Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review: Year One



A colloidal suspension of one-note jokes in a mythogenic solution, but not a complete waste of time.

Starts out pretending to be Prehistoric Animal House and ends up wanting to be Life of Brian Lite, but never really earns either mantle. Meanwhile, there's quite a bit of History of the World, Part Uno in act two, but Mel Brooks did it better.

If you've got a gap in your Netflix queue, check out the "Leroy Jenkins" special feature on the DVD. I wouldn't say that alone justifies the rental, but it is probably the most amusing single thing I saw tonight.

CKL

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Comic Book Report: Planet Hulk



I'll be honest: I was never really into Marvel comics. I don't have anything against them; they just never spoke to me in the same way the mythic characters of the DC universe did. So it doesn't bother me as much when, for example, new writers reboot or retcon characters to explore new storytelling avenues.

In the "Planet Hulk" storyline, writer Greg Pak (auteur of the impressive-if-uneven 2003 anthology film Robot Stories) drops the Hulk--quite literally--into an epic fantasy/space opera. This isn't the monosyllabic "Hulk smash" monster I remember from my childhood; this Hulk speaks in complete sentences, even formulates strategy, and more than anything reminds me of Wolverine.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As mentioned above, I have nothing invested in these characters, so I was able to go along with the story--which shamelessly recycles a tonne of archetypes, tropes, and clichés in service of a tall tale that gets progressively more ridiculous and unexpectedly touching. Pak doesn't manage to totally pull off the third act, but to be fair, it would probably have required a multi-bookstop novel series to do the concept justice.

There's a lot to like here, and I'm curious to see what happens next in "World War Hulk," and how the movie adaptation plays.

Recommended. Buy this book from Powell's or Amazon.

CKL

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Barry Manilow Called...

...he wants his royalties.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfT5U_rwkgA

That was The Richter Scales performing at this year's "Crunchies" awards show, in what seems to have become an annual tradition. But as amusing as that song was, I couldn't stop thinking of this one:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX3sI0q5iMI

And by the way, Barry guest starring on Glee? Could be a train wreck. I am so going to watch anyway. Expect to see an angry blog post if there is a conspicuous absence of Mandy.

CKL

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Report: Tomorrow, When the War Began

I haven't actually made any New Year's Resolutions for 2010, but I did get it into my head to blog about the books I read. (Short capsules, like DeeAnn was doing, but one at a time, like Larry does.) So here goes...



I don't remember how I found Tomorrow, When the War Began at the library. I think it was in one of their featured displays, but I don't think it was part of a particular themed collection. Anyway, the reason I picked it up was the arresting title, and the first couple of pages held my attention pretty well. So I checked it out.

As it turns out, this is the first in a very popular series of Australian YA novels. I didn't look that up until after I'd finished the book, so I thought it ended very abruptly. But it was a pretty engaging read throughout, with the possible exception of the soap-opera bits in the middle. I liked that it was a war story focusing more on the people than the politics of the conflict itself. I suppose that also helps it appeal to youngsters who don't give a toss about world governments and such.

Anyway, I've put a hold on the second book--The Dead of the Night, published in the U.S. as The Dead of Night--and we'll see if I continue to like the story. At least the books in this series don't balloon into doorstops, like some others I could mention. And I've got a few months before the movie opens.

CKL

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Harold & Kumar Get Left 4 Dead Once Upon A Time In Mexico"

Rights holders: Please don't sue me. Here--I'll even link to all your products! Fair use! Fair use!

Read "Harold & Kumar Get Left 4 Dead Once Upon A Time In Mexico" at 512 Words or Fewer

CKL

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Monday, August 17, 2009

All the Joe You Need

G.I. Joe, that is. Why spend money on a crappy movie when you can see the music video for free? Especially when the music video has, arguably, bigger stars* and better writing than the feature film?



* Partial cast list: Alexis Bledel as Lady Jaye. Billy Crudup as Zartan. Zach Galifianakis as Snow Job. Tony Hale as Dr. Mindbender. Vinnie Jones as Destro. Julianne Moore as Scarlett. Henry Rollins as Duke. Alan Tudyk as Shipwreck. Olivia Wilde as The Baroness...

~CKL

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fifteen Sticky Movies

(Dear Facebook friends: I appreciate the thought when you "tag" me in your "notes," but instead of wrestling with Facebook's user-hostile interface and hiding my content inside their walled garden, I choose to post my omphaloskepsistic lists on the public Internet, where anyone can find and ridicule them. Hugs and kisses, me.)

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen movies you've seen that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    Khaaaaaan!
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
    Confused me for a long time until I realized the entire film was all about food and eating. Watch it again, you'll see what I mean.
  • Star Wars
    The first movie I can remember seeing in a theatre.
  • Memento
    A simple story told in a complicated way.
  • Office Space
    D and I saw this movie because we ran into some friends of ours in line at the theatre, and it's what they were going to see. We were very pleasantly surprised.
  • The Sixth Sense
    Still M. Night Shyamalan's best film.
  • Casablanca
    Bogie was always at his best when playing antiheroes.
  • Strange Days
    Not an entirely successful modern film noir, but I love the atmosphere.
  • Zero Effect
    I still wish someone had bought the pilot and made a TV series out of this, but I guess House is an acceptable compromise.
  • Brick
    Old-school noir laid on so thick it's like butta. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Third Rock from the Sun) acts the hell out of this role (and his character in The Lookout—kid's got some chops).
  • It's a Wonderful Life
    How I met my wife.
  • Galaxy Quest
    Another pleasant surprise. D and I saw this on Christmas Day, not expecting much, and we got a grand adventure. Also the film debut of young Justin Long ("I'm a Mac").
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
    Watched in half-hour increments during high school lunch periods. After the climactic battle, I made a comment about a "phallic victory," when I actually meant to say "Pyrrhic victory." Eh, I was a teenage boy. I blame the hormones.
  • Waitress
    RIP, Adriennne Shelly.
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
    RIP, John Hughes.

NB: Ask me this on a different day and I'd probably give you a different list.

~CKL

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Money for Nothing

D recently received a mysterious $250 direct deposit from the VA into her bank account. Upon further investigation, she determined that it was an "economic recovery payment" to eligible Veterans, implemented as part of ARRA. It's apparently also tax-free, and separate from the disability settlement she received a few years ago (long story). So, hooray for free money!

We're living off our savings right now, and it feels weird to fill out surveys and list our annual income as "less than $15,000," but it's technically true. Our only actual income is from bank interest and investments; the bulk of that comes from the index fund, which is still paying about $1,000 in dividends every quarter.

