PBW: Hobroken

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Hoboken for nothing. Back in July, I played a feast there, and even used my camera phone to get a shot of Sinatra's birthplace. So when I found myself there bright and early on a cloudy Saturday morning in September, and learned that the procession had been changed to Sunday and no one told me, I made the best of a bad situation and took some more camera phone pictures so the trip wasn't a total waste. There's a really great view of Manhattan from over there, and I think I need to make a trip with some friends on a sunny day with my good camera, since I already got the other side of Manhattan from Long Island City a few years ago. In any case, this week's Photo Blog Wednesday features cloudy camera phone pics from the other side:




I picked up Backspacer over the weekend, my first new Pearl Jam album since Yield. While they were my favorite band in high school and college, and up until recently the biggest band I'd ever seen perform live, I somehow lost touch with my fandom over the years, the way one might let a friendship lapse, and only had a cursory awareness of what the group was doing. I'd hear a few tracks here and there, but nothing to really grab me and inspire me to buy a new album. The spark of the early ‘90s was one of a kind, and I've yet to come across something as lifechanging as Ten or Nirvana's Nevermind, something I could listen to from beginning to end over and over again until I memorized every nuance of every song, every transition, every chord. Maybe these and other albums of that era were such a phenomenon because of where I was in my life at the time, and a younger generation is having the same experience with some other bands. So, Backspacer certainly isn't another Ten or Nevermind, but it is still quite good.

At first glance, the album art evokes the spirit of classic Pearl Jam, the grid design reminiscent of No Code while the solid black frame takes me back to Yield. There was even a vinyl release, and that reminds me of Vitalogy. The CD art is beautiful at the larger size, and utilizes the same window in the front through which the pulp science fiction brain illustration slides. Part of me is tempted to go back and get that version, as the classic scratchy sound of my mom's old phonograph would add a nice quality to some of the tracks.

As for the tracks themselves, my initial impression was that, overall, this was not the Pearl Jam of Ten, Vs. or Vitalogy. Those had their share of slow somber pieces, but had plenty of tracks with fast guitar chords and screaming, hallmarks of the early Grunge movement. As the band grew musically over the years, they mellowed, and Yield had a certain Beatles quality to it, especially on songs like All Those Yesterdays. Backspacer is folksy, at times a little bit country, and I can see hints of some of The Who in there, one of Eddie's influences. That was after listening to it once.

By the third and fourth time, I had a bigger picture. I think it overall represents the life and history of the band. They lead with familiar rocking tracks with bouncing beats, from “Gonna See My Friend” to “Got Some” and the first single released from the album, ”The Fixer”. This is good music to drive to, with power chords and choruses that will echo in your brain throughout the day. The next track, “Johnny Guitar”, is taking a little longer to grow on me. It seems asymmetrical and disjointed at times, like a spoken word tale set to music that doesn't quite fit together. I need to listen to it more, but my initial urge the first time I heard it was to skip ahead.

Then we get to “Just Breathe”. It's haunting, absolutely haunting. The somber plucking guitar and quiet folk lyrics stay with me in a different way than the fast tracks. Out of all the new songs, this one most reminds me of the solo work Eddie did for the Into the Wild Soundtrack. I loved the music in that film, and really think I should get the album too one of these days. “Amongst the Waves” is his latest love of surfing song, and takes us back to a more upbeat celebration of life. “Unthought Known” seems like it's going to go to the same place as Yield's ”Wishlist” with the short string picking in the beginning, but it doesn't stay there like Wishlist, instead building and building to a huge climax. It's a four minute crescendo, only softening again at the end. “Supersonic” feels ‘50s rockabilly, and by this point I'm wondering why my overall impression of the album was “folksy” with so many upbeat tracks. I think “Just Breathe” overshadowed everything else on my first listen.

“Speed of Sound” is twangy and rolling with a piano accompaniment, the most Country-sounding track, followed by “Force of Nature” which is a bright, hopeful and inspiring piece before we close, appropriately enough, with “The End”. “The End”, like “Just Breathe”, is a sweeping ballad in the same vein as the Into the Wild stuff, and firmly cements the entire album as a metaphor for life in my eyes. The first tracks had youth and energy, while Just Breathe brought maturity and quiet reflection before life is once again celebrated. “The End” looks back on it all with no regrets and the realization of mortality that comes to a fitting and abrupt close: “I'm here; but not much longer.”


One thing the CD does that vinyl wouldn't is start over at the beginning, so after “The End” cuts off we're back to “Gonna See My Friend”. It creates an illusion, intentional or not, of the cyclical nature of life. Overall, the experience of the album might not be the same experience as Ten and their early stuff, but it is an experience, life in just under 40 minutes. I know I'll be reliving it again and again over the next few weeks.


Phantasmic Links 9.28.09

I was happy when I awoke and heard the trickling rain drops outside my window on Sunday morning. It wasn't that I didn't want to go to my father's lot to trim hedges, pull vines, and mow the lawn. I was just feeling a little wiped out still from playing a feast the day before, and I had a lot of other neglected tasks to take care of, from laundry to financial paperwork to shopping. It turned out to be a great day for deleting items from my to-do list, including as always this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Joss Whedon has been responsible for some of the greatest hours on television, and I have to agree with just about every one on this list.

(2) Beautiful girls cover SoaD's Toxicity...on violins. Beautiful.
Hat Tip: B13

(3) These photos ROCK(s)!

(4) I'ma let you finish, but this site mocking Kanye West is one of the greatest P-links OF ALL TIME! Of all time...I think this should sufficiently beat the joke into the ground.

(5) The Gopher Hole Museum features various taxidermied little guys in cute little outfits and scenarios and isn't at all really, really disturbing...

(6) The Longest Poem in the World is made entirely out of rhyming Twitter posts. I wonder when my blog will get sucked up by one of these algorithms...

(7) Roman Polanski finally arrested after more than 30 years Justice moves slowly.

(8) The year was 1982. The place: D&D Summer Camp.

(9) Grab balloons, blow up bombs, collect coins, and buy upgrades as you take your houseHigher. Beautiful music and a simple concept make for a relaxing way to pass the time.

(10) Finally, check out this footage from the set of Iron Man 2. That movies going to be gooood...

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 10

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my tenth WWW:

1) Battle Royale:
This Japanese film was number one on Quentin Tarantino's list of the top twenty films to come out since he started directing, which is what made me check it out. I can see why he loved it. A controversial law is passed in which a class of unruly school children, selected at random from a lottery, are sent to an island to battle to the death. They are fitted with exploding collars that will go off if they don't comply, and there can be no more than one survivor. A Lord of the Flies scenario quickly ensues after a few kids are killed and the others realize the adults are not playing. It's amazing how quickly human beings will regress when survival instincts kick in, how former friends change when put in a harsh environment. Some form alliances. Some play dirty. A few remain honorable. A few rebel. It's Survivor but 1,000 times more intense because lives are at stake, and because these are high school children. The real heart and poignancy of the film comes from its flashbacks. From time to time, we see what it was like for these kids before. They weren't all bad, and none so bad as to deserve this. The contrast between their joy at a basketball game and anguish as they're killing one another is extremely powerful. 42 kids are brought to that island, and the film gives us captions to keep track as that number gets smaller and smaller....

