January 28, 2011

Nailed It!

Check out a spot-on parody of the American Idol audition shows from the often-brilliant Randy Rainbow.

January 26, 2011

Let the Games Begin!

I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, by author Suzanne Collins. Yeah, it was intended to be read by those closer in age to book's protagonist, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, but then again so too were the Harry Potter series and Twilight, and they entered the public zeitgeist as well.

They're rushing this one to the big screen, with a release date of 3/23/12 for the movie version of the first novel, which has yet to be cast... 

On the surface, the story is not all that original. It takes place in a dystopian future, and an annual Shirley Jackson flavored lottery selects two tributes -- young teenagers --  from each of the country's 12 districts to compete in a Survivor/American Gladiators/Thunderdome battle called the Hunger Games. All 24 boys and girls enter the arena, and fight to the death in a televised bonanza, but only the sole survivor lives. 

Bella Swan, the heroine in Twilight, is sullen and depressed with her life because she has divorced parents who both love her and has to decide between her hunky vampire beau and her equally hunky werewolf suitor. Yeah, Bella, life is hard -- *eye roll*

At least we can understand why Katniss hates her life. Her father is dead, killed in a mining accident. Her mother is distant on her best days, and an empty shell of herself most of the time. She lives in District 12, the poorest of all the districts, where food is scarce and hope even scarcer. 

Although I found the third book to be a bit lacking in both substance and surprise, and a bit more tonally like Starship Troopers than the V for Vendetta/1984 feel of the first two books, I nevertheless enjoyed the read and appreciated both the depth of the characters, as well as the obvious political overtones. 

I look forward to the film, which is reportedly to be directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville) -- a movie that turned what could have been a light-hearted comic romp through a 50's sitcom landscape into an unbelievable allegory about the civil rights movement of the 1960's. He's the perfect choice to craft a film that hopefully will make the PG-13 crowd think more about the Senate than Snooki. 

If that happens, maybe we all can win.

January 14, 2011

What a Fool Believes

It's just a jump to the left!
PHONECIA, New York — You may be signing that checkbook with your John Hancock today, but you might be surprised to find that you actually should be using your Higb Glbxixj.
A new alphabet was unveiled recently by linguists at Upstate Tech in New York, with each letter shifted one space on the traditional keyboard, moved thanks to the efforts of the moon’s gravitational pull.
“The ancient civilization that developed our alphabet used stone tablets, which were far heavier than the loose sheets of paper that we use today, and were thusly immune to the forces of the solar system. During the ensuing millenniums, the moon's gravitational pull has made the Earth 'wobble' around its axis, creating a one-letter shift in our language's letter-to-symbol correspondence," said Bob "Viv" Jones, Professor of Fine Arts at UTNY.
Thus our new alphabet reads as follows: LVXSWDFGUHJKNBIOPEARYCQZTM.
The change will take some time to get used to, but will slowly be transitioned into common usage by the summer of 2012, just before the Mayan calendar runs out and all life on Earth ceases to exist.
LH Nlaa contributed to this report.

January 13, 2011

Storming Time

We're No. 18!

Looks like it's once again time for me to write about my rules for storming the court at the end of a college basketball game. The short and simple version goes as follows: Don't.

99.9 percent of the time when you storm the court all you are saying about your school is that "We suck and we know it!" Now, that's fine if you're an 0-15 team and you upset No. 1 in the nation. By all means, go crazy. After all, in that case you're more than welcome to revel in the victory.

But at least in that case I understand why you'd want to go nuts at the end of the game. When you're No. 3 in the country and you beat No. 14? Don't storm the court. You're supposed to win. Be happy. Cheer like madmen! Stay off the court.

See this picture below? This is the celebration that happened after Florida State beat No. 1 Duke. A truly once-in-a-lifetime win that is certainly cause for euphoria, right?

Huzzah! Seminoles win! P.S. - WE SUCK!

Here's the problem... the picture above is not from last night (Wednesday) when said upset took place. It's from March of 2006 when the same exact said upset took place. Storming the court against Duke only says one thing to the fans of Duke: your team is better than ours. 

That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule. In my opinion, you are allowed to storm the court under the following circumstances without it reflecting poorly on your school. They are as follows:

1) You win the last home game of the season and in the process either win your conference title or complete an undefeated season. This is clearly a celebration of your team's season and the identity of your opponent in this situation is irrelevant. 

2) A spontaneous rushing as a result of a buzzer-beater. Nobody is going to call you out if rushing of the court seems natural... in fact this classic one at the Carrier Dome -- fast forward to 1:06 to get to the good stuff -- takes forever to actually develop. 

3) Huge comeback against a rival. It's not enough for a Big 12 team to come from 15 points down to a Great West  team with ten minutes to play to warrant a court-storming. When you're supposed to win by 40, a nail-biter is nothing to celebrate. However, if you're Michigan and you  score the last ten points to beat Michigan State, or vice versa... regardless of the records or the time of year, go for it.

Remember... storming the court is a grand statement by a fan base. Before you do it, make darn sure it's saying what you want it to.  

The More Things Change...

This is the text of a speech given by Robert F. Kennedy on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated and just two months before he himself was gunned down. Change the words in bold at the start of the second paragraph to "party" and "Democrat and Republican" -- and they ring just as true today in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting. I'm not sure how that makes me feel... How about you?

This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives. 
It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by his assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember - even if only for a time - that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek - as we do - nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

January 12, 2011

Pitchers and Vampires Report

Old enough to be Cy Young

So I broke down and watched Twilight recently. It only seemed fair to actually see the film that I had intuitively decided to mock over the past few years... and now that I have -- all guilt is gone. What a crap-tacular movie!  

In a nutshell, the story revolves around Bella Swan, a morose teenager who moves back in with her father, a sheriff in the small Pacific Northwest town of Forks, when her mother decides to go on the road with her minor league baseball playing boyfriend. 

There, she encounters the mysterious and uber-pale Cullen clan, who we learn are the adopted children of Mr. Jennie Garth, so there's nothing at all anyone, including school guidance counselors, should find creepy about the fact they all seem to be dating each other -- except for odd-man out Edward. Eventually, as you would expect even without being familiar with the story, Edward and Bella fall in love, which leads to much moping around and long scenes of sadness, since -- shocker -- Edward and his family are vampires. 

Actually, some of the new takes on "being a vampire" are somewhat refreshing... for instance, they can go out in the sunlight, but don't because doing so causes them to "sparkle" and thus would reveal their true identity. Hence, the reason they chose to live in a perennially overcast area. That's at least a creative way of not having to have every scene take place after curfew.

Shoeless Joe was on Team Edward

However, any chance the movie had at succeeding to capture my heart flew out the window when Edward takes Bella out on a date to play baseball with his family. And no, that's not a lame cover story the couple tells her naive father so they can go off on an illicit rendezvous. No,  apparently, vampires in Twilight actually love to play baseball -- but since these immortals are also super-strong, they can only play baseball during thunderstorms so that the "crack of the bat" from their Ruthian blasts does not draw attention to their exploits. 

(And of course their choice of uniform is reminiscent of the Chicago White Sox -- after all, they wouldