Saturday, September 04, 2010

Epic Mickey

The entire opening cinematic has been posted online. I've been excited about this game since it was first announced. I love how rooted in 1930s Disney this opening is. If either of my parents are scoping this, it's coming out for Christmas...


I don't have a whole lot to say about this week's episode. I wasn't surprised by any of the eliminations; Slim and Tracy were obviously on borrowed time--time they didn't manage well--and frankly, after last week's burger competition and "I don't want to let you down!" noise, it really seemed like Jake had just stopped putting everything into the competition. I don't know if I'm misjudging him or not, but his suddenly ultra-laid back attitude started to come across this week as just not caring much anymore. He didn't even seem that fazed to be knocked off the show.

Okay, Joe Bastianich, your mommy is Italian, we get it. Stop Alex Trebek-ing the place up. And he had another drama queen diva moment when he threw Slim's dish in the garbage. It just never comes across as anything but bitchy.

I think Whitney's time is almost up now. They've given her every chance in the world to prove herself, and I think they'd love for America's MasterChef to be this child prodigy, but her inexperience is hampering her at nearly every turn.

Last night, Becca cooked those truckstop burgers I was coveting. They're in the MasterChef cookbook. The barbecue sauce is impeccable. I can't imagine eating a better burger than this one, honestly. And it's so tender and soft. No wonder the grill was destroying those things with bleu cheese inside; it's a very soft burger that would be easy to get wrong. But it's so, so, soooo good. I wish I was eating them right now.

This is the best thing the show's given me.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Few Brief Reactions to the President's Speech

1. Anyone expecting anything other than vague platitudes about how great America is and how the future's going to be better... well, you should know better by now.

2. Obama's speeches are actually getting more bland as his term goes on.

3. What is he so fucking afraid of? That they're going to say something bad about him on Fox Noise? Grow a pair, Mr. President.

4. The Iraq War hasn't ended, we've just pulled the majority of troops out. Stop putting the cheery "Mission Accomplished" spin on this.

5. I get it, the troops are pure magic in combat boots. Yes, these people make a lot of sacrifices to do a hard job that not many of us want to do. But, you know, some of them were raping and torturing and murdering people in Iraq, so let's not gloss the history out of all proportion, alright?

6. I think it's particularly galling the way Obama kept trying to ennoble the Iraqi people considering he didn't mention how many are dead because of the US and what we've done to set their country back. As Firedoglake noted, he kept making the Iraq War sound like some kind of American gift to the Iraqi people, and I found it pretty offensive. Yes, America made sacrifices. But so did Iraq; they made more sacrifices and will continue to make them in, let's be totally honest, our quest for a gas monopoly.

7. Quit sucking up to the pro-war crowd. You got elected, stop trying to prove you're the guy for the job and do the job.

8. To to those of us who were against the war the whole time and who have been talking about all the government needs to do to pull out of the recession: "It's time to turn the page." Really? That's it? Why not just come right out and tell us to go fuck ourselves? Remember when Bush used to smirk and shrug and get that tone in his voice like "What, you really expect me to be accountable?" That's what Obama is starting to sound like to me.

9. Where are the damn specifics, Barry? What are we going to do about the problems we've got at home? What's the bottom line? Tell us, damn it. We're adults, we can take it. You'd have to be a deluded moron not to know there are serious problems in America. Offer us something more than the vague need for green industries and education. Give us some damn numbers.

That's the shit that really bugs me the most in political speeches. President after President will recognize that we have an impending energy crisis, or a looming environmental crisis, or an economic collapse, or a health finance problem, or an incredible poverty gap, etc. But when it comes time to actually do something, it's all stuff that's going to happen in some vague, undefined future. No President is actually going to get to it. That's tomorrow's problem. Today's just about getting re-elected and making sure no corporation ever has to pay its taxes and grinding down anyone in the bottom 99%.

