6.30.2010

PBW: MCF Takes Manhattan

A few weeks ago, my company sent me in to the city to attend a few seminars. I learned some interesting things, particularly in the areas of internet marketing and effective web page design, and enjoyed a great complementary luncheon. I also learned that the train line I took had removed a few trains, and now ran every two hours. So after lunch, with some time to kill and my camera on hand, I roamed a bit in search of Photo Blog Wednesday gold. From The Ed Sullivan Theater to Columbus Circle through Central Park and more, I wandered a bit too long and almost missed my train, which would have meant missing a band gig that evening. Still, despite clouds and time constraints, I managed a few decent shots; here's the first batch:



















Tune in next week and find out what lies beyond those rocks....

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6.29.2010

Triple Trouble

UNO
It's been a little over two months since my father's heart surgery, a single bypass that replaced an almost completely clogged artery. Everyone who sees him notes how good he looks, how healthy his color is. All his doctors are pleased with his vital signs when he goes in for checkup. He's disappointed and impatient, because he still gets angina, tight discomfort in his chest during times of exertion or stress. He thought the surgery would be a magic cure to make him 20-years-old again, instead of 80. He still has one or two arteries that are about 50% clogged, which accounts for the angina, but they're not life-threatening. His doctors repeatedly tell him to use his patch and/or his nitro pills to alleviate those symptoms. He admits that he does recover when he does so, and a lot faster than before the surgery. But it's not enough. He wants to march in parades, and carry heavy things up stairs, and climb ladders, and paint, and trim trees, and do all the things he always did. He's impatient. It's only been two months. Some of his discomfort is surely from the surgery. So now, against doctor's recommendations, he's pushed them to have another angiogram done, and perhaps put stents in the other two arteries. I think it's a mistake. I think he needs to give himself time to heal, certainly more than two months, and I think he should avoid any invasive procedures for now. I repeatedly tell him the same joke, about a man telling a doctor “It hurts when I do this” and the doctor responding, “Don't do that.” I can't imagine what the chest pain is like, but if it subsides when he stops exerting himself, it seems like a no-brainer to me. Were it not for our strong resemblance and my own stubbornness in other areas, I'd question whether we were related. When I'm 80, I'll have no problem sitting back in a chair and sipping iced tea and not doing manual labor. We'll see if the preceding statement comes back to haunt me in 45 years. Maybe then I'll understand.

DOS
Last week while walking to lunch, I saw the cutest thing next to one of the buildings in my office complex, about 3 or 4 calico kittens sleeping under some pipes. One of the more curious ones ventured out, but retreated when I held out my hand. My friend said the mother cat had been around, and that some people in the building had been feeding them. The next day, I had a meeting in that building, and as I walked by I glanced over to see them all snuggled up with each other, resting comfortably. On Thursday last week, we had a near-tornado for about five minutes, microbursts that did some damage and took down some trees along the North shore of Long Island. I didn't make it over to the building to check, but I wondered about the kittens. On my way home Friday, I saw an adult cat crossing the street between our complex and the neighboring houses, a black cat with a white belly that could have been the mother. Finally, when I went to that building on Monday afternoon, I looked in the corner behind those pipes, and saw no sign of them. Maybe they got to safety. Maybe some of the landscapers who've been doing work on our property adopted them, maybe the mother relocated them, or maybe someone in the building took them in. Wild animals are resilient, though I often wonder where my mom's cat Cubby would have been if she didn't pull him out of a window well 14 years ago. I'm hoping for the best in this case, and I don't want to know their fate if the worst case scenario is true....

TRES
This brings me to our own cats. While Cubby has recovered from his infection last month and is back to dealing with his original problem of blindness following a stroke, getting regular shots every 10 days, we've neglected Chirp, who we almost lost to a serious respiratory infection two years ago. He since returned to his old self, jumping up on things to get our attention, and standing up on the kitchen table and putting his paws on my shoulder before I leave for work in the morning. He recently adopted the habit of leaving his tongue sticking out, which we all thought was cute. It was cute, but we missed the underlying problem. I know he had one bad fang that he was too old to have removed, and thought maybe the tooth was bothering him. But when my mom called me on Monday morning at work to tell me he was drooling and leaving the tongue out, I knew she had to take him to the vet. Sure enough, there was a problem, some kind of lesion under his tongue. He's on antibiotics now and she'll follow up in a few days, and other than the drooling and swollen tongue, he seems other wise alert and healthy. But the real cause for concern, aside from the myriad causes for an infected lesion from a tumor to a benign ulcer, is that he's not eating. He has an appetite, and shows interest in food, but either the tongue is too swollen or it's too painful to eat. Even getting the antibiotic into him with an eyedropper proved a task, as the normally docile cat kicked and squirmed. That's the only real fluid he's had, and now it's been about 24 hours since he's had more than a nibble. If he doesn't eat in the next 24 hours, he's going to start getting weak, and it's going to be two years ago all over again.

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There are plenty of other concerns on my plate at the moment, but these are the most prevalent. I know that all things work out one way or another, and all tough times pass, but some days, I also know that when it rains, it pours....

6.28.2010

Phantasmic Links 6.28.10

It is hot out there folks! I did my best to stay cool this weekend, and I was glad that fire department parades are normally(and wisely) scheduled for 6 PM on Saturdays. Italian feasts are a different story, but I didn't have any of those to play this weekend. On Sunday I took in a local matinee of The A-Team and ended up getting a private screening, because hardly anyone goes to the theater in my hometown anymore and this movie's been out for a few weeks now. I personally loved every minute of mindless popcorn action, and thought it was one of Hollywood's better interpretations of an '80s show. If you liked the original, you'll like this updated version, which moves too fast for you to question physics or coincidences or any of the stuff that went out the window with the original. I was sad during the credits, because I saw the names of two actors who had cameo appearances that I thought I'd missed. Thankfully, I'm not that unobservant, as their scenes took place after the credits. All in all, it was a fun ride, on par with The Losers, and everything I'd want from a Summer movie on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Afterwards, it was still absurdly warm outside, moreso than before, so I spent some time at the mall getting some errands done and remaining cool, before finally heading home to relax and enjoy the rest of my weekend. Summer is in full swing, even if I did see a “Back-to-School” Staples outlet in my travels. Let's not rush things too much, folks. Let's sip some iced tea, relax, and click on some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) The font nerd and movie geek in my joined forces in absolute glee with this Movie Poster Font Quiz, which I aced.

(2) And now, take a trip down memory lane, to a time when sitcoms were slightly corny plays performed in front of a live studio audience, with this Very Special Episode of Family Ties guest-starring Tom Hanks. There be future movie stars, folks....

