Scriborg & ElectriChirp

"At last! At long last, my supreme powers of electri-scrying have proven advantageous, as I knew they one day would. Who knew, my energized familiar, that it would be so easy? Even with the vast extent of my gaze, my borderline omnipathy, it would have taken eons to locate my foe. Imagine my surprise then, when he revealed his true identity on his BLOG of all places! Did ‘Rough Draft' as he calls himself now think I don't read TheWriteJerry like every other self-respecting blogger? The FOOL!

Soon, ElectriChirp, soon my plans shall come to fruition. He has promised an origin story—can you imagine? Once we have discovered the source of our polar opposite's verbal might, we shall have his weakness, and that of his ebon sidekick as well! Whether he calls himself Green Scribe, Scrawlspark, or Picklesuit, he will not be able to escape us. Charge yourself, my friction-fed feline, for the final battle shall soon be upon us!

When falls Rough Draft and Little Miss Purrrfect, so falls the Blogosphere...."

I hope my regular readers don't mind my indulgence into poorly written supervillain dialogue. I was inspired by the last few posts over at Jerry's, as well as his new Heromachine-powered banner. I've never written comics, but just as the internet allows anyone to blog and let their voice be heard, so too did it allow me to write my own bad stories on message boards and interact with other writers in a hybrid fanfic/RPG for a few years. That impromptu game is actually where the Mysterious Cloaked Figure persona first originated. Originally used as a cover for my “real" message board name, MCF became a character in the RPG and ultimately my new regular nom de web. And that's the origin of that.

Villains must be more fun for the professionals to write than heroes. Marvel villains always got away with the most over-the-top dialogue, and I loved it. I wonder if it will translate to film, if Fantastic Four will boast an egotistical ‘soliloquizing'(™ The Incredibles) Doctor Doom or something more subdued. If they don't go too far with it, they can pull it off. Unbreakable did it. So did the X-men films. Doom's always been one of my favorite villains, so I'm looking forward to seeing him on the big screen, and hoping he lives up to his four-color counterpart.


America (**** YEAH!)

And so, my surreal weekend has come to an end. I don't normally get caught up in the patriotic aspects of some of the musical performances I'm in. Whether it's the Fourth of July or a fireman's parade or some Italian saint, most of the gigs are just gigs and nothing more. There's about six months in the year on which I'm playing just about every weekend and sometimes more. It all blurs together. But Memorial Day has always been different. It was the first big parade I played in while in Middle School, and had I gone to the local High School instead of a private one that my parents sent me to, I would have continued to play in it. Some years my High School band's parade was early enough that I could get back to town and play in the local parade with one of the fire department bands, and hopefully catch a glimpse of some of my old classmates, especially my Middle School crush.

When I was in high school the man I took private lessons from, who led the first Italian festival band I ever played for, had a heart attack in the street. The trombone player, who was my first teacher in fourth grade, picked him up and got him to the hospital, likely saving his life. A few years ago my teacher asked me to start playing for his band on Memorial Day. I had other commitments to another marching band I'd recently joined, but this man was the reason I was as good a player as I was. I owed him. My dad called the band leader we had been playing for in February to let him know about May and, despite the advance notice and our short association with his band, he got upset and kicked us out. It didn't matter. It wasn't long before we found our way in to other bands and the last few Memorial Days, we've had no less than three different bands requiring our presence. My dad takes on two jobs for two of the bands, while I've stayed with my old teacher's band and taken care of the two local jobs. Since his heart attack, my teacher hasn't walked with the band but usually shows up at the beginning to go over the music. The trombone player, my other old teacher, usually calls out the songs as we walk. This year, there was no sign of him at the 9AM parade and I asked his son where he was. At age 86, he's been in and out of the hospital with various problems due to his weak heart. If he stands his legs swell with fluid but if he elevates them, the fluid moves to his lungs. When we kicked off today and the trombone player called out “For FELIX!”, I was reminded of a scene in Brassed Off after the band leader takes ill and the band, on the verge of quitting, gathers to play outside the hospital. Like troops rallied for a fallen general, I think we all put our hearts into both parades we played today.

Memorial Day parades have become an odd trip in to my past. The band is made up of former students of my teacher, and I played alongside old teachers, classmates, parents of classmates, and siblings of classmates from a good sixteen years ago. I then spent eight hours at a barbecue one of my college friends was having for his daughter's second birthday. As we sat in his yard laughing, telling jokes, and going over which movies they thought I should see, it was another trip in to my past. I don't see my college friends anywhere near as often as I'd like. Today felt like reliving the best parts of my life in microcosm, and I'm glad to have lived where I am and known the people I've known.

* * *

Today's title is taken from one of the many hilarious songs in Team America. Parker and Stone outdo themselves in a spot-on Bruckheimer spoof that smartly targets both political extremes in this country. Do we do more harm than good when we try to police the world? Is it ridiculous that Hollywood celebrities have such an influential voice in this country? Is Michael Moore a hot dog guzzling blowhard? For a film that's so offensive so often to so many groups, there's a lot of sly, smart commentaries here and from a technical standpoint, the puppetry is superior to the Thunderbirds. In this day and age of computer animation, it's easy to forget while watching the film that everything is real. Obviously this is in no way a children's movie, and I will warn people that as bad as anyone says the sex scene is, they have no idea. A friend told me it was the “filthiest thing” she'd ever seen, and halfway through I was thinking it wasn't so bad when something very, very, very wrong takes place. The soundtrack alone is worth the price of rental. The styles emulate those action films perfectly and by taking the ridiculous as seriously as those films do, it succeeds in being just as comedic, but on purpose.

* * *

It has been three and a half days since I left my “normal” life and routine. Wish me luck as I start my work week with an early meeting tomorrow....


Phantasmic Links 5.29.05

It's been a long weekend, and it's not over yet. Right about now I'm looking forward to next weekend when, as of right now, I'm not working at all. I just have to get up early tomorrow and play two more parades though, after which I'm free, so I shouldn't be complaining. I took a nap for a few hours this afternoon and I'm still tired and dizzy. I think my sunburn is starting to affect me. I can't raise an eyebrow without my forehead cracking sending waves of throbbing agony through my head. Listen to me complaining. This is what happens when I spend long periods of time in a car driving around a couple of guys in their seventies. I get so caught up in the game of “dueling ailments” that it spills over in to my blogging. Don't mind me folks. Hopefully some of you have skipped my self-obligatory introductory paragraph and are already clicking away at this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

My thumbs hurt just looking at this controller family tree.

This cat is going to have a problem when that puppy grows up. My head hurts just watching this.

My eyes are throbbing after seeing this dizzying domino display.

If only I could mix and match my face with others.

But does it “vwing”?

I hadn't heard about Sky High until Kelly mentioned it, but now I want to see it.

This is NOT the Robin film everyone was talking about a few months ago, but it does make you see how that Robin was better off...



So Many Hours

I almost didn't go.

I woke up this morning around 8:30, and wondered if it was very responsible of me to go to an air show at Jones Beach knowing that I had to work tonight. The right thing to do would be to rest for my long drive, and for the jobs I had on the subsequent two mornings. The newspaper didn't do anything to convince me otherwise. Once I saw that a quarter of a million spectators were expected, I was less inclined to go out. But it was nice out. Sunny, clear and cool, the outdoors were calling me. I've been cooped up with rain all week, spending a lot of my lunch hours in malls. I decided to grab my camera and make an attempt to go. If I hit traffic, I could always turn back. If the crowd was intimidating, I could always excuse myself early. I definitely didn't want to risk getting home too late for a five o'clock mass, since I didn't want to get up too early tomorrow.

The weather was beyond perfect. The traffic was even better. The road was wide open, and I didn't hit a problem until I was almost there and a drawbridge was raised. As I sat waiting, I felt hot for the first time and turned on the radio. It was expected to get up to 80 degrees, and I realized I'd forgotten to put on any sunblock. I never think that's going to be a problem, and I've never been right.