That's what makes my disappointment in Obama so epic: that he sold himself to us as the guy who was going to take on these tasks and fight the right people, and then turned out to be too gutless to do anything other than play the same game everyone else has been. And the shitty thing is, I knew he wasn't going to be the one to fix it all. I said during the primaries that I had concerns about his ties to corporations, his wife's ties to corporations, the fact that he thought of unions as special interest groups, etc, and I was basically yelled at by liberal bloggers and told I was spoiling the progressive party and that Obama was going to lead us into the light of universal health coverage and green industry and fighting the banks. And I knew it wouldn't happen. I knew it.

I supported Obama after he won the primary because he wasn't John McCain. Because he didn't have a schmuck like Sarah Palin in the wings. And I started to hope and, of course, that was my mistake. And I tried to hope, but hope doesn't get you anywhere: actions do. And Obama's actions, or lack thereof, have been a disappointment. "At least he's not Bush" isn't good enough.

10. When the Democrats lose their majority in the fall--and I suspect they will, since the disapproval numbers are climbing, the unemployment numbers are climbing, and there are no signs of the recession ending, which all spells blaming the party in power--is it really even going to matter? I mean, the Democrats have already proven themselves to be cowards who aren't any more interested in doing what they're supposed to be doing than the Republicans. It's all about moving corporate donations around, anyway.

Things will probably get worse under a Republican Congress, but I don't really see them getting better with the Democrats in charge, anyway. Everything will be pushed into the future, and people will continue to fight over total bullshit like prayer in schools.

I care less than ever.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Sweet, heartwarming, utterly implausible fairy tale about a white girl coming of age in rural 1964 South Carolina under the watchful eye of her black fairy godmothers. I don't say that to denigrate the film, but to be realistic about what it is. I actually really, really enjoyed this fairy tale, and found it filled with characters I came to love. Dakota Fanning stars, in a very good performance (as I said yesterday, she really is very talented), as Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl being raised by her overbearing father in a shack. Her best friend is Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), the housekeeper, who is beaten by racists for trying to register to vote. The two of them run off, Huck Finn style, and are taken in by a trio of sisters, the Boatwrights--activist June (Alicia Keys), fragile May (Sophie Okonedo), and the majestic, all-knowing August (Queen Latifah, whom I've always adored as an actor much more than as a singer). There, Lily discovers truths about herself and her late mother, learns about the warmth of the family you make in the world, and feels the first stirrings of genuine love, while Rosaleen learns that black women can be outspoken and brave. It's painted in very bold strokes, but not in a way that's patronizing or cutesy. It's a very easy movie to like, and just because it's really a fairy tale, that doesn't mean the emotions aren't genuine. About the only thing this movie gave short shrift that I would've liked a little more depth on is the relationship between Lily and her father (Paul Bettany). It's a little too complex for a movie like this, and I think there's more to it than simply making her father mean and then, out of necessity, Lily's villain. He obviously loves Lily and is concerned about her; it stings him when she says, in the heat of a fight, that she hates him. But really, I found it enchanting. ***1/2 stars.

Not as good as its sister film, Paris, je t'aime, which I liked quite a bit. That film was more varied in its subjects, whereas this American film sticks pretty much with flirtations and meditations on the nature of romance, despite the limitless possibilities of a place like New York. It's very telling, I think, that a lot of the classic New York actors don't appear in this film; I kept hoping at least Sigourney Weaver or William Hurt would make an appearance. Like all anthology films, it's a mixed bag; some segments are good, some aren't, some are missed opportunities. My personal favorite was directed by Mira Nair, and starred Irrfan Khan and Natalie Portman as diamond dealers, both involved in strict religions, who have a moment of mutual... something. There's also a nice segment with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as a married couple that I really liked. The rest comes and goes in moments. Not bad, but it feels like a film school experiment that hasn't been fully realized. *** stars.

