Friday, September 30, 2005

Amazing Race: Family Edition

Friday, September 30, 2005 0
Last night Sandy and I watched the first episode of The Amazing Race: Family Edition. This is the 8th season and she's been watching from the beginning, I think I started with Season 3. This season the format is being messed with a little bit as there are families of four rather than simple teams of two. So, we do have a couple of traditional families with a mother father and two young kids, but also a team of four siblings, a dad and his three sons in law, and other familes like that.

They go through the introductions and we then see a black family. There is usually the one token black team on the show (because we can't possibly have an all ethnic show and one token white team), but the family is introduced as the Black Family. Sandy and I pause and look at each other as it starts to dawn on me that the family name is Black. We hope. It better be. Otherwise the show just gave up on hiding its bias. It's just weird to see the family constantly described as the Black family because we keep hearing the "black" family.

The teams are driving around Manhatten and then have to drive to Washington's Crossing over the river then drive to Philly.

I know Phil said that all airfare is paid for, but is it possible that this race isn't leaving the country? Usually the first stage is just to get to an airport and get out of America, but this already has the feeling of a driving tour across the country. I'm not sure I like that, either. I want to see the blond girl eaten by a lion and unless she dropped off at a zoo I don't see that happening.

It's still a good show and worth watching, but I'm not so excited about the format change for this season. I'm already looking past this season to next one. But the other half of the problem is that there are no teams standing out that we like. The black...excuse me, Black family is one, but they were eliminated and the parents didn't show much leadership though the family is cute and we think they are probably good parents.

Oh well, there is always next week which we'll watch the week after.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Invasion 1.5

Thursday, September 29, 2005 0
Well, I watched half of the second episode of Invasion and I have to be honest: I just don't care what happens. I don't care about the characters at all and worse, I don't care about the hook. Not that I'm looking for a War of the Worlds style invasion here, because I'm not, but the mystery of what is really going on just does not compel me to watch the show. It makes me wish that I was caught up on Alias so I could watch the new season (as it stands I've only seen the first two seasons).

No matter. There are other, better shows to watch.

Models Invade Chris Inside the Studio

I was able to catch up on some television last night.

First I watched the pilot episode of Invasion. This is the show which starts with a hurricane hitting a Florida town and there are some lights over the water and after the hurricane is over things start getting weird. The blond doctor goes missing during the hurricane and is found naked over by the water (lake, swamp, river? I'm calling it a lake). The camera focuses slowly on her new husband the sheriff with some ominous angles and slow motion and music, so he must be the bad guy. Then a priest is found the same as the woman, and then the conspiracy kook is attacked by an "alligator" though he thinks there are space aliens. I have this sneaking suspicion that this show isn't going to be able to hold my interest. In an episode where I would have thought the tension and wonder and mysteries would be held really tightly before any reveal it seems we are finding out quite a bit. So the sheriff is bad, and there might be this little army building with the priest and the doctor. Her daughter thinks she smells different. There are glowing lake creatures which may be aliens or may just be lake creatures.

So?

Yesterday's episode better be better.

Then I watched the pilot of Everybody Hates Chris. This is a half hour comedy narrated by Chris Rock and is (supposedly) about his childhood. The half hour (or twenty minutes by DVR) goes by fairly quickly and it is a decently funny show. I smiled more than laughed out loud, but that is to be expected. The kid who plays Chris, Tyler James Williams, does a very good job. He throws off lines like Rock does and the delivery is remarkable. But I just enjoy Chris Rock's narration more than anything else. I don't know if this show will work after five episodes but I'm willing to give it a shot.

Finally I watched America's Next Top Model with Sandy. That's one of the shows we always watch together. Fairly entertaining. This season, I'm not so sure about. The models are either kind of obnoxious and annoying, or not so pretty and Sandy and I already have an idea of the final five: Kim, Lisa, Nicole, and right now that's all we have. The other two may be surprises. The best part of the show, though, was watching the pageant queen Cassandra get her hair cut off and go blond. The hair still wasn't as short as Tyra wanted because it was supposed to be Mia Farrow from Rosemary's Baby short!!