The crowd was big, but so's the beach and people were spaced out enough that I didn't feel too claustrophobic. I was also on a weird emotional high, a goofy grin that crept over my face when I spotted planes in the distance while at the toll booth was still there as I called my friend's cell phone to find out where everyone was. I got directions that would turn out to be wrong, but at the time had other concerns, like taking a picture of a Black Hawk down by the parking field. Music was blasting, and even now some tunes are still looping in my head.

It took me over an hour to locate the group, but by then I had a lot of great shots. The show was spectacular and promise of a big finish kept me there until the end. The clouds rolled in minutes after the show finished and, as is to be expected with my luck, the batteries on my camera died a few minutes BEFORE the startling conclusion. My zoom isn't that great anyway, and there were three other people with cameras that caught pilots in cockpits. Later this week I'll post the best of my bunch and possibly some other folks' shots.

Parking in a further lot proved to be smart since I found a back exit that led away from an infinite line of traffic and on to the parkway home. I felt like I was blushing, felt very warm, and noticed how red my forearms were. I checked the mirror the first chance I had to see a beet-red MCF looking back at me. I have good sunblock which I bought months ago when I first got bitten by the beach bug. I have to remember to use it, or I'm eventually going to burst in to flames.

I was home for about twenty minutes before going to mass with my mom, and returned home for another twenty and dinner before going to the gig with my dad. We picked up an older trumpet player and as he told us how a visit to his doctor had depressed him what with his loss of weight and appetite and emphesema and prostate problems, to name a few. He spoke of not feeling like going out or doing anything, and even staying home last week when his wife went for ice cream with their grandchildren. My dad told him how you have to stay active and not think like that. Once you give up, and choose sleep over life, the latter diminishes and the former eventually becomes permanent.

We got soaked by a brief shower and subesquently walked through a muddy field between rides, games, and food stations. It was a last-minute booking so there were only six of us, but we still sounded better than the off-key acapella singers who were on stage. Two hours later and we were on our way back. We dropped off the trumpet player and my eyes started itching. I rubbed them and instantly regretted it. Whether I still had a stray particle of sand or some lotion I had put on earlier, my eyes both began burning then tearing uncontrollably, and we were on a one-lane road with no shoulder and a line of tailgaters. I'd close one eye while the other teared and switch off, and my head started hurting. After an agonizing five minutes it subsided, and by then we were almost home. I flushed my eyes with water and I'm okay now, though a bit tired.

There are so many hours in a day. So often, if I know I'm working or have specific plans, I won't plan to do anything else. If I stayed home today I wouldn't have gotten burned, and I would have been rested for my job tonight and the three coming up in the next two days, but I would have missed an amazing and memorable experience. And listening to my 78 year old friend bemoan how he doesn't feel the same as when he was 20 has me thinking too. At 30, I sure don't feel the same as I did when I was 20. But I'm not near death yet, as far as I know. Just as it takes a conscious effort to remember sunblock, I think I need to work on my multitasking mentality. Today proves that I can do a lot of things in a single day. Work doesn't have to eliminate fun, and vice versa. When you use all of them, you realize how many hours there are.


Where did the TIME go?

I can't believe the date, that it's already THIS weekend, Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like just yesterday I was freezing and now it's unofficially Summer. I've just watched Primer for the second time, an absolute necessity to understand the movie. I was following the film and thought I understood the theory, but then became completely lost in the last twenty minutes. The theory I thought was brilliant, and didn't deal so much with time “travel” as removing something from one point in time and reinserting it at an earlier point. I had the gist, and did my best to follow two guys speaking not with clear hollywood idiot-proof simplicity, but everyday science geek speak. I was disappointed to realize I'm not as smart as engineers, but I guess that was an unrealistic burst of ego. After watching it twice, I would say I have about an 87% understanding of what happened, which is more than enough to appreciate it and possibly as much as I can ever hope to comprehend with my Fine Arts degree.

Time moves so quickly, that it would be nice to be able to go back and take care of things I didn't get to the first time around. I used to pride myself on being fast at what I do. I don't design as well as a lot of my colleagues, but I turn out a decent volume of work in the time I have. The older I get, and the more people I know at work, the easier it is for me to get distracted. The company was letting us out at 2PM today, and at the start of the day I had very little work to do. My next meeting is Tuesday morning after the long weekend, but under our reorganized structure someone else has provided printouts to my team. Ever since I graduated college, downtime has always frustrated and scared me. If I was consistently busy, then I was needed. Long periods of inactivity equal redundancy in my book, and while part of me has relaxed and accepted that I may not survive the next round of layoffs having made it through the last two, there's another part of me that hopes I do. I've gotten comfortable. I know the routine and, more importantly, I know the people. Growing up, I hated the fact that every 3-6 years my life would be disrupted when I'd graduate to a new school with new routines and new people. Just as I made friends and acquaintances, the cycle would start all over again. An adult should NOT fear being the “new kid” with no friends, but it’s a neurosis I may never shake emotionally, even with the intellectual ability to comprehend the absurdity and insignificance of it. I always eventually end up being liked, even accepted, by a few people, so even though none of that matters the fact that such a condition is temporary should provide some comfort.

I began the day with nothing to do and that sense of impending doom, when the e-mails started pouring in. Like some of my commenters, I too take pleasure in hearing e-mail arrive. The first was a information for a portion of my catalog which had come too late for yesterday's printouts. It wouldn't take me long to design the small box which affected one page, and print that page for Tuesday. But then my editors e-mailed me a request to design a new jacket in a short period of time. In these situations, we don't have time to commission an illustrator to do a new painting from scratch, so we purchase rights to existing art. The editors had a general idea of what KIND of image they wanted, but didn't have a specific piece in mind. They mentioned a few illustrators whose styles they liked, which was a good starting point. I spent the bulk of my morning flipping through art books and surfing web sites. Sometimes it bothers me that I'm not being productive when looking for art, but it's definitely one of the more enjoyable parts of my job and, when motivated, I can crank out the boring productive work pretty quickly.

I had to eat. There was no way I was going to work until two without at least walking outside and grabbing a pizza. Rey and Jerry even convinced me to sit outside and eat since I wasn't going to be working if I was eating at my desk anyway. When we returned, I saw that my editors liked the suggestion I'd e-mailed prior to taking my break, and had another request for a new commission. Once the appropriate forms were filled out and submitted, I only had to take care of the one page in my catalog that needed work, and I would be free for a great long weekend. I let myself get drawn in to a Star Wars® discussion and suddenly, everyone was going home. Ever experience a lapse in time? Ever find yourself driving down the road, start thinking about something, then notice you're several miles further than the last time you actually noted your surroundings? Time slips sometimes, and real life can be as confusing as the movie I watched. I had my motivation to work faster though, and by 2:15 I was a free man. The gym closed at 3PM but I at least got my daily run in, edging ever closer to my peak. At some point last year I was able to run 3.2 miles in a half hour. Various factors kept me from going to the gym as regularly and I backslid, but I've been pushing every day, fighting to get back to normal. Today I ran 2.35, which is the best I've done in a while. I WILL get back to where I was, and then exceed it.

As I drove home, the sun came out, a welcome sight after a week of rain and a good omen. I realized if I mowed the lawn as soon as I got home, I would take advantage and make good use of the unexpected time I'd been granted this afternoon, freeing myself for other things this weekend. Tomorrow I may head out to an air show at Jones Beach in an attempt to get better pictures than my last Photo Blog Wednesday offered. A phone call tonight yielded another unexpected treat; the band leader of one of the Italian bands I'm in got a last minute call to play a two-hour gig tomorrow night. Sunday I'm already booked to do a parade with another band, and Monday morning I'm playing two parades for a third band, possibly followed by a barbecue held by an old college friend.