2) Universal Soldier:
Jean-Claude Wan Damme and Dolph Lundgren star in one of those major science fiction action flicks that my friends always raved about, but I'd somehow missed. When Lundgren loses it in Vietnam and begins killing innocents, making a souvenir necklace of ears, Van Damme challenges his superior. The result is two dead bodies which the government puts on ice, and eventually incorporate into a platoon of machine-like soldiers who don't feel pain, heal quickly, and follow all orders. I always thought they were actually cyborgs from some of the headgear I saw them wearing, but they actually have no machine parts save for a subcutaneous tracking device. It's all drugs and genetic engineering. It's a good concept that tries to capitalize on the feel of the more popular T2, and has that early ‘90s flavor without as much depth. There's an annoying Lois Lane type reporter who stumbles on the top secret program and helps Van Damme begin to remember who he really is. In the end, Lundgren gives one of the worst performances of his career and makes Van Damme's acting seem much better. Both actors have done much better, but the action sequences and fights are pretty good. It's not unwatchable, but I'm not sure about the three sequels it apparently spawned. I guess I'll find out soon enough...

3) My Dinner with Andre:
This was a unique, profound, and difficult film to get through. My attention span is apparently not capable of handling a film with no action within which 90% of the time it's two friends sitting in a restaurant having a conversation, and it took me a few sittings to get through. But it had a lot of important stuff to say, so I'm glad I watched it. Wallace Shawn(whom I was familiar with from The Princess Bride and voice acting) meets an old friend, Andre Gregory(whom I was not familiar with prior to this film). Wallace is a down-to-Earth everyman, not unlike myself. He worries that he focuses too much on money, and he's a struggling actor and playwright resigned to make the best of his life the way it is, enjoying simple pleasures with his girlfriend like an electric blanket. Andre is a deeper soul, who has traveled the world and taken on many social experiments in a search for meaning in his life. At times he seems pretentious and insane, from hallucinating strange creatures to agreeing to be buried alive on a trip out to Montauk. He dominates the bulk of the conversation, with Shawn just nodding and throwing in an “And then what happened?” every couple of minutes. They get a few odd glances from the waiter, some of which Shawn shares. Andre meanwhile, as he begins to talk about how people are all acting, all drifting through life in a dream state, doing actions like eating out of habit, gets in a few jabs at the way Wallace and most of us live life. “I didn't realize they'd be so small,” remarks Wallace when the food finally arrives, proceeding to stuff his face. Andre hits on some real truths, that most of us are never truly alive because we fear the knowledge of death that comes with it. He shares an anecdote about how, when he was feeling his lowest, most people told him how good he looked(as Wallace had done when they first met at the restaurant). Only one woman told him he looked terrible, because she had been through some similar pain recently due to family troubles and could empathize. When Andre's mother was dying, clearly, visibly on her deathbed, an arm specialist came in and told them how wonderful she looked, because he only looked at the arm, not the whole picture. I often feel like I'm in the dream state he describes myself, like I'm drifting through motions and routines. I probably do more thinking than doing. It was definitely a well-written screenplay from the two leads, and a bold experiment to film a real time dinner conversation and let the audience eavesdrop. It's not going to be easy for everyone to get through, so at the very least check out the Bunny version(with a great Easter egg at the end if you look for and click the small bunny silhouettes).

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



World of Wackcraft

I'm sure the above video is staged. More importantly, I hope it's staged. Lord knows I've had my share of tantrums over the years, and thankfully no tech-savvy siblings to upload any humiliating footage to the internet. I don't think I went as far as that kid, but honestly who among us doesn't feel like an idiot when we mentally replay any outburst after we've finally calmed down?

In this case, the kid is upset because his mom canceled his World of Warcraft account, as well she should. Games themselves are not inherently evil, but they can be addictive, and certain personalities can handle them better than others. If the controls on my NES weren't modular so my mom could confiscate them, I doubt I would have gotten any homework done when I was in high school. And those games had to be beaten in one sitting. There was no saving of progress like with modern consoles and online games.

I've been fairly hooked on the web series The Guild, which focuses on a group of gamers. It shows how it bleeds out and affects their daily lives, to comedic effect. One woman is generally oblivious of her husband and small children. The game is reality, and reality is the bad dream that occasionally interrupts. At the end of the second series, another character had her game character deleted. All progress was lost.

I think that's part of the addictive quality of role playing games, beyond the escapism. For me, it's all about improving your character, gaining stronger abilities or weapons and amassing a lot of virtual money. There's this illusion of progress, and it feels good. And it's a lot easier to “level up” in a game than it is in real life. Whenever I've had a crush on an unattainable girl, I've always focused on how she was out of my league. Rarely did I try to improve myself and raise myself to her level. The few times I tried, I usually gave up. But in a game, I can sit behind a computer and click the same buttons repeatedly every day, and my character will become stronger and richer, which makes the game easier, which makes my character improve at an exponential rate.

I've gotten hooked on my share of web games, but I've steered clear of the big ones. Sure, I'm not on a PC and a DSL connection isn't the greatest, but beyond that I don't want something to devour the slim shards of a real life that I do have. I would disappear into that other reality and never emerge. It's happened with console games, but thankfully those finally end after 60 hours or so. The massive multiplayer games are ongoing, always expanding, and there's always someone better than you to catch up to. So if that video is the real deal, then that little bitch's mom may have done him the greatest favor of his life. He clearly couldn't handle the poison, and his reaction would only be worse later on after he'd built himself up even more in the game. It's a shame we can't apply the “level up” philosophy to real life, to have a graph of our stats and possessions to easily gauge when we need to improve physically or mentally, or when we need new clothes or vehicles. We don't often step outside ourselves to look at the big picture until it's too late, and we're surrounded by people much too high a level to ever catch up with. That kid might have been a winner in the game, but he's definitely in danger of losing at real life....


Not a Great Start

It was a beautiful morning, unusually warm for so late in September. He was up early, overcoming the usual fatigue and unwillingness to get out of bed. The day would have many challenges, not the least of which was a meeting he wasn’t entirely prepared for. Other projects had distracted him from his usual level of effort, and he knew at least 3 of the 14 ads he’d designed were subpar. It didn’t matter though; the day was off to a great start solely based on his positive attitude. Indeed, his prediction about his work would prove somewhat accurate, with 2 designs requiring complete overhauls. And a meeting scheduled for an hour would run well past two hours, partly because his overachieving nature had led him to present twice as much as was needed, and because others had focused on minutia. It was all irrelevant, in any case.