Including the bank interest, our total income this year will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. (Which, incidentally, is how much Ed Helms' character in The Hangover had in savings--and he was supposed to be the most stable of the four protagonists. D was quite appalled. But that's another story.)

I also made about $300 back in May for three days' work as an extra on Leverage. It was literally a minimum wage gig, and I didn't do it for the money; I had fun being on set and rubbing elbows (sometimes literally) with the cast, crew, and director.

So far, no actual money made from writing, but I'm hoping that'll change soon.

~CKL

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Surrogates Timeline

"From the time I started writing the first script until the time the last issue hit the stands, The Surrogates was nearly four years in the making."
- Robert Venditti, "Script to Page," The Surrogates TPB

May, 2002: Robert Venditti begins work on The Surrogates graphic novel (per CBR interview)

July, 2005: Top Shelf begins publishing The Surrogates as a 5-issue, bi-monthly limited series, illustrated by Brett Weldele.

March, 2007: Disney options film rights for The Surrogates (per Wikipedia).

November, 2007: Bruce Willis cast in lead role of Harvey Greer.

April, 2008: Principal photography on Surrogates begins in Massachusetts.

July, 2009: Graphic novel prequel The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone scheduled for publication.



September, 2009: Surrogates film scheduled for release.



The movie has changed a few things, of course; Greer is now an FBI agent, not a police detective in "Central Georgia Metropolis," and apparently the villain is actually killing people, not just destroying their robotic surrogates. I guess that's to "raise the stakes." I don't expect much from the director of Terminator 3, but hey, it can't be much worse than I, Robot, right?

~CKL

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Whiteout Timeline

1998: Oni Press publishes Whiteout, a 4-issue comic book miniseries written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Lieber.



2000: Whiteout is nominated for multiple Eisner Awards.



2001: Whiteout Volume 1 trade paperback published.



2007: At PAX 2007, Greg Rucka tell us that the Whiteout movie "[is] gonna look real pretty."



2009: First official trailer for Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale as U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (apologies on behalf of YouTube for the unfortunate still image):



Movie opens in September. I remain cautiously optimistic.

~CKL

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Doppelgangers

In the same vein as today's "Writer's Block" prompt on LiveJournal ("Same Name"), here are a few other people and things with similiar names...

Ken Levine: There's the TV comedy writer and the video game designer. I met the former at last year's Sitcom Room, and heard the latter give the keynote speech at last year's PAX. They're both quite accomplished in their respective fields.

Chocolat/Chocolate: One is the Academy Award-nominated 2000 film directed by Lasse Halström and starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. The other is a 2008 Thai action movie featuring "[a]n autistic woman with powerful martial art skills" (IMDb). Don't get them confused when you're at the video store.

John Sheppard/Jack Shephard: John is the officer in charge of military operations on Stargate Atlantis. Jack is the Doctor who makes bad decisions on Lost. And there are, apparently, way too many Jesus freaks naming TV characters these days.

~CKL

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Star Trek in 11 Minutes

As previously mentioned, I did enjoy the new movie, but there are plot holes aplenty. And, like Scalzi said, would it have killed them to get some basic science right?

Spoilers abound in Samuel Bierwagen's Bad Transcript: Star Trek (2009). Enjoy.

~CKL

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

J.J. Abrams' Awesome Trek Fanfic!

That's my one-line review of the new Star Trek movie.

D and I saw it yesterday, and we both enjoyed it, but I have to be honest here: regardless of its provenance, the story still felt more like fan fiction than actual canon--Trek-flavored, if you will; much better than Enterprise, but still not the real thing.

Before I dive in, a couple of non-spoilery remarks:
  • As the end titles started rolling, I thought: "John Cho gets top billing? Represent, brother!" Then I realized the principal cast were listed in alphabetical order (Ben Cross being the second name was a big hint). Oh well. At least Cho's starring in another Harold & Kumar flick next year.
  • The score started out perfectly, with a lone French horn, but the overall tone of the theme music was a bit too martial for me. Which leads nicely into my next point...
One of my earliest memories is of standing up in my crib and watching television. The three shows I remember most clearly are Space: 1999, Star Trek, and Bewitched. (I can just imagine some of you nodding and muttering, "That explains a lot.") For me, the thing that always distinguished Star Trek from other shows was its stated mission:
To explore strange new worlds;
To seek out new life and new civilizations;
To boldly go where no one has gone before.

At its core, Trek was all about exploration and discovery. The best stories they ever told, IMHO, involved the crew learning something new, either about the universe or about themselves (ideally both), figuring out how something worked, and--if it was broken--fixing it. It often also pitted personal principles against rules and regulations (e.g., Kirk vs. Prime Directive), and above all, it emphasized that science works. It wasn't always the right answer, and sometimes it was even the cause of the problem, but there was no question that science and research were the key to a greater understanding of our universe and ourselves.

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

The new movie gets the characters right, even while tweaking them a little. I agree with screenwriter John Rogers that "[a]lmost every choice was the best possible choice" in that regard. You should go read his excellent analysis of "how what will be the most successful movie of the summer kicks conventional screenwriting 'rules' in the junk." You could also read film critic Anthony Lane's thoughtful review of the new Trek's "recklessly rolling plot... [which] powers along, unheeding of its own absurdity, with drive and confidence," even if he is a bit of a downer.

I have issues with the new Trek's wacky pseudo-science (yes, even wackier than the usual technobabble), multiple deus ex machinas and MacGuffins, and nonsensical villain motivation (hello, Evil Overlord); but, as D said, whenever the story stopped making sense, the filmmakers just threw in a big action scene to distract us. That's one advantage movies have over books, at least in the hand-waving department. They can always flash something shiny--or naked, or explodey--to distract you from a weak story. It's a problem when spectacle overwhelms storytelling (insert Michael Bay joke here), but Abrams understands and respects that balance.

As a longtime fan, I'm still ambivalent about the massive continuity changes wrought by this reboot. The alternate reality angle, even more than the Spock/Uhura 'shipping, makes this seem like fanfic; and though I understand why Abrams and company chose to destroy Israel Vulcan and kill Amanda, it feels to me like The Powers That Be just gave up on trying to deal with that culture. I'm glad they recognized that Spock is an integral part of Trek--you could argue that this is really his movie, not Kirk's--but I think his story was already interesting enough, and obliterating his homeworld just seems mean-spirited.

