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Friday, May 30, 2008

Seven Sins for Seven Virtures

Charity vs. Greed

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world today, whether it is from personal strife or environmental disasters.  In my hometown while I was growing up we used to have a yearly telethon devoted to the Heart Fund Association.  It was a pledge drive led by a local reverend by the name of Hart.  Ironic, huh?  From what I remember, a weekend was devoted to the telethon and our local public access channel broadcast all the goings on that were happening down at the fire hall in town.  There were variety acts and other assorted activities devoted to getting viewers to pick up their phone and pledge money towards a good cause.  I even wanted to get in on the act and told my parents that I wanted to donate $5.00.  I had a dual purpose.   One was to do a good thing.  The other was so that I could hear my name as they read the list of donators.  Even at an early age, I wanted my 15 minutes of fame.  The point is that this was a very small operation limited to the viewing area in and around my town.  The outside world did not have much of an opportunity to give there hearts, as it were, for a worthy cause.

Today, a worthy cause is just a click away.  Hurricane relief, Tsunami relief, 9/11, you name it; everyone has a need for donations.  And it's not to say that any of those are a worthwhile cause.  In fact, had it not been for the Internet, a substantial portion of donations to those causes would never have materialized or would take months to tabulate and account for in their books.   Having a link set up on the web reaches an unlimited amount of people with little work to be done other than account management, search optimization, and advertising.   And it doesn't have to be just about donating to disaster relief funds or impoverished areas.  There are worthwhile causes all over the internet just waiting for your charity dollars to help them meet their goal.   Even eBay has the ability to designate, organize, and promote listings that help raise money for worthy causes.

However, for every website that implores you for donations to help natural disaster victims, there are more devoted to bilking your kind heart of money for their own personal gain.  For every animal shelter that promotes their participation in a contest to get a million dollars for renovations and operating capital, another website offers to sell you pug puppies from Africa real cheap because some doctor had to relocate and couldn't keep them.  You pay the money and the dogs mysteriously become held up in customs and you need to pay more money and, well, you get the picture.    For every State's Treasury Department website that helps people reclaim lost earnings there are hundreds of bank of Nigeria type scams that are willing to share millions of dollars with you for no reason other than they had a political uprising or a death in the royal family and they want to give that money to a total stranger.  All they need is your banking information.  Sure, why not?


Truth be told, the Internet has unlimited potential to generate money for wealth and profit.  It also has the ability to generate greed and corruption.  It's a faceless entity living in cyberspace.  There is a certain anonymity that allows for an element of ambiguity.  Sites can spring up at a moment's notice.  Website addresses that look official are bought and operated with no background checking.  Anyone can generate a site with a name of an existing cause or company as long as that name isn't already in use.  In fact, during the dot com boom of the 90's, domain names were bought up with the forethought that they could be sold like stocks later at a premium. Take for instance.  The guy bought the domain in 1994 for a mere $20.   This past year he sold it in auction for $2.6 million to an anonymous bidder.  Taking a cue from's $3 million sale to a Russian Vodka company, Clark decided to try and unload the 15 year old parked domain that he had bought in hopes of enticing a buyer.  Of course, there has been no news of the sale actually being completed.  His chance at millions may be another lesson in the anonymity of Internet bidding without paying.  

For every legitimate auction on eBay, there is a plethora of Everything Else Auctions.  These auctions shamelessly ask for hundreds of thousands if not millions towards self serving causes.   Most ask to pay off their debt or help them pay for surgery.  The fact that there are so many of these similarly listed auctions reeks of scams.   Fortunately, most people are smart enough to not pay for them as a lot of these listings close without a single bid.  However, there are a lot of auctions for items with supernatural properties that do successfully get sold.  Wiccans or whatever those wacky kids call themselves these days advertise and sell all kinds of jewelry or supposed magick artifacts for real money everyday on eBay.   These people would sell the same items in a store or on the lawn of a university student union just the same but with eBay they have the ability to market their alleged magical items to millions of potential suckers.   How can they be considered legit?  Most likely, they fall into the category of Totally Bizarre, Weird, or Slightly Unusual. The smarter eBay sellers have done their homework and designed their auctions to be seen as a "for fun" with no real intention of their items being considered really legitimately magical or haunted.  There are so many genies or dijins on eBay you'd think we shouldn't be in a recession because everything is getting their wishes granted.  The fact is that the items in these auctions are no more real than the X-ray glasses in the back of Boys Life magazines.  They are allowed on eBay because the auctions are structured in such a way to entice buyers but not violate rules.  A few phrases like "Entertainment Purposes Only" or "Results May Vary" keep them in the good graces of eBay policies.  Perhaps if I buy that Time Machine I saw on eBay, I could go back like Uncle Rico and relive my glory days....or at least go back to the early days of eBay and take advantage of the loose policies on certain auctions and make a fortune selling things like "List of McDonalds' Monopoly Rare Property Stamps" or eBooks on "eBay Zero to Hero."



The Internet is Only Slightly Evil

"You're semi-evil. You're quasi-evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough."

Scott Evil Shaped Special K Flake available to the highest bidder.

Why only "Slightly Evil."  The Internet is neither inherently evil nor good as I've said before.  It's what you make of it.  In this case, the world has had enough time to catch up in terms of protection.  There are websites devoted to sniffing out hoaxes, scams, and other schemes.  All you have to do is go to your friendly neighborhood search engine and enter in some of the text from an offer or site and add keywords like scam, hoax, etc. and most results that bubble to the top will address the issue.   In the case of charities or organizations, do a little investigating with sites like the BBB and the IRS. You can also do a whois look up on the domain to see if it's a real cause.  Granted, there is a lot of work involved in separating the good guys from the bad guys but if you don't want to end up dealing with the loss of your savings or identity it's in you best interest to do so.  After all, it takes less time to investigate a suspicious site than it does to reclaim your savings or take back your identity.

Good sites to help.

IRS site for Tax Information for Charities & Other Non-Profits

BBB Consumer Topics site for Charities and Internet Fund Raising

Funny Stories

Karma Comeuppance from Arrogance of Internet Identity Security

Founder Todd Davis challenged thieves to steal his identity which he arrogantly claimed was safe because of LifeLock.   He even advertised his social security number as a dare to anyone.  Someone took him up on that and ended up getting a $500 loan with his information.   Now the company is being sued for false claims of insurance against identity theft.   More proof that if you give thieves the tools to take you for a deserve to ride shotgun.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's Good To Be the King!

Here we are at the end of another school year, a little older and hopefully a little wiser.  Memories were made and friends may be displaced as students disperse for the summer to their various summer activities.  Graduating seniors will either be faced with the real world as they move on from Academia to the Job Market.  Those that have not secured post school employment may find themselves moving back in with Mom and Dad for the summer or even longer.  Taking a look at their resume they study their achievements, deciding which will best serve them in the search for gainful employment.  Perhaps it would be best to remove the mention of membership in Who's Who Among American High School Students.  After all, recognition of that accolade is more about selling a big book of names than it is achieving any greatness and most schools could care less about it.  What about perfect attendance?  Is that a worthy mention on a resume?  While it's an achievement in not slacking or getting ill, it really doesn't hold a lot of water in the realm of job interviews.  I had 12 years of perfect attendance.  That's right; yours truly went all 12 years of primary and secondary education without missing a day.  Was I nuts for doing it?  Well, considering that the recognition for such a feat was a gold plated ruler etched with my name and years of attendance and those who had just one year got the same bauble, yeah, maybe I was.   Oooh, here's one.  PROM KING!  Now there is something that stands out on a resume to any perspective employer.  It says a lot about the person.  This person was involved in many school activities such as sports or class offices.  This person was chosen above all other students to represent his prom as a royal dignitary. This honor holds itself in such high regards that can only be matched by the amount of real power the Queen of England has or the winner of the 2000 US Presidential Election's popular vote.  In other words, it's a title, but it doesn’t get you a free ride on the subway.

I could have been Prom King.   That's right, I said me.  Ok, I wasn't the most popular or athletic.  I didn't participate in any sports and no one made sure to invite me to the big parties on the weekends, but that doesn't mean I didn't do a lot for my school.  Frankly, I joined the prom committee my junior year to try and meet and impress girls.  Call me Lucas, if you want, but I committed my time and helped put together two proms in my high school tenure.  In fact, my senior year, I helped pull off our prom theme with only $50 and an imagination.

