to me there ought to be a set of scripts writers can buy for just such an occasion.  That way they can talk in the writers' room, decide that this week they need a script on gambling, or alcoholism, or a will-they-or-won't-they relationship, or a mysterious and hidden past, go to the stock script book and grab a few pages.  Why bother reinventing the wheel every time.

Wow, did that get far a field and I didn't mean for it to.  I like the show, sure, that plot wasn't good, but Samuels serving up his daughter to the FBI on a shady Cuban land deal that he almost certainly orchestrated was great.  That's the kind of backstabbing you don't see everyday.  There is always the possibility that the show will step away from this, that Samuels and his daughter orchestrated the whole thing in advance and that she knew all along that he was going to turn her in.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more likely that is.  Such a tactic will push Ellis (the daughter) right into the bosom of the Duque family, and allow her to attack her enemy from the inside.  It's a great strategy, except for the fact that it may just leave Ellis in jail for a number of years.

Then there was Reaper.   Ah, Reaper.  What am I going to do with you?  You guys have clearly been lifting pages from the aforementioned stock script book, particularly the will-they-or-won't-they part.  Last night Sam confessed his feelings for Andi.  Andi shot him down despite the fact that she's been leading him on for weeks now.  In another couple of weeks Andi will change her mind and Sam won't be willing to pull the trigger.  Yes, I've complained about it before, but they persist in pushing the plot, so I'm going to persist in my complaints. 

It's unfortunate because some of the show is so clever.  Sock and Doris last night were great.  Who doesn't want to find out more about the Devil's henchwoman from the DMV?  Who doesn't want to find out more about the way Hell works, in general?  Enquiring minds want to know.  When Reaper covers new territory, when the show explores the rules and underpinnings of the world it has created it is clever, funny, and one of the more interesting shows on television.  When Reaper decides to do the relationship thing with Sam and Andi they completely jettison new, different, and wonderful, for old, staid, and boring.

I think we all know which one is a better choice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kristen Bell, Heroes, and a Few Bad Ideas

Were we supposed to be surprised last night on Heroes when it was revealed that Kristen Bell's character, Elle, is working for Bob?  The way the two of them were shown together it felt as though we were supposed to be shocked and surprised by the revelation.  However, it was telegraphed from the moment we saw Elle on the phone back in Ireland.  Was it also stated outright at some point?  Frankly, I can't remember.  That's really the problem with this Heroes this season - it's been so dull and all the reveals so boring that one can't quite tell if they're reveals at all or something the audience has known from the beginning. 

Frankly, I don't understand the reasons the show is progressing the way it is.  D.L. died.  We all knew that.  Yet, last night D.L., we find out, didn't die at Linderman's as we had suspected, but rather was killed by some random schmo in a nightclub while trying to rescue Niki.  What was possibly the point in that?  I think we already got a pretty good farewell scene for D.L. in season one, it was tearful and sad, and complete.  Or, so I thought, I guess, in the producers' minds, I was wrong and the show just had to reintroduce and rekill him all in the same episode.

One thing I'm definitely not wrong about is the foolishness that continues to pervade the super-twins, Maya and Alejandro.  Okay, so her first manifestation of powers was upon finding her brother's new wife cheating on him on their wedding day.  I'll give you that such an event completely sucks, but without any build up or lead-in to the story, it very much had a "who cares" feeling to it.  There was never a moment when we didn't know  the wife was going to cheat on the husband, she was never painted sympathetically, she was never even a real character, so who cares about her death.  Okay, so Maya knocked off a whole village the first time she did her superpowered black ooze in the eye thing.  Without us knowing about any of the people there it's hard to care.  The more I see Maya and Alejandro the more I'm reminded of Lost last season with the addition of two characters that had an alternate storyline before getting written off as a bad idea.

Last night was actually rife with bad ideas.  For instance, who thought it was a good plan to have Livia live in the past on Journeyman.  What stroke of genius was that little storyline?  Every implication we've gotten this season is that there is a group of people controlling Dan's time travel, and every indication we've gotten is that the group is made up of a bunch of capricious morons more concerned with their ability to make folks leap around in time than what happens to the leapers.  When Dan is finally let in on the secret (if the series doesn't get cancelled before then) I hope he throttles Ziggy and Al Calavicci, lord knows they deserve it.