At this point, a sequel seems inevitable, and maybe the Vulcan diaspora is part of the plan for rewriting the Trek universe: to shift the fundamental balance of power in the galaxy away from Vulcan, which was previously depicted as a highly advanced civilization and one of the governing races in the Federation, and toward Earth. I noticed that while several alien Starfleet officers got screen time in the new movie, very few of them actually had speaking lines: Kirk's obligatory green-skinned honey was little more than a prop, and Scotty's little Ewok friend doesn't actually do anything useful. Um, xenophobic much? Let's not do that, guys.

To end on an "up" note: I did enjoy all the little in-jokes and callbacks to previous Trek incarnations, especially the sound effects and the return of the 47s. It's a sign that the writers were paying attention to at least some of the details, and it gives me hope that this new Trek will respect the history of the franchise while putting an interesting and different spin on it.

(ADDENDUM: My Facebook friends inform me that Abrams previously and independently did the 47 thing in Alias. Guess Paramount picked the right man for this job, then.)

~CKL

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Science Fiction Writers Take Note

From io9's Top Ten Rules of Space Opera:

9. There should be a captain. If there is not a captain, there should be a special agent. If there is not a special agent, there should be a cadet with a future. If there is no cadet with a future, there should be a mercenary with a dark past.
If there is no mercenary with a dark past, there should be a wisecracking stowaway. If there is no wisecracking stowaway, there should be a witch. If there is no witch, there should be a scientist. If there is no scientist, just remake Spaceballs.

-- Annalee Newitz

Has there been a really great science fiction satire recently? And no, crap like Superhero Movie does not count.

~CKL

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Script Frenzy 2009: DONE



I got started late, but I finished strong, thanks in large part to thrice-weekly write-ins with my fellow Portlanders.

You can read an excerpt from my finished screenplay over at 512 Words or Fewer.

~CKL

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State of Play

Capsule: a smart, well-paced thriller which also reminds us that, yeah, Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck are good actors, too.

D decided we should take Monday off and go see a movie in the afternoon. She gave me a choice of three local theatres and two movies at each venue; I chose State of Play at Cinetopia, because it is the best movie house in the Portland area, and I'm researching thrillers at the moment (the novel I'm currently rewriting is a near-future techno-thriller). I'd also heard good things about the BBC miniseries on which this American remake is based.

Though D had little interest going in (she was sure I would pick Monsters vs. Aliens instead), afterwards she had no complaints except for the obscure title (a chiefly British phrase meaning "state of affairs" or "the current situation"). The trailer is pretty info-rich, but it actually doesn't give too much away:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHziENfOX34

And now I've added the BBC series to my Netflix queue. Nothing against the American filmmakers, who produced a great picture, but I fully expect the British original to be superior:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EL9AMuVvqMI

~CKL

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

I am an old Jewish man

I know, I know. You thought I was a twelve-year-old girl, right? Well, that was Tuesday. This is Saturday. You gotta keep up here, JAFO.

Last night, D and I watched the mostly atrocious Get Smart movie remake, which suffers from the same problem as so many remakes these days--it trades on the brand name and packaging of the original without really understanding the appeal or capturing the spirit. The Avengers movie (remember that?) failed even worse, and though the new Battlestar Galactica managed to make its own mark, I'm still dubious about the upcoming Star Trek reboot.

This version of Get Smart just didn't get the old-school Jewish humor that permeated the original series; it pasted punchlines from the original series into scenes that had no setup or follow-through. The retooled Maxwell Smart character simply didn't match the old jokes ("Would you believe...," "Missed it by that much," etc.), in either personality or backstory. It took its action setpieces too seriously, and its comedy not seriously enough. Which is totally missing the point of Get Smart.

~CKL

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

DIY Oscar Party Kit

Every year, D and I host an Academy Awards viewing party at our home, and we amassed a bit of a following in the bay area over the last decade. Now that we've moved away, our friends Ken & Jerry are carrying on the tradition down there. The following materials are for them, and anyone else hosting an Oscar Party tomorrow, to use freely!

Acceptance Speech BINGO
http://www.snout.org/Movies/OAS_BINGO/

Reload the "generate card" link and print without headers or footers on card stock. It's always good to do a quick visual check before printing each card, to make sure you don't have any wacky words on there--the Perl script that sifts the word list is far from perfect.

Trivia Slides
View Online / Download PowerPoint File (2.4MB)

We used to print these out and mount them on colored cardboard before taping them to the walls, but lately we've just been running the slide show on one of our laptops. If you download the PPT file, it's already set to kiosk mode with a 20-second delay. If you don't have PowerPoint, you can download the viewer for free.

Printable Ballot
Download PDF (833KB) from Oscars.com

See if your guests can predict the winners! Thanks to TiVo, we can pause the show right before the first award to make sure we've got everyone's completed ballots. I also print my answer key on a plastic transparency slide so it's easier to "grade" the ballots.

Assembling prizes is left as an exercise for the reader. We usually get small tchotchkes and sweets from OTC or the local party store and throw a handful of those into gift bags for BINGO prizes, then make a gift basket (with one trinket related to each of the Best Picture nominees) for the "predict the winners" grand prize. And I gotta tell you, it was tough finding something for Milk.

~CKL

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

My new favorite web site: MoviePosterDB.com

I found this site in the process of updating my trivia slides for this year's Oscar Party, and am now wasting a whole lot of time browsing through the designs for different countries. It's fun to see what kind of marketing the studios thought would be most appropriate in other places.

And where else (outside of Hong Kong) are you going to see this poster for Milk?



Sorry, Engrish fans, the Chinese title is a pretty straight translation: "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" (with the first four characters being a rough phonetic approximation of Xia-Fei Mi-Ke). If you want more interesting translations, you'll have to go find some bootleg Star Wars DVDs.

~CKL

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Coronation Will Not Be Televised"

This week's 512 Words: "The Coronation Will Not Be Televised"

You can also listen to the podcast and read the liner notes.

I'm sure various news outlets will make a big deal out of Monday being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Tuesday being the inauguration of America's first black President. That's fine. But we should also not forget that Ricardo Montalban passed away earlier this week. Is it too much to ask for a full week of mourning? My friend Gene doesn't think so:



~CKL

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Golden Boys


"Boos and booze for Cohen and Gervais at Golden Globes," Metro (UK)

"So Kate Winslet's got two Golden Globes. And hey, she also won a couple of awards tonight. Oh, what? It's true!"