(3) These might be rejected New Yorker cartoons, but for some reason they're much funnier and I get them.

(4) Are you a good multi-tasker? I scored somewhat average, above low multi-taskers but below high-multitaskers. It's....tricky.

(5) Combine sports and physics in Soccer Balls, and see if you can use teamwork and strategy to anger referees...

(6) Batman's golf cart has been sighted! I'd let the man play through....

(7) Speaking of the caped crusader, various incarnations give their opinion of a certain adult parody of his ‘60s adventures....

(8) Here are 13 songs that aren't comic books, but should be....

(9) Sesame Street Fighter is one of those awesome combinations I wish I'd thought of, and didn't even consider until I saw it for myself.

(10) Finally, use this avatar generator to turn yourself into a Scott Pilgrim character! Here's mine:



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!

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6.27.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 49

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 49th WWW:

1) The Invention of Lying:
I have mixed feelings about this movie. For the most part, I absolutely loved it, and if you liked Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town, here he continues that tradition of the feel-good comedy with the hapless chubby everyman as the hero. The concept is a great one, an alternate world in which there is no lying. As he explains the opening voiceover, this means no deceit, no flattery, and no fiction. People believe everything, because no one ever speaks something that isn't true. There isn't even a need for the words truth or lie. When Gervais' Mark Bellison picks up Jennifer Garner for a date, she's brutally honest about being out of his league. Even as he pursues her throughout the film and chips away at her with his charm and humor, she's forthright in her concerns that genetically, he'd give her fat kids with pudgy noses. Mark is a writer for a local station that only writes about historical events to be read over the air. He loses his job, and hits rock bottom, until something goes off in his brain, and he tells the world's first lie, to keep himself from getting evicted. Once he discovers this power, and the fact that people will believe anything he says, things begin to turn around for him. And Mark is a good guy, so while the initial temptation for personal gain is there, he also uses his “power” to help people. About halfway through, the movie gets in to some dangerous territory by broaching the subject of religion. Basically, we get an atheist's view of the world, because there is no religion, which means the existence of a higher being, whatever your faith, is a lie. In a film that states that there would be no religion in a world without lies, our protagonist takes some actions that a Christian or any person of faith might take. He helps a homeless man get some money, helps a young bickering couple reconcile, and offers friendship and companionship to a man struggling with thoughts of suicide. There's a truly beautiful montage in there of Gervais being this great guy. And when he comforts a dying woman with words of an afterlife, he unintentionally opens a huge can of worms. Suddenly, he's inventing a “religion”, an oddly placed spoof of Christianity, and telling people about a big man in the sky who decides if they get mansions when they die based on whether or not they were good or bad in life. He has to answer questions like “Did the Man in the Sky give my mother cancer?” and “Did the Man in the Sky cure my mom's cancer?”, and basically digs a big hole for himself and the film. It manages to get back on track and give us a sweet ending, and remind us that this is a movie about a nice fat guy trying to get a pretty girl, but it probably should have avoided the other stuff entirely. Still, it was an original idea for a movie with a charming, likable hero, and had quite a few cameos, some less obvious than others. Whatever your beliefs, it's certainly thought-provoking and entertaining.

2) The Soloist:
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx are two actors at the top of their game right now, no more evident than in this film. RDJ plays Steve Lopez, a real-life reporter who discovers a Julliard trained musician homeless on the streets of LA. Foxx plays that musician, one Nathaniel Ayers, and does a great job capturing the chaos suffered by the mentally ill. Schizophrenia broke Ayers, and sent him out on the street, and only music seemed to drown out the voices in his head. Lopez began writing about Ayers in his column, and in doing some research learned that this guy playing beautiful music with only two strings on a violin did even more with the double bass. Ayers is suspicious and afraid of being confined, but Lopez eventually lures him in to a homeless shelter run by a guy played by True Blood's Nelsan Ellis. As something of a musician myself, though not on the level of Ayers, I definitely appreciated music as a force of order, as notes and rhythms bringing peace to someone's troubled mind. As RDJ's Lopez notes to his ex-wife at one point in the film, he gained an appreciation for Ayers' appreciation of music, seeing the love in his face when he listened to Beethoven. The Soloist isn't a big action epic, and most of it focuses on two characters, and the setting around them. But these are great actors portraying equally great people, and in capturing the streets of L.A., the film shows what perils and environments the real Lopez braved, first to get his story, but ultimately to help a great new friend.

3) Valkyrie:
It's a little slow, and a lot of this movie is men standing around in rooms, whispering and plotting. When you get past Tom Cruise as a WW II German colonel, there actually is a compelling story at the heart of this Bryan Singer film, based on actual events. The real Colonel Stauffenberg was among the Germans who wanted to take down Hitler, to, as Cruise's version says in the film, “show the rest of the world that we're not all like him”. Treason against one's own country is a bold move, even in recognizing the atrocities the Nazi party was committing. Failure would mean certain death, but most of these men held to their principles. The limitations of being based on historical events do make for a slow picture at times, although there is great tension when their plan to kill Hitler and stage a coup goes in to effect. The problem here, one Quentin Tarantino got around in his fictitious WW II tale Inglourious Basterds, is that we're pretty sure we know how the story is going to end. Singer still sets up an intense climax, to the point that I found myself wondering if he was going to stray from the history books to make a more exciting story. There are definitely some strong performances here that capture the honor and nobility of this group, and you root for them in spite of knowing history.


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

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6.26.2010

MCF's COMMON Bondz 8

And so, another MCF's COMMON is behind us. Sometimes these things are too obscure; other times they're too easy. I always seem to have a nice blend of both extremes.

20 items. 5 COMMON bonds. And here's what they were:

GROUP 1
(A) Aang.
(B) Charles.
(C) Nick.
(D) Telly.
Aang, Charles Xavier, Ultimate Nick Fury, and Telly Savalas are all guys with clean shaven/bald heads.

GROUP 2
(A) Crixus.
(B) Varro.
(C) Theokoles.
(D) Barca.
Crixus, Varro, Theokoles, and Barca are all names of gladiators appearing in Spartacus: Blood & Sand.

GROUP 3
(A) Bender.
(B) Robby.
(C) Scooter.
(D) Gort.
Bender, Robby, Scooter, and Gort are all robots.

GROUP 4
(A) Letter.
(B) Tabloid.
(C) Legal.
(D) Ledger.
As my fellow digital artist B13 correctly guessed, these are all common Paper Sizes, at least here in North America.