Whether it is Enchantment Under the Sea or A Night to Remember, prom themes are tradition in indecision and tacky mylar cracked ice streamery.  Prom committees sit around like fantasy football enthusiasts with a catalog of Prom Theme Kits ranging anywhere from $100 to $1000 in prom committee dollars.  Those come from car washes and bake sales and whatever might be left over from the previous year.  My senior year the prom committee had decided on a New York style black and white classic theme with windows and lights and skylines.  Unfortunately, the kit we had agreed upon was $500 and would nearly eat up our entire budget.  It had a large stairway that led up to a white window frame with lights shining through on a blackened background.  Silhouetted city skylines with twinkle lights adorned the back of the scene as a shiny mylar runway split the main area for a grand march where a lighted column of fabric book ended the runway.  Being a drama/band person I looked at the catalog and laughed.   "Hell, I could pull that off for $50 and what we have backstage in the auditorium."  I proclaimed.  Soon eyes lit up and heads turned towards my direction.  Someone actually believed me and asked, "Really?"  Looking at the design it was rather simple.  There wasn't much to it.  The fact that they wanted to charge $500 was ridiculous.   I went on, "Yeah.  Look, the skyline is cardboard.  We can get a bunch of refrigerator boxes and spray paint them.  We have TWO staircases left over from the musical that we can cover with that extra black cloth and all the twinkle lights you could ask for.  All we need to do is buy mylar, gossamer, and spray paint.  All of that should cost us $50."  Soon I was thrust into the middle of a planning session.  I asked for the help of my stage crew friends to construct my bold promise.  We were going to use the backstage area to assemble all of the components and outside would be our painting area.  We contacted the local appliance store in town for old cardboard boxes from various large appliances.  We found two huge clam shells that we stuck in the gossamer to give it a round shape and put flood lamps on the floor in the gossamer columns.  I figured with the kit we would get enough to decorate a small portion of the stage and maybe a staging area.  Our plan involved going beyond what was on the page.  We went on to borrow a white wicker couch to have in between two columns against a lit background for pictures.  Since we were doing it for less, why not explore the possibilities.  We went nuts transforming the cafeteria and stage of the auditorium.   The capper?  One of our stage crew guys suggested enlisting someone to play a grand piano on stage right during the grand march.  It was the perfect marriage of ingenuity and existing resources.

During one of our final meetings before the prom the discussion turned towards nominating and electing a queen and king.  Our selections would be based not on popularity alone but who demonstrated superior commitment to pulling off the prom and dedication to the cause.  I was one of three male members on the prom committee and even though, in my opinion, I may have done a lot to help further things along, very few wanted to come forward and say it when it came down to it.  I just wasn't the perfect choice.  I wasn't a sports star.  I wasn't the hot guy.  I wasn't the most popular or had the most money.  I was just the guy who saw a problem and did his best to help fix it the best way he knew how.  One of the guys did come forward and say. "Hey, what about him?  He did the most."  Of course, I don't know whether he was being sarcastic and demeaning but I wasn't about to kiss anyone's ass for the recognition.  I knew what I did and deep down, everyone did as we got a lot of compliments on how everything turned out.   I would just have to wait and see what happens come the announcement of king and queen during the prom.

We gathered in the cafeteria for hors d'oeuvres and then filed onto coach busses for our trip down to the Gateway Clipper ship.  As the night went on, I spent my time with my date and enjoyed myself thoroughly.  It was our senior year and a celebration of friendship and accomplishment for our previous 12 years of schooling.  It wasn't time to worry about trivial things like titles.   That is, until it came time to huddle around the dance floor as the coronation was about to get underway.  One of our committee members grabbed the microphone and announced that this year was going to be a little different in terms of deciding on who was going to get the crown.  Suddenly, I unwittingly gave into the warm feeling in my stomach.  "Perhaps, they did decide to make me King?"  I thought.  "Maybe, this was the unorthodox choice that was made."  I continued to get drunk on the feeling that I was about to become the big winner in all of this.  My dedication and commitment were about to pay off in spades.   I was Charlie Brown and I was about to finally kick that football.

"This year we decided to go untraditional and chose TWO QUEENS!" Cheers flooded the dance floor as they called up both Queens up to be crowned.  The silent sound of me screaming as I fly into the air after the football is pulled away fills my brain.  I think to myself, "God, I hope I didn't look like I was expecting to be named."  That was the decision, two Queens instead of a King.  Granted, if I had been playing Blackjack, I would have at least got my money back but this went more towards the disintegration of whatever dignity I had as a high school senior who got a chance to play with the cool kids.  I was reminded of my social status and put back into my place at the back of the cool bus.  The lesson learned was that no matter how much you try to fit in, no matter how well you think you've saved the day, in the end you are still you and they are still them.   Detention for The Breakfast Club is over and come Monday at school Andy doesn't associate with Brian and Claire doesn't hold hands with Bender.  This is not a John Hughes movie and you do not get popular from making a hot girl with your computer.  You are David Silver from season one of 90210, not season three.  You are Arnie Cunningham before the Plymouth Fury.  Consider yourself a Neo-Maxi-Zoom-Dweebie.  For you youngsters out there, that's Seth, Evan, and McLovin all rolled into one.

15 years later at least I can find humor in it.  In fact, maybe I should write a self help book for those whose shoulders held those who stood upon them to reach the crown.  I could fill volumes of how I have always been three seconds late to greatness.  I guess there are some people who still hold onto those little tiaras and crowns as a keepsake or reminder of when they were the pinnacle of high school existence.  Some have probably traded a crown for a paper hat.  In that I find comfort that I didn't base my entire life's success on one little footnote in the yearbook right next to National Honor Society and Honor Role 1,2,3.  After all, it was high school and it's not like I was kept from a high profile and prestigious job just because I could not include Prom King on my resume.  In fact, as time has gone on, the end of my resume has become like the vertical scrolling screens in Contra.  As I add more things to the top everything at the bottom falls below sight and dies as it slides off the screen.  Gone are the accomplishments from high school and the new training and educational achievements have taken their place.  In fact, I struggle to remember what I did in high school as some online applications have drop downs and fields to fill in information from those days.  Did anyone ever have another course of study other than Academic in high school?  In the end, it doesn't really matter what I did in high school as long as I had fun, which I did.  I consider high school one of those frozen in moment times where I was old enough to make some of my own decisions but young enough to not be responsible for them when they blew up in my face.  And as far as others perception of who I was, they see me as they want to see me, In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a jock...

and an outsider,

and a drama nerd,

a rich kid,

and a Prom King.

Does that answer your question?  Sincerely yours, Mongo.

Just for laughs, here are a couple of YouTube vids of our 1993 Prom. Remember, this was 15 years ago. There was no Internet or digital video. And don't ask me about the lightning bolt. I have no clue, either.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You Call This Archaeology? Indy IV is whipped.

Continuity.  It is what bridges the gap from old to new in a film franchise's universe.  What you had a character say or do twenty years ago has to be able to slide right into timeline of existing canon.  It is also an ever ready and easily accessible weapon for fans and critics of a film when an iconic hero gets dusted off years after the last incarnation to ride into the sunset one more time.  When you take time off from the original source material to produce other works that are considered canon, you find yourself bound and sometimes shackled by something you never thought you'd have to back up later.  Such is the case with the most recent Indiana Jones film, the fourth in the franchise, titled Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

For being 33, my whole childhood revolved around two film trilogies that involved Harrison Ford.  He's one of, if not, my favorite actor of all times.  Luckily, when George Lucas came around to making the prequel trilogy for the Star Wars Saga, he opted to leave Han Solo out, which was a smart move.  Here, you are kind of required to include Ford as he is the titular character in the Indiana Jones films.  I remember seeing each film in the theater during their original run.  In fact, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in one of those old movie houses with the grand interior design and balcony seating,  as well as the completely furnished lounge amid the restrooms.  As a testament to old school films of the 30's, in which all three originals are set, mid way through the picture, the film broke.  It was a cliff hanger almost by design on the part of the projectionist as we were left on the edge of our seats as Indy was in a dire situation that seemed hopeless.  With Crystal Skull, the only thing that seems hopeless is the ability to connect it to the original films.

First off, right away, let me say that for all intents and purposes of genre, the film works.  The plot is appropriately aged to the 1950's as Ford has gained 19 years in age since Last Crusade.  Instead of Nazi stooges, we are in the midst of the Cold War, mid to post McCarthy Era Red Scare America where black lists are real and are a relevant topic considering the post 9/11 Patriot Act debate.  Instead of religious artifacts with supernatural abilities sought out by those who wish to use them for their own selfish and evil purposes, we get the feeling of the 1950's sci-fi B-movies where spaceships and aliens are commonplace and shadowy government figures are interested in extra-terrestrial powers of the mind while America moves into the Atomic Age.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't work for me with an archaeologist at the helm.

