Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Kinsey starring Liam Neeson.
Kinsey sure tries to make the namesake a hero, but ultimately comes across a little histrionic. You can only gold plate a plastic trophy so much before it collapses under the weight. This movie would have been more effective had it taken a clinical or documentary-esque approach rather than "glowing historic hero" approach. But, as Ebert says, you review the movie you saw, not the one you wanted to see. It was enjoyable and, if you're a movie addict like myself, worth the solid two hours of run-time. Kinsey really did have a lot of positive influence in demystifying sex and redefining what's "normal," but he apparently, like the free love generation, just couldn't grasp the point that sex is more than genital manipulation for most people. It's tied very close to our emotions and attachments. This movie does a decent job at portraying that, but then downshifts and tries to gloss over that lesson. Liam of course and as always is spectacular in the role, though Laura Linney is miscast as his brown-eyed, brunette wife. With some actresses you just can't hide the fact that they're really blonde, and vice versa; imagine seeing the amazing Ava Gardner with platinum hair - you would still know in the back of your mind it didn't quite fit. (In a much more frivolous example, think of Freddie Prinze Jr. as "Fred" in the Scooby Doo movies. Even my 8 year old said after a couple scenes, "That guy's not really blonde, is he?") Stick around for the credits, because after the initial scroll of who played what, there's a montage of animals doing the nasty to a jaunty soundtrack - compiled form footage which was originally done by the Kinsey institute. Apparently Kinsey thought there was value in watching all kinds of critters hump. The final pair is especially entertaining as it provides proof to the veracity of the old joke: Q: "How do porcupines make love?" A: "Verrrry carefully."

Magical Mystery Tours by Tony Bramwell.
Mr. Bramwell literally grew up with the Beatles and entered the biz by starting out as their roadie and graduating to production and management. If you like rafts of trivial detail, this is the book for you. But, it's like sitting at the pub (or reading a blog) and listening to someone gas on and on about the events in their lives. The book is roughly chronological, but Bramwell often digresses [shit-eating grin] back and forth through time as things occur to him. Therefore, even though this book has the best outsider's view of the Beatles I've encountered, it becomes tedious reading. For example, (and I paraphrase wildly here), "We went here and did this, then we shagged some birds, then John was a jerk, which pissed Paul off, George was gloomy and quiet, while Ringo ordered another pint." This one is for hardcore fans, all others should just watch the video series The Beatles Anthology, as it's much more fun. Highlights are: Though a complete original and the de facto leader of the group, John was often a jerk who was eventually as unhinged by fame as Elvis was. Yoko Ono was an opportunistic freak (her performance art act consisted of audience members cutting her clothes off until she was nude, which would qualify as tragicomedy because she had the kind of body that cried out for concealment) who intuited that she could leverage John's weaknesses to weasel her way into permanent fortune and carte blanche (no surprise there, but it's fun to read how she did it and how shameless she was). One prime example is when John and Yoko were doing their ridiculous infamous bed-in for peace, Yoko ordered an entire bucket of caviar every day, had about two bites, and let the rest rot. George was insecure being next to the white-hot talents of Lennon and McCartney and only realized how good he was once he branched out (even the greenest, most lush lawn must sigh with weltschmerz while gazing at a tree). Ringo did his job as a drummer and reveled in the life of celebrity and access to great parties. McCartney was the most grounded of the group, and according to this book, is still that way today. Personally, I think he comes off as a little conceited in interviews these days, but if anyone's earned it, Paul has. Linda was a class act who, being raised by the rich and famous, fit right in with the newly rich and famous. Final verdict: Somewhat tedious, but filled with info you'll find nowhere else. I'm amazed Yoko hasn't sued this guy within an inch of his royalties.

A Dirty Shame, directed by John Waters.
I've never liked Waters' films. They're childish and prurient in much the same way as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but without the razor wit and with way too many drag queens. I mean if watching a morbidly obese man dressed as a woman eating freshly excreted real dog shit on screen does it for ya, be my guest. But, I love Tracey Ullman, so I'll eventually hunt down anything she's in, and here she's wasted playing an uptight woman who turns into a nympho when she's hit on the head, sitcom style. She is then indoctrinated into a little group of fellow sex addicts who have Johnny Knoxville (of MTV's "Jackass") as their savior, who happens to have a snake for a penis (which he blows in an out-take). A portion of the gay community considers Judeo/Christian beliefs fair game for mockery (for reasons known to anyone who cares), and this movie takes it to the wall in that regard, using J/C religious iconography as the structure of the sex addicts group. So, not only does the flick lack legitimate laughs, it tries too hard to be offensive, and ends up being so only because it tries so hard - in the same way that a movie trying to be funny but failing subsequently loops around to be unintentionally funny (see Ishtar if any undestroyed copies remain). This one's not even interesting in a car-wreck sorta way. Avoid.

