Monday, March 28, 2005

J.J. Abrams: Please Report Back To Alias...STAT!

For those of you not up to speed as to what's happening on Alias, here's a quick recap: Sydney Bristow gets a job out of grad school with SD6, a CIA offshoot operation. SD6 is headed by Arvin Sloane, a fervent follower of Milo Rimbaldi, a long dead philosopher/inventor. Sydney's father, Jack, also works for SD6, and eventually tells her that SD6 is actually a terrorist organization, and that he is a double-agent working for the CIA to bring down SD6. SD6 is eventually brought down, but not before Sydney is reunited with her mother, Irina, who was exposed as a KGB spy when Sydney was a child. Sloane escapes during SD6's takedown, and goes on a quest to hunt down the lost "Rimbaldi artifacts". During the manhunt for Sloane, Sydney is put into a coma by the clone of her dead best friend, Francie. When she awakens two years later, her former lover and CIA handler, Vaughn, is married to an NSA agent named Lauren, and Sloane has been found, but turned "state's evidence", and now heads a relief organization. During his quest for Rimbaldi artifacts, Sloane comes to find out he has a daughter, Nadia, with Irina, and that she may hold the key to some of Rimbaldi's secrets. Vaughn, meanwhile, discovers that Lauren is actually a double agent working with Sark, one of Sloane's former SD6 cronies, which makes him mad enough to kill her, which he does.

There. That about catches it up for three seasons worth of episodes. If it sounds like a lot to take in, you have no idea: I've left out a dozen or so plot lines, because I just don't have the space to type them all. It's probably the most densely plotted show with this small of a cast. (Shows like ER and The West Wing have more plot, but they also have 5000 cast members each.) It's a show I've enjoyed since I started watching late in Season One.

But I've noticed something odd about this season. Whereas, in past years, there were about a million things going on in one episode, this year, the show's plots run like this: Sydney and the Scooby Gang are given a mission; they go do the mission; they return home to hugs and kisses. Wash, rinse, repeat. Thirteen episodes of basically the same show every week. So, why does an incredibly complex show suddenly stop being complex? What happened?

Lost happened.

J.J. Abrams, the creator and producer of Alias, is also the creator and producer of ABC's new tentpole show, Lost. Lost, as well as being one of two shows keeping ABC out of fourth place (Desperate Housewives is the other), is also the lead-in for Alias. In fact, Lost did so well at the beginning of the season that ABC actually moved Alias to follow it. "But what does ABC moving a show have to do with a show's decline in quality?" Nothing, actually. But notice I kicked this off by saying that Abrams is the producer of both shows. While I have only seen a couple episodes of Lost, it appears to be more complex than Alias, with a cast twice as large. So, if you're making an incredibly complex show that you want to do really well for the network and draw a lot of people, what happens to the other complex show you also produce? You throw it on the backburner.

Since the beginning, Alias has always had a full seasons worth of episodes (about 30). This year: 14. And its first episode didn't air until January, five months into the current TV season. Why? Because who has time to come up with new ideas for some spy show when you're coming up with new variations of Lord of the Flies every week; it's easier to just cut-and-paste old Mission: Impossible scripts together. (Truth be told, Alias has recently been coming up with some things that appear to have future payoffs; shit, there are still things from previous seasons that haven't paid off yet.)

There's a reason why David E. Kelly only has one show on TV now: you can't produce multiple serialized hour-long shows without out having at least one suffer. (Kelly had Ally McBeal, Boston Public, and The Practice all on at the same time; all suffered from Kelly's divided attention.) You just can't sustain the creative pace needed to keep multiple shows interesting. The only person who has been able to pull it off is Dick Wolf, creator of the Law and Order empire. But his shows succeed because they are stand-alones: you don't have to have seen any previous episodes to enjoy them. There is no character development, no story arc; just an interesting plot every week. Unfortunately, this is what has become of Alias. After investing three years into these characters' lives, suddenly, it's just about some people going on a mission (and about Sydney dressing in a costume: a feature that has annoyingly been incorporated into the credits), and that blows.

Here's what Abrams needs to do: Pick a show and go with it. Give another creative team your notes for the other, and let it go. If you have to pull a "Kelly" and shitcan one of them, so be it. But do something, and quick. This two-show bullshit seriously fucks with my Alias enjoyment.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ringing In My Ears

I'll start this by saying that I'm a huge fan of the Japanese movie Ringu, and have been for a long time. (I'll use the Japanese names for the Japanese movies, and American for American, just to avoid confusion.) So long, in fact, that I own a VHS dub of the movie, because, when I bought it, the movie was unavailable on Region 1 or 0 DVD. Loved that one so much that I bought the rest in the series: Ringu 2 and Ringu 0: Birthday, also on VHS dubs, because they aren't available on DVD either. And I'm not the only one who loves the original Ringu. It was one of the highest grossing movies in Japanese history, and it spawned hundreds of imitators. At one point, every horror movie released in Southeast Asia featured a doppleganger of Sadako, the friendly ghost from Ringu. So, of course, it was only a matter of time of time before Hollywood, the Land of No Original Ideas, got in on the action. (I assume that, since Pearl Harbor, all Americans are afraid of Japanese people, and would rather see American actors instead of scary Japanese actors. So, we get remakes instead of rereleases.) And, hence, The Ring.

