Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Your Face

Warning: rant ho.

Even the Google guys think there's a problem.

I've never been a fan of social-networking sites. I dislike them more as time goes by.

For starters, I don't like their policies, which can be usually summed up like this: we own everything you post on our site(s) and will use it for marketing purposes, many of which you wouldn't like if you knew. Even when they claim you own your information or content, they also claim they can do anything with the data that they want to.* (FWIW, Blogger, the current host of this blog, only grants itself publishing rights, and I still own the copyright: you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services.)

My main beef is that social-networking sites seem to be primarily a conduit for voyeurism, where a lot of energy seems to go toward looking up old girlfriends/boyfriends (almost never a good idea) and/or enemies (the assumption is that you've already kept up with the friends you've wanted to keep and don't need to hunt them down on Facebook), or just simple sneaky-peeking into other's lives without them knowing about it.

TLD: When Facebook was becoming the rage, I used my daughter's account to look up an old flame just to see her picture (you have to be logged in to see any "personal" content). She's still pretty, but, like, so what? I don't think it would have mattered to me if she'd somehow gotten ugly. Then it occurred to me I didn't really care in general, usually you're not with someone anymore for several good reasons, it was just simple morbid curiosity. I also felt vaguely ashamed that I had nearly immediately done the very thing that Facebook is really about: secretly poking into stranger's (or now-stranger's) lives. Ick. Haven't done it since.

Way back when the internet first started up, I really dug chatting with total strangers over IRC. The concept that I was talking to someone in Scotland in real-time just blew me away. The community was so relatively small you could even contact most anyone. I had regular correspondence with the great James Lileks before his popularity made it impossible for him to respond to all of his emails. In full acknowledgement of the voyeuristic aspect of the web, Jennifer Ringley put up a cam that showed what she was doing 24/7 for a few years, including sex with her boyfriends. I don't remember how I found it (I do remember I wasn't actively looking for it), but I logged on to the main chat room she hung out in, and it was like bumping into celebrity who was out and about with her entourage. I typed in a question to Jenny, and about 5 people immediately typed back, "who are you and why are you even talking to her." Wow. I lurked for about a week, seeing what the interchange was like, and it stayed true to that initial impression. Occasionally Jenny would want to chat, but her sycophants did everything they could to keep her contained and fawned over every little thing she typed. It was a microcosmic example of celebrity. I did manage to join a conversation once, as it was a topic I knew stuff about, but it really did feel like sucking up to a celebrity, and not like a usual exchange with whomever was on the other end of the pipe in IRC.

What I came away with was that, on my side, I had this false feeling of "knowing" these people, even though we'd only passed ASCII back and forth on a network. I realized that this is a dangerous illusion, it was way too easy to fall into this false sense of connection, and how vulnerable it made you.

I got my wife a computer to chat because we agreed she was going to stay home to raise the kids ("kid" at the time), and she was lonely for adult contact. I stressed that she needed to remain anonymous, and that she should NEVER give out personal information. Well, after chatting with a couple people for a stretch of months, she felt she could trust them, and gave them her real name and such. Suddenly, one of them announced he was going on a road trip to visit his chat buddies, and a couple days later, the fucker knocks on our door. We put him up for a couple days, but it was clear all he wanted to do was screw my wife, so we sent him packing. It was a lesson we will never forget. It was proof positive how dangerous the web could be.

Both of us pretty much stopped chatting, and certainly were very careful about giving out our actual information to anyone. To this day, I've only trusted 3 people enough to do so. And in those cases, I've known the individuals over years, and from several message boards, blogs, and other web sites. I got a pretty clear view about who they were beforehand.

I submit that most blogs differ from this in that your interest isn't based on who you "know" or "knew" (or would secretly like to see naked), but is based on your enjoyment of their stories and thoughts. I've noticed all my favorite blogs are by people who are blogging under a pseudonym. I still like Dooce.com and Lileks.com, but not as much as I do the blogs you see listed on the right. (I hope to re-grow that list someday, but blogs are going through a dip in popularity, and I eventually concluded it was redundant to link to monsters like kottke.org. I predict they'll come back into their own and always be a presence, because they often do offer some of the best content on the web.)

