Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Devils in Danger

According to this article, around half of the Tasmanian devils have died from a grotesque and apparently transmittable facial tumor. It would be a tragedy to lose such an odd animal. Here are some interesting facts about the devils from the story:
  • They were originally named "devils" because the settlers who heard their screaming thought it could only come from Old Scratch himself.
  • They are the size of a spaniel, but have the bite strength of a dog four times their size and can eat a quarter of their body weight in one feeding.
  • When they get excited, their ears turn red.
  • Finally, and oddly, according to the reporter, Sandra Blakeslee, they have "disappointing" back ends. I have no idea what Ms. Blakeslee was hoping for regarding devils' rear ends that left her disappointed.

Memorial Day Weekend Movie Watching

A three day break from work provides ample time for catching up on movies, and we took advantage of it. Here's what we saw, with a couple of comments for each:

I, Robot: Surprisingly good. It wasn't much like Asimov's story, but you could pretty much tell that from the preview. I liked Will Smith a lot in this one. He was a darker than usual -- a little less Will Smithy. I'd like to see him in a truly bleak role with no comic relief. I think he would excel.

Coogan's Bluff: An old Clint Eastwood movie: "Before Dirty Harry, there was Coogan!" I watched this one alone, because it did not pique my wife's interest. I liked it overall, although the love story (with Susan Clark, who would later play Webster's mom) dragged. Just a fun action movie.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: The wife had never seen the original Star Wars movies, but she really enjoyed Episode III. Therefore, I took the opportunity to purchase the dvd set of the first trilogy. We both enjoyed the movie. I had told her that the dialogue was a lot more crisp in the originals, and I was glad they did not disappoint. It has been interesting watching her adjust to the original after seeing Episode III first. She finds it disconcerting to hear James Earl Jones' voice coming from Vader when her previous picture of Vader/Anakin was a skinny white kid. On my part, I was really impressed with the special effects. I think the originals are more impressive than the computer-stuff from the prequels. One comparison is between the computer-added Jabba in Mos Eisley in Episode IV versus the animatronic creation of Jabba in Jedi. I thought the computer version looked clearly fake, no matter how impressive the rendering, while in Jedi Jabba looked at least passably real. Still, it is a great movie, and it looks really good.

The Empire Strikes Back: Another great one. The difference between the puppet Yoda with the different voice really struck Michelle. One minor disappointment for me was that Lucas has inserted Ian McDarmid in as the emperor. The desire for continuity doesn't really bother me, but I wanted to see what the old emperor looked like. Oh well.

National Treasure: This one kicked ass. One of the better action/adventure movies I've seen in a long time. It had good actors, a good story, and it was unapologetically geeky about American history. It was really neat to see the characters get excited and inspired about writings from the Founding Fathers without resorting to casting any p.c. aspersions on them. I think Sean Bean, who played Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, is really an exceptional actor. Whether he's good or bad, I just enjoy his style. An earlier example of this is Ronin, a movie with some great car chase scenes.

No horror movies here, but not a stinker in the bunch, so I can't really complain.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Plaxico Burress in Trouble

Former Michigan State Spartan and current lackadaisical NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress is in trouble with the law. Surprisingly, though, it's for unpaid taxes, not burning couches.

Bonus Michigan State joke:

What do a Michigan State grad and a Michigan grad have in common?

They both got in to Michigan State.

Worthless Airlines

Northworst is eliminating the free pretzels on its flights. Apparently, they need the $2 million a year this will save to offset some of the $458 million the airline lost in the last quarter. No word on the amount of money they will lose from turning customers away by further increasing the discomfort of air travel.

Friday, May 27, 2005

What I'm Listening To:

First, a band that is new to me that I absolutely love: The Black Keys. They are a blues-rock band from Akron, Ohio. I bought their album "Rubber Factory" off iTunes. It's magnificent.

Also, "Lullabies to Paralyze," the new cd from Queens of the Stone Age is very good, if not quite as good as "Songs for the Deaf" (Quote from the stoner dj's voice on the cd: "Songs for the deaf...you can't even hear 'em").