And, as it turns out, The Ring was actually pretty good. It's a noisy, glossy, stepped-on version of Ringu, but, for those who haven't seen that, it's a pretty scary movie. (A note on the title of The Ring: The "ring" of the title refers to the halo of light around the opening of the top of the well, as seen from the bottom: a literal "ring" of light. I always thought "ring" referred to the ringing of the phone. After reading Koji Suzuki's recently translated source material, I now know that "ring" refers to the infinite loop created by the spreading of the cursed video. A pretty highminded idea, yes, and not one that Hollywood seemed to grasp. So they invented the whole thing about an actual ring: THE Ring.) And it was a big hit. So, you know what comes next: The Ring 2.

I'll start this by saying The Ring 2 is one of the lower forms of entertainment: a sequel of a remake. And it is pretty lowly entertainment. But it's not entirely the producers' fault. If they'd have gone with a remake of Ringu 2, they'd have a train wreak on their hands, because Ringu 2 itself is a train wreak. (There were actually two sequels to Ringu, produced independently of one another: Rasen, which follows Suzuki's book of the same title, and Ringu 2, an original work by Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu (and, ironically, The Ring 2). Ringu 2, probably because it contained "Ringu" in the title, was a hit, and Rasen flopped.) Not that they could have anyway, because they altered the story of Ringu so much, that none of the events in Ringu 2, if presented straightforwardly in a remake, would have made any sense. But Ringu 2 is still enjoyable, because it's such gonzo filmmaking. Two minor characters from Ringu are the main characters, there are about 50 plot threads, it has more scary bits than Ringu, and gets so fucking goofy toward the end that it's hard not to enjoy. The Ring 2 is also pretty fucking goofy, but not in an enjoyable way.

Rachel and Aidan, the deadbeat mom and creepy kid from the first movie, are back again. They've moved away from Seattle to little Astoria after the events of The Ring. (It's odd that no mention is made of the fact that Rachel had to kill her father to relieve her son of the "video curse", but I guess that's not important.) But, just when they think they're out, they get pulled back in when a copy of the cursed tape resurfaces and kills once again. I actually don't know why I mentioned this plot point, as it is never mentioned again in the film; it's just a scary bit to start the movie, I suppose. (This movie also fails to solve a logical problem that also occurs in Ringu 2: If only Rachel made a copy of the tape, how do more turn up? Maybe I'm thinking too much; I guess this is why I'm not a screenwriter.) This reappearance of the killer tape does bring to Rachel's attention the fact that her son is slowly being possessed by Samara, that lovely ghost from the tape. And so, we're off on just a really great adventure!

Actually, not really. I thought having Nakata, the director of the Ringu movies, on board would make this a good movie, but he's apparently had his ability to create suspense, inherent in all Asian directors, sucked out of him. He's Hollywood all the way now. And this movie isn't suspenseful at all. The Girl, a notorious loud noise jumper, remained planted in her seat like the Rock of Gibraltar: A very bad indicator for an allegedly "scary" movie. It also doesn't make any sense; mind you, Ringu 2 didn't make any sense either, but at least it had the sense to get so far off the boat that it didn't matter. The Ring 2 is just not good. Don't see it. You'll thank me later. And speaking of later...

Later this summer, a movie called Dark Water is coming out. It too, like The Rings 1 and 2, is an American remake of a Nakata/Suzuki collaboration. When that comes out, do yourself a favor: Track down Ringu, Ringu 2, and Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara (the Japanese title for Dark Water), and watch them instead. Then you'll really see what happens when you put these two Japanese Masters of Horror together. They suck ass on this side of the Pacific; they're much better on their home turf.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Britain Finally Beats U.S. At Something

Tonight was the premiere of The Office, the new docucomedy featuring lovable moron Steve Carell. I'm sure people watched this and just thought it was funnier than shit (or not, depending on your taste in comedy). What most people don't realize is that this show is actually a remake of a BBC show called The Office. (For my feelings on remakes, see My Last Five Movies.) Now, this has been done before (usually quite unsuccessfully), but usually the UK and US shows are so different, that it's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison. The neat thing here is that the pilot for the US Office is exactly the same as the UK Office. They took the script, changed the jokes, made the actors Americans, but otherwise, exactly the same. Unfortunately, this was a dreadful mistake, because it proves to me the UK version is better.

For those of you who haven't seen the original, go do so right now. (Better yet, just buy it now.) Ricky Gervais, who created the show, and also plays David Brent, has created a character so obliviously stupid, that I am literally embarrassed for him every time he comes on screen. (The Girl quite often covers her face and says "Oh my God" every time he does something stupid.) It's such a convincing portrayal that I actually have no problem believing that David Brent is a real person. And that's the brilliance of the show: It could be an actual documentary. There isn't anything that seems fake. Sure, some of the characters (Gareth and David) are really ridiculous, but they're played right at the edge of going into camp. You can look at them, and say, "Wow, that's just like that asshole [insert name] that I work with." It works beautifully on this show, but, unfortunately, it's why the American version fails.

