Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yup, I'm a nerd

Final score, 6 out of 7, and 22 seconds left on the clock:

Aquaman Left Spyware on My Hard Drive

I used to love You Don't Know Jack on WebTV--even if nobody ever wanted to play with me. (Can I help it if I have quick reflexes?) I'm glad Jellyvision is still producing content, but they really need to find a better delivery/distribution method. No RSS feed? Banner ads? That is so Web 1.0.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Doom and Doomer

I made the mistake of watching Doom last night, the movie based on the video game... And ye gods, was it awful. I mean, ever since I saw the trailer last year, I was expecting the worst, and still my expectations of badness were exceeded.

Which is not to say there weren't some good ideas buried beneath all the schlock. I appreciate that the screenwriters actually tried to do something interesting with the story, and that The Rock was willing to tweak his macho screen persona in the service of a few plot twists--but none of those evanescent gleams of creativity was enough to salvage the experience.

To add insult to injury, the FPS sequence was an absolute joke. It was embarrassing to watch. I've seen better sequences, with more tension, in amusement park rides--in Looney Tunes, for crying out loud!

And then the third act turns into a bad kung fu movie. I'm not even kidding. Just stay away.

Ever since Aliens, people have been ripping off James Cameron's kick-ass Space Marines in movies, TV, and video games--including, whaddyaknow, DOOM. It's pretty clear that the filmmakers here didn't understand anything about the game and why it became such a phenomenon. It wasn't about team tactics or technobabble; it was about you, the player, fighting off hordes of inexplicable monsters all by yourself. Alone, with limited weapons and resources, while dodging demons that throw fucking fireballs at you.

The movie attempts to recreate some of that ducking-through-the-corridors suspense, but it's just not the same when you've got teams of two men moving in cover formation. And heavy metal. Did I mention the annoying heavy metal music, which is no substitute for the actual adrenaline rush of surprise?

We shall speak of this no more. Some good movies I've seen lately:

The Holiday - fluffy, inoffensive, enjoyably sentimental. Kate Winslet and Jack Black make a cute couple, and apparently Eli Wallach is now the go-to guy for Hollywood nostalgia.

Stranger Than Fiction - offbeat and friendly. Loved Emma Thompson, and was pleasantly surprised by Will Ferrell's restraint. Not as remarkably mind-blowing as Being John Malkovich or even Adaptation, but arresting on a different level.

Casino Royale - as everyone says: liked Daniel Craig, thought the film was a bit long--especially what my wife called the "Harlequin romance" sequence in the middle. And Eva Green's character, so promising when introduced, fizzles at the end.

And on DVD:

Crash - good? Yes. Best Picture? Shrug.

The Break-Up - which I rented only because there's a cappella in it (including ex-Bob Gunnar Madsen and members of Chicago group Vocal Chaos). Otherwise, nothing special.

House of Games - David Mamet's directorial debut. Good stuff, but I saw through the con from a mile away, and the dialogue was more stilted than usual--yes, even for him.

D and I will do our traditional day-at-the-movies over the Xmas break, but first, we've still got the second season of House to finish off...


Monday, December 04, 2006

"Ghosts of Earth"

My third story published at 365 tomorrows! Read it now, then discuss amongst yourselves.

I wrote this just before Halloween, and it has nothing to do with that similarly titled John Carpenter movie. I am thinking about expanding it into a longer story, possibly even re-using the premise for next year's NaNoWriMo, but I really have no idea where I'd go with it-- how do you write dialogue when all your characters are incorporeal minds who can interact directly at the speed of thought? That's crazy!

Speaking of Halloween, D and I finally saw Monster House over the weekend, and it was very good-- much better than I had expected from the trailers, which made it seem like yet another empty-headed, FX-heavy animated romp. Next time I'll pay more attention to the "Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg" credit. Those two aren't perfect storytellers (see What Lies Beneath and the E.T. 20th anniversary edition), but they've got good instincts and hit more than they miss. Also, the motion-capture animation actually looked decent here-- much better than the unrelentingly creepy Polar Express-- which gives me hope for next year's Beowulf.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hiking? If nothing else, bring a whistle.

A couple, both around 30 years of age, were recently found after getting lost in a local state park and spending 5 days there. My wife was struck by the story and pointed it out to me because the park they got lost in was Castle Rock State Park, a spot favored by local rock climbers, and a park we've frequently visited.

I'm definitely happy the couple was found, but I was extremely bothered by the article. The quote that bothered me the most:

"They deserve a lot of credit,'' Freeman [leader of one of the search and rescue teams] said, "because they had the most important piece of equipment out there when you are lost, and that is the determination that they were going to get found.''