I can only imagine what else Ricky Gervais might have said, if his beer-in-hand stand-up routine had come just a little bit later in Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards telecast. He certainly couldn't have done worse than Sacha Baron Cohen, who even had Sandra Bullock shaking her head at Borat's limp, not-ready-for-the-Catskills act. The old saying is true: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIzbwV7on6Q

As for the awards themselves, I'm pretty happy that Slumdog Millionaire (trailer above) took home the big prize. D and I saw it last week, and it's every bit as good as everyone's been telling you. And if no one else has told you, I am. Go see it. If you have to drive an hour each way and pay for a babysitter, go see it. It just won't be the same on a small screen.

Slumdog makes a lot of noise about destiny, but the theme I saw was more what murder police have known for years: "It's good to be good; it's better to be lucky." That, and you make your own luck by recognizing and seizing opportunities. Life is bigger than any of us, but we're not powerless.

Also, I was amused at how Anil Kapoor, playing the game show host, kept pronouncing "millionaire" like "milliner." Yes! I would like to make fine hats for ladies and gentlemen!

Now I'm off to add Danny Boyle's Millions to my Netflix queue, and see if the Slumdog soundtrack album is any good.

~CKL

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

You know, going FTL does imply time travel

Back in the 20th century, I got into my head this crazy idea to make a mockumentary about how my friend Bryan had invented faster-than-light travel. It was based on an offhanded comment he made once, about how he wanted to change the world by doing something really big, and which he now denies. WHATEVS. It was a good excuse for me to spend $2,000 on new toys.

So I got D to help me produce it, and his wife Karin helped us rope a bunch of his friends into giving fake interviews, looking back on the historic event--because this documentary was, after all, being shot in the far future: 2004! We didn't tell Bryan about it, because it was a surprise birthday present for him. We also didn't finish it in time for his birthday party, but we did manage to put together a 90-second trailer:



After that, it was a simple matter of dealing with Windows 98 crashes (remember those?), Adobe Premiere crashes, Pinnacle video capture hardware problems, and a gigantic 10GB RAID array. Did I mention this was 1999?

We only managed to output three-quarters of the movie we wanted, because we couldn't get the finished project to render completely unless we removed one of the sections. But after months of dealing with computer issues, both D and I were just about ready to re-enact a scene from Office Space, and we had to stop. (Now, I have a Mac. HO HO HO)

The world premiere of Superluminary: The Notorious BHB took place on April 1, 1999, which seemed like an appropriate date. It also aired on public access cable in Palo Alto a few times, and now, you can watch the whole thing online. Be warned, it's 25 minutes of inside baseball:



(Trivia: The entire film was supposed to be widescreen, like the trailer, and we composed all the shots that way; but it was taking way too long to render the edited video with the cropping effect, so we scrapped it. You can see the microphone at the top of the screen during my interview, and probably some other things here and there.)

I still have all the raw footage on VHS, and I'm toying with the idea of putting together a "special edition" for the 10th anniversary. But only if I can include an interview with Bryan. He's a busy guy, you know.

~CKL

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Xmas Movie Marathon 2008

Every year, on December 25th, D and I spend all day at the movies. We were excited this year because we now live half a mile from Cinetopia, an all-digital venue which is the third best theatre I've ever visited.*

We were less excited after the record snowfall here in Vancouver, and when we saw our slim pickings for movie choices. After checking Rotten Tomatoes, I ruled out The Spirit (17%) and Seven Pounds (28%). Here's what we ended up seeing:

Yes Man
Nothing new or special here, but passably entertaining. Jim Carrey does basically the same schtick he did in Liar Liar, except this time with Zooey Deschanel and Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords' band manager Murray) providing background color. The best scene involves the song "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind, but you can wait to see that on DVD.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The best of the lot by far. Absolutely not what you'd expect from David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), except maybe the visual effects. It wasn't quite as literally magical as I had been hoping, but they just chose to tell a different story than I would have with this Big Idea, and everything worked. I missed Fincher's last film, Zodiac, so I've just added it to the top of my Netflix queue. That's high praise from me.

Valkyrie
If you're really into Tom Cruise, WWII trivia, or eyepatches, enjoy! It wasn't badly made, but as D says: "They told us what happened, but not why we should care." Unless you slept through high school history classes, you know what the ending of this story is, and it's up to the filmmakers to tell it in a way that's interesting despite the foregone conclusion. On that front, FAIL. (For reference, movies that succeeded at this: The Perfect Storm, Apollo 13, Titanic, Recount.) On the bright side, it was amusing to see a raft of great British actors--Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson--playing German military men with both gusto and whatever bloody accent they felt like using.

Marley & Me
IMHO, it's actually a stretch to call this one a movie. It feels more like a ten-year-old's recitation of the form "and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened"--a meandering sequence of events with only a vague dramatic shape. Yes, it is a tear-jerking experience, but only at the end, and only because of the bulletproof subject matter (the family dog); it's affecting despite its often egregious shortcomings as a story.**

As a bonus, we got to see a flurry of huge snowflakes come down in the afternoon, making for a wondrous white Christmas. Who says there's nothing good at the movies?



(Click through to PicasaWeb to see the snowfall video.)

~CKL

* Numbers one and two were the Pixar screening room in Emeryville and the Arclight in Los Angeles.

** Re: Valkyrie and Marley: I suspect makers of many "based on a true story" films feel excessively beholden to historical facts at the expense of narrative drive and coherence. For inspiration, I would refer those people to Joss Whedon, who had the cojones to retcon his own story when making Serenity--the backstory explicitly depicted for Simon & River in the movie directly contradicts what was stated in the preceding series, Firefly, but Whedon recognized that changing it was the best way to tell the story, continuity be damned. He was right.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tired of Xmas Flicks Yet?

I'm not.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The original animated version, not the Y2K Jim Carrey abomination. D and I just watched this tonight, and what's not to love? Directed by Chuck Jones, with Boris Karloff narrating and singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Our DVD edition also included "Horton Hears a Who" (1970)--again, the animated classic, and what the hell is wrong with Jim Carrey anyway?--which presents the noble sentiment that "a person's a person, no matter how small."

Love Actually (2003)
One of those feel-good intertwined-relationship ensemble pieces that could come apart if not handled with the right touch, but Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) pulls it off. It does get a bit silly toward the end, but what do you expect from a movie in which Hugh Grant plays the British Prime Minister?