Musicology by Prince (once again known as the artist "Prince").
It must truly suck being a genius. When I meet someone whose intelligence vastly outstrips mine, I get the same sensation I got when I first saw the contrail of the space shuttle arc all the way out of the atmosphere. I'm given to wonder how it must feel for someone who truly towers above the rest of us in either intelligence or talent. Practically every time I spin up a new Prince album, I expect it to suck and thus I'll be able to proclaim he's finally lost it, that the well has dried up, but time and again I've been pleasantly surprised that His Purpleness can still pull it off. This guy is just freaky talented, a bonafide and true musical genius, which (to me) goes a long way towards explaining why he comes off as kind of a freak. How could you not be a little out there when in fact you are one of the best around? So I suppose I consider myself lucky to be average, as I stand there gazing at the towering contrail that goes someplace I never will. Musicology is a must for fans, and everyone else should give the samples a test listen on the web site of their choice. I hope Prince has taken Kevin Smith's advice and wears tennis shoes more often (his high heel addiction has ruined his knees) because we want him wiggling his microscopic ass across the stage for decades to come.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

After all this time...

Was playing with MPC1 last night - see I got a Star Wars aircycle and Wookie for Father's Day (I love that particular childhood logic: "Dad will love this! I know I do!") - and it dawned on me after all this time: How in the hell did Wookies discover fire when they're covered with long hair?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Batman Begins

Denver has one of the last remaining drive-ins, which is a perfect way to go see a movie with kids. Or so it would seem. The drive-in itself says on their web site that they take in shorts when they show a kid flick. Seems daylight savings time moves the showtimes back so far most parents won't take the kids. (Does anyone still like daylight savings time?) Last Friday we granted a parental exception to bedtime and off we went to see the latest cartoon, Madagascar. Alas, it was gone, so we saw Batman Begins instead.

I liked it a lot; the wife did not. MPC1 fell asleep before it could really get off the ground (hence proving the drive-in folks were right), and MPC2 was just confused and cried a lot (little babies are creatures of habit and schedule - we were supposed to be home in the quiet living room, not in a dark car somewhere with the call and refrain of horns interrupting her sleep.)

I suspect the difference in my wife's opinion and mine is due to expectations based on previous incarnations of Batman. We both love the campy TV show - it was a fixture of both our childhoods - and we both liked the first movie. I was (... well, "am") a comic book fan, though, and the Batman of comic books was a much more serious character. (I'm not gonna bother with the defense of comic books being serious art. That opinion is kinda like your political opinion - no doubt you've already formed it and no amount of persuasion will sway you. Which is OK. Gotta stand for something, donchaknow.)

So, whilst I enjoyed the campy Batmans, this was the Batman I'd always wanted to see: A guy just barely hanging on to sanity, pissed at the world due to all the injustice, and equipped with enough money and toys to do something about it. My wife thinks the premise of Batman is silly enough in the first place, so trying to play it straight rather than as pure fantasy kinda trips her bullshit meter so that she can't suspend disbelief. Funny how we can both have the same problem with a premise - how can a guy justify putting on a bullet-proof batsuit and chase down crooks who have a thing for costumes, too - but require completely different solutions. Me: Make it as plausible as possible in the given world; Her: It's a goof, so play it that way, Charlie. If "make it real" is the new trend in the Batman films, I'm probably going to be seeing them sans wife from now on.

The only thing this story really muffs is the credibility of the scheme that Batman must unravel to save the city. Anyone who understands the technology employed will wonder if the writers did any research on it whatsoever (I'll put that below in a spoiler section).

Outside of that, it’s a fun ride, with just the right level of detail to thrills. For instance, the machinations of Bruce Wayne's wealth are presented in enough detail to answer nagging questions I've always had. Also, the villains in Batman are supposed to be pretty freakin' sinister. Superman gets the mad geniuses you can almost appreciate in a Wile E. Coyote sorta way, but Batman's thugs are supposed to be exponentials of more fucked up than he is.

Most thrilling of all, though, is they manage to make the main bad buy, the Scarecrow, legitimately scary. The wife and I were very glad MPC1 had fallen asleep when he popped up. After about scene 3 of some truly goosebump inducing stuff, we vowed we will now strictly adhere to the PG-13 rating. (This is only the second time we've taken the chance and yet we got burned again; the first being "Legally Blonde 2" where it comes out that her Chihuahua "Buster" is gay and wants to boff a boxer or something.)

Collective opinion across the web tends towards identifying this as a guy flick, which might also explain my wife and I not agreeing on the merits of Batman Begins. So it looks like we have a new excuse for a boy's night out. Take advantage, my friends.


