Monday, September 28, 2009

Comedy Hour I

Community: Thursdays on NBC, 9:30/8:30 Central

Attempting to fill the shoes of My Name is Earl (along with its 8/7 timeslot starting in two weeks), Community is NBC's newest entry in their long-standing Thursday night comedy block. Unlike their flop from last year (Kath & Kim), Community is actually funny.

Jeff is a lawyer... or rather he used to be. It turns out that bar associations don't take it so well when your law degree came from an online "school" in Colombia. As a result, he's going back to college for the first time. Specifically, he's going back to Greendale Community College. In an effort to get in fellow student Britta's pants (she looks just like Elisabeth Shue), Jeff accidentally starts up a study group for his Spanish 101 class populated by a collection of misfits.

Community has almost everything I look for in a comedy. It's quotable (did you know that 90% of speaking Spanish is in how you move your hands?), self-aware, chock full of pop culture references (but not in an in-your-face Gilmore Girls kind of way), and walks the fine line between smart and silly. The pilot gets most of the dull exposition out of the way (character intros, etc.), but does it in a brilliant fashion. Throw 7 strangers into a room, let them interact, and you're bound to find out almost everything you need to know about them.

There have been two episodes so far, both hilarious, but in very different ways. You can catch up on Hulu or by watching the encore presentations tonight on USA at 11:05/10:05.

Bored to Death: Sundays on HBO, 9:30/8:30 Central

... Coming soon ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friendly Reminder

Just wanted to remind everyone of something I stated last year. If you keep watching a show that I post about, feel free to keep talking about it in the relevant comments section so we can know if it gets better/worse, etc. I'll periodically drag updates from folks like you out into a main post if I get enough.

Scads o' TV-related posts coming very soon:
Comedy Hour - feat. Community, Bored to Death, Accidentally on Purpose, Cougar Town, Modern Family, Glenn Martin DDS
Kid-Tested, But Are They Brian-Approved? - feat. The Troop, RollBots, The Super Hero Squad Show, Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5

I am way behind on hour-long dramas. I'll try to spend some mornings catching up this week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Models Inc. Strikes Back

The Beautiful Life: TBL: Wednesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

In the spirit of reviving questionable Fox primetime soaps from the 90s, the CW offers TBL for your viewing pleasure, its modern-day analog for Models Inc. If we're lucky it will have a similarly short lifespan.

Co-created by Ashton Kutcher, TBL details the life of a group of aspiring models who share their agency's NYC flophouse. There's Raina the model with a heart of gold whose Fashion Week runway has made her the talk of the town, Sonja the washed-up supermodel with a secret child, Chris the Iowa farm boy who execs think might have the look, Isaac the child model finding it hard to get gigs as an adult, and on and on. You get the point. Think America's Next Top Model meets Melrose Place.

What should come across as an interesting premise (fashion-related shows are pretty hot right now) instead falls terribly flat. The pilot opens with the aforementioned runway show at fashion week, complete with all the flash and gloss you'd expect in a CW show. Once you crack through the veneer though, there's not a lot of substance. With so much "real" fashion on the tube these days, it's easy to see that this is not it. Photo shoots, go sees, runway shows, none of them are particularly well done. Unfortunately for TBL it's these things that are supposed to make the show unique.

Add to that the poor acting (Mischa Barton as usual is especially poor as the pathetic Sonja), predictable plot, and characters straight out of "Screenwriting for Dummies" and were left with not a whole lot to entertain us. Watch only if you're a masochist or can't get enough of that CW thang.

Note: I'm up-to-date on my viewing, but behind on my posting. One hour dramas will continue to get full write-ups, half-hour shows will get capsule reviews, and kids' shows are going to be lumped into one big post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Want to Know a Secret?

A lot of people have asked me over the past few years how it is that Meaghan and I thought to go to Estonia for our honeymoon. Behold! The truth revealed. In a roundabout way, it all starts with my dad. When my brother and I were younger, we played a lot of computer games. Every once in awhile, my dad would give us a random selection as a present for a birthday or Christmas. Unerringly, this ended up being something high quality which provided us with hours of fun. ex. Drol, 2400 A.D., Out of This World.

One such game was a little franchise-starter by the name of Command & Conquer. In C&C, you take on the role of commander of either the UN's defense forces or the terrorist organization that they're trying to crush, the Brotherhood of Nod. If you choose to play on the side of the government, your first mission is to establish a beachhead in eastern Europe from which you can drive out the terrorist forces. Specifically:

The game goes beyond just naming the country where the action is, it gives you a specific point of conflict. In this case, your hovercrafts storm across the Gulf of Riga in the cinematic opening to land on the beaches of Pärnu, Estonia.

Going there for our honeymoon is perhaps an extreme example, but I often like to take the time to learn more about the world around us through video games. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely not the only reason we went there, but C&C is the spark that even put it on the map in the first place. Without it, we never would've had the experiences that we did like staying in this gorgeous hotel 100 feet from the gulf in Pärnu.

Perhaps in the future I'll share more of the things I learn through gaming, if I ever find the time to play more games. For those of you wondering what the next C&C-inspired vacation might be? Latvia, of course, with a special stop in Jelgava. Be thankful I didn't find inspiration in Nod's campaign of terror. It starts somewhere in lovely, seaside Libya.

Bonus Material: Even if you never get to Estonia yourself, I strongly urge you to check out the story of how it gained its independence from the Soviet Union in The Singing Revolution.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TV Preview: 9/14/2009

Briefly, new this week:

The Beautiful Life - CW Wed. 9/8 Central

The weakest link from The OC (Mischa Barton) lives the beautiful life... I guess. Not expecting much.

Community - NBC Thu. 9:30/8:30 Central

Chevy Chase returns to TV for his first regular gig since Saturday Night Live in this community college comedy.

The Troop - Nick Fri. 8/7 Central

Nickelodeon gets in on the fantasy genre with this show about ordinary teens that hunt monsters. Given the channel, I'm guessing this skews a little younger than Buffy did.

RollBots - CW Sat. 8/7 AM Central

New Saturday morning cartoon about round robots. Not sure if there's a story there.

The Superhero Squad Show - Cartoon Sat. 8:30/7:30 AM Central

I'm not looking forward to this comedic take on the Marvel universe. Rumor has it that sneak peeks of the first two episodes are already running as of yesterday.

Bored to Death - HBO Sun. 9:30/8:30 Central
A detective comedy written by Jonathan Ames (The Alcoholic) and starring Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, I Heart Huckabees, The Darjeeling Limited). I'm looking forward to this.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Monster Next Door

Durham County: Mondays on ION, 10:00/9:00 Central

Durham County is one of the best dramas I've watched on TV in quite awhile. If you trust my judgement at all, stop reading now and set your DVR/VCR to record the first episode. It's replaying tonight (Friday) on ION at 11:00/10:00 Central. Go ahead... I'll wait.

Homicide Detective Mike Sweeney has moved his family from the dangerous big city life of Toronto to the suburban county where he grew up. He and his wife are trying to escape their recent past, and have dragged their two daughters along for a fresh start. Mike's partner was recently gunned down in a drive-by and his wife Audrey is recovering from a bout with breast cancer that took multiple surgeries to survive. Across the street lives Ray Prager, one of Det. Sweeney's best childhood friends. A former NHL draft pick, his pro hockey career ended before it even started due to a car accident. Don't feel too bad for him though, he and his wife Tracy have managed to make a good living running a plumbing company.

There's just one problem: Ray is a bit of a psychopath. He witnesses a gruesome double rape/murder, and rather than report it to the authorities he uses it as the inspiration for his own grisly way of dealing with life's stresses. The game of cat and mouse that proceeds between Mike and his old friend Ray makes for compelling drama. In my previous post, I compared it thematically to Twin Peaks. After watching the six episodes which comprise the first mini-season, I think the comparison still stands up. They're both a dark exploration of the evils that man can do to one another. Interestingly, in this case you know who the bad guy is from the start. There's no question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" here. It's essentially a murder mystery without the mystery, but it's so well-written that you still want to watch it play out.