I'll come right out and say that Steve Carell is a funny guy. Anyone who saw his bit in Bruce Almighty can attest to that. But, being a Daily Show alum, he's from the "Saying Ridiculous Things With A Straight Face" School of Comedy (kinda like how Mike Myers is from the "Beat A Joke To Death Like On Saturday Night Live" School of Comedy). The fact that I can compare his performance in the US pilot scene for scene to Gervais' in the UK pilot shows me that he's the wrong guy for this role. I'm sure he watched the UK version and said, "Oh, he's playing it straight, and then throwing in these little wacky bits. I can do that. Did it on The Daily Show for years." But that's not what Gervais is doing. He's not playing anything: He is David Brent. I'm sure he's not a mongoloid retard like Brent in real life, so he's obviously channeling this oddball character from somewhere. But Carell isn't channeling anything. He's imitating. And anyone who's seen a zombie movie made after 1978 knows you can imitate all you want, but it doesn't make you Dawn of the Dead. He's trying too hard. It's like he's trying to top on Gervais. But if you're going to top on one of the most brilliantly stupid characters ever portrayed on TV, you better bring some major shit to the table. And he doesn't. It's a nice try, but it's an impossible to be better. (I'll also note that Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight, is not even close to being half the asshole that Mackenzie Crook, as Gareth, was in the original. That's tragic, because Gareth's the second best character.)

So, next Tuesday, I'll watch again, because, well, the show is funny. (Actually, I'll tape it, because it's on at the same time as House, M.D., a show The Girl and I and everyone else in America watches at that time.) Maybe once they get to their own original material it will get better. But if they continue to just do scene-for-scene remakes of the originals, I'll be tuning out. I've seen Hitchcock's Psycho; no reason for me to see Van Sant's. Same deal here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rockin' & Weezin'

Depending on how "cutting edge" your local "rock" station is, you may or may not have heard the first single, "Beverly Hills", off of Weezer's new record, Make Believe. Having heard it for the first time today, two things surprised me: 1) For a first single, it really sucks, and 2) It sounds exactly like "Undone (The Sweater Song)". It also brings up something that I've been kicking around in my head for quite some time: When did Weezer become a Weezer Tribute Band?

I think it happened with the release of Weezer, Part Deux: The Green Album. Their first album, Weezer, was just great, and, buoyed by some excellent Spike Jonez videos, everyone loved it. Their second record, Pinkerton, for no particular reason, was reviled by everyone, even though it was just as good as Weezer. (Sure, they changed their sound a little, but it wasn't as big of a difference as between, say, Metallica's ...And Justice For All and The Black Album). So, they took five years off, and realized the old ways are the best ways, and remade Weezer as Weezer 2. And suddenly, Weezer is the best band in the world. Rock critics couldn't write enough about how Rivers Cuomo was the world's greatest rock-angst songwriter (even though he was just taking '50s and '60s pop melodies and turning the amps up, much like Pearl Jam did with "Last Kiss"). Revitalized by this burst of good will, they fly back to the studio and crank out Maladroit, an album aptly described by its title. Even though there are some good songs on the record, most of it sounds like Weezer going, "Look at us! We are rocking harder than Weezer ever did!!" Uh, guys, that's great if you're a tribute band called Buddy Holly, but you are Weezer. You already rock. Are you trying to be Van Halen or Boston or some other shitty arena rock band? If so, you need to knock it the fuck off and get back to doing what you do best: making catchy pop tunes. Did Linkin Park try to top on Hybrid Theory? No, they just released the same record and renamed it Meteora. Stop getting caught up in the "Greatest Rock Band" thing and trying to take it to the next rock level. You're going to end up like Styx, and end up kicking Rivers out for fagging out your band. You guys are too good to let that happen. Please, let Make Believe be Weezer Part Trois: Greatest Album Ever. All will be forgiven.

P.S. All of this venting may be for naught, as their new record may turn out to be the greatest record ever. But I won't know 'til it comes out. I may be eating crow here shortly, but, if the new single is any indication, I don't think so.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Some Kind Of Good Movie

Usually, when you have a documentary about a musical group, they fall into two categories: the concert movie (like The Last Waltz or Woodstock) or the life of the band (like This Is Spinal Tap). Some Kind Of Monster, a documentary on Metallica, falls into the second category. Actually, it's kinda scary how similar this movie is to This Is Spinal Tap. It's almost as though Metallica has co-opted Spinal Tap's comedically tragic life as their own. (Fans of the movie will remember that Spinal Tap also released a Black Album.)