Ok, the big mistake is that the evil plot hatched by the villains involves using a large microwave device to vaporize the city's water supply. Microwaves energize water atoms which results in their releasing the energy as heat. Well, folks, anything that vaporizes water by merely passing by it would also vaporize every living thing since we're composed primarily of the stuff. It would be an effective weapon as intended, but it would play hell on the plot because not only would the citizens of Gotham pop like nasty water balloons, so would Batman and the bad guys, quickly bringing the movie to a gorily splashy halt. Apparently, the writers have never seen's classics exploring that very messy fact.

Monday, June 13, 2005

All Things Peter Pan

The story of Peter Pan has been a persistent presence in our lives lately, much like Peter himself visiting the nursery until he finally persuades everyone to fly off to Neverland.

It started with a family viewing of Finding Neverland wherein Johnny Depp stars as a playwright with scissors for hands, er, who pens the now classic Peter Pan and Kate Winslet plays the doomed, widowed mother of the boys who inspire him. I resisted this movie because scuttlebutt was that it was a disease movie (where the main engine of the plot is someone wonderful dying of a terminal disease and all the steel magnolias get their big scene to attempt to touch your heart without your permission, which makes many of us in the reluctant audience feel like rendering our review with the aid of a chuck bucket). But the charms of Kate Winslet were enough to place my grumbly butt in a seat for family movie night, with a curmudgeonly warning that if it veered into disease movie cliche land, I'd bolt and go read blogs or something. Thankfully, it was tasteful enough to center on how others are affected when a loved one dies rather than train the camera on the deathbed and line the area with chewable scenery. And as such, it was a legitimately touching entire-Kleenex-box-weepie, especially when the little boy, Peter (yes, him), is trying to understand a world where both his mother and father die. Not since the little trooper in Terms of Endearment broke our hearts so completely that I heard grown men openly blubbering in the showing I attended has a child's grief been portrayed so bracingly. It moves any parent to want to save all children from any possible harm and suffering.

Now, like Terms of Endearment, Finding Neverland is also leavened with much humor and magic, so it's not all sniffling and sweaty eyes. I wouldn't recommend it were it otherwise. The portrayals of James Barrie's various inspirations for the story of Peter Pan are brilliant. The juxtaposition of the real life Peter growing up too quickly pressed against the fictional Peter who never has to grow up is just one of the many. A seemingly evil mother trying to steal Kate and her family from Depp (Barrie), who is the template for Capt. Hook, is another. I still wonder how much truth was bent to provide these dramatic touch points, but to be honest I don't really want to know. The fiction will suffice for now.

And speaking of the fiction, the live action version of Peter Pan from 2003 is spectacular. I had wandered through the living room a couple times when MPC1 was watching it and was amused by what I saw, but hadn't sat down for the whole voyage until this last weekend. What a joyous little piece of entertainment. I swear, all the best movies anymore are the kid flicks.

For example, one reason Wendy has been brought to Neverland is because of her wonderful stories. In one scene, the pirates have Wendy and the boys captive, and even the pirates are so rapt by Wendy's stories that in the midst of Captain Hook having Wendy tell a story to wrangle valuable Peter Pan information out of her, it comes out that one of the pirates is featured. The pirate beams, "Didja hear that Cap'n! I'm in the story!" Hook shoots him on the spot. Not since Pulp Fiction has a character's demise via a gun been so damn funny. For some reason I don't recall, a second pirate is dispatched moments later. Smee opines over his shoulder to the camera, "The story's just begun and two dead already! How exciting!" We alarmed both the cat and the dog with our howls of laughter. Do check it out.

We were watching Peter Pan because my daughter had her first dance recital the next day, and the ballet was - yup - Peter Pan. Now, this isn't the Bolshoi's classic version of Peter Pan that made Catherine the Great weep so profoundly for the endangered Tinker Bell that she claimed she'd swear off horses for a couple months if it would help the poor little fairy. No, this was cobbled together from ballet cliches, new age music (particularly during Tinkerbelle's big and completely inexplicable solo), and direct liftings from the soundtrack of the Disney version. But I'll be damned if seeing my lovely daughter come out to play a marionette in the Darling's nursery didn't make it feel like the best damn ballet EVER.

It totally removed all uneasiness my wife and I had over the amount of makeup we were directed to apply to our young daughter's face. It was surreal to see an entire lobby of little girls made up like Gloria Swanson on a Cecil B. DeMille daiquiris and delusions night. Makeup tends to bring out the eventual adult face these little babies will use to break hearts, which tears at a dad's soul like a monsoon in the rigging. On stage, under the bright lights, the eye shadow and lipstick washed out enough to make them all look like little girls again, though.