The acting is top-notch throughout, particularly from Justin Louis who plays Ray. He switches from charming to monstrous at the flip of a switch, and his criminal acts only serve to make his charm more disturbing. The other actors are good as well, but the real star here is the story. In a world of disposable entertainment, it's refreshing to watch something where no line is thrown away. As Hugh Dillon (Det. Sweeney) put it in an interview I saw, it's "drama without pretension".

You may be wondering how it is that I've seen the first six episodes already. This is actually a Canadian import that originally aired on The Movie Network (think Canada's version of HBO) back in 2007. As such, it's chock full of cursing, violence, nudity, and 5-6 minutes of content that had to be cut out as it transitioned to American network TV. I'm happy to report that despite the editing, the show remains watchable. If you have the means to seek out the full-length version then do so. Otherwise, this can serve as a suitable alternative.

Aaah! More Vampires!

The Vampire Diaries: Thursdays on CW, 8:00/7:00 Central

In a world where Twilight and its ilk rule both the bookstands and the cinema with its saccharine vampire teen romance and HBO's True Blood is slowly gaining traction with its violent and passionate vampire drama for adults, you'd think there would be little room in the market for another human girl meets vampire boy story. And you would probably be right. And that's a little unfortunate. Just a little, mind you. CW's new show The Vampire Diaries walks the fine line between the two: teen romance with a little violence thrown in.

Elena was a typical high school girl from Mystic Falls, VA, until she became the sole survivor of a car accident that claimed the lives of both of her parents. Now it's the first day of the new school year and she's still dealing with the tragedy and all of the people who keep reminding her of it. Enter Stefan. Dark, brooding, and handsome, he just might be the perfect guy. Oh, except he's a vampire with a past that dates back to the Civil War and he has a brother named Damon, also a vampire, who's been attacking people in the woods near town. Other than that, he might be perfect. Surround them with a host of reasonably interesting high schoolers: the psychic best friend, the stoner brother, the jock ex-boyfriend, and you've completed the recipe for a decent show.

Okay, so it's not exactly ground-breaking. Or is it? Fans of other vampire stories are probably going to find much they recognize here, but a lot of that might be because it's based on a series of books written back in 1991 that has served as the inspiration for many of today's vampire hits. It won't make a difference to viewers though. Due to the way it's being marketed, it's likely going to be perceived as a Twilight ripoff. And in a lot of ways, that's true. Without the existence of those movies, would this show have been developed or green-lit?

The Vampire Diaries largely manages to dodge the twin bullets that plague most things on the CW: poor acting and slick production values. Unfortunately the writing, particularly the excerpts of the titular diaries that are read in voiceover, is a little cheesy at times. The show is created by Kevin Williamson(Scream, Dawson's Creek), so there's hope that it will turn around. If there weren't already similar shows to watch, it's good enough that I'd consider picking this up, but True Blood is better and is plenty for me. If you're the type who can't have too many blood-sucking creeps in your life, go ahead and give it a shot.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Hot Meh

Melrose Place: Tuesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

Fans of the original may appreciate the CW's attempt to breathe new life into yet another 90's primetime soap opera, but fans of good television need not waste their time here. Take seven new characters: a dorky would-be film director and his elementary school teacher fiancee, the film director's bitchy & bisexual publicist, an AA-attending sous chef, a rich art thief, an intern whoring her way through med school, and the unknown newcomer (played by Ashlee Simpson), add a couple of has-beens from the original show, throw them into an apartment building in LA, and let madness ensue. Not my idea of gripping drama.

The original Melrose Place ran for seven(!) seasons back in the 90's after spinning out of Beverly Hills 90210 in the summer of 1992. It's probably most well-known for bringing sleaze into the limelight on network television. The tenants of that apartment on Melrose Place hopped in and out of each other's beds, got into cat fights, and offed each other at an incredible pace. One such tenant, Sydney Andrews, was run over by a car and left for dead at the end of season 5. Why then is Sydney now the landlord at the apartment in this new incarnation? Who knows? Do we care? The reprieve is short-lived as Sydney's bloodied corpse is found bobbing in the swimming pool right before the first commercial break.

This show has that same slick veneer that most other shows on the CW (Gossip Girl, 90210) seem to have. A trendy soundtrack backs images that try to walk a fine line between reality and an MTV music video. Every actor is attractive, but only some of them actually seem to be able to act. If the show were slightly better assembled or seemed to have something to say beyond light and fluffy entertainment, the premise would be tempting enough to stick with. Who doesn't like a good murder mystery? All of the tenant/suspects have a certain greyness to their morality so any of them could be responsible. Who did it? We'll probably find out in December should you be willing to stick with it that long.

If you missed last night's pilot and want to see it for yourself, it looks like you're out of luck for now. If it shows up anywhere online, it'll be on the CW site.

Monday, September 7, 2009

TV Preview: 9/7/2009

It's the time of year again where I watch a bunch of TV so that you don't have to. I have a plan this time around, and I think I'll be able to stick to it. Wish me luck.

In case I don't get in-depth reports up in enough time I wanted to quickly cover what's started already and what's coming up this week.

In the Week to Come:

Durham County - ION Mon. 10/9 Central

Don't be put off by the fact that this is on ION (formerly PAX). It's a fantastic Canadian drama that explores the dark underbelly of suburban life. Probably the highest quality show I've watched in a long time, it reminds me of Twin Peaks because of the thematic material it covers. Don't worry, there are no dancing midgets or supernatural forces to deal with here if that sort of thing is a turn-off. There have been two 6-episode seasons so far, and as far as I know ION is going to show them both. I strongly urge you to check this out.

Melrose Place - CW Tue. 9/8 Central

The CW just keeps getting trashier. Gone are the few enjoyable shows like Reaper and Privileged, all replaced by drek like this. Granted I've not seen this yet, but I'm not holding out much hope. If the 90210 remake from last year was your sort of thing, chances are good you'll enjoy its more "adult" cousin, too.

The Vampire Diaries - CW Thu. 8/7 Central

I suppose the people who find Twilight to be gripping drama need TV to watch, too. At least, that's what the CW is hoping. I think that vampires are so hot right now that there's no way this show will fail, but is it any good?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rites of Passage

They say that it can take awhile for a new house to feel like home, but we've had a number of firsts over the first month of living here that have helped to accelerate the process. Let's just say that we've been here for five weeks and buyer's remorse hasn't set in yet.

First Houseguests: Back in the middle of August, Meaghan's cousins from California Leo and Rebekah came to visit. Rebekah, 20, is a junior in college. Leo, 14, is going into 9th/10th grade on a 3-year high school program. Their arrival forced us to have quite a bit of the house clean and in working condition. If you're ever lacking in motivation to unpack and clean after moving, just invite some people to stay with you 3 weeks after your move-in day. Many games (mostly of Bohnanza, Killer Bunnies, & Seafarers of Catan) were played into the wee hours of the night, a day was spent at ValleyFair, and much fun was had by all.

First Repair Bill: Coinciding with the arrival of our first houseguests was the appearance of our first needed repair. When we ran the washing machine for the first time, we discovered that tree roots and other junk had completely clogged our house's sewer line to the street. Mopping up after a backed-up basement floor drain is not on my short list of final preparations for houseguests. Thankfully, our realtor hooked us up with a reliable sewer guy who rooted a large sack's worth of detritus from our line.

