Friday, September 16, 2011

Everything Ends

For those not tracking the stretch run of the MLB season, it may not be news to you that the Detroit Tigers lost last night. However, it is if you consider the fact that their improbable win on Wednesday over Chicago, which included two pinch-hit 9th inning home runs to send the game into extra innings, raised their winning streak to 12 games.

I'm not going to predict a World Series win or even an appearance, as the baseball playoffs are an enormous crap shoot, but it's worth noting that every other Tigers team that won >10 consecutive games during a season made it to the Series. I'm looking forward to seeing what our AL Central champions can do this year.


On a completely different note, since January I've been reading the 27 book Time-Life series on the Civil War that I inherited from my grandpa. I finished the last one this morning, detailing the failed attempt at Radical Reconstruction of the South from 1865-1877.

I've made a few half-hearted attempts in the past to read this series, but have never made it past the sixth book before. I've enjoyed it each time I've tried in the past, but failed because of the huge time commitment required. Now I'm pleased to say that I've learned everything there is to learn about the Civil War. Well, at least I've learned a lot about it.

It's already paid dividends at quiz bowl (first practice was yesterday) because I can laugh mercilessly when those puny high schoolers don't know who the Confederate general at Shiloh (and Fort Sumter) was. It's Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, of course.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Been There, Done That, Ate the Turkey Leg

The Warrior Dash turned out to be a ton of fun. Not only did we get some good exercise rambling up and down the ski slopes at Afton Alps, jumping over cars, climbing cargo nets, and ducking under barbed wire, but we did a bunch of other stuff I never thought I'd do. Among them:

- blasted clean by a fire hose
- ate a turkey leg at 9:30 in the morning -- my dad would be proud, there was absolutely no meat left on that bone when I was done with it
- queued up for beer at 10:00 in the morning -- it was free, and it was bad

If it comes back to Minnesota next year, I'd love to get a big group together to go with us. You don't have to be in fantastic shape, and can even walk it if you want to. The absolute worst part was right at the beginning because the course went straight up one of the steep ski slopes at the resort. We went at Meaghan's pace, which was less than strenuous, and finished in 50+ minutes. Even so, we didn't feel particularly out of place and could complete all of the obstacles with relative ease.

Because of the messy nature of many of the obstacles, we didn't bring a camera along, but there were professionals there to immortalize the occasion. Apologies for the watermarking, I'd have to pay money to get rid of that.

No, we're not drenched in sweat there. One of the first obstacles was to run through a couple of snow machines that were on at full blast. Since it's the summer, this amounted to being blasted with a metric ton of water.

Nearing the finish line, after going back down the ski slope on a giant Slip n' Slide, we had to hurdle a couple of flaming berms.

Emerging from the mud pit at the finish line, ready for the fire hose. Some of those clothes will never be clean again. Meaghan's still crawling through the mud somewhere behind me here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Breaking the Silence

It's been a busy couple of weeks since returning from Europe.

I had fully intended on using that first weekend to load this place with tales from the journey, but instead we turned around almost immediately to get on a plane to Florida for Meaghan's G'Pa's funeral. Unbeknownst to us, he had suffered a stroke while we were gone and was placed into hospice. To our relative good fortune, he managed to hang on until the day after we returned so we were able to visit with the family at least a little as opposed to missing it completely. I only knew him for a small fraction of his 92 years, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a kinder soul.

We returned to Minnesota again to the news that one of Meaghan's students had committed suicide, so we attended our second funeral of the week that Saturday. Between that and trying to get acquainted with the current goings-on at work, it was a difficult week.

For this past week, I don't really have an excuse beyond working too much. We saw a couple of movies in the theater that I'll be writing about before too long, and as I write this we're in the midst of completing Disney movie #3. There are scads of bonus features and multiple commentaries on our copy of Fantasia, so it's taken us a long time to make it this far. Dumbo comes next for those of you tracking our progress.

None of that is the real reason that I'm making the effort to break my silence at such a late hour, though. My reason? Sunday morning, Meaghan and I become WARRIORS! Or at least, we're going to make the attempt. As a fan of "American Gladiators", "Ninja Warrior", etc. it'll be fun to try something that's even a tenth of what those contestants do. I'll let you know how it goes next week.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Moral of the Story

So what was the point of all this? Good entertainment aimed at kids does exist. I know that none of my regular readers have children that are the right age for any of this stuff, but someday they will. Since we now know it exists, I urge you to take an interest in what your kids are watching and listening to. Help them differentiate the bad from the good so they don't fill their heads up with the mindless drivel that so many Americans waste their time on these days. Future generations will thank you for it.


Epilogue: I just had to know if my crap sensor was broken, so I went out to YouTube and watched a random episode of "The Suite Life on Deck". Yep, it still sucks.

Thank goodness.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Deaf is the New Down

I'd tried Disney. When that failed, I moved on to campy werewolves. Another failure. There had to be a show targeted at tweens or teens that wasn't any good. After all, they're not supposed to be good. Looking over my list again, I decided to try a new ABC Family show, "Switched at Birth". I've seen a couple episodes of different ABC Family shows before, and absolutely none of it was good. Surely this would be an easy target. Just look at the name. Nothing with a premise that ridiculous (yes, I know it's happened in real life before) could possibly be any good.

I'm wrong yet again. Ostensibly, the show is about two teenage girls who discover that they were switched at birth. This raises the natural issues of identity and the importance of nature vs nurture. In and of itself, this could make for an interesting show, but the main thing this show really has going for it is that one of the two girls who were switched at birth is deaf.

Remember "Life Goes On"? It was that show from the early 90s that was essentially a regular family drama, except for the fact that one of the kids, Corky, had Down syndrome. It brought a whole new cultural awareness to the plight of the mentally retarded. "Switched at Birth" is absolutely going to do the same for Deaf culture. So many of the scenes, with good reason, focus on what it means to be deaf and how deaf people and the hearing interact, that it's obvious that this is what the show is really about.

The fact alone that it's doing something that's completely new to television (which is so rare in this day and age) would probably make it worth watching. Add the fact that it's decently written, well acted, and treats its subject matter with the utmost respect and there's absolutely no reason to not give it a try.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Howl at the Moon

Shaken by my unexpected enjoyment of "Sonny With a Chance", I decided that I needed to make sure I could still tell the difference between something that was good and something that was crap. I'll admit that I have the annoying ability to find the good in almost anything, but I can usually still tell when something is actually bad. Perusing my list of new summer shows, I settled on something I was sure would fit the bill, MTV's new remake of "Teen Wolf".