Well, save for the high school senior who played Wendy. Dear Lord, I'm sure many of the dads in attendance are still ashamed of the thoughts nubile Wendy in her nearly transparent babydoll dress stirred. I know I am. (This just speaks to the fact that no one consulted an adult heterosexual man on the girl's costume. If her father is still around, I doubt he saw it under the hot lights until performance time.) Fact: Most men past a certain age feel so pervy for oogling anyone under twenty-five that we just turn it off and don't even usually notice. But once in a while, a pop fly will come at you out of nowhere.

Brief group pervy moment aside, it was a sweet, sentimental time in life where the memory machine in the mind engages to record every detail down to the smallest molecule and when hard moments visit, which they eventually always do, this is one of the memories that will flip past on the greatest hits reel to bring back the joy that keeps us sane. Forever in my mind will my sweetie twirl onto the stage, beaming that smile, and dance like the prettiest doll in the universe.

This threefold trip through Neverland has come to be an unintended exploration of mortality for me, and a revisiting of the loss of our baby girl a couple seasons ago. As anyone who's lost a child can tell you, the grief never goes away. It just hides out in the canyons of the heart and can always be heard in the echoes that sometimes bounce back.

The struggle with maintaining hope and finding the strength to enjoy the happiness that life has to offer can be as desperate at times as the insomniac's search for restful sleep. Sometimes all that can be done is to take heed to the gentle reminders everywhere that joy and happiness do eventually return from wherever they hide, and all you have to do is wait it out, just like - and pardon the triteness of this if you can - a child believing in fairies and clapping her hands for Tinkerbelle can bring about the miracle of restored life.

And if you wait, sure enough, happiness pirouettes onto the stage and makes you feel a little embarrassed - just a little - for the that brief moment you took slightly too seriously that moment of darkness that precedes the orchestra striking that first note as the lights begin to glow again.


For those of you who were wondering: Yes, this post has a lot in common with the following joke:

A woman spotted the mother of a young child at the checkout line in the grocery store. The child was screaming at the top of her lungs, grabbing stuff off the shelves, and throwing things. All the while the woman remained level, and said things like, "Calm down, Heather. That's OK, Heather. Don't cry, Heather." Usually parents in this predicament are angry towards their children, so the woman walked up and commended the mother, "I just wanted to say I noticed how kind you are to your child. Most parents aren't as patient as you. I take it her name is Heather." To which the mother replies, "No, I'm Heather."

Friday, June 10, 2005

We've always been monkeys

Reading Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (idea guy) and Stephen J. Dubner (word guy), and it's a blast. You've probably heard of this book because in it he (Levitt) posits that the decrease in crime in the 90s was due to abortion, in that the generation that would have been the criminals of the day were presumably greatly decreased due to being snuffed in the womb. Well, of course, I doubt we can ever end that debate, because the correlation is nearly impossible to prove. Therefore, that's not the topic of this post, so if you've not surfed away at the drop of the "a" word, you can relax. Maybe.

What blew my mind into the void was how much the mass media had to do with the waxing and waning of the Ku Klux Klan. More to the point, the fact that the mass media I'm speaking of was that of 1915 (!!!) and the early 1940s.

Apparently, when the infamous movie about the Klan, D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (in terms of innovative movie spectacle, it was the Star Wars of its day), was released, it caused a huge reinvigoration of the Klan which lasted until the World Wars overshadowed events. In the 40s, a man by the name of Stetson Kennedy (couldn't make that one up, couldja?) infiltrated the Klan with the intention of finding a way to bring them down. One day, while watching children play spygames, he noticed how similar their passwords and behavior were to the secret structures, passwords, and activities of the Klan. He realized that if he could somehow expose the silliness of this side of it to the world at large, it would humiliate and thereby render them impotent. He contacted the producers of the radio program Adventures of Superman and gave them the whole box of Klan secrets, which the producers then worked into the shows where Superman took on the Klan. The next week after the show, kids across America where running around doing all the Klan handshakes, using their passwords, and so on while playing Superman that the dads who were in the Klan were embarrassed beyond expression. They tried changing the passwords and stuff, but the next week they were on the show anyway. People left the Klan in droves. Kennedy is acknowledged in the history book as the most important player in squelching the Klan (along with Superman, of course).

These days, especially since the widespread punditry of the web via blogs like this, there's a lot of complaining about the mass media and its negative influences. Almost always, it's discussed as being a relatively recent phenomenon, say since the late 50s or early 60s, kinda when rock and roll was born. Obviously this is not the case.