First Party: This Saturday we hosted our official housewarming party which meant we had to make a second pass of cleaning and arranging. Much of the work this time focused on cleaning up the yard since we were planning on having folks hang out on the back patio at the party. We spent six hours a couple of weekends ago pulling enough weeds and assorted plant life to fill five large yard waste bags. That's one major advantage of renting: you don't have to care about or take care of any of the green thumb work. And I am not a green thumb.

First House Payment: Yay for automatic payments. Our first mortgage payment went out the door right on time Sept. 1. I guess that means it's for real.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Salvaged Pictures

Today's post isn't quite as content rich as yesterday's, but it's late and I'm tired so you're just going to have to deal. I thought I'd share a few of the pictures from our trip to Disney World in June. We lost the majority of the pictures from the first six days in Florida (two with Meaghan's grandparents, four in WDW), but we still had everything from the last morning we spent in the Animal Kingdom with Meaghan's parents.

People always get a little slap-happy when they've spent so much time in a theme park, as evidenced here by our attempts to emulate cavemen, bugs (those are 3-D specs), and African drummers.

For those who haven't been before, the centerpiece of the Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life, a gigantic (145 ft) artificial tree that towers over Discovery Island in the center of the park.

The tree not only houses a movie theater amongst its roots, but it's also a fantastic work of art. Over 300 different animals are carved into its trunk, branches, and roots. You could easily spend an entire day walking around it to see how many carvings you can spot.

It also wouldn't be the Animal Kingdom if it didn't feature some animals. As well as being a theme park, it's also a top-notch zoo. There are a lot of neat critters there like this crested porcupine from Africa.

One of the best places to spot animals is the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. You ride in a 40-seat open-air vehicle back through various African habitats. All of the animals (including rhinos, lions, and the like) there are free ranging with the ability to walk right up to your vehicle if they want to. Sometimes there are traffic jams when a herd of wildebeest crosses the road. Other animals, like this here giraffe, are just curious.

To wrap up this Disney saturated post, I thought I'd mention a website that I just discovered in the past week. If you sign up a free account, D-CoT has a jukebox where you can listen to various pieces of music that have been played in the Disney parks throughout the years. This includes things like the Country Bear Jamboree, Fantasmic!, the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, and Finding Nemo: The Musical. If these sorts of things put a smile on your face, I strongly urge you check it out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From the Long Box: Shadow of the Batman #1, Part 2

Note: Click on any of the images to make them larger.

Shadow of the Batman #1
(reprinted from Detective Comics #469)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Art: Walt Simonson & Al Milgrom

Could it be? It's been long awaited...

"The Origin of Dr. Phosphorus"

If you're wondering what the heck any of this is about, you have some catching up to do. First of all, I need to do some catching up of my own. It turns out that last time around I forgot to introduce a character that plays a bigger part in this second installment, Dr. Bell of Gotham General Hospital. Here he is in a brief moment with Commissioner Gordon. A real mover and shaker, no?

Anyway, back to the story at hand. The night after Batman and Dr. Phosphorus fought to a standstill at the Gotham City Reservoir, we join the vengeful doctor as he bursts in on the private residence of Dr. Bell. Apparently before he became the walking, talking embodiment of living phosphorus, Dr. P was an old colleague of Bell's: Dr. Sartorius. The catch being that everyone thinks Sartorius is dead. I'm a little relieved to be honest. This keeps me from asking the question of where a glow-in-the-dark skeleton could possibly have obtained a doctorate.

Sartorius used to be a mover and shaker, too. He had a posh $200,000/year ($700,000/year in today's dollars) private practice, and he was a member of the powerful Tobacconists' Club. Not having lived through the 70s, I can't attest to the existence of clubs centered around the smoking of pipes and cigars. In today's increasingly smoke-free society, however, this concept is either unpopular or so underground that it doesn't surface on the Internet. Here it's presented as a place for powerful men to get together and broker back room deals with one another. I'm sure places like that still exist today.

The government apparently took a sizable chunk out of Sartorius' Park Ave lifestyle every year, so he went to one of Gotham's most powerful, City Council President "Boss" Rupert Thorne, to see what he could do about that. Thorne proposed that he sink his money into Gotham's proposed new nuclear power plant. It was going to be set up as a tax shelter, but only the insiders at the Tobacconists' Club knew about it so far. This was right in the middle of the nuclear plant building boom of the 1970s, so I'm sure it seemed like a wise investment.

But the people of Gotham protested, as people are wont to do, and a referendum was placed on the ballot. Despite some brutal electioneering by Thorne and his people, the proposal was approved and the nuclear consortium was forced to build their plant outside of Gotham City on an offshore platform three miles out in the Atlantic. Building the plant offshore with a new design requires more funding and higher costs lead to cutting corners. Never a good thing when it comes to playing with nuclear power. You can see where this is headed, right?

The night after the reactor core was installed, Dr. Sartorius was out at the plant inspecting his investment. I don't know what a medical doctor knows about generating nuclear power, but an investor needs to inspect what an investor needs to inspect apparently. Conveniently, he was out there alone during some kind of unmanned test fire of the reactor. This setup seems like the soirt of thing OSHA should be notified about. I don't think you'd find me skulking about a nuclear reactor that was still under construction. Heck, I probably wouldn't skulk about a fully operational nuclear reactor. As a result, he was the only one there when the core cracked open and the whole thing exploded.

In a futile effort to escape the blast, Sartorius dives behind a pile of sand bags for cover. When the reactor blows, the silicon in the sand is blasted up the periodic table one notch (gaining a proton and at least three neutrons) to become a radioactive isotope of phosphorus which is driven through his body creating his new ghastly, glowing skeleton. We'll overlook the facts that sand isn't made from pure silicon and atomic science doesn't actually work that way because hey, this is just a comic book and a goofy origin story at that. In truth, this is a cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear power and the corrupting power of big business. For a 1977 story penned before the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it turns out that it was a rather prescient warning. Not that there are any walking, talking skeletons of living phosphorus out there as a result of those. Are there?

You see, Dr. Phosphorus just wants revenge against those that ruined his life and turned him into this monstrosity: the City Council for encouraging him to invest in the nuclear plant and the citizens of Gotham for forcing the plant to be built offshore. Not a big believer in personal responsibility, Phosphorus has added a new item to his agenda of revenge: Batman. I guess if you foil somebody's revenge plot you're likely to just get added to their list. And that's why Phosphorus has come to Dr. Bell. Being a member of the City Council with a way to contact "Boss" Thorne, Bell is just the sort of weak-minded individual who would help "remove the Batman" from Phosphorus' path. On that note, we're forced to wait until our next installment of Shadow of the Batman to see what's in store for our caped hero. Just how does Bell intend to remove the Batman? Tune in next time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Meaghan and I went to see (500) Days of Summer a couple of weeks ago in the midst of all of our moving preparations. It was inevitable that we'd see it eventually as it stars two of our favorite young actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock From the Sun", Brick, Mysterious Skin, The Lookout) and Zooey Deschanel (Elf, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bridge to Terabithia) as Tom and Summer, two star-crossed lovers... or not.

(500) Days is a romantic comedy. Tom lives in LA and has a degree in architecture, so naturally he writes greeting cards for a living. He hates it, dead end job that it is, but it's a living so he sticks it out. One day, his boss gets a new assistant named Summer and his life will never be the same, but not in the way you think. Unlike almost every other rom com ever committed to celluloid the guy doesn't get the girl this time. Instead, the film simply documents the 500 days that Summer is in Tom's life. Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away. We find out that Summer breaks up with Tom in one of the early scenes since the movie jumps around and time, clearly delineated by clever interludes labeled "Day 364", etc.