Everyone remembers the cheesetastic movie starring Michael J. Fox, right? Some high school kid becomes a werewolf and consequently becomes the best basketball player in the world all while wearing a ridiculous hairy wolf-man suit.

Well, this new show is not that.

In fact, much to my chagrin this new "Teen Wolf" is actually pretty good. For one, it's played completely straight. No camp, no cheese, and it employs a lot of tricks used in modern horror (tense scoring, dim lighting, and decent effects). For another thing, it's not another stupid show about vampires. Sure, it has a supernatural bent and is probably trying to cash in on the Twilight/"True Blood"/"Vampire Diaries" phenomenon, but it's refreshing to me that it's taking on a different fantastical creature for once.

Storywise, it probably employs a few too many cliches, but at least it's cliche done well. Our protagonist, Scott, is bitten by a werewolf while walking in the woods alone at night (yeah, I know), transforming him overnight into both a werewolf and his school's best lacrosse player. Props for showcasing a non-traditional sport, by the way. Unlike in the movie, though, this isn't common knowledge. It turns out werewolves are scary things that prowl moon-filled nights meting out death and destruction. Consequently, his best friend is the only guy in school to know his secret.

Add in a group of "hunters" whose mission in life is to stamp out all the werewolves in the world, a jealous team captain who used to be the best player on the team, and a new girl in town who takes a romantic interest in Scott (and oh yeah, happens to be the daughter of the lead hunter), and you have all the necessary ingredients for good teen drama. Seriously. If you're a fan of this kind of stuff at all, I recommend you give it a try. I think all of the episodes to date can still be viewed at the MTV website.

Friday, July 1, 2011

For Kim, Part 5/5

I know the suspense has been killing everyone, but now after a month's delay I'm finally ready to reveal who my 5th and final male actor is. Drumroll please...

It's none other than Paul Rudd.

Rudd first came to my attention back in 1995 when he played Cher's "total Baldwin" of a stepbrother in Clueless. He was the cute, charming straight man in an otherwise highly stylized and over the top teen comedy. This launched a brief period of popularity back when I was in high school where he most notably acted alongside Leo DiCaps in Romeo+Juliet, but none of that is why he makes this list.

In 2003, Meaghan and I were on our first vacation together in Winnipeg. (Don't knock it until you try it; it's a great city.) When on vacation, we often try to find some time to catch some movies in the theater wherever we are. On that trip, we decided to see Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, which happened to star Paul Rudd as the bamboozled Adam. This dark exploration of how we all shape each other in our lives (intentionally or not) still ranks among my favorite movies of all time, and it catapulted Rudd back onto my radar screen.

He followed this up with a notable recurring role in the final seasons of "Friends" and a series of roles in Judd Apatow's comedies (The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, among others). Most recently, I've seen him in 2009's I Love You, Man alongside Jason Segel ("How I Met Your Mother", "Freaks and Geeks"), which was easily amongst my favorite comedies of the last few years. He plays the funny everyman so well, it makes me think that he's the kind of actor I would be if I were a giant movie star. Looking at his IMDB page, I can safely say that I'm looking forward to seeing how Rudd brings the funny in 2011 & 2012.

I'll leave you with this rather silly (and ultra-specific) celebration of Rudd's career.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Surviving the Disney Channel?

Next up on my list was a new sketch comedy show for tweens on the Disney Channel -- "So Random". I've tried watching episodes of tween shows on Nickelodeon ("True Jackson, VP") and Disney ("The Suite Life...") before, but have never talked about it here. Truth be told, Meaghan and I absolutely love most things Disney, but the garbage they spew on to their TV channel is universally terrible. I haven't seen anything on it in the last 5-10 years that's even been close to good. Ahem. Let me amend that. I hadn't seen anything...

To talk about "So Random", I'll have to start with a not so brief but hopefully interesting history lesson. It all starts with another Disney Channel show that debuted a couple of years ago, "Sonny With a Chance". Yes, the name is terrible. "Sonny" shares a common setup to a lot of other Disney shows (analogies include: "Hannah Montana":Miley Cyrus, "Lizzie McGuire":Hilary Duff, "Wizards of Waverly Place":Selena Gomez -- if you don't recognize any of those names then you're living under a much larger rock than I am) in that it's primarily a vehicle for its leading lady. In this case, that lady is the star of the Disney Channel movies Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2, Demi Lovato. More on her in a bit, but first "Sonny".

"Sonny With a Chance" is the story of a girl from Wisconsin (Sonny Munroe) who is hired to join the cast of a Hollywood-based teen sketch comedy show called "So Random". It starts out primarily as a fish out of water story as Sonny has to adjust to the strangeness that is life in show business as part of a hit show. Complicating that is the fact that they share a studio with the #1 teen drama in America, Mackenzie Falls. Needless to say, the casts of the two shows do not get along... at all.

The ringleader of the people at the Falls is its star, the greatest actor of his generation, Chad Dylan Cooper (hilariously played by Sterling Knight -- remember that name). Most shows that feature a show within a show (or in this case, two shows within a show) fail miserably when they attempt to show anything from it -- "Studio 60" I'm looking at you here -- but that's not the case with "Sonny". Yes, the "So Random" sketches are hit and miss, but so is SNL. Sketch comedy is hard to do right. "Mackenzie Falls", however, is pure comedy gold as it single-handedly takes the mickey out of every CW show ever created. Behold!

In season 2 of "Sonny", the focus shifts to the burgeoning relationship between Sonny and Chad, exploring the regular hazards and pitfalls of dating as a teen as well as the complications that arise when those teens happen to be famous celebrities on competing shows. I didn't think I'd ever say this, but I'm proud to say that I've seen pretty much every episode of "Sonny with a Chance" and it's actually quite good. Sure, the acting can be a little rough at times, but those are the hazards when your cast is young and inexperienced. In particular, Lovato (who was only 16 when the first season was filmed) has a tendency to talk loudly and try to get through scenes by flashing her megawatt smile. Thankfully, she improves quite a bit in season 2 and blends into the show much better.