Society, at least American society, appears to have been in the thrall of the mass media for at least a century now. Holy doctoral thesis, Batman.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
and something blue.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

Funny how some seminal movies never end up in film classes, or even get an honorable mention. I took a lot of film classes in college (what fun!), but don't recall "Taking of Pelham" coming up even once. Pity. But then, I doubt The Poseidon Adventure got mentioned either - other than as the subject of a snigger from the prof. - even though it spawned a film genre (unless you wanna be a twit and sniff that Airport probably was the real progenitor of disaster films). Whereas you can make a decent case that The Poseidon Adventure was hackneyed, regardless of how influential it was, you can't claim the same for "Pelham." It, quite simply, is a wonderful, grubby, authentic little film.

Though dated in the sense that you can tell from whence it came, it's not in the sense that time has diluted the impact of it. As a matter of fact, (and I swear I did not take this from the Netflix description which I didn't see until after I went to rate the film), this is really the font from which most of Quentin Tarantino's film have sprung, particularly Reservoir Dogs. As the film spooled out of my DVD player, and it dawned on me how much Tarantino "borrowed" from this movie, I began to wonder when something goes from "homage" to, well, theft. Reservoir Dogs is sort of a remake in which the fates of the criminals are slightly reimagined, is all.

Walter Matthau stars at the transit cop who has to deal with one of the subway trains being hijacked. Jerry Stiller, Ben's dad (or George Costanza's dad if you think in fictional terms), stars as the beat cop who works with Walter. Robert Shaw, the shark boat captain from Jaws, is the head hijacker. Joseph Sargent directs. Interesting note on Sargent, he also directed Colossus: The Forbin Project and the "Star Trek" episode: The Corbomite Maneuver - the one where young Clint Howard (Ron's brother) takes a break from his series, "Gentle Ben," and fakes out the Star Trek crew that he's an ugly green alien via ventriloquist dummy until he finally invites them on board for some Tranya.

It's a fun, tense ride that's entirely plausible, if not almost quaint in the days since 9-11. It's filled wall to wall with ugly New York mugs and accents (check out the cast character listing - it alone is a hoot), and pretty foul language for the day. The film is rated "R" pretty much for language only. Of all the joys of the movie, one of the best is Walter Matthau's final scene. Actors can work their whole lives and never get a moment like that.

If you are a movie lover, this one should be on your "must see" list.

Dave Matthews - Stand Up

For once I'm not gonna whine about the state of rock radio because today, brethren and sistren, we have a cause for celebration. Yea and verily Dave Matthews and the band have created a masterpiece, in my opinion. Stand Up indeed.

The reviews on are intriguingly schizophrenic, and I have a theory about that. When an artist bursts out of their previous mold, fans are often dismayed that the old stuff ain't quite like the new stuff. Imagine what the reviews on would have been like had it existed when the original fans of Fleetwood Mac encountered Rumours. We all know what a classic Rumours is, but Fleetwood Mac started out as a blues ensemble (check out "Black Magic Woman") and here they are kicking out smooth California pop rock. I'm sure many a drunken rant ensued in pubs across Britain at the time. So my theory is this, the more groundbreaking an album is, and the possibility that it's a potential classic, the more you'll see that in the confusion of the reaction towards it. If it sucked, that'd be obvious. If it were good and what's expected, that'd be obvious too. But if it's just out of the blue possible genius that wasn't presaged by earlier work, you get a "what the fuh?" reaction like you see on Imagine if Cobain had survived to finally make that album that would rival the Beatles we all knew he had in him (Queue: "If There's a Rock and Roll Heaven...").

The last album I thought was this groundbreaking and out there was the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but while that one's kinda quirky, and more along the lines of you'll love it or hate it depending on your tastes, I can see Stand Up as one that is much more universal. (I'd be interested to see what my buddy Sleemoth thinks of it, hint hint.)

Though there's not a stinker in the whole set, standout songs are:
- "Dreamgirl" - Which starts the album with a gorgeous harmonizing that evokes a sunrise on the savanna, then sways into a loping gait that melts into a melody worthy of the title.
- "Old Dirt Hill" - About racing your bike around when you're a kid. You can almost hear the playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes.
- "Stand Up" - Awesome bass break which then dives into the chanted title. My wife snarked that it sounds like a record skipping, but dogonnit, if a record skipping sounded that funky, then there'd be all these DJs just making records skip. (...Wait a minute!...)
- "American Baby" - Probably the standout hit. My daughter's favorite. "God's grace lost, and the devil is proud." - Beautiful line. Kind of the antithesis of Guess Who's "American Woman."

These are just the first four tracks folks.