I've got plenty to look forward to this weekend and I have the sneaking suspicion that as soon as I post this, I'll find myself sitting in a meeting at work on Tuesday wondering where the time went...


2K5 Finale Roundup

As I wrote yesterday, last night essentially denotes the end of my television viewing for a few months. There may be some new Summer shows that I'll check out, and as I write this it occurs to me that Family Guy only recently began it's fourth season, and The Batman went directly in to its second season a week after its first season finale aired. Still, the bulk of my favorite shows are done, some forever, and here's how they size up on a scale of one to five stars(with Spoilers):

The Simpsons: 3.5 Stars
After 16 seasons, the show is still going strong, and they're signed on to do 18 seasons. This episode, controversial given its approach to faith, delved further into specific religious beliefs than most, and even seemed to confirm that the church the majority of the townspeople belong to is Protestant.

Everybody Loves Raymond: 5 Stars
After nine seasons, my favorite small-screen (Italian) family said goodbye not with a bang, but with life and family continuing as it always had and always will. See here for my more detailed review.

24: 4.5 Stars
Wow. Nobody should have days like this guy does. I'm exhausted after sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours, working out for an hour, and watching television or DVDs for three. I couldn't imagine spending a day saving lives, killing people, alienating my girlfriend, getting people close to me killed, never technically catching the bad guy, and dying myself for a bit. After one of the show's best seasons, which only lost momentum slightly in the last few episodes, they really topped themselves with this one. I can't believe I have to wait until January to see what happens on the next day.

Scrubs: 4 Stars
This is such a great show and it rarely seems promoted. The finale also snuck up on me since this season started in late August and there were few repeats. When it ended with several major changes in the status quo, and the usual lack of coming attractions, I definitely checked on line, and sure enough, the season had ended. Even worse, it's not on the schedule for next Fall, which means another show I'll have to wait until next year to see.

Smallville: 3.5 Stars
Spoiled by “Overinformative Promo Syndrome”, I still found myself left with several major questions to ponder over the Summer. It wasn't as good a cliffhanger as the previous season's, but it had a lot of cool developments that, if not resolved in the first two hours next season, could promise progress long-lacking in this series. It's a great premise with some talented actors, but suffers often from holding back since there is an established mythos to follow. Now that everyone has graduated high school, perhaps some of those restraints will be lifted. This season had a LOT of tangents though, and while the finale was a great payoff for things I was anticipating for a while, I wondered if some of those tangents, like one character being possessed at times by her witch ancestor, were REALLY necessary. Crossing my fingers for next season...

Lost: 5 Stars
A lot of people may be upset by the ending, expecting more to be inside that hatch. I was expecting the final shot to be almost exactly what it was, a view up at those looking in, leaving us all Summer to wonder. But the camera pulls back to a broken ladder, and then even deeper in to the island. What some consider nothing, I consider to be something in abundance. There were other clues in the episode implying something mechanical underneath the island, and this confirmed that there's some kind of larger area underneath the island of an undetermined size. What's under there, and how they'll get down there(assuming they want to/should), will keep me theorizing for months. But the most important thing on this show is the characters, and it has the BEST characters on television right now. It's not just the interesting back stories, but the blend of diverse personalities and types that interact each week.

Alias: 4.5 Stars
Here's the major spoiler/bombshell I alluded to yesterday: “For starters, my name isn't ‘Michael Vaughn'” The episode itself had its ups and downs as it brought four years worth of plot threads to a climax, but the final line followed by a frightening car crash left me stunned for several minutes.

Joey: 3 Stars
It was a fun and inferior spin-off that I didn't expect to last past the first season, but stuck with it out of loyalty to the character. I wonder if the ending was as telegraphed as I thought it was, or if ten years of Friends have left me with an intuition for how these writers work. Next year it continues to compete with some Thursday night juggernauts and gains some competition as both Alias and Smallville move to that 8PM timeslot. Three shows, one VCR. It doesn't seem like that hard of a decision....

Tru Calling: 4.5 Stars
I'm not sure why I'm including this. It wasn't the last episode. The last episode filmed went unaired, and even that wasn't a series finale. It was a good show with a lot of potential and the developments at the end of the last episode to air were ones I'm sorry I'll never see play out. Read this for more on this discarded show.

Enterprise: 2 Stars
I'm not even going to elaborate on why this was so bad. I stopped watching two years ago, and tuned in for this reminder. Good riddance.

TMNT: 4 Stars
I've only read a few of the comics, but I've really enjoyed how true this show apparently is to its source material, and how much more mature it is than the one I grew up with(with James Avery as Shredder). The finale had genuine drama, and a point where all the heroes seemingly were ready to sacrifice themselves. The intervention of a deus ex machina of an alien race slowing down time to remove them from a deadly explosion is forgivable, especially given that a few scenes later they'll try and sentence their greatest enemy, removing him from the playing field and changing the show's status quo. That's rare in adult programming let alone Saturday morning cartoons.

The Batman: 5 Stars
I loved the previous animated incarnation of Clayface, and he remains one of my favorite tragic villains. But this version comes close not so much in his aesthetic as his connection to our hero. A friend turned enemy, and something that I not only never expected, but once again shakes up the status quo of a television series.

That's all, folks! Less television and more movie reviews, personal anecdotes, and trips down memory lane coming soon...


PBW: Whoa!!!

If you haven't seen tonight's finales of Lost and Alias, you probably shouldn't read any further because if you are planning to see them at some point, the following spoilers WILL remove some of the impact. I also plan to speak as though readers are familiar with these shows, since the amount of explanation required would make this post far too long, even by my verbose standards.

Lost's finale was the two most tense hours of television I'd watched in a long time. Fifteen minutes in and my “DUDE!” was echoing Hurley's. I should have seen the ”red shirt” a mile away, but they were really developing this character and his dialogue was a sly commentary on the show's format. The show tends to focus on 14 out of 48 survivors of a plane crash, and this week one of the background characters flat out tells one of the stars “there are other survivors, you know.” Five minutes later, it seems he jinxed himself.

There was risky transportation of explosives tonight, a crazy woman stealing the infant son of one of the survivors, a small group out at sea dealing with a broken rudder and finding another ship, only to have a stunning surprise. As the episode mixed in flashbacks showing how everyone came to be on the fateful flight that brought them to the island, many season-long questions were revealed. I found satisfaction in little details like finding out which passenger had brought a comic book on the plane. For every answer though, there were more questions. Did Charlie give in to temptation and take the heroin, or just the statue? How are the folks on the raft getting back to the island now that it's been destroyed, and will Michael ever see his son again? Is Sawyer alive after being shot and falling in the ocean? What happened to Jin after he dove in after him? Then of course there's the mysterious hatch on the island, the one thing I predicted. I knew the show would end with the view from inside and we'd have to wait all Summer. But I didn't know how deep it went. Now I'm thinking there's a whole hi-tech base under the island, that the monster is something technological operated from underneath, and that the “whispers” in the jungle are actually echoes/transmissions from the underdwellers. The French woman may have been crazy, but she wasn't the only one hearing voices in the woods, and what she heard about the Others wanting the boy was right. She just didn't realize WHICH boy.

As for Alias, while the overall episode made for an awesome homage to Resident Evil while at the same time incorporating four years of plot threads, it was the very last scene that left my eyes wide with disbelief. I may have seen something like it before, but it was the combination of elements that left me stunned. Michael Vartan drops a bombshell, and there's barely time to digest it before a car plows in to our protagonists. Cliché? Soap opera-esque? Maybe, but it certainly shocked me. And Jack Bristow may well have had the best line of the season with his “I'm trying to have more fun”, seconds before Lena Olin upstages him with a gunshot and “...cut the BLUE wire!”

Great, great night of television ending not just these shows, but my entire season of shows. These were the last finales of the shows I regularly watch, and by far the best. It's going to be a LONG Summer.