Right off the bat we get thrown into the nostalgia of the 1950's.  The Nevada desert outside of Roswell New Mexico sets up the action as an army detail approaches Hangar 51 and after bypassing security, the retrieve some baggage from the trunk and we are reintroduced in silhouetted and musical fashion to our whip wielding hero, Indiana Jones.....albeit a little older and not as spry.  It seems he and fellow adventurer, George "Mac" McHale have been politely asked by a cadre of Communist conspirators to locate a needle in a stack of needles deep within a secret government warehouse that contains, of all things, The Lost Ark of the Covenant, passing the torch from the original films to the new one.  One can only guess, that today, the remaining crates in the warehouse contain the only original copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special and those thousands of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game cartridges that were supposedly buried in the New Mexican dessert.

Escaping from his captors, Jones makes his way into the hands of the feds who see him as a person of interest in dealing with communism since he obviously aided and abetted them in their theft of one large and very magnetic crate.  Once debriefed and decontaminated from an atomic bomb test Jones finds himself paired up with Mutt Williams,played by Shia LeBouf as a greaser with a Marlon Brando and hair care complex, who enlists him to help track down a mutual friend on the advice of his mother.  Following clues and fleeing the bad guys, Indy and Mutt, find themselves poking around in a cemetery with some very weird looking skeletons and one rather weird paperweight, the films namesake Crystal Skull.  Once again captured, everyone has a rousing reunion as Indy learns a few secrets and agrees to help the Russian baddie, Irina Spalko, played dominatingly by Cate Blanchet.  Under penalty of death of his old friend, Harold Oxley (John Hurt) and old flame Marion Ravenwood Willams (Karen Allen), Indy pieces together more clues and communes with the skull to understand his whacked out schoolmate.   Chases ensue, insects attack, and ancient cities are discovered as Indy and company twist there way up the Amazon towards the climax which will just about make you want to say, "Did that just happen?"

Before we all start shouting fanboy Schadenfruede, let's take a look at how this mess was orchestrated.  After Last Crusade Lucas let time lapse on the series as he had run out of MacGuffins to chase around the world.   Yet, if he could come up with one that he, Spielberg, and Ford could agree upon, they would make another film.  As the years went by and Ford began to age, although not quite as fast as Walter Donovan in Last Crusade after choosing poorly, the plot and everything supporting it had to convincingly advance in years.  During that time, Lucas produced the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which gave bookends to the films in terms of Indy's adventures, including his further brushes with historical figures.  He was Forrest Gump before Forrest Gump in terms of association with history.   The script itself had its own brushes with fame as everyone from Frank Darabont to M. Night Shyamalan and Tom Stoppard had their hands in the pot.  Unfortunately, an ultimatum was issued by Ford saying that if the film could not be produced by 2008 he would be against it since he felt he'd be too old to make it believable.  Going into scramble mode, Lucas fell back upon his love for the 50's B-movie genre and this Crystal Skull idea that he'd toyed with during Young Indy's run on television.  A writer, a script, and a movie came together and filming began on June 18, 2007.

As a promise from Spielberg and in direct contrast with everything that Lucas has now become, CGI was to be used sparingly in environment backgrounds and in some cases that it deemed necessary, otherwise it was old school effects and tricks of the trade that they so beautifully employed in the first three films.  Also, to keep the feel of the originals, Spielberg opted to film digitally, but traditionally, another concept now abandoned by Lucas.  Ford got in shape and was said to look in better shape than he did 20 years ago. 
I only wish they would have got off their duffs ten years ago or had just decided to follow Ford's statement and gave up.  As I said, I am a big Indy fan and a lover of all things Lucas and Spielberg.  However, here's why I just cannot get into the film the way I should be able to.  I feel lied to.  It's obvious CGI was used for more than just background enhancements as one huge scene towards the end defied all physical laws of nature.  Not to mention, it became painfully apparent that Ford did not do a majority of the stunts including a lot of the work in the warehouse scenes.  His face is never seen, shots are poorly lit or from a distance and there is noticeable edits and departure of character from visibility before Ford reenters from off screen.   Even when close up, his whip work was done gingerly and to an off-screen object.  19 years ago there were full shots of him slinging the ole bullwhip.  Just seeing this quote from AP gave me goose bumps because I felt that Spielberg had learned from Lucas' mistakes with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy yet I was devastated as if I had found out that underneath Santa's beard there was my father putting toys under the tree.

"It's horrifying to work on a movie that has this many fans, but at the same time, it's an opportunity and a challenge," Pablo Helman told The Associated Press at the ILM offices less than a week before its release. "I think we were all very, very respectful of the other three movies but also to the fans. All the effects work that we're doing are completely reality-based."

With that in mind, three big action sequences took full use of CGI effects.  One involved an amphibious vehicle, another involved bugs, and the third involved the climax.  Now, don't get me wrong, I understand that an inflatable raft falling from a plane onto a mountainside and then over a cliff into the rapids is a stretch of the imagination in terms of physics but they made you believe it with old school trickery.

Let's take a look at the bad guys.  The Nazis were pretty a go to bad guy for the first and third film being that it was set in the mid to late 30's.  Here we have the Russians since it's the cold war.   Some foreign critics are offended that the movie is intended to bring about a cold war.  Well, if that's the case, we shouldn't be too worried about our enemy.  They were dumb, slow, and not very effective at being evil.  It's sad to know that Pat Roach couldn't be a part of the film as he died in 2004.  He didn't have a huge fight scene in Last Crusade but his presence was felt.  In Crystal Skull, who is the big burly mini boss that Jones has to fight?  Oh, that's right he's the guy that dukes it out with the stunt double.  It was a good knock down, drag out fight, but he hardly looked menacing enough to hurt Indiana Jones.  Even the main villain, Irina Spalko, wasn't all that menacing.  Yeah she looks like a dominatrix from Cabaret and is handy with a sword, but Walter Donovan shot Henry Jones Sr.  That takes balls. Here the only thing ballsy about the Russians is that come onto American soil during the 1950's. In another moment that requires you to really suspend disbelief were are supposed to go along with the notion that the Russians with accents would have a snowball's chance in the Temple of Doom of sneaking into the U.S., let alone area 51, during the Red Scare?

How could this movie have been better?  I don't know that I have the answer.  I'm not a Hollywood scribe or director so listening to me is like listening to the armchair quarterback after you lose the big game.  However, I offer up these suggestions.  Keep Marion, keep Mutt, keep Harold Oxley, and keep the Russians, but reduce MacHale's role. We'll have him show up in the beginning and then at the end. "Mac" was a waste of Ray Winstone's acting, making the role a one note redux of Kevin J. O'Connor's character from The Mummy.  Acknowledge the passing of time, Marcus Brody, and Daddy and even throw in all the age jokes. Now, redo the beginning to add in the original opening gamuts that were a staple of the Indy movies. Instead of opening directly in 1957, have it go back to the end of WWII and have Mac and Indy on the trail of some weird artifact that the Nazi's want. These details were kind of given to the audience during the debrief scene as we learn that Indy had joined the armed forces and helped fight during WWII. At the end of the opening bit, have Mac be supposedly killed off or lost as Indy races to escape from the Nazis. Flash forward to 1957 and resume the film. Lose the bit during the coffee shop and go right from Indy getting fired, Mutt saving him, and then off to South America.....oh and lose the bike. Have a scene about him parking it at Indy's for now. There was no point to it being in South America and it gets left behind anyway. Keep the graveyard scene and have them be taken to the Russian camp where everyone reunites sans MacHale. Instead of Mutt giving reason for escape, have Marion resort to her old tricks as a drinking game ensues with Russian Vodka. She leaves a passed out soldier and moves to free Mutt where she finds a tied up Indy and their reunion happens in a tent while the tension increases as they try to escape. Keep the recapture and lose the communing with the skull in order to understand Oxley. The threat of killing Marion and Indy's now revealed son will be enough of a threat to entice his assistance. Keep the back of the truck squabble and escape and even all the action with the hot potato skull tossing until we get to the bug sequence. Lose the death defying CGI water sports and go with a more traditional miniature or realistic looking sequence to drive us into the final act. Keep the rest until we get to the big reveal. Then, I'm at a loss because I think there was a big huge hole in the script that they tried to fill with anything that could work.

If that doesn't still woo you, try these alternative ideas directly from the brain of Mongo.