Anyway, back to my point. My daughter recently learned one of the ultimate Facebook lessons the hard way.

(I know, I know. I really really really did try to keep her from joining facebook, but - as the argument always goes - all of her friends were on there, and it was true. Remembering what social freaks the kids who couldn't watch TV or listen to music were back in my day, I felt that it was more important to take the chance then it was to forbid.)

She was in a school play, and after the initial costume fitting, she groused on her page: "I don't like my costume." Just so happens one of her "friends" was a teacher, and one of the little queen bee bitches in her class alerted the teacher to the complaint - it's sad that bullies now have yet one more way to get atcha. Sure enough, my wife and I were emailed by the teacher, with a CC to the school principal, about how that's very inappropriate, and measures will be taken.... yadda yadda yadda.

So, we have new family facebook policies: 1) No comments or pictures that can be even remotely used against you (we already had strict rules about pictures in place), 2) no adults whatsoever as "friends" (along with the existing rule of no "friending" someone you don't know personally in real life, first).

We wrote the obligatory apologetic emails, rolling our eyes the whole time, so things appear to be smoothed over for now.

But really? All this over "I don't like my costume."? Crikey. I doubt had this same teacher overheard her say that in the hallway that s/he would've done the same thing, if anything.

Slashdot reports that Facebook finally is allowing people to delete their accounts (though I doubt they really delete your info), which is at least a step in the right direction, given the problems they've had in the past keeping their data secure.

I know that when I go to look for a job in the future, they're going to ask me if they can find my information on LinkedIn. I will say "no" and then have to present my reason why. Perhaps I'll just bring a printout of this article. But I know it's going to probably cost me a job offer or two, because the person doing the hiring will be very proud of his/her LinkedIn pages, and will consider it an affront that I distrust LinkedIn. Btw, I've looked at the descriptions of some colleagues, and just like half of the resumes out there, there's some stuff that borders on fiction.

Buddies who use the site frequently report what I'd call "negative" use, in that they rule out companies and people based on their "connection" information and other ephemera. Which is why I think these sites do more harm than good, imho. They actually work to limit your chances more than they help them.

And worse, last night I created a pseudonym identity on LinkedIn just to see what they put you through, and to my horror they even tie directly into your email and grab all of your contacts (since I didn't know what I was getting into, I used an email account I created for the sole purpose of having an email to use when I know those I'm going to provide it to will spam the hell out of it). So even if I never add my real information to the site, I know several folks who had me in their contacts when they joined, thus I'm on there without my consent. That explains why I've gotten pre-fab emails that say "_______ has invited you to join LinkedIn and wants to add you as a contact" or whatever the hell it said. I think I actually curled my lip and grumbled as I deleted those.

The point being the mere existence of a social-networking sites essentially create one more headache for me, even when I decide I want nothing to do with them.

Above I predicted that blogs will always be with us. I'm guessing that in about a decade or less, social-networking will exist primarily as anonymous places. I bet people will not want anyone and everyone to have so much access to the details of their lives. The lawsuits that result will be interesting, for sure.

*From LinkedIn's agreement: "You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including but not limited to any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement."

Friday, July 23, 2010


Inception is the new high-water mark in movies. For reference, that last one that gob-smacked audiences like this was The Matrix (1999).*

Inception has some similarities to The Matrix and What Dreams May Come, but that's like saying Star Wars has similarities to The Hidden Fortress and the Buck Rogers serials. Yeah, seeds of ideas and some of the film vocabulary are borrowed from these predecessors. Which would you rather see, though?

I've read reviews (at least Ebert and Travers) that mention how hard the plot is to follow. Myself, I found it was delineated very clearly, to the extent that I could actually devote some thought to whether or not Christopher Nolan (author and director) ever "cheated," meaning used the plot device to confuse and trick us so he could move forward with the story when he'd painted himself into a corner, or purposely fool us into thinking something was a dream state when it wasn't and vice versa.