Along the way we see the highs and lows of their relationship, encouraging the viewer to try to piece together what went wrong, and what they each could have possibly taken away from the experience. Despite the premise, and the ultimate outcome, (500) Days is hilarious and uplifting throughout. Some of the high points include not one, but two scenes featuring drunken karaoke and the best use of split-screen in a movie since The Rules of Attraction. I was lucky enough to see it at a mostly full theater in Uptown, and the audience was in good form. It's always best when you watch a funny comedy with people willing to laugh.

I highly recommend (500) Days to anyone with a pulse. If nothing else, it'll make you reflect upon the landscape of failed relationships that has brought you to the place you are today. Oh, and I'd recommend viewing The Graduate prior to seeing this. Just saying.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

House Pictures

There was a slight clamoring when I posted about our new house last week. The problem: where were the pictures? Well, I'm certainly not about to show you a bunch of boxes strewn throughout the place. You had to be one of the lucky few who helped us move Saturday (Thanks everyone -- you know who you are) to get those visuals.

Let's make a deal. I'll give you a picture of each room as it gets finished until either you or I get bored with it. That's right... no pictures so far. Hmm, maybe I should be unpacking instead of writing this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hey, We Own a House!

And thus the month long hiatus filled with paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork has ended. The villagers rejoice!

There's still packing and cleaning to do so it might be a little while longer before this place gets regular updates again, but I figured this news was worth an emergency post.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Disney Pictures

So I know I promised Disney pictures in my last post, but it seems that the great Apple Computer has chewed up the hundreds of pictures we collectively took and has spit out 13. That's right, we have 13. Don't ask, because honestly I have no idea how this happened. Needless to say, that's the last time I ever let someone else use their computer as a repository for my pictures.

I think we still have some on the memory card in our camera. I'll take a look tonight and see if there's anything worth posting. Anything there would be from our last morning in the Animal Kingdom, so I'm not holding out a lot of hope.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'll Make You an Offer You Can Refuse

So, yeah... wasn't expecting this to be my next post, but we've officially made an offer on a lovely south Minneapolis house. If you're among the interested, let me know and I can send you the listing so you can see pictures and such. Nothing's a done deal obviously as there are still inspections, appraisals, and all to be done, but at the moment we're feeling pretty good.

I'll follow up with more as soon as we know more. Pictures from Disney to follow once I get them in the mail, too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

Meaghan and I went down to the Uptown last week to catch writer/director Rian Johnson's new con man film, The Brothers Bloom. If you're not familiar with Johnson, he's responsible for 2006's brilliant high school noir Brick. If you have seen Brick, leave your preconceptions at the door as this movie is nothing like it.

Brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo - Zodiac, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Bloom (Adrien Brody - The Pianist, The Darjeeling Limited) were foster children. Bouncing in and out of homes during their youth, Stephen quickly discovered that the only way to cope with his life was to write it for himself. He would concoct elaborate plans (complete with flow charts) and Bloom acted out whatever part the plan called for.

Over the years, with the help of the enigmatic Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi - Babel), the brothers become the best con men in the world. They have it all: money, women, fame. But Bloom doesn't have the one thing he wants more than anything in the world: an unwritten life. He's been playing roles in Stephen's schemes for so long that he doesn't know where the role ends and he really begins. At the top of their game, Bloom walks away to find out exactly who he is.

Two months later, Stephen tracks Bloom down for one last big con. If all goes well, they could walk away with millions, and Stephen will promise to finally leave him alone. Enter the fabulous Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, The Fountain) as the unwitting and completely eccentric million-dollar mark. The rest of the film, which I won't detail here, is the story of the final con of the Brothers Bloom.

Equal parts mad-cap comedy, action flick, and touching character piece, The Brothers Bloom walks the tightrope well somehow managing to balance all of its disparate moods. Quirky and stylish, at its heart you're still able to feel Bloom's pain and the love that the brothers have for each other. Even though the acting is superb throughout (the 3 principals are among my favorite actors working today which never hurts), the real star of the film is Johnson's sparkling script. Scene after scene leaps off the screen until the bullets from Chekhov's gun are finally fired in the final act.

In a world full of poorly written work, it's always a joy to find something so well done. I highly recommend you track this down in the theater, or at the very least add it to your queue.


This is the sound I would have heard last Wednesday night had I awoken when both of our parked cars were hit by some idiot. Have no fear, though, they drove off without leaving a note. Instead, we got a sadly incomplete white paint job on our nice blue Neon, a broken side mirror, and something wrong with the left front wheel that makes it go clunk-clunk-clunk when I brake hard. I'm going to try to limp over to the shop later this week to get the official diagnosis.

[I'll punch this up with an awesome picture tomorrow, if I can figure our newish camera out.]

The Caliber survived mostly intact with a mere 7 in chunk taken out of the rear bumper. You know, the bumper that was just replaced in January after our run-in with a semi over Christmas. You can't say we're not doing our part to help the auto parts industry, whether we like it or not.

The police have it narrowed down to a rusty white sedan. The errant driver was decent enough to leave behind a broken headlight of his own, so I suppose they could probably figure out a make from it if they wanted to. Considering the fact that I saw five rusty white sedans on a recent walk to a local restaurant (none of them had our stolen blue paint -- I looked), I think it's only a matter of time before the police find our man.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

#95: Schindler's List

I'm going to keep this short and sweet because I'm way behind on 1997 movies here. If you're like I was and you've never seen Schindler's List before, stop what you're doing now and add it to your Netflix queue. There's a reason it's on everyone's "Top 10 Movies of All-Time" list.

The acting is superb throughout, but then what do you expect when you put Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley together in the same film? It manages to be emotionally affecting without dipping into Spielberg's usual bag of tricks to manipulate the viewer. Thankfully, he understands that you don't need to add any pathos to the Holocaust to make it a truly horrible thing. When he chooses to play things straight like this, he really can be a brilliant filmmaker.

The movie actually came out in 1994, so you might be wondering what it's doing as part of this project. When it made it's much ballyhooed TV premiere in 1997 it was as a "Director's Cut", so that's what I watched here. From reading on the Internets, there doesn't look to actually be anything different in the Director's Cut other than an extended closing credits sequence in which cast members and Schindler survivors place stones on Schindler's grave in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, I'm glad I continue to make exceptions like this. If I didn't, I probably still wouldn't have seen this remarkable piece of work.

Coming up hopefully soon as I've already watched them:
#96: Marvin's Room
#97: Strays (written and directed by Vin Diesel? It's true)
#98: Enchanted Tales: Hercules

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Return of Chuck

My TV watching has been cut down pretty dramatically of late, but one of the shows that I continue to enjoy week in and week out is Chuck. This season ended on a Matrix-esque cliffhanger (spoilers), but because of NBC's budget-cutting and insistence on trotting Jay Leno out there at an earlier time slot no one knew if it would be coming back next year.

Until now. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again

Meaghan and I have been talking recently about where to go on vacation this summer. We knew it had to be shorter and less expensive than last year's magnificent two week binge in Disney World. We are looking at buying a house in July or August after all. A camping trip somewhere, maybe? That would be pretty cheap and fun. We could go up north and hit Itasca. Hike to see the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi. Perhaps we'd wander to the west and see the sights of South Dakota: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug. On Sunday, our choice became clear. Our trip this year would be to Walt Disney World in Florida.

Wha? Huh? But you...

This is apparently what you get when you don't return phone calls. Last Monday evening we got a message on our answering machine from Meaghan's mom. Her annual Summer trip to see her family back in NJ and PA had apparently fallen through and she was looking for somewhere else to go. Perhaps they would come visit us for a few days instead, she said. If only that were the case. Meaghan had late lacrosse practice all last week, meaning that she didn't get home until 8:30 or so every night. From Thursday evening on, my parents were in town for the weekend. There was no chance to call her back until Mother's Day.