So if it was so good, why is a real version of "So Random" now on the Disney Channel? What happened to "Sonny" season 3? Well, the answer to that lies with its star. Demi Lovato is first and foremost a musician, not an actor. Prior to doing research for this piece, I hadn't heard a single song of hers, but now that I have it's not all that bad. It certainly tops trainwrecks like Ke$ha and the aforementioned Cyrus. She reminds me a little bit of a young Kelly Clarkson. Hopefully, she's able to grow into her voice in the future. This song in particular, "La La Land", from her first album is a catchy little earworm that I haven't gotten out of my head for the past week. Please take a listen and pay attention to the lyrics (which she actually wrote) as they're important to the tale I tell.

Ah... ain't naivete grand? The gist of the song (for those who refused to listen to it) is that even though she's knowingly stepping into the Hollywood hype machine, she's going to stay the same person she's always been. I think Mmes. Spears and Lohan (among others) might be able to offer a differing opinion. I actually think it's pretty appalling the way our culture treats young people in show business. It's almost as if it's designed to completely chew them up and leave them a frail shadow of the person they once were, after extracting every last penny of revenue from them, that is. Add to that the endless line of kids (and their parents) looking to get rich and famous and you can see why the individuals don't matter. There will always be someone there to replace them.

It's complicated enough being a kid in the first place. Add in the fact that you're expected to be a role model to other kids and everything you do is in the public eye, captured by tabloids or Internet gossip sites, and the pressure can be absolutely astounding. Interestingly enough, many of the best episodes of "Sonny" deal with these very issues, so not only was Lovato living them out in real life but she was play-acting them a second time over for her TV show.

In Lovato's case, she quickly became popular with the tween crowd from her TV roles and her albums. As I'm writing this, she has nearly 3.5 million followers (dubbed "Lovatics") on Twitter. Think about this for a minute. How many people are you or I even going to interact with in our lifetimes? She has 3.5 million people watching her every move on the Internet. After messy public breakups with childhood BFF (and fellow Disney star) Selena Gomez and boyfriend Joe Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers), it was only a matter of time before something was bound to go wrong.

And go wrong it did. While on tour in South America in late 2010, she punched out one of the Jonas Bros. (her tour mates) backup dancers. This was quickly followed by her leaving said tour and checking herself into a medical treatment center to deal with eating and self-harm issues. After receiving treatment and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Lovato recently reemerged to begin work on her third studio album, which is due out some time this year. She's also been hired to write editorials for Seventeen magazine in an effort to help other young girls cope with problems like the ones she experienced. I hope everything works out for the best, but that brings us back full circle to "So Random".

Left without a star for "Sonny", Disney was forced to make a decision: cancel it entirely, or do something else with all of the actors under contract. Hence, the new sketch comedy show. It features all of the other main actors from "Sonny" along with a variety of musical guests and guest hosts, much like a little 20-minute version of Saturday Night Live. Is it any good? As with the sketches from the show within a show, it's hit or miss. Without any compelling characters or ongoing storylines, though, there's no real reason for me to watch it.

Now that Lovato is in the public eye again, will "Sonny With a Chance" ever return? It's doubtful, and that makes me sad. But maybe, if we're lucky, she'll make a guest appearance on "So Random". I'd probably tune in for that.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cartoon Cartoons!

It all started when I decided to do what I've been known to do from time to time: look into some new TV shows. Little did I know that I would soon be embarking on a rather specific quest...

It began innocently enough. Cartoon Network's Regular Show is one of the few new shows I picked up last fall as appointment TV (for my DVR). Nearly 40 episodes have aired to date, and few if any of them have been misses. Given that, I decided to start with some programs that recently began airing on CN in the hopes of striking it rich again.


Specifically, I started with a new show that aired on Adult Swim -- a late night block of animation that shares a channel with Cartoon Network. Ostensibly geared for the 18+ crowd, they draw an awful lot of teens their way, too. They air a lot of popular stuff that I or people I know watch from time to time: "King of the Hill", "Family Guy", "Robot Chicken", and "The Venture Bros". They also air a fair amount of anime and some rather off the wall stuff, too.

One of those off the wall shows is something called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force". If you've never heard of it, that's probably okay, but it's now in its 8th season so it must be fairly popular with somebody. I'm just not real sure who that somebody is. I like a lot of weird stuff (goodness knows I'm a huge David Lynch fan), but this really does just seem to be weird for the sake of being weird. Featuring the adventures of an anthropomorphic milkshake, french fries, and meatball, ATHF is chock full of non sequitur, absurdist humor as well as a bunch of pretty offensive stuff.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. I thought I was watching a new show. So why am I telling you all this about ATHF? Well, that new show I watched is something called "Soul Quest Overdrive", and it's a spin off of a particular episode of ATHF. In that episode, we're introduced to three anthropomorphic fruits. I think the schtick is supposed to be that they claim to be born-again Christians, but then proceed to do a bunch of crude, violent, and illegal things. Unfortunately, that's just not funny.

For "Soul Quest Overdrive", the fruits have been turned into sports equipment, but the characters remain the same. I just can't recommend this at all. The only thing I found amusing is what a good time the foley artists must have had using bowling pins, basketballs, and the like to emulate the characters moving about. Watch at your own risk.


Beaten down from that horrible experience, I turned my gaze back to the regular Cartoon Network and decided to try "The Looney Tunes Show". Wait... what? Did you know they were making new Looney Tunes? It's admirable that Warner Bros is trying to reintroduce their classic characters to a new generation of teens and tweens, but unfortunately this show pales in comparison to the originals or even the Tiny Toon Adventures that I grew up with.

Part of the problem is just that -- it's a show. Where all previous incarnations of Looney Tunes have been a series of largely unconnected shorts, each episode of this is one long-form story with one or two 2-minute unrelated shorts mixed in. In the era of ADD and short attention spans, I find it a curious choice that they would turn their back on a format that would seem tailor-made for today's kids. To make matters worse, there's little chance that they'll be able to tell the diversity of stories they have in the past.

Each episode is based in the same coherent universe. Bugs Bunny lives in a house out in some suburban neighborhood development and Daffy Duck is his unwanted permanent house guest. All of the other characters only exist in so far as they enter and exit Bugs' and Daffy's lives. I watched the first six episodes to get a good feel for it, and I still haven't even seen some classic characters like Sylvester, Tweety, and Foghorn Leghorn. This would all be okay if it were funny, but beyond little bits and pieces its just not that great. It seems to be doing reasonably well in viewership numbers, so unless it's egregiously expensive they'll have some time to improve. I just don't know that I'll be there to see it.