Lastly, or almost lastly anyway, I am getting more and more disappointed with the teases for Chuck.  Every week they promote the almost getting together of Chuck and Sarah.  Every week there is some brief, ridiculous scene where they're pretending to do something in order to convince those around them of the veracity of the relationship.  It sort of ended last night when Chuck announced to Sarah that they had to break up because otherwise he would well and truly fall for her, but then again it didn't end because we were told that Sarah has feelings for Chuck.  I guess soap sells.

Speaking of selling, can I just remind you that Nova tonight is great and you should watch it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Desperate Housewives Aims to Please

So, last week I just got lucky with The Amazing Race.  This week, a team I liked, or, at the very least, didn't hate, got eliminated.  The problem is that there are so many teams out there I despise this season that I'm far less comfortable losing a team I like than I otherwise would be in a perfect world. 

It might not entirely be their fault, I may hate them due to their similarities to one of my least favorite teams from the past, but Shana and Jennifer (the blondes) have to go.  One of them, in discussing how hard the show is, actually listed her not being able to get a facial as a big problem.  Do you think she is remotely aware of how utterly obnoxious she sounds?

Maybe I'm being too harsh, maybe the blonde actually is just smart enough to realize that the only thing she has going for her in this world are her looks, she has neither brains, nor wit, nor a good personality.  Maybe she recognizes that without her daily facial the one good thing she has (not that I think she is anything special in the looks department) becomes mediocre.  Maybe, just maybe, rather than disliking her I should pity her.  Maybe I will pity her, but I want to do it from afar, you know, with only her memory to plague me every week.  Maybe come next week that dream will become a reality.  Fingers crossed, people, fingers crossed.

Curb Your Enthusiasm last night also offered a dream versus reality dynamic.  The end of the episode (and end of the season) featured several shots of Larry doing things with Loretta Black (his houseguest) and her family.  In these scenes Larry and Loretta were romantically involved.  What is not clear though is whether Larry was just dreaming about what his life would be like if he lived with Loretta, or if Larry and Loretta actually became romantically involved. 

I'm actually feeling so good right now that I'm in no way going to complain about last night's Desperate Housewives.  I quite liked the episode.  Mike being on drugs is a little silly, but the Bree storyline was fantastic.  I can understand her desire to have her child circumcised and Orson's not wanting it to happen.  His reasons were a little silly, but it is something that people feel strongly about. 

The best part of the storyline came when Bree went to a doctor's office to have the procedure performed and found out that Orson had faxed a notarized letter to every doctor in three states to prevent the circumcision from happening.  That's just the sort of over the top wonderfulness the show needs.  That, and the sort of over the top wonderfulness that has Bree attend a Bris in order to have a Mohel perform the procedure.  Story arcs like these, ones that take a real set of feelings and emotions and magnify them to insanity, are what made Desperate Housewives great in its first season, and something that has been lacking every since.  Attempts to do this sort of thing were made in seasons two and three, but never quite worked.  Kudos to the show for getting back on track.  Sadly they only did so in time for a writer's strike to derail everything. 

Nova Goes for a "Judgment Day" of its own

Rarely, if ever, do I begin a review with the following statement, so please do pay attention: you should watch this week's special two hour Nova episode, "Judgment Day:  Intelligent Design on Trial." 

The show focuses on the debate between the notion of Intelligent Design and the Theory of Evolution and to do so uses the 2005 trial Kitzmiller, et. al. v. Dover School District, et. al. Most simply, Ms. Kitzmiller and 10 other parents of children in the Dover school district in Dover, Pennsylvania sued the school board for ordering science teachers to read a statement stating that there were gaps in Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and that the idea of "Intelligent Design" (ID) was a viable alternative. Kitzmiller, the science teachers, and others believed that Intelligent Design was nothing more than Creationism using different terminology. If the trial proved them correct, Intelligent Design would not be allowed to be discussed in the classroom as it represents a violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause (the separation of church and state). 