The whole movie would fall down like a sandcastle hit by the tide if he ever cheated, so I'm thrilled to report he never does. (Another movie that never cheats on its premise, and is the better for it, is 50 First Dates.)

The plot device? Well, the military invented a means to invade people's dreams and extract information from them, which is now used for corporate espionage. Experienced dream spies can even create dreams within dreams, which has the benefit of allowing another level of subterfuge where the spy can spin the target so completely that they can't tell whom to trust. Also, time moves much faster the further down you go, meaning 5 minutes of real time equates to an hour of dream time, but dream-within-a-dream time equates to one week for every hour of dream time. Believe it or not, the movie does a great job of making this crystal clear so you don't have to risk an embolism to keep track of it all.

Like all great sci-fi (or other genre) flicks, the core of the story is a love story. Several, actually.

Oh, and it provides the answer to the question, "What the hell ever happened to Tom Berenger?"

I've all but stopped buying DVDs, having long ago collected the ones I'm likely to watch again, and this movie is one of the few I can't wait to own so I can watch it over and over again to pick up things that slipped by in previous viewings.

Inception is not to be missed. It's worth the cost and bother of a babysitter. Fandango probably has your local showtimes.

Go now.


Really really.

*I almost pulled an "I'm Listing" post as a result of researching a few "best films" lists to confirm my claim, but decided to spare you. My sources were Ebert, IMDB.com, and the AFI lists (requires setting up an account). Here are the other arguable high-water marks since The Matrix, in chronological order, most recent first:

- Avatar (2009)
- Gran Torino (2008)
- A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- The Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- American Beauty (1999)

Yeah, there are probably other films that you would put on this list, and by following the links to my sources, you'll find some to quibble about. That's what the comments are for! I'd love to hear from ya.

I purposely left animated films off, which is ironic for me as they have always been my favorite, the most near and dear to my heart. I feel they really are a league of their own and should be considered separately. Had I not been born at the right time, I would most certainly have moved to California and tried to break into the industry as an animator. Throughout my childhood I poured over any and all animation stuff I could get my hands on (alongside watching any I could find, save for the sucky Saturday morning TV animation). I would even bike to the library which had 16mm prints of animation; I still marvel that the librarians were so patient and sweet with this little kid who would show up and watch these in the viewing room all by himself. I took and deeply enjoyed what was essentially a graduate-level class on all things animation in college. For all practical purposes, I am an amateur animation historian.

Here's a glimpse into what was going on in the animation world around the time I was in college (early 80s), and thereafter:

- Wizards (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- Watership Down (1978)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
- The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
- Oliver & Company (1988)
- Akira (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)

Note this is when the animation universe simply tanked, a near total wasteland from '77 to '88 (with the possible exception of "NIMH"). It wasn't until the 90s that animation came back into its own with The Little Mermaid, released at the end of 1989. Nearly a whole decade and a half without a good animation industry. It still saddens me.

TV was worse. This was when Ronny Raygun deregulated things so that all TV cartoons immediately slithered into the slums of glorified commercials for toys. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was the leading show of the time. Even the classics were being re-edited and slaughtered because someone thought that seeing Wile E. Coyote smashing into the canyon floor and kicking up a mushroom cloud of dust was somehow traumatizing rather than freakin' hilarious. This idiocy was wonderfully parodied by "The Simpsons."

But, I'm a big believer in "Unanswered Prayers," as the Garth Brooks song goes. While I might have had the joy of being involved in the creation a few of the greats in animation, I think the path I did take has ended up where I should be. I think my soul would have died had I been part of the movie industry.

And as Jesus said: "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Mark 8:36-37

Monday, July 19, 2010

More than a little scary

Not that paranoids like myself weren't aware that something was going on, but to come across proof that our own military is paying companies to make propaganda aimed at Americans is chilling.

From: "The Real U.S. Government" By Glenn Greenwald:

This superb article by Mark Prendergast, the Ombudsman for Stars & Stripes, details the billions of dollars secretly (and probably illegally) spent by the Pentagon -- much of it on private contractors -- to subject not only foreign nationals but also American citizens to pure propaganda campaigns. The Pentagon propaganda program exposed by David Barstow is but a representative sliver of the weapons used by the National Security State and its private partners to control media behavior and shape public opinion. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent for this propagandistic purpose at exactly the time that real journalistic outlets are failing.