In the five days that had passed, Meaghan's parents had decided that they weren't coming to visit, but were instead going to Disney in June and had already booked flights and a hotel. They also wanted to know if we wanted to come along. I guess they saw that we had such a good time with my parents there last year and wanted to recreate the magic. In the process, they seem to have missed the point that this was just last year. We like the Mouse and all, but we've never wanted to be the type of people who go to the same vacation spots year in and year out. So why are we going?

Meaghan's grandparents live in Florida, and we pretty much only get to see them at weddings. This trip includes spending a weekend with them. And although they seem indestructible, those of us who have been through it know how quickly people can disappear. We also don't see Meaghan's parents all that often, least of all when they're happy. And there's nothing like themed rides, shows, and games to bring out the happy in everyone. Consider it $1000 well spent on improving everyone's mental wellness... I hope.

It wasn't my first choice of vacations, or really in my top ten for this year, but it'll be fun. If it floats your boat at all, you can't go to Disney and not have fun. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mmmm... Molten Cheese...

I've suddenly realized that I've been letting all of my food-motivated readers down, as I haven't commented on an area restaurant in well over a year. Let me amend that by telling you about a little place called Matt's.

A mere ten blocks east of us, Matt's is a small and simple bar. However, unlike most bars Meaghan and I actually like to go here. Why? The music's not too loud and the food is actually good. The philosophy seems to be, "We don't do a lot, but we're sure going to do it well." Take a gander at their menu:

Seven sandwiches (four of them burgers), french fries, and drinks. That's it. You might be asking yourself what the heck a Jucy Lucy is. Think of a double cheeseburger, but instead of laying the cheese on top of the beef wrap it up inside one giant patty. Cook until the insides are liquid, bubbling perfection and top with onions. Sound good? You're not alone. If you're ever in the neighborhood, we'll go grab some burgers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Twitter ca 1748

I have a thing for US Presidents. Don't ask me why, but I can name them all in order and I find them pretty interesting. I've found that learning about them is a pretty nice gateway for learning about the history of this fine country through the ages. Most recently I've been hooked on the OG himself, Mr. George Washington.

Late last year, I read a book all about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. While Jimmy was in town last month I picked up the first book in the "American Presidents" series at our favorite local used book store for $5. The bibliographies of these two works led me to discover that the Internet is a great place for armchair historians. You want to read the actual writings of GW? Blammo! Another fabulous reason to stare at my computer all day... awesome.

Anyway, that brings me to the title of this post. The first extant writings are a diary that GW kept while performing a survey of some land in the Virginia backcountry. Ah, for the days of private diaries... If Twitter had existed back in the mid-18th century, we would have ended up with pointless tweets like this:

"This Morning Mr. James Genn, ye surveyor, came to us ; we travell'd over ye Blue Ridge to Capt. Ashbys on Shannandoah River. Nothing remarkable happen'd."

Sheesh George! If nothing interesting happened, why'd you waste the ink? Incidentally, this made me learn all about the word ye. Did you know that when used in this context it's just a typographical shortcut for the word the? It should even be read and pronounced as such. You really do learn something new every day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Could It Be... First Place?

Just wanted to get this out there today, since I might not have the opportunity at all in the future. Don't look now, but the Detroit Tigers sit all alone atop the AL Central after absolutely stealing a 6-4 victory against the Rangers today. Who knew Brandon Inge was a clutch performer?

We'll see what happens when the dreaded ChiSox roll into town tomorrow...


So it turns out that among all of the things that slow down my post rate, having guests visiting us has to be near the top of the list. Why would you ever sit down and be anti-social at your computer when there are people to do things with? Unfortunate for this blog then that we've had people here 12 of the last 17 days.

For the entire last week of March, Meaghan's brother Jimmy was in town to visit the U of M law school. There's a good chance he'll be a student here come Fall. Many good foods were eaten (we finally made it to the Blue Nile), Mario Party games were played, we didn't go to a concert (Who knew pharyngitis was a thing? Huh, apparently it's just a bad sore throat.), saw Sunshine Cleaning, and we spent an afternoon at the Minnesota Zoo (quickly becoming one of our favorite places to go).

Three days after that, our friends Mike & Andrea from NY/NJ came to visit for a few days. They often make some time to see us when they're out this way for Mike's family in Iowa. Folks went shopping, we played some games, more good foods were eaten, vacation pictures were examined, and we saw a certain spoon without its cherry ('tis being cleaned).

We're currently in the middle of a week and a half respite. After that, Meaghan's sister Sarah is going to be making her long awaited visit to Minneapolis. We'll see how that goes. Incidentally, we'll be heading over to Chino Latino on Saturday with her to celebrate Meaghan's birthday. If any of my regular readers want to join us, just let me know. I have no idea if there's something already planned in the Roch for that guy who has the same birthday, but if there is and it's on Saturday I'm afraid we'll have to split the party.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Right... so... Watchmen? Now that you all have pretty much seen it, it seems like a good time to talk about it again, right? Right? Ugh.

As a reader of the book, I suppose I don't really have anything useful to say about the movie. It's an interesting experience to watch something that hews to its source material so closely (up until the last reel anyway), unlike most modern Hollywood adaptations. Nothing is surprising, but there's a kind of voyeuristic joy in seeing something you know well played out on the screen. It was fun to watch, but a somehow shallow experience.

Perhaps it's that some of the characterization is lost amongst all the superfluous slick action sequences that have been added to the film, or maybe it's just that a film of this scope doesn't really have time to let the characters breathe. Let's take Rorshach as an example. He's an uncompromising S.O.B., a bit of a cross between Travis Bickle and Batman (Christian Bale, not Adam West). Morally reprehensible, but someone who deserves your respect. In the movie though, he's our cool action hero. We love him, or at worst pity him. Maybe we aren't given enough time to actually stop and think about the things that he's doing. Maybe we're so desensitized to "heroes" doing criminal acts in pursuit of the greater good these days that it washes over us as no big deal.

I can't help but think that if this movie had actually been made right away back in the mid-80s that it would have a greater impact. Not only would the setting of an alternate Cold War America on the brink of nuclear annihilation have been more socially relevant, but the characters would have felt different, too. Think back to 1985 for a second. Superheroes were popularly portrayed as either dorky goody two-shoes, campy crusaders, or roid-raged green guys. A bunch of morally ambiguous anti-heroes dressed in spandex would have seemed a bit more novel.

In the end, while Watchmen is probably a great superhero movie, it's not a great movie. If you're into that sort of thing, then check it out. If you like the movie, then I recommend the book. If you're interested, I have a copy waiting for you on my shelf.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sometimes Planning Pays Off

I had just confessed to Tony the other day that I had been spending a bunch of time recently planning for my next few D&D sessions, but I feared it was all going to be for naught. You see, we're finally moving on to H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth after taking the better part of 19 sessions (wow!) to get through the first adventure and change. This means a new base town, set of NPCs, and quest hooks to establish and keep straight. It feels like I usually execute poorly no matter how much planning I've done. Either I mess something up in the delivery, don't have the knowledge I need at my fingertips, or make horrible errors in combat rendering them mostly meaningless. Even when things do go well, you can get sidetracked by a bored player who tries to pick the pocket (or worse) of every NPC in sight.

To my relief, I think this week went extremely well. I suppose the two party members who semi-regularly read this can bring me back to Earth in the comments section if I'm delusional. Everyone got a quick tour of the new "town", a number of quest proposals were delivered, I kept my characterizations straight, and we mostly kept bored party members in check despite not having a real combat in the first 3 hours. When we did get to the combat, my planned tactics worked well for once. Thoes pesky Bloodreavers ate up a pretty decent chunk of party resources for a level-1 encounter. It would have gone even better for me if I hadn't made a horrible error about 5 rounds in, but what are you gonna do?