What I will be listening to soon: Candlemass! Yes, that's right. The masters of Swedish doom metal have reunited for this self-titled album. Messiah Marcolin is back to share his operatic style with the world's metal fans. I had to order this one from Amazon, so I am patiently waiting. Soon I will have it. Soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

CBS Sportsline Owes United of Omaha an Apology

For this article, and especially the headline link on sportsline.com that takes you to the article. It reads "Insurer scams Earnhardt's widow."

The basic point of the story is that there is an ongoing civil suit between Dale Earnhardt's widow and race team and one of his insurers, United of Omaha. The disputed question is whether the $3.7 million insurance policy covering the type of accident that resulted in Mr. Earnhardt's unfortunate death ever came into effect. The insurance company argues that it did not, because Mr. Earnhardt failed to take the required physical before the accident. Mr. Earnhardt's racing team is pursuing the claim against the insurer on behalf of Mr. Earnhardt's widow that the denial of coverage was improper (full disclosure: I spend a significant chunk of my professional time defending insurance companies from cases like these, although United of Omaha is not, to my knowledge, a client of my firm).

From the facts presented in the story, it is impossible to tell if the insurance company was correct to deny coverage in this case. Undoubtedly, it was a poor public relations move, but for $3.7 million, I'm sure the company is willing to take a little heat. In my experience, insurance companies are pretty strict in their interpretation of their policies, and do sometimes get a little overzealous in their denial of coverage. However, their major concern is almost always getting whether or not to provide coverage right, and they spend a lot of money on legal fees to make the correct determination. The quote in the story from the racing team's lawyer is curious: that an insurance company "has a duty to find out why a claim should've been paid." Um, no. If the physical was a precondition of coverage (which will be a matter of policy interpretation), then Mr. Earnhardt's not getting it done meant that the insurance company was correct in not paying. There is no obligation for insurance companies to find reasons why they should pay a claim if there are cut and dried reasons for it not to be paid.

I included the above discussion to emphasize the point that there appears to be a legitimate dispute here, but that there is a good chance that the insurance company was correct to deny coverage. Getting back to the headline for the sportsline story then, does it sound like the insurer "scammed" Mr. Earnhardt's widow? No. This appears to be a fairly run of the mill insurance coverage case, made more sensational by the identities of the parties and the sad factual background. Using that kind of headline for this kind of case is muckraking, pure and simple.

There was no "scam" here, and even worse, the headline makes it sound like there already was a verdict or judgment against United of Omaha, when in fact the case is merely in the opening argument stages. Way to prejudge the case, folks. I wonder if the reporter on the story has analyzed the insurance policy? Somehow I doubt it.

I think that sporstline should post a correction to clarify that there is an ongoing civil, not criminal, suit against United of Omaha, and should apologize to United of Omaha for the implication that it "scammed" Mr. Earnhardt's widow. I am emailing this post to sportsline, and to the reporter if I can find the address, and I will post any reply I get.

Brief American Idol Recap

What a crock.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Restore the Roar?

Pretty interesting speculations on espn.com (insider subscription required) about who might turn out to be some of the impact free agents in the NFC North. The article points to Marcus Pollard as the Lions' entry. This is what I thought at the time they signed him. The team really hasn't had a legitimate pass-catching tight end since David Sloan (the few games he was healthy). I think Pollard will add an element to the passing game in the middle of the field that will help open up the outside for the receivers to run open. This should be a very productive offense this year with all the additions. If not, I think a lot of the blame, as little as I like to say it, has to fall on Mariucci.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Idol- The Last Songs of the Year

There's not a lot to say about Bo and Carrie's final songs. I thought Bo was better, but I always think Bo is better. Bo's songs were a little bland, but he sang them well. I still don't see what people, especially the judges, like about Carrie. It really seems like she misses a lot of notes, and she has zero personality when she's singing. I also hate those long notes really belted out loud. I know they're supposed to be a sign of a good voice, but who actually wants to listen to that kind of noise? It's like Maria Carey's early songs where she would "show off" her voice by emitting the kind of high-pitched squeaks that only bats could understand, or tolerate.

Bo must win.

Who Wants To Be A Jedi?

