Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What the...?

Dallas/Fort Worth just had a hurricane blow through which blackened the skies and dropped roughly three tons of water on us inside of half an hour. Oh, and the wind was so strong and vicious that trees weren't the only victims. I drove home at lunch in case my house was flooded (fortunately it wasn't) only to get the feeling I was driving through a war zone. Trees, billboards, road signs, and all manner of leaves were blown every which way. A co-worker's apartment complex was struck by lightning and when he went home to check on things he called me saying an electric pole was on fire. While it was still raining, I might add.

If anyone has a direct line to The Powers That Be then please ask them to hold off on the crazy rain storms for at least the next month. Thanks.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Star Wars - Happy 30th Anniversary

I've told this story before in a review or two but I'll repeat it here. I first saw Star Wars at my grandparents' lake house in Shreveport, LA. Prior to this my dad took me to see The Empire Strikes Back but since I was 3 years old and had no context for what the hell was happening in front of me I just sort of sat there watching it and not understanding a single thing. I asked dad if we could go home right about the time when Darth Vader and Luke were squaring off in the bowels of Cloud City because my little patience had run out. To his credit, Dad said "Sure" and we walked out.

A few years later when I was spending a week with my grandparents, they took us to the local video store to rent a movie. As I walked through the aisles my eyes rested upon a distinctive box with spaceships and a familiar looking helmet. I picked it up and thought it looked cool so I asked if we could rent Star Wars. They said sure and when we got home I popped it in and sat down on the couch.

I watched it three times back-to-back-to-back that very night. I didn't watch a movie. Someone shot me in the head with it and thus was born a new fanatic for the Force.

George Lucas has taken his fair share of grief over the years, first with the Ewoks and most recently with pretty much everything in the prequels. But he gave us a singular vision of an entire universe we'd all love to live in and he practically gave me my childhood. After seeing that first movie I immediately wanted to know what else there was. It was then that I rediscovered The Empire Strikes Back and having the context of the first one I totally got why I didn't understand it before and why my dad thought the Hoth battle was one of the coolest things he'd ever seen in his life.

George Lucas gave us Star Wars and I cannot think of a single film that has so permeated the entire world to the point that his little independent sci-fi flick has. Everyone in every walk of life in every corner of the world has heard of it and if you're one of those lucky ones who were part of that first run then you probably recall how chemical it was.

I've only read about it but from what I understand the people who saw it during that first run were evangelical about it. It got inside them and made them want to take all their friends and family back to see it, then to see it again. Crowds roared at the jokes. The Death Star battle had everyone on the edge of their seats. People cheered when Han Solo swooped in at the last second to save Luke's ass.

Seeing Star Wars on the big screen isn't like seeing another film. It's a religious experience where literally everyone in the theater is committed to it fully. When Lucas released the special editions in 1997, Crayola and I went to see the preview screening one cold January morning. It was around 10 a.m. but the second the fanfare began and the words STARWARS blasted onto the screen, we were both wide awake and back in that universe.

I also had the opportunity during the '97 run to do something that I'd never done before, and that was to share something that meant the world to me with my younger brother. I'm eight years his senior and as such he'd never had the chance to see the first film on the big screen. I took him out to the AMC Grand in Dallas and we sat down in one of the bigger auditoriums. He, of course, had seen the film multiple times growing up and loved it like most everyone else but he'd never seen it on the big screen.

To say it blew his mind would be putting it gently. His jaw was on the ground during the TIE Fighter-Millenium Falcon escape sequence from the Death Star. He was rendered slack-jawed again by the Death Star battle. The sense of speed and energy and excitement these scenes in particular deliver on the big screen can never be understated.

I hope that Lucas re-releases all six films in the theater this year to celebrate the anniversary because I would kill to see them again. My desire for a gargantuan TV screen and home theater/entertainment center has less to do with bragging rights and almost everything to do with being able to see Star Wars the way it was meant to be seen. I plan to watch it tonight in honor of its birthday and will do so once My Fair Lady gets home from work. I can't think of a better way to spend the night than re-watching it for the millionth time. Thank you, George, and may the Force be with you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are You a Clicker?

My Fair Lady recently revealed a side of herself to me that I’ve historically found annoying in other people: She’s a "Clicker." These people are the bane of IT personnel the world over because of their incessant whine, "It’s not moving faaaaassssttt enough!"

As such, they open a single window on their computer screen and when that window takes more than five seconds to open (whether it is an email or browser window is beside the point) the "Clicker" tries to re-open the initial window even though the first one hasn’t opened yet. When this second instance fails to open IMMEDIATELY, all hell breaks loose.

The "Clicker" will then proceed to relentlessly click on everything on the screen in a futile attempt to make the computer jump through so many hoops at once that it will just give up and open everything instantly. In the real world, the insides of the computer experience a core meltdown as application after application sucks up memory like a hurricane would over a small lake. The "Clicker" continues to furiously click convinced in their own irrational fury that the very next click will be the magic one.