I might have to blink before September...



Guilty Pleasures

Tonight's post is inspired partially from a conversation I had today, partially to tie in to yesterday's, and partly from a Meepers post. The rest should be self-explanatory:

Movies:UHF, Cabin Boy, The Cable Guy, Superman III

Shows I've watched with varying degrees of regularity since passing a socially acceptable age to do so: Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Jackie Chan Adventures, Digimon, Pokémon, Superman the Animated Series, Teen Titans, Medabots, The Ripping Friends, The Tick, TMNT, The Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, R.I.D., Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Power Rangers in Space, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, Power Rangers Time Force, X-men Evolution, Spider-man Unlimited, X-men, Spider-man, and so on....

Foods: A bowl of milk, ice cream and cereal; Crackers and Ketchup; Cheese puffs and/or Doritos in bed; dipping French Fries in my Frosty, pasta with a full square-inch of butter melted in to the sauce, having a “five second rule” in my room; putting salt on things that are already salted; finding leftover snacks in the kitchen at work.

Other shows: She-ra, Jem, Chip ‘n Dale Resue Rangers, Men Behaving Badly, TaleSpin, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, My Secret Identity, Team Knight Rider.

What are your guilty pleasures, and how do they compare with mine?


Small Pleasures

Thanks to K-Rock's new format, I heard Master of Puppets for the last 10-12 minutes of my drive home tonight. It's rare that something comes on that makes me roll down the window, turn the radio up as loud as reasonably possible, and pound on my steering wheel. It's rare for me now, as an adult, but it was a lot more common in my college years, which frighteningly ended nearly a decade ago.

At the gig I played yesterday, one of the musicians was telling my dad what vitamins he takes. He mentioned surviving prostate cancer about six years ago and still going strong, but complained that it messed up his sex life. My dad told the younger man, who I figure to be in his late sixties, that at least he's still alive. He responded with, “Well sure, but there's things I enjoyed doing, and my wife was one of them.” My dad uncomfortably mumbled something about finding other ways to pass the time, and the guy just shrugged.

A friend of mine e-mailed me earlier this evening, posing an introspective question about the final Star Wars® marking the end of a chapter of our lives. It's funny that something so trivial as movies impact us, but it is a shared experience of a generation marking a place and time. People around the same age tend to have seen the same films, and be surprised when someone their age hasn't seen what they have.

I watched the 2-hour finale of 24 tonight—why DON'T more heroes walk off in to the sunset? It's going to be a long wait until next season. After Wednesday night, I'll have no more shows to watch and more time to catch up on movies. There aren't many new shows catching my interest, either. I've been enjoying Blind Justice quite a bit, but I hear that may not be returning. There are two summer shows whose commercials have caught my eye: The Inside and Prison Break. Given the track record of the network on which they’ll air, I expect them both to be amazing and not last more than 9 episodes, possibly aired out of sequence, and certainly incomplete. Still, I may watch anyway.

Blogging. It's nice to be able to sit down at the end of the day and share my thoughts when I have them, and even when I don't. Maybe people will read them, and maybe they won't. There's some small joy I take in the stringing together of words to convey my ideas, and that's more than enough for me.

What small things bring pleasure to your lives?


Phantasmic Links 5.22.05

Here's a word of advice for any fathers who might have a grown son that in the recent past had just gotten over what he believed to be panic attacks while driving. Under no circumstance should you say things like, “Wow, those clouds look really ominous!” or “Boy, where'd all this traffic come from?” while he's driving you and another musician on a highway and over a bridge to a gig. Getting up early and driving nonstop for over an hour while still sore from playing paintball is bad enough. Now that I've gotten the public service announcement out of the way, let's dive right in to this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

I posted a favorable review of the new Star Wars® movie. As with any film, opinions varied on this one. Some shared my opinion, others did not. Check out what Jerry, Darrell & Wendy, Kev Bayer, and Rey had to say.

FawnDoo is hosting a blog party on the theme of “Oh eM Gee moments” on June 3rd
. I'm going to start narrowing my list down as soon as possible.

Witness one of the funkiest Star Wars® music videos EVER. Thanks to Rey for the link.

Kev Bayer links us to proof of R2-D2's importance.

Remember Hapland? Now there's an even more challenging sequel. I'm not even going to embarrass myself and admit how long it took me to solve this.

I've gone an entire paragraph without linking to something Star Wars®-related. Can you outwit a Sith Lord AND his more frightening surprise ally?

"Like so many uplifting stories, this one begins with cruelty and heartbreak." Awwwwww...

”What's Your Super Power?” I've taken this quiz twice and apparently my power is “NOTHING”, but hopefully some of you will have better luck...

I thought I discovered online gold when I found a page full of 80s television themes, and then I discovered the section with commercials. Behold a familiar face with more hair extol the virtues of the McDLT! Relive the cloning of an icon! Discover the roots of evil. Hear once more the phrase, ”I always WONDERED where my mandibula was!” And finally, shudder at this prophetic vision of a dark future.



MCF's War Journal

0600: I question my father's sanity. Why would he be calling me so early on a Saturday morning? Then, as the fog of dreams slowly lift, I remember asking him to the night before. In an hour, a friend from work will be arriving to pick me up for The Big Game.

0650: After eating and showering I'm awake enough to do a gear check. The blue jumpsuit that had once belonged to my father has become my paintball uniform in the last few years, earning me the nickname “Blue Ninja” from regulars who own camouflage gear. I take a roll of paper towels and plastic bags, all essential materials for such a mission. I put the jumpsuit in a bag, hope I won't be too hot in the jeans and sweatshirt I'm wearing, and head outside to meet my ride.

0705: My friend Bob arrives, slightly late, and we head out East.

0745: We arrive in Coram and are directed to a parking spot by referees along a dirt road. Bob drives fast.

0800: As anticipated, the girl at the counter has no record of my having prepaid and registered online nearly a month ago. I'm learning to plan for my unlikely luck though, and present her with a copy of the e-mail confirmation I received. I'm directed to a different alphabetical line according to Bob's last name, where a second girl is also bewildered until her supervisor points out TWO registrations under his name. I hand over my driver's license as collateral as she presents me with my weapon and a wristband identifying me as part of the red team, Bravo company.

0815: Back at the car, I suit up. Bob has an extra camouflage shirt that I throw over my jumpsuit, and an extra mask which he tells me he spraypainted the night before. The camouflage pattern on the mask is excellent, though the residual fumes make me dizzy. After picking up a case of ammunition, we load the pods in our backpacks and the hoppers on our guns.

0830: Past the netting we have to stop briefly while anyone using his or her own gun has the speed checked by radar, to make sure no one has tweaked them to shoot faster than the regulation 290 fps. Our arms are fitted with red tape by the referees, to differentiate us from the opposing blue taped army.

0845: I grow weary of standing around, listening to the owner explain the objectives of the day. I want action. Disappointment over learning Ice T would be at the event TOMORROW only grew when the owner told us the tanks and helicopters we were expecting were for Sunday only as well.

0915: Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie companies are split up and given sectors to defend. As everyone immediately vacates our base with no organization whatsoever, Bob and I are initially hesitant to venture too far, but quickly grow bored. Note: From this point in the journal, all times are estimates based on what people around me have said, since I left my watch in the car given my penchant for losing things.

0930: I make my way off the trail, taking cover in the trees. In the distance, I hear the rapid exchange of fire and shouting, but have yet to see an actual battle. I try to get Bob on the two-way radio he's loaned me, and ascertain his position at the top of the hill.

0945: My legs are killing me. We've hiked uphill over very uneven ground, following the perimeter indicated by yellow tape on the trees, planning to flank the blue forces. Every time we come upon fellow soldiers there's a momentary lifting of arms before someone cries “RED! RED!” and prevents friendly fire. I can hike anywhere in Long Island for free, and often do. I've paid for a fight, and I'm looking for one.