Orson Scott Card has some interesting thoughts about the Jedi order, using as a jumping off point those who put "Jedi" as their religion on census forms. I remember playing Star Wars a lot when I was a kid, with a friend who really liked the Ewoks, but I don't recall if I ever really pretended to be a Jedi. My favorite toys were the Millennium Falcon, the AT-AT, and the Rancor Monster, so I'm thinking the Jedi were a little down the list. On the other hand, I've always thought that Jedi mind control would be really cool: "You will take me to Jabba," "These aren't the droids you are looking for," "You will buy me that action figure," etc.

American Idol Part Deaux

Here's a much more reasonable view of this season of Idol.

Worst Idol Yet?

This yahoo claims that whichever of the two Idol finalists wins this year will be the worst Idol yet. I'm not going to waste a lot of time addressing his arguments, primarily because he doesn't really have any. I did want to point out a couple of things. First, in terms of comparing these two to the other Idols, I wonder if this guy watched Fantasia's awe-inspiringly bad wailing on the show earlier in the season? I'm not much of a Carrie fan, but even she would be better than that. Second, Bo "somehow mistook himself for a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd?" Color me skeptical that this Farber guy is much of a Skynyrd fan. Somehow I can't picture him in his New York apartment flipping through Rolling Stone magazine with "Sweet Home Alabama" pumping out of his stereo.

I think Bo, and to a lesser extent Carrie, is a welcome change for this show. I've only watched bits and pieces of the show in the past, and that was mainly because it seemed to specialize in that R & B dreck that Mr. Farber mentions. Bo actually sings songs that I want to hear again, even the ones I've never heard before. Farber claims that Bo and Carrie not being R&B-pop performers will hurt them commercially. That's possible, but I'm not convinced. There is a pretty strong tradition of southern rock from Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers up through The Black Crowes that seems to sell pretty well, whatever Mr. Farber might think of its artistic merit. One interesting thing they mentioned on the last broadcast: so far Justin was the only finalist who was not southern. Make of that what you will.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Civ. 4 -- Coming Soon

I am very excited about this game.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Revenge of the Sith and the Nature of Vader's Evil

I caught the matinee yesterday, and it was nice not to be too crowded. I was a little worried about the large number of kids in the audience, but once the movie started they were too rapt to make excessive noise. There were no costumes at our show, but on the way out we did spot a Vader and an Obi-Wan, as well as one lonely Darth Maul.

As far as the movie goes, I was much more on the side of A. O. Scott from the Times, who claimed that this was better than Episode IV, than of the Instapundit, who didn't think much of it. The special effects were good, but what really struck me was Anakin's fall to the Dark Side. I thought Lucas did a good job in creating a convincing motivation for why Anakin would go over. After watching the first two prequels, I was really concerned whether Lucas would be able to pull this off. I liked how he did it. First, set it up so that Anakin has a terrible fear that his lover is going to die in childbirth. Then, let the Jedi, including Obi-Wan, be pretty much the last place Anakin can turn for guidance. Finally, enter Palpatine, who apparently has been waiting a long time to turn the powerful but unstable Jedi.

In relation to this, one thing that I haven't really seen commented on too much is how much of Anakin's turn to the Dark Side is based on a lie. Palpatine clearly implies that if Anakin studies the Dark Side, he will be able to save Padme's life, just like the wise Sith lord who gained the power of life and death. But once Anakin has killed Mace Windu and basically passed the point of no return, Palpatine tells him that only one man has had the power over life and death, but he is sure that if they work together they can discover it. This is a long way from what he implied to Anakin before, and not particularly comforting to someone who is worried about a childbirth that will occur relatively soon. But by then, Anakin has become Vader and has irrevocably thrown in his lot with the soon-to-be Emperor. Thus, the Vader we see in the original Star Wars movies is actually a more tragic character in his origin than you would necessarily assume, and his last act of saving Luke makes perfect sense.

The other thing that was fascinating was the cumulative nature of the evil that Anakin does. Palpatine manages to set the situation up with Mace Windu so that Anakin has to make a choice. When Anakin chooses to side with Palpatine and kills Windu, he has crossed, as I say above, the point of no return. After that, he is pretty much forced by his own decision farther down the path to evil, which progresses from slaughtering the Jedi in their temple to facing off against his own best friend and choking his pregnant wife. It is very easy to see how in each new situation his previous choices exert a great deal of pressure on him, and each new evil choice increases the weight on him to continue on his evil path.