Darwin's theory argues that over the course of an exceedingly long period of time life on this planet grows and changes. These changes occur in animals as a result of mutations, and beneficial ones tend to allow an animal to live longer and thereby reproduce more and more successfully. As animals with these changes reproduce more, the changes are, over several generations, incorporated into the population of the species as a whole. Intelligent Design, on the other hand, argues that some things are just so complex that there had to be an "intelligent agent" that designed (ID proponents prefer the use of the word "design" to "create") them. Followers of ID use the term "irreducible complexity" to describe certain things found in the world. One of the things often pointed to as system with irreducible complexity is bacterial flagellum. As explained in the Kitzmiller trial by Dr. Michael Behe (a believer in ID), the structure that allows bacteria to move, the flagellum, is hugely complex (there are dozens of pieces involved) and it would not work at all if just a single piece were missing. Therefore, the argument goes, the individual pieces would not have evolved over time because there was no benefit to the individual pieces, the entire system had to have been created as a single unit (something that would not happen within Darwin's theory).

That makes perfect sense, right? The only way the bacteria can move is via the flagellum, and the system by which the flagellum works requires each individual part of the system to be present. Remove one part and the bacteria can't move. Evolution argues that it would never have simply appeared, and there is no advantageous reason for only part of it to exist. Thus, it was created via an intelligent designer.

Sure, it sounds great, Darwin's theory certainly would not state that the entire apparatus would simply sprout up in one generation. The problem, as shown in the Kitzmiller trial, is that many of the parts of the flagellum do in fact appear in other things and, while they don't allow for movement, they do make other processes possible. Thus there is an explanation of the evolution of bacterial flagellum if one cares to examine it. 

Behe, put on the stand as a defender of ID, is only one scientist that has helped promote Intelligent Design. Maybe his example of bacterial flagellum was wrong, but that does not mean the entire notion out to be thrown out.  There are other believers in ID, such the lawyer, Phillip Johnson, who created it. Johnson did so in the wake of a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that stated that Creationism (God created everything including man) could not be taught in schools as it violated the Establishment Clause. Kitzmiller's lawyers' goal at the trial was to show that Intelligent Design was nothing more than Creationism, with the word "Creationism" changed to "Intelligent Design" and "creator" or "God" changed to "intelligent agent." 

Outside of using innumerable scientists to show the basis for evolution, explaining that in science the use of the word "theory" does not have the same meaning it does to laypeople, Kitzmiller's lawyers and experts examined draft copies of a book Of Pandas and People, that was "anonymously donated" (as it turns out members of the school board had a strong hand in the donation) to the Dover school district as a textbook on Intelligent Design. The textbook, which was being written prior to, but only published after the 1987 Supreme Court decision contained some interesting facts.  For instance, prior to the 1987 decision, Of Pandas and People didn't mention "Intelligent Design" (the term had not yet been coined), it was about Creation and defined the term specifically.  After the 1987 ruing the book discussed "Intelligent Design" and defined it in the exact same way it defined Creation, changing "intelligent Creator" to "intelligent agency" of course. 

The school board's assertion in all of this is that they began looking into Intelligent Design because they wanted to present alternative theories to evolution and were upset that the biology textbook was "laced with Darwinism."  However, as Behe (a defender of ID) pointed out at the trial, the same definition he uses to define science, one that might make ID a scientific, also makes Astrology a science as well as other disproved theories (like the ether theory of the light). 

Nova goes to great pains to recreate scenes from the trial using the transcript (cameras were not allowed in the courtroom) as well as interviewing people that took part on both sides of the case (though many people on the ID side declined to be interviewed).  The episode goes into great depth as to what happened in Dover, why, and the ramifications of the Judge's decision.  It is well thought out, well presented, and about as even-handed a presentation as one could hope for.  The Dover school district would do well to adopt it as a required part of their curriculum.

Nova - "Judgment Day:  Intelligent Design on Trial" airs on PBS November 13 at 8pm ET/PT.  Check your local listings however, because you won't want to miss it.

It's the Start of Something New, it's Day One

The creation of the atomic bomb is an event that will be analyzed and discussed for generations to come. Was the success of the Manhattan Project a triumph or a disaster? Was the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki right or wrong? What did the people working on the Project believe about their actions?

Many films have attempted to examine the thoughts and actions of those who worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory and other facilities around the country. One of these, the Emmy-winning Day One, is heading to DVD on November 13.

The film focuses far more heavily on the scientists and their overseer, General Leslie Groves (Brian Dennehy), than it does on the science behind the splitting of the atom and the creation of the bomb. It also includes scenes with military and government personnel weighing the decision to use the bomb or not. By examining the men, their thoughts, opinions, and world views, the film is also able to examine the political factors that helped shape the decision to drop the first atomic bombs.