1000:Finally, we catch up to our troops who have the blues pinned down in the “city”, a series of plywood facades resembling a western town. We seem to have the high ground advantage, until spheres whiz by from the right, revealing forces surrounding us. We fall back, our first mistake of the day.

1015: Bob is hit making a daring run down the side of the hill by unseen snipers. As he departs for the “safe zone”, a netted enclosure where we must wait 15 minutes before reinsertion, I creep down the hill, falling back myself when a sudden barrage is unleashed. Miraculously, I am unhit, and as I fall back to the dirt path behind me, some troops coming up the path ask if I'm hit. I tell them “no” and they quickly change that even as I notice their blue armbands. I raise my white towel and am given free passage to the safe zone.

1018: I take off my helmet and get a drink of water from a nearby cooler. My right ear hurts from the earpiece, and Bob suggests I just use the radio without the wire. I agree, and return his wire, double-checking that the radio is clasped to my belt.

1033: Reinsertion is dangerous, as the territory is now completely occupied by blues. A red steps out of the enclosure only to turn around and walk back in upon being shot. We make a run for it, and manage to regroup with our forces where they've taken the city.

1100: I've been guarding a structure, and it's been boring. Having made our way from one side of the grounds to the other, it seems the blues have done the same and we're once more away from the action. A group of us decide to make our way over a nearby ridge, and down into a valley held by the blues. They have excellent cover behind some barrels, but they also have the low ground.

1115: I wonder why I suddenly hear Slipknot's Duality blaring, and then see the source. The tank rolls around, blaring music and bearing a blue insignia! It's slow, and we still have the high ground, so as long as we keep our distance we're safe. When it turns, someone screams “CHAAAAAARGE!!!” and we run full force down the hill. The tank continues in another direction as I skid behind a tree, and I realize I was the one who screamed. I reload my gun for the first time.

1117: The game is finally getting good as our forces push forward into blue territory. I look around for Bob and reach for the radio on my belt, horrified not to find it. As my team vanishes ahead of me, I turn and look up at a hill covered in leaves, and retrace my steps.

1136: I've asked anyone I've seen if they've found a radio, with little luck. I've been back and forth over the battlefield, completely unsure if I'm retracing my steps. Every tree looks familiar to me and I try to use a lake at the bottom of the hill to gauge where I was on the hill at various points in the tank battle. Ultimately, I'm forced to give up my search when three reds come running up past me, pursued by innumerable blues. I turn and make it to cover with them, falling back as we see how massively outnumbered we are. The morning is not going well. Overhead, I see the helicopter for the first time.

1145: Walking along an unfamiliar road in our retreat, a paintball hits me dead center in the side of my head. I'm impressed at the durability of the helmet as I feel no pain, only the impact that knocks me to the side. I raise my gun and towel, and make for the nearest safe zone, occupied by only refs at this point. As I walk in one hysterically yells at me to put my barrel plug in, and as I fish for it inside my glove, he continues to yell and tell me to get out of there. I walk back to the road putting my plug in, fully determined to find a more hospitable tent when he calls to me to come back and explains that he was worried about losing an eye. I tell him I fully understand and ask about a radio, as he assures me that stuff like that “walks” and he's sure some of their equipment is already in someone's car. I call Bob on my cell phone and leave a message, but I have no idea if he even has it on him. I reload, put my mask on, and head out alone into the woods.

1205: I'm waiting by the registration booths when Bob appears. I apologize about the radio and he tells me not to worry about it, but that someone was either on the same frequency or picked it up, since he called to me and someone told him he'd “meet [him] by the car.” He sends another message asking who took his radio but gets no reply. We ditch our gear and get some amazing (albeit overpriced) cheeseburgers and hot dogs.

1300: After having our CO2 cartridges reloaded, we're ready for round 2. This time, Red is starting from the side of the woods Blue started with in the morning, and vice versa.

1315: Our Red Bravos push forward from the city, holding the blues down until their tank leaves and pressing forward. We're all running on adrenaline and forgetting weary limbs, and when younger players want to fall back we shout at them to hold the line. We're a different group than we were in the morning. We're organized, and working together, slowly but efficiently advancing. Any time Blues try to flank us, we're prepared, constantly yelling to “watch the right!” or “watch the left!” The first Blue facility is in sight and as we lay down suppressive fire, Bob makes a daring run to the Blue flag, yanking the rope that changes it to Red. The area is ours, and we continue our campaign.

1400: The afternoon has gone well. Our strategy continues and we successfully keep spreading out and advancing even as Blue keeps retreating. As the bulk of our forces take the area designated as “The Capitol”, a group of six or seven of us move along the perimeter, coming upon a steep downgrade. I catch hold of a tree to slow my descent as we run down over leaves and branches, and swing around as paintballs explode near my fingers. I drop and roll behind a log and am up and returning fire in seconds. There aren't many of us in this zone, but we're GOOD and have support from on high. I've been hit several times but the balls aren't exploding, which by the rules mean they don't count. The first time I played this game maybe 3 or 4 years ago, I wanted out the second I got hit. Now each sting just drives me onward.

1430: There are Reds everywhere. Other players with radios confirm that we now hold every major installation, and the Blues are scattered throughout the surrounding woods. Bob has three paintballs left in his gun, and I give him my last pod to reload. We plan to play until empty.

1445: Somehow we end up back in the barrel zone where I lost the radio, but approaching from the low ground. I continue looking at the ground and, realizing what I'm doing, Bob tells me for the seventh or eighth time to “not worry about it” and adds that he got it cheap off eBay. I still feel bad, but the trees around us explode as the Blues attack! I dive behind a tree, and unload, taking out a Blue or two before my gun rattles out the last of my CO2. As I step back, I'm hit from both sides by paintballs even as my team cries out in shock at the presence of blues behind us. I make my way to the road as Reds turn to guard our rear.

1500: There's no sign of Bob. He had little ammo left, and I have no idea whether he's alive or dead at this point. My legs hurt. I've sat only once at lunch, knowing it would be a mistake, and indeed it took forever to get back up. I've stayed on my feet and run up and down hills, diving and rolling all the while carrying a gun and a backpack full of ammunition pods. I find my way to the parking lot and Bob joins me by the car not long afterward.

1525: I've returned my gun and recovered my license, and my jumpsuit is now safely in a plastic bag. I'm pleased to see that I'll make a 5PM mass and not have to go to a 7:30 AM tomorrow. I'll get some sleep before I have to drive to Staten Island tomorrow and play music.

1725: I decide my faith has entirely too much sitting, standing, and kneeling. After the day I've had, each change of position has me groaning and leaning on the pew like the elderly ushers a few rows back. As I hope they don't think I'm mocking them, I conceive of tonight's “War Journal” format and try to remember how Army Time works.

2120: I finish tonight's post and prepare to run a spell check and publish. Every joint still hurts. It hurts to type. My face feels sunburned but was behind a mask for the majority of the day, so it may be that the mask was too tight. My head is somewhat larger than my friend's. I keep discovering welts that I never felt in the heat of battle. I'm certain in the last campaign that the Blues may have been fighting a dead soldier. I feel GREAT, and I can't wait to do this again next year.

End War Journal.


This Movie was the SITH.

If you haven't seen Star Wars®: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, go now. If you're debating whether your children can handle it, screen it first. There's nothing worse here than anything seen in the original trilogy, but the camera lingers on these scenes longer and makeup and special effects have progressed a lot since the early ‘80s. If you don't want spoilers, I don't plan to hold back in the following review, so you should close this window now. If you missed my column the last few days and don't want to risk seeing something here while scrolling down, here are some shortcuts to my last few posts:

Resting Up

PBW: My Old Sandbox

Everybody Loves Finale

Never Impromptu

Phantasmic Links 5.15.05

Still here? Let the detailed summary commence:

It's no secret that the prequel trilogy has not thus far held up to the original. Personally, I liked Episodes I and II. It was difficult getting used to some of the new characters, since they were strangers while those from the original had become old friends. I was young when I saw the first trilogy, and had never seen anything like it. I wasn't thinking about dialogue, or philosophy, or even the score. A good movie is one in which you can completely let yourself go for a few hours, become immersed in the reality being presented to you. I've never been in outer space, met various aliens, or found myself in the middle of a war with lasers flying on all sides. I'd never seen anything like it. It was novel, and new, and wonderful.