I really enjoyed this heist film. In 1901, Irish nationalists call in an American (Aldo Ray) to help them rob gold bouillon from the Bank of England, which is an impenetrable fortress. Ray becomes friendly with one of the Scotland Yard officers in charge of guarding the vaults (played deftly by Peter O'Toole, contrasting with Ray's wooden acting) in order to get information. The writing is a little slack, and it's pretty cheaply made, but it's well-plotted and, at just under 90 minutes, it doesn't ever drag. The movie's final act, as Ray and his team race against time to tunnel under the vaults during a bank holiday while Peter O'Toole starts to suspect what's happening and the Irish nationalists try to stop the robbery when politics turn in their favor, is fairly gripping. ***1/2 stars.

LORD JIM (1965)
I found it hard to grasp this film, with Peter O'Toole as a merchant captain accused of cowardice, who begins transporting arms through the Orient. I just didn't care for it; like a lot of epics from the 1960s, I found it overlong, prosaic, and dreadfully dull. I don't think anyone involved in this film, with the exception of James Mason (who doesn't come into the film until long after I'd stopped caring), really understands the spirit of author Joseph Conrad. I think a more metaphorical approach would've aided director Richard Brooks better than the one he uses, which is essentially to take the blond, blue-eyed white man and put him in an adventure against a bunch of swarthy foreigners in exotic locations. But it doesn't work as a swashbuckler, either, because it's just so slow. Still, the sight of Eli Wallach as the villain did provide some brief amusement; of the vast amount of cultural stereotypes I've seen him play, Asian wasn't one of them until now. Read the novel instead. ** stars, mainly for Mason and the beautiful cinematography by the great Freddie Young.

I think I'm just done trying with Spike Lee. Always too long, always misogynistic, always meandering with too many characters and too many subplots. There's a lot of potential in this very long film, and some great scenes that nearly work, but it needed a much tighter hand. ** stars.

A quirky, often very funny British class satire starring Peter O'Toole as a deluded earl who think he's God, but later thinks he's Jack the Ripper, and in either case believes he's something apart from human and pointedly narcissistic. O'Toole plays Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney, who inherits the title after his father accidentally hangs himself. The first half of the film shows Jack as a monk in a white tuxedo, breaking into sudden, quick musical numbers and a feckless, offhand sense of manners. It's a study in British peculiarities of politeness, as the family decides the only thing to do is get Jack married and produce an heir and send him off to the madhouse before he enters the House of Lords. As the film moves on and Jack's delusion is broken, only to be replaced by one more fitting to the British upper class, the film takes what we've had--a gentle ribbing at the subtle hypocrisy of British manners--and turns it into something darker and more savage, with implications that this is what the members of the upper class truly transmit from generation to generation: not the care and culture of England at all, but a sort of madness that can easily bloom into something dangerous. The biggest criticism of this film seems to be that it meanders in the second half, as it becomes something more pointed and less spirited, but I think that's part of the point. I don't see it as meandering so much as a heaviness that's essential to the film's point. I thought it was excellent, and one of O'Toole's many great performances. I also enjoyed the supporting characters, but none more than Alistair Sim as a befuddled bishop, and Arthur Lowe as the mouthy, Marxist butler. **** stars.

Another film about robbing the Bank of England, this one a spectacular comedy. Alec Guinness stars in this classic as a slightly eccentric, very secretive bank clerk with an idea of how to rob gold bouillon and secret it to the continent. He's in luck when he meets a man, played by Stanley Holloway, who makes Eiffel Tower paperweights. The entire cast is very good--I even saw Audrey Hepburn shuffle through--as Guinness and Holloway set their plan in motion and watch it unravel as they're forced to improvise. A very funny movie, with some great set pieces (a chase down the Eiffel Tower, the run from seemingly the entire police force), and a brilliant twist ending. One of the best comedies I've ever seen. **** stars.