I mentioned before that it features a short or two every episode. So far there have only been two types of these. The first type is a slick CGI version of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. These exactly capture the spirit and feel of the originals. If you were a fan of those, you'll actually enjoy this 2 minutes of the show. The other type is an absolutely horrific new version of Merrie Melodies. Watch the video below for an example at your own risk.

I warned you.


Having failed again, I decided to give Cartoon Network one more chance to impress me. The final show I tried is something called "The Amazing World of Gumball". And impress me it did, despite the fact that I have little to say about it. It's essentially a family-based comedy with everything that entails, but it has an absolutely zany cast of characters and a good sense of humor.

My only problem with it is that it skews pretty young -- it is rated TV-Y7 after all -- so it's not likely to be something that I continue to watch on a regular basis. If I had kids, though, I would definitely make an effort to tune in every week. Check out the first episode and let me know what you think.

Shall we tell the truth and face the consequences of our actions?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Little Musical Theater

I know this is nearing 5 years old now, so any self-respecting fan of "How I Met Your Mother" and/or Les Miserables has probably already seen it, but I can't resist posting it here. I discovered it while doing some YouTube research for a future post.

For those familiar with the original Broadway cast recording of Les Mis, I really dig how much they're channeling Terrence Mann and Colm Wilkinson in this. I also find the reactions of the other HIMYM cast members on the sofa to be hilarious.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Lazy Bachelor

So I wish I could say I had a good reason for the recent hiatus. In fact, I thought I would have loads of time to build up a big buffer of prepared posts. Well, I have had loads of time...

You see, right after the end of the school year back in the 2nd week of June Meaghan left the country and I've been living the bachelor life ever since. It turns out I'm apparently really lazy when I'm all alone, or maybe just demotivated from doing things -- not sure which.

Why is Meaghan gone? Remember that German teacher exchange? Well, she got to go to Düsseldorf to visit Cordula for the 2nd half of the program. In fact, she'll be staying in Europe for the better part of a month. She co-sponsors a writing-based trip at her high school. Last year, she took about a dozen kids to London, Paris, and Rome. This year the trip size is up to 20 and they're going to Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England. What am I saying? We're going to those places. 20 was the magic number that they needed to hit for me to go along as a chaperone. I leave Monday, and am starting to get amped up for the trip. Hopefully, not too many of the teens give us grief.

So what have I been up to for the last couple weeks? Good question. I've attached a couple small pieces below along with a teaser for the series that will hopefully keep you company while I'm gone -- assuming I can get them all written before I leave. Enjoy!


Before Meaghan left the country, we went to see another movie at one of our local art house theaters. This probably deserves its own post, but I'm probably not eloquent enough to do it justice. The film was Terrence Malick's new work The Tree of Life. Like all of his films, it was beautiful and strange if not lacking a little bit in coherency. For those not familiar with Malick, despite the fact that he directed his first movie back in 1973 this is only his 5th full-length feature. I've only seen the two previous to this: The Thin Red Line and The New World.

It's a largely autobiographical story about his childhood growing up in Texas in the 1950s. Depicting his father as a violent force of "nature" and his mother has a beautiful force for "grace" (nature vs grace is the dichotomy set up in the opening narration, hence the quotes), it's essentially a series of related vignettes showing their interactions, their troubles, and the events that shaped him into the person he is today.

My childhood was not nearly as contentious as Meaghan's (she's compared us to the Cleavers on more than one occasion), so I didn't relate to the actual story elements as much as she did, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a beautifully made film. And oh yes, there are dinosaurs!


Last year when Meaghan was in Europe, I spent a lot of time watching the World Cup, so it's only fitting that this year I've been keeping my eye on the Gold Cup. What? You didn't know that North America's largest soccer tournament has been going on in our country over the last two weeks? I'm shocked.

Wait, no I'm not. Apparently this is the year that I spend all of my sports-related energy on the sports that Americans just don't care about. The finals are tonight, but the only places you can see it are on FOX Soccer (who knew that existed?) and Univision (in español). Predictably, the USA is facing off with Mexico. It's not been an easy road to the finals for the US, so I'm expecting them to get pasted by "El Tri". We'll see what happens.


Lastly, I spent a lot of time on an unexpected journey that I'll be sharing over the next two weeks. It started with me questioning my sanity, and then I thought I'd completely lost my taste. In the end, though, I came to grips with reality and learned how to stop worrying and love the tween.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New School, Same as the Old School

This weekend Meaghan and I kicked off the summer blockbuster season by going to see the brand-new X-Men prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class. With James McAvoy as Professor X and a Rotten Tomatoes rating up above 80%, we had high expectations. Did it meet them?

In a word, yes. Although it continues to play in the same thematic pool as X2, it does so with enough skill to easily wipe away the bad taste left in my mouth from the horribly flawed 3rd and 4th entries in the franchise. From its setting (1962's Cuban Missile Crisis -- of sorts) to the surprising turn by Kevin Bacon (I had no idea he was even in it) as Sebastian Shaw, villainous leader of the Hellfire Club to the slam bang action sequences, First Class makes a lot of right moves. And with director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) at the helm, that's not completely unexpected. The acting is competent, the effects are good, but what has always made the X-Men movies worthwhile (or not) are the ideas.

At its heart, as in most of the first movie trilogy, First Class is an exploration of what it means to be different. It uses its two main characters, Charles Xavier (Prof. X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto), to present two differing viewpoints. In the film, the existence of evolved humans (mutants, if you will) is just becoming known in some circles. Charles, a child of privilege, believes that mutants can and will be integrated and accepted into human society. Humanity will flourish as a result of the unique things these individuals can do. Eric, a Jewish child of the Nazi death camps, knows from his personal experiences that humans are ugly beings that persecute others for their differences. It's a kill or be killed world, and Eric knows that in order to survive mutantkind is going to have to go it alone and be ready to defend itself.

The beauty of X-Men is that neither viewpoint is necessarily painted as right or wrong. Although Xavier is clearly intended as the moral center of the story, you can understand and accept what informs the opposing arguments. Also, mutants can be used as a cipher for many of the issues that are debated in the world today: gender, race, sexuality, etc. Even though it feels to some extent like we're stuck circling around the same ideas as the previous films, no one can deny how much they resonate, and the climax of the film sets us up nicely for further exploration in this space. Planned as the first in a new trilogy, hopefully First Class will make enough at the box office to allow us to see more.