Meet John Doe (1941)
Online critic MaryAnn Johanson argues that this Frank Capra film is "at least as deserving of [traditional Christmas movie] status as [It's a Wonderful] Life -- and maybe even more deserving... while It's a Wonderful Life feels dated, Meet John Doe is still startlingly relevant today." I'm not convinced, but I admit I may have personal reasons to prefer Life over Doe, and the pair does make for a very thematic double feature.

~CKL

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Blasts From the Past

Back in the summer of 1991 (after I graduated high school), I hooked up a VHS VCR to a monaural VHS camcorder with flying erase head and manually edited together a music video using footage from my home-taped episodes of the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The song was "Kiss the Girl" from Disney's The Little Mermaid, and the subject of the video was the sexual tension between Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher. My friends have enjoyed watching it, and I've now uploaded it to YouTube for strangers to enjoy, too:



Please note that I did all the video editing by hand, without the benefit of time codes. The VCR did have a jog dial (thank you, Sony), but it still took a hell of a long time to sync everything. Did I mention that I actually dubbed the song from a cassette tape of the Little Mermaid soundtrack album, because the sound mix from the movie itself was too noisy, and I just wanted the music? I'm not sure which was worse--matching Data's "la-la-la" mouth movements* (1:03) or the tadpoles jumping over Sebastian's head (1:48).

And no, I really didn't have a life. Thanks for asking.

The next summer, I went back and made more TNG music videos--for Worf, Troi, Riker, and Data. And now you can watch them all on YouTube! That playlist also includes a sixth "bonus track"--a music video I threw together, years later, of scenes from The Abyss: Special Edition set to "Under Pressure." Check 'em out if you're so inclined, and please rate and comment.

Happy Holidays!

~CKL

* Lifted from his ridiculously long password in "Brothers."

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More Xmas Flicks

Because no one asked for it, but I was thinking about it...

Go (1999)
Clever, fast-paced fun with Sarah Polley, Taye Diggs, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, and lots of other actors you recognize from their more popular movies. But don't take my word--it's rated 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Written by John August (Big Fish), directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity), and you can watch it on Hulu.

In Bruges (2008)
You could argue that Christmas isn't an integral part of the setting for this story, but then I'd have to blow your fucking head off. Okay, not really. But if you're squeamish about violence or profanity, feel free to miss out on this tale of British hoodlums on holiday. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes; written and directed by Martin McDonagh--it's his first feature after winning an Oscar for his short film, Six Shooter (also starring Brendan Gleeson). Can't wait to see what he does next.

~CKL

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Xmas Flicks

One of our family traditions is to spend all day at the movies on December 25th. But before then, we like to get in the mood by revisiting some of our favorite holiday films. We don't always get around to watching all of them, but the list includes:

It's a Wonderful Life
The first movie D and I saw together, the night we met. When we lived in the bay area, if we weren't out of town visiting someone, we would always go see the Stanford Theatre show on Christmas Eve. We just saw a live radio play production of this in Portland, which was intimate and entertaining and a great example of remixing* public-domain content to create new art.

The Long Kiss Goodnight
D loves this movie, for reasons I'm sure she will be happy to explain.

Die Hard
What can I say? It's a classic, and I'm a sentimental fool. Sure, the action scenes are great, but for me, the heart of the movie is when John McClane is in the bathroom, bandaging up his feet and talking on the radio with Sgt. Powell. That scene, and the whole story, are all about character. (This is also why I don't much care for any of the sequels.)

We just watched The Sure Thing, which D got from Netflix because she'd read about it being a tradition with Connie Willis' family. It wasn't bad, despite being totally '80s, but D noted that it didn't feel like a Christmas movie, even though it's about two college students taking a road trip from the east coast to California for the holidays. The premise was just that--a pretext--and the filmmakers didn't even try to integrate the trappings of the season with the story or the set dressing.

Your turn, readers: What are your favorite holiday films, and why?

~CKL

* Speaking of which, anyone who cares about culture should support Creative Commons.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

A Public Service Announcement

The Dr. Horrible DVD is now available for pre-order on Amazon:



http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001M5UDGS/curtiscchensfree

Happy Black Friday!

~CKL

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Voted Yesterday.

The government here in our new home conducts all elections by mail, so D and I have already cast our ballots. If you can vote early, I encourage you to do so.

Yesterday, I helped decide legislation and appoint leaders and officials for Clark County, Congressional District 3, Legislative District 49, the great state of Washington, and the United States of America.

I voiced my preferences regarding transportation, euthanasia, and health care in my community. I chose the people I want to represent me in the state Supreme Court, the Governor's office, the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House.

In black and white on a piece of paper, I exercised my right and privilege as a citizen of this republic.

I voted.

What the fuck have you done lately?

~CKL

P.S. If you live in California, please vote NO on Prop 8 next Tuesday. Also go read Ex Machina, a learned political science treatise disguised as a comic book.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Classic Trek FTW

"Let's put it this way: Kirk kissed a lot of ladies, and none of them were his sister."
-- Stephanie Reid-Simons, "Star Trek ain't Star Wars, J.J.!" from armchaircommentary.com
I, too, have my doubts about next year's Trek reboot. Abrams does some things well, but Lost didn't really find its genre way until he stepped back and let some other folks drive the island (I love you, Brian K. Vaughan).

I'm not a big fan of the new bridge, as pictured in Entertainment Weekly. But D laughs out loud every time she sees Chris Pine's smarmy mug on the cover. "He's perfect," she says. She may be right. Even if his eyes are the wrong color.

~CKL

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ken Levine's Fall Movie Preview

Like Gaul, it has been divided into three parts. Some of my favorite bits:
HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 -- Dear God!
[...]
MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL – Dane Cook so avoid as you would any toxic material.
[...]
DOUBT – John Patrick Shanley adapts and directs his riveting play about a Catholic School scandal. Beautifully written but possibly a tad goyish.
(NOTE: This is not the same Ken Levine who worked on BioShock and is giving tomorrow's keynote speech at PAX. It's a bit confusing, I know.)

~CKL

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Movie Poster Letters Quiz

Here's a fun way to waste a few minutes: Can you guess the movie from just one letter? I only got 24 out of 46, but at least I kicked Mark Evanier's ass.

~CKL

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Denvention Has Begun

One of the many sights we saw today at the 66th WorldCon:

From Denvention 3

(I'm not convinced it was an actual stargate. The wormhole was definitely open for more than thirty-eight minutes, and I didn't see any singularities nearby.)

For more photos and details, click on over to Travels With Our Cats!