GROUP 5
(A) Beast.
(B) Colin.
(C) Yellowjacket.
(D) Tom.
Would you believe, they're all HANKS? Thanks, everybody; I'll be here all week!

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6.25.2010

MCF's COMMON 8

Do you want to play a game? It’s been nearly a year since the last edition of MCF's COMMON, so I’d say we’re well overdue.

Below I'm going to list FIVE groups of FOUR things. Each group has some thing in common, some thing that links each quartet. It's up to you to guess, and I'll reveal the answers tomorrow.

20 items. 5 COMMON bonds. Can you name them all?

GROUP 1
(A) Aang.
(B) Charles.
(C) Nick.
(D) Telly.

GROUP 2
(A) Crixus.
(B) Varro.
(C) Theokoles.
(D) Barca.

GROUP 3
(A) Bender.
(B) Robby.
(C) Scooter.
(D) Gort.

GROUP 4
(A) Letter.
(B) Tabloid.
(C) Legal.
(D) Ledger.

GROUP 5
(A) Beast.
(B) Colin.
(C) Yellowjacket.
(D) Tom.

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6.24.2010

My Destroyed Planet Five

We are living in some strange times. Snow and cold weather persist well into April. Weather fluctuates through what used to be Spring, then one day it's suddenly hot and humid, when there aren't flash thunderstorms. Then steam rises from the pavement. And Earthquakes seem to be increasing in frequency and location. Haiti. The Philippines. Canada even had one on Wednesday, and shockwaves reached as far as New York and New Jersey. Now, in our relative youth as humans in comparison to the planet Earth itself, this could all be normal, all part of the usual cycle, or foreboding of the end. And if the last, hopefully far-fetched conclusion turns out to be true, we only have fictional scenarios to turn to for guidance. My Five fictional destroyed planets might not offer much in the way of advice, of course, but they offer plenty in the way of entertainment:

5) Lithone:
Cause of Destruction: The answer is...Unicron, a giant machine that drifted through the galaxy consuming planets in his path and converting them to energy. We first meet him in The Transformers: The Movie, and Lithone falls in the opening scene.
From the Ashes: All but two Lithonians might have been destroyed, but these sentient robots were just there to set the stage for the stakes The Transformers themselves would face when Unicron reached their home planet Cybertron. Those two survivors didn't last too long before meeting another unfortunate fate, but at least one lived long enough to pass along some information to our protagonists, at the very least the name and nature of the fiend they'd be facing.


4) Zenn-La:
Cause of Destruction: Initially, it was spared by the world-devouring Galactus, in exchange for one of its residents becoming the Silver Surfer, who would become his herald and find other planets for him to eat. When the Surfer eventually betrayed his master and sided with humans to spare the Earth, Galactus banished him there and returned to feed off of Zenn-La, though he allowed survivors to escape.
From the Ashes: Zenn-La was stripped of energy but not completely destroyed, and its people eventually returned to rebuild. It was destroyed a few more times since then, but I haven't followed the comics that closely in years. Here's a video of the Surfer's origin:


3) Alderaan:
Cause of Destruction: Grand Moff Tarkin was a jerk. Princess Leia told him the location of the Rebel base when faced with Alderaan's destruction, and Tarkin still gave the word to fire, mostly because he wanted to demonstrate the power of The Death Star, and Alderaan was right there.
From the Ashes: When you're trying to crush a rebellion, a dastardly deed of such magnitude as blowing up a planet will either break your enemies, or unite them against you with renewed desperation and vigor. If they weren't planning to already, the Rebels were even more determined to blow up the Death Star and, with intel Leia gathered on a certain weak spot, they had the means to do so.


2) Thundera:
Cause of Destruction: When the dying planet is consumed by volcanic eruptions and explodes, only a small fleet of ships carry survivors away, before nearly every ship is destroyed by mutants from a rival planet.
From the Ashes: One group of nobles do survive the mutant attack, and settle on a planet known as Third Earth to rebuild their society led by a new Lord of the Thundercats, the young Lion-O, who ages from a young cub to a full-grown Thundercat on their journey from Thundera to Third Earth due to a malfunction in his suspension capsule. Armed with the mystic Sword of Omens, source of the Thundercats' power, he goes on to defend his people against old enemies and new ones on their new planet, notably Mumm-Ra, an evil immortal mummy wizard. Eventually, a New Thundera is created, and the Thundercats have a new place to rebuild their ancestral home.


1) Krypton:
Cause of Destruction: Like Thundera, Krypton had run its course, although versions of the story range from underground nuclear reactions to war and damage to the environment leading to its inevitable doom. In every version, the end result is the same, and the Kryptonians perish as their world explodes.....
From the Ashes: ....but the one thing all versions of the story also have in common are two parents placing their infant son into a rocket ship and sending him to Earth. Here, his alien physiology acts as a solar battery and our yellow sun, unlike the red sun which Krypton orbited, infuses him with great powers far beyond that of mortal man. I wonder whatever happened to that guy....

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6.23.2010

PBW: Upstate Road Trip

Two weeks ago, I headed upstate with one of the Italian bands I play in, to play for a new feast(new for our group, that is). The drive up took a little more than an hour from the band leader's home in Queens, while the return trip home, on a Sunday evening, took predictably longer. The gig itself went well, for the most part, and I think we're going to get hired again next year. We even continued playing under a small tent when rain hit, and everyone seemed happy. I brought my camera along, because I never know where my next Photo Blog Wednesday opportunity might be, and because multitasking means twice as much fun when it comes to weekends. Here are some of the sights from both journey and destination:








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6.22.2010

Some MCF Math

I was born in 1974.

1+9+7+4=21.

On Monday night, I ran 7.57 miles.

7+5+7=19.

I’ve been at my current job for 2.43 years.

2+4+3=9.

My mom has 2 cats.

My parents have been married for 39 years.

3+9=12.

1974+21+7.57+19+2.43+9+2+39+12=2,086


This is post # 2,085.

2,086-2,085=1.

Every night I sleep for 6 hours.

6-1=5.

It takes me an average of 33 minutes to drive to work each morning.

33-5=28.

There are 52 weeks in a year.

52-28=24.

I am currently 35 years old.

35-24=11.

There are 12 months in a year.

12=11=1.

2,086x1=2,086.

20x86=1,720.

17x20=340.

3x40=120.

1x20=20.

2x0=0...............


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....................I got nothing.

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.....rEcAlCuLaTing.....