Though an ensemble piece, the film focuses itself most heavily on Groves and his relationship with the scientists, particularly, J. Robert Oppenheimer (David Strathairn), whom Groves put in charge of the Los Alamos facility. Also playing large roles in the film are Michael Tucker as Leo Szilard, and Tony Shaloub as Enrico Fermi. David Ogden Stiers appears as FDR in the film while Hume Cronyn takes on the role of James Byrnes, Director of the Office of War Mobilization and then Truman's Secretary of State. The cast is a strong one and up to the task of presenting these historical figures in a human light.

The film is very careful to not take a side as to the appropriateness of dropping the bomb. It goes into great detail and features numerous high-level meetings about the whether or not the bomb should be dropped, but does not take a strong stance of its own. Rather, the work seems to exist in order to push the question into the viewer's mind and make it known that those involved with the bomb's creation wondered the same thing.

The film suggests that rational, intelligent, men can have very different opinions about the same act. Characters on both sides of the issue make strong points about the pros and cons of unleashing an atomic weapon on Japan. If, in the film, Groves appears to be blind to arguments against the use of the atomic bomb it is not because he is unthinking or uncaring, but rather because he is convinced of the necessity of the weapon. If people with the opposite opinion, like Szilard, seem vehement in their belief that the bomb should not be dropped, and unwilling to listen to the other side it is because they fervently believe other, viable, options to be available.

With a runtime of just under two and a half hours, Day One is able to do justice to the debate of the use of the bomb, but at the expense of an in-depth look at the science behind it. The film does feature numerous scenes of experiments and discussions on the logistics of the creation of the weapon. However, what is taking place during some of these experiments can be hard to grasp due to a lack of explanation on the film's part. Were Day One to provide the necessary explanations, the film's runtime would quite easily mushroom to more than three hours in length, and much of the power of the personalities involved would be lost.

Day One's exploration of the creation and employment of the first atomic bombs may not be entirely complete; the factors and people involved are too numerous for a single film to possibly encompass all of them. However, the filmmakers do a wonderful job with the portion of the story that Day One chooses to focus on -- the scientists who created the bomb and the political discussions involved in the bomb's use. Everyone portrayed in the film is a human being and therefore fallible.

When judging history, that is something we should all remember.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Don't Have The Princess Bride on DVD? A New Edition is Heading to Store Shelves.

Everyone has certain movies that they fall in love with growing up.  It is always good to see as an adult that a movie that one remembers fondly is in fact a good movie.  It is nice to know that a movie that one loved is actually worth loving.  Such is the case with The Princess Bride, which comes to DVD, yet again, On November 13th. 

Last year the film was released in both a "Dread Pirate" edition and a "Princess Buttercup" one.  This year, it's the "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" and it contains several new documentaries:  Princess Bride:  The Untold Tales, The Art of Fencing, and Fairy Tales and Folklore.  The DVD also features a game, True Love and High Adventure:  The Official Princess Bride DVD Game

For those unfamiliar with the story, The Princess Bride is a fairy tale about a man, Westley (Cary Elwes), and woman, Buttercup (Robin Wright), and their true love for one another.  As is always the case, the course of true love is not smooth, Westley leaves Buttercup to seek his fortune and is soon thought dead.  Buttercup, on the other hand, is forcibly engaged to the prince of the land, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), who plans to have her murdered in order to start a war with the neighboring kingdom, Gilder. 

Also playing major roles in the film are Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, a Spanish swordsman, and Andre the Giant as Fezzik, not surprisingly a Giant.  These two individuals are part of the three man team run by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) who have been hired to kidnap and murder Buttercup.  Westley's chase and eventual defeat of these three are one of the highlights of the film.  These scenes combine the best moments of action, adventure, and humor the film has to offer. 

The film does not end with the successful reunion of Buttercup and Westley at this point.  From here, the stakes are only raised, as the Prince and his right-hand man Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest) do everything in their power to ensure Buttercup's death and a war with Gilder.

The entire story of Westley and Buttercup is told inside the frame of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the tale of the two lovers to his sick grandson (Fred Savage).  One of the main purposes of the grandson is to balk at the moments of love and intimacy, and thereby help represent all the young boys watching the film.  It is a tactic that works as well now as it did twenty years ago.  The movie is not just about true love, it is full of swordplay, adventure, excitement, betrayal, and murder, but the "kissing bits," while brief and no more than a kiss, may have garnered a less than sympathetic reaction without the addition of Savage's character.