Follow the links for a delineation of the problem.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What a take-down

If you're not a follower of kottke.org and haven't already read the vicious scathing that Pat Metheny visited on Kenny G, go read it now.

Man, what a take-down! Kind of the verbal equivalent of that scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life where a phalanx of topless, but inexplicably helmeted, women chase a man off the edge of a cliff into his literal grave.

For me, though, after the very enjoyable main-line dose of Schadenfreude, I had free-floating feelings of hypocrisy on my part.

Here's why:
For years I've tried to articulate a particular thought and have thus far failed, in my opinion, to state it well. So, here's try # 457 ½. Essentially, when someone like Kurt Cobian would rail about integrity (or someone like Neil Young who still does) it would just piss me off. "Integrity" for a lot of the punk generation was not "selling out" - meaning that if you became too successful, you'd done something wrong that was worthy of shame. That strikes me as patently ludicrous. Your level of success is not the determinant of whether or not you have integrity. How you react to or use that success may have something to do with it, but then that just goes back to the basic questions of integrity that all of us face, whether we're rocks stars or just humble members of a family somewhere.

Others, like Neil, feel that if you sell a song to a company who uses it for a commercial, that's selling out. I almost agree with Neil's viewpoint. Personally, I've hated some of my favorite songs becoming the soundtrack to a product, particularly one I hate. In the end, though, it's really up to me whether I allow that to supplant my better memories and associations with a favorite tune. But back to Neil, he's had a long successful career through which he's made a lot of money from a very young age. Many other successful and talented musicians only have a hit or two in their lives, and maybe even then can't really live off of the money they did make. How can I begrudge them selling their one hit to a company for a million bucks? How is that much different than famous paintings or other works of are appearing in the background of a movie? Or featured, like many were in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Now, most of Metheny's rant is about Kenny G's level of talent and abilities.

On one hand, yeah, a really good technician in any field can tell when another isn't as good a technician. And that matters in some cases.

On the other hand, technical proficiency is only part of the game. After a certain point of proficiency, the differences are apparent only to those in that stratosphere, and I'd argue there are often diminishing returns. So one guy can run scales just a bit faster and cleaner than another. How often is that going to matter? Just as important is feel for the audience or customer, expression, and intuition. In my experience, it's a rare Bird who has both the gift of top proficiency and beautiful expression.

For example, Joni Mitchell had polio as a child, so she uses a lot of custom tunings on her guitar to be able to hit the proper tones and notes. She makes up for lack of proficiency in dexterity with proficiency in bending the instrument to make the sound she wants. But can she play like Prince or Steve Miller? Hell to the no. They would blow circles around her on the guitar as a pure technician. But aren't her songs amazing? I know probably everyone reading this likes or loves at least one of her songs. (And, of course, Prince and Miller are amazing songsmiths, too.)

How many reading this would be able to claim the same about Metheny's songs? Can you name one? Do you even know the primary instrument he plays?

Here are the relevant quotes from the article:
"My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble."

"But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again)."

In sum, here's what this smells like to me: an amazing technologist who has no real feel for what makes people respond. It's basically Spock complaining about Bones.

This also pushes some other buttons of mine. Buttons I've added in recent years.

When I was younger, I was a lot more willing to accept someone else's judgement of another's ability. I figured they really knew or they wouldn't be bringing it up. As I've aged, I increasingly feel that anyone snarking about someone else's competence or abilities (when there isn't clear-cut, non-disputable evidence that true incompetence is the case, such as Bush's jury-rigged FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina), is almost always a blustery show of insecurity that manifests as an attempt to distract you from their possible incompetence by calling someone else's into question. In short, if someone claims someone else is incompetent, most of the time the accuser is the one with the problem.