6.21.2010

Phantasmic Links 6.21.10

Happy Father's Day! I was glad to spend another one with my dad. Impatient that he still gets angina after having a heart bypass two months ago, he misses the larger picture that the pain is milder and subsides much faster, and all his vitals check out. Despite being 80, he wants to still be able to climb ladders or stairs or march in parades or carry heavy things, and can't understand why doing such things causes him some discomfort. Still, that stubbornness is also what keeps him going, and why we love him. He stayed on the sidelines while I played a strenuous parade on Saturday night, but he played on Sunday with one of our Italian bands, in a ragtag crew that includes another bypass patient, a guy with a bad back, a guy with lymph node problems, and more. Dads are a tough breed. I hope all the fathers out there had a great Sunday, and I hope we all have a great week ahead of us. Let's start with some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Batman: City of Scars is one of the best fan-films I've seen in a long time. Hope to see more from its creators, perhaps in an official capacity.

(2) ”Oh Sookie” is a slick love letter from one of True Blood's biggest fans, the hilariously “smooth” Snoop Dogg.

(3) You might find some surprise inclusions on this list of 5 Superheroes who used their powers for sex; I know I did.

(4) When a Jesus statue is destroyed by lightning, one questions whether or not rebuilding it would be a good idea. Potential wrath of God aside, there are a lot of power lines in the background that suggest this location is a little too ripe with electricity....
Hat Tip: B13.

(5) People used to use some dumb, dumb products with radioactive materials in them. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but a guy using radium on his scrotum and later dying of bladder cancer seems like an obvious conclusion. These types of stories scare me because I wonder which stupid things we're all doing now will shock people 20-30 years in the future. ::Flash forward to a blogger typing about the link between cell phones and brain tumors::

(6) Premakes: What if the great sci-fi and adventure movies of the ‘80s had been made in the ‘40s or ‘50s?

(7) Beating Tetris has always been a challenge, and now we know the other side of the story...
H.T.: B13.

(8) A museum in upstate New York houses over 20,000 classic arcade games. Road trip, anyone?
H.T.: J-No.

(9) Wow, those Hostess Cup Cakes were really an epidemic in ‘70s comics, as evidenced by this previously unseen side of one of Spider-Man's most tragic battles...

(10) Tower of Doom is a nice little diversion in which you, as an evil mage, upgrade a variety of weapons within a specific time limit to protect your tower long enough to cast your spell. The regular levels are short enough to keep your gaming break from interfering with productivity, while the unlimited level unleashes the dangerously addictive quality of this defense challenge.


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!

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6.20.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 48

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 48th WWW:

1) Where the Wild Things Are:
“Who is this for?” That's a question I asked myself over the course of Spike Jonze's trippy adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved classic story. The dialogue is very simple and direct, and the movie is almost entirely shown from the perspective of the boy Max. Jonze shows us the other side of the fantasy world for a bit, dwelling the problems any child might face, the stress that might turn a little boy into a little monster. His sister is outgrowing him, and running off with her friends, who pay attention to him long enough to destroy his snow fort. His mom is supportive and loving, but has a life of her own, and Max reacts poorly when she brings a date over. He runs away after a tantrum ends with him biting his mom, and a trip through a broken fence takes us much further, deep into the boy's imagination where monsters dwell. These are like puppets from hell(though dichotomously adorable), and the movie does a marvelous job bringing them to life, but a lot of their shifting emotions don't make sense because we're inside the mind of an 8-year-old. One might smash the homes of the others one minute, only to have them all appear to forget what happened a few minutes later. Around the time one monster ripped another monster's arm off, I realized this wasn't for kids. And yet, it was. It's for the kid in all of us, the kid we've long since forgotten, the kid we were when we read the Sendak book. It's a psychological journey into how a child might process certain things, and how aspects of relationships don't make sense because the boy doesn't understand them. Reconciling the relationships between the monsters in his mind will be the only way Max can journey home, sailing across the sea and back through that broken fence, to mend fences with his own family.

2) The Men Who Stare at Goats:
At the outset, we're warned via caption that more of this story will be true than we'd believe. Did the U.S. government successfully train psychic warriors? Do people exist who can kill with a thought, or remote view an event over thousands of miles? This is what a reporter played by Ewan McGregor(with a pretty decent American accent) sets out to find out. When his wife leaves him for his editor, his despair and desire to prove himself to her sends him to Iraq, where he has the good fortune to stumble upon a veteran of the very project he was investigating. George Clooney seems insane, but somehow gets McGregor's trust, or at the very least his curiosity, and the two set out on a journey behind enemy lines. McGregor learns of the origins of the psychic program, how Clooney and others were trained to be “Jedi warriors”. For some reason it made me chuckle whenever dialogue broached the possibility that McGregor could be a Jedi too. In flashbacks that occur as the two journey across the desert and Clooney's character tells his story, we learn that the program began when Jeff Bridges fell out of a helicopter and had an epiphany, and eventually got funding to explore alternative means of fighting. Clooney was the most gifted student he had, while Kevin Spacey portrayed a jealous rival. At its heart, this quirky piece is an anti-war metaphor, but does so by showing the absurdity of man in general, without taking sides. All nations have good guys and bad guys, those who seek peace and those who seek power. Clooney laments having to stare at a goat until it died, because that goat did nothing to him, but still used his powers when some primal instinct took over. The program also included heavy drug use, so the film ends on a high note that's a little ambiguous. Definitely rent this film if you enjoy any of these actors, find inspiration in the music of Boston, or especially if you want to believe in Jedi warriors.

3) Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian:
I enjoyed the original Night at the Museum, a rare family comedy that isn't corny or saccharine. The sequel offers more of the same, with a few new wrinkles, and ends up being an equally fun ride. Ben Stiller is back as Larry Daley, but he's no longer the night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. Thanks to inventions like a glow-in-the-dark flashlight, he's now a successful entrepreneur, selling his wares on late-night infomercials. He is long absent from visiting his friends, the museum exhibits themselves which come to life at sundown thanks to a mystical Egyptian tablet. So when he does finally pay them a visit, he learns the distressing news that most will be replaced by holographic displays, boxed up, and shipped to be stored beneath the Smithsonian, in a vast underground network of secure archives below Washington, D.C. Robin Williams reprises his role as the Smithsonian's Teddy Roosevelt,, and informs Larry of something that even the other historical figures and animals don't know: the tablet will be staying in New York. Without it, they've seen their last sunset. But when the capuchin monkey sneaks the tablet to D.C., it creates real trouble when it gives life to the other figures stored there. Larry must go to rescue his friends, and manages to sneak into one of the most secure storage facilities in the world, directly beneath our nation's capital. If you're considering raising the subject of suspension of disbelief at this point, you're probably reading about the wrong movie. The premise itself requires that you just go with it, and the fun is seeing various actors in costumes from different time periods, especially when more contemporary ones make it into the mix this time. We even get to see what the tablet does to paintings, and that opens the door to an even more surreal journey. Amy Adams is plucky and adorable as ever as Amelia Earhart, love interest and sidekick to Larry this time around. Hank Azaria shines as the evil pharaoh determined to unleash an army of hellish minions using the tablet, and overacts to the best of his ability. There's a great sequence in which he absolutely spits the phrase “I have come BACK to LIFE!” in increasingly absurd and overdramatic deliveries, while Stiller plays it straight, having seen all this before. Azaria also lends his voice talents to more than one of the statuesque secondary characters, most notably The Lincoln Memorial. The film managed a delicate balance between new characters and old friends, and everyone had their moment to shine. In the end, this was a fun, fun movie, no more perhaps, but certainly no less.