Oh, and I also watched 5/6th of Inside the Actor's Studio with Jodie Foster. I got really into that show for a while and then got tired of it because it was all the same thing and I didn't care about some of the actors and what they had to say. But when somedbody who interests me, like Jodie Foster, comes along, then I will be right there watching. But why is Elton John going to be on the show next month?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Earl 2

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 0
The second episode of My Name is Earl was on last night. Jason Lee may still be a golden god, but the show kind of isn't. It's decent enough and it is only 20 minutes of television on the DVR but it isn't as funny as I thought it could be with Lee in the lead. I know it doesn't fit the character of Earl, but those writers need to let Lee just unload with a monologue. It would be golden.

In other news, I figured out how I can watch Commander in Chief which airs at the same time as Earl and The Amazing Race. Bravo is showing reruns on saturday night (or is it sunday? Either way I set the recording), so I'll be able to keep up with the show until I decide whether or not to drop Earl. My DVR can get two programs at one time, but not three. The website for Chief is interesting, it's like one of those political blogs. I hope this show works. It's done by the guy who did The Contender, so it should.

I should be able to see the first episode of Race sometime this week. Last night was a little busy. Lost will have to wait until after we get back from Disney. Sandy is catching up on Season 1, so I'll hold off until we can watch it together.


I also recorded the two part Scorsese doc on Bob Dylan: No Direction Home. All reports tells me this documentary is a great one. I look forward to having the time to watch it. I'll have a lot of tv to catch up on when I get back on the 11th.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Singles

Monday, September 26, 2005 0
Is it possible? A Cameron Crowe movie that I don't like? There was just no point and nothing happened and the end of the movie could have been the beginning. Set in the early 90's in Seattle there is a group of 20 and 30 something single men and women living their lives and dealing with relationships and bouncing between relationships and it just doesn't amount to much.

I can't relate to the characters and they are not very interesting to watch. It isn't that they aren't likeable, there just isn't a reason to care.

But I like Cameron Crowe. I like his movies. I loved Almost Famous. And yet...Singles. I was waiting patiently for it to end.

From what I understand, Crowe wrote and shot this before Nirvana become huge and before the "grunge" movement really took off. If that is the case than this movie can hardly be accused of poorly ripping off Nirvana and grunge when this film predates much of that and grunge was in its infancy.

Besides that triva and Paul Westerberg singing "Dylexic Heart", I just...don't...care.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Longest Yard

Saturday, September 24, 2005 0

Often billed as a football comedy, I'm not sure The Longest Yard really is one. Starring a young Burt Reynolds, The Longest Yard is, simply, a good movie. Reynolds is Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a former NFL star quarterback who has been out of the game for eight years. He's not a very good man. He is selfish, treats a woman poorly (who is also treating him poorly when we meet her), drives drunk, wrecks her car, assaults a police officer, and doesn't really take anything seriously. Crewe is sentenced to prison where the warden (Eddie Albert) wants Crewe to help coach his semi-pro football team and help with the championship.

To make a long story short Crewe declines, gets put on a nasty work detail and in the end has to put together a football team made up of inmates to give the warden's team a proper warm-up game before their season starts. Crewe has ideas on what exactly he should be doing and how to best protect himself and proceeds to put together a team of the nastiest, toughest inmates in the prison. The joke will be on the warden because some of the guards are on the warden's team and the inmates are out to hurt them.

There are moments of humor as Crewe cracks wise as often as he can and there is some situational comedy with the football, but this is not a terribly funny movie. It's just a well told, well acted story. The backstory of Crewe having shaved points off of a football game comes into play several times in the movie and everyone here does an excellent job making the characters real and raw, and the action believable yet entertaining. It is easy to see why Hollywood wanted to remake this movie, but that is another topic best left for another time.