If you're a fan of previous X-Men movies, particularly of X2, I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Djokovic Watch != 44

You won't be seeing any more tennis updates from me for some time. As feared, Novak Djokovic's win streak was stopped at 43 as he fell in four sets to Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday. That leaves him tied for 3rd longest streak of all time. If he (or anyone else) starts another one, I'll let you know when they get up around 30. Until then...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Music to Work By

Today I bring you two music-related items to either brighten or darken your day depending on your mood.

First is a new lip dub that the people of Grand Rapids, MI made to protest their inclusion on a list of America's Top Ten "dying cities" published earlier this year in Newsweek. I heard about this on NPR yesterday, and it's definitely worth a view. The amount of coordination that was necessary to pull this off is awe-inspiring.

Second, I bring you Dmitri Shostakovich's tortured and riveting String Quartet #8. Written in only three days in 1960 after he was diagnosed with polio and forced to join the Communist Party, it's a dark tour de force and ranks among my favorite classical pieces. I first heard this a year ago when the string orchestra at Meaghan's high school played an arrangement of it. If you're not on the edge of your seat by the end of the 2nd movement (the end of the first video), then you have no heart.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I've been a little short on time since coming back from Atlanta this weekend so I'm sorry in advance for the lack of detail in this update. More will be coming as time allows, which might not be until the weekend.

It was a good, long, tiring weekend. We exceeded our expectations in the tournament by finishing the best out of all schools from Minnesota, making it to the second day of play, and even winning a match in the playoffs. Overall, our A team went 7-5 and our B team just missed the playoff cut at 5-5. Both teams improved greatly on their finishes in last year's national tournament, so Meaghan and I are really pleased with the result. I also got to see the aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, and the best 24-hour diner/karaoke bar in all of Atlanta. I might even have some pictures to share if I can find our camera. Stay tuned.


The SWAT team is reconvening this Saturday to jump out of airplanes again. Since hours of training will not be needed this time, I will probably be on hand. I'll see if I can get some pictures of the festivities.


Djokovic Watch = 43

After beating Del Potro in four sets, Djokovic breezed through a straight set win over #16 Richard Gasquet and then got a free pass to the semifinals because his would-be Italian opponent pulled out with a torn leg muscle that he'd suffered in the previous round. Because of this Djokovic won't be able to tie the record by winning the French anymore as walkovers do not count as victories. It also means that he'll have had four days in between matches when he takes on #3 Roger Federer on Friday, always a tough task. Incidentally, all four of the top seeds advanced to the semifinals in the men's draw. I'm not sure how often that happens at a grand slam event, but it does mean that we're probably in for some quality tennis the rest of the week.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For Kim, Part 4/5

For your viewing pleasure, our next contestant on my list of top 5 actors is one Sam Rockwell.

This is probably the actor that I've watched the most out of the ones on my list, yet no one really knows him by name. He first came to my attention in college with his two roles in 1999, first as the sadistic "Wild Bill" in The Green Mile and then his hilarious turn as Crewman #6 in the excellent Star Trek satire, Galaxy Quest. Anyone who can do drama and comedy with such ease was surely someone to be watched. And I haven't been disappointed yet, 12 years later.

He quickly followed this up with notable roles in the camp classic Charlie's Angels, Charlie Kaufman's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Matchstick Men. He continued with several roles in critically acclaimed movies, none of which I've actually seen yet with the exception of 2009's Moon. In a role written specifically with him in mind, Rockwell explores the depths of loneliness and what it really means to be human in this story about a lunar miner nearing the end of his 3-year contract; it's a fantastic little picture.

There are few actors that you can be sure will bring something memorable to each of their roles, but Sam Rockwell is one of those. It's almost enough to make me want to see Cowboys & Aliens. Almost...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Bowling We Go

This weekend Meaghan and I will be flying to Atlanta along with 12 of the best and brightest students from her high school. That's right, it's time for the High School National Championship of Quiz Bowl. We have two teams that have qualified, and our goal is to get at least one of those teams into the 2nd day of play. This would mean that they would have to finish 6-4 or better on Saturday. 14 of the 218 teams entered hail from Minnesota, so we're looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces around the tournament.

Folks may recall that in the past the national tournament has been held in the Chicagoland area, which means that we'd be within driving distance. Unfortunately, the experience of sharing the hotel and convention center there with a bondage convention last year has scared the organizers into seeking a new venue. Let's just say that if you wandered into the wrong place last year, you may have been exposed to material inappropriate for a high schooler.

I'm looking forward to getting to see a little bit of downtown Atlanta, as I've never spent any amount of time there. Depending on when we're eliminated we may get to see the world's largest aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, or other cool things in the Underground Atlanta. I'll let you know what happened in an update next week.


Djokovic Watch = 41

Djokovic ran his streak to 41 this morning with a 6-3 6-1 2-3 (ret.) victory over the Romanian Hanescu. His 3rd round match on Friday will be a true test. The opponent is #26 Juan Martin Del Potro. The dangerous Argentine was ranked as high as #4 in the world before injuring his wrist early last year. After getting it surgically repaired at a certain medical clinic in Rochester, he's been on the comeback trail. The fact that he's still ranked #26 despite missing almost an entire year speaks volumes to his skill.

Monday, May 23, 2011

SWAT Team! aka Why My Wife is Crazy, Part 2

It was a stormy day on Saturday. Thankfully, one of the system's bands of rain lifted out of the metro area around 2:00 leaving behind a beautiful blue sky. Perfect for skydiving, one might say. And so it was that Meaghan was able to put the morning's training to good use and performed her first solo jump. Obviously, being her first such jump she wasn't completely alone. Two experienced jumpers fall near you to correct your form and pull your ripcord should you prove incapable. After that, for the controlled flight and landing portions you are truly on your own.

This is a scary proposition (for me, anyway) as we saw an experienced jumper break an ankle on landing two years ago when we were there. Meaghan came through with flying colors, however. She only missed the target landing zone by about 15 yards. Not bad, considering that some of the other first-timers there ended up over a mile away on some of the neighboring farms. Speaking of first-timers, Meaghan went to the drop zone with a couple of her co-workers who had never jumped before. Consequently, the three of them became the charter members of SWAT. I won't tell you what that stands for as it reveals too much about where she works, but it's essentially a group of adventure seeking folks. Any event involving two or more people from her workplace will become a SWAT event.