~CKL

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Hancock and the Golden Wall-E

Yes indeedy, the summer movie season is here, and with it we have a spate of films that are overstuffed with special effects, action set pieces, and--somewhat surprisingly--story. But this is not necessarily a good thing.

The last three movies D and I have seen--Wall-E, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Hancock--all suffer from an excess of good material. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't decide what story they wanted to tell, and just decided to blend everything together in the script-o-matic. The end results contain bits of interesting premises, but those bits are floating in a vaguely incoherent story-like substance. Or, to use another metaphor: too many dots, not all connected.

I wouldn't say any of them was bad, but you can probably wait for DVD to see for yourself.

(MINOR SPOILERS BELOW)

The worst offender, in terms of underdeveloped story and character, is Hellboy II. I really liked the first Hellboy movie, which managed to preserve much of the feeling of the original comic while also adding its own flourishes. But for the sequel, director Guillermo del Toro went a little overboard on art direction and makeup design--there are some amazing creatures which appear on screen for less than five minutes.

I'm glad Guillermo is getting the budget to play with stuff like this, and the movie looks beautiful, but there are literally half a dozen different subplots which all get shortchanged along the way. If you're going to see any of these three films on the big screen, go for Hellboy II. It's gorgeous.

Hancock, on the other hand, features some of the worst superhero-flying visual effects I've ever seen. I'm not talking about how Will Smith's character flies like the drunkard he is--that's actually a nice touch. I'm talking about the quality of the computer graphics and compositing. The lighting doesn't match between elements, and foreground object edges ring like crazy. It's surprisingly subpar for a big movie like this.

And even if you haven't seen the movie, I'm sure you've heard about the big left turn it takes in the second half. After reading a synopsis of the original screenplay (which was written in 1996 and titled--I'm not even kidding--Tonight, He Comes) and looking at the writing credits for the finished film, it seems obvious that X-Files alumnus Vince Gilligan smothered newcomer Vy Vincent Ngo's spec with half-baked mythology in the hopes of making it--well, something else. It didn't quite work.

D has a higher opinion of the final product than I do. I agree with her assertion that just three additional scenes would have filled in the biggest plot holes, but I don't think merely connecting the dots would have helped this movie to the next level. We never really find out who Hancock is--we do learn his origin, but we never get to know his character.

Wall-E has the opposite problem. The film has a nearly perfect first act. It starts with a show tune--"Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly--and introduces us to the titular robot with no dialogue at all. You could say this is the movie Pixar was destined to make; "Luxo Jr.," the animated short film that put them on the map, was all about making an emotional connection between the audience and an anthropomorphized desk lamp, using nothing but movement and a few sound effects.

Unfortunately, this film also takes a bit of a left turn halfway through. It's not quite as egregious as Hancock; in Wall-E's case, it's like the writers felt they needed to graft on a second story that featured more talking, almost as if they didn't have confidence that non-speaking robots could carry the whole movie. The addition isn't nonsensical or even a tonal shift, but it felt somewhat unnecessary and oversimplified to me.

Part of the problem is, I'm sure, that I've read much more science fiction than the kids at whom Wall-E is aimed. I know from generation ships and environmental apocalypses and mutinous ship's computers. It was fun to see the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Logan's Run and Star Trek, but I would have liked more exploration of the underlying concepts along with copying the imagery. These particular Big Ideas aren't new to me, so I want a little more depth in their presentation.

I know everyone is gushing about Wall-E, but I'm a bit disappointed with Pixar this time around. They usually spend years perfecting their stories and pinpointing the hearts and souls of their characters*, and I feel like they shortchanged their main character to spend time on a very standard, MacGuffin-fueled third act. There were so many other, more interesting things in the movie they could have developed. I'm still waiting for the next great science fiction film to come along and wow me.

~CKL

* Cars is the exception that proves the rule.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

He Told You So

There's been a lot of to-do in the news lately about the economy--recession, financial crisis, yada yada yada. You know what? I heard all this back in May, 2007, from James Scurlock*, director of the documentary Maxed Out and author of the accompanying book.

Here he is, doing Q&A after a screening of the film at Google:



As with most non-Michael Moore documentaries, this one didn't really get a wide release, but it is worth seeing, especially now that sub-prime mortgages have melted down and everyone on Wall Street says the sky is falling. As my friend Mark says: "Debt is a four-letter word."

~CKL

* Not to be confused with Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Sex and the Incredible Hulk

(NOT what you think)

Despite my earlier protestations, D and I were both won over by the Scene Unseen review and actually paid good money to see Sex and the City last night.* A week ago, we took D's family out to see The Incredible Hulk. It may surprise you to learn that these two movies share many similarities! Well, maybe two. Would you believe three vowels and a consonant?**

But seriously, folks... both movies actually do begin the same way, with a fast-cutting "our story thus far" montage. With Sex, it's a collection of clips from the HBO series which (re)introduces the four main characters and explains their current life situations--married, with children, etc. For Hulk, it's a high-energy retcon that erases the first, Ang Lee movie and establishes that Bruce Banner has been on the run for several years, hulking out periodically while eluding capture by the U.S. Army.

Fashion is also an issue in both films. Carrie Bradshaw is very particular about her wedding dress, and Bruce Banner is very particular about his stretchy pants.

That's about where the similarities end. I have to admit that Sex was the better movie, even for a straight man with little interest in handbags. It was just a better show, featuring well-drawn characters in a solid story that weaves all their lives together. Maybe because of its TV roots, and perhaps because they didn't want to screw up the franchise, it's clear that a lot of energy went into writing this movie and protecting its heart. There are themes, there are callbacks and parallels, there is solid structure.

Hulk, on the other hand, shows obvious signs of its story having been gutted by a contentious post-production period. Edward Norton didn't get official screen credit for his work on the screenplay (though he is credited in the novelization), and scuttlebutt says most of his contributions--including an opening sequence in the Arctic, which you may have glimpsed in the trailer--were scrapped. I don't believe the final battle would have seemed any less like a video game (an effect heightened when you see it in digital projection), but it might have had a better setup. It's like Joss Whedon says: "The problem with the third act is the first two acts."

~CKL

* I quote my wife: "We listened to that damn podcast, and now I totally have a hard-on for Sex and the City." Direct quote.

** That's my little Get Smart homage, which I understand from reviews is on par with how much the new movie has to do with the original TV series. Oh well.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Caspian : Indiana :: Peter : ?