Indiana Jones and the Lost City of Atlantis

It's 1957 and America is thrust into the Cold War.  With Nazi Germany a thing of the past, a new terror rises in the East, communist countries like Russia and Cuba threaten our freedom with the development of new weapons of mass destruction.  But, while America possesses the Atomic Bomb, Russia's top experts discover clues that lead them to believe a weapon of even greater destruction is hiding in the Lost City of Atlantis.  Now a tenured professor, Indiana Jones lectures on lost civilizations while an onlooker in his class seems out of place.  He doesn't appear to be an enrolled student and after class, he approaches Jones about the topic.  He admits that he isn't a student but that a friend of the family, Harold Oxley has been kidnapped while searching for a lost artifact that could lead him to the Lost City.  Traveling with the professor, he and his mom were abducted but Mutt escapes with the notion that only one man could be trusted with their rescue, Indiana Jones.  Jones and Mutt travel to remote locations in order to piece together clues to the whereabouts of the city while the Russians watch their every move.  Once finding the city, Jones must keep the weapon out of the hands of the Russians and therefore ends up destroying what's left of the city in an effort to keep the world safe from this ancient technology that may or may not be extraterrestrial in design.

Indiana Jones and the Water of Life

Basically the same set up with Jones and the Russians competing to find the Fountain of Youth except set the clock back about 5 or 6 years to the beginning of the 50's.  Here you get the acknowledgement of both Indy and Marion's age and they can even take a sip from the fountain and be CGI restored, ala X-Men Last Stand to their younger selves for a brief moment before the fountain runs dry and the Russians lose their precious chance to take the waters back to Stalin so that he can become youthful and stay in power.

Indiana Jones and the Tree of Knowledge

Again, the basics stay the same.  Here we have Jones and the Russians going toe to toe in Mesopotamia to find the Garden of Eden and therefore the Tree of Knowledge that Adam and Eve ate from.  It's more religious than sci-fi but it again gives you a plot device that can be used to enhance the Soviet's power and also goes towards Spalko's thirst for knowledge.  It could ultimately play out that the almighty himself makes another appearance and the garden turns on the Russians making for a hasty escape before being swallowed up by the sand.  Granted, it smells of Mummy Returns but a lot of Crystal Skull smelled of other movies.

Regardless of my unimportant opinions, the movie will make lots of money as according to the five day take was somewhere in the neighborhood of $151 million with a wordwide gross of over $300 million. I just feel as we got a cheapened cobbled together attempt at fulfilling a promise and once again CGI became a crutch. I can only hope that we don't have to wait another 20 years to have a good Indy film and I hope that they don't decide to pass the whip to the younger generation. Also, in the future, stick to what has worked for over 20 years. Good story, good dialogue (there are hardly any quotable lines in this film. Where's the greats like, "It's not the years, it's the mileage." "No time for love, Dr. Jones." "No ticket." and "He choose poorly." We get a few quips from Jones but nothing that great. Hopefully, all the stars will align and we can get a better offering down the road a couple years. Otherwise, I feel like we're going to have to deal with Mutt Williams and the Whatever of the Whoosi-whatsit. That would be intolerable.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who's Storyline Is It Anyway?

In our first part of the Good Vs. Evil series. We're taking a look at how the Internet has influenced the entertainment industry. Sometimes I wonder, who is really in control of the machine as fanboys take to the web waves to blast or praise their favorite movie and television franchises. Is Hollywood listening? Should they?

evilConsider this. It's 1979 and you've seen Star Wars for the hundredth time. You hear that Lucasfilm is going to be dropping the next installment of the saga in a year and you've got opinions on what you think would make for a killer storyline. What do you do? Well, nothing. That's it. You are a lone crazy voice in a sea of fanboy nerdom. Of course you can write to Lucas and company and make a suggestion. You can even jump in a VW bus and drive to Marin County to try and storm the gates of the Skywalker Ranch. Somehow, I think you'd be shipped off to the Spice Mines of Kessel before you could plead your case. What you need is a communication tool that allows you to express your deepest, and often unwanted, opinions about all things Star Wars. Then, that tool needs to have the ability to reach out and be seen by millions of people, kind of like a newspaper but with better distribution. Hopefully, Lucas will see your thoughts and think, "You know what? This guy is right on the money. I'm scrapping the story for Empire Strikes Back and following this nerf herder's advice." Thank the maker there was no such tool in 1979.

Flash forward 20 years later and we've arrived at the weekend after the premiere of The Phantom Menace. That tool I was speaking of previously is now abuzz with flame and praise over the new Star Wars film. For the most part, a lot of the reviews were mixed and even Lucas chided American media for relying on Internet fan opinion. I won't get into a debate on what was wrong or right with the movie, but I will say that I believe Lucas gave up important emphasis on dialogue and story in favor of flashy and spectacular CGI to achieve what he felt he couldn't do in the original trilogy. The original movies are a phenomenon all their own and are probably one of the most quoted movies in history. That's not something you can readily say about the prequels. My own opinions aside, the film has been heavily criticized over just one character, Jar Jar Binks. The floppy eared Gungan made more of a stink than all the Ewoks combined with his slapstick prat falls and questionably derogatory ethnicity. Lucas states over and over that Jar Jar was a character for kids and that the movies, themselves are for kids. Us 30 year olds need to realize that the original movies, as well, were for kids, namely us. Unfortunately, Jar Jar was the scapegoat of a bigger issue.

Nonetheless, is it any wonder that Jar Jar saw less screen time and hardly any dialogue in the remaining two films? While Lucas doesn't readily admit bowing to fanboy ire, I don't think there is that many parsecs from rumor to truth in regards to Jar Jar's reduced role in the sequels. But the bigger issue is who owns the films? Is it the director, the studio, or the fans? Could we have had that much of an impact on decisions made for Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith? Possibly. What would have happened if the Internet would have existed in 1979? What kind of criticism would have Lucas faced from 30 year olds who live in their parents' basement, then? I mean look at the landscape. We had two big revelations that occurred in Empire and Jedi. The first and most devastating was that Vader was Luke's father. The other was Leia and Luke being related. Granted the latter had lesser of an impact, but still just as creepy considering their constant smooching the first two films. At one point, Luke is even relieved that Han Solo has little interest in Leia. The Internet could have totally changed the way both of those films were made just by having the ability to voice an opinion and then getting a million people to read it. While I will admit that reducing Jar Jar's presence in the prequel trilogy was a smart move, Lucas comes across as having his creative control and manhood reduced to a steaming pile of bantha poodoo. If Lucas had all of the stories planned out from the beginning and allowed just one criticism to change his course than his integrity was compromised and it has set a precedent for anyone to follow.

Another similar clash between director and fans occurred with the release of the original trilogy on home entertainment. Again, fans took to the Internet to beg and petition the release of the original films on DVD. Unfortunately, they got their wish. However, Lucas continually tweaked the films adding things he thought bugged him about the original films. The replacement of Jason Wingreen as the voice of Boba Fett with Temuera Morrison and Hayden Christensen's glowy image instead of Sebastian Shaw were just a few. Fans across the globe protested, held their breath, and stomped their feet in anger over the changes and demanded Lucas re-re-release the films in their original format. Now, what does that mean. By my count, in one way or another, the original trilogy has been released at least 6 times now, mostly with differences from the subtle to the substantial...Han shoots first, Greedo shoots first and Han awkwardly ducks, they shoot at the same time with Greedo milliseconds ahead and Han convincingly ducks, and finally you get both versions on the same DVD. Are you happy now? I personally own two VHS sets and the 2004 DVDs and I have no desire to buy anymore for the sake of one scene. But you see how fandom and the Internet has hurt Hollywood. The Internet has made Hollywood stand up and take notice but sometimes I feel that in a room full of shouting people, listening to loudest isn't always the best practice.

Lucas is a perfectionist and I'll give him that buy nothing is more fickle than a fan boy with a grudge and an Internet connection. However, sometimes Hollywood gets off path and has to be shown the way back to the light. Unfortunately, sometimes it wastes good amounts of story and takes a few months to correct. My argument for the Internet's influence on Hollywood is a little show called LOST. Much akin to Star Wars in reference and reverence, LOST has made a hole in the ozone layer out of a smoke monster when it comes to mythology and fandom. The producers have taken the original idea which was not much different than say Gilligan's Island and turned into a mind blowing, time warping, Dharma loving, Other hating, Rube Goldberg device. But somewhere along the lines of season 3, they strayed from the path and got lost in the jungle when they attempted to introduce two new characters into the mix. Nikki and Paulo were pretty much Cousin Oliver, Sam McKinney, Andy Keaton, Ashley Johnson, and Luke Bower all rolled into one and made very, very pretty. The idea was to have the red shirts of the survivors have a chance to have their stories told. Season 1 had Leslie Arzt, but he blew up. They also had Scott and Steve, but Scott was killed....or was it Steve? Anyway, it was established pretty quickly that Nikki and Paulo were disliked among the fan base and once again, the Internet lit up with ire over their focus and demanded they be killed or kidnapped by The Others. Oddly enough, one of the characters, Sawyer, breaks the fourth wall and continually asks, "Who the hell are Nina and Pablo?"