To me, this is what made the movie so powerful. It wouldn't have been as tragic if Anakin had been a evil-natured person to begin with, or if he had been power hungry and exploited in that way. Instead, Palpatine takes advantage of Anakin's desire to do something that is fundamentally good -- to save his wife. By using this motivation, Lucas shows, whether intentionally or not, how good intentions uncoupled from moral choices can lead to monstrous results. I found the last half hour to forty-five minutes of the movie, as everything unraveled and all happiness was crushed under clone boots, to be some of the most riveting I have seen.

The movie did have its annoying moments of bad dialogue or characters, including the completely unimpressive General Grievous and every of dialogue from a droid. However, it didn't have any Jar Jar Binks or love scene on Naboo elements that were sufficient to derail the movie. The plot was solid, and the motivations of the characters came through pretty clearly, althought sometimes this was in spite of the acting. Overall, I really liked it, and I thought it was comparable in terms of plot and emotional power to the movies of the original trilogy.

Supernatural TV

This article about all the different scary/supernatural tv shows coming out this fall is pretty interesting. The ones I think I will be most likely to check out: "Fathom" an NBC show about a terrifying new form of life found at the bottom of the ocean and ABC's "Invasion," in which aliens invade and inhabit dead bodies.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Monkey News

This is kind of cool. Scientists have found a new species of monkey in Tanzania. It doesn't sound like they're those carnivorous apes from Congo, though. Have to keep looking, I guess.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Close Call?

Despite what Donald and my personal favorite George said on The Apprentice finale last night, I really have a hard time seeing how the choice of Kendra over Tana was a close call. I found it especially brazen of Tana to try to claim credit on the Pontiac task when she went to bed instead of helping to finish the Solstice brochure. I don't care how good the idea of the shape was. There was no way they would have won if it hadn't been completed, and Tana wasn't there to help. End of story.

I did find the finale to be much better constructed than last year's was. Dropping the audience participation was especially pleasing. The only thing I would have liked to have seen was a little more talking from the former contestants. I enjoyed last year when they were asked how they felt after having a chance to look back on what happened during their time on the show.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty strong season, and much stronger than the second. I did get a little fatigued by the way it came so close on the heels of the last one, so I'm glad Season 4 isn't until the fall.

Stupid Tigers

Just when I post about how good they're doing and how they're learning to beat bad teams, look what they do.

At least the Pistons finished Reggie's team off.

The Tigers Are At .500

The Motor City Kitties have evened their record on the season to 19-19, after their second straight win over the Devil Rays. Sure, the Rays stink, and the Tigs haven't looked particularly sharp beating them, but wins are wins. It's also a step in the right direction for this team to beat the bad teams. They have had a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent in past seasons. One more win today, and they have a series sweep and a winning record. We'll see if they can keep it up.

Classic Horror Novels

As a follow up to this post, I made a journey to the local used book store to see if I could acquire any of the books listed for a reduced price. I found two: Vampire Junction by S. P. Somtow and Dark Dance by Tannith Lee. Dark Dance, in particular, sounds promising: it has perhaps the strangest and most bizarre back cover blurb I have ever read. I'm looking forward to it.

I also picked up Children of the Night by Dan Simmons, just because he's Dan Simmons. I haven't read a book by him that wasn't amazing, especially his science fiction. He's the kind of guy who makes it intimidating to try to be a writer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Apprentice Blow Out

In anticipation of tonight's finale, we finally watched last week's Apprentice tonight. This one wasn't even really close. They edited Tana's event to make it look awful, and Kendra's went basically without a hitch after a couple of touch and go moments right at the beginning. In fact, at the end of hers one of the video game guys (I think he was from EA) actually offered Kendra a job with his company! Meanwhile, Tana was too busy brushing off Pataki's lackey to notice that the governor of New York was just hanging out while she made him wait. Good thing she offered to get him a donut.