In a larger sense the grandfather/grandson frame adds the ability of the movie to pull back from any moment that that may be too much for younger viewers, whether it is of kissing or Buttercup about to be eaten by the Shrieking Eels.  Because of the frame and the film's ability to cut tension by going back to the grandfather/grandson dynamic, it is easier for younger viewers to watch and not get overly nervous or scared.

The film also features numerous cameos from the likes of Billy Crystal, Peter Cook, and Carol Kane.  It is clear that everyone that appears on screen, whether they are in a major role or a minor one, is having a wonderful time.  Their enjoyment of filming the movie comes across to the viewer and only adds to the viewer's enjoyment as well.

The Princess Bride - 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition's special features are not as numerous as last year's Dread Pirate Roberts/Princess Buttercup release, which were both 2-disc sets.   However, what is included, particularly the featurette entitled Princess Bride:  The Untold Tales are interesting to watch.  Several of the actors involved in the making of the film appear in the featurette and discuss what happened on set and how the film still affects them today.  Their remembrances are wonderful and completely engaging.

Slightly less fun is the True Love and High Adventure DVD game.  This mainly consists of having the player move the cursor and click the right item or at a specific time.  The graphics are cute enough, but the response time moving the cursor (and the gameplay in general) is far too slow.  In this age of the Nintendo Wii, more has to be done with a game than to simply have a remote be pointed at the screen and a button depressed.

Despite this shortcoming, The Princess Bride is well worth watching and owning on DVD. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Logitech Harmony 880 is one of my Heroes

It's often the little things that make me happy.  Take last night's Chuck, for instance.  The remote that Tang was using as the "master remote" was Logitech's Harmony 880.  I have one, and let me tell you that is a "master remote."  It can do anything and everything.  You plug that bad boy into your computer, download the necessary things from Logitech's website (or use their handy-dandy desktop application) and set up macro after macro after macro.  Except, the genius of the system is that Logitech's software takes you through everything step-by-step, so the process isn't all that complicated.  You want to set it up so you can watch your TiVo?  No problem, add "Watch TiVo" to the choice of activities, and then the program will ask you, piece by piece, which of your other devices need to be turned on (and to what setting) for that to be accomplished (TV, receiver, amplifier, etc.).  You tell it which devices you want on when you watch your TiVo and it does the rest.  It is a "master remote."  If only mine didn't keep freezing, requiring me to take out and put back in the battery, I'd be thrilled.  Well and truly thrilled. 

On How I Met Your Mother it was actually the not-so-little things that made me happy.  Lily and Marshall signing a mortgage with 18% interest was one of those.  18% interest is not a "little thing," and it was a great moment.  Following it, I did a little calculation.  I assumed (very generously I believe) that the apartment the two were looking at cost $600,000.  If they put down one third of that price and then signed a 20-year mortgage their monthly payments would be on the order of $6,173.  Wow.  That's quite the amount to be paying monthly on one's mortgage.  Good for Lily and Marshall thinking they could swing that (if Lily didn't have all that pesky credit card debt). 

Heroes, it seems, is all about little things this season.  Little bits and pieces and revelations that aren't really revelations.  Okay, I didn't know who Adam was going to be, but we all knew that Hiro's Takezo Kensei storyline in the past was going to end up with a major impact on the future.  And, the best bit about that storyline so far is that Hiro is back in the present.  I guess I like the reveal of who Adam is (I won't spoil it for you until next week at the earliest), but I thought the build up to it was over the top and silly.  It was more than was necessary to make the point.  Parkman's ever-expanding powers story was good too, and really all the last night stories beat out Claire's petulant teenager nonsense.  Can that come to an abrupt halt?  Can Claire just wake up tomorrow and say "hey, I was an ass.  I was wrong, I'm sorry."