Again, the producers took note and quickly wrapped up everything related to their story and buried them alive, quite literally. Was the Internet to blame? I believe rightly so. The audience has become fickle with television and unless we are given good, compelling drama, we're going to switch over to a show that will give it to us, like American Idol. I wonder if David Archuleta's Dad will withhold water this week? Maybe Paula will critique a performance from next season, before it has aired. You want to talk about time travel. I can't wait!

Shows like LOST and Heroes have been on the radar for fan based anger and it seems that when lightning strikes and the planets align, you walk a thin line between brilliance and banal. One wrong move and the smoke monster will take shape as a 30 year old Comicon virgin and smite your ass. There is no room for betrayal, especially in a year when there is a shortened season due to a writer's strike. Next year, I think there ought to be an audience strike as some shows have become less than stellar. Heroes delivered a one, two, Nikki/Jessica punch in its first season but again, the inclusion of, what I deemed the Wonder Twins, in the form of a cute sibling couple dominated the second season and caused a lot of fan fracas. We only got half satisfaction as Alejandro was killed by Sylar....but his brain was left intact.....pity. While the Internet might not have had as much impact on the decision to off one half of the duo, the overall season was considered sub par compared to the first one and the Internet probably gave the producers a lot of insight on how to please the audience. Let's hope Season 3 is less talked about in a negative light.
The Internet is evil.
"I find your lack of faith in my ability to make a good movie disturbing."

Overall, the Internet has no place telling Hollywood what to do. It's too volatile and unregulated a medium to have that much power. I won't name names, but a couple of Internet celebs with the initials of PH and HK have degraded an informative medium into a place for masturbatory fan-tasies and pissing matches with no real credibility to back it up. Anyone with an opinion and a blog can spread their own agenda and unfortunately, it has become easier to gain fame on the Internet than it is in real life. Has Lucas lost his coconuts? Absolutely. I say that and I love the guy. I think he's a visionary and a genius. But when it comes to continually screwing with your own movies and causing all of us to shell out more money for a super expanded definitive director's edition. I have to draw the line. I understand that you had little technology to really work with in the 70's So little that you pretty much had to invent the equipment and techniques yourself and that makes you a pioneer. But in terms of sidestepping a story and dialogue for the sake of CGI imagery, you are the Robert Oppenheimer of the film industry. You created something that is truly extraordinary but now it has the power to destroy cinema and film by placing more emphasis on what you can create from nothing versus what you can create with the tools you have.

That being said, ravenous fan based anger is no lesser an evil. If you have a beef with something like Han shooting first or Jar Jar existing, go make your own film and become a filmmaker. I know, I know. I just recently reviewed and highly criticized Cloverfield but it wasn't like I was asking the producers to change anything for a re release or trying to influence the sequel. I was just voicing my opinion. There was no agenda.....OK, I did have an agenda. I wanted people to read my review and then stay to read other posts. But I'm not evil. I'm just a little misunderstood.

Case closed. In terms of Hollywood influence, the Internet is Eeeeevillll!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good vs. Evil: The Internet

The Internet, love it or hate it, it's going to be known as one of the most important innovations of the 20th century and it could very well destroy us all. I started to take a look at how the Internet has shaped our culture and as Hamlet once said, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." That's very true in all things. Of course, if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd have a blog or be writing for television.

Over the next few posts, I'm going to be taking a good versus evil approach to what the Internet has meant to us as a civilization. In each argument I won't always look to the Internet as the issue but what the Internet has done to escalate or enhance the issue. In some cases, the Internet may be the equivalent of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causing tornadoes in Texas or it may just be the smoking gun in the murder of our souls. Either way, expect some obscure pop culture references and this little gauge at the bottom of each post declaring the verdict.

For each issue I will explore the following arguments.

  1. Whose Storyline Is It Anyway? How the internet has hurt/helped entertainment.
  2. Seven Sins for Seven Virtures. The internet's influence on the human condition.
  3. Comfortably Dumb. Has the Internet made us smarter or dumber as a race?
  4. Where Should We Be? Did we miss something?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Four of a Kind is a Full House

I've always been an animal lover. But I grew up with dogs. My first pet was a German Shepherd mix named Spider. The reason her name was Spider was that I couldn't say Fido at the age of 4. Still, Spider seemed to fit her. She was black and white and you never knew if she'd come after you. She wasn't exactly the friendliest dog, but she was my pal. We understood each other and she only bit me twice. The first was on my ass as she chased me up the yard when we first got her. The second was after 14 years and near the end of her life. She had become old and cranky and sometimes, you just had to put the food down and leave her in her box until she wanted to come out. She may have been old but she still had all of her teeth.

From the age of 4 until 23 I lived with dogs. I was never a cat person. I was always leery of an animal that made you come see it instead of it coming to see you. Cats always seemed like they were plotting. However, my then girlfriend, now wife, grew up with cats. You could say we were opposites about most things in life. She hates the spotlight and I am an actor, always willing to make a fool of myself. So, when we had a rough snow storm back in 2oo3 over President's day weekend, she and I went toe to toe over an uninvited guest that she rescued from the knee high snow.

For a few days we had been feeding a couple of rabbits that lived right outside the back stoop of my townhouse. One morning I noticed a cat sitting on the stoop. I figured he belonged to someone and shooed him away from the food that the rabbits were eating. I didn't want to find a dead rabbit out there. When I got home, my girlfriend was upset that I shooed him away as he looked emaciated and hungry. She spent the next two hours trying to coax the cat into the house. All the while, he cried and cried. Finally, he walked right into my townhouse. "Great! Now what am I supposed to do?" I said. "Name him." She replied.

At the time I lived alone and I was/am allergic to cats. She made a run to the store to get some food. I figured he could stay the night but I would make an effort to find out who he belonged to the next day. She came back with a litter box, scratch post, toys, and treats. Apparently, she knew more about his living arrangements than I did. Eventually, I gave up and he won me over when he walked up to me on the couch and head butted me. He looked grateful. Of course, I had to name him now and my girlfriend took him to the vet while I was at work. Turned out he was about 6 mths old, had been in a fight and malnourished due to worms. I gave him the first name. She gave him her last name. Oscar Moyer.


Now, being a bachelor in a two bedroom townhouse, one would think a single cat would be sufficient. Any one who owns cats knows that you can't just have one. So, by November, my girlfriend convinced me to go get another cat. I checked out the local shelters and ended up at PetSmart. There in this huge cage was a tiny little black and white kitten with a white stripe right up it's face. She made an effort to come to me and definitely wanted my attention. I was done searching. I brought the newest edition home over Thanksgiving weekend, and I now had an Emmy to go along with my Oscar.


But, it's funny how life throws you for a loop. It's like how some people can't stop getting tattoos once they start. The next year, I had finally proposed to my girlfriend and we got a house together. At three bedrooms the house wasn't exactly small, yet it filled up pretty quickly. It always seemed like if there is an animal that is lost or in need of help, they know how to find my place. Yeah, I adopted Emmy, but Oscar and about three dogs ended up at my place looking for help. Thankfully, I only kept Oscar. However, the rescue instinct in my fiancee was a still active and in hyper mode.

At the time, she worked at a farmer's market and people tended to just dump off animals thinking that they would have a good life on the farm. What they didn't know was that her boss hated cats. During the summer of 2004, someone had dropped off a pregnant cat who eventually gave birth. I'm not sure what happened to the mother, but I fear that he had something to do with it. One of the kittens also didn't make it as my fiancee said she saw the limp body outside the store one day. Two of the kittens were still alive and hiding out behind the store under storage bins. My fiancee told her boss in no uncertain terms not to harm them. She would take care of them. Unfortunately, she did not share this with me. After, I finally came down off the ceiling, I agreed to help get them with the understanding that we would get them a home that wasn't ours. Through perseverance and successful trapping, we managed to grab both cats and the sisters were reunited on our back porch. But, of course, they needed to be taken to the vet. A hundred and fifty dollars later, my fiancee was reluctant to give them up. We went round and round and I began to get puffy eyed and sneezed, uncontrollably, but eventually lost. Add Willow and Lucy to the mix.

(Gray front paws and nose)

(Orange front paws and nose)

To say that I am now a cat lover would be an understatement. My now wife also understands that we've caught our limit, yet I still find myself putting food out at night for the six or seven stray cats that live on or around our property. But, nothing says love like the fact that you are willing to hold your dirty and wet cat on the side of the road while your wife cleans out a carrier of all manner of waste on a trip to the vet.