Have no fear, I'm not about to turn this blog into a campaign journal or anything. Just wanted to toot my own horn for a second after the first non-frustrating session as DM in awhile. It's good motivation to keep putting the same level of thought and care into future sessions.

Speaking of motivation, apologies to those of you expecting a post-Watchmen entry by now. I have a bad habit of talking to readers in person about things I would post about and losing my motivation to actually put it out here. For those of you who I don't talk to as much, there is a post forthcoming. I just need to work it in between today's trip to the Electric Fetus and our planned evening of local music and a friend's St. Patty's Day celebration.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I had every intention of getting up this morning and jotting down some thoughts about Watchmen. Instead, I've awoken to find that I can't hold my head straight without some pain in my upper back. Looking in the mirror, my neck is literally slanted at an angle without me even trying. What the heck? This coupled with wrenching my knee whilst slipping in the shower Saturday are all definite signs that my death gene has kicked in despite the new running regimen Meaghan and I started on Sunday.

That's right. Meaghan and I. Running.

I'll try to get to Watchmen later. Right now, I'm just trying to get through the work day without my neck locking up.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watchmen Expectations

It's official. I just purchased tickets for tomorrow's 1:10 showing of Watchmen on the IMAX at the Minnesota Zoo. In preparation for the experience, I finally got around to reading the acclaimed Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell) comic that it's based on. It's every bit as good as all of the hype suggests. However, if you're going to see the movie and have only seen the various trailers and commercials, you're being misled.

Despite its appearances, Watchmen is not your typical slam-bang, action-packed superhero story. The movie is supposed to be pretty faithful to the source material, so let me issue some warnings now. At its heart, Watchmen is a whodunnit. You shouldn't know the who until sometime in the 2nd half, and you won't know the why until very close to the end. Most of the time the bad actors are well established going in (Look, it's Magneto! Hey, there's the Joker!), but that won't be the case here. Instead, you'll be presented with five heroes with very different world views. In the end, you'll have to decide which one you agree with most.

There are a lot of characters and an alternate timeline to deal with, so I thought I'd assist by giving a brief, spoiler-free primer. If you want to go in completely blind, feel free to skip this part. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this movie.

Most of the timeline changes will be covered in a montage during the opening credits, but here are a couple high points:
- Masked heroes first appeared on the streets in the 1940s
- The US won the Vietnam War
- Masked heroes were outlawed by the Keene Act in 1977
- The year is 1985, it's the height of the Cold War, and Richard Nixon is still President

The story is likely to jump back in forth in time from present-day (1985) to various points in the past, but the main heroes fall into two main waves: the Minutemen from the 1940s and the Crime Busters (Watchmen in the movie) from the 1960s.

- Hooded Justice: Identity unknown. The original masked vigilante, disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the McCarthy era.
- The Comedian: Identity unknown. Active employee of the US government; went to Vietnam.
- Nite Owl: Hollis Mason. Retired, owns a car repair shop. Wrote a memoir about life as a superhero.
- Silk Spectre: Sally Jupiter. Typical sexpot superheroine, very commercial.
- Captain Metropolis, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman - not important.

- Dr. Manhattan: Dr. Jon Osterman. The one true superhero with powers. Due to an accident at a US government lab, he gained the ability to manipulate time and space at the subatomic level. Works for the US government; is the reason Vietnam was won and is a one-man nuclear deterrent in the Cold War.
- Ozymandias: Adrian Veidt. "Smartest Man Alive", he retired from the hero business before the Keene Act. Is now a successful businessman.
- Nite Owl: Dan Dreiberg. Inspired by the original Nite Owl, was forced into retirement by the Keene Act.
- Silk Spectre: Laurel Juspeczyk. Daughter of the original Silk Spectre, trained for the job at a very young age, forced into retirement by the Keene Act. Works for the government as Dr. Manhattan's "companion".
- Rorshach: Identity unknown. Still active despite the Keene Act, known for his brutal methods, former partner of Nite Owl.

I'll try to post again tomorrow after I've seen it with a brief review.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


One band that often finds its way into my CD player is Pulp. One of the biggest bands in Britain in the 90s (along with Radiohead, Blur, and Oasis), Pulp never quite hit it big over here in the States the way the others did. Quite possibly too raunchy for radio here, they have a way of tickling my funny bone that not many other bands have. Rather than spend a lot of time talking about the music, I'll let you just listen to various selections from throughout their existence instead.

*I apologize in advance for the videos that aren't official music videos or live performances, but I wanted you to hear as much as possible.

Early Years: Pulp had a lot of different lineups and sounds in their first few years, some good, some bad. These are two of their better songs from that era.
Little Girl (with Blue Eyes)
They Suffocate At Night

His 'n Hers: Pulp emerged for good in 1994 with this pop album.
Do You Remember the First Time

Different Class: Their 1995 follow-up is one of the greatest albums of all time: 12 tracks, all single-worthy.
Pencil Skirt
Common People
Live Bed Show
Bar Italia

This is Hardcore: 1998's turn into darkness, my personal favorite.
The Fear
Help the Aged
This is Hardcore
A Little Soul
Like a Friend

In recent years, frontman Jarvis Cocker (yes, that's his real name) has gone solo with a successful 2006 album. It features Running the World from the closing credits of Children of Men, one of the best anti-politician anthems ever.


It Was All Personal

Meaghan and I were back in the Roch for an extended weekend and decided to cash in some free movie passes at one of our old haunts, the Chateau Theatres. Being smack in the middle of the annual winter dead zone of bad movies, we opted for a good old-fashioned action flick, Taken. If it doesn't involve a DC superhero of some kind, we typically don't see this sort of thing on the big screen. It was getting an 8.0 on IMDB and hey, it was free so it seemed worth the risk.

Before I get into the movie itself, it just wouldn't be a post here at the Amber Tower without me rambling on for a bit about something first. If I had done some research first, I would have realized that we had nothing to worry about because Taken has a good pedigree. Co-written by Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional - which if you haven't seen is a must. Natalie Portman in her first feature film; she's always better in edgy roles [see Closer, Garden State]) and Robert Mark Kamen (they co-wrote The Fifth Element which features this sublimely silly action sequence among others), it was bound to be entertaining. Throw in Liam Neeson, who is almost always good, and you're guaranteed a success.

On its face, Taken is a run-of-the-mill action flick. Neeson is a former government agent whose teenage daughter is kidnapped while on vacation in Paris. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to go to France and get her back. There's a little bit of a "ripped from the headlines" feel to the story as it turns out that the culprits have nabbed her for the sex slave trade. Unfortunately, if this movie was made to raise awareness of the issue I'm afraid it gets a bit lost amongst all the action.

It rises a bit above the run-of-the-mill in its staging of the action sequences. In your typical film, our invincible hero blasts his way through the movie on little more than his sheer badassery. In Taken, the filmmakers have taken care to show how and why Neeson is such a badass. When infiltrating the bad guys' HQ you can see him taking note of how many men are lurking about and how they're armed. When he goes to jump on to a moving boat, he literally pauses for a few seconds to look before he leaps. Our man of action is cautious and studied, but incredibly lethal.

The fight scenes are quick and to the point. No need to waste time with endless choreography (like any Hong Kong action flick) or thousands of bullets (Rambo), our man can disable a room full of baddies in under 30 seconds. He even has time to deliver some clever (but not snarky) one-liners in the process. I don't think it would be spoiling anything to tell you that our antihero saves his daughter and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.

In the end, it's enough to make you wonder what the world would be like if everybody in law enforcement took such a personal interest in all of the victims of crime. Would the world be a safer place? Would human rights be violated in the process, or does making an omelette require the breaking of a few eggs? Taken offers no answers, but it is good fun.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Winners & Losers

The Oscars were a mixed bag for me this year. Some well-deserving people finally got awards after years of being overlooked which made me happy, but I was otherwise indifferent to most of the results. It's a little odd for me. Normally I come in with favorites and expectations to be crushed, but perhaps that's just a reflection on the type of movies that were out this year.