Is anyone but me still watching Journeyman?  Last night they pulled the old Back to the Future, messing with one's past in a seriously detrimental fashion stock time travel storyline.  There were moments when it felt like the producers had actually figured out in advance the ways in which his altering his past would change everything about Dan that we have seen previously and tried to engineer work-arounds (like past-Dan's being drunk and not remembering anything about the night in question), but there were other times when I think they just asked the audience to roll with the punches.  But, what really shocked me was shocked how easily both past- and present-Dan can go from downing liquor and being absolutely wrecked to being stone cold sober.  The best thing about the episode though was a heavier emphasis on Moon Bloodgood and her character, Livia.  Seeing her leap in and out of time made me wonder why the people making her flash give her a nice soft colored flash, with yellows and ambers, but Dan get's that harsh blue-white light.  He must practically go blind every time he leaps. 

Me, I'm leaping away for now, and I'm going to be out of town for a couple of days, but we'll talk again, don't you fret.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Amazing Race Ends for One Unlucky Team (Lucky Me)

I'm so happy The Amazing Race is back.  That show is a rocking good time, even when the premiere episode is only an hour instead of 90 minutes or two hours.  A single hour really isn't enough time for me to figure out who I like this season, but it certainly is enough for me to figure out who I hate (and, let's be honest, that's far more important in the reality genre). 

And, who did I hate the most last night?  Oh, that's easy, Ari and Staella.  Staella was acceptable as a contestant and human being, but if Ari is as remotely shrill and obnoxious in real life as he appeared last night on the show, I can't imagine how he and Staella are friends (or, really, how he's friends with anyone).  I had absolutely no problem with them stealing the taxi, all's fair in love and money, it really was the man's voice that killed me.  Thank goodness they got booted, because one more screech from him and my eardrums would have started to bleed. 

I was a little disappointed that two of the all-women teams last night (Shana & Jennifer and Marianna & Julia) stated right off the bat that they fully intend to use their bodies to get ahead.  Shana & Jennifer even discussed how their winning would lead to a million-dollar shopping spree.  It made me wonder, what is the going rate for a brain these days?  Every season it seems like there is one team that states that they will be using their bodies to get ahead (or maybe just does it instead of talking about it).  Using your body to get money, isn't there a term for that?

Gaby certainly knew that term last night on Desperate Housewives.  She was offered all that money by B.J. Hunnicut (you can call him "Mike Farrell" or "Victor's Dad," but he'll always be with the 4077th to me) for staying with Victor.  I don't know how I feel about that plot line, but I do love Gaby calling Carlos on acting in a similar manner when it came to money.

My biggest question about that show is why is Felicity Huffman is the only person on the show that gets to do straight drama?  I think she's great at it, but it troubles me that her storylines are always so serious and distressing.  Rarely does she get to do anything lighthearted.  I assume that this is because the producers believe her to be the only one that can pull the straight drama, but it means that the tone of her plots are always very different from the other women.  It feels like the producers use her as a dramatic crutch.  Have a serious storyline, something with no humor, perhaps something heart-wrenching?  Give it to Lynette!

Just one more heart-wrenching thing:  Larry David pretended to turn over a new leaf for the first five minutes of last night's Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I knew he was only hiding his true self, but it still caused me upset.  What if Larry wasn't an unmitigated ass?  If he hadn't come out with one of the most dastardly schemes he has ever attempted after pretending to be nice I would have been crushed.  It was only by getting his therapist arrested for helping him stage a pretend mugging that I was able to settle myself back down and mend my heart. 

A world with a kind Larry David is not one I want to live in. Don't just take my word for it though, see what else has happened this season.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones Comes to DVD

Whatever other problems he may have, George Lucas does not do things in a small or half-hearted way.  His stories are big, his visuals are big, and his characters are certainly larger than life.  Even when his characters are small, they are big.  Thus, no one should be surprised that The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume 1, is a big boxed set of DVDs.  There are 12 discs in all, 7 of which contain feature length (roughly 90 minute) films, and the rest are filled with special features.  The features focus on Henry Jones Jr. (Indiana to you and me) between the ages of 8 and 10 (roughly) and then again at about 15 to 17 (depending on the exact year the episode takes place).  The younger Jones, who is featured in more of the episodes, is played by Corey Carrier, whereas the teenager is portrayed by Sean Patrick Flanery.

The DVDs represent roughly one third of the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which has presumably been retitled so as to better fit the theatrical films' boxed set, which is called The Adventures of Indiana Jones).  Additionally, it is important to note that the sequence of films included here, while they may go (almost) chronologically through Indiana's life, are not in the order the were presented on television.  In fact, from the television debut of the series to the present DVD release many things have changed.  I will not go heavily into the differences here, but it is important to note that they do exist.  The changes mainly deal with pulling apart stories that originally aired together (for instance a Carrier story with a Flanery one) and putting two more chronologically similar pieces together.