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have two things in common. First, their title characters' names both have the letters I-A-N in them. (But they're pronounced differently: "EE-un" vs. "ee-AN.") Also, they're the names of places in the real world. Uh, okay, make that three things. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) Next, they're both sequels with really long, multi-part titles. Dammit! Four things!

The fourth and final commonality is that in both movies, the main story isn't really about the title character. (SPOILERS FOLLOW. AND THE COMFY CHAIR!) In Caspian, the one with the most significant story arc is Peter, the oldest of the Pevensie kids, who bites off more than he can chew and nearly loses his way. In Skull, the one driving the story is the Russian dame played by Cate Blanchett, and that kind of dulls the whole show. It's an enjoyable ride, but if the movie were a video game, you would be playing as Irina Spalko, and Indy et al. would be the NPCs that you have to wheedle to get the information you need to solve the puzzles.

I don't want this post to be excessively spoiler-rific, but I will say that the third act does go off the rails. A lot of the plot twists and obstacles were rather gratuitous, there's a chase scene that goes on way too long, and I had major issues with some of the cinematography toward the end: there's one shot which just makes no sense at all, story-wise. It's particularly disappointing because the opening sequence has some classic Spielberg cinematography, and I was expecting a lot more of it. He's really got to stop hanging out with that Lucas guy so much.*

Finally, I can't be the only one who was continually distracted by how much Caspian's Ben Barnes looks like Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood:



* An imaginary conversation:
"Let's do everything with green-screen!"
"...Okay!"
"And motion-capture!"
"Uh... You know, we actually did pay Harrison a lot of money to be in this picture. I mean, as himself. With his own face and all."
"We can make him look twenty years younger! It'll be a prequel!"
"Look, I don't want to have to stage another intervention for you, George."


~CKL

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Netflix Living Up to Their Name

Earlier this week, the Netflix Player set-top box launched. The Roku hardware costs $100, and the minimum subscription plan that lets you stream content is $9 a month. This would have been awesome, except for three serious deficiencies:
  1. Limited selection - currently, only older movies and TV shows are available for streaming--less than 10% of Netflix's total catalog
  2. No HD output - highest resolution is 480p.
  3. As D says: "Streaming sucks."
Don't get me wrong. I think it's definitely a step in the right direction, and I'm glad to see Apple TV getting some competition, even if it's an orange. At least it's not a lemon. What's that about bad puns? I can't hear you, I've got a banana in my ear!

~CKL

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ken Levine's Summer Movie Previews

Instead of making my own jokes about upcoming movie releases, I'll let a professional do it this time.

Ken Levine "has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis." He's also a fan of sports, especially baseball, and American Idol, and none of those things appeals to me. So maybe you'll appreciate a different perspective. Maybe you'll start reading his blog instead of mine. Whatever. Do what you want. LIKE I CARE.

Anyway, here's Part One and Part Two of Ken's previews. Since he is a TV comedy writer, you may want to take some of the synopses with a grain of salt.

Two of my favorites are:
GET SMART – Adaptation of the 60s Don Adams/Barbara Feldon sitcom. Now with Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway. I’m sure it’s hilarious. Would you believe funny? Would you believe if you’ve had four tequila shooters it has its amusing moments? I know one of the writers so I’m hoping it’s the first.

and:
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3-D: Or for those with bad depth perception – JOURNEY TO THE WORST HEADACHE OF YOUR LIFE.

There now, wasn't that enjoyable? If you still want my two cents, feel free to read on.

I'm most looking forward to Pixar's Wall-E (June 27), which may also be the only bona fide science fiction film of the whole year--make me a liar, Fish.* Running a close second is The Dark Knight (July 18), followed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22). And despite Mr. Levine's indifference, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11) just looks like a damn lot of fun.

I'm willing to give The Incredible Hulk (June 13) the benefit of a doubt (and how many times have we heard the Avengers say that?), and Get Smart (June 20)--to paraphrase my friend Tim--might be good if it doesn't SUCK.

Finally, I'm not entirely convinced that The Happening (June 13), Hancock (July 2), or The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25) are really even necessary. And I am nowhere near being the target audience for Sex and the City (May 30).

* Does anyone get that this is a quote from the movie Contact? No? Okay, just checking.

~CKL

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Iron and Weed

The last two movies D and I saw in theatres were Iron Man (two weeks ago) and Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (last night). We had low expectations for both films, for different reasons, but ended up enjoying both of them quite a bit.

To its credit, Iron Man is much more grounded in reality than many other comic book adaptations. If you didn't know it was a Marvel property, you might actually think it was a pretty good science fiction movie--more RoboCop than Back to the Future, but with elements of both.

If you stay through the end credits, you'll see a somewhat gratuitous clip that sets up a sequel. Actually (spoiler alert), I have it on good authority that there is an actual Iron Man cameo in the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie. There have been in-jokes or name-checks in other live-action superhero movies, but this would be the first time that one character has actually appeared in another's movie. Call me a fanboy, but I love it when fictional worlds actually intersect.

On the other hand, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay has virtually no basis in reality. It's quite entertaining for what it is, even if they repeated a few redneck gags from the first film and went way overboard with the political satire. If the first movie was Harold's show, this one was all about Kumar. A sequel seems inevitable, and while I have a hard time imagining where they go from here, I'm sure it will involve Neil Patrick Harris.

Coming up next: Indiana Jones, obviously. I have very little desire to see Speed Racer, which the Flick Filosopher describes thusly:
Imagine if the pod race in Star Wars Episode I was as bad as everyone said it was, and took itself twice as seriously, and went on for more than two hours. And then add a wiseass monkey and his sidekick, an obnoxious kid, on top. Stir, and scream. The Wachowski Brothers have taken the genius of their Matrix series, its ability to defy physics and make it work, and turned it into something it would be an insult to cartoons to call cartoonish.

I guess I already knew that from the awful trailers, but it's nice to have it confirmed.

~CKL

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Free Comic Book Day

Since we're currently traveling, and I don't have the time or access to resources I would at home, I get my news from an odd variety of sources. For example, it was a hotel copy of USA Today, perused over breakfast, that reminded me of the upcoming Free Comic Book Day on Saturday.

Free Comic Book Day

This year, FCBD coincides with the release of the Iron Man movie. However, Iron Man is not one of the free comics being offered--he only appears as one of the heroes in the Marvel Adventures title. Isn't that (wait for it) ironic?

Thank you! I'll be here all week!

~CKL

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Jane's Forbidden Book Kingdom

Over the weekend, D and I saw two movies from opposite ends of the genre spectrum: The Forbidden Kingdom (in a theatre) and The Jane Austen Book Club (on DVD). Both were enjoyable, for different reasons.