Starting at the top, I thought Hugh Jackman did a top notch job as emcee despite his penchant for musical theater. He knows how to work a stage and was at ease with the crowd since he's, you know, an actor, too. The part of the show that really fell flat for me was the direction. I think they give out Emmys for Best Direction of a Variety Program or something like that and the Oscars telecast from the previous year often wins. It shouldn't even be nominated this year. The nail in the coffin was the much awaited "roll call of the dead". Instead of just showing us the video feed of stills, clips, and names, we got this endless series of camera moves and pans making it next to impossible to read who was being honored. Blech.

Anyway, I'm supposed to talk about movies, right? The big winner was Slumdog Millionaire taking home eight trophies in total, among them Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, and Best Song. I saw this back in January when we went out for a triple feature. Was it the best movie of the year? Probably not. To be honest, it's a pretty conventional love story with average acting. The story's one gimmick is that it's told through the lens of a TV game show. What it does have going for it is the alien setting (for Americans) of the slums of Mumbai, India. If you were to transplant the criminal aspect into a Mafia or urban youth flick, it would probably be pretty pedestrian.

All that said, it is good to see Danny Boyle finally get some recognition. His 2002 zombie horror flick 28 Days Later... ranks up there as one of the top films of the last ten years. Since it involves zombies though, it was never going to be seriously considered for anything.

After five previous attempts, long time Top 5er Kate Winslet finally brought home the gold for her role in The Reader. I actually thought she was better in Revolutionary Road this year, but she'll probably take what she can get. If you're not very familiar with her body of work, I'd recommend virtually anything that Ms Winslet is in including the two from this year. Just don't be expecting very many feel-good stories. In The Reader, she plays a harsh German ticket taker who seduces a 15-year old boy and Revolutionary Road is about the destruction of an outwardly idyllic marriage in 1950's suburbia.

I haven't seen Milk which took home awards for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Screenplay. I'm usually an unwilling viewer of most biopics, and I generally don't think that they should win awards. Creating something new and original feels more worthy then merely imitating a real life person or writing down their words and calling it a screenplay, but that's probably just me. I would have preferred to see Mickey Rourke or Richard Jenkins win the acting award. Speaking of Richard Jenkins, if you haven't seen The Visitor add it to your queues now. It was a little movie that came and went at the art theaters early in 2008. Jenkins plays a college professor who's just been going through the motions since his wife died. One day, when he finds people living illegally in his NYC apartment something is awakened within him. Very powerful with brilliant performances all around, I was glad to see it recognized with a nomination.

Nominated movies that I still want to see:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Tropic Thunder

Any opinions on those one way or the other, or anything I may have missed? Let me know.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Oscar!

As I sit here in dread of the upcoming Movie Maven segment on Midday today (two hours of how "corny" Hugh Jackman was - ), it occurs to me that I should register my weighty opinion on the awards outcome from last night. Look for something on that tomorrow. I haven't seen as many of the nominated movies as I'd have liked to, but I do have some recommendations for your Netflix queues.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bock Fest

Due to the magic of the Internets, I'm pretending to have written this Saturday morning. In actuality, I'm in a car with some friends on my way to the New Ulm Bock Fest. I don't know exactly what to expect as the more I read the more confused I become. Wha? Antlers?

One of the friends is a New Ulm native so hopefully he'll know what the heck is going on when we get there. There's a forecast high of 21, so I'm bringing extra handwarmers along. Brr. Anyway, it will hopefully be a good time and we'll hopefully sample some good beer. I'll report back Monday when I've returned.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous

It's probably about time that I use some posts talking about the music that's passing through my CD player these days. Apologies to those of you at work that have already heard portions of this album, I'll come up with something new for next time.

Rilo Kiley is an LA indie pop band most well-known for its female lead Jenny Lewis. She started out in Hollywood as a child actress, most known in nerd circles as Fred Savage's mysterious red-headed companion in the Nintendo film The Wizard, before moving on to a music career.

Their third album, "More Adventurous" came out back in 2004 and landed on a lot of the year's best album lists, crowning them as indie darlings in the process. We've had it for awhile, but it's spent a lot of time languishing on the shelf until now. I'm a fan because a lot of the songs are musically clever without sounding too slick. There's a lot of unique ornamentation that makes choruses and verses distinct, as opposed to the bland repetition you typically hear on the radio. For example, notice how "It's a Hit" has three verses (all different) before ever hitting the main refrain. Yes, the lyrics can get a tidge angsty, but that comes with the territory sometimes.

In total, Rilo Kiley has four albums as well as Jenny Lewis' two solo albums. I'll probably be tracking more down in the future.

Listening Station:
"It's a Hit"
"Portions for Foxes" - just a bit, as seen in the pilot of Grey's Anatomy... who knew?
"More Adventurous"/"Ripchord"/"Portions for Foxes" - from an in-studio performance at our local NPR station. Sorry you have to suffer through the interview portion. Click the "Listen (128k mp3)" link for an iTunes style playlist.

There are a bunch of YouTube concert videos if you look around, but you can hear the crowd better than the band on most of them so I won't bother linking.

Broken Down Pieces of Meat

I'm a fan of Darren Aronofsky. Not only does he have excellent taste in women, he also makes some pretty darn good movies: Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and now The Wrestler.

Twenty years ago, Randy "The Ram" Robinson was on top of the professional wrestling world after defeating the Ayatollah in the heavyweight match of the century. Today, he's just scuffling to make rent for his double-wide by competing in a small-time circuit. One day, the phone rings with the offer hes been waiting for: a chance to return to his former glory by fighting the Ayatollah in a massive 20th anniversary event. Will he make it all the way back, or will life get in the way?

We saw this back in January while we were passing through Chicago, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time. Now that it's been released to wider audiences, I can encourage all of you to see it too.

First of all, let me state that you don't need to like wrestling at all to enjoy this movie. It's in fact possible that the more you like wrestling, the less you'll like it. That's not to say that there isn't action in the ring. There's plenty, and a lot of it is brutal and horrific. If you squeam easily, you may want to cover your eyes at parts. However at its center, The Wrestler is a character piece.

It's been said in a lot of places already, but Mickey Rourke is truly fantastic as Randy, bringing nuance and heart to a difficult role. The Ram is a lot of things to a lot of different people: a role model to his fellow small-time wrestlers, a hero to his fans, a perhaps too loyal customer to his favorite stripper (a very naked Marisa Tomei), just another working stiff at his grocery store day job, a playmate to all the kids in his trailer park, and an estranged father. The trick is trying to fit all of the pieces together.

Aronofsky's direction brings a level of gritty realism to the film. If your only exposure to him is through The Fountain and that scares you, chances are you'll find this one to be different. You feel every body blow, cut, and scrape along the way, but still manage to enjoy the light-hearted moments as they happen. It's a movie that will change the way you think about firemen forever and should give you plenty to talk about for months to come. Go see it now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Come Aboard, We're Expecting You

The Loooooooooooove Toooooooooooooour! It was my turn to plan Valentine's Day this year, so I went the relatively easy route in snagging us a reservation at the Minnesota Zoo's (become a member today and I can get free stuff) annual Love Tour. Unbeknownest to me, Meaghan had been trying to get us reservations to this the last couple of years. Who knew I was such a good planner?

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Love Tour is a special after hours tour of the Zoo's Tropics Trail (indoor rainforest) followed by a nice dinner in Discovery Bay. Limited to ~100 couples over two nights, it's billed as a behind the scenes look at the courtship and breeding habits of many of their animals. We didn't really know what to expect, but since we like going to the zoo it seemed a reasonable way to spend an evening.