He was out the door a full ten minutes earlier than usual, even factoring the morning ritual in which his cat responds to his snapping fingers by jumping up on the kitchen table, then standing on his hind legs while leaning on his shoulder and nuzzling his chin. Outside, there was a light coating of dew on the windows of his car, but it was a fine morning to roll the windows down and resolve visibility issues. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and nothing could put a damper on his mood.

He waited patiently at the end of the block to make a left turn. Traffic wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t an opening. About 20-30 feet up the main road, a seagull circled. It got a little low, and he had a momentary thought that it might fly in front of one of the cars. But those birds know their air currents through instinct, and there was a definite grace in the way it glided, now flying in a straight descent toward the parking lot across the street. Maybe it spotted some food on the ground. Maybe it was going to pull up and perch on one of the lampposts. There were many likely scenarios, and as a minivan rolled down the street, the young man waiting to make his turn saw and heard the last thing he expected. The bird didn’t fly in front of the van. If the bird was gliding down a little slower, or the van was driving a little faster, it would have passed safely behind the vehicle. Instead, there was a horrifying “THUNK!!” as it flew right into the side of the moving vehicle.


Something white and oblong bounced back on to the pavement, landing amid the yellow lines that divide the lanes. The van continued on its way, the driver either startled or oblivious. The witness’ hand flew to his agape mouth, and he remained frozen for a very long time. Overhead, a second seagull circled, letting out a mournful cry. The white mound remained motionless. It took the startled man a few seconds to realize the road was now clear on either side and he could make his turn. Turn he did, very slowly, looking at the mess in the road. Amid a pile of feathers the seagull sat upright, wings folded and legs tucked underneath. Eyes were open and it was barely moving. How hard had it hit the side of the van? Maybe it looked worse than it was? Maybe it was just stunned? He watched in his rearview mirror, hoping no cars crossed into that five foot section of diagonal yellow lines before the bird recovered.

Should he call someone? Should he go back? He remembered a story his friend had sent a few weeks ago about a little boy struck and killed while saving an injured duck. He still felt guilty for driving on, and it nagged at him. Eventually work and all that other meaningless stuff provided enough of a distraction. When he finally was on his way home 11 hours later, it was too dark to see if there was anything in the road. He thought he saw something white, but it looked fairly flattened. Maybe it remained there until other drivers crushed it. Maybe it had recovered and flew off, and the flat white thing was just a bag. He would know in the morning for sure, but he was sure it might be better if he never knew. It wasn’t a great start for his day. It really wasn’t a great start for that seagull.


Of All the Shows I Watched Last Year.

I'm glad they came along. I dedicate this post to all the shows I watched in the last year(that won't be back this season).

We lost an absurd number of celebrities in the last year, and they will be missed. I was thinking about the new television season and how I'm down to only 4 nights a week, with most of my shows colliding on Thursday evenings. There were some show casualties last season as well, and while some departed from natural causes, others left a little too soon. These are the shows in my rotation that we've said goodbye to:

Battlestar Galactica:
It had a good run, and I was definitely moved by the finale, though in perusing the internet I've found that opinions and interpretations may vary. I thought it was a solid series from beginning to end, with some of the best performances I've seen on any show.

Stargate: Atlantis:
Here was another great science fiction series, although it had lost some momentum in the last few seasons. There were epic victories against deadly enemies, after which nothing seemed as much of a threat to our heroes. In the fifth and final season they introduced a “new” race of aliens that might have made for interesting antagonists, but it didn't get much further beyond the reveal of who they really were. I will say that the last two episodes were the best of the season, and I especially liked the celebrity cameos and Johnny Cash music in the penultimate episode. For a spinoff, it turned out to be a pretty good show, and I'm looking forward to seeing if the next one lives up to the legacy.

Prison Break:
This was a great series, and one I never expected to last beyond the first season. It made sense that there would be a second one, but I wasn't sure how they could justify a third one. How many times can someone break out of a prison? Ultimately, I was wrong, and glad, because the show was so much larger than its title and initial concept. It was all about the characters, and the suspense, and seeing how smart people deal with unwinnable situations when the crap hits the fan. It was a sad ending, but a fitting one, and the only way things could have played out. Sacrifices were not made in vain.

This show really grew on me once the characters were fleshed out and they expanded beyond a “demon of the week” formula. Ray Wise was absolutely brilliant as the devil, so gleefully evil and self-assured. It may be the role of his career. The show was really getting good and ended on an interesting note, leaving us to forever wonder what plans the angels had for our protagonist to leave his soul in the hands of the devil. I get my epic angels vs. demons fix from Supernatural, but Reaper was so much lighter, comedy with hints of drama instead of drama with occasional comic relief. There really wasn't another show like it on television, but that's the way it is with unique shows...

Pushing Daisies:
Yes, there was a definite pattern with losing original and unique programming this year. Or maybe it has to do with names that are related to death. I'll miss the dry sarcasm of Chi McBride and the fairytale like narration of murder stories in oversaturated, Burtonesque settings. We got some closure thrown together in the final minutes with some editing and a voiceover, but this show deserved a proper ending and a minimum of a third season.

My Name is Earl:
This was a great show that never recovered from an awful third season. You can't put your main character in prison for half of a season, only to have him land in a coma in the second half and waste Alyssa Milano on comatose sitcom fantasies. Season four got the show back to its roots of a repentant man going down a list and righting all the wrongs he committed, but I guess it wasn't enough to get the ratings back up. I had no idea it was in trouble, and it ended on a HUGE cliffhanger. It's a shame, because this was one of the best seasons, and included the long-awaited origin of Darnell, with an AWESOME guest appearance by Danny Glover. It was seriously one of the best episodes in the show's history, and far better than the garbage taking its place on Thursday nights.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles:
It was edgy and smart. It brilliantly spun a film franchise in a new direction, separating itself and making it unique. There was depth of emotion and philosophy, and it built upon the mythos at its foundation. It also had a hot girl robot. Teen angst, the search for God and meaning, and the eternal question of whether or not we can alter fate and destiny were all consigned to a Friday night time slot of doom, to sputter in the ratings, and leave us wanting more, with too much unanswered.

Well, at least I'll have more free time this year, but I wish the shows that were canceled without proper finales all had more episodes. What shows did you lose this year?