Emmy, you see has an OCD. She cleans herself constantly and has little tics like chewing the air when she's hungry, along with anything plastic, which she's allergic. Every year when we get decorations out of the attic, she starts to develop what have been called rodent sores. Usually, some antibiotics and prednisone will clear it up. It just so happened that the last outbreak coincided with her need for updated vaccines and Oscar's regular vet visit. Oscar, for being the moose that he is, is a big baby and hates going to the vet. Usually, we can tell if we're in trouble because he will begin to cry in a certain way that informs you that he just made a mess.

On the way to the vet he crapped in the carrier. The smell must have been overbearing because Emmy threw up all over herself. There I am on the side of a busy road holding this beast for dear life while he gets it all over my shirt. Meanwhile, Emmy is sitting in vomit that we didn't discover until we got to the vet. Again, I'm holding the cat, while my wife cleans the carrier. Add puke to the list of stains on my shirt. On the way home, we hear the cry again, and now we smell urine. I make a turn off the same busy road onto a quieter street so that we can clean the carrier, again. Unfortunately, I took the turn a little fast and Oscar must have been leaning on the carrier because it tipped over and it was like being in a port a john that gets pushed over a hill. Emmy's carrier was directly below him and managed to get some of the splash from the wave. Now, I'm standing on the side of the road again, while Oscar soaks my shirt full of urine.

With all these little inconveniences, you'd think I'd be angry. In the tenth months that I've been a father, I've never had any shirts completely soaked by waste and vomit before. But, all I can remember was just laughing there holding this dripping wet cat while the smell of pee flooded my nose. I love them and would do anything for them. But next time I'm cleaning the carrier.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Meet Me At Hemmy's.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.  So, why not go where everybody knows your name?  I used to back in the day.  That place was Hemingway's, nestled right among the dormitories of The University of Pittsburgh.  It was the kind of bar that you could walk into and disappear.  This was the kind of place that didn't cater to the meat market college coed.  It was a more refined outlet for libations and relaxation.  It seemed an unlikely fit for all the hustle and bustle of the campus lifestyle, yet it was the one place I could count on to provide me with what I needed.  Every college area has its various outlets for drinking.  We had a bar that specialized in Greek life.  We had one that dealt with the general meat market crowd.  We even had a bar that primarily embraced the alternative music crowd.   But Hemingway's embraced, well, everybody.  Yet, not everybody went.  That was the magic.  They didn't discriminate but most people couldn't get past the name when choosing it for a place to patron.  Most people felt it was a hoity-toity, high faulting, artsy fartsy, and other "pretentious words that don't exist" kind of place.  Really, it was a small pub that just emanated class.  Stepping off the street onto the tiled floor you can feel the history of this place.  It wasn't famous like, say, Bull and Finch but it had that ambience of an established watering hole.  The brass railings and "judges paneling" style of walls were the perfect setting for cracking open a book written by someone who has been dead for over a 100 years.  Granted, the place wasn't enormous but the mirrored wall behind the bar gave it that larger than appears look.  It seemed a timeless place that could never change to keep up with the habits of the college crowd.  Of course, that was 15 years ago and the bar has gone through extensive changes, not all for the good.

It was truly by accident, that I discovered Hemingway's.  Being a sophomore, one would think I would not be able to hang out in bars, let alone hang out in one that wasn't wall to wall drunken coeds.  I was a fledgling Theater Arts student and after successfully being cast in my first show at The University of Pittsburgh, I tagged along with a group of other well seasoned member of the Pitt Theater Community.  I sort of just kind of showed up and blended into the tapestry of characters.  Being underage and unemployed I didn't exactly have the means or the right to be there but nobody bothered to ask any questions.  It was a different scenario when frequenting the beer garden meat market just around the corner.  Two bucks and your college ID got you into the show and most people went for the quarter drafts.  Here, I was never questioned about my age, because I was with a group of people who frequented the bar enough that after a few visits, there was a drink in front of me before my butt was in my chair.  In fact it became so commonplace that as soon as we entered the premises, glasses began filling and were delivered to a table already established as our spot.   It was truly the kind of place I could get used to.   It was a dizzying courtship as I became engrained into the group.  One of the gang was taking orders and asked what I was drinking.  I told him I wasn't 21 and he gave me "pfft" and said, "So."  I replied, "But I'm broke, too.  I just came to hang out."  He said don't worry about it and got me a beer.  He was an upperclassman and had just received a small inheritance from a late aunt and was buying a few rounds.  Eventually, I did secure my own funds and became legal to drink, but by then, I was already recognized by staff and was given the same standard of service as my fellow cohorts.  When I had no one to watch Superbowl XXX with in 1995, I just went down to Hemingway's and enjoyed a few beers and a nice spread of sandwiches and snacks.  Hemingway's was that cool without being "cool".  I only wish we had beaten the Cowboys.  That would have been super cool.

If were to describe an evening with friends at Hemingway's, I would say it was laid back, a little smoky, and full of interesting tales.  I've spoken before about my friend Ray, who was the lead singer for a band out of Philly called, Open Cage.  We would sit and listen to his tales of being in the air force and every once in awhile he'd break out into song, usually leading to a rousing chorus with everyone joining in on the act.  We'd drink some more and eventually close the place.  It was never busy, but it was always doing good business.  Hemingway's had a built in fan base and even though the members rotated in and out every year due to graduation, it was always some place you could drop in for a reminder of what the simple life in a bar was like. 

Unfortunately, I cannot say that the owners of Hemingway's felt the way I do.  It had been quite some years since I had been in the bar, but in 2004 I met up with an old college friend who was in town for a conference.  It was also a chance to put a face to the name if you will.  I had told so many stories about Hemingway's that she was convinced that the bar was an old girlfriend and that any other bar just couldn't compete.  I merely related tales of what a real bar was like in comparison to the dives I had been dragged to by her friends.  When we arrived, it was like seeing your old house completely remodeled, but in a bad way.   There were colored twinkle lights that are only permitted in dorm room windows at Christmas time.  The back room where we held many an opening night cast party was now housing a pool table.  It was like a bizarro Cheers with Rebecca and Woody, not Diane and Coach.  Suddenly, the color drained from my face.  "Our" area was gone, replaced by tables and chairs that echoed a patio bar complete with plastic cups.   I was sick with grief over the changes. 

Because other bars had been closed for violations coeds were pushed like deer from the woods in favor of housing plans.  They migrated down into the once "deerless" areas and suddenly became a nuisance.  Seizing an opportunity to make more money, Hemingway's cranked up the college music and watered down the drinks and soon the place was packed wall to wall with loud and obnoxious students who didn't appreciate the architecture and acoustics of the bar.  Even the bathroom had been painted like a school locker-room taking away from the nostalgic "Here I sit, lonely heated..." decor.  My friend and I looked with a teary eyed as we saw our young adulthood wiped away with a coat of paint and string of lights.  The bar was gone, replaced with a younger, hipper, model that just didn't have the character.  My wife kind of liked the place.  She's younger, and doesn't get it.

Perhaps one day I will have the financial wherewithal and ambition to open my own bar and make it into a sort of Hemingway's, Too, or maybe just add the extra M to differentiate.  In any case, I will never cater to the crowd that sees it as a place to serve beer in a cup or shot in a test tube.  This place will have glass mugs, frosted within an inch of their life.  We'll have whiskey and scotch, aged to perfection.  There will be no quarter draft night and anyone who comes in will know that they are welcome as long as they don't tell the cool kids where we are.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guess the movie

I am going to describe a movie to you and I want to see if you can guess it.

A teenager on the cusp of being an adult leaves his home where he is the best surfer. His home is not a typical surf location and it seems odd that he is so good at the sport. He travels a great distance to surf the great waves on a tropical island. Upon his immediate arrival his naiveté in surfing big waves is shown as he crashes and becomes injured. He makes nice with a local girl, becomes friends with a fellow with an animal name, and gets taken under the wing of an old soul surfer who tries to show him the true meaning of surfing. After learning in three days what takes most real surfers years to accomplish he enters a surf competition against a champion who tends to play dirty to win. In the end he loses the competition but gets the girl and the respect of the surfing brethren that recognize him as a true soul surfer who doesn't just shred waves but communes with the ocean. This of course all happens to a rocking soundtrack.

Now, if you're a ten old and I just described that movie to you, your answer would probably be Surf's Up!

If you're in your 30's like I am, your answer would be North Shore.

To say there is no more originality in Hollywood would be an overused and understatement. It seems like the only movies that are being made are either adaptations of books, sequels, or remakes. Although, some remakes are truly intentional while some are by accident.

Truthfully, the general population has probably never heard of North Shore. After all, it's not like it won any Oscars or broke any records at the box office. It was a small swell in a heinous set of movies that were offered in the 80's. The kind that took the fish out of water and gave him ability to breathe on dry land while overcoming all odds to win the day and get the girl.