The film is very much in the style of the Behind The Music TV show. But, unlike that show, it doesn't focus on all the adversity the band has had to face to become the smash hit they are today. Randy Rhodes doesn't die; Nikki Sixx doesn't O.D.; Steve Perry isn't kicked out of the band. Monster (and here we go back to the Spinal Tap thing once again) is basically just two years in the life of Metallica. Without resorting to melodramatic elements (although James does go to rehab, and Jason quits the band), it tells the story of how one of the best bands in the world puts together St. Anger. How does a band that's been together for 20 years, and has no members that are on good terms, get motivated to go into the studio and put together a groundbreaking record that actually allows all of the members to contribute (James and Lars have always been the masterminds) and marks a return to their earlier sound? Simple: Get a therapist.

Yes, Metallica is so fucked up that they actually bring in a group therapist to hash out 20 plus years of differences. The therapy sessions are the best part of the movie, because of all of the years of pent-up frustration coming out in the open. It makes James and Lars look like two of the biggest egomaniacs of all time. It also contains one of the best parts of the movie: A cameo appearance by former Metallica member Dave Mustaine. Here's a man that, 22 years after being kicked out of the band, is still haunted by the fact that he was once in what became one of the most successful bands ever.

The other relevatory part of the movie is the production of the record. In the past, everyone came to the studio, James and Lars bringing the songs with them, and telling everyone else what to play. This time out, they come to the studio with nothing. They get in there and just jam for hours, and everyone contributes. It's kinda cool that these guys getting together and jamming is eventually morphed into St. Anger (an album I didn't really care for, but it's a neat process).

There is one thought that never occurred to me before seeing this movie: I feel bad for Kirk Hammett. Here's a guy who knows he's in the best rock band in the world, and probably thanks Jesus every day for getting the chance to be in the band. He's a great guitarist, and he just wants to make a fucking rock record. But it's hard to get anything done when your bandmates are two warring rock divas, constantly at each others' throats. He's the most normal guy in the band (even though he collects all kinds of weird shit, but he's a fellow movie poster collector, so I'll let that pass), and it's rather heartbreaking that this guy can't do what he loves until the two knuckleheads he works with get right with each other. Ahh, the Life of a Rock Star.

A great movie. Who knew that watching taped therapy sessions would be so fascinating?

Friday, March 18, 2005

"Donde Esta Me Burrito?"

Ha Ha, funny Mexican. Actually, this post has nothing to do with burritos or Mexicans at all. It does have to do with the impending spring season. With spring comes baseball. And with baseball comes all of its inferior siblings, such as softball, and, oh yes, wiffleball.

The Stateline probably has many wiffleball leagues, but only one is crazy enough to change the name of the sport. This, of course, would be the loveable lunatics of WifferBall, Rockford's only non-completely fat guy wiffleball league. As the baseball season is getting under way, I expect the Boys of Wiffer will be getting under way, too.

"But isn't 'wiffle'ball just a step above Tee Ball?" Well, of course it is. But look at these guys' fucking stats! Holy Balls, they're good! My favorite of all the Wiffers is Donut, not because I think he's a good player, but because he's got a funny name. (Ha ha. Donut.) I also enjoy these guys because they allow me to contribute to their site without actually having to attend any games. (Not that I would, regardless; they are usually overrun with the sycophants Mark Strehl brings with him.) A-OK in my book! So, do yourself a favor, and peep some hard wifflebat hittin' niggas here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cases Of The Century

Pop quiz, hotshot: Which of the two men above just got sentenced to death? The fella on the right actually appears more busted up to be going free than the Hell-bound man on the left. Some thoughts on yesterday's verdicts:

While I was at the bar yesterday, awaiting the start of the next NTN Trivia session, they announced that Scott Peterson had received a death sentence for the murder of his wife and fetus. What surprised me about this was not the fact he got Death, because I think that was a foregone conclusion, but the weird outpouring of emotion of people not even connected to the case. Whatever news channel I was watching was reporting from the courthouse, and the woman reporting on the proceedings was getting rather frothy at the mouth just talking about it. Others were reaching states of apoplexy. Settle down, people. Unless you're a member of Laci's family, there's really no need for you to be getting this upset. Sure, it's terrible what happened to Laci and Fetus, and Scott is a world-class prick, but he's getting what's coming to him, even if he was convicted on a case based solely on circumstantial evidence and that his actual death will be put off for years by the appellate process. The person I feel sorry for is Amber Frey, whose 15 minutes of fame, after a quick tour through the talk show circuit to discuss this verdict, will be up. Poor Amber; that's what she gets for dating a murderer.

And speaking of cases based on circumstantial evidence, the jury couldn't pin the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley-Blake on Baretta. Despite the fact that, other than the victim, he was the only person at the crime scene, the gun was right there, and he had more than enough motive to do the deed, the jury took a pass. This probably worked out for the best for all parties involved, however. If anything I've heard about Bonny is true, she probably got what was coming to her. To misquote Chris Rock for my own personal use: I don't condone what Robert Blake did, but I understand.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Dawn of the Poll

As I slowly, slowly learn how to write HTML, I'll try to make some appearance changes on the blog. The easiest thing to do to effect change is to just add something that's already been coded. Hence, The Poll. And, of course, in an attempt to offend everyone, the inaugural question is: If given no choice, would you punch a baby, or kick a baby? Vote away! (I should mention that this poll is for entertainment purposes only, and no children were harmed during the polling. Also, any similarities to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

No Surprises Here

Now the college basketball season is officially over and the brackets are out, and, surprise, surprise, Marquette's name is not in there. They did, however, make it into the NIT. But, as I've stated earlier, this will be the last time they will be in any kind of tournament ever again.