I don't see how this one was even close. It was interesting how they tried to keep some interest alive in the boardroom scene by bringing up how Danny hijacked the sponsors when they arrived for their very first meeting with Kendra and then asking her if she didn't think it was important to meet with the sponsors. I think it was pretty clear, though, that she didn't realize they had arrived when Danny was first talking to them. And while someone in her position is supposed to be attentive, I think it's a little unreasonable to expect her to be clairvoyant. Besides, if she limited Danny to that one problem throughout the whole task (they didn't show any others, but that doesn't mean he didn't screw anything else up), then she's as much of a miracle worker as Annie Sullivan.

I'm looking forward to hearing the difference in how the two teams talk about Tana and Kendra, especially Kristen, who might actually speak her mind. Other than that, I'm not sure how exciting the finale will be. I seem to remember last season's finale taking an hour and a half to annoint Mr. Roboto as the next Apprentice. I'm glad this one's only an hour.

Down to Bo and Carrie

So Vonzell leaves. After this week's performances, I wasn't shocked (even though last week I predicted a Vonzell victory to my LA Correspondent, who is soon to be my Iraq correspondent). At this point, the order they leave in doesn't matter much to me as long as Bo wins, especially after his trip to Alabama. Skynyrd! Sweet Home Alabama! It doesn't get much better than that.

On a side note, the American Idol "Showstoppers" cd is on sale now. Using iTunes, I was able to pick and choose which songs I wanted. Of course I bought the Bo Bice version of "I Don't Want to Be." Oddly enough, the only other song I bought was Nikko Smith doing Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover." I say oddly because Nikko really wasn't one of my favorites while he was on the show, I think in large part because I didn't like the songs he chose. However, I really enjoyed this particular song when he sang it, and it holds up well on the recording too. I found the others to be mostly forgettable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

American Idol -- DVR Blogging

I'm watching the show on DVR tonight, so I've seen the last ten - fifteen minutes and am now wrapping around to the beginning. I'm surprised at Clive Davis's picking an Elton John song for Bo, but he's pulling it off. Randy likes it: he has promoted Bo from Captain of the Dog Pound to lifetime member (I think that's a promotion).

I still find Carrie to be like a claymation puppet. She's definitely no Roy Orbison, either. I can't believe the judges liked her rendition of "Crying."

Vonzell always seems nice, but she's had a lot of shaky performances lately. Her first song tonight wasn't that great, in my opinion. Ah, but she redeems herself with "Chain of Fools." A great song, and a great version of it.

Bo's second song -- Wow. There's only one thing to say after that song: Bo wins.

Carrie's second song was okay, but Bo's act was a tough one to follow. I do hope that Bo wins, though. I'm kind of looking forward to buying his cd.

Why Don't School Buses Have Seatbelts?

Here's the answer to something I've always wondered.

Monday, May 16, 2005

NBC Fall Lineup

This article discusses whether NBC can rebuild itself after this fairly disastrous year. I have some affection for the network, for bringing us shows like "Frasier," "Friends," "Night Court," and the greatest television show of all time: "Seinfeld." Still, I don't see much in this article that makes me think they will rebound. Apparently, they're keeping "The Office," which I found unwatchable, and the one new comedy mentioned doesn't sound particularly inspiring. The one show I found intriguing? Way down at the bottom, the article mentions a show called "Fathom," "a drama about a new form of life lurking in the sea." I could see tuning in for the first couple episodes of that one.

Top Horror Novels

Here's an interesting list on the Horror Writers Association website of the top horror novels. I have some work to do: I've only read 13 of the 40 on it. I've read pretty much all the older classics, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, but fewer of the newer. Of the ones I haven't gotten to yet, there are several by authors who have written other novels that I have read, especially Charles Grant and Ramsey Campbell. This should be a good source of quality horror to read for a while, which is something I have been seeking.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Bill Gates Is A Winner

I just like this guy. The article discusses Mr. Gates's prediction that the cell phone will eventually replace iPods and their like as the mobile music player of preference. He has interesting thoughts about that and about other technologies as well. Reading the article made me realize again just how impressive Mr. Gates really is. I just love his drive to dominate the market in technology and to innovate. It's people like him that made this country great: the risk-takers who fight tooth and nail for products that they believe in. Like other giants of the past, such as the so-called "robber barons," he takes abuse from news media that hate successful businessmen, and he has fought government overreaching, as in the Microsoft monopoly case. Through it all, he has remained a true winner.