Some of you more clued-in to motivations behind bad behavior might be thinking "well, duh." I, too, am a bit disappointed in myself for taking so long to put this together. But then only in the past few years have I been in a environment where a few bad eggs do this regularly. I hadn't had cause to really think about it before.

So, if I may indulge in a little dime-store psychology, I think Metheny feels inferior to Kenny G because Kenny can reach a huge audience, and he can't. And he feels it's unfair because he thinks he's a better musician than Kenny. He more or less articulates this in the article.

But even if that's true, apparently Kenny is the better artist.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Picky Eaters

Syaffolee has a post about picky eaters.

As a veteran picky eater, brother of one, husband of one, and father of two, I have some random thoughts to share on the issue. (Btw, I agree with Sya's basic assertions.)

As as kid, I was probably the worst kind of picky eater to be. I hated hated hated hot dogs and pizza. Guess what moms serve every single freakin time little boys ever congregate?

Even weirder, I loved things like spinach, chow mien, all forms of meat, and only one vegetable was and is on my "no fly" list.

My mom was (is) a hell of a cook, and I suspect the way she made things spoiled me to the way other moms made them. I recall being served white (potato) pancakes with boysenberry syrup at a friend's house, and having been told by my buddy we were getting pancakes, when they hit the table, I looked up at his mom and asked in all sincerity: "What are these?" She was one of the most accepting and kind moms of our group, but I still recall her being pissed off at me for about a week.

Around late adolescence I suddenly got over most of my pickyness, which I think is common for most of us. I think it was the reality of the school cafeteria that made me have to adapt or starve, plus the voracious appetite of that age. My teenage daughter has gone from eating tiny portions at dinner to going back for a big helping of seconds.

I still can't stand brussels sprouts. To me, they are like little bitter little cabbages whose center has rotted to a mushy yellow. How in the world can anyone think they're good?

My wife still won't eat most vegetables and fruit. You wouldn't have to involve your toes if you were to use your available digits to count the few veggies and fruits she'll eat. She claims to have never been a big veggie fan, but apparently a disastrous attempt to lose weight once using a fruit diet ruined her already tenuous acceptance of that food group.

To make life additionally difficult for my parents, my brother was a picky eater whose list of things he liked were nearly a completely separate yin to my yang. He hated meat and veggies, mostly liking pasta, potatoes, and bread - things I tolerated, but wasn't a fan of.

My father once forced my brother to eat something he'd refused to, and my brother promptly barfed at the table. That was the last time either of us were forced to eat anything. We were still cajoled, but never forced again.

At one of my brother's birthday parties when he was about 10 years old, mom had used a marshmallow frosting on the cake. My brother's best friend couldn't stand marshmallow, but was raised to never refuse food given to him at someone else's house. He forced it down, tried to play, but finally had to step around the corner of the house and puke, where mom found him in a miserable little pile. He was so nauseous from the frosting that he couldn't stop puking, and his mom had to come get him.

My own kids both started out eating about everything we gave them. The only early exceptions were some forms of baby food. Eventually both my wife and I tried the concoction that made the baby gag, and agreed it was pretty heinous. There must be a group of jarred baby food cooks who don't think babies have tastebuds. Nearly every concoction that's a combination of meat and veggie tastes like a little spoonful of distilled hell. Gerber even proudly announces the very reason this is true on a little blinking banner as you try to surf their horrifically designed website: "Did you know? GERBER purees contain no added refined sugar, salt, or starch." We started to add sugar and salt to the ones that could be rescued with the addition thereof, and never bought again those that couldn't, like the meat and veggie abominations.

We even noted that after the baby (we only did it to the first one) had suffered through a meat/veg jar, she wouldn't eat well for a couple days, as though it had triggered the taste aversion that occurs after you've puked up a particular food. Only once we clued in and gave her things that tasted good to us did that weirdness go away.

...Until about the age of four. Both kids at that age started forming preferences that were/are seemingly random. The eldest hates potato soup, though the youngest gorges on it. The youngest has decided that sub sandwhiches are little slices of pure evil, while the eldest constantly asks to go to Subway.