Unfortunately, I had to learn about all of this secondhand. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the weather, they were really hustling flights up when the skies cleared and Meaghan wasn't given the opportunity to call me out to the airfield before she jumped. I was able to catch up to the SWAT team at a local bar afterwards, though. Look at those proud faces.


Djokovic Watch = 40

He was a 6-2 6-1 6-3 winner over #71 Thiemo de Bakker in the first round at the French Monday. Next up: #60 Victor Hanescu

Friday, May 20, 2011

For Kim, Part 3/5

#3 in my list of favorite celebrity males is Guy Pearce. Who? Here... does this help?

Pearce is not only on this list because he's a talented actor, but because he stars in two of my favorite movies of all time. In 1997's L.A. Confidential, he plays Ed Exley, the one cop in all of L.A. who is incorruptible. Although it's an ensemble film, Pearce's journey from naive rookie cop to hardened veteran provides the backbone that supports the entire story.

After laying low for a couple of years, Pearce re-emerged in 2000 as brain-damaged Lenny in Christopher Nolan's brilliant Memento. If you haven't seen it, you absolutely must. It is the only movie I've been compelled to see three times in the theater. Pearce's performance was enough to elevate him to leading-man status for a little while, and he starred in such films as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Time Machine. When those didn't do particularly well at the box office, his star dwindled a little.

Through the years, he's continued to produce quality work albeit mostly not in mainstream projects. Most notably, he played Colin Firth's pompous twit of a brother, King Edward VIII, in The King's Speech. Looking at his IMDB page, I can see a lot of projects that are in development. A true chameleon, I look forward to what Guy Pearce will do in the future.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why My Wife is Crazy, Part 1

The gangly kid with the big hair looked at Meaghan then squinted up into the bright blue sky. "Today is a good day to die, don't you think?" Meaghan, startled out of her thoughts, looked at him and laughed. Then the kid led my wife away from me across the grassy airfield to the small airplane that they were planning on jumping out of.

Two years ago, Meaghan went skydiving. At my suggestion, she made it a dual jump, so someone experienced would be in charge of packing the parachute and pulling the cord. They tell you that nobody (who survives the experience) has ever just gone skydiving once. So, she is going back for her first solo jump this weekend. She's also bringing along some members of her newly inaugurated SWAT team, a collective of adventure-seeking teachers from her school. Unfortunately, the weather is supposed to be a little iffy on Saturday, but with luck they'll be able to get their jumps in okay.

I'm not sure why I didn't post about her first jump two summers ago, but to prepare you for this weekend's event, here are a few (mostly bad) pictures from that experience.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Small Packages

Despite the fact that my dad worked for a Big 3 auto company, I am not a car guy. This is probably best illustrated by the fact that the three cars I've owned in my life (not counting poor Roger -- alas, we hardly knew him and yes, we name our cars) are a 1994 Chrysler Concorde [Medea], a 2003 Dodge Neon [Rivers], and a 2007 Dodge Caliber [Sunny]. You won't find them near the tops of any best of class or fun to drive lists, but they've each served us well so far in their own ways. Unfortunately, Rivers is starting to show the wear and tear that 8 years and 120,000+ miles can inflict on a car, and we're nearing the point where we're going to have to make a decision of whether to get some fairly major engine work done or call it a life and move on to a new car. There's a good chance that we'll just get the repairs, but in the event that we don't the car that I want may be a surprising choice.

Despite my 6'2" frame, for awhile now I've held the staunchly un-American view that my next car should be a small one. I think this stems from my last year of college when I got my PlayStation 2. Back in the day when specific games were still bundled with your console, I got the package that included the Sony/Polyphony classic Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. It's a racing game in which you start with $18,000 and eventually build up and tune a fleet of cars until you've won every race there is to win. With nearly 200 cars there's a lot of variety as each car looks, sounds, and drives differently. However, not being a car guy, I've never stuck with it for a lengthy career.

Despite the fact that there are so many cars in the game, your starting money is only enough to buy 11 of them. The vast majority of these are Japanese kei cars (subcompact), and being a stingy bastard I opted to start out with the cheapest car possible, the Daihatsu Mira. Thus began my love affair with the company that proudly proclaims to "do it compact".

The modern Mira

They make cute little jellybeans of cars, most of which get upwards of 50 mpg with their tiny engines. Unfortunately, it's not feasible for a lot of reasons (importation fees, crash standards, etc.) to ever hope to drive something like this in the United States. That's why I've turned to the next best thing.


Say hello to the Fiat 500. With Fiat soon to own a majority stake in Chrysler, they're practically part of the Big 3, right? These little guys have just started being sold in America in the last couple of months, so there's a good chance that you haven't seen any of them on the road yet in your neck of the woods. With luck though, you'll start to see them become as common as some of the other small boutique cars out there like the Mini Cooper and the Smart cars. I know what you're thinking. Is a car this small really practical?

If I had to tote around car seats and their precious cargo on a regular basis, absolutely not. But as a 2nd car that just gets driven around the city and occasionally to work? I think so. It would certainly make parallel parking easier, and I'd finally get to try out those "compact car only" spots in parking garages. Add in the fact that it gets 34 mpg with the automatic during this time of $4/gallon gas, and it's a win/win situation.

Maybe someday...

Monday, May 16, 2011

And the Streak Goes On...

For those of you not inspired by my post last week to check out some tennis action, Novak Djokovic has done it again by winning the tournament in Rome. That brings his record this year to 37-0 and makes the streak 39 straight wins, moving him to 6th place on the list of longest win streaks. It wasn't an easy road by any means either. He had to play matches on 5 straight days, getting past world #14, #5, #4, and #1 Nadal in the final four rounds. The semifinal against #4 Andy Murray was an especially brilliant match featuring a lot of ups and downs and long rallies. If you have access to ESPN3 and have 3 hours of spare time, you should go check it out.

Amazingly, prior to these two back to back wins against Nadal, Djokovic was 0-9 in his career against the Spaniard on clay. This week is an off week for most of the big guns as everyone rests up for the second Grand Slam of the year, on clay at the French Open, which starts next week. Can he possibly do it again? He'll have to in order to tie the record. Even if he doesn't, he has a very good chance of becoming the first player not named Federer or Nadal to hold the #1 ranking since February of 2004.