As I've also stated before, MU heads to the Big East next year, joining (and taking with them) a lot of really fucking good basketball teams. (The Big East has six teams in the tourney this year, plus Louisville and Cincinnati, who will be members next year.) And I don't see us ever being able to compete at that level. "Well, doesn't basketball go in cycles, where a team is good one year and not the next year?" Well, yes, it does, but here's the thing: Most of the teams in the Big East (and I'll include Louisville and Cincy in this) are known as good basketball schools. They're able to recruit a lot of the best high school talent, because incoming players know these are good programs that are going to do well. Marquette, historically, has been a decent team, but they've always played in a weak conference. Of course you can get players on your team if they think they have a chance to go to the tourney every year. But, in the Big East, prospective players looking at Marquette are going to look at their schedule and say, "Nigga, you crazy you think I wanna play them teams! Shit, I'll just play for one of them teams." Hence, the talent that Marquette could have possibly recruited dries up real fast. Even state talent might head somewhere else in the state, because they have a better chance to compete.

Speaking of which, why didn't Marquette join the Horizon League, which contains mostly Midwestern teams, and even some state teams (UWM and UWGB)? It even contains another one of our bitter Catholic rivals (Loyola). But then, why would we want to join a league in which we could regularly kick the shit out of state schools' bitch asses? I can't help notice that UWM is in the tourney. Why would we want that? We'll just join the State of Pennsylvania League instead. (Pennsylvania is actually right next to Wisconsin, in case you might be confused on your geography.) In fact, now that I've got to talking about it, I really like our chances in the Big East. I can't wait for Western Michigan to kick our asses out of the NIT, so we can get down to some real competition. Next year: Final Four, Baby!!

"Bitch, Be Cool!"

I quote Sam Jackson's line from Pulp Fiction because 1) Pulp Fiction was one of the last good movies that John Travolta has been in, and 2) it contains the title of Travolta's new movie, which I recently saw. But, before I express my opinion on the film (and it will all come together; trust me), let me discuss the slippery slope that has become adapting Elmore Leonard's work to the screen.

Next to Stephen King, Elmore Leornard is probably the most adapted author in the world. (And why wouldn't he be; man is nearly 80 and still turns out a book a year.) The problem with Leonard adaptations used to be that no one understood Leonard's writing. You watch movies adapted from Leonard, like 52 Pick-Up or Stick, and you see a grimy movie with scummy characters that do mean and violent things. And that's exactly how Leonard writes them: He's a hardboiled crime-noir writer. But what's in the books that the movies are missing is Leonard's tongue-in-cheek attitude. He knows no one acts or talks like that in real life, and that's part of his brilliance (other than his gift for dialogue). He's writing the same stories that Jim Thompson wrote in the 50s, but he knows it's all bullshit. He's writing all this hardboiled pulp fiction, and laughing the whole time. And that's the thing that Hollywood screenwriters never seemed to understand about Leonard.

And then came Get Shorty.

For some reason, someone in Hollywood actually sat down and read Leonard's book. Not just the words, but actually read the subtext: that it's all a big joke. "Hey, wait a minute, this shit is actually funny!" And so, Get Shorty comes to the screen and completely slam dunks Leonard's style. Everyone suddenly takes notice that Leonard's work actually has some humor in it, and begins to adapt it with that in mind. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, some confusion ensues. Adaptors begin to think that Leonard's work is to crime fiction as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is to sci-fi: It's actually a comedy. It gets so bad that Dave Barry writes Big Trouble, a Leonard-esque crime novel without the crime (or the jokes, for that matter), and it, in turn, gets adapted into a movie. For some reason, this now seems to be the Rosetta Stone for interpreting Leonard's work. Which brings us back to Be Cool.

Whereas Get Shorty was a perfect balance between seriousness and comedy, its sequel, Be Cool, is allll about the jokes. There are characters in this movie that exist solely to be funny. (These characters are also in the book, but they don't come off as Laurel-and-Hardyish in the book.) Vince Vaughn, playing a "wigger" music manager, is allowed to just do whatever the fuck he wants for hours at a time. The Rock, playing a gay bodyguard, is made to do some incredibly embarrassing things. There are others, but I'll kill myself listing them off. It's kinda hard to come of as hardboiled when you're trying to win a Razzie.

And then there's the screenplay, which has made an incredibly wrongheaded change in Leonard's story. In Leonard's Be Cool, the main female character is Linda Moon, Christina Milian's character in the movie. Uma Thurman's character, Edie Athens, simply serves as a way for Chili to get into the music business. In the movie Be Cool, the roles are reversed, with Edie as the main female and Linda as Chili's reason for getting into the music biz. Works movie-wise, because Uma is a bigger star than Christina, but it kills the story. The book is about Linda Moon. Linda is the reason Chili wants to get in the biz, and he uses Edie, who owns a record label, to accomplish this. Linda could essentially be written out of the movie with no effect on the story. She's onscreen for about 10 minutes; needless to say, she's not really the focus of the story. But then, neither is Edie or Chili. That honor goes to Raji, Vince Vaughn's character, who, at one point in the movie, I believe, actually began to eat the scenery. Yes, it really is that bad.