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

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6.19.2010

Ribs, for your pleasure...

There came a day when a barbecue place called Famous Dave’s opened near my old job, and life was good. While a smaller place called “Smokey's” closer to my office offered the benefits of walking distance and outdoor seating, it couldn't compare to a place that served every type of meat imaginable on a tray the size and shape of a garbage pan lid. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to feasting like the decadent, ancient Romans, may I be spared a coronary incident.

There came another day on which I lost my job and I was sad, not just for the friends I'd no longer see every day but for all the marvelous places to eat in the vicinity of work. Short overweight Italians have priorities when it comes to food. I quickly found another job in a wonderful area, though lacking the same variety of eateries. I soon found another hole-in-the-wall local rib joint, thanks to a friend who lived in the area. This “Hickory's” might have been small, but the rolls of paper towels on each table echoed those of Dave's, a mark of a true BBQ paradise. Their fries, like their complementary basket of potato chips, were coated with pepper and other herbs and spices. It was not--nay, is not--a place to eat without adequate drink. I have high tolerance for spicy food, but even I've been overconfident in adding more sauce to food already well spiced.

On yet another day, I noticed a sign on a building that read “HarborQ”. It didn't take long to deduce what it would be when it finally opened, and indeed my instincts were right. Offering some of the best wings and wraps in town, their complementary chips were bottomless and crisp, with real potato goodness. But would this be my new favorite place for messy, artery-closing treats?

We were all glad when a BadBob's came to town, with an upscale interior more reminiscent of a Manhattan eater, with a flatscreen television and manmade waterfalls over panes of glass. They offered similar meals, again with the fresh chips, with the added bonus of spicy corn on the cob among the array of sides. Their pulled pork may have been the best dish, although the BBQ chicken was tender and juicy, never a bad morsel in the bunch. Somehow, there was never anybody in there, and on a sad day, we found the doors closed. There was some hope in the form of a sign saying they'd be relocating elsewhere in town, but I'm still waiting for our Taco Bell Express to fulfill a similar promise to reopen one day. Word is, the franchise refused to remodel due to expenses, and the owner will be looking for a new restaurant to fill the gap in our strip mall. A rib place, perhaps?

This Friday was a rough Friday after an already busy week. It was also a gorgeous day, the kind one which one hates to be stuck in an office so close and yet so far from the beach. Solving problems left and right, yet still feeling swamped, I was all too happy to join my friends for lunch. We investigated a rumor that, at the end of a residential street, down by some piers, another BadBob's yet existed. It didn't seem possible, and I was already considering alternate options when the rumor proved to be wrong, but then we saw the sign. Right on the pier, with tables under the shade of umbrellas, sat a BadBob's, with an open counter. Apparently it had always been there, as a seasonal treat from April to October, and moving in to town had been a temporary, and failed experiment. I soon had a platter of BBQ Chicken, spicy curly fries, spicy corn, and an ice cold Corona with a lime sliver. It was paradise, like being on vacation. There was nothing but yachts and the pier and the waves and the sky around us in the open air. It's never been harder to return to work and be productive for another 4 hours, which may account for me being terse and slightly belligerent during one post-lunch phone conversation. In time, I adjusted and focused, and managed to get some stuff taken care of before I was finally ready to call it a week. With two lawns, a parade, and an Italian feast in my weekend, I'd be spending plenty of time outdoors before I had to sit behind my desk once more on Monday.

So, which is the best rib place? Nothing can top BadBob's new location, but the quality of the food at HarborQ still trumps it. I almost wish they'd set up a Summer location on a nearby pier, so I could combine the best of both worlds. Making a definitive assessment of these rib establishments will be a top priority this Summer. Maybe my next project will be determining if there's a correlation between my diet and my inability to get below 170 pounds even when I run 4-7 miles every night of the week.

Naaaaahhh. Pass the BBQ sauce....

6.18.2010

Burned at Both Ends and in the Middle

I used to be so much better at bouncing back from multiple activities. I’ve never been a hard worker, at least not naturally, but when presented with a task, whether it be for my day job as an art director or my weekend job as a musician, I’ve always buckled up and done it. Occasionally, worlds might collide, and a music gig might fall on a weeknight, or I might have to take a weekday off entirely. But the next day, I was right back at my desk, ready to catch up on things.

Wednesday is generally not a stressful day, not in the way that Monday is. The so-called “hump” day represents the point of no return, and by the end of the day, you’re a lot closer to your next weekend than you were when you started. This week offered a particularly good Wednesday, as I was sent to the city to attend a convention related to my career. For three years in a row, I’ve been fortunate to be sent by my company, although this year it was held in a hotel rather than a convention center, and a bit further from the train station. Given the option of one of three days to attend, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, I opted for the latter, knowing I needed to be in Queens by 6:30 PM to open an Italian feast. Despite traveling further during the day, I would still get home much earlier than if I were working a full day at the office. It’s the sort of thing I could do in my sleep, and at times I almost did.

First, I miscalculated the location of the hotel by three blocks, finally opting to pull the address out of my backpack on a side street so I wouldn’t look like a lost tourist. Backtracking, I found the place, only to find it strangely devoid of people. After picking up my ticket and complementary bag, I entered an exhibit hall devoid of exhibits, papers and signs littering the floor amid one or two chairs. Back out in the lobby, displays listed the hours of the exhibit hall....for Monday and Tuesday. It has always been beneficial to meet with different printers, paper suppliers, and other vendors to make new contacts or simply get new ideas. This year, they cut that portion by a day, but there were still seminars. I attended two, the second of which was more interesting, delving into marketing on the internet and which strategies work best, in both concept and design. It’s interesting to see traditional print design translate to the online world. After a complementary luncheon and some discussion with coworkers and new friends from other companies, I decided to head back to the train station. Checking the schedule, I found that the line I’d taken had eliminated a few trains due to budget cuts and, having just missed one train, had two hours to kill until the next one. This allowed plenty of time to roam and take some pictures, and I’ll share those next week perhaps.