Neither really likes breakfast cereal, which was my staple as a kid. I probably consumed enough Cap'n Crunch to create a barge out of the boxes. I even have JFK-assassination-like sense memory of the first time I ate the stuff. I was so excited to taste it, my mom let me have a bowl after dinner. I still remember where I sat in the kitchen when I ate it, what it looked like (70s brownish tile), and so on. I even remember that odd thing it does to your mouth, leaving the roof of your mouth feeling slightly shredded.

I've noted that as my eldest stays over at friends houses, and goes on daytrips with them and their families, that her palate is expanding. As a parent, it's a bit annoying that they won't try new things when you suggest it, but when forced to try something to be a polite guest, they suddenly announce (though as casually as possible hoping it won't cause parental feather-ruffling) that, oh, yeah, they like peas now. But you takes your gains where you can gets them.

On the flip-side, some of my eldest's friends do the same thing, and - even more gratifying - will only eat my version of a dish that they won't touch at home. That makes up for my own kid's culinary betrayals.

As the article Sya references points out, the one apparently universal food that everyone likes is fried chicken. Go fig.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recent Viewings, July 2010

Ok, let's see... Gad, been awhile again... Where does the time...? Ah, screw it. Been busy and lazy; I have no real excuse.

Saw some flicks; here's what I thought.

In The Theatre (a more common occurrence since MPC 2 is 5 and MPC 1 can babysit):

An OK popcorn movie, but to me it was just another retread of the Aliens/Predator franchises: get a group of badasses in an inescapable situation, mix in alien that's somehow a superior killing machine, hilarity ensues.

The one unintentionally entertaining aspect of the movie for we was the main badass was played by Adrien Brody. He's that very skinny guy from The Pianist and the latest King Kong. Not the first guy you'd think of as the alpha monkey.

Here he adopts the gravelly Clint Eastwood-esque measured monotone, which made me grin every time he did it. And I just waited for the scene where his shirt is torn off (ala the cliche articulated in Galaxy Quest) where we would see how much gym time he'd put in for the role. I'm guessing a solid year. But you can get only so much muscle on a toothpick of a guy, and he just looks extremely toned, not buff and mean like the action hero needs to have.

Oh, and while technically the first death doesn't continue the very real tradition of BADF (Brothers Always Die First), the brother does die second (if you think this is a spoiler, then you've never seen one of these movies, and apologies); and the way the first guy dies does make it feel like it was yet another instance of BADF. And they really really could've nuked one of the others first. Shame shame.

If you like the franchises, catch this on DVD; if not, read about She's Out of My League, below for something you might like.

Toy Story 3
While MPC 1 and the Spousal Unit hit the latest Mormon vampire installment, MPC 2 and I visited Woody, Buzz, and the gang.

As you've probably read en masse elsewhere, this is one of the few worthy second sequels ever floated; a beautiful end-cap to the trilogy.

This ain't a spoiler, but the final shot is a pan up to the same field of clouds that you see in the first shot of the first flick, creating a perfect circle. Nice touch.

The plot extends from the most poignant moment of the 2nd flick when the cowgirl from Woody's original toy set joins the gang thanks to a toy collector, and her backstory includes the heartbreaking "When She Loved Me" sequence where she tells of her original owner outgrowing her. Andy is now college age, and the few toys left (we hear of garage sales and Goodwill donations) know their fate is at hand.

I'll leave the rest of the surprises intact for ya, but I will say that at one moment near the ending, the situation is pretty harrowing and I bet it gives some of the little ones nightmares. If you've got lil' kids that are sensitive to such things, take them yourself rather than let them go as a group with a friend's parents or a babysitter. They will need you to hold their hand. You'll need theirs through some parts, too.


It's All About Steve
Yes, all the reviews said this was pretty bad, but I like Sandra Bullock, and so wanted to see how she played a psycho-betty, to see if she could pull it off.

In my opinion, she almost does, but the character requires such a large suspension of disbelief, only a more homely actress who wasn't afraid to really bring the tragic side of this character out could come close to selling it properly. Sandra's comic chops are well-used, but she's just too pretty and charismatic for us to believe she's this mess of clueless neurosis.