The rest of the greats are:
- "Louisiana Bayou" - A funky snort of a groove, replete with South African guitar style. (I'd always wondered why you never heard any South African guitar from Dave, a South African artist.) The vocal is a lot of fun, and I've not heard any other contemporary artist take such an interesting chance and choice outside of Dwight Yoakam.
- "You Might Die Trying" - A tense scuffle about not wasting your life, braced by a phenomenal sculpted drum sound reminiscent of Bowie's intro to "Modern Love" and decorated with great sax work.
- "Hunger for the Great Light" - Though this starts out sounding like a hymn, it fades into an all-out rocker about sex. Hilarious! The opening lyric: "Here ... you ... go, you dirty girl! Good God! Try to love ... try to ... uh ..." and from there he's clearly too swept away to go on. This ends with a luscious violin meditation, and since it's the last song it flows directly into the harmonics of the first song as though the album were designed as a continual loop. Beautiful. It leads me to wonder if they constructed the album as an event, a whole work, like the artists of yore used to do.

And, to make things even more spectacular, this album is available in the DualDisc format, where one side is a standard CD, but the other is a DVD (all on the one disc). Most DualDiscs that I've seen waste the DVD side with "extras" or a 5.1 mix of the album (which can be cool, but so far, outside of the mix on the Beatle's DVD of Yellow Submarine), I've not been impressed with a surround mix on a music DVD), but this one is a Linear PCM format: An uncompressed 96 kHz/24 bit sample version of the whole album. (It does contain a short documentary on the "making of," but the highlight is this version of the songs.)

Oh. My. God. (Or, to quote Dave from the last song: "Good God!") I imagine the leap in sound quality here is equivalent to a move from a wax pressing of a 78 played on a phonograph whose speaker was really a megaphone to a stereophonic vinyl LP played over a high fidelity system. I have literally not heard such amazing sound come out of my stereo before. See, even the 5.1 soundtracks in movies are compressed, which causes a limit to the sound, and the intent of a movie soundtrack is usually not pristine music delivery anyway. When the first song started, I stood gobsmacked, pricking up my ears like a cat homing in on a mouse, because I'd never heard sound that full and bottomless before - outside of an original 24-track master played in a recording studio. There is no discernable limit to the high end or low end on this recording. I turned to my daughter who was sitting there with kind of a shocked look on her face, too, and asked, "Have you ever heard anything like that?" She just smiled and shook her head and then shushed me. We have yet to stop playing this thing when we get an opportunity. It's now the primary soundtrack I use to lull my baby asleep (the sound is so rich that even the upbeat songs don't have harsh edges to them - something I was completely unaware of in other recordings previously), which is great because I was getting a little tired of Enya.

And ignore those warnings in the reviews about this version not being copyable. I've made a copy of the CD for my car (a strict rule in my house is only copies can be used in a car stereo) and MP3s for my computer. Perhaps they were trying to copy or rip the DVD side, which is silly if you're going to be playing it via an MP3, or in your car. Any gain in sound from the DVD side as I've described above wouldn't survive the transition to a compressed MP3 or the sonic environment of a car.

The Book Meme of the Blogs of Summer 2005

I've not been tagged, nor do I intend to tag anyone, but I've really enjoyed reading other's lists, so....

1. Estimate the total number of books you've owned in your life.

I don't even have a clue as how to estimate this, because as a Lit major, I've owned so many books and anthologies, I will have to completely guess.

TLD: One of the tiny regrets of my life (and all of mine are tiny so far, I'm happy to report) is that I had to sell all of my college books about three years after graduation in order to have enough money to get home after a disastrous attempt at graduate school (disastrous because that was when Ronnie cut all the education funds, and I could no longer afford it; the caps on the loans I could get would have only paid for half of the degree - but no regrets, as I said).

Anyway, on a slow day when I worked in a bookstore, I went around and pulled forward an inch (so I could easily push them back quickly) all the books I'd read to that point, most of which I had owned. Even so, the store had only about 1/3 of what I'd read. I ended up pulling about 1,200 books. And that was in my twenties. So, round up, add two decades, and I'm guessing I've owned about 3,000 to 4,000 books.

2. What's the last book you bought?

I don't buy books anymore. A couple years back when I got laid off during the Bush Depression, I finally had all the time in the world to read, and no money to do it. Luckily, we have one of the finest libraries in my town that I've ever encountered, which even allows you to search for and then reserve books via the web, so I've never looked back. Kinda like Netflix, only free. Plus they have this "lucky day" section where all the latest and greatest releases are available; no one can reserve them or keep them for more than one checkout period, so the turnaround is great.

Now, I only buy books I want to keep. The last book I bought a couple years ago was: Which Lie Did I Tell? : More Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. (This does not count books I've bought for my daughter.) I love movie gossip and trivia, especially when it comes from the horse's mouth.

3. What's the last book you read?

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. It was on the "lucky day" shelf and my pile was empty. I enjoyed the suspense of The Da Vinci Code even if I had to roll my eyes through all of the BS conspiracy theory about Jesus having a wife who bore a child, and thought this would be fun, too. It was. Mr. Brown deserves his bestsellerdom.