MacGRUBER (2010)
Not as bad as I'd heard, not as good as I'd hoped. Jorma Taccone directed this movie, so if you didn't like Hot Rod, you know what you're in for. I thought it took a smart tack in being so firmly what is is: a parody of 80s action flicks, only about a guy who is a total mook who fucks everything up. Taccone knows how to work a cultural cliche into something absurd, and as trashy and raunchy as the film is, it's mostly funny. (Even if it does have Kristen Wiig in it, whom I am starting to really despise, and the one person I find even less funny, Maya fucking Rudolph.) I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone who didn't have a very specific sense of humor for it, but I enjoyed it. And Val Kilmer is funny as the villain; too bad he burned so many bridges, he's really talented. *** stars.

Social Networking

BECCA: Before we go to bed, let me just get on Facebook and feed my fish.

ME: Ha ha, you said you'd never get on Facebook, and now you're addicted to a social network beloved by old people.

BECCA: I'm not addicted, I just don't want my fish to die.

ME: Your virtual fish? Oh, jeez, this is the neo-pet all over again. I should just spare you the heartbreak and poison them now.

BECCA: Not Iggy and Finley!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TV Report: What I Watched on My Summer Vacation

:: Well, I've already talked about Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef.

:: Yes, I did watch the second season of Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami. And now I'm watching the new season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Shallow? Probably, but I don't really care. We all have shallow interests. Mine involve Armenian women with big asses.

:: Has anyone watched Being Human on BBC America? A friend of mine told me it was good, but I've been missing it. The DVDs are out and it's actually in my queue, but we're still watching Star Trek and I'm supposed to be watching The Wire for this thing on Facebook that I need to catch up with.

:: I caught, on Netflix, the Starz series Gravity. Holy shit, did that deserve to be canceled. I like Krysten Ritter, but what a terrible show. Eric Schaeffer is the culprit behind it, and he's just as bad now as he was when he was doing awful movies like If Lucy Fell and Fall or whatever the hell that thing was with the cab driver. How does he get his shit produced? This was a terrible show, and I hope it didn't have anything to do with Starz' lame decision to cancel the excellent Party Down.

:: I've been enjoying Futurama since it came back; some of the episodes haven't hit as well as they could have, but none of them have been as bad as some of the more desperate episodes when they were nearing the end on Fox. (Superheroes! Babies!)

:: The final season of Hannah Montana started, and I'm really enjoying it, which is a relief since I hate the second seasons of Jonas and Sonny with a Chance so much. (I stopped watching both of those shows some time ago, along with the odious Suite Life on Deck.) As long as Wizards of Waverly Place stays fun, there are two shows I've got on Disney. For now... I sense this era of good Disney programming is coming to an end.

I also like I'm in the Band on Disney XD. It's silly as all hell, but it's hard not to laugh when the actors are obviously enjoying themselves so much. So there's three Disney shows to make up for Good Luck Charlie...

Oh, and Phineas and Ferb continues to be hilarious in every way.

:: As I said before, I love Louie on FX.

:: I saw a commercial for Curb Your Enthusiasm in syndication. How does that even make sense?

:: Still not interested in watching Glee or Mad Men.

:: It was fun to watch another season of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, but I think they're starting to run out of things to go off on. Some of the episodes this season were a little... I don't want to say frivolous, but I'm not sure what the word is I want to use here... inconsequential, maybe? Still, the episode on vaccinations was especially good. I know nurses who think autism is caused by vaccines, so anyone who calls bullshit on that is my friend.

:: I finally just had to stop watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I just couldn't take all of the stupid anymore. I love my little Francia Raisa, but there was just no way I could continue watching the show. The stupidity was long past the point of frustrating.

:: I love True Blood. It's also a really, really dumb show, but it's so dumb that it actually became fun. I love how stupid it is. It makes me laugh. I'll be the first to admit it's trashy and ridiculous, but, well, that's why I enjoy it.

:: I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but I enjoyed the second season of United States of Tara more than I did the first. More character depth, less situation comedy.