PBW: Coasterazzi

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I'd played a small Italian feast in the morning and had the rest of the day to do with as I pleased. So I grabbed my camera and went for a drive. Hearing on the radio that the new Pearl Jam album was already available at Target, I decided to make a quick stop before taking pictures. There was no sign of it, and as it was late in the afternoon, I was sure they'd sold out. Still, I knew of another Target, and decided to check there as well. Again, I was out of luck, and decided to wait until later in the week or the following weekend when copies would be available everywhere. But my cyclical journey around Long Island led to me to yet a third, smaller Target I wasn't aware of, nestled alongside Adventureland(not to be confused with the film of the same name, which I've yet to see). Apparently the movie is based on the same theme park, although from what I've seen of the trailers Hollywood has seriously upgraded the look of the narrow strip of land full of old rickety rides. The screams I heard from the rollercoaster as I entered the store reminded me of my own experience on there, noticing things like chipped paint and loose screws around every turn. It's the biggest coaster I've ever been on, and it was enough for me.

As for my quest, the third Target at least had stickers on the empty shelves where the CDs had been before they sold out, while the others didn't even have that much evidence. But Photo Blog Wednesday wasn't a complete bust, as I got some shots from the parking lot of that rollercoaster:

And click this last one for a desktop-sized 1024 x 768 px version:



Falling Forward

Sometimes, I think life is like stepping out of a craft in low Earth orbit. It takes a while for gravity to get a good hold on us, but the further we drop, the faster we fall. Years become like weeks. Weeks become like days. Days become like hours. Hours become like minutes. Minutes become like second. Seconds erode with each keystroke, step, and breath.

It's Fall, already. It's September. Summer is over. Television reigns. Heroes is back, and back strong, returning to the basics of ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives while possessing extraordinary abilities. It's a promising start. I can't believe how long the show has been on. I remember when it was new. I remember when Prison Break was new, but that show has run its course, and alumnus Robert Knepper is already imprinting his acting abilities on a new role in Heroes.

On the last day of Summer, as they always do, my company hosted an ice cream day. The first time I was there for one, it was simply a truck parked out front, and we could have anything we wanted for free. Last year they stepped it up, with servers in the cafeteria spooning out from giant cartoons while sprinkles, whipped cream, and other fixins awaited us nearby. This year they moved the whole thing out to the lawn, adding sherbet and fresh fruit along with even more ice cream flavors and toppings. It was obscene and awesome, and a welcome break. I'm in one of my busy times right now, when my regular workload is high and I'm tackling a few extra projects. It's a little crazier than I'd like, but I don't like the other extreme either, when I have nothing to do. I like to be just busy enough for the day to go fast, but not so busy that I have to stay late or work bleeds into my thoughts when I leave the building. I'm conscientious to a fault, and sometimes I work to the exclusion of the rest of my life.

It's interesting how we speed things along in life. Part of the falling metaphor involves natural gravity, forces acting on our perception which we can't control. But our brains have mechanisms to cope with boredom and difficult times. We can switch over to autopilot, becoming automatons in order to get through difficult or boring tasks. We seek entertainment to fill the time we aren't working, either physically or mentally. A game here. A show there. A book. A movie. We do everything we can to “pass the time”, and at some point we look back and ask, “Where did it all go?”

We're all falling forward to the future. Sometimes we can get a knuckle hold and slow things down, but the current eventually sweeps us away. Sometimes we lose our train of thought and switch to a raging river metaphor without realizing it. It happens. Remember when this was about jumping from space? Remember when you started reading this? Remember when my words had a point? I don't. Hey, you kids, get off my damn lawn.

I think I need to find a parachute.


Phantasmic Links 9.21.09

I had a pretty great and productive weekend. I watched 3 movies, played 2 gigs, did laundry, mowed the lawn, went to church, got out in the nice weather and probably more things that I'm forgetting right now. It's just the kind of weekend that has me looking forward to facing whatever challenges the work week might hold. I'm sure the promise of my company's annual Ice Cream Day to celebrate the last day of Summer has nothing to do with my anticipation. And I'm sure you're all eagerly anticipating this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) This guy makes a lot of sense about Indiana Jones fan films. The bit about the ease of getting a gun or Nazi uniform vs. a bag of dirt had me rolling.

(2) Answering your hand might be more than just miming.
Hat Tip: Krispy.

(3) Ridiculous or legitimate concerns for recalling these toys? You decide.
H.T.: J-No.

(4) I hope to never get sent to prison, but I hope I'm resourceful enough to come up with weapons like these. Actually, I hope the other inmates aren't that resourceful, at least not with the weapons. Some of the other creative comforts are pretty cool...
H.T.: B13.

(5) You got to find that Boogie Body! She's putting Sexy away.

(6) Hey, remember that time a Sith lord charmed the galactic senate and rose to supreme power? Good times...
H.T.: J-No.

(7) A couple discovers one of the unforseen dangers of dumpster love.
H.T.: Krispy.

(8) Heat Rush hearkens back to late ‘80s racing games with a variable soundtrack, 10 challenging courses, and a variety of unlockable upgrades leading to four different endings with some great film references thrown in.

(9) Animation fans like myself will enjoy this interview with Frank Welker, voice acting legend.

(10) My Pet Protector isn't so much an RPG as it is an experiment in life choices. How much studying, working, adventuring, and resting your apprentice does, and how he goes about such things will determine his ultimate career path. Experiment with different choices to see where he ends up after four years under your guidance. So far I've trained a warrior, a captain of the guard, and a complete nobody.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 9

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my ninth WWW:

1) Mirrors:
Kiefer Sutherland can act like Jack Bauer in every role he gets from now until the end of his career, and I won't mind at all. The low whisper elevating to roaring when he gets upset. The penchant to solve problems by shooting at them. And of course, the trademark “DAMNIT!!”, of which Mirrors offers several. It's a recipe for a drinking game, is what it is. In Mirrors, Sutherland plays a cop struggling to kick a drinking habit and get back on the force after being kicked off for shooting a man. He's living with his sister and trying to reconcile with his wife so he can be with her and their children. Taking a job as a night watchman in the burned out remains of an old department store, his life gets truly horrific and interesting. Because there's something on the other side of the mirrors, something evil, and not just the trapped spirits of people who died in a fire. Mirrors offers some genuinely frightening moments, and some genuinely cool effects when the reflections don't match our “reality”. It's a ghost story that culminates in a twist, one you'll appreciate even more on a second viewing. I liked the concept a lot, and enjoyed the performances of both Sutherland and Amy Smart, who portrays his sister. American adaptations of Eastern movies(in this case South Korean) aren't always the greatest, but this one isn't bad, not bad at all.