One issue going into it is that we didn't really know how to dress. On one hand it's the zoo, and on the other it's Valentine's Day. Apparently we weren't the only ones with that problem. When we arrived at the drinks and hors d'oeuvres station, the other couples there were running the gamut from t-shirts and jeans to fancy dresses and high heels. We were sensible enough to shoot the middle ground at the sweater, nice pants, flat shoes level. It is a walking tour after all.

The tour was interesting and informative. Ours was led by a soft-spoken zoo vet who had so much to share about some of the exhibits that the tour behind us started catching up to us. If you ever want to know about the reproductive organs, mating habits, or breeding programs in place for any of these animals, let me know. I'm not going to go into any detail here except to say that attempting to get animals to reproduce is apparently fraught with misery and failure. Maybe it's better out in the wild, but a lot of species seem to really beat each other up before/during/after mating. Humans have it so lucky.

We also didn't know what to expect for dinner. The Minnesota Zoo doesn't have any nice restaurants and we were being served in Discovery Bay. It's the Zoo's aquatic exhibit featuring a large tropical aquarium, dolphin tank, and ray/dogfish petting pond. On a normal day, you can find dozens of screaming kids running around and splashing in the petting pond. It's quite a different experience when you remove all of the kids and add 40 candlelit tables and a live jazz combo. Dinner was a well-prepared surf & turf combo (steak & salmon) followed by a decadent quadruple chocolate cake. It's actually a pretty romantic setting for a meal, if you're into dolphins occasionally gliding by your table.

We had a good time, and it was fun to do something a little on the different side. If you like zoos and are looking for ideas for next year, I'd recommend it. You need not be a member to sign up.

Quantity Not Quality

We'll see where this new philosophy gets me. The goal is to build up some posts so I can schedule them out into the future and keep the dead periods away. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 16, 2009

TV Fall Recap: Drama

Due to popular demand, here are some quick capsule thoughts on various TV shows that I actually did watch some episodes of this fall, but never got around to writing up full reports.

Easy Money

This show only lasted four episodes since it was buried on CW's Sunday night block. Lack of promotion plus bad network = less than 1.0 Nielsen rating and quick cancellation. It's too bad because the two episodes I watched were actually kind of interesting. Laurie Metcalf (of "Roseanne" fame) is the matriach of a family-run payday loan (loan shark) business. The family is a bunch of morally gray misfits, except for one of the sons, Morgan. He's the only competent employee and family member without whom everyone else would end up bankrupt or in jail, sort of like Michael Bluth in "Arrested Development". Oh, did I mention that he finds out that he isn't actually their son at all? This leads to internal conflict about whether he should stay and help the "family" business or strike off on his own in something that he can better put his talents toward. Unfortunately, I'm not sure anything gets resolved in just four episodes.

Where to Watch: Fancast

The Ex List

I was really looking forward to this light-hearted romantic comedy since it stars Elizabeth Reaser. Buried on CBS Friday nights in between "Ghost Whisperer" and "Numb3rs", it just never fit in and only lasted four episodes. I watched the first two, and found it mildly amusing but not necessarily something I would tune into watch every week. Based on an Israeli TV show, in the pilot Bella Bloom (Reaser) learns from a psychic that "the one" she's destined to be with is someone she's already dated, and unless she gets married within the next year she will be alone forever. So she compiles a list of all of the people that she's ever dated (quite lengthy apparently) and proceeds to track them down one by one.

Throughout each episode we get flashbacks of how the relationship went the first time to contrast with how it's working out in the present day. In general, we discover that if it didn't work the first time you'll probably have the same problem the next time. One problem with the show is that Bella isn't quite sympathetic enough. She's a little on the insensitive side when it comes to dating. For example, in the pilot we see her dump her folk singer boyfriend on his birthday for being too sensitive. In the present day, he's become a hardened punk rocker made bitter by the experience of dating her the first time around. As an aside, the weepy musician is excellently played by Eric Balfour ("24", "Six Feet Under"), one of my favorite TV actors who sadly will never be a leading man. And that's probably the biggest drawback. When you take a formula-driven show and add the fact that the best performance is turned in by a guest star, you get a show that's going to be wildly inconsistent.

Where to Watch: You can't anymore. CBS has gotten really stingy about what shows have full episodes on their website. Boo! They did shoot 13 episodes, so there's an extremely slim chance that this will turn up on DVD some day.


Touted as the next "X-Files", Meaghan and I were really looking forward to this new Fox sci-fi show. We stuck with it for the first six episodes, but ultimately decided that it just wasn't worth our time. FBI Agent Olivia Dunham is enlisted by a secret government organization to investigate a series of seemingly random scientific phenomena known as "The Pattern". Her team consists of a mad scientist named Walter and his less than reputable estranged son, Peter. You can see why comparisons to The X-Files would be made. FBI agents investigating unexplained phenomena... that sounds familiar. Unfortunately, this show has a lot of problems.

1) J.J. Abrams - This is probably just a personal hang-up, but I haven't enjoyed a thing the man has touched. Sucks for me that he created this then, eh? I never cared for "Alias" and watched the pilot of "Lost" and it didn't hook me. I think my main problem with him is his seeming emphasis of style over substance. Fans will say that they love the way he doles out miniscule pieces of information over the course of many episodes that add up to a bigger picture, but as a fan of many long-form comics which share this technique I think I just don't like the way that he does it. Case in point...

2) The Pattern - There's no reason whatsoever that we can see that makes the events in the show a pattern of any kind. That's all well and good to some extent as I'm sure things will become more clear as time progresses, but there's a problem. If we can't see a pattern, that means that the characters can't see a pattern. If they can't see a pattern, why the heck are they running around calling it "The Pattern". Yes, some but not all of the phenomena are related to inventions and discoveries developed by a mysterious global technology company by the name of Massive Dynamic (not incidentally headed by Walter's old scientific colleague), but that's just not enough for me.

3) The Characters - Or rather the lack there of. Agent Dunham is both not a compelling character and woodenly acted. This makes for a brutal combination. Poor Peter (Pacey!) is just not given anything to do, and Walter is only amusing when he's saying something absolutely kooky. So if a few random mad scientist outbursts are enough to get you through each episode, maybe you'll have better luck than we did.

Where to Watch: Hulu
When to Watch: Once you've caught up, tune into Fox on Tue 8/7 Central.


Yet another show that only lasted four episodes on the CW's Sunday night block, but this one wasn't very good. It was a campy concept about how the Greek gods are alive and well in present-day Earth. Aphrodite and her son Eros operate a match-making company that's struggling to compete in the new era of Internet love. This is a problem because the less successful they are in spreading their influence the weaker they become. Not incidentally, Ares the god of war is one of the stronger gods in the modern world. In order to revitalize their business, they hire a mortal romance novelist as a consultant with the idea that she knows what modern people are looking for in love. Undoubtedly, Eros's love arrows go awry at some point and hilarity ensues in each episode. Strangely enough, there was an awful lot of Greek mythology knowledge necessary if you wanted to fully understand the "battle of the gods" subplot that was brewing under the surface in the two episodes that I watched. It may have eventually gone somewhere, but we'll never know.

Where to Watch: Hulu

Still to come in drama: The Mentalist, Knight Rider, Eleventh Hour, Sanctuary

Still to come in comedy: Do Not Disturb, Little Britain USA, Somebodies, Spaceballs: The Animated Series, Testees, The Life and Times of Tim, Childrens' Hospital, Worst Week, Gary Unmarried, Kath & Kim

Still to come in kids: Martha Speaks, Sid the Science Kid, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Suite Life on Deck, Gogoriki, Making Fiends, True Jackson, VP, Turbo Dogs, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight

Phew! That's a lot... we'll see if I get to all of them. Post your requests below and I'll do my best to prioritize.