:: Currently, I'm watching the new seasons of Hung, Weeds, and The Big C. Honestly, even at the end of the second season, I'm still not sure if I like Hung or not. I don't really care about what happens to any of the characters except for Tanya; I think Jane Addams is knocking it out of the park. And frankly, I'm still watching Weeds out of habit. Nancy Botwin is the stupidest person alive, and her decisions get worse and worse. If it were canceled tonight, I wouldn't miss it. It stopped being good a couple of seasons ago; now it's just like I'm fascinated to see if they can dig themselves out of the hole they're in.

I enjoy The Big C, to my surprise. Having lost my sister to cancer four years ago, I tend to be sensitive to TV shows and movies that make getting cancer look like nothing more than a license to be quirky and whimsical and then a nice, quiet death. So far, the show seems to be poking holes in that idea, or at least not reveling in it. Laura Linney, who is always great, plays a woman with cancer and an awful family who hasn't told anyone she's sick, and who is trying to change her life in her last year. She doesn't want to burden anyone, but I also think she's afraid of making her disease real by sharing it with anyone else. She tries to do these whimsical, spur-of-the-moment things, but they never work out the way she hopes. They don't make her feel any better. So, I think there's some depth there. And if not, Laura Linney and Gabourey Sidibe are both really good on it.

:: Could be worse; I could be watching Jersey Shore.

Sarcasm Is My First Language

BECCA: I changed my schedule, so I'm closing tonight instead of opening. MasterChef's on tomorrow, so I'm not missing anything we normally watch, am I?

ME: Teen Mom is on tonight.

BECCA: Oh, drat! Can you TiVo it for me? Is that okay?

ME: Is that okay? You're asking me permission to use a digital video recorder to save a program and then watch it at a later time? Gee, maybe I should call the FCC and make sure that's not illegal...

BECCA: [gives me the finger]

There's Something About Dakota

I was watching The Secret Life of Bees on HBO over the weekend, and I was thinking about how long I've been watching Dakota Fanning in movies now. Even more than her recent, powerful turn in The Runaways, I thought she was moving in The Secret Life of Bees, and it's in large part because I've watched her grow up on film. I think the first time I ever saw her was on the SAG Awards when Orlando Bloom lifted her up so she could reach the microphone and accept an award for I Am Sam. The first thing I ever saw her in was Steven Spielberg's miniseries Taken, where she just charmed me. She's someone I've always felt was preternaturally talented for being so young, and I hope she continues to use it in the future. Too many actresses with unusual talent as children end up not fulfilling that promise as often as you'd like.

Anyway, I just really dig Dakota Fanning. I think she's probably one of my favorite actresses working right now. I hope she doesn't get lost in the shuffle of crappy American films as she gets older.

Obama's Mission Accomplished Speech Is Tonight

I don't know if I'll have the stomach for it. I'll read the text online, instead. Just go to a site like Aswat al Iraq to check out what kind of shelled-out husk we're leaving behind. We're leaving behind a slaughter of innocent people, a country with almost no electricity and in ruins, leaving things in the hands of a bunch of American puppets who have no idea what they're doing. And all of this--all of it--was based on lies told by an administration to the American people, that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, and that he was developing nuclear and/or biological weapons.

We should never have been involved in Iraq in the first place. We're withdrawing now after setting them back decades. We have destroyed our economy and the Iraqi infrastructure, and now we're abandoning the damage we've caused--both in Iraq and to our own standing in world politics--in order to concentrate more resources on another war we shouldn't be involved in to fight more people who weren't involved in 9/11 in Afghanistan, where we won't gain anything, either, except perhaps a new war with Pakistan.

Yeah, I'm glad we're at least getting out of Iraq, but I'm sorry we went over there in the first place and so many American soldiers had to die for the lies of a few men and women in power.

And, of course, we're not really leaving. There are still going to be troops there. And the contractors are still there.

I doubt President Obama will mention any of this in his speech, considering how gutless he's revealed himself to be when it comes to hard truths and policy-making. I'll be especially disappointed if he puts on some kind of cheery face and tells us we've had some kind of victory in Iraq. We'll see, but I'm not expecting much.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Silence Will Fall

Teaser for the 2010 Christmas episode of Doctor Who.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Relationship Dynamics

ME: So, then, you're coming home at 4, and going back to work for the meeting at 6?