2) Max Payne:
I liked it, although I need to lead with a disclaimer that I've never played the video game on which it's based. So I can understand why fans might be upset with significant changes from the source material. Judging it strictly as a film noir detective story in which Mark Wahlberg seeks to solve and avenge the murder of his family, it's a formula, but it works. It doesn't really matter if you guess who betrays him, or what the deal is with the supposedly supernatural elements in the film. I personally wouldn't have minded if it went the direction I thought it would based on the trailer, but the route they went worked as well within the film's internal logic. Amaury Nolasco gets to play a sly and formidable nemesis, and Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as a tough DEA agent out to avenge her own loss. Who knew her voice had other settings besides “annoying”? In the end, Max Payne won't win any awards but it's a nice little popcorn diversion with a lot of action and special effects, and will definitely entertain if you're looking to kill just over an hour-and-a-half. And yes, I did just give a semi-positive review to a film starring a guy last seen talking to plants which includes in its supporting cast a slightly pudgy Chris O'Donnell. I guess anything is possible.

3) Bee Movie:
Bee Movie offers the sort of vivid and dizzying highly rendered and textured animation that you'd expect from Dreamworks. And it has all the wit and sarcasm you'd expect from Jerry Seinfeld. Kids will be in awe of the pretty colors and amusement park quality of the factory and living quarters within a beehive, while parents will chuckle at a few clever references to things kids won't get, such as a recreation of the surreal pool scene from The Graduate. There are great jokes at the expense of both Ray Liotta and Sting, and those guys were great sports for lending their voices. Bee Movie starts off promisingly enough, as Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson graduates and learns that whatever job a bee chooses, he chooses for life. So he ventures outside the hive for the first time in an effort to see what's out there before his future is set in stone. That much you probably got from the trailer. The film derails a little in the middle and goes on an odd, environmentally conscious tangent in which Barry sues the human race for using honey. There are a few contrived plot twists and deviations from the main story before it gets back on track. It's worth it for the animation, recognizing which celebrity voices and personal friends of Seinfeld showed up for recording sessions, and for a couple of great exchanges of dialogue. Leave plot expectations at the door, and go along for the ride, which is not unlike the erratic flight pattern of a bee. Hmm. Maybe it was intentional...

4) Road House:
Sadly, Patrick Swayze lost his cancer battle this week, succumbing at the all-too-young age of 57 and joining the absurd number of famous people to slip off the mortal coil this year. I can't say Dirty Dancing or Ghost were ever my cup of tea, but then I don't think I've ever given either film a fair chance. I've seen most of both on television, but really should rent them and watch them properly. I did enjoy his earlier work in films such as Red Dawn and The Outsiders, and I remember watching him in the North and South miniseries with my folks when I was a kid. Of the Swayze films I have seen, Point Break was probably my favorite, so it shouldn't be much surprise that I loved Road House. I'm honestly not sure why I hadn't seen it before. It has all the over-the-top extremes of heroes and villains in the classic Western model of one man cleaning up a corrupt town, complete with the ‘80s flavor of shows such as The A-Team. The film is brimming with testosterone, violence, and nudity, with a good balance of topless chicks and Swayze's bottom to put something in there for everybody. Swayze plays Dalton, a “Cooler” for a bar who is approached by another bar owner who desperately needs his services. A Cooler differs from a bouncer in that his job is to coordinate the others and try to diffuse a situation before resorting to violence. In most cases, Dalton never loses his temper, and uses his mind to take confrontations outside and avoid them entirely. But when the time comes that ass-kicking is his only option, he's more than capable of dishing out pain, from kicks and punches to ripping out a throat with his bare hands. There are some other familiar faces as well, including Sam Elliot as his mentor and Kevin Tighe(a character actor I recognized from Lost as well as Freaks and Geeks) as the bar owner. Ben Gazzara is his main opposition, playing a man who controls the town. If they want booze, they pay him. If they don't want their businesses trashed by his henchmen, they pay him. Dalton stands up to him, and tension escalates when he wins over a pretty young doctor that Gazzara had his eye on. The edition I rented also had a special feature, a commentary track by celebrity fans Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, who nail just how awesome the “Swayze-dog” is and how the cheese level of the film elevates it to greatness. It's an archetype that makes no apologies for what it is, and takes every opportunity to show how everyone in Dalton's orbit, male and female, are overcome by his very presence. The best part of the commentary is how they occasionally cite Chuck Norris Facts, substituting in Dalton:
“Dalton doesn't sleep; he waits.”
“Dalton once ate an entire cake before his friends could tell him there was a girl inside.”

and my favorite:
“Dalton originally appeared in the Street Fighter video game, but was removed by Beta Testers because every button caused him to do a roundhouse kick. When asked bout this ‘glitch,' Dalton replied, ‘That's no glitch.'
Road House features a healthy Swayze in his prime, beating up the bad guys, defending the little guys, and impressing the ladies. He plays the classic larger-than-life legendary figure, and probably could have played a great superhero if given the opportunity. He will definitely be missed.

5) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa:
If I had to describe my response to the first Madagascar, the word I'd use would be “underwhelmed”. I enjoyed it, and it definitely had its moments, especially with the penguins, but for the most part it wasn't anything special and didn't stand out against other Dreamworks films or the work of their computer animating competitors, Pixar. I don't know whether it was the slightly geometric forms of the animals or the thin line between the voice actors and the “characters” they were portraying, but it didn't quite do it for me. I have to say the sequel was a huge improvement over the first one. It picks up right where we left off, with our escaped zoo animals on the title island. Actually, we start with a flashback to the childhood of one of our characters prior to the title card and a brief recap of the first film, and this includes the talent of the late, great Bernie Mac and the singular gleefully evil rasp of the one and only Alec Baldwin. Soon the stage is set for our animals to make the return journey home, which results in a detour in which they discover just where home really is. Each of the four principal animals(Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith) goes through journeys of self-discovery in which they prove things to others or to themselves. The first film introduced these characters, so in this one they had room to grow, and I think that helped make for a better movie as well.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Cloakfest 2K9

You know, October 13th isn't that far away. I'm sure people have already marked their calendars, so it's not necessary for me to remind you that it's the anniversary of my first post here at The Nexus. That's right, in a few weeks I will have been posting something every day for FIVE years. And that means it's time for:


The time, she flies, yes?

CLOAKFEST celebrates my anniversary over the course of a few days, and always incorporates my October 13th anniversary date as well as a Wednesday, which I'll explain below. Here's the breakdown for this year's festivities:

1) Tuesday, October 13th: On the date of my blog-iversary, I have something special planned. I'd like each of you to send a photo to me at MCFSPU@hotmail.com, along with a two word phrase. The photo can be of yourself, or a pet, or a nice scene, or pretty much anything you like. I only ask that it's a photo you yourself have taken, and that you please, PLEASE keep it clean. Minimum size should be 600 x 800 pixels.Your two words can be your name, or two random words that you like, or pretty much anything you choose, again provided you keep it clean.

Your deadline to send me stuff is Tuesday, October 6. I'll choose the best photo(s) and phrase(s) and, through the magic of GRAPHIC DESIGN, combine them into something. And if I get multiple good entries, I just might mix and match. Will your photo become a movie poster? A book cover? A CD or DVD case? There's only one way to find out.