I will say that Surf's Up is one of those movies that gets it right, though. Yeah, you can look at it for its moralistic message of being true to yourself and never giving up, but underneath that is a bigger accomplishment, realistic CGI. I'm not talking about blades of glass that move with the wind or environments that look like they are straight out of a Corona advertisement. I'm talking about natural looking movements among the characters as they surf. Of course, these are animals, and Hollywood's ability to anthropomorphize animals has evolved exponentially since the days of The Little Mermaid. If only they could say the same with the ability to animate the human form realistically. If you don't understand what I mean, take a look at the Polar Express and you can almost hear Robert Shaw describing the human characters by saying, "He's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes." Setting the film up as a mockumentary on the young Cody Maverick's quest for surfing stardom, the animators were able to realistically capture that hand held camera wobble motion that doesn't leave you with a case of the Cloverfields. I was truly amazed at how well everything was drawn or *ahem,* rendered.

The other thing that Surf's Up has got going for it above other animated films is the quick fire delivery of its actors. The actors recorded their dialogue in the studio together, rather than seperately. Usually, animated films are created by having the actors record their dialogue in a booth, seperate from other actors. Sometimes, the director will ask the actor to do several takes with different emotions and inflections to capture the essence of what they are trying to accomplish. It's not like you have any other actors to react against when you are saying lines. Here, the actors could play off each other and the tempo and rhythym could flow like a wave, if you will. Not to mention, you are working with some top actors in the field of ebb and flow dialogue. After all, Jeff Bridges slips quite comfortably into his old "Dude" robe from The Big Lebowski portraying "Geek" a riff on his Dude persona replacing White Russians for clams. Shia LeBeouf proves that he's got the chops to go toe to toe with most actors and most machines as he was one of two humans in Transformers that I could actually stand, the other being Josh Duhamel. One can only hope that his ability to improv and riff will be well matched with Harrison Ford and Stephen Spielberg in Indy IV, out this month. Shia also makes nice with Zooey Deschanel as Lani, his main 'guin girl and her acting skills are only overshadowed by her lost puppy look on screen which is not an issue here. For evidence, see Tin Man on Sci-Fi.

For me, though, the allure wasn't realistic talking Penguins or funny jokes, it was about the surfing. Surf's Up nailed the motion in the ocean, albeit a Penguin's notion of motion in the ocean. I didn't even mind the similarities to the earlier movie about a surfing teen from a non surfing locale. North Shore was my favorite film growing up and I wanted to be a surfer after seeing it. Of course, I wanted to be a big time executive or stock broker after watching The Secret of My Success. God help me if I had seen Repo Man as a kid. Still, I have been infatuated with surfing from a outsider's persective, all of my life. It's the one thing I've always wanted to do. I have a special respect for the ocean and when I am at the East Coast beaches along the Carolinas I always make it a point to do some body surfing. Yeah, I became a monday morning surfer in terms of buying the posters for my bedroom wall and trying to adapt the lingo, brau. But I'm just a Haole. Of course, most true surfers would think my love of North Shore is about as pathetic as a NASCAR fan's love of Days of Thunder, but I don't care. I became a fan of surfing because of that movie. But, kids grow up, and childhood loves disappear faster than a virgin on prom night. That is, until something comes along that revives the passion. Sometimes, it might just be a movie that seems a lot like a remake but still has the freshness of today's catch.

Friday, May 9, 2008

End of Days of Thunder

The Bargument. A time honored tradition of libation induced debates over the most banal of topics. "Who was the better Captain, Kirk or Picard?" "Who would win in a fight, 40 midgets or a lion?" These questions have no right or wrong answer, yet drunken patrons argue their point into the wee hours of the morning. The unwillingness to back down is only comparable to the current race for the Democratic Presidential ticket. Neither side will admit defeat.
In my office, we have the same setup for debates, unfortunately, without the alcohol. Recently, a coworker and avid movie fan like myself debated whether or not NASCAR fans truly like Days of Thunder or as I call it, "Top Run." I argue that true NASCAR fans cannot look at the film without losing their nachos. He argues that NASCAR fans sit around on non race days watching the film over and over again. We had a similar debate over which was the more favored movie of firefighters, Backdraft or Ladder 49. He contended that the boys in red sat around the firehouse watching Backdraft while I held my position that maybe volunteer firefighters hold Backdraft in high regard, but full fledged firefighters found it laughable and unrealistic compared to Ladder 49.
The basis for my argument against NASCAR fans love of Days of Thunder is rooted in the idea that no true NASCAR fan can take Tom Cruise seriously. Cruise had made a run of movies in the mid 80's to early 90's that relied on the premise that even though his character had either no formal training or experience in his occupation, the screenplays were written in such a way that, above all, his character was the best of the best and no one else could touch him in the end.
Granted, Days of Thunder's story is based on actual events that have happened in the world of NASCAR racing but something about a white toothed, floppy haired, Scientologist sans accent claiming that he can win Daytona in a year just rubs me the wrong way. But remember rubbing is racing.
In fact, I'd be willing to bet at the End of Days there will be an ultimate answer to all barguments and somehow The Almighty will side with me. I don't think he'll hold Cruise's choice of pseudo religion against him in his ruling, but I think he'll choose 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story as a better film. Actually, I hope he doesn't. That would prove God fallible and would unmake existence. That film has more things wrong with it than Speed Zone.
Of course, this bargument has been altered since our original debate. It is no longer whether or not NASCAR facs like/dislike Days of Thunder, but which is the better NASCAR movie, Days of Thunder or Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.
In my opinion, it doesn't matter. I say let's decide between Stroke Ace and Driven. I say Stroker Ace wins hands down.

For more Barguments check out the website and buy the book from or drive on down to your local library. It's all in the books.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Grand Theft Auto: Vice Pity

This is a continuation of a previous entry entitled Grand Theft Auto 80010514.

Here's an update on my plight. When last I left you, intrepid reader, I had received word that SONY is going to have my PS3 brought in for repair. This past Tuesday, May 6th, 2008, I dropped my PS3 off at the UPS store with an overnight label provided by SONY. According to UPS they have received the unit and now the wait begins. Customer Service informed me that turnaround is usually 14 days. Since I did not actually purchase my PS3 in a retail outlet, I have concerns. I went through an Incentivized Freebie Website and gained enough referrals to have Transcendent Innovations buy me one. I included a copy of the slip that stated the price, the billing party, and my shipping address from, but I suspect that SONY will try and claim that this is not a warranty repair since I did not provide enough proof of purchase for them. The customer service rep on the phone did not have anything negative to say about this but then again, I don't think English was his first language. I contacted about getting a better copy of a proof of purchase but haven't received word yet. They have been excellent at fixing any issues I've had up until now, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt on this. It just goes to show you that keeping receipts is a good thing.

I've never had to deal with SONY customer service or repair for any issues before but I've heard horror stories. Unfortunately, I don't have any link proof. You'll have to do the work yourself on checking my story. However, close friends have passed along tales of replacement PS3's with refurbs that don't work, twice. There is a distinctive mark on the side of my PS3 that has been documented by me for quality assurance purposes. I also have written down the serial number and have taken copious pictures of my PS3 to ensure that they don't try and pull a fast one. My only problem is a digital camera flash tends to reflect off the shiny surface and it's hard to get good lighting in my house. Below are the pics. Hopefully, they won't find it too dusty to repair under warranty. Granted, my PS3 is nowhere near as dusty as the one in the infamous consumerist story, but you never know.



On the game front, Best Buy was super willing to accept my return of GTA IV for a gift card credit. I spoke to a supervisor there and he authorized the transaction and as of yesterday, I have a gift card in my possession. I have still not heard a reply from, which bothers me. Kotaku, the website that originally broke the news about the GTA IV freezing issues, listed a possible fix that came from Something Awful forums. It looks like neither party wants to accept full blame but here's an interesting coincidence. A coworker of mine was telling me how she is selling her Wii because her kids are so involved with the PS3. However, they had to return it for repair because something went wrong when her son did a system update. Their PS3 won't read discs, now. Sound familiar? Random issues are just that random, but this is two exact problems in the same office building. Cue Rod Serling.

As more information becomes available, I'll keep you informed. Until a solid fix comes out for what's been happening, I'll just hold onto my gift card and wait to repurchase GTA IV. The game has me frothing at the mouth but the issues have me steaming from the ears. I can only hope there is a fix in the near future. I can only play Vice City Stories for so much longer. Luckily, I had forgotten to finish it months ago, giving me a taste of GTA goodness. In addition, since I really didn't get to play GTA IV before it froze on me, I don't know what I'm missing, other than my PS3.