BECCA: No, I have to be there at 8. I need to leave early, though, so I can pick up Little Caesar's for the meeting.

ME: *mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like "motherfucker"*

BECCA: What? Are you actually jealous because they get Little Caesar's and you don't?

ME: [defeated] ... No.

Happy 20th Birthday, Nicole Anderson!

The only thing I like about the terrible second season of Jonas is darling Nicole. She's wonderful.

Song of the Week: "Stormy"

Last week, I put John Legend's "Save Room" up. Roger told me he thought it sounded too similar to this song, "Stormy" by the Classic IV. I clicked a link he left for me and, yes, I can see it. I'm glad he pointed it out, because this is a song I'd completely forgotten existed. I think I must've heard it when I was a kid, because my parents listened to this kind of stuff, which at the time was only 10 years old or less, and not playing exclusively on "classic rock" stations. This just brought me back to a certain time in my life that can be hard to remember.

Never Meme of Dying

This was going around on Tumblr.

1. My favorite genre of game
I guess adventure games is what you'd call them?

2. Favorite Games
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker; Super Mario Galaxy (both); Super Mario 64; Pokemon Snap; New Super Mario Bros. Wii; the Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart games; Banjo-Kazooie; Space Invaders; the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; all of the LEGO games, especially LEGO Indiana Jones.

3. My hated game(s)
ET for the Atari 2600; Superman 64.

4. My favorite minion enemies
I just think the Octoroks in various Zelda games are fun.

5. My Most Hated enemies
Anything like the Micro Goombas in Mario that just attach themselves to you and won't let go.

6. My Favorite Enemies (Bosses)
Nothing in particular.

7. My Most hated Enemies (Bosses)
Anything hard to beat, naturally.

8. Most Loved Good Character
I guess I love Link and Mario. And Donkey Kong.

9. Most hated good-character
I don't know who Olimar is, exactly, but he's a shitty character to play Super Smash Bros. with.

10. Most Memorable Game
I still hum the music from Gauntlet, if that means anything.

11. Least Memorable Game
If I have one, I don't remember what it is. See what I did there?

12. Favorite segment of game
I can't think of anything specific. I love doing free play in LEGO games and doing some of the stuff on the side in Zelda games, where you solve puzzles or have contests.

13. Least favorite segment of a game
Anything that ends up killing me.

14. Most loved storyline
I like how all of the Zelda games are basically the same story, but slightly re-imagined. I know there are websites devoted to figuring out the continuity, but I look at each game as basically a reimagning of the same concept.

15. Favorite secret/easter egg/cheat
It helped a lot in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when I figured out the cheat to replenish life energy.

16. How many games you've think you've played in your life
I don't know. 150 or so. Maybe more.

17. How many games you (think) you own?
I don't know where my Atari or NES or N64 cartridges are right now. Currently I have 20 PS2 games and 7 Wii games.

18. Favorite Weapon
Link's Clawshot.

19. Favorite spell/power
No idea.

20. Hardest boss you've ever beaten
That thing in Super Mario Galaxy in the haunted galaxy that has hands made out of bricks.

21. Easiest boss you've ever beaten
A lot of bosses in the Zelda games look really hard but are surprisingly easy to beat. Fun, too. Also, I think Super Mario Galaxy 2 is intentionally a little easier than the first one.

22. Favorite System
Nintendo Wii.

23. Favorite gaming controller
The Wiimote.

24. Best Level Design
I don't really know, but those LEGO games sure are neat.

25. Console or PC
I prefer a console, but I've played some games on the PC. I like PC better for something like Tetris or Civilization III, though. With action games, I need a console.

26. Scariest moment in gaming
Any time I accidentally fall from a great height.

27. Most suspenseful moment in gaming