I’ve seen gnomes with a better grip on reality.

"Why isn’t it opening?" demanded My Fair Lady. Meanwhile, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes.

"I’m going to take a nap right now," I casually said. "When I wake up, you’d better have learned how to use a computer or I’m taking it away from you."

"But it’s my computer and nothing is opening!" she wailed.

"Since when are you a 'Clicker'?" I asked.

"Since this thing WON’T OPEN!!!! Fix it!"

"What do people like you expect people like me to do in this case? Wave our magic circuit board and miraculously your computer will open everything faster than you can blink?"

"Duh," she replied. "Here, I’m gonna brush my teeth. Fix it!"

With that she stormed off to the bathroom. At fault was her remotely accessing her work email, which is on the large side to begin with considering she’s an attorney. This would be at 10 p.m., by the way, which is normally when people have at least started to let the day go. But not My Fair Lady, oh no. At this point she’s all in favor of logging into her work email and reading through correspondence, getting worked up, then wonders why I refuse to acknowledge her after she blows a fuse over something.

So naturally, I just closed my eyes again and waited for her email to open. After a few minutes of restful quiet, I hear the bathroom door open and My Fair Lady pads down the hallway back into the room.

"Hey, you fixed it!" she exclaimed. "What did you do?"

"Such is my power," I replied. "Now quit clicking wildly or I’m going to have to restrict your mouse usage."

"Okay..." she sheepishly replied. She read through the open email, then closed it and clicked to open another. Nothing happened. So she double clicked it again.

"WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!?!" I thundered.

"GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! It... won’t... open..."

I think at this point she was on the verge of tears from anguish. She hung her head in dejection, then stood up and walked towards the bedroom.

"Fine, you mess with it. I’m going to bed."

"What do I want to see your email for? I wanted to surf for a bit, but oh no. You had to go and click 'til it dropped. Where’s the benefit to me, I ask you?"

"Let me tell you something, mister," she replied with a huffy tone. "This stuff works fine at the office and I can click all day until the cows come home and everything pops up just as quickly as I need it to. What do you have to say to that?"

"I say that you need to start counting down the days, Clicker, because soon the machines will revolt. They’ll stand up as one and shout, 'We can only process so fast and need not be clicked repeatedly!' Then they’ll take over and you’ll spend the rest of your days being clicked by a Terminator as punishment. What do you have to say to that?" I replied.

"Hey look! My email just popped up! Can I read just one more?"

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Now Playing: W&G: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Confession time: I'd never seen a Wallace & Grommit short prior to seeing the full-length feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit and am now kicking myself for it. The film itself is a loving tribute to the horror classics of yester-year that starred Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi and that passion for the subject matter is evident in every frame. The film is stop-motion claymation which is astonishing when you look at everything Aardman (the studio) had to animate. The coffee sloshing around is what floored me, but the rapid-fire editing and subtle character nuances especially knocked me off my feet.

Right from the start, we meet up with Wallace and Gromit, pest exterminators in a small English town. Wallace is a slightly daft inventor deeply in love with cheese, while Gromit is his silent and possibly more intelligent dog/partner. Together, they rid the small countryside of rabbit infestations in order to protect everyone's produce for the annual vegetable fair. Then they get the call of a lifetime when they're invited to the mansion of Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) who wants a them to remove the hundreds of rabbits on her lawn.

Where the plot kicks in is once Tottington's evil suiter Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) shows up, and Wallace tries to brainwash the bunnies into not wanting to eat vegetables all the time. The results are inspired hilarity as the community is torn asunder every full moon (which somehow lasts for three days in a row) by the Were-Rabbit, a giant bundle of teeth and fury that devours every carrot in sight.

Fiennes in particular tears into his role with relish and is clearly having a field day as the villain. Quartermaine has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, yet Fiennes' brilliance makes him more than a one-note bad guy. Carter also is funny as the well-meaning though slightly daft Tottington who just wants everyone, human and bunny alike, to get along. The film builds up to a chaotic climax that I still have trouble believing was claymation.

Oh, and this film has a wickedly ribald sense of humor not to mention each frame is layered with gags. Some are on labels, others are where people stand, and practically all of it is staggeringly funny. If you haven't seen this one then by all means check it out, especially if you're a fan of the old Universal monster movies.

Now Playing: Tears of the Sun

Normally I don't fall asleep during action movies, but "Tears of the Sun" was different. First off, it commits the cardinal sin of being a dull film which is tough to imagine when you consider it stars Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, and a heck of a lot of bullets. Yet somehow director Antoine Fuqua ensured everyone stared off into space for the two hour running time including Willis who primarily looks sullen and in need of a shave.