Despite being a person who loves to watch movies, my experience with Burt Reynolds is rather limited. I loved his performance in Boogie Nights, but otherwise I only know him from The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit. This is unfortunate because Reynolds certainly can be a good actor and he is quite good here in The Longest Yard. Fans of movies and football movies need to see this one. It is well worth the two hours and it holds up quite well.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Becoming an Ironman

Friday, September 23, 2005 1
"Becoming an Ironman" is a collection of personal stories of the first experience of many athletes attempting their first Ironman Triathlon. An Ironman Triathlon is a race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon (26.2 miles). Some runners may consider the marathon to be the ultimate endurance event and with good reason, the marathon is not to be taken lightly, but Ironman only lets you run a marathon after one has traveled 114.4 miles. Since "Ironman" is actually a trademark of the World Triathlon Corporation, the "Ironman" name can only be used for a race sponsored by the WTC. But any triathlon of 140.6 miles can be considered an "Iron" distance race and the finishers are no less an Ironman as those finishing a sponsored race. 140.6 miles is a long, long way to go, and typically there is a 17 hour time limit. In "Becoming an Ironman" many athletes will tell of their experience in their own words.

The stories contained in this book are broken into a variety of sections. There are stories from those who are middle of the pack athletes and who struggled with the Ironman but still found strength to complete it. There is a section featuring athletes who learned in their first attempt that they were quite good at this distance and turned in excellent times which put them among the leaders. Conversely the stories of those who finished Ironman with only a minute or an hour to spare are no less compelling. Then there are the Did Not Finish (DNF) stories of those who for one reason or another had to drop out of the race or just could not make it to the finish line in time (the one who finished some six minutes after 17 hours was tough to take).

Every one of these stories provides inspiration to push through my pain in a race and furthers my desire to one day attempt and complete an Ironman despite the pain I know it will cause. But these same stories collected in "Becoming an Ironman" suffers from the fact that while reading a handful of these stories is easy and inspiring, reading every story back to back becomes repetitive. Yes, everyone struggled and gutted it out and provides a reason to be inspired, but it is essentially the same story every time with minor variations. The different sections helps as the stories are grouped into similar kinds of experiences, but it is still a lot of take at one time.

My recommendation is that this is an excellent book about the Ironman experience from the perspective of the average (if "average" can describe anyone attempting Ironman) athlete, but the reader should only read a few stories a day. Each story is only a few pages long and this way there will be less of a sense of burnout by the time the end is reached. Inspiring stuff, here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My Name is Earl and Top Model

Thursday, September 22, 2005 1
I didn't get to watch Lost or Invasion last night because we had some severe storms and the first hour of Lost was supposed to be the season 1 recap and my wife wanted to watch the recap so she could get into this new season. Well, the first hour ended up being interrupted by the news telling us about the storm. Sandy will likely be reading some recaps so we can get into this new season soon. I have it recorded.

I would never have watched My Name is Earl if it didn't star Jason Lee. The premise is that this low life guy (Lee), who has been treating people poorly all his life, wins $100,000 on a scratch off ticket, but then gets hit by a car and loses the ticket. While in the hospital he watches Carson Daly on TRL talk about Karma and how good things have happened to him because he has done good things for others. Earl has never heard about this concept and decides to turn his life around. He makes a list of all of the bad things he has done (the list grows to over 200), and has decided that the only way to reverse all of his bad karma ("This Carson Daly...is he a holy man? A spiritual leader?") is to help all the people he has hurt. Of course, being Earl, things won't go smoothly and hilarity will ensue.

Chuckles ensued and it was an entertaining show. I hope it continues to get better because the premise has some possibility with Jason Lee in the lead. Lee has excellent timing and instincts for comedy (enjoy him in the Kevin Smith movies...) and can make nearly any movie he is in better.