After all that slamming I've laid upon the movie, I will say there are some funny bits in the movie. (One of the best is an in-joke that involves how many times you can say "fuck" in a PG-13 movie.) If you're going in blind, you might enjoy it, but I doubt it, because it's really just a terrible movie. If you're a Leonard fan and have read the book, you'll hate it, because, once again, Hollywood wanted to make another Get Shorty, and made another Big Trouble instead.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Yes, I Can Hear You Now

Last month, I posted on the impending merger of Baby Bell SBC with its former parent, AT&T. I claimed that this would create a megacompany with its hands in all aspects of telephony. Well, I stand corrected: There are now two companies that can make this claim.

Mid-February, Baby Bell Verizon agreed to buy the once-mighty WorldCom, the remnants of which are now known as MCI. (Another Baby Bell, Qwest, also offered to buy MCI, but they're debt-ridden, and would have to cut around 15,000 jobs to make the merger. In the business, this is what they call "a bad fit".) This merger creates one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. If taken in conjunction with the SBC/AT&T merger, we now have two companies that: are the market leaders in residential phone service; are the market leaders in long-distance service; are the market leaders in cell phone service; are the market leaders in broadband internet service; have huge data networks; and have cemented a foothold in the burgeoning VoIP market. This, my friends, is what is known as a duopoly. But, that's not the "Big Deal" of this merger; the "Big Deal" is that the 20 year division between residential and long-distance service has been erased.

Residential phone service is provided through localized networks of phone lines. The service in these networks is restricted to certain regions (the reason for area codes). This network is fine if you want to call someone in the same area, but the restricted nature of these lines don't allow for calls across the country. This is where long-distance lines come in. They are able to carry calls (or data, for that matter) over a "long distance", unlike the local phone lines. In the Ma Bell days, AT&T controlled all phone lines, including the long-distance lines. After the breakup, the Baby Bells had the residential lines, and AT&T retained its long-distance lines. Until the 90s, AT&T was pretty much the only game in town if you wanted long-distance service. Needless to say, they built a fairly large customer base. (They are still the largest long-distance company.) Then, companies like MCI and Sprint began to lay their own long-distance lines, and began to eat away at AT&T's customer base. But this is all just a history lesson. The real point is that, since 1984, residential and long-distance service have been two separate businesses. Oh sure, you could get long-distance service from your residential provider, and vice versa, but what each business is actually doing is leasing the use of the others' lines, and then reselling the service to their customers. (Last year, SBC successfully petitioned the FCC to deregulate the fees associated with reselling their residential service; AT&T stopped offering this service shortly after.) But now, that is all over. When SBC and Verizon acquire the assets of AT&T and MCI, they will own the long-distance lines they once used to rent. It's really a deal you'd be insane not to make: Not only do you effectively kill your residential competition, you now get access to long-distance service for free, and you inherit the total customer base for both. Less competition, less money going out the door, more customers: Why has it taken 20 years for this to happen? Have these companies just now realized the potential of what they can accomplish? I don't think so...

Verizon has gotten well under way with plans to entirely replace its existing phone lines, which are made from copper wire and are very old, with fiber optic cable. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, because there's already a lot of fiber optic cable involved in telephony. But these only run between switching stations or serve as backbones for high-traffic metropolitan networks. The phone line that goes from the switch to the jack in your wall is copper wire. Verizon wants it to be a fiber optic cable. Copper wire is an extremely poor way to transfer data, which is why you can basically only get phone service from your phone line. (You can get broadband internet from it, too, but it's relatively slower than what a cable would provide.) Fiber optic cable can handle much more data at a faster rate. It's actually quite similar to the "cable" lines run by cable TV companies. Oh, speaking of cable TV...

Huge cable TV companies, like Comcast and Cox Communications, also offer phone service. They have cables that are able to handle both telephonic and television transmissions on the same line. The problem is at the end, i.e. your home. Because they don't own any actual phone lines, they have to lease the lines from one of the Baby Bells. They can get the calls from place to place without a phone company's assistance, but they can't actually put them into your home without it. When Verizon's plans come to fruition, they will have done what the cable companies cannot, which is run the cable/phone line right to the jack in your wall.

So, what do these mergers do in the larger scheme of things? Here's how I see things shaking out: SBC and Verizon will begin to offer long-distance service at discounted rates, because they no longer have to pay rent on the lines, and can make up for any price cuts with the added volume. Their residential and cell phone service will remain unchanged, unless SBC and Verizon decide to buy out their shared cell phone businesses from BellSouth and Vodaphone, respectively, then we'll see some price slashing. It makes for lots of competition in the phone biz, but Verizon will take it a step farther. Once they get fiber optic cable into some larger cities (it's only in test markets now), they'll begin to offer digital cable. They'll offer hyper-fast DSL connections (we're talking in the GB range, which is unprecedented in this country). And they may even phase out traditional phone service for VoIP, because, if all of your phone lines are broadband, why wouldn't you?