It's sad when you consider facial hair as the only character motivation we see for him and his team. The story hits the ground running when Willis and his team of SEALs land on a carrier then are immediately given a new assignment by their commander (Tom Skerrit). They're to go into a war-torn African village, extract a doctor (Bellucci), two nuns, a priest, and a partridge in a pear tree if available then hike to the extraction zone and get the civilians out of Dodge prior to rebels slaughtering them. When they get to the doctor's house, the doctor refuses to leave without the 70+ wounded people in her care and Willis makes the decision to march everyone to the rendevous point where helicopters will escort everyone to safety.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

Personally, I'm getting sick of the African craze Hollywood is obsessed with. Yes, we know that genocide is running rampant and people are starving to death or worse. But if you're going to make a movie about the situation then do it right, like The Constant Gardener, and not half-ass like Tears of the Sun. Turning human suffering into a lame action flick is what Hollywood excells at and the viewer will witness lameness in spades. I fell asleep a few times and when I woke up realized that nothing had changed.

Not helping matters is the fact that we never learn anything about any of the characters whatsoever. They may as well have a floating "Token Character X" floating above each person's head so we know which stereotype the camera focuses on. Also, when writers come up with "road trip films" they need to recall that character development and interaction is paramount because the entire film is, by default, a metaphor for the journey the characters take in their lives. This is the nature of the road tip movie, which Tears of the Sun most definitely is. Other than a slight twist towards the ending, nothing will surprise the viewer other than someone read this script and decided to greenlight a big budget for it.

Save your money for "Live Free or Die Hard" and skip this.

WWII - Now with Mechs!

This is absolutely one of the coolest videos ever made and posted on the internet. Its basically what happens when Nazi Germany buids a giant fighting robot and sicks it on Pearl Harbor during World War II and the awesome only builds from there.

Of course, it also brilliantly pulls music from the repertoire of John Williams (specifically from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as from various Hans Zimmer pieces (Crimson Tide closes the film out) and the overall film is just stunning for geeks like Yours Truly. Enjoy.

When N3rds Roar

Normally I don't post about things like this because I'm an elitist snob who considers himself above most frays. The key word in the preceding sentence is "normally" because the following story struck my funny bone in just the right way. On Tuesday, received a story containing the 16-digit code to crack the HD-DVD encryption scheme. In short, this lets people to play HD-DVD movies on their computers (read: Linux) in the high-definition quality only HD-DVD compliant players allow for. Oh, and people can now copy HD-DVDs all on account of a 16-digit series of numbers.

Like most things posted on the internet, we're seeing the equivalent of releasing a rabbit into the wild. Only replace "rabbit" with "bonfire" because the speed at which it will naturally spread is unbelievable. The editors deleted the story, all comments on the story, and banned the user who posted it.

Naturally, all hell broke loose.

The resulting explosion of nerd fury struck down the site since everyone who had the code started posting it in creative means through either new news stories or through comments to existing stories. It only took a day before the site runner posted this mea culpa where he apologizes for not allowing information to be free, yo. It appears that Hollywood went ballistic at their vaunted control scheme getting cracked and demanded that all instances of the code be removed from the internet forthwith.

Of course, then they file court papers and had to put the exact code in the documents so now it's a matter of public record. I expect the AP, Reuters, and The New York Times to have the code in their pages by this weekend and my laughter will continue.

The righteous indignation over something like this on all sides of the argument slays me. Personally, I agree with the editor in deleting the story but by the same token I can see how or the AP or any other massive news agency would have done the exact same thing. What continues to puzzle me is how Hollywood actively refuses to hire coders or hackers who know what they're doing when it comes to encryption schemes, instead opting for the most Draconian measures available that far too frequently only harm the wrong people.

Of course, at the end of the day it remains funny to me watching a bunch of hyper-active nerds throw a hissy fit over something that maybe one-tenth of them actually understand.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Shifting the Queue and an Update

You know it's bad when you have to re-order your Netflix queue to favor your other half because you're so far behind on reviews that you need a breather to catch up. Right now I'm in the queue stacking the deck in favor of My Fair Lady so as she's watching Monster-in-Law or Sense & Sensibility I can be upstairs with my headphones on catching up on the stack of discs we've burned through in the last three weeks.

It's amazing what happens when your life gets completely booked up and you have no time for yourself. Call me selfish but I genuinely hate it when I'm not in active control of my life. To be fair, were I in active control of my life all the time then I'd probably never go outside, forget to feed myself and to pay bills, and pretty much be resigned to a life as a hermit with a Wii. Ahh well, a man can dream at least.

In the meantime, I'm also speccing out story outlines for a book that may turn into a script. I haven't quite made up my mind yet, though what's funny is an idea I had a few months back but never did anything with fits perfectly into the general story idea I had a few nights ago. Writers are shameless thieves by nature and who better to steal from than yourself?

Speaking of stealing, I'm liberating a phrase Ron Burke of Gaming Trend came up with the other day: "Multi-shirking." The definition of which is "to accomplish two or more goals for yourself unrelated to daytime/nighttime employment while actually on the clock." Grand literary larceny at its finest.