The other show I watched last night was America's Next Top Model. Despite itself, I continue to be entertained by the show. It was the premiere last night (was that a 2 hour episode? It seemed long even with the DVR) and I got a sense of who a few of the girls are. In the first couple of shows you never really know who is going to last because nobody can walk and few have the model poise that they'll need in two months. Still a decent show, though I wonder how long this can really go on since it is essentially the same thing every year and some of the girls start blending together.

Monday, September 19, 2005

talk like a Pirate

Monday, September 19, 2005 2
Aye, today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Gar, Where can I find a bottle o'rum?

Translation: Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. You best do what we says!

I can't imagine that I'm actually going to talk like a pirate all day long, but I love the idea.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Just Like Heaven radio spots

Friday, September 16, 2005 7
Has anyone heard the radio spots for the new Reese Witherspoon movie Just Like Heaven? The movie seems pleasant enough. She dies and doesn't know it. He can see her. Blah blah. It may actually be pretty decent because Reese has the "potential" to turn in some good movies. Some of her work has been really good in the past, but the line "Starring Reese Witherspoon" does not yet make me want to run to the theatre.

Anyway, back to the radio spots. The lines Reese has in the spot are all perky and light, but Mark Ruffalo sounds drunk. I know, he's all freaking out because she's dead and she's in front of him, but this doesn't sell me the movie.

We've got this perky dead chick and a guy who is loaded and can't deal with the fact that she walks through stuff in front of him.

Usher! Save me my seat! And get me a jumbo sized popcorn!

With that said, if my wife wants to see it I'll certainly go. It probably is a very pleasant movie and may even be good. Some critics have been saying for a few months now that this could be better than it sounds.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

movie lite

Thursday, September 15, 2005 0
I've been fairly movie-lite since we moved and got the dog. It's a little difficult to sit down and watch something for two hours when you have to wonder if the dog is peeing on the carpet just out of your view. But, I was able to watch Beneath the Planet of the Apes and A Very Long Engagement. Unfortunately, I didn't really like either one of them.

Not surprisingly, A Very Long Engagement is the better of the two movies and by a long shot. It just didn't engage me (no pun intended) as much as I'd hoped and I loved Audrey Tautou in Amelie. I even liked her in Happenstance, which is one of the few things of the movie that really worked. Jodie Foster has a nice smaller role in A Very Long Engagement, as well. It is as if everything was in place and many people found the movie to be fantastic, but it just didn't work for me. It didn't reach me on a level that it could have, should have.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was just crappy.

Friday, September 09, 2005

a pretty good weekend for movies

Friday, September 09, 2005 0
I could spend all weekend at the movies this weekend. I really could.







It's only going to get better in the coming weeks, too.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dark Force Rising

Thursday, September 08, 2005 0
“Dark Force Rising” is the second volume of the Thrawn Trilogy written by Timothy Zahn. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are working to discover the identity of the intelligence leak within the New Republic High Council. As they work on this they learn of the leak they learn of the existence of the legendary Katana fleet which disappeared decades before. Leia Organa Solo is seeking to convince the Noghiri race to stop hunting her and to abandon their servitude to the Empire. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, feels a call of a long lost Jedi Master named Joruus C’Boath. Joruus is quite insane and also happens to be a clone of the real Jedi Jorus C’Boath who was lost during the Clone Wars. The Grand Admiral Thrawn seeks to claim the Katana Fleet for his own and to crush the Rebellion, as he still sees it.

There is a lot of plot in this book, and while there is a slow start and I felt for at least half of this book that “Heir to the Empire” was far better, “Dark Force Rising” picks up midway through the book and by the end I was just as impressed as I had hoped to be. It is very easy to see why Timothy Zahn’s trilogy provided the spark which led to so many more Star Wars novels. These are well told tales featuring our favorite characters from the movies and they are brand new adventures. In the midst of the hundred or so Star Wars novels it is easy to forget that these books here really set the stage and while there were Star Wars novels written before “Heir to the Empire”, nothing really compares to this series and this is really the standard for all future Star Wars novels.