Years and technological advancements can make people jaded. We've seen so many spaceships and creatures and robots in the last twenty years or so that the novelty has worn off to some degree. People take things for granted. As the initial screen crawl began, outlining events I had seen in the animated Clone Wars, I was ready for anything. As ships flew with hints of theme music from the original trilogy, my excitement grew. I noticed similarities in the designs of the Jedi ships to both X-wings and Tie Fighters, and smiled at this historical nod to the ships that would be seen in the original trilogy, set after the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the Empire. As the battle wore on, I found myself slightly underwhelmed and wondering why. It's hard to get excited by ships flying through space; though there is much that goes in to creating this illusion. I DID like the fact that R2-D2 was flying with Anakin, knowing that one day this tough little droid would do the same for Anakin's son.

This was not the only parallel, however. I have to admit that, a few months ago, I made a rare visit to a comic book store and made the mistake of opening a comic book adaptation of the film. I didn't expect much to be revealed before the movie was released, but I quickly closed it upon seeing a major spoiler 3 or 4 pages in. It was something I should have seen coming, and certainly would have when the scene began to play out on the big screen. Anakin and Obi-Wan arrive on a ship to find a captive Chancellor Palpatine. Held captive in a chair nearly identical to his throne in Return of the Jedi, he is secretly in control of the events about to transpire. He arranged for Count Dooku to abduct him, to force a confrontation between his apprentice and Anakin. When Obi-Wan is knocked out during the fight, Anakin is cheered on by Palpatine much the way Luke was when he faced Vader in the climax of Return of the Jedi. Unlike his son however, when Palpatine urges him to strike down his enemy he does so, beheading Dooku in a surprisingly less graphic scene than the one depicted in the comic book I had seen.

I never fully understood that scene in Return of the Jedi. Certainly a corrupted Luke had great potential, but Vader was very powerful. Later in the film when Palpatine alludes to slaying his own Sith master, Darth Plagious, the picture becomes clearer. Plagious taught Sidious(Palpatine) all he knew, and was slain by his own apprentice. Everything Palpatine has done in these films has been about maintaining his empire and manipulating those around him. He wanted a powerful apprentice, but one he could control, who wouldn't repay his mentorship by overthrowing the master. In Anakin he found the perfect apprentice, one whose birth he and his own dark master seem to have arranged. And when he sensed Vader would be a threat and Luke was powerful, he planned to have Luke kill Vader and serve him just as Anakin did the same with Dooku. Instead, his worst fears were realized when Vader DID turn on him not out of Sith ambition, but love for his son.

Despite the marvelous parallels set up in the first half hour of the film, I was more awed by the connections I was making than the actual events on the screen. I tend to think people who are looking for great acting in these films are forgetting what they're watching, but even I found some deliveries a little rough, especially between Anakin and Padmé. Haydn Christensen isn't the best of actors but Natalie Portman is, so it was surprising that the dialogue and delivery about their future as parents felt so rough to me. By the time Anakin is having visions of her dying in childbirth and she's uttering jinxing hit-you-over-head lines like “I'm not going to die in childbirth, Ani!” I was getting a little worried. Any fan of these films knew what had to happen in this one, and there weren't likely to be any surprises. We KNOW she has to die, we know her children will be separated and where they will be raised. We've seen their trilogy. Still, there was an awful lot of heavy telegraphing going on in these scenes.

Ewan McGregor has completed his transformation in to Alec Guiness' Obi-Wan. From the beard to the clothes to the weary quips, he is perhaps the most connected to his character in the original trilogy. He gets to shine in a daring mission to take down General Grievous, a droid both enhanced and weakened by his organic parts, a cyborg foreshadowing the lethal blend of man and machine Palpatine would soon have in Vader. Across the galaxy, the Trade Federation is beginning to lose ground against the republic Clone Troopers led by Jedi masters. Meanwhile, Palpatine continues his moral seduction of Anakin, dropping hints about the power of the dark side and dangling the fact that, with it, Anakin could have the power to save Padmé from the fate in his visions. The movie was good up until this point, on par at least with the two previous ones, but it became AMAZING at this point, once the Sith hit the fan. Anakin realizes that Palpatine is a Sith lord, and the Chancellor does nothing to hide it. Ian McDiarmid is outstanding in this role. He's in complete control, and everything is going according to plan. He lets information “slip” when it will best suit his purpose. To my surprise, Anakin takes the information he has learned to Mace Windu, who up until this point hadn't trusted Anakin. Mace takes a team of Jedi, including Kit Fisto, a favorite of mine from the cartoon, to bring in Palpatine. In minutes, Mace is the only Jedi left alive, barely holding his own against the surprisingly spry old man.

Conflicted, wondering if he's doomed his bride with his choice, Anakin runs to the Chancellor's office where Windu has gained the upper hand. You don't mess with Samuel L. Jackson. Palpatine reveals his lightning powers, but Windu forces them back on him, disfiguring him so he more closely resembles the emperor we're all familiar with. Palpatine plays his part well, begging for his life and gaining Anakin's sympathies. When Windu goes to strike down the villain, Anakin reacts and slices off his arm. Windu has only a moment to be shocked before Palpatine takes advantage and unleashes his lightning once more, sending the Jedi out the window to his demise. Anakin falls to his knees in remorse, thinking he's reached a point of no return. Palpatine rechristens him “Darth Vader” and bids him to rise and carry out his will. As Anakin leads clone troopers in to the Jedi temple, I couldn't help but think of Vader leading Stormtroopers. Truly, this was the beginning of the Emprie.

Even as Anakin does more and more horrible things in the name of love and his new master, such as slaying children, Palpatine gives a new directive to the Clone Troopers, who are all loyal to him. He tells them to carry out “order 66.” Across the galaxy, troops turn on their unsuspecting Jedi leaders and all fall, except for Obi-Wan and Yoda, who senses what is happening. As the survivors regroup and Palpatine spins a tale of a Jedi plot to the senate, cementing his empire, Obi-wan learns the awful truth about Anakin's role. He must find the traitor, the Chosen One he trained and regarded as a brother, even as Yoda stays to confront the new Emperor. Yoda engages in a visually stunning battle in the senate amid all those hovering disks, even as Obi-Wan sneaks aboard Padmé's ship when she flies to the lava planet Mustafa. There, Anakin has slain the last of the Trade Federation on Palpatine's orders, since there was no more need for those pawns. Angered when he sees his old master, Anakin thinks his wife has betrayed him and blocks her breathing for a few moments, knocking her unconscious and possibly contributing to her inevitable fate. Obi-Wan engages his student in a pitched battle over lava, and though months ago we'd all seen footage of this battle on entertainment shows against a green screen, we really saw nothing. As metal falls into lava and things are burning and melting, the tension is high. Ewan McGregor does an outstanding job conveying his pain as he leaves a burned, mutilated shell of his former student behind to die. No wonder he couldn't bring himself to finish Vader off in the original Star Wars®. That's a small part of the reason, anyway. The larger part was the line, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” The origins of that part of the mythos are touched upon briefly in a quick line near this film's conclusion.