4/29/08 Bought GTA IV
4/29/08 GTA IV Froze and Update 2.30 caused Disc Read Error 80010514 in PS3
4/29/08 Called SONY Customer Service, obtained Return Authorization
5/5/08 Received "coffin" shipping box and instructions
5/6/08 PS3 shipped overnight to Laredo, TX
5/7/08 PS3 arrived via UPS in Laredo, TX
5/7/08 Return Authorization now active in SONY's support site with the following message.

Status Date:
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Status: The unit you are inquiring about was opened and assigned on 5/7/2008. Please allow 7-15 business days from the time we received your unit to complete your order not including shipping and handling time.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Double O Spud

Recently, I was sent an internet site for a place called Spud's Travels. Why?  Because, that's what we do at work.  We find weird websites and email them to each other.  Unfortunately, when they get to me, I have to take it one step further and point out their shortcomings.   It's not a malicious thing; it's just that I don't think like everyone else.  I tend to have a warped sense of reality and should probably come with a plastic bag warning.   Mental issues aside, I didn't really spend a lot of time at the site which is pretty much one of those traveling toy picture pages.  Back when I was a kid there was a story about a duck shaped lawn ornament that went missing from a local couple.  Every so often they'd receive letters from exotic locations and there would be a picture of their duck at some monument or tourist type attraction included.  Eventually, the duck was returned and no harm befell it.  Then, when I was a sophomore, I was involved with the stage crews for the plays and musicals performed at our high school.  In our back room, where we kept all the sets and props, there was this huge paper Mache horse from a previous year.  One night it disappeared from the school and began popping up all over town.  The local news paper found it on their steps and then it appeared on the rooftop of a local business.  It was quite the mystery for our little one horse town.

But here, we're talking potatoes, here.  With the impending release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Playskool has decided to release a Taters of the Lost Ark Mr. Potato Head, complete with whip and gold colored idol.

You may remember when the prequel trilogy of the Star Wars saga was released Playskool issued a Darth Tater and Spud Trooper version.  There is even an Optimash Prime version for last years' Transformers movie.   This got me to thinking.  Playskool has missed the boat on the marketing goldmine of the century.  With Daniel Craig putting on the tux for Bond 22 this fall, Playskool should be rushing out a whole line of Mr. Potato Heads based on the Bond franchise.  After all, the latest Double Idaho 7 has been called "Mr. Potato Head" by numerous folks.  Why not use this as an excuse to corner the market.  However, being that I am bringing this to you, I believe I should be given compensation for my marketing genius.  Ok, that won't happen. I'll still give you my opinion because I'm just ridiculously insane.

I give you Double Idaho 7.  Spud, James Spud. 

This secret agent comes complete with the following.

  1. White tuxedo jacket

  2. Mouth that doesn't smile but comes with a bow tie directly under it.

  3. Stern, cold eyes

  4. Gadgets.  Plenty of them all stored in his butt.

Maybe, I'm nuts.  After all, why would a company that makes kids' toys create a spud in the likeness of a stone cold killer?  Hello, Darth Tater? Spud Trooper?  Spuda Fett?  It's not like Darth Vader was into playing with puppies and rainbows.  He was the baddest bad ass in the galaxy.  He killed Jedi children.  And Boba Fett was a ruthless bounty hunter.  So, why not James Bond? 

Think of it in terms of sheer volume of usable material in which to make jokes.  After 22 movies, Bond has more pun related films than any other Mr. Potato Head movie star likeness.  Just take a look.

Slicense To Kill

Gnocci Are Forever


Live and Let Fry

Octopussy and Chips

Quantum of Solanum

On Her Mashestey's Secret Service


The Wedge is not Enough

The Man with the Golden Hash Browns

From Russet with Love

You Only Bake Twice

For Your Fries Only

Perhaps, someone out there among my three readers will contact a friend of a friend and send my link all the way to Playskool's marketing groups.  Until that happens, let it be known that I came up with the idea and put it down on paper, first.  We'll haggle over copyright later. 


Ok, one more.   Mrs. Potato Head Bond Girl version....... Honey Ore Ryda.

Fine, I'll stop.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Baseball Story

I love a good story.  I love Americana as well.  The mixture of these two loves can be an intoxicating combination especially when someone knows how to tell an Americana story, well.  I've always wanted to be a writer and have the ability to tell good stories; the kind that were spun around a small table in the bowels of the Orca during the scar competition in Jaws, only happier.  Luckily, I was treated to a wonderful story about one of our nation's greatest pastimes, baseball.  Unfortunately, baseball has degraded into a business of making money and finger pointing at each other in terms of performance enhancing drug use.  But there was a time in the era of the baby boomers when baseball was as magical as James Earl Jones' depiction of it, saying why "they" will come in Field of Dreams. Granted, my brother's and even my father's heroes weren't exactly squeaky clean as they were prone to booze and broads. Yet, those vices seem to be innocuous compared to today's.

Because of that, I continue to pass along this story as it is one of those great anecdotes about a time when childhood, baseball, and America were something to take comfort in and be proud of without worrying about Amber Alerts, Mitchell Reports, or Wars in the Gulf. In 2006, my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary and over dinner, in one of those old houses that have been converted into a restaurant, my Dad's cousin, Joe, spun this related tale of baseball.  It was one of those stories that sprung from unrelated conversations that he could tie together with great ease.  The original conversation involved medical procedures during the 1950's as Joe is an oral surgeon who lives in Oneida, NY, but grew up in Long Island.  So, imagine sitting around a huge dinner table, eating good food and drinking good wine with friends and family as this man with a booming voice tells this tale in a Long Island accent.

Back in 1955, I was playing around with an old tricycle. I was riding with my feet on the step and pulled on the handle bars and fell off, cracking my skull. At the time, cranial pressure wasn't treated like it is today. Now, you would drill a hole into the skull to relieve the pressure. Back then, they put you on bed rest for 8 weeks, no sitting up, always horizontal.  I had nothing to do but bounce a baseball off the wall above my bed with one hand and catch it, into a mitt, with my other hand.  Years later it was discovered that my family could never get paint to stick to that particular patch of wall because of the amount of oil I would put onto the mitt.

During my weeks of bed rest, my grandfather, who was a lawyer, decided to do something to cheer me up.  His office was at 215 Montague street in Brooklyn. Some of the work they did involved drawing up wills and other legal documents for the local baseball players. In return, he would sometimes get various baseball related items as small gifts.  During my bedrest, one particular gift he gave me was a baseball.  It was something that kind of sat in a desk drawer in my room.  Unfortunately, I didn't have it very long.  After my bed rest was over and I was able to resume outdoor activities, the baseball went missing.

You see as boys grow up, their moms don't always understand the intrinsic value of certain things in their room. Over the years baseball cards and other objects tend to disappear, some lost forever, only to be explained as frivolous toys that were no longer important to a growing young man. Like that baseball, other things in Brooklyn also disappeared. But they weren't lost, they were just relocated.  It was about this time I believed my grandfather had a friend named "Thatgoddamned." Because I would always hear him say Thatgoddamned O'Malley this and Thatgoddamned O'Malley that. What I didn't realize was that O'Malley's real first name was Walter and he had just moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  They were one of his biggest clients and, of course, he was also a fan.

Some thirty years later, I'm come home from work and I find this little box on the desk in my study.  I had no idea where it came from.  I opened it and it contained two items with writing on them.

One was a note.  The other was a baseball.

The note read,

"I was looking for some papers in the attic and found this ball.  I was going to keep it but once I realized what it was, I figured I should return it to you."

The baseball read,

"Gil Hodges, Peewee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson" among others.

It turned out that one of my relatives was clearing out some old things at my boyhood home in Long Island and came across this baseball, signed by the 55 Brooklyn Dodgers. It was still in perfect condition considering it spent 30 years in a NY attic.

When I heard the story, my jaw dropped. You'd think this was a story that he'd been telling for years, honing like it Spalding Gray or Dave Allen. The events were constructed in such a fasion that it gave a twist at the end as you never expected the baseball to be that important, let alone valuable. Depending on the number of signatures, this baseball could be worth anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. Yet, it's the kind of baseball and story that should be passed down through his kids and grand kids as a testament to how baseball was a historical and important piece of this country. Future generations are more likely to remember Pete Rose or Barry Bonds more than Marris' asteriked carrer or the triumph of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.  Baseball is a dying sport, corrupted and old. Yet, the commercialism of the NFL and the NBA can't hold a candle in terms of rich and storied history. Baseball was one of those things that was more than a sport. You could write stories about baseball. You could tell stories about baseball. For that, I hope basebell will find a way to regain its place as the national pastime.

Two classic pieces of dialogue from baseball movies

Field of Dreams

Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Bull Durham

Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

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