Time moved quickly, and while Summer in Manhattan can be a beautiful thing, it was not a luxury I could afford. Should I miss a 3:18 train, I’d have to wait until 5:30, which would not only pack me in with regular commuters, but get me home far too late to change clothes, get my instrument, and get back to Queens. No, if I missed that train, I’d have to find a train directly to the gig, and ask my 80-year-old father to meet me there. He’s doing better since his heart surgery, but his arthritis still bothers his hands and when he drives, as he puts it, he “favors the right”. I call that “LOOK OUT YOU'RE ON THE CURB WATCH OUT FOR THAT CONCRETE!!!”, but he feels I’m being melodramatic. In any case, even though I find highway driving a little anxiety inducing when I think about it, I’d rather the old man not drive himself.

It only took 20 minutes to get to the conference, but I’d walked further up town. 25 blocks or so seemed feasible in the 40 minutes or so I had when I started back, but I didn’t allow for crowds or traffic lights. By the time I started looking at my watch and thinking I wasn’t going to make it, it was already too late to hail a cab or hop on the subway. Waiting for either would have cost time not mine to spare. When I had 18 minutes left, I was still 9 blocks away. I seemed to average one block every two minutes, and began sprinting as the crowds allowed, to narrow that gap. Finally I reached 34th street. i could see the entrance, as well as a mocking digital clock which read 3:15:30. i had two-and-a-half-minutes to cross one street and get down a few flights of stairs. But probability was, as usual, not in my favor. When the light turned red, the traffic cop continued waving traffic through. What was he doing? Did he not see a sweaty Italian with a camera around his neck and a backpack on his shoulder bouncing on the curb? The second he stopped letting cars through, I broke into a sprint, making it down those steps in leaps and bounds and not even slowing as I ran past the boards and looked to see what track my train was on. The doors weren’t exactly closing when I dove into the train, but 60 seconds later things would have been very different.

There were no seats and I had to stand. As I caught my reflection in the window opposite, I noticed a sweat stain running diagonally down my dress shirt, just below the strap of my backpack. Yes, sundress-wearing ladies of New York, I can’t believe I’m still single either. I removed the pack and put my camera away, and gripped the metal bar beneath a refreshing air conditioner vent. Three stops from home, a seat finally opened up, and I very nearly fell asleep before my stop. My dad was waiting at the station, and I barely had enough time to get home, get cleaned up and changed, and get out on the road. I wanted to leave before 5 PM, but just didn’t make it, so we dealt with commuter traffic. It wasn’t bad, but still must have stressed my dad out enough that he was on the verge of angina pain when we did arrive at the gig, with time to spare. A nitro pill under his tongue took care of that, and soon we were leading a procession and then strolling through rides and games. The DJ on stage had his speakers exceptionally loud, and made our ragtag band of six somewhat redundant. I remember the good old days when a DJ and a band would alternate, and take turns making noise. Now we compete, and an amplifier trumps a group in which two-thirds of the musicians are over 60 and suffering from a heart condition, a bad back, swollen lymph nodes, or some other ailment.

I have to say, I wasn’t tired when I got home, only a little tingly from low blood sugar. I perked up again after eating dinner, but Thursday morning, that was rough. My head was pounding like I had a hangover. I felt warm though my room was cool. And every joint was stiff and uncooperative. Even at work, when I thought I was okay, any time I tried to stand up I found myself groaning like an old man. I have no excuse. I’m only 35-years-old. I’m about 20-25 pounds overweight, but I do a lot of cardio. I run between 4 and 7 miles a day depending on whether I have a half hour or a whole hour to spend on a treadmill. Yet a day of walking less than that in the city, followed by a leisurely stroll at a feast at night knocked me out. I’m glad it’s Friday, but I don’t know when I’m going to rest. I have to take care of the lawn at my dad’s lot on Saturday morning, which has been neglected for a few weeks. I’m playing a fire department parade on Saturday night, and on Sunday I’m closing the feast we opened on Wednesday. I suppose Sunday during the day I could rest, but the lawn at my house is a little tall too. There was a time when I could burn the candle at both ends and even in the middle, and not even blink. One of my band leaders jokes that every day is Saturday since he retired, but I still wonder if I’ll be able to maintain this same pace in 30 years. I learned long ago that the secret to getting through any busy time in life is to just shut off my brain and keep moving through it. The tricky part is to keep that candle burning wherever it needs to burn, without burning out....

6.17.2010

My Childhood PSAs Five

Saw what you will about television, but it has a way of teaching us things when we don't even realize it. I can think of a dozen spots that are permanently burned into my brain, sometimes just phrases taken out of context. Maybe we've learned things, and maybe we've just become repositories of useless pop culture. I'm sure most people around the same age share these same memories, but only you can tell me if you share in My Five most memorable television public service messages:

5) “Say ‘NO!' Then go! And tell someone you trust!”


4) “When my get-up-and-go has got up and went, I hanker for a hunk o' cheese!”


3) “To stay out of hot water, keep those pot handles toined IN!”

(For some reason, I can't find the Tweety Bird commercial from this series, about adding cold water to a tub first then adding hot water to warm it up. That one's more memorable, but more elusive; wish I could find it.....)

2) “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”


1) “Who taught you how to do this stuff?”
“YOU, all right? I learned it by watching YOU!”
“Parents, who use drugs, have children, who use drugs.”



So what did television teach you as a child?

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6.16.2010

PBW: Gosling Teens

A few weeks ago, an overcast day ruined my Photo Blog Wednesday plans, so I opted to see a movie instead. When I got out of the movie, the sun still didn't want to make an appearance, but I saw my first goslings of the year, a nice large family on parade. These weren't the cute and fuzzy little yellow guys I usually see, who've been conspicuously absent around my office, but were already almost full grown, their fuzz starting to darken. Still, it was a cute sight, and my camera wasn't wasted:






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6.15.2010

They Don't Serve My Kind.