The final moments play out exactly as I envisioned in my mind. Padmé of course dies in childbirth, but not before naming Luke and Leia. The birth of the twins takes place while Anakin's body is recovered and fitted with robotic parts for lost limbs, and encased in a familiar black suit. In her final words, Padmé tells Obi-Wan that there's still good in Anakin, a notion Luke too would hold on to when he grew up and faced his father. The Emperor tells Vader that Padmé has died because of him, and his rage and grief complete his journey to the dark side. The twins are of course separated, with Jimmy Smits' Bail Organa taking Leia and Obi-Wan agreeing to take Luke to his aunt and uncle on Tatooine, and keep a close watch on him. Yoda plans to go in to exile, but not before revealing to Obi-Wan that his master Qui-gon had discovered how to live on in the force, and that Obi-Wan would study this new discipline while in the desert. This explains why he was willing to be struck down and why he and Yoda later return as spirits, although not why we never see Qui-gon again, or how Anakin is able to achieve this without training. This along with some of the acting in the beginning of the film are probably my biggest complaints, but neither take away from my overall love of this movie.

C-3PO gets the last line, a concerned “Oh my!” when Bail Organa orders his memory wiped, confirming fans' theories about why R2 seemed so much more informed in the original trilogy. As sweeping John Williams music plays, a montage of scenes bridges the gap between trilogies. Padmé's people carry her body to its final rest, her hands still holding a necklace given to her by Anakin. Bail Organa presents his wife with their new adopted daughter. Aboard a star cruiser, the Emperor and Darth Vader oversee construction of the first Death Star alongside a young Grand Moff Tarkin. And finally, on Tatooine, Obi-Wan hands Luke to his aunt, and watches as she brings him to his Uncle, where the three stand before a very familiar sunset as Obi-wan looks on, and the credits roll.

I know nothing happens during the credits of these movies, but I stayed until the end, taking in the music and processing everything I'd just seen. The movie did what it had to do, and if Lucas faltered in his resolve with anything, it was with Jar Jar Binks. There was a time when fans might find a character annoying, like C-3PO or Ewoks. Fans, including myself, hated Jar Jar in the first movie. Caving in to the fan outcry, Lucas reduced his role in the second film. While he held political office, he only had a few lines. In this movie, he wasn't allowed to speak at all. Anybody who complains abut what Lucas did to “their” movie needs to step back and remember whose story it is to tell, and recognize when he does concede and give in to his audience.

This movie was great. I can't wait to see it again. I think when it comes out on DVD I'm going to buy this whole trilogy, and find a day to watch all six movies back-to-back. I wasn't applauding as many of the people in the theater were, only because I think it's weird to clap when the people you're clapping for can't hear you. In my mind though, my applause was thunderous.


Resting Up

In the “tradition” of Tuesday's review of Everybody Loves Raymond, I planned to write a detailed review a day late about the great night of television I experienced last night between Lost, Alias, and Smallville. The first two moved me to tears a few times, especially a few scenes with the dog on Lost. These shows have really been knocking it out of the park lately, and I'm looking forward to next Wednesday's finales and dreading the months until new episodes appear. Smallville didn't exactly move me to tears, but the powerful 90-minute finale lived up to the hype while at the same time making me question why the majority of this season was so bad. THIS was the story they should have been telling, and I realize things like the witch possession were little more than stalling actions to save this tale for the end of the season. And the last scene confirmed where I suspected they were going, and then they don't even show It yet. I guess this gives them time to work on a new set. I'm probably waist-deep in unmarked spoiler waters now so I'll say little more. What was REALLY awesome though was that it wasn't 90 minutes as advertised, more like an hour and twenty, followed by a ten minute extended peek at scenes from Batman Begins. Now I'm REALLY excited. There's what I'd seen already, seeing American Psycho the other night and realizing how perfect Christian Bale may be for the role, and seeing the new flipping comic logo DC has, similar to what Marvel's been doing with their movies, all fueling my desire to see this NOW.

I watched a Horrible Movie earlier tonight, and fought to stay awake, making it to the end but losing the battle are the credits rolled. I just woke up fifteen minutes ago. It's good that I'm getting my rest now, because I have a big weekend ahead of me. I already ordered my ticket to see Revenge of the Sith tomorrow at 10 AM. I mentioned this to some coworkers this afternoon and when one questioned whether I was going to work, I simply repeated the name of the movie. In life, we must learn to recognize the things that are important to us, and not be ashamed of them. I just realized what a dangerous statement that is; what if a person has some freaky priorities? I should clarify that I'm talking about not putting work first and missing out on things. I took the day off initially to rest up for Saturday, when I'm playing paintball at the same place as Ice T. I just noticed on the press release that he’s playing Sunday, so that kind of destroys my mission is to come back with some good pictures with the rapper/actor. I also got a call to play a musical gig on Saturday but, unfortunately, I had already preregistered for paintball weeks ago and had to turn it down. Instead of making money and getting exercise I’ll be spending it and getting exercise, but hopefully it will be worth it. I'm hoping the directions I got my dad for the gig were good enough since the trumpet player he's giving a ride to doesn't drive himself, having lived most of his life in Brooklyn where he didn't need to. As if Saturday won't be tiring enough, I have to get up early Sunday to drive to Staten Island and play another musical gig in an Italian Feast. After I got the calls for these jobs last week, I started to wonder if maybe I should have taken Monday off instead of tomorrow. I guess I'll just have to catch sleep when I can, like I did tonight, and take it one day at a time.

That's all for now. I can almost guarantee I'll have a movie review up tomorrow afternoon, and some more fun things for Saturday and Sunday in between everything else. Let this three-day weekend commence!


PBW: My Old Sandbox

Every child should have a sandbox. I'm not sure what it is about sand, about fine particles of glass that become malleable when wet, that differentiates it from regular dirt. It could be the connection one feels to the beach, even when no where near the shore. There's a Nathan's in the middle of Long Island that's far from the original and far from any shore, but the sand surrounding it along with an old boat and some life preservers always made me feel otherwise. The other difference between sand and dirt is the mud factor. Once in elementary school I chose to leap into a puddle, which in turn splashed mud up all over me, which in turn resulted in my mom being called in to the principal's office to bring me a change of clothes. My principal's calls to my mother were frequent in those days, and my exploits legendary.

Playgrounds have sandboxes, and some lucky kids have sandboxes. There wasn't much room in my backyard for one, but I did have a full swing set and one of those small plastic inflatable pools. There was a hill with some “steps” made of large stones leading up to my mom's garden. Every time my mom went to the beach, she would collect sand in a milk carton and empty it on this hill along side these steps. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of playing in that sand with my Tonka trucks. I had—or more likely somewhere HAVE—a crane, a dumptruck and a bulldozer. I'd make imaginary roads and reshape the environment, and my dad would sometimes join me which was the BEST, because he could do all the sound effects of the trucks’ engines. My dad has always been hardworking and responsible, so it was rare to see him just let go, be silly, and have fun. Young as I was, I think I somehow sensed that HAVING kids, among other rewards, allows adults a much needed excuse to be children again themselves, if but for fleeting moments.

We both got older. My dad couldn't get back up as easily from the ground. I was getting too old to play like that, though as with most things I probably did it longer than most normal kids. At some point ants made a home in my hill. I took a nearby polished stone and smashed as many as I could, stopping in horror when I realized the lives that had been snuffed out in the little pit my pounding had created. From that day forth I strove to avoid even stepping on ants by accident, and any insects found indoors would be caught in a plastic container and released outside, even spiders. There have been occasional exceptions, such as finding a nasty-looking spider on my bed. I see that running through my sheets, and it’s not long for this world.

Time wore away the sand naturally. My mom planted various flowers there, and it became another part of her garden. A large rock that was found at the top of the hill when a tree was dug out, was moved to the base, and when we had our front sidewalk redone my dad used the cement chunks from the old one to make a second set of steps. I'm horrible with flower names, but whatever kind my mom planted are looking amazing this time of year, and she's been after me to photograph them for weeks now. And that's the tale behind this week's photo.