2) Wednesday, October 14th:
Will this be the year that Photo Blog Wednesday reveals all? I always tease and then just show a baby picture or a body part or a coworker. Maybe it's time to drop the hoaxes and misdirection, and end the fifth season with what everyone's been waiting for, which will be anticlimactic at this point. Maybe you’ll find out I’m actually a woman. Or maybe I'll just do something else entirely. Whatever photos I show will have to be something special to mark the occasion, and hopefully I'll think of something good.

3) Thursday, October 15th:
And finally, just as The Essential MCF 2K7-2K8 provided summaries and highlights of my fourth year, so too will The Essential MCF 2K8-2K9 cover my fifth. This is always the most challenging task for me each year, and with no weekends free I've already started compiling my summaries, to hopefully avoid being up until the wee hours of a Wednesday evening.

So start snapping or digging through photo albums, reflect on the past year, and think about what pictures I might post. Spread the word; it's only a few weeks away!



On Go Why.

Found some interesting questions/topic starters over at Zen Sundays:

When you go to bed at night, what's your last thought??
I seriously never know. I stay up so late sometimes on the computer or watching DVDs, there are nights I don't remember falling asleep. At some point I shut down, turn around and collapse on the bed, and suddenly my dad is telling me it's morning and time to get up. Often times my computer is in sleep mode or a DVD is back to its menu.

When you wake up in the morning what is your first thought? What motivates you to get out of bed and start your day?
It varies. Either there's this disorienting moment between whatever I was dreaming and reality, like I wonder why I'm not in my office or a classroom and how I ended up back in bed. Sometimes I wonder what day it is, and how the movie I was watching ended if I fell asleep in the middle of it. Sometimes I wonder what the weight on my chest is before my eyes adjust to see my cat curled up like a black furry pillbug. My motivation used to be my dad repeatedly yelling in the time every five minutes, but I'm an adult now and also I don't snooze like I used to, so I'm never in bed long enough for a second time check or admonition that I'm going to be late. I've learned to drag myself up and not lie back down, and I think about how I like having a job and how my boss, who's a really cool guy to work for, only ever had one complaint in the two years I've been there, which was a rut of getting to work half an hour late that I'd fallen into. Since he spoke to me about it, I've been diligent, and barring the occasional run-in with construction or other understandable deterrents, I've made sure to get there before he does 98% of the time. My second annual review was complaint-free, complete with his pleased observation that I was punctual. That's motivation enough.

When you don't feel like exercising what makes you do it anyway??
Habit and routine make me who I am. Once I get into a pattern, I tend to stay with it. It helps that I drive past the gym as I leave the office each night. Sometimes the temptation to keep driving is strong, especially if I've worked late and want to get home to watch my shows. Ultimately, it's when I'm not thinking about it that stopping is easiest. I listen to the radio or distract myself in other ways, and by the time my mind clicks back into manual override, my autopilot already has me out of the car, gym bag in hand, walking inside. Distraction is key on the treadmill as well, and I start with a walk that I gradually increase to a jog and then a run, all the while paying more attention to the television in front of me. I can't be encumbered so I depend on subtitles rather than headphones, so reading also takes my mind off things like being tired or bored or wanting to be somewhere else, and before I know it and hour and six miles are behind me.

When you have sweets, or pizza, or whatever is your trigger in front of you what makes you say no??
I love this question; I wish I knew the answer. Truth be told, it's all about line of sight for me. If there are cookies or cake in a conference room, even if I've just had lunch or I've been training for a race, they're getting eaten. And if there are multiple varieties, I get one of each. For example, last week our purchasing department held an exhibit of different size envelopes and print formats for us to peruse, and on a nearby table had pound cake, chocolate chip cookies, and double chocolate chip cookies. I could not leave the room without having one of each on my plate. Out of sight and out of mind are the only way, because my willpower or focusing on things like not having a chick-repelling gut go right out the window when there's a tasty treat in my periphery. I really, really need to work on that. Usually I rationalize it with extra treadmill time, which is getting less and less efficient at canceling out the maximum snackage.


Unglued to the Tube

Every Summer, I make a transition away from living my life according to television, and my time is my own. I find other ways to fill it, from putting in extra hours at the gym to catching up on other series on DVD or online such as True Blood or Eureka. We had a power outage about four months ago and I still haven't reset the clock on my VCR. And I still haven't been able to figure out why the digital converter box in my parents' room gets NBC but the ones in the living room do not. Truth be told, with nothing to watch back in July, I didn't spend much time on the problem before throwing my hands up in the air and hoping the networks were broadcasting stronger digital signals by the Fall. I may be four weeks and 7 gigs away from the end of my musical season, my main gauge for measuring the Summer, but as far as the television season is concerned, Fall is here.

Supernatural snuck up on me last Thursday, and I didn't even realize it until one of my friends e-mailed me about the episode the next day. The fifth season was always planned as the final one by the creators, although if ratings are good it might continue. As much as I like the series, since they've progressed to facing Lucifer, the biggest big bad of them all, I'm not sure how anything else could compare when this season's arc concludes. I also missed the premiere of the new Vampire Diaries, but with lukewarm reviews considering it “Dawson's Twilight”, it really doesn't sound like my kind of show.

So what will I be watching this season? Quite a bit in the next few weeks, with a ridiculous amount of shows landing on Thursdays. It's time to start paying attention to those television listings again, and I'm going to compile a list of premiere dates so I know when the shows I want to see will begin:

Thursday, September 17th(TONIGHT!)
Fringe, 9 PM, FOX
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, 10 PM, FX
The Office, 9 PM, NBC

Monday, September 21st
How I Met Your Mother, 8 PM, CBS
Heroes, 9 PM, NBC

Thursday, September 24th
FlashForward, 8 PM, ABC(NEW SHOW!)

Friday, September 25th
Smallville, 8 PM, CW
Dollhouse, 9 PM, FOX

Sunday, September 27th
The Simpsons, 8 PM, FOX
The Cleveland Show, 8:30 PM, FOX
Family Guy, 9 PM, FOX

Friday, October 2nd

Thursday, October 15th
30 Rock, 9:30 PM, NBC

Thursday, November 3rd

* * * * *

Seriously, what's the deal with Thursdays this year? It sucks that My Name is Earl was canceled without a proper finale and on a cliffhanger no less, but that's one half hour of my week that I'm going to need for other things. And these are just the Fall premieres over the next three months, so it doesn't even factor in Chuck, 24, Lost, Scrubs(technically a spinoff without a name change), and Better Off Ted, most if not all of which we won't see before 2010. And I'm sure I've forgotten a few shows, but I hope not; this is plenty!


PBW: Out of Office


MCF is out of the office today, 9/14/09, but will return tomorrow, 9/15/09.