When I was a kid, one of the most exciting things about playing in a band at an Italian feast was the food. We'd stroll through the crowds playing our songs, maybe make our way to a sausage or zeppole stand, and take requests. More often than not, a few bars of the Tarantella or the theme from The Godfather would get us some free food or wine. Many times, we'd be invited to our own table either in someone's yard, or a school auditorium, or under an outdoor tent. These days, that sort of treatment is rare, and a bottle of water or a cookie is the best we can hope for on the house.

I don't think any of us go to these gigs to beg for food. Most of the musicians have regular 9-to-5 jobs. Some are teachers who are off in the Summer; others are retired. We're pretty much all there for a little extra cash, and because we love to play music. The food and wine is simply icing. We're not looking for it and can certainly afford to pay; it's just nice when vendors or church workers offer food or drink. Just this week, my regular job gave some of us a bonus and a free breakfast in recognition for a major crisis we averted a few weeks ago. The company knows the value of showing gratitude when employees step up to a challenge, and it only encourages us to keep doing so. There's nothing worse than playing a gig where people put their hands over their ears, or at the other extreme complain because there's silence between songs. “MUSICA! MUSICA!” some shout, while brass musicians buzz our lips and catch our breath before the next number.

I played a feast upstate this past weekend at a church that had an amazing array of ethnic tents. There was Italian, Irish, Filipino, American, Chinese, and many more varieties of food. We got a half hour break after the initial procession, and the people running the feast had given us arm bands that would entitle us to eat for free. The longest line seemed to be for the Filipino tent, while the American tent with hamburgers and hot dogs seemed more reasonable. I stood on that line, while my dad waited on the beverage line. My line remained motionless, while his moved. After a few minutes, he appeared with a ginger ale and a bottle of water. “They charged me a dollar for each of these,” said the old man, “Said the wrist bands didn't count toward drinks.” It wasn't really a big deal; I would have paid too if asked. On the flip side, if I was working a drink tent on a hot day and an 80-year-old man who'd been playing music for us showed up, I'd probably offer him some water on the house. I wouldn't be obligated to do so; it'd just be a nice thing to do.

As time moved on, I noticed a few of the guys had cut the lines entirely, and were just rooting around behind the tents, mooching food. If our band leader, or one of the people who hired us waved me over, I might have gotten off the line. Instead I waited, and waited, and finally had to give up, because my break was almost over. When the band leader heard I hadn't gotten anything to eat, he insisted I accompany him back and cut ahead of the line. I didn't feel right doing that, and I didn't want to hold us up from resuming the music. I told him it was fine, but he insisted. Sheepishly, I followed him to make what I thought would be the simplest request, a single hot dog. We walked behind the tent, and he asked one of the ladies preparing the food, and she snapped at him. “Sir! Sir, I'm doing the best I can! You're going to get me in trouble! ENOUGH! This is it; no MORE after this.” He gestured back at me and explained that it wasn't more food for him, but for one of his players who had yet to eat. Reluctantly, she gave him a hot dog, which I took and quickly scurried away with, embarrassed. He caught up to me with a second one that I really didn't want after her outburst. She made me feel bad enough about taking the first one, even if her bosses had given us all those armbands for that express purpose.

I don't expect food or drink; I'm there as a worker like anyone else under those tents, and have no objection to paying. It's definitely a sign of changing times that people rarely offer, and I hate to be pushy. I made sure we played some music near that tent when we resumed, to show some gratitude. When we strolled past the tent with the Chinese food, some ladies came at us with trays of eggrolls, eager to feed us and having a completely different attitude than the hot dog lady. And when we retreated under another tent and continued playing as it started to rain, another one of the feast workers came by with a container of water and some paper cups. A little gesture of generosity goes a long way, differing from those irritated at the perception that the band is eating their profits. I don't think any of us has any sense of entitlement, and certainly not the expectations of being treated the way a band might have been treated 20-30 years ago. I don't seek appreciation; I just appreciate when we're appreciated.

6.14.2010

Phantasmic Links 6.14.10

6:15 AM is an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, yet that's the time I found myself leaping up at the sound of a smoke alarm, dispensing with my usual stretching routine, and bolting out of my room, leaving a trail of sheets and empty sports drink containers in my wake. My father, in the bathroom shaving, was ignoring the noise because he thought it was a car alarm. But in the smoke-filled kitchen, I spotted a small pot on the stove, the water all boiled away, with the remains of an egg resting on the burned surface. The thing must have exploded, as the egg shell was on one side and the yoke opposite. I turned off the stove, opened the skylight, and waved newspapers at the alarm until it went off. “I guess I forgot....” said the old man, not as concerned as I was. He then tossed the still scalding-hot shells into the garbage, atop some bits of cardboard I thought for sure would catch fire.

I got back to sleep for another two or three hours, with some difficulty, until it was time to get up and drive out to Queens. There, one of our band leaders would drive us to upstate New York for a nice little Italian feast and, other than some rain and some bad traffic on our return trip, was far more uneventful than the way our day began. Senior citizens: sometimes you have to watch them like children.

I'm beat. Here are some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) This is a fascinating piece on time and the perception of time, from a fellow Italian. He makes some great points, and I liked that rather than condemn video games, which aren't going away, he offered a digital approach to education as a solution to reach the rewired brains of our next generation. And honestly, even before he revealed what most people would do with an 8-day week, I was already thinking about how much more work I could get done. This thing will definitely make you think....

(2) LEGO™ robots do battle on a giant chess board.
Hat Tip: J-No.

(3) Even I had no idea how many times artists had paid homage to the cover of Todd MacFarlane's Spider-Man #1. I knew of only two variations of that illustration, but the article revealed a third one I missed and a handful of others I'd never even seen before.

(4) Mortal Kombat may not be returning to the big screen yet, but I hope this spec trailer gets enough support to make a movie that looks just like this.

(5) This is an interesting article looking at the increase in sequels as the Summer movie genre. This year is a particularly big year for sequels...

(6) Vader and Stormtrooper corsets? Besides being expensive, and a disturbing gender-swapping fantasy, they ignore the sexiest Star Wars® outfit of all.
H.T.: J-No.

(7) Man loses camera. Camera gets tangled up with Sea Turtle. Sea Turtle ends up filming part of its underwater journey before the camera is shaken free, washed up on shore, and discovered.

(8) This is my current favorite commercial: Black Sheep returns via some Kia-driving hip-hop hamsters.

(9) Paper Mario takes a stop motion stroll through a school. Nostalgia is had by all; mushroom is had by none.

(10) Who is chasing kid? BEAR is chasing kid! Quick, use the Kid Launcher to help him escape! Upgrade to fly farther and unlock new achievements.


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!