Not a perfect book, by any means. “Dark Force Rising” is definitely a middle novel with all the flaws therein, but in the realm of Star Wars this remains one of the better novels even a decade later.

The Ultimate Guide to Marathons

"The Ultimate Guide to Marathons" is an excellent marathon resource for runners. This second edition was published in 1998 with information current up through 2000. A runner using this book as a guide needs to know that in five years a lot can change for a given marathon. A good example of this is the poorly managed Lakeshore Marathon in Chicago which recently had an issue of the course being measured incorrectly and being a mile too long. Information like this would be critical in any new edition of "The Ultimate Guide to Marathons". However, if you are able to accept this potential shortcoming of slightly out of date information and use this book as exactly what the title says, a "guide", then any runner can find a lot of value in this book.

This book ranks 110 marathons from across the United States and bases the rankings on such categories as fan support, race organization, course beauty, course difficulty, and how appropriate the race is for a first time marathon runner. The description of each of the 110 marathons includes sections on the history of the race, the race course itself, what sort of awards and accommodations there are, and other details about the race. This is excellent information. While every major marathon in the country is included in these rankings (as of 1998), there are also quite a few small marathons that make the list. As a Minnesotan I was pleased to see that all four Minnesota Marathons were included (Twin Cities, Grandma's, Med City, Walker North Country) and was surprised by Med City and Walker North Country because these are small marathons. W.N.C. in particular is a trail marathon and trail races are included and ranked right along with the big ones like Boston and New York City.

There is also a listing of approximately another 50 marathons that are typically smaller than the ones included in the ranking, and are "destination marathons", but as one that I recognized (Marathon to Marathon in Iowa) is not really a destination most people would want to go to, my guess is that these are just marathons that the authors were not able to fit into their ranking and that they ran out of time to get them included. I may be wrong about that, though. Either way, it is nice to see such a listing of marathons. I am aware of other regional marathons that were not included, but I do not know when these marathons were founded.

While the information provided in this book is several years out of date, the rankings and descriptions can be used as a guide to see if this is a marathon you are interested in running. If so, I would then recommend looking online at the race's website or perhaps finding another online marathon guide to see if there are any changes or significant drops in runner participation. But this book can be used as an excellent guide to get marathon ideas and if most major marathons are not changing their course or management you can expect that the rankings would stay fairly consistent overall. That makes me happy because Minnesota had the number 2 (Twin Cities, behind only Big Sur) and the number 13 (Grandma's) marathons according to these rankings.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Eldest, denied

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 2
I started Christopher Paolini's Eldest this weekend. I tried. I really tried. I was impressed by Paolini's debut novel Eragon but I suspect so much of the reason for that is because he started writing the book when he was only 15 and it was published when he was 19. It was a little amateurish, but it's by a fifteen year old and with that in mind it was a promising debut.


You get slack for your first book when you write it as a teenager. People will be impressed. But if you're writing a trilogy, the second book better deliver. Maybe it does. I'll never know. I made it 60 pages in and I couldn't read it anymore. It was no better than what I remember from the first book, very childish fantasy with a little bit too much description of things that don't need to be described. It feels like Paolini is still feeling his way.

I'm not willing to invest my time on this anymore. Maybe the last two hundred pages (of 600) were killer and would stand up with the great fantasy literature of our day. But I doubt it and while I know that a reader should often give a book more than 60 pages of chance I lost all interest in the book.

Maybe when Paolini finishes this series and starts on his next one I'll give it another try because he'll be older and will have had a chance to hone his craft. There are so many good books that I want to read that I don't want to spend too much time on the bad ones.