Art Director
Company Name

Okay, that’s not exactly the automated message people got when they tried to reach me at work on Monday, but it was close enough. And where was I, instead of sitting behind a computer in my office? I was sitting behind a computer in my room. And when I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer in my room, I was on the moon. Or maybe I found a giant gray clay deposit at a beach that looked like the surface of the moon. You’ll see what I saw and more in this week’s Photo Blog Wednesday:



Off Day

I had a rough weekend, although technically, I didn't. Sure, I traveled far on Saturday for no reason, and traversing state lines and taking a few trains took their toll. But had things gone according to plan, there would have been 12 hours of walking around blowing into a giant brass instrument in the middle of that journey. Then I would really be tired.

The Sunday gig went much easier, as expected. And, anticipating the weekend would be tough, I'd already put in for a vacation day on Monday from my office job. I'm fairly good at using my days regularly, though I don't know if I've ever taken two consecutive vacation days in the nearly 14 years I've been out of college. I've never had a gap in employment between any of the three jobs I've held, and I usually pair my vacation days with weekends, unless a band gig falls on a Tuesday or something.

Somehow, I have about 7 or 8 days left to use before the end of the year, so I may have been less vigilant this Summer. The months went by very quickly and I lost track. Even when I did take days, I ended up helping my parents with things, such as cleaning my uncle's apartment or landscaping work at my father's lot. So I was determined, a little selfishly, for Monday to be a “me for me” day. My dad, meanwhile, was already suggesting I help my mom repair the frame on one of my uncle's old paintings, mostly because he wanted her to get it out of our dining room.

I slept until almost 10, then popped a movie into my portable DVD player, listening with headphones so the adults wouldn't know the kid was awake yet. About an hour in, my mom knocked on the door, and I braced myself for the work request. “There's an omelet on the stove, when you're ready,” she offered. Well that was odd. And nice. Especially including cheese and fresh tomatoes we'd gotten as a gift from our friend Bill the trumpet player, his way of saying thanks for driving him to all our mutual gigs. The day wasn't off to a bad start.

I finished my movie, and breakfast, and soon enough my mom was asking, “Can you do me a favor?” I knew it. I didn't snap though, and kept my cool. As it turned out, the favor was minor. She was heading out to meet with her knitting group, and wouldn't be home to change the channel on our digital converter box, something we have to do manually if we want the VCR to tape a different channel at preprogrammed times. She couldn't do it because it was still recording another show, but she wouldn't be home when her next show came on. That was an easy enough task, and still left me enough time to get to the bank to deposit a check from my last few gigs, and mail back my last few DVDs at the post office. On the way out, I noticed more outgoing mail, and did my parents a favor without being asked. I was in a good mood.

After the bank, post office, and gas station, I returned home. My dad was staining some wood trim and had failed to read the drying instructions on the can. I helped him figure out why it was streaking and why he should wait a half hour before continuing, then headed inside to watch the True Blood finale while I charged the batteries for my camera. I managed to make it to the beach and some trails for the first time in over a month, where the lapping waves and silence soothed and recharged me. When I returned home, I hung the laundry that I'd thrown in the washing machine before I left, and watched Wayne's World again for the first time in years. Excellent. Party on, MCF.

All in all, it was a perfect day. I got some minor errands done, I made it out to enjoy the beautiful weather, and I relaxed with some good movies and television shows. It's good to have a day off every now and then. A good day off can stave off an off day.

Now if Kanye West could take the rest of his days off, we'd really be in a better place.


Phantasmic Links 9.14.09

What a weekend! On Saturday morning, I got up at 5:30, drove to a train station, rode in to Manhattan, walked to the PATH station and took another train to New Jersey, where I walked another mile to find the doors of a club unexpectedly locked. Thankfully, one of the society members was across the street to ask me if anyone from my band had called me. Unfortunately, they had not, and the procession that was scheduled had been moved to Sunday because they feared rain. I'd gotten up early and traveled two hours for nothing.

I wasn't happy. I didn't have the Jersey band leader's phone number on me, but I did have the number for the son of my Brooklyn band leader, who was also supposed to be on the job. His father is usually good at relaying messages; the son, less so. He was shocked and appalled that I hadn't gotten the same phone call he had gotten the night before, and insisted that the Jersey guy never told him to call me. I got the Jersey guy's phone number and left him a voice mail with my home and cell numbers, mostly for the future. It would be better if he had a way to contact me directly. Not long after, he called back, deeply apologetic, telling me that he had asked the other kid to let me know. He offered to pay my travel expenses the next time he saw me, which was decent of him. As for Sunday, I was already booked with another band in the middle of the day, albeit for only three hours, but it fell right in the middle of the Jersey job. If it was in the morning, I could have done the second half of the Jersey gig, and if it was in the evening, I could have played in Jersey in the morning. It would have been too much, and I was exhausted from my journey and the stress.

Back in New York, the drummer son of the Brooklyn guy called me back to ask if I could do a gig with them on Saturday night that I previously would have been unavailable for. It involved a drive deep into Brooklyn that would have taken me well over an hour, and the job itself was only an hour. I was tired, I didn't think it was worth it, and I was still slightly fed up with the guy though maintaining my composure. So I went home, napped for a bit, took my mom to church, and then fell asleep again after dinner. I don't know why I was so tired; had I made the 12-hour procession I would have been in worse shape. I can't say I'm getting too old for this since there are guys in their 70s and 80s who do it. The oldest member of the Jersey band had been a 92-year-old clarinet player; I have no excuse. I'm not too old. I am older. I just have to deal with it.

Rough weekend. The week should be better, and maybe the best way to begin is with some great PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) This awesome commercial goes full circle to tell a story that, among other things, underlines why clowns are so scary...and deviously brilliant...
Hat Tip: B13.

(2) I don't know who this John Daker is, but he does a frightfully accurate impression of what I'd be like doing karaoke sober...

(3) Enjoy these cover versions of classic comic book covers.

(4) Regardez les vitrines des galeries de David Lynch.

(5) And here's a site full of people and things that totally look like other people and things.

(6) Dreaming Kittens. Could there be anything cuter?

(7) Al Franken can draw the United States from memory. I can't even draw Long Island without ending up with a deformed fish.

(8) I'm digging these twisted takes on Disney® Princesses.

(9) Some objects just don't seem right if made for two...