Everybody Loves Finale

Everybody Loves Raymond was one of those shows which drew me in about halfway through its run. My mom loved it from the beginning, but her tastes are not my own. It was one of those Monday night shows on CBS for the over-60 crowd, or at least that was my perception. As with most successful sitcoms, it became syndicated and I started catching episodes. As an Italian-American, many of the relationships resonated strongly with me, though the shows appeal went beyond their nationality. EVERY family is nuts. EVERYBODY has relatives like that, or has gotten in to arguments like they did, and it was both real and hilarious. Not surprisingly, the writers revealed in a one hour special last night that many of their ideas came from things that actually happened to them. Fights with spouses. Dealing with parents. Taping over one's wedding video. Whereas Ray inadvertently taped football over his video, writer Aaron Shure taped an episode of the SHOW over his, while doing research to apply for the job as a writer. Series creator Phil Rosenthal quipped that they HAD to give him the job after that.

After nine seasons, the show aired its final episode last night. Read no further if you haven't seen it and don't want to be utterly spoiled. I'm not going to bother citing specific examples of other finales, but none would have been appropriate for this show. Many sitcoms end with life changing events after which the show can't possibly go on. Someone dies, or moves, or takes a job offer, or wakes up to find it was all a dream. In the last decade or so, finales have been an hour and sometimes ninety minutes. Sometimes a show may transplant the cast away from familiar surroundings, to some exotic locale. This show did that at the start of its fifth season, a two-part trip to Italy that I first saw in syndication while lying in a hospital bed recovering from major abdominal surgery. It was a memorable episode, with beautiful countryside and music. That night was the last night before I would be allowed home after an 11 day ordeal, and I'll never forget it, especially when the phone rang and a doctor I'd never heard of told me more tests were needed based on some results and I'd have to be taken to the fourth floor. The caller sounded nothing like my own real-life Rey, but the fact that I was on the third floor, the TOP floor, made me suspicious seconds before he lost it completely and broke out in laughter. Between a good sitcom and a funny call from a good friend, I found myself laughing for the first time in over two weeks.

How do you end a show about family and real life? In this season's premiere, Ray's parents finally move out of their house across the street from him where they had lived for the duration of the series. I agreed with a friend of mine that they'd potentially squandered a good ending to the show, especially when the following week had the parents returning after being too obnoxious to the retirement community to which they had moved.

The situation around which the comedy revolved was intact. How could they end it? They already had a a wedding for Ray's long-divorced brother, so that option was out. Early in the finale, while Ray is in the hospital having his adenoids removed, his family receives heartstopping news. His wife breaks down to hear that they're having trouble bringing him out of anesthesia and as his brother, with whom he's always squabbled, is the first to step up and ask if he can give blood or do anything to save him, I didn't know WHERE it was going. The show has always been able to throw a sudden serious moment in at anytime, and this was one of them. What if he died? If the show revolved around this man and his relationship with his parents, his wife, his brother and his children, then there would be no need for a show anymore. It would be a conclusive, albeit depressing ending but May is known for shows pulling such stunts.

Of course, thirty seconds later the doctor comes out to tell everyone the crisis has passed and he's awake. The family is relieved, but his wife quickly realizes that he shouldn't find out. His father adds that his mother, who had stepped away to visit the bathroom during the incident, should also be kept in the dark. After the commercial break, Ray is home and happily eating ice cream in bed, but his wife no longer seems to mind the mess he's making. Across the street, his father is contemplative rather than gruff, and so appreciative of his wife that she becomes suspicious, and he confesses the truth. This sends a hysterical mother running across the street to her “baby boy” where she leaps in to his bed as he's about to be amorous with his wife. As Ray wonders why he's in such a nightmare, the truth comes out and he reacts with his trademark hypochondria, wondering if he has brain damage and asking anyone if they think he's “walking funny”. As his brother and his wife appear to find out what the commotion is, a typical family shouting match is broken by Ray's father, who silences everyone by telling them how distraught his wife was, and how he never wants to see her like that again. Families may bicker and squabble and get on each other's nerves, but at the heart of it all, they love each other.

The show concludes the following morning with the entire family gathering in the kitchen for breakfast and Ray commenting that they “need a bigger table”. The camera pulls back as everyone is talking and the screen fades to black as life goes on in the Barone household, even if we're no longer watching them. For nine years the show's credits have concluded with a “Where's Lunch? Productions” logo and a different plate of food. My mom is obsessed with that logo. When she's watching the reruns at 7:30, no one is allowed to change the channel at 8 until she sees what dish is being “served”. Last night, there was no dish, only a plastic platter with the check which simply read: “No charge, thank you.” And so, there's one less good show on television, but I suspect it will live on in reruns for some time to come.


Never Impromptu...

I can never be spontaneous, act or speak without heavy consideration. I'm considerate to the extreme of inaction sometimes. So when Wendy offered one of those trendy new impromptu blog parties, I couldn't answer on the spot. “Who is your favorite actor/actress, and what is your favorite of their films?” How does one answer a question like that? I have trouble staying within the limits of my own organized blog parties so there was no way I was going to answer on the spot. Now, instead of writing my thoughts on tonight's Everybody Loves Raymond finale, I will instead share what I've come up with after having a day to think about this topic. As is both tradition and my prerogative on this site, I'm not going to stay within the guidelines. I've chosen an actor and an actress, and I'll mention who else I was considering.

After considering Ford, Cusack, Carrey and Banderas, among others, I decided to go with Michael J. Fox and Back to the Future. Besides having a cool premise and cool effects, what I liked about his character was that he could be cool(plays guitar, has a girlfriend) and a geek(picked on by bullies like Tannen, hangs out with an old scientist) at the same time.

After considering Portman, Pfeiffer, Langencamp, and Ryder, to name a few, I settled not surprisingly with Jennifer Garner and possibly surprisingly with 13 Going on 30. I liked her performance in that a lot, and how someone so beautiful could be such a geek and fall for one. The question specified favorite film which is why I didn't choose Alias, in which each week she displays a healthy mix of tough and vulnerable.

Those are my answers, and now my thirst for blog partying has been reawakened. I've been waiting for a few others who expressed interest in hosting since I didn't want to be a ball hog, but I suspect I'll be announcing my next one in the near future. If only there was some sort of holiday weekend coming up when the majority of bloggers would be home....


Phantasmic Links 5.15.05

Mowing the lawn at the lot is different from mowing the lawn at home. At home there's more level ground, the mower is newer, and there's a bag. At the lot the mower is much older, the clippings fly out an opening on the side, and there's a healthy mix of various weeds in with the actual grass. Mowing the lawn at the lot is different from mowing the lawn at home; it's itchier. I actually wouldn't have minded if the weathermen had been right about the rain today, but none of that matters now. At the end of the day, all that really matters is my new banner and this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

The blogosphere continues to grow as Darrell's young bride Wendy starts her own blog separate from Film Geeks. Please join me in welcoming Tales from the Dorkside to our neighborhood!

The fur will fly as tension mounts and hostilities escalate toward a fierce conflict! Do you have what it takes to survive the Kitten War?

Speaking of a jihad of cuteness, Rey is bragging about his kids again.

Speaking of things girls find aesthetically pleasing, I had no idea Jason Statham was making a sequel to the awesome Transporter, yet here's the trailer. C'est magnifique!

Ah, the typical day one faces in stunt city....

Anyone fancy a game of Blogpoly? I should warn you I plan to win....

This is interesting. Scientists are working on a battery ten times more powerful than regular ones, which runs on tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen commonly found in exit signs and movie theater lighting. Hat tip to TheWriteJerry for the article.

With all the references to pop culture flying by, this Family Guy Reference Archive that Rey found will surely come in handy. This just in: MCF has watched a LOT of cartoons in his life.

Finally, check out all the original Star Wars™ clones. Wow, I actually HAVE an intact Star Bird sitting on my shelf. It was definitely one of my favorite toys.