He also talks about his retirement, which is still over a decade off. The day he steps down will be a sad one for American progress.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

One For The Weekend -- Human Skinners

Here is a frightening story from Tanzania, about witch doctors and human skinners. I write horror fiction similar to stuff like this, but what's really scary is that this kind of thing is happening out there.

Sleep tight, and watch out for that shadow in the corner of your bedroom tonight. Did it just move?

Light Blogging

As is obvious from the light blogging, this week was a busy one toward the end. This weekend will be no different as we will be braving the wilds of middle Michigan for a bachelor party of golfing and beer. Madness never rests, though, so expect a resurgence of insanity early next week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Dead Are Rising From Their Graves!!

Well, not really. But the picture accompanying this article is pretty freaky.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The Pistons crushed Indiana tonight in their series opener. I was dreading this series ever since it became apparent that Boston was going to choke in the last round. My dread comes from my aversion to hearing "The Brawl" dissected anew for the next two weeks. Therefore, for this round, I will watch games with no sound and take refuge in my iPod from sports radio until next round.

And by the way, the brawl was all Ron Artest's fault. Thank you, good night.

Tax That Fat Dealer!

Detroit's mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is proposing what amounts to a "fat tax": a tax on fast food restaurants in the city. As the article says, the tax has little chance of passing, because it would require the Republican controlled state legislature to change state law. And people aren't stupid -- the 18-year old quoted in the article said that if they enact the tax he's going to a McDonald's in Bloomfield Hills (the kid's not that smart though: he could get to Redford or Southfield a lot quicker). Fast food restaurants, or to be precise those who own them, aren't stupid either, and they could follow the trail out of the city beaten over the last thirty years by most of its businesses and residents. Perhaps the biggest joke is the reference to how the city is bracing for "mass layoffs and service cuts." I'm sure the soon to be laid off city employees are bracing themselves, but I doubt the rest of Detroit is that concerned. After all, this is a city that doesn't bother to plow side streets after a big snow, in reliance on the certainty that it has to melt some time. This is also a city where it takes 6-9 months to have a deed recorded. My opinion is that given the level of services that are actually provided, Detroiters are not going to have a clue what services were actually cut.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

We saw Sir Ridley Scott's latest opus Friday night, and we all liked it. It wasn't quite the classic that Gladiator was, but it was very, very good. One thing I liked about it was that, despite the silly hoopla surrounding the movie, it actually was a very complicated look at how people can drive large historical events. The movie was not about politics, at least today's politics. It was about how the interactions among historical actors and the choices they make determine the outcomes of large events. This theme is far away from the "great historical forces" theory that says individuals cannot influence the outcome of events. I especially liked that the movie emphasized the individual moral choices that each of the characters faced. By this emphasis, Mr. Scott was able to present complicated moral issues in a challenging way, instead of the lectures that occupy most Hollywood movies involving "moral" issues. Mr. Scott is one of the few big directors out there who makes movies that are serious in this way.

And one note about the Professor of Islam quoted in the above-linked "Variety" article. Apparently, the good professor accused the movie of "teaching people to hate Muslims." I hope that the man was misquoted; otherwise, for a professor at a major university he shows a stunning inability to watch a movie. The chief bad guy/guys in Kingdom were a rogue sect of Christian knight-warriors and their fanatical leaders. In contrast, the Muslims in the movie get a very positive treatment, especially Saladin. In my book, this is pretty reasonable, because the Muslim world of that period was well-advanced in comparison to Europe. But the point is that the Muslims in the movie aren't even really the bad guys, so why would this teach people to hate today's Muslims? There's no logic there. If anything, the movie should do the opposite and show people that maybe Saladin and his boys weren't so bad after all. The professor's criticism is silly and insulting to the extent that it relies on the assumption that Americans are such drooling morons that they will see dead Muslims on the screen and decide that the movie-maker must be instructing them to do likewise.