(10) 905 people at DragonCon dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller to set a new world record.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 8

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my eighth WWW:

1) The Legend of Butch & Sundance:
The no-frills credits as the film began were definitely a clue to its origins as a made-for-TV movie, as the acting and plot structure would soon betray as well. We revisit the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film my dad took my mom to see on the night he proposed, so already we're treading on sacred ground. To be fair, the idea of revitalizing the Western genre with younger actors isn't a bad idea, but anachronisms do slip through. Filmmakers should note that, in the old days, the term “dude” was not used with the same colloquial familiarity that it is today. Despite little faults like this, there is an entertaining bit of banter and gunplay as the two young legends meet and become friends. There's a love triangle, which tries to break predictability by having the young woman fall for both of our title characters, and but we're subsequently less sympathetic once she starts manipulating both men and acting cutesy about it. The tone just seems off. The plot also falls into episodic territory, with convenient shifts at just about the point the movie would be broken up into multiple episodes in syndication. And ultimately, that ends up being one of the greatest flaws, that the whole thing feels like exactly what it is: a pilot for a series that never gets picked up. By television standards, I enjoyed it, but leaving one loose end for future “episodes” while clearly establishing the premise for an ongoing series makes it fall short of a quality theatrical or even DVD release. I gave it a 3 out of 5 stars because I was entertained and didn't dislike it, but I was definitely judging it as a television movie and nothing more.

2) Green Lantern: First Flight:
Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, finally gets the animated spotlight after previous modern DC animated series focused on his successors such as Kyle Rayner or John Stewart. We get the classic origin story, as the cool-under-pressure test pilot meets a dying alien peacekeeper and inherits his weapon, a ring which controls green energy allowing the user to fly and create forcefields and other constructs. Christopher Meloni captures Jordan's demeanor, taking everything in stride and adapting to the most out-of-the-ordinary situations. He soon meets the larger force of the Green Lantern Corps, and is taken under the wing of Sinestro who, voiced by Victor Garber, steals the show. Bruce Timm, describes what follows as a Training Day scenario, and I don't think that spoils too much, as even newcomers should wonder why anyone trusts someone named “Sinestro”. Will the rookie prove himself and outshine a corrupt veteran? The tale reaches epic proportions, and does an excellent job condensing years of comic book history into just over an hour. I hope the upcoming live-action movie will be as good.

3) Prison Break: The Final Break:
If you were a fan of Prison Break the series, you'll definitely want to check out this direct-to-DVD coda. The last episode of the four season drama wrapped things up, but a four year leap between scenes toward the end made it all feel a little rushed. Not wanting to be dictated by the limits of a network episode order, the creators and actors filled in the blanks. There's the usual levels of contrivance, convenience and coincidence placing key characters in key positions for the sake of storytelling and seeing familiar faces, and on some level the movie retreads parts of the first season but set in a women's prison. But there are the usual twists, insane planning, and strategy that made the show great and made Michael Scofield such a watchable character. In the end, the film underscores how much he was willing to sacrifice for those he loved and how much of a master strategist he was. The man could not only see design flaws in architecture and exploit them, but those in people as well. I got the sense that the events of the film were a condensed version of what we might have gotten had the show been renewed for a fifth season, and I don't think it would have been as good drawn out for another 22 episodes. In a world where series are either cut down too soon or run too long, it's nice to have one that told a complete story, and ran for just the right amount of time to tell it.

4) The Spiderwick Chronicles:
Having not read the novels on which this film was based, I cannot say how faithfully it interpreted the source material. I will say that it was an enjoyable movie and that Freddie Highmore did a good job playing twin brothers. The tone reminded me initially of The NeverEnding Story, based on a young boy finding a book full of fantasy creatures and being sucked into that world. But the premise is actually that his great, great uncle discovered that these creatures are real, and concealed in the world around us, and the book reveals how to see them, since most cannot be seen if they don't want to be. And, as the boy discovers the secrets of the book and his brother and sister are drawn into the threat it poses, it starts to feel a lot more like Gremlins. Children might be the main target audience, but the movie is surprisingly dark at times. There are cuts and scrapes and blood and a few messy deaths along the way. Even the emotional tone of the non-fantastic side of the world is dark. The children and their mother are in the house where the book is discovered because the father has abandoned them for another woman. The daughter of the man who wrote the chronicles is in an asylum because no one believes her stories about goblins and trolls. A child tells his mother he hates her. There are some truly dark moments, offset by lighter ones thanks to the vocal talents of past legend Martin Short and future legend Seth Rogen. The crazy of Nick Nolte is put to good use here as well, making for a truly imposing adversary as he leads the forces of evil in an attempt to get the book that holds the secrets and weaknesses of all the other magical creatures. In the end, it makes for a great adventure and I enjoyed the ride.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Never Forget.

I totally forgot. I forgot to start checking television listings, and missed the season premiere of Supernatural. I forgot to check the weather and got caught in a nasty not-quite tornado that turned my umbrella inside out and soaked me while I was walking at lunch on Friday. But most importantly, when I composed an unfortunately named post about something as mundane as playing a gig after work on Thursday night, I forgot to write something about 911.

This isn't to say of course that I forgot the attacks themselves; I'll never forget. I'll never forget the initial erroneous report of a small plane crash interrupting Howard Stern as he speculated about terrorist involvement. I'll never forget the mood in my office as we gathered around radios or televisions, as we found it impossible to concentrate on work. I tried; I couldn't. The world was upside down. It was unreal. And when that first tower fell, it was like hell on Earth. People were frantic. One coworker couldn't get in touch with his mother, who worked in the area. She was later okay. Another couldn't reach her husband; he turned out to be among the soot-covered bystanders who made their way across the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. I had buddies working at Nickelodeon at the time; with the city's public transportation and bridges closed they had to stay with coworkers and couldn't get home to their families that night. I had a cousin who worked across the water in Long Island City who saw it all happen. It was a nightmare.

We were allowed to go home early that day, to be with loved ones. Our antenna at home was useless for all but one or two channels that broadcast from locations other than the towers. A day or two passed, and my ex-girlfriend sent me an e-mail. As people sifted through the wreckage, thousands were unaccounted for, and names were posted online by desperate families. She recognized one of the names. Maria, a former coworker of ours, was looking for Jon, her husband. We had danced at their wedding. In the time since we'd last seen them, they'd had a child, and another was a month away from being born. They never found him. I attended a memorial with no body, only memories and a few items that were precious to him, including his copy of Lord of the Rings. He had seemed like a good guy at the wedding, and his wife had been like a big sister to me, helping train me at my first job out of college, but seeing that book made me feel a real sense of kinship and loss.

Life returned to normal for some sooner than others. I'll never forget the difference between East and West coast programming, and the somber tone that lasted longer for shows like Conan O'Brien's. I'll never forget how Rudy Giuliani held his city together, and provided strength when we needed it. I remember his SNL appearance at the end of a rough few weeks, the first indications that we weren't going to forget, but we would go on. new Yorkers were united. Gone was the rudeness and the ignoring of each other. Nowhere in sight was there looting. We were united.

It was a different time, and it's hard to believe that was 8 years ago. I may be writing about it a day late, but I haven't forgotten, and it's been on my mind, both the innocent workers in those buildings and heroic firefighters who saved who they could and made the ultimate sacrifice.

We must never forget.