All of the episodes, filmed throughout the world, bring not only the history of Indiana Jones to life, but a version of the history of the world too.  Carrier, as Jones, goes around Europe, Africa, and Asia with his father (Lloyd Owen), mother (Ruth de Sosa), and tutor, Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack).  Indy repeatedly finds himself making the acquaintance of innumerable famous people of the day.  While it may sound silly to say this, these meetings are all too improbable.  Though one of the main points of the series was to help make history fun and exciting, the idea that Young Indy meets T.E. Lawrence, Picasso, Degas, Norman Rockwell (these last three at the same time), Archduke Ferdinand, Tolstoy, and Freud (just to name a few) is a little too farfetched.  Surely there was a way to make Indy's life interesting without him causing an international incident by sneaking off with Archduke Ferdinand's daughter.  It certainly is all fun and amusing, but after Indy does things like sneaking out of his room at night to attend a party at Picasso's with Norman Rockwell, one has to believe that his father would have sent the young lad home to New Jersey.

The Carrier episodes have a completely different flavor than the Flanery ones.  Flanery, as an older version of Indiana Jones certainly makes the acquaintance of several famous people, and while he gets himself into deep trouble on more than one occasion, he is far more aware of what he is doing.  Consequently, Flanery's episodes are more enjoyable because his Indy, unlike Carrier's, has a sense of what is taking place around him. 

Whatever their shortcomings may be, all the episodes are enjoyable to watch.  The history, though improbable, is entertaining and accessible.  More interesting than the history however, is the watching of Indiana Jones.  For anyone that grew up with the films and the indelible impression they leave, seeing how Indiana Jones went from being a child to being an adult is more than welcome.  Every interaction between Indiana and his father is necessarily viewed through the prism of the adult Indiana's interactions with his father from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Every semi-wince or frown Indiana's mother gives makes one wonder if the illness that will eventually end her life has begun.  Every time he finds an artifact of any kind, one thinks to themselves that it clearly "belongs in a museum," and hopes that Indy makes sure the piece gets there. 

The special features that are included in this set are legion.  The vast majority are in-depth documentaries on those that Jones meets, and explorations of the events in which Jones finds himself in the midst.  Thus, the two documentaries that accompany Indy's trip to Greece with his father (during which his father talks about ancient Greek philosophy) are "Artistotle - Creating Foundations" and "Ancient Questions - Philosophy and Our Search for Meaning."  Discussions of the environment with Teddy Roosevelt in an episode lead to the documentaries "Theodore Roosevelt and the American Century" and "Ecology - Pulse of the Planet."  While all these documentaries are interesting and make for good accompaniment to the episodes, none is terribly earth shattering on its own. 

The final bonus disc included with the set is an interactive one that necessitates the use of a computer.  It features an interactive timeline that goes through that allows the users to go from the various characters and storylines to a more detailed description of the historical facts, along with titles of books and films that go into greater depth on the topic.  Additionally, there is a "historical lecture" entitled "The Promise of Progress" and a game, "Revolution."  This game has Indy and his cousin head down into Mexico on Spring Break (a plot from one of the stories in the set).  The main point of the game seems to be to have the player look things up in a guide book and answer questions (and thereby learn more about the world).  It is an amusing, Oregon Trail-esque experience. 

The real sell is, of course, not the game, nor the other interactive bonus features, nor the documentaries, the real sell is the lure of Indiana Jones himself.  He may not be fully developed here, he is after all only the "Young Indiana Jones," but he is exciting and fun, and completely believable as a precursor to the big screen hero. 

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Gang on My Name is Earl are Bad Boys... Again

Last night My Name is Earl made a lot of jokes about living in a post-9/11 world. Is it too soon? 

When such issues come up, I always fall back to Crimes and Misdemeanors - "if it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny." I think last night bent. I think last night's episode was funny. For me, enough time and distance has passed. More importantly though, the episode was not making fun of what happened on that day, the episode was examining our reactions to it, from the "if you don't go to the movies you're letting the terrorists win" rhetoric, to our complete inability to find Osama bin Laden. 