4. List 5 books that mean a lot to you.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Perhaps the most perfect novel ever written in the English language. No other work has ever moved me as much as this does. The Great American Novel, and all that.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Funny as hell, and as complicated. A trippy Mobius strip as promised by the title.

Robots of Dawn by Issac Asimov
What science fiction can be if it tries hard enough. This has it all: Love, mystery, robots, sociology of planetary systems (which is more interesting than you'd think if you're not a sci-fi fan), and a twist ending that knocks you right off the couch. And, by this time, Asimov had become a pretty decent stylist.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
Funny and profound all at the same time. Even my mom, who's not a fan of sci-fi at all, loved this series. She laughed so hard at one point, a neighbor came by to make sure she was OK.

Texasville by Larry McMurtry
The second in the "Last Picture Show" series, though you don't need to read the others to enjoy this one (though the whole trilogy is good). McMurtry is probably alone in his ability to evoke real people with all their warts and still make you love them.

Here's a page I put together years ago along these same lines. Odd that I haven't really read anything worth adding in a while. I should add The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, come to think of it.

5. Tag 5 people!

Y'know, I've come so late to this game, I doubt there's anyone left to tag.

Primer Plot Graph

No movie has haunted my thoughts in recent years more than Primer has. While a better film and ultimately more satisfying, my other recent obsession, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was more of an emotional rush than an intellectual one - though it certainly has an intellectual payoff, too.

So I was suffused with joy when I happened across all this prime (har har) linkage on, particularly this one which is a graphical representation of the time travels of our heroes in Primer. It's a thing of beauty, a thing of joy. (And it's blue in keeping with my theme!) I got a big printout of this thing and have had a lot of fun pouring over it. Luckly, my wife understands me and waits until she's in the other room before she rolls her eyes after she catches me tracing my finger around this thing.

These guys, however, disagree that the timelines, multiple people copies, and so on are as complex as that graphic makes them. I haven't decided for myself, yet (I have to buy a copy of the damn thing and watch it a few more times - yay!), but I betting that the amount of work that went into that graphic speaks to its accuracy.

Have fun!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith

(Minor spoiler ahead. See if you can even pick it out.)

Maybe I should recuse myself, because I'm a hardcore Star Wars geek from way back, having seen the original version in the theatre (before it was called Episode 4) - a theatre with a HUGE screen that showed "Scope" movies in their proper frame format. I was unable to hoist my dropped jaw for about a month after seeing it the first time. A buddy who'd seen it in L.A. before it made its way to my small town had warned me of its awesomeness, but it surpassed all expectations and became my favorite movie of all time, for a while. I can pretend no objectivity in these matters. Even though the newer Star Wars movies have been flawed to the point of surpassing newer iterations of Star Trek in terms of suckitude, I am required to see them, if only to witness the death spiral of a dream.

The wonderful ubergeek hisownself, Harry Knowles, usually frames his reviews with a description of what he did that day, leading up to a viewing, because he believes it helps portray his frame of mind going into the flick. I'm going to borrow that trick, since my circumstance probably colored my mood, further absolving my eventual opinion.

The long weekend loomed, and I was ready for fun until a surprise visit by the in-laws, who intended on staying the night. My in-laws are decrepit, amazingly narcissistic chatterboxes who can't stay on topic any better than your garden-variety aphasic. Their kids are used to this, and have developed a strategy to ignore most of the noise, only cherry-picking the occasional word to appear interested, but I'm used to people actually having something to say when they open their mouths, so their visits are sheer torture for me. When they descend, I end up having to hide out in a remote part of the house to avoid their gapped, circular, incessant patter lest I go nuts and end up being dragged away screaming in my underwear like that poor soul at the end of Fargo.

Sunday morning presented itself, and MPC1 and I were listlessly trying to fill our time, awaiting with dread the eventual rising of the wordstorm troopers (they sleep 'til noon). My wife was also abed, catching up on being awaked for nursing during the night. We had scheduled Monday for seeing Star Wars at the big screen here in town, but as the tedium of the coming morning yawned before us, I grabbed the paper and saw there was a showing we could just catch at another theatre. I procured release from my lovely wife, and off we went. We had escaped! (Or so we thought. When we got back, we discovered our absence merely prolonged the visit.)

So, as the famous intro scroll began, letting us know that Obi wan and Anakin are in the midst of saving Palpatine from a kidnapping attempt, I was in a foul mood, brightened only by our respite from the destroyed weekend and the fact I was there with my daughter, whom I love to go to movies with. I'd heard largely positive reviews, so I was expecting enjoyment rather than a two-hour cringefest for once. In other words, a small spark of hope was alight in my breast, much like ET's when he first comes back to life.