Prompted by my mom's comment, I thought I'd do a quick follow-up to the Twins-Tigers game we went to last week.

The stomping [10-2 Tigers victory for those who weren't there.] was interrupted by a one hour five minute rain delay. But it wasn't just rain. There was a hailstorm for a good 10-15 mins and the tornado sirens were blaring.

The rain probably completely stopped after 30 mins, but it took them another 30 to clean all the hail off the field. I can't find any pictures, but you'll have to take my word for it that at least a dozen rakes, a couple buckets, a wheelbarrow, and an industrial strength leaf blower all played a part in the job. My hat's off to the grounds crew for handling a situation that they probably haven't really prepared for.

It was a fun game for us, but the crowd was really tiny by the time it wrapped up just after 11:00. Due to the delay, absolutely none of our friends save Meaghan's brother stuck it out to the end. The Wed afternoon game looks like it would have been a crazy one to go see, too. [9-7 Tigers including 3 runs off the Twins' closer on a HR, triple, and sac bunt.] I know they've had a lot of injuries, but it is truly shocking to see Minnesota with the worst record in baseball. Couldn't happen to a better team.

Friday, May 13, 2011

For Kim, Part 2/5

Coming in next on my list of five favorite male actors is late addition James McAvoy.

First off, he's a Scot. There's nothing more entertaining than listening to a Scottish accent. Second, it helps that he's actually a good actor. He'd primarily been in British films and TV until breaking through back in 2005 with his role as everyone's favorite patsy, Tumnus the faun, in the first Chronicles of Narnia. Say what you want about that movie series (I happen to like it), but McAvoy's portrayal of the bumbling, nervous Tumnus was note perfect. He followed that up with a couple bravura performances over the next couple years.

In 2006, he played the lead in The Last King of Scotland. Forrest Whitaker got all the credit (as well as an Oscar) for his portrayal of Idi Amin, but McAvoy provides the heart and soul, flawed though it may be, that drives the movie. Watching his struggle to escape the trouble that he creates for himself is riveting. He followed this up in 2007 with another great performance, this time opposite Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, in Atonement. As a completely unrelated aside, if you liked Atonement you should go see Hanna, in theaters now. It also features Saoirse Ronan and shares the same director, Joe Wright. If you haven't seen Atonement, you should. It is a beautiful and tragic film.

After that, I'll confess that I haven't seen anything with McAvoy in it, but I'm eagerly awaiting his next great role. He starred in Wanted, but I've had a strong aversion to Angelina Jolie ever since Tomb Raider. He's also in the recent Lincoln assassination movie The Conspirator and he'll be playing Professor X in the forthcoming X-Men: First Class. I'm looking forward to catching both of those.

Stay tuned for next Friday's update when I reveal #3...


Hot off the presses, fans of Chuck can celebrate. For some insane reason, it's been renewed for 13 more episodes next year. Word has it that this will be its final season, and looking at its ratings you can understand why. However, since this is NBC, where everything gets lousy ratings, anything is possible.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Djoker

Meet Novak Djokovic.

You might not have heard of him if you're no better than a casual tennis fan, but that may all change in a month's time. You see, Mr. Djokovic has started out 2011 32-0, winning his first six tournaments this year including the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. If you add in his two wins from last December when he led his native Serbia to the Davis Cup title (think of it as tennis's World Cup, only they have it every year for some reason), he's won 34 matches in a row. This is good enough for the 9th longest such streak in men's tennis history.

The longest streak is 46 matches set by Guillermo Vilas back in 1977. In order to match this record, Djokovic is going to have to win his next two tournaments: this week in Rome and the 2nd Grand Slam of the year, the French Open. The trick of it is that both of these tournaments are on clay, and he'll have to get past world #1 Rafael Nadal. Nadal, heralded by some as the best clay court player in history, has a monstrous 93% winning percentage on clay over 230 matches in his career. So can he do it?

Definitely. In fact, he just bested Nadal yesterday in a convincing straight set victory on Nadal's home turf in Madrid. Before he has to worry about Nadal again, though, he has four rounds in Rome to try to get through. His quest continues Wednesday against unheralded Pole Lukasz Kubot. Tune in on ESPN3 (if you're lucky enough to have it) to watch Djokovic chase history. Kubot is currently ranked a mere #141, and only boasts a 13-13 record this year. His most impressive win in 2011 is against American Sam Querrey in the first round of the Australian Open back in January.

Speaking of Americans... this week also marks the first time since a uniform ranking system was put in place back in 1973 that no American man or woman has ever been in the Top 10. The highest man is Mardy Fish at #11. The highest woman is Serena Williams, who hasn't played since last July, at #17. Is this just a momentary lapse, or is this a sign that tennis has finally been relegated along with soccer to the same dustbin of popular world sports that just don't cut it in the States? Only time will tell.

Don't mess with Rick

In completely unrelated sports news, tomorrow is our now-annual trip out to Target Field with friends to watch the Tigers take on the Twins. Detroit's been scuffling a bit so far this year, but are looking to push above .500 with a win. Taking the mound is Rick Porcello, who's had four straight good outings. I'll be looking for a 5th as I wear my Porcello t-shirt up in the nosebleed section.

Friday, May 6, 2011

For Kim, Part 1/5

In the 3rd season of the sitcom "Friends", there's an episode (The One with Frank Jr.) where Ross infamously crafts a list of five celebrities that he's allowed to sleep with should he happen to run into them. Every guy who's ever seen it has carefully crafted their own list to share with their significant other. This is not that list.

Instead, this is the post that I promised Kim over at HarrisWorld I would make when I made a return to blogging: my list of five celebrity "guy crushes". After careful consideration, I've assembled this list of the 5 male actors that for whatever reason really make me interested in seeing a movie or TV show. [Note: Clive Owen was not allowed to be on this list, as I'm told that girls actually like him.] Without further ado, in no particular order, here is the first of them:

Nathan Fillion -
I'm not the world's biggest Joss Whedon fan, but Fillion's funny and nuanced performance as Captain Mal Reynolds in "Firefly" makes it an exception well worth watching. Believe it or not, other than 2007's criminally unseen Waitress, I've never seen anything else that he's in. His inclusion on this list means that I certainly want to make the time to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog or his current TV project "Castle" some day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Project: Disney

We're going to Disney World... again! This time we'll be celebrating the Christmas holiday there with Meaghan's family. In honor of this trip, we've decided to do the unthinkable and attempt to watch all 50 of the Disney animated "classics" (plus the Disney/Pixar films as time allows) prior to leaving on our trip. Not only are we watching the movies themselves, we're also enjoying the special features on the DVDs.