I actually thought last night's episode to be one of the funniest this season. Seeing Cops go after Camden County's reprobates works for me as concept. It wasn't new to the show, this was their "other" Cops episode (the first aired last season), but it still worked. I don't think it's a concept that the show can continually go back to, but it's made for two strong episodes (three, really, because last night was a double episode) so far. I know what you're thinking, it's a lazy way of putting together an episode because it's bunch of barely connected scenes. You may be right, but I'm going to say those scenes were funny and am going to give the episode a "W."

In fact, I'm going to give all of NBC's comedies last night a "W." The Office did well to bring back Karen for a single night. Not because of her character (which I like, but is not truly needed), but because of Jim's reactions to her character. Jim has been the voice of caution and reason before on the show, but to see him so visibly uncomfortable because of the Utica trip and encountering Karen was a new emotion for the guy. Once again, the show proved to have heart. Jim may have loved Pam throughout his entire relationship with Karen, but he still cared for Karen and last night proved that. His feeling bad about hurting her made him into an even more likable character. Of course, anyone in their right mind would have stopped Dwight from throwing Molotov cocktails at the Utica branch, but that is another tale.

What about Scrubs? It's a show that has had greater and lesser moments, but it's another comedy that always displays heart. I really felt for Turk last night, trying to beat his video game (was it Halo 3?) before JD's child was born. I understand where that desire came from. 

Seriously though, JD was in a no-win situation last night. It's completely understandable that he doesn't want to be with this girl who lied to him about still being pregnant. I wouldn't want to be with such a person. I completely respect JD for both trying to stick it out and telling the mother of his child the truth about his feelings. I don't know that I want to see JD and Elliot get together at the end of the series this May, but the path is now certainly clear.

My path is also clear; it's nap time. 

Thursday, November 01, 2007

If the Devil is on Reaper, why not have The Godfather on Cane?

I missed a day, sue me... I was gorging on Snickers and Butterfingers (and KitKat and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups). But let's talk about Tuesday night's Reaper for a minute even if it's old(er) news.

Did I not tell you that the Andi/Sam thing was going to perpetually move from hatred to like and back and forth and never really progress anywhere? This week's episode was a microcosm of exactly that. The pendulum swung from hatred to friendship, maybe even a hint of more. Next week they'll be back to where they were two weeks ago and the week after it'll shift again, and then again, and then again, then it'll go to hiatus until January before it starts swinging more. It will never progress in a satisfactory fashion (maybe that's a season three development), but it will keep swinging.

I was happy that the Andi/Sam storyline took a backseat to Halloween hijinks. I completely approve of Halloween hijinks. At least, I do as long as Halloween hijinks occur solely within my television and not within my reality. I've had too much Halloween hijinks in my reality for me to in any way, shape, manner, or form approve of more.

Hell closing for Halloween, much to the Devil's distress, is a clever idea. I particularly liked the notion that the Devil hates Halloween because it's the one day of the year that no one on Earth is scared of him. I never thought of it that way. That's just the sort of interesting take that Reaper needs to have on a regular basis instead of focusing on the will they or won't they story.

I also missed discussing Cane.

Here's what I want to know about that show - was Vega always such a bad dude or did his bad dudeness come about after the show began? In the first episode he had someone killed, this week he had people beaten up. Has he always done these sorts of things or is this an entirely new level he's sunk to? I get that he's protecting his family, but I don't approve of the how.

On the upside, I wholeheartedly approve of the Godfather-esque way that Vega went to get help. That scene was clearly straight out of the opening of the first Godfather. They even went so far as to have Vega quite clearly make the choice to not have his brothers' abusers killed, but rather to truly seek justice. This wasn't the choice in The Godfather and it upset Don Corleone; here the choice not to murder made this godfather happy (as it would have made Don Corleone happy).

I know that I've spoken of happy earlier, but I'm going to do so again for a second. Each week I enjoy Pushing Daisies more and more. The whimsy, about which I worried, has not become too over-bearing. Now, I worry instead that they won't be able to keep it up. I love that revelations are had every week, that the story changes. Last week Olive found out about Chuck being not so much dead. This week Ned found out Chuck was having pies sent to her aunts' and Olive was doing the sending. The story progresses, not at a breakneck pace -- you can miss an episode and still be okay, but it progresses.

I progress too. I finished discussing Tuesday and Wednesday, and now it's almost primetime on Thursday. Tune in on Friday to read about Thursday.