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6.13.2010

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 47

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 47th WWW:

1) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor:
Twice was enough for this franchise, and I didn't even mind The Scorpion King prequel. But still, they went to the well a third time and, rather than repeat themselves with the same mummy, tried for a different story about a resurrected Chinese emperor, played by Jet Li. The tale of his character is not a bad one, as he conquers and gains power and ultimately seeks immortality with the help of a witch(Michelle Yeoh) who ends up cursing him when he kills her lover and his general in a fit of jealousy. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, this isn't a bad movie, just radically different from its predecessors. So it becomes an odd hybrid when Brendan Fraser shows up again as Rick O'Connell, a dashing adventurer/explorer in the tradition of Indiana Jones. And though I was prepared for the recasting of his wife Evy, I still struggled with Maria Bello as she put on an accent and did her best impersonation of Rachel Weisz. I like Bello, but she's not an actress of the same caliber as Weisz. And it was very jarring to go from a serious Eastern mythology to Western humor about a married couple bored now that their life of adventure is behind them and their son is supposedly off at college. Alex, now grown-up and played by Luke Ford, has followed in his parents' footsteps. Instead of being at school, he's in China on a dig, and has unearthed the emperor's undead remains. When his parents show up on a coincidental errand, they end up being forced to reanimate the emperor, and now must join forces with Yeoh and her daughter to stop him from raising his army. John Hannah also returns as Evy's brother and the comic relief, now operating a bar in China named after the first mummy they defeated. Motivated by possible personal gain as well as helping his family, he goes along for the adventure, but it took some time for me to adjust to his character after seeing a very different side of Hannah in the 10 or so episodes I've seen of Spartacus so far. It's funny; I had the opposite problem when I first started watching that show and couldn't take him seriously. At any rate, pursuit of the dragon emperor leads to snow covered mountains, and assistance comes in the form of computer-generated yetis. Yeah, I know. It's best to just move on. In the end, it all wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, probably due to my low expectations going in, but it definitely wasn't as good as the first two. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments that this is just another movie to make more money off the franchise. Rick defends his son's criticism that he's only defeated one mummy, spitting out, “Same Mummy....TWICE!” And Evy, reading from books she's written inspired by their adventures, tells her fans that the heroine in the previous stories is a “completely different person”. Yeah, no kidding. It was also hard to buy Ford as their son, as he only looked a few years younger than Fraser. Still, it was a good popcorn flick for what it was, and I'm more forgiving with a rental than I would be if I saw it in the theater.

2) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus:
As a storyteller, Terry Gilliam has a history of wandering about down different paths, with a cohesive plot lost as the focus shifts to the surreal environments and characters he's making. Here, he achieves a nice balance between the story and the visuals, and everything makes sense at the end of the ride. Christopher Plummer is the titular Parnassus, a former monk who has fallen far after repeatedly losing bets to the devil(Tom Waits). Parnassus was granted immortality, and travels with a small theater troupe consisting of the dwarf Percy(an enjoyably sarcastic Verne Troyer), a street boy named Anton that he rescued(Andrew Garfield), and his almost 16-year-old daughter Valentina(Lily Cole), whom he affectionately refers to as “Scrumpy”. They travel in a wagon with a false mirror that, through Parnassus' power, has the ability to transport anyone into a realm of his or her imagination. There, an individual is presented with a choice, moral high ground or the self-destructive path of giving in to the devil's temptations. Anton is in love with Val, but unknown to either of them, Parnassus really is over 1,000 years old and, thanks to the last bet he lost, the devil is entitled to claim any of his children at the age of 16. Desperate, he gives in to another wager, that if he can find five good souls in his mirror before the devil claims five corrupt ones, Val will live free. As the troupe travels in their wagon, they happen upon a mysterious man hanging under a bridge, and rescue him. Played by the late Heath Ledger in his final screen appearance, we're never quite sure of what to make of the amnesiac Tony until the final moments of the film. He helps the troupe, and in doing so helps Parnassus get closer to winning his bet and saving his daughter. But he also acts as a threat to Anton where Val is concerned, and he seems tempted by Parnassus' powers. When Tony finally does cross through the mirror tot he Imaginarium, Gilliam is able to explain the absence of Ledger, who died during filming, by having different actors portray different facets of Tony. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell all stepped up to honor their friend and see his final film finished, with Depp being the strongest of the three. It worked out pretty well, and the Tony character was really the fulcrum on which the fate of everyone else rested. Would Val and Anton ever escape to have a life together? Would Parnassus ever best the devil? Given a choice, is man more likely to give in to greed and the temptation of the easy road, or take a more difficult path? This movie goes to some very dark places and some very bright ones, and offers complex characters, some of which keep us guessing right until the very end. Though definitely an ensemble effort, the end titles credit the film as being from “Heath Ledger and Friends”, in recognition of his contribution and the world's loss. And it left me wondering what choice I'd face if I ever stepped through a magic mirror.

3) Sherlock Holmes:
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law play the legendary duo of Holmes and Watson like a buddy cop action comedy, and a good time is had by all. I think part of the reason RDJ is enjoying a career resurgence right now is because he's clearly having fun immersing himself in whatever character he plays, whether it be Tony Stark or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective creation. Guy Ritchie makes some great stylistic choices as well, from catching the old-time grunge and grime of cobblestone London streets to his depiction of how Holmes' thinks everything through, even physical action. On more than one occasion, we're privy to his thoughts as he works out in slow motion in his mind the best way to disable a superior opponent. Seconds later, things rapidly play out exactly as he planned. We also see him employ his deductive reasoning and figure out just how an adversary(Mark Strong) accomplishes apparently supernatural feats. The real fun is in his banter with Law's Dr. Watson. Watson is engaged, and on the verge of moving out and leaving his partner-in-crimefighting behind. As best friends and brothers in emotion if not blood, Holmes is having difficulty saying goodbye, and keeps manipulating Watson to assist him one last time. There's some great verbal sparring and timing between the two. Rachel McAdams portrays the lovely Irene Adler, Holmes' one weakness, Catwoman to his Batman. The man manages to be a master of disguise and stay five steps ahead of his allies and enemies, but this woman still manages to manipulate him. Elements of Holmes definitely served as the inspiration for Batman, and this film definitely feels like Batman Begins. It's not an origin story, since we join Holmes after he's firmly established as a detective with a long history of helping the police along with his physician friend and sidekick, but it does feel like the first movie to bring the character in to the present, and teases an archenemy in a way that's surely setting up a sequel. And here I am, an adult in 2010, just as excited for the next movie as I was as a boy 25 years ago when I first read the original Doyle short stories.


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

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