Kingdom is all archetypes and broad strokes, with plot points telegraphed hours in advance, sometimes immediately upon a character's introduction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since the story is based on Chinese legends*, and myths are sometimes built upon knowing what's coming, but it is all very silly. Good clean family fun, though, and you know what you're going to get within the first fifteen minutes.

Book Club, on the other hand, is all about the specifics of its characters and the precise mechanics of their relationships. The only story that didn't quite ring true was Prudie's. I haven't read the book yet, but D says Prudie comes off as much more sympathetic on the page; in the movie, her husband doesn't seem like such a villain, and their final reconciliation is a little bit too tidy.

But any show which advocates Ursula LeGuin's novels (and science fiction in general) is totally worth supporting. I firmly believe the world would be a better place if more women read science fiction and learned kung fu.

* Aside: When I was younger and on a serious Star Wars kick, my parents told me repeatedly (in a manner that would have made Pavel Chekov proud) how the whole Jedi mythos was ripped off from centuries-old Chinese Wu Xia novels. They were partly correct; culturally, George Lucas stole more from Japanese Samurai history, but many of the supernatural elements ("These aren't the droids you're looking for") are derived from Qi Gong. I suspect they were trying to get me in touch with my ethnic heritage or something. Didn't really work. It's tough for anything to compete with lightsabers, you know?

~CKL

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Smart People

Editorial Note: Since I'll be on the road for the next few months, most of my blogging will happen over on Travels With Our Cats. You can subscribe to both blogs using my combined feed from Yahoo! Pipes. (Not responsible for any damage to the space-time continuum caused if you add this feed to Google Reader.)

It's been a long time since D and I had an actual weekend to relax and have some fun. The last month has been consumed, first by the Midnight Madness Game, then by packing and moving out of our house in Mountain View, and finally with preparations for our big summer-long road trip. We didn't actually get a chance to slow down and breathe until after we'd driven all the way down to San Diego, the first stop on our sightseeing trip.

So, on Friday night, we went out to the movies. D gave me four to choose from: The Forbidden Kingdom, Leatherheads, Smart People, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. About that last one--I should point out that she normally doesn't go for comedies, especially ones featuring broad physical comedy, but we love "How I Met Your Mother." And it sucks that the hotel's broadband connection won't support streaming video from CBS.com. But that's another post.

I probably would have picked Forbidden Kingdom for some lighthearted fun, but by the time we finished dinner, it was too late for that or Leatherheads. So I went with Smart People. It's not a perfect movie, but it turned out to be a great choice for us at that time. Dennis Quaid gives a wonderfully subdued performance--totally against type for him--and Thomas Haden Church steals the show with some absolutely essential nudity and profanity.

Going in, D was afraid it might be "one of those movies," meaning an overwritten indie talk-o-rama that doesn't know when to shut up. It wasn't; in fact, there's an economy of dialogue that balances the significant, wordless moments. I wouldn't recommend Smart People for everyone, but it's a nice, quiet, human story with some good laughs. Look for it on DVD.

~CKL

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today In History: One Week Ago

Last Wednesday, for my belated birthday present, D took me on the "Deluxe VIP" Warner Brothers studio tour. (I didn't want to do it last fall because of the writers strike. I won't cross a picket line.)

The tour was a full five hours on the WB lot, including lunch at the commissary and walk-throughs of actual production areas (standing sets for "ER" and "Chuck," exteriors used in "Gilmore Girls" and Ocean's Thirteen, etc.). Lots of fun! As shown here:

WB Studio Tour


No photos were allowed in the studio museum, where the whole second floor was dedicated to some kid named Harry Potter. But my favorite exhibit was on the ground floor, of several memos from an executive first greenlighting the production of Bonnie and Clyde, then later writing a follow-up note saying he really should have read the script before agreeing to spend a whopping $1.6 million on something that had "no redeeming social value" (read: pr0n) and he was concerned about the commercial and critical prospects for the picture and could they maybe at least get some actual stars in the cast?

Some things never change. A Martian wouldn't say that!

~CKL

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Leon!"

First of all, let's be honest. Midnight Madness is an awful movie. It's dreadful, really. Terrible. There are only two reasons it should ever be discussed in polite company: 1) it was Michael J. Fox's first feature film; and 2) it was the direct inspiration for The Game.

At last night's Captain's Meeting, Team Snout (plus some Drunken Spiders) revealed that we are running the previously announced Game on April 5th. We had discussed keeping our identity secret for longer, but not only would that have been very difficult for us, it would also have prevented us from fully participating in the event. And, in the end, we thought it was more thematically appropriate to do the big reveal at the Captain's Meeting. We even put together our own version of Leon's slide show, as a tribute to the original presentation for "The Great All-Nighter."

But let's get back to the movie. It was made in 1980, and is chock-full of the high dairy content which distinguished many of that decade's entertainments. I suspect that Joe Belfiore and his cohorts, the first people to take on the role of "Game Control," felt that they could make better puzzles than those depicted in the movie--which is not that hard, but making everything work in a live event can be very challenging.

We, Team Snout, wanted to get "back to basics" for a few reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to run one last Game before DeeAnn and I move out of the bay area, and we had limited time to plan. A smaller, more simple event made sense and fit (barely) within our timeline for the move. More generally, GCs tend to want to one-up each other all the time, either designing more elaborate clues, finding more impressive locations, providing better meals, or otherwise adding complexity and cost to their events. (We are also guilty of this--we'll be the first to admit that our last Game was a logistical nightmare.)

So we view this Midnight Madness Game as a sort of encore to the Hogwarts Game, and a reminder to everyone in the community of what makes these events fun in the first place. You don't need train rides or fancy meals or electronic gadgets to put on a great event. All you need is...well, you'll find that out on April 5th. But feel free to speculate in the comments. :)

~CKL

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No More Secrets, you see

Better late than never, right? Here's Crissy's highlight video from last year's Game:



My favorite of her photos is this group shot:



But Karl re-enacting a scene from the movie runs a close second:



I'm also looking forward to Jan's NMS post-mortem at next Friday's GC Summit. As noted previously, Team Snout were not huge fans of the "field office" structure, which slowed down faster teams by holding them at certain locations and throwing "bonus clues" at them until it was time to move forward. But we did enjoy most of the rest of the event, especially the many entertaining variations on word puzzles. It'll be fun to hear GC's perspective.

~CKL

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