Our progress so far:
1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - the first feature-length animated movie ever. When you stop to consider that Disney went from Steamboat Willie to Snow White in less than 10 years, this is truly a remarkable film. It helps that it's still entertaining to watch all these years later.

2) Pinocchio (1940) - I hadn't seen this in years, but it's regained a position high in my list of favorite Disney films. Three things of note, if you happen to see this again:
- The music in this is fantastic; it actually won the Oscar for Best Score.
- There is an amazing shot about 25 mins into the movie that takes place the morning that Pinocchio is about to head off to school. It involves a lengthy panning zoom down from a bell tower to Geppetto's front door. They had to set up special equipment just to get it on film.
- Lamp-wick's transformation into a jackass on Pleasure Island is one of the most horrific scenes in a movie ever.

I'll keep you up-to-date on our progress or lack thereof over the next few months.

Up next: Fantasia (1940)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Our German Houseguest

Opening your home to strangers can be scary, especially if you're as reclusive as Meaghan and I are. Despite the fact that we rarely have anyone other than Meaghan's brother at our place, we decided to participate in the first ever German Teacher Exchange at Meaghan's high school by becoming a host family. They've had a student exchange for 30 years now, but this was the first year they've opened it up to teachers.

Our guest was a young woman named Cordula from Düsseldorf. Arriving on a delayed flight late one Monday evening, she stayed with us for the better part of three weeks. [If we were at all the kind of people that take pictures, this is where I would insert a picture of her. I'll see if I can track one down.] In short, it was a great experience. I'm sure that exchanges are entirely dependent on the people who participate in them, but with Cordula it was a bit like having the college friend we never knew we had come stay with us for a lengthy visit. There were never lulls in conversation, and it was always interesting to hear about how life here differed from the way it is over in Germany.

My only regret is that the weather wasn't nicer while she was here. The calendar may say Spring, but she was treated to a steady diet of 40-degree days with chilly rain or snow. At least it didn't curtail our ability to share some of our favorite restaurants (Los Ocampo, Chino Latino, etc.) here in Minneapolis with her. The three weeks went by in a blur -- one day we were picking her up at the airport, the next we were dropping her off at the terminal. Meaghan will have the chance to stay with her for a week when she travels to Düsseldorf after school finishes in June. With luck, she'll help cement the bonds of a new lifelong friendship.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

So... How Were Those Movies?, Part 1

If you're a long-time reader here at the Tower you'll know that my first instinct upon watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a book, etc. is to compose my thoughts into a lengthy piece. That's fun for me, but as a consequence it means that I rarely ever get anything into print in a timely manner (if at all) to aid people in their decisions of what to see. So instead, I'll try to give some quick thoughts on the four movies from last week's list that we've seen so far. In short, they're all quite good and all worth seeing, but for very different reasons.

127 Hours

Directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting)
Starring James Franco (Milk, Spider-Man, "Freaks and Geeks")

127 Hours is a retelling of the true-life tale of Aron Ralston who got his right arm trapped by a large boulder while climbing alone in a slot canyon near Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Because he hadn't told anyone specifically where he was going, he was ultimately forced to amputate his own arm after being trapped there for the titular 127 hours.

Danny Boyle's direction is a little over-the-top at times. It's such a simple story that he must have felt the need to jazz it up with some camera tricks. Unfortunately they're for the most part distracting without adding anything useful to the film. Add in an overwrought score by A.R. Rahman (he did the Bollywood-infused Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack), and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

Considering that the majority of the movie consists of Aron trapped by himself in the canyon, you'd better get an enjoyable acting performance out of your lead. I'm pleased to say that James Franco is up to the task. Equal parts gritty, touching, and humorous, Franco's performance overcomes the rest of the movie's faults and is the main reason to see this. Even if you're not a fan of anything that you've seen him do in the past, there's a good chance you'll like this.

For all of the faults in the direction and music, they both come together wonderfully in the climactic scene where Ralston is forced to hack his arm off. If you are at all squeamish about blood, you may want to close your eyes here. For those of you with iron stomachs, enjoy 127 Hours at its best. Recommended.

The King's Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper ("John Adams")
Starring Colin Firth (Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary, "Pride and Prejudice"), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shine, Elizabeth), Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club, Harry Potter's 5, 6, & 7, Sweeney Todd), Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential, The Hurt Locker)

Who would have thought that you could make a compelling movie about a British royal and his st-st-stuttering speech impediment? I'm pleased to say that The King's Speech is an outstanding piece of film-making. With so many great actors in one place, it's almost inevitable that this would be good. It doesn't disappoint.

Colin Firth's speech patterns are simply amazing as he slips into the tightly wound persona of the man who would become King George VI. It's difficult to portray royalty with any degree of sympathy, but Firth does it here with aplomb. The tension as he prepares to deliver his pivotal speech signalling the start of Britain's involvement in World War II is gripping. Hooper does a smart thing here and takes a back seat, unlike Boyle in 127 Hours, letting Beethoven to do much of the work for him.

For me, the real star here is Geoffrey Rush as the King's unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue. It's good to see Rush get back to real quality acting, as opposed to just acting like a pirate. He delivers a performance that balances both the assertiveness and obeisance that one would need in order to work with a royal at a personal level.

If you have any misgivings about the subject matter because you think it would make for a boring movie, forget about it. I had very little in the way of expectations going in, and it completely blew me away. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's Oscar Preview Weekend!

As we do every year, this coming weekend is our annual Oscar preview movie watching blitz. We typically hop on a bus to a theater-rich part of town and watch 3 or 4 movies in one go. Does anybody have thoughts on more movies we should add to our list of options?

Our current list is:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
True Grit

All of the above are currently receiving an 8.4 or higher on IMDb, which would easily place them within the Top 250 of all time should those numbers hold. Granted there is a skew toward movies from the Internet age since people don't have a tendency to go back and rate older films, but that's still impressive.