Obviously this movie had the potential to be controversial given its subject matter and the war we are in, but inflamed, nonsensical rhetoric isn't going to help matter any. It's especially disappointing given the interesting moral issues and problems that the movie presents. In this case, for once the movie is more complicated than its simple-minded critics claim it to be.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Apprentice: It Is Down To You, And It Is Down To Me

So Craig is gone, as was my prediction last night. Kendra and Tana were left with the uphill battle of facing the biggest task yet with teams of bumbling fools -- the "Three Stooges" as Tana called her team. I liked how this season they were open about picking teams that would make things difficult for the two finalists. It is a good challenge to have to manage inadequate people. That certainly happens in real life. Plus, now we get to see Team Volcano, people with no fuse, and Team Space Cadet, fronted by the Pied Piper of Failure himself, Danny (Who, in a presentation to important clients, begins with the "team jingle"? A sub-question is, who takes the time to create the team jingle? And finally, how has Danny survived this long?). That makes for good TV.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Apprentice -- Down To Three

Who will go tonight? I would say definitely not Kendra (but imagine a final two of Tana and Craig!). I have to say Craig. From the past two seasons' interviews, we know that these are some pretty high-powered people who are grilling the contestants. Craig is just too slow, unclear, and frankly a little weird when he is expressing himself. On the other hand, Tana is very bright and personable. I don't see anything substantive that would give Craig the edge over her. But maybe Craig will make the interviewers write down all their questions before selecting which ones to ask...

Gory Horror

It's not really my type of horror, but the Times has an interesting review of Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk, which is billed as "a novel of short stories." Mr. Palahniuk is also the author of Fight Club, which I was not aware of. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to think of the book. It sounds pretty intense, but I did like Fight Club. Here's how the review begins:

"In his new ad hoc diet book, Chuck Palahniuk assembles two dozen of the most appetite-suppressing stories he can imagine. "Tell me a story to make me never want to eat, ever again," one character in "Haunted" requests - and, boy, does the author oblige. Mr. Palahniuk all but dares the reader to be seasick as he explores various forms of spiritual and literal putrefaction. If books had aromas, this one would reek of 'old potatoes melting into a black puddle under the kitchen sink.'"

Read the whole thing.

Fallen Idol Special

I didn't watch the ABC special, partly because I had to catch up on last night's show and partly because I thought it was dumb. As I mentioned before, I thought it was stupid of ABC to give what amounted to free publicity to a Fox show. And really, who cares if one of the judges is sleeping with one of the contestants? This isn't a Presidential race, or even the Olympics. It's a Fox TV show. Even aside from that, the "judges" don't even pick the winners after a certain point. The only possible revelation that ABC could have had that might have actually damaged Idol would have been that the voting was a sham and the show's producers have been picking who stayed and who went all along. Now that would have been a scandal.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

This Is The American Idol Voters Dropping The Ball

The results are in, and Scott Savol is out. The week after Constantine gets booted comes another mistake, in my book. Scott did deserve to go soon, because he clearly was not as good as Bo, Carrie, or Vonzell, but not after last night's songs. I thought his choice of "On Broadway" was inspired, and for once I didn't mind his version of whatever unlistenable Brian McKnight song that was. Now, I'm not going to get carried away with my praise of Scott, because as I say he did deserve to leave soon. Just not before the true loser of last night: Anthony Fedorov. What were people thinking voting for him? He has been one of the worst singers left since it went down to twelve, and yet he manages to keep squeaking by. "Poison Ivy" was a terrible song choice, and the performance was even worse. I've heard better karaoke at the Ground Round. Then he followed that bomb up with another ballad -- his strength according to Paula. I think not. Fedorov, who does seem like a nice kid, turns every slow song into an '80's power ballad. Just painful.

As for the rest of this week, Bo was strong again with "Stand By Me" and "Heaven." I thought "Heaven" was a risky choice, but he definitely pulled it off. I also give him and Scott credit for being the only contestants to pick songs that were recognizable for the first part of the show (I guess Carrie's was too, but the guys' songs I thought were bigger). I really don't think it pays off right now to sing songs that are obscure or unfamiliar. It's much easier to know if they are singing well if you kind of know what the song is supposed to sound like. Song choice seems to be my hobby horse right now, but I think it's probably the most crucial thing right now other than the actual performance itself, and it maybe even more important than the performance if the song choice is disastrous.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

How Do Good Horror Movies Ever Get Made?