When I posted on the SBC/AT&T merger, I made it sound like the end of the world. Now that this other merger has happened, I've flip-flopped. I think this will be good for the phone business. One megacompany holding all the cards is a bad thing; two is a good thing. It makes for a lot of bloody price wars that are good for the consumer. Let's just hope the merger fever stops here. Should one (and pray this never happens) buy the other, we're all fucked. Be prepared to take out a second mortgage to pay your phone bill.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

New Conference = Ouch

Now that my beloved Marquette Warri...uh, Golden Eagles have been knocked out of the C-USA tourney by the Texas Christian Horned Toads, and their season is essentially over (an NIT bid may be forthcoming, but I'm not holding my breath), let's start looking towards next year.

Next year, Marquette will be changing conferences. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a team of Marquette's caliber, if they were moving to, say, the Patriot League or the Mid-Continent Conference. But they have voluntarily chosen to commit basketball hara-kiri and move to the Big East, one of the, if not the, toughest basketball leagues in the NCAA. There, they will join teams such as Syracuse, Pitt, UConn, Boston College, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Providence, and dreaded Catholic rival Notre Dame. If this means nothing to non-NCAA fans, let me lay it out for you: There are currently five ranked teams in this conference, more than any other; teams in this conference have won the NCAA Championship three out of the last six years, including the last two; all but two of the teams listed above have been to the Final Four at least once in the past 20 years, and four of them have won the whole thing. Pretty scary shit. And, as if this wasn't bad enough, Marquette has decided to bring two of the best teams in the nation along with them from Conference USA: Cincinnati and Louisville. (DePaul and S. Florida are also going, but they're worse than Marquette.) So, what you have is a decent team in a mediocre conference becoming a shitty team in the best conference. It's slightly better than moving to the ACC, but it's still pretty bad.

Not to shit on what the Men's team is going to face, but I feel sorriest for the Women's team. Being in the Big East, they'll have plenty of conference games against the UConn Lady Huskies, the most destructive force in Women's basketball. (They've gone 162-15 in the past five years, during which they've won the last three championships.) But don't get me wrong; the Men are fucked, too. It's going to be a hard bunch of years for Marquette basketball. It's too bad we don't have a football team; we might actually win a game in that Big East.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Man Turns Gay In Front Of Friends' Eyes

No real point to this post, other than making good on a threat to a friend of mine that I would publish pictures (and unflattering pictures, at that) of a girl he refused to talk to. Outgoing, eligible male; attractive, apparently unattached female. Made sense to everyone but him. Oh well.

And just for clarification purposes, here's a picture of that friend with two other gentlemen, having a good time:

He is sooo not gay.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

My Last Five Movies

In an earlier post, I said I'd let you know if I saw any movies that weren't complete shit. Well, as of yet, nothing. So, I'll just tell you about the last five movies I've seen.

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004)
Not really of much as a great movie as it is an insane technical achievement. This is probably the most technologically advanced independent movie of all time. The entire movie (sound, effects, production) was done in-house. With the exception of some props like ladders, doorways, etc, the entire movie was shot in front of a greenscreen, and all of the backgrounds were added in later. Something that looks like an office in the movie may actually just be a desk and a doorway, with all the walls and decorations added later. It's actually a really fucking cool way to make a movie. But enough of me beating off to the technical aspects of the movie: Is it any good? Well, it's enjoyable, and some of the robots are neat, but it's really nothing special. Ya know what actually ruined it for me? The fact that it was in color. If you're going to make a movie with an obvious retro look like this one, why not make it in black and white (the movie was actually shot in color, bleached to black and white, and then recolored)? It would have worked much better than the faded sepia tones it sports now. Other than that, it's pretty watchable.

SAW (2004)
What isn't watchable is this terrible movie. What was shown to be some sort of "New Wave of Horror" actually turns out to be an "Old Wave of Toilet Water". The idea of a serial killer who makes his victims kill themselves is a nice twist, but the fun stops there. I'm sure maybe this is a good movie, but there were so many annoying little things that maybe I got distracted from all the goodness. Why is Cary Elwes attempting an American accent? And what's up with him acting like one of the "Queer Eyes" whenever he talks on the phone (and especially at the end)? And what's up with Danny Glover grunting like a pig whenever he moves? And what was up with that embarrassing fast-motion chase scene? And what's up with this movie being so stupid? Beats the shit out of me, on all counts.