Vera Drake

Before I watched "Vera Drake" I had no question in my mind that Hilary Swank was the Best Actress of last year for "Million Dollar Baby". No question. Halfway through "Vera Drake", I wasn't so sure anymore. To really break down "Vera Drake" into its simplest elements for an American audience this is a movie starring actors most of us have never heard of, set in 1950's London, about an older lady who performs illegal abortions. For this movie to sell itself effectively the lead actress really has to be someone special. She is.

Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) works as a maid for wealthier families. She is exceedingly friendly and everyone seems to like her. Another character calls her a busybody and she is, but she is also the kindest lady anyone is ever going to meet. Her whole life is cheerfully serving other people and she is happy with who she is. We meet her family and there is a certain amount of dysfunction, but the family is very close. This is the first fifteen minutes or so of the film, and then we get the first shot of Vera's other life. She goes down a dark alley and knocks on a door. She is let in by a young woman and led down a dark hallway where Vera reassures that young woman and "helps her out" because she "is in trouble". Free of charge, but with crude (though relatively humane) instruments, Vera helps induce a miscarriage.


To reveal more about the movie's plot would do a disservice to the film. It is a very low-key affair but with each passing minute I was more and more impressed with the work of Imelda Staunton. The character of Vera Drake initially seems to be something of a simpleton, but as we learn more we see that she is a good hearted woman doing something daring and as she sees it, necessary. Staunton is able to tell a story just in the natural facial expressions that Vera has as she reacts to situations, and in several critical scenes her face really does move the film and the viewer. These are instances of acting without moving and it really is impressive to watch. During the first twenty minutes or so I was really struggling to find any sort of interest in this movie, but after that I was completely sold on the story and the performances and bought into what was on screen. Excellent movie, with a standout performance from Staunton.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Celebrity Death Match: Malcolm Gladwell vs Steven Levitt

Friday, September 02, 2005 0
I would like to propose a Celebrity Death Match. I would like Malcolm Gladwell to square off against Steven Levitt. Gladwell has written The Tipping Point and Blink. Levitt is the author of Freakonomics.

Why do I want these two intellectuals to face off in the squared circle? Well, it's because both are very popular authors right now with non-fiction books that have sparked quite a bit of interest and in one instance they disagree with each other.

See, in The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell writes about how the big crime wave of the 80's in New York City was turned around by new police tactics focusing on smaller crime which managed to start eliminating larger crime. Like not paying the fares of the subway and letting the subway cars be vandalized. Gladwell explains it better. Read the book, it's good.

But Levitt disagrees and his big theory is that it is abortion that helped reverse the crime wave of the young criminals because when abortion was legalized it was the young, poor women who were more likely to get an abortion and it was those children who came from broken homes and a poor economic future that were more likely to become the criminals of today. Levitt even talks about NYC and how the same reversal of the crime trends were happening in other cities which did not use the new tactics and that the reversal was no greater in New York than it was in other cities.

Well, who is right?

In my view we are going to have to go back to the olden days where to men would fight out a point of contention and the winner is clearly in the right and favored by God.

Seems fair, doesn't it?

Oh, go read the books.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Hard Goodbye

Thursday, September 01, 2005 0

A co-worker lent me his copy of The Hard Goodbye, by Frank Miller. This graphic novel is one of the books that formed the basis of the recent movie Sin City. The Hard Goodbye follows Marv (the Mickey Rourke character) through his storyline to find the killer of Goldie, the prostitute who was "kind" to him.

I thought the movie was decent, but visually stunning. I loved the daring of the director in putting this on screen and the sheer creativity to bring the visuals to life. It is such a dark, stylish, old fashioned pulp hard boiled novel of a film told with three different storylines.

Reading the book I found it amazing how faithful the movie was. Very, very faithful. Much of the film's dialogue was lifted directly from the page and even more surprising, so was many of the images. Directly.

This is the first volume of seven and what I thought was lacking on screen comes off far better on the page. I can see why Robert Rodriguez wanted to make a movie of Sin City and why the actors would be a part of it.
 
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