The initial action sequence is good and wisely has a little humor in it, but once that's over, we dive back into what made the other new eppys suck - a lot of yadda yadda about political maneuverings, angst over who's a more righteous or kickass Jedi, etc. The movie doesn't pull it's head out of its black hole until Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) fights Palpatine, converting the latter into the burned lizard we know and love as the Emperor from the earlier, final 3 movies.

It's revealed that "the force" is really a form of Buddhism that's practiced only by people lucky enough to have the cellular component called "midichlorians" that empower one to manipulate the force - kinda like Harry Potter's (or Samantha Stevens') magic powers where you're either born with them or not. Attachment, meaning personal love and not a vague love for mankind at large, leads to jealousy and inappropriate feelings of possession, which lead to the dark side, and thus all passion is directed inward, selfishly. So, by extension, having a wife and kids is a path to the dark side, if you wanna cut to the chase. Therefore, in the Star Wars universe - where it now appears to a blessing that it occurred a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - if you are born with enough "midichlorians" (which makes me think of badly synthesized computer music that occurs during photosynthesis), you are destined to roam the galaxy as a sexually frustrated monk, putting on a game face while working out your tension by lopping off limbs with a noisy glowstick.

Anakin finds himself in the midst of The Thornbirds in Space, because Natalie Portman is just a drop-dead full-press mondo ultra hottie of galactic proportions, and she's got a kingdom to boot. What's a young monk to do? It's time to get out the light saber that's way more fun, that's what ya do. Even Yoda have a hard time justifying that not, would he.

Now, pardon me whilst I lurch into dime-store psychology here, but I've noticed that Darth's story arc has a lot in common with George Lucas' renowned, self-admitted troubles with women. Seems one of the richest, most well-known directors/screenwriters/auteurs in Hollywood history has trouble holding on to women. This guy ended up having to raise his kids all by himself, even given his wealth and influence. It's hard to face that we live in a world where Donald Trump and His Amazing Wind-resistant Comb-over can get a date, and even marry a pretty young gold-digger, but George can't find one bucktoothed girl who has a secret thing for Ewoks to provide ballast for the other side of the waterbed. Apparently for George, it all comes down to it being preferable to having appendages sliced off rather than face the agonies of a relationship.

The twist in "Sith" that causes Anakin to become Darth, hinted at here, is actually kinda cool and compelling, and I imagine it's the source of the positive reviews out there - along with the fact that this installment doesn't just totally suck out loud. Sometimes just crossing the finish line is enough, dear heart.

Once the freefall of Anakin begins in earnest (which, for those of you in the cheap seats, begins with another character's literal freefall), the movie picks back up and is a decent entertainment (as evidenced by my daughter's losing interest in the crowd behind us and something stuck to her shoe, and tuning back into the movie). As we near the end, we begin to come full circle and see the sets and costumes we did at the beginning of eppy 4, which is a visceral rush for old fans like myself. We are back where we started, after all.

So, my thumbnail review is that this is better than any of the previous new Star Wars, but it's only just as good as the last one (chronologically) in the series - the futzy Return of the Jedi - which is pretty lukewarm praise, my friends. I did not like it as much as Kevin Smith did. My reaction is approximate to Harry's. As always, Ebert is close to the mark, though he gave more stars than "Stars" is worth, imvho.

And now that it's all said and done, I can put my finger on why these movies weren't that good.

I doubt I'm the first one to point this out, but what was wrong with the first (er, last) three Star Wars films was there is no Han Solo. His character helped a lot towards leavening the space opera. Luke was too busy becoming a Jedi, saving everyone's ass, and feeling icky for snogging his sister to provide much humor. Come to think of it, Princess Lea contributed some of the best female smackdown lines, too. How come no one in the new films was a smartass? I'm guessing that Lucas had Jar-Jar in mind for that role, but the mass hatred for the character (not counting the little tots who dug him) must've had him remove the smartass component altogether.

Irreverence, along with great action sequences, was the central joy of the original films. Without it, the new ones just seem like channel surfing between C-SPAN and a lengthy CNN report that features spaceships instead of tanks. (And talk about your classic victim of bad timing, we get this humorless trope right when the majority of us (according to recent polls) are seeking escapism from that very sort of thing.) Alas.

TLD: Whilst writing this post, I discovered that Microsoft Word 2000 actually knows how to spell correctly the names of the main Star Wars characters, but it doesn't know how to spell "shithead." Interesting, no?
Just goes to show you that there are those who hope Darth Vader wins...

I've been doing my best to keep my head down and ignore the current political situation in order to preserve quality of life, and since a bazillion other blogs are snarking about it, I don't have to.

Still, when the Watergate scandal's Deep Throat finally reveals himself, and a large portion of the conservative punditry actually criticizes HIM rather than admit Nixon was a crook, it just seems surreal.

Tom Burka, via the Poor Man, illustrates.