I "Heart" Huckabees (2004)
David O. Russell is a strange man. If you look at his filmography, he has all of these weird little movies about weird little things. His last film, Three Kings, is the most normal of the bunch, but compared to other movies of that type, it's really out there. So, he follows up a "normal" movie with what I will describe as one of the goofiest fucking things I have ever seen. To describe it, imagine a Charlie Kaufman movie without all the mindfucking. It's actually very similar in tone to Flirting With Disaster, another Russell movie, but with no real plot to speak of. It's basically Jason Schwartzman trying to figure out the Meaning of Life, with the aid of Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, all while trying to keep Jude Law from destroying a beloved marsh by constructing a Walmart-esque Huckabees on it. I really can't describe it any more than that, as it's almost indescribable (the Kaufman element I spoke of; seriously, try to describe the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). If there was an award show for acting like you'd just escaped from an asylum, this movie would win everything.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Remakes come in two forms: remakes of old movies that someone thinks they have a fresh take on (I don't see what kind of fresh take you can have on Revenge of the Nerds, but, sure as shit, it's coming), and remakes of foreign pictures that Americans wouldn't see otherwise (every movie to come out of East Asia in the last five years is being remade). I hate remakes. When you remake a movie, you don't want to pull a Van Sant and remake it frame for frame. So, you have to change something. And, invariably, the thing that gets changed is what made it good in the first place. Take this movie, for example. John Carpenter made this as an obvious homage to Howard Hawks' Rio Lobo and Rio Bravo (which were essentially the same movie). There's stuff in this movie that he steals directly from other Hawks movies. Plus, his movie was a low budget indie film with a no-name cast. And that's why his film works: it's a well-written, gritty movie with people who look like they may actually be going through this in real life. The remake is a loud, dumb action movie with a ridiculous plot, with a lot of big-name actors in some shit that would never happen in real life. Try this: when a movie comes out, go on IMDB and look up that movie's title. If your search results yield an older movie with that title, do yourself a favor and go see the original. I couldn't see how they could top on the original Dawn of the Dead, and, whadaya know, they didn't. They didn't do it with Precinct, either. Good flick, but not as good as...

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
I hate to come off sounding like a Tarantino wannabe, but I love Japanese exploitation flicks. Unlike American exploitation flicks, which just make me feel dirty, Japanese exploitation actually has a great degree of artistic merit to it. Oh sure, it's full of the same sort of debauchery as American exploitation, but it's so goddamned pretty that I want to cry. These movies are the bottom rung of the filmmaking ladder, but the cinematography and musical scores are better than what goes into mainstream American films.
The 70's were kind of a Golden Age for Japanese exploitation, as many Japanese studios were cranking out some grade-A material. The Female Prisoner series was one of the better entries in the field. It told the story of Scorpion, one of the meanest bitches to ever occupy a jailcell. She gets raped, kills, betrays, and escapes prison with the grace of Audrey Hepburn, all without saying a word. And that stare; she'd make anyone think twice attempting to touch her with a 50 foot pole. Scorpion was played by Meiko Kaji, who would go on to play Lady Snowblood. I wish we had actresses like this today; men would be completely scared of women. Outstanding flick, if not the Best Broads-Behind-Bars Movie Ever.

To Ad, Or Not To Ad

I recently toyed with the idea of putting ads on the site. But one simple fact (other than becoming a sellout whore) stopped me.

This blog is hosted by Blogger, the largest blog publisher. They provide this service free of charge. Blogger, as you may or may not know, is run by Google, the search engine folks. They provide search service also free of charge. If the purpose of running a business is to make money, and a company provides most of its services for free, how does Google make any money (other than minting stock at $188/share)? Well, they sell ad space.

Google offers a program called AdSense, in which businesses can buy ad space that Google will strategically place on a participating website. The neat thing about the technology behind this is that Google actually caters the ads they provide to the content of any particular webpage. If this blog had Google ads, and you were reading the post on the Nokia 7280 mobile phone, for example, the ads provided by Google might direct you to Nokia's website, or to an online retailer who sells the phone. But, this isn't even the best thing about this service, which Google, once again, provides free of charge.

Because this is an insanely lucrative business for Google (which made $1.5 billion last year), they actually give back to their consumers. When someone clicks on an ad on your site, the advertiser pays Google for referring the business, and Google turns around and pays you for supplying the leads. It's really a pretty sweet fucking deal, one that I'd be almost crazy to pass up. I was ready to sign up. But then, I had a rather elementary thought: Who the fuck ever clicks on those ads?

In the 10 years that I've been surfing the Web, I've clicked on maybe a dozen ads (I should mention these numbers are somewhat skewed: In the years before Internet Explorer, and for a few after, there were no ads on websites. It is a phenomena that has literally popped up in the last few years). Everyone that I know that reads this blog is nearly as jaded as I am, and I'm sure that they don't click ads either. I'm sure there are people who click ads, because Google earns shitloads of money from just that (so much so that they turn around and give it right back). But that's from traffic on sites with a lot of hits. I have a couple dozen hits. And how many of those people are going to look at ads? Not me. Just the process of signing up isn't worth the trouble of the $.14 return I'd probably get. Truth is, I will probably find more money in payphone coin returns or on the ground than I would make from selling out and having ads on my site. So, hence, no ads on my site. Although, based on this one post, it would be funny to see an "Ad by Gooooogle" that referred you back to Google. Gotta love fuckin' with The Man.