SPOILER: And the child-down-the-well subplot is waaaaaaay too heavy for the material.

I didn't listen, but maybe you will: skip this one.

The Man from Earth
The hyperbole in various places on the web and the obscurity of the movie (I don't know if it even played in theatres, and don't care enough to research it) made me dubious about the flick, but I made sure I didn't have the plot bombshell spoiled for me because I figured that would be the only thing that made it worth watching. I was right, so I won't give it away here, either.

The premise is these college prof buddies get together for a going-away party for one of them who's moving on, and during the festivities he reveals to them (after they bring it up in a joking manner noting the age of some of his knick-knacks) that he's lived forever.

The dialogue is often too precious and the acting is just a hair away from regional theatre, which makes it kind of a slough.

Then the bombshell is released and, in my opinion, it gets sillier.

Still, if you're looking for a biggish plot twist, and don't waste any money to see it, it's just entertaining enough that it's worth the time it takes to watch it. I'm sure the author thought it would provoke debate and conversation afterward, but the treatment of the topics are simplistic and probably only young teens would be intrigued by any points anyone in the flick makes.

Oh, and as usual, the supposed Christian of the group is portrayed as a cipher - a hand-puppet that betrays the author's lack of understanding of Christianity rather than a fully-realized character with a legitimate understanding of the same. The author would have been well-served by having a Christian fan vet that character's lines.

Thrill Seekers
This was a made-for-TV flick that had an interesting premise: in the future when time-travel machines exist, a company sells trips back in time to visit the biggest tragedies. A reporter detects one of the tourists in enough historical photos that he is able to track the guy down and verify that's what's going on.

It's been a few weeks since I've seen this, and I remember coming out the end of the movie with the same thought I had going in: interesting premise. It didn't deliver on the promise of it, according to my dim memory of it, so it'd be cool to see a good writer make something of the idea and try again. Save your time for that, if it ever happens.

She's Out of My League
Of all the flicks called out in this post, this was my favorite. I greatly enjoyed myself throughout. The title pretty much gives you the plot.

"She" is played by the truly hot Alice Eve, who's British according to the info in the interwebs, which was a surprise to me as her American accent is perfect. Take a look, though:

Wow, huh? (Note she has one blue eye and one green eye.)

What I liked about her character is that she's aware she's pretty, and aware that some of the reactions she gets are about that, but she still seems like a real person. It would have been too easy to have her be arrogant, or clueless, or untouchably goddess-like; but props to the writers, she has enough of a distinctive personality that you come to know and appreciate the person wrapped in this amazing visage.

And that pretty much makes the movie.

But, even better, the geeky guy she supposedly falls for is fugly enough, but charming and funny enough, that you believe she'd actually give him a chance. It's as realistic as a comedy like this can get. It even sneaks in a good message about how we can sabotage things through our own unrealistic fears.

The group of buddies are recognizable and real enough, too, even if they do come close to a now-cliche collection of guy buds:
1) The fat guy who's childlike and clueless. 2) The "regular" guy who's the primary goofball of the bunch, but the one with heart who does something big to move the plot forward. 3) The hot guy/ladies man who gets all chicks and sometimes instructs the other guys on how be less hopeless in that regard (when he either takes pity on them or is annoyed enough that his wingmen can't maintain altitude at least until he scores). 4) The victim of the plot, and for our purposes here the aforementioned "geeky guy".

This was the same group of character types found in the recent hit The Hangover, you'll note. However, it doesn't knee-cap this movie. And, to be honest, a lot guy bud groups in real life are comprised of these guys, which is probably why they're used with some frequency.

The only fault I found was a set-piece that should've been left on the cutting-room floor, which I'll try to reference in a non-spoiler way: it involves a hair-clipper.

Outside of that, the two leads do such an excellent job, you enjoy every moment they're on the screen. And that Alice Eve is the nicest piece of eye-candy I've seen in a while.

Put the kids to bed, grab the spouse, and fire it up. Or if you're single, have the boys and girls over for a movie party night.