They didn't have the most important equipment -- in fact, they hadn't prepared at all. I think comments like this ignore the fact that when you are hiking in an unfamiliar area, you need to be prepared, even when it's a casual walk in the woods. They got rescued but this easily could have been a tragedy because they were so incredibly unprepared in an area that was brand-new to them.

Arnaud Stehle was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. His wife, Maria, was dressed in t-shirt and pants. They carried no water, no extra clothing, no emergency whistle, no headlamp or small flashlight. Their clothing indicates that they didn't know evening temperatures, and they didn't get a sense for when sunset occurs. (They got lost because after the sun set, they became disoriented -- something definitely scary.)

Thankfully, they DID tell friends where they were going -- that alone probably saved their lives. But please folks, if you carry nothing else when you're hiking, carry an emergency whistle. It's tiny, weighs nothing in your pocket, and costs $4.50 at REI. The one I've linked to is the Mini Fox 40 but any whistle which is: 1) loud, 2) pea-less (doesn't have that little ball in the whistle which if frozen or wet will sometimes stop the whistle from working), and 3) made of high-impact plastic will work. My wife keeps one clipped on her backpack whereever she goes and when we hike, we each carry one in the possibility that we get separated. Really, it's the cheapest insurance you can carry. Knowing morse code for SOS (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot) will help but just blowing the whistle will carry your signal further than yelling plus when weak from exposure, lack of food, etc. you can still whistle while yelling becomes extremely difficult.

There are lots of other things that one can carry -- space blankets, waterproof matches, compasses, signal mirrors, extra food and water, warmer layers, mini headlamps, light raingear, etc. etc. -- but it's understandable on a casual walk through the woods, much of it may be onerous.

Just bring the whistle -- please. It could save your life.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Studio 60 Antidote?

I've wanted to like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the latest Aaron Sorkin TV show. I loved the West Wing and Sports Night, both Aaron Sorkin-written shows. I'm a huge fan of Matthew Perry (from Friends fame) and Bradley Whitford (from West Wing fame). And I'm plugging away at the Studio 60 episodes, devotedly watching them, but I just can't get hooked on it. It has a moment here and there, but everything feels so uninvolved. It doesn't pull me in -- it feels somehow... disconnected.

This sentiment is nothing new -- a lot of popular press has echoed similar opinions of failed expectations. So I found myself wondering in the shower (where all good thinking happens) why Studio 60 has struggled, especially when the West Wing was such a hit.

I realized two things:

Studio 60 lacks a dramatic timing. Sorkin's shows share the same fast paced, on-your-toes dialogue but his other shows have stopped that back-and-forth at key times to make a dramatic point or let a serious event sink in with the audience. In the most recent episode ("B-12" where the cast all gets sick from flu), there are several moments where the characters were at a point where their characters could have been drawn out more seriously but it gets interrupted by classic Sorkin devices -- a witty allusion, a back-and-forth joke establishing palsiness, or the characters move and the camera moves with them. In short, the show is paced too fast. It needs to slow down and spend time with some of the heavier, more serious sides. In B-12, there's a moment where a current event in the show echoes a character's personal tragedy. The moment the show spends letting that sink in with the audience is one of the first times in the show I've felt a tug that lasted after the show.

Maybe more importantly, the subjects of those moments don't ring true enough with the audience. Which leads into the second reason...

Studio 60 deals with an environment/world in which heroes are difficult to find and make. In ER, doctors save lives. In West Wing, politicians sacrifice politically smart moves to make decisions which pave the way for thousands of people. In crime dramas, detectives protect people. And sometimes these heroes fail and that failure becomes additionally tragic because these heroes tried so hard. In Studio 60, writers and producers can... make good comedy? Be true to their muses in spite of studio pressure? It just doesn't make for as dramatic triumphs and tragedies. Even the trumphs ring hollow after a while. The skits we see in Studio 60 are high-minded and intellectual -- making them even the triumphs questionable.
The losses on the line for our characters are equally shallow. Short of Jordan McDeere's job being on the line all the time, there's little that our characters risk or lose during the shows. Sure, Matt might write a show that wasn't up to his standards, more people might discover that Danny had a drug problem, and ultimately the show might be cancelled, but we don't get the sense that they are dealing with important risks -- risks that we identify with. Maybe it's because they're dealing with risks that don't affect us directly enough.

In short, it seems like Studio 60 lacks exactly what its genre is: drama. While I certainly hope we don't arrive at "In a special episode of Studio 60", I do hope it can connect with its audiences and create us some heroes we will be addicted to.