Here is a fascinating article in the New York Times (I know, I know, but I can't criticize all of them), about the saga behind the making of the Exorcist prequel. The problems that the film company, Morgan Creek, had with the original director's version ended up in an entire second movie being filmed. Now, I haven't seen the version of the prequel that was released last year, and I don't know if the version that will be released this year will be any better, but I do know that when the chairman of the film company is upset because the movie is not "a hyperkinetic action picture filled with gore and special effects" and brings in the director of Cliffhanger to fix it, there are going to be problems. And whose big idea was it to turn Father Merrin into a "swashbuckling hero"? It really makes you wonder about the chairman of the company.

Actually, in a way it doesn't. I'm not one to complain about people trying to make money, but that's clearly what Morgan Creek had in mind here: to fill the movie with sex and violence, because everyone knows sex and violence sell. However, violence, in the same manner as with sex, verges on pornography when it, and not the story or the characters, is the point. And more importantly, people will not go to see a movie like that in the same numbers that they will a good movie that happens to have sex or violence in it. Clearly, in this case Morgan Creek did not have an interest in making a good horror movie or a movie that would add to the legend surrounding the original in a meaningful way. I find that really disheartening.

Ill Omen?

On the way to work this morning, I saw what I'm pretty sure was a buzzard, of a type I didn't think existed in Michigan, sitting in the grass next to the road. Scary things are everywhere, if you look for them, but I didn't have to look today. It was quite disturbing.

Sad News From Everest

An American has fallen to his death. He fell in the Khumbu Icefall, which is an area of shifting ice blocks that is usually roped out pretty well in advance of the climbing season. The fall came while he was descending, which is actually fairly typical, because on the way down climbers tend to relax after having reached their goal and are also becoming fatigued. I'm curious as to whether he had summited. A lot of travel is done through the Khumbu at the beginning of an expedition while the climbers are acclimatizing, so his fall could have come during one of those periods. If he had summited, however, this would be an especially poignant story, because by reaching the Khumbu on the way back would have meant that he had completed nearly his entire climb. RIP.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bringing You All The Most Important News...

Norway, a country "with long traditions of equality," recently for the first time convicted a woman of rape. Before your imagination runs away with you, it was unsolicited oral sex that landed the lass in jail for 9 months.

I don't really know what to say about this odd story, except that the man was awarded over $6,000 in compensation. "Compensation"? For...?

Blade - Trinity

I watched Blade - Trinity this weekend, and I have to say that I was disappointed. I was a latecomer to the Blade series, having only watched the first two installments this past winter. I enjoyed the first one, but the second was excellent. It retained the action and coolness of the first while adding an extra element of spookiness. It might be surprising, but my opinion is that despite their subject matter - vampires - these movies are really more in the action genre than in horror. I don't think that they guy who wrote the three movies, David Goyer, would dispute that characterization, and I don't hold that against the movies.

Nevertheless, I thought the third movie was letdown, especially considering the upward arc of the first two films. My criticisms are twofold. First, the movie felt like a rehash of the first two. The plot was of course marginally different, and Blade gained some new buddies, but overall the trajectory of the action felt very canned and predictable. Second, what was the deal with Dracula? In the brief opening sequence, he seemed to be potentially scary, but then the rest of the movie he was portrayed by an actor who appeared to be channeling a clean-shaven, eastern European Barry Gibb. In short, Dracula, who was supposed to be badder than bad, was not even particularly alarming to look at. The one credit I will give Goyer is that he did not turn Dracula into the self-pitying mess of an undead like Anne Rice specializes in. Goyer's Dracula is sufficiently evil, but somehow manages to not be sufficiently scary.

I am going to stop now, because I actually thought that the movie was pretty good overall, despite the faults I found with it. My main problem with it was my too-high expectations. I liked Ryan Reynolds, although his character was drawn a little over the top, and Jessica Biel's beauty was wasted with a plain look. Blade - Trinity is worth watching if you are looking for some fairly mindless action, and those out there who have seen the first two should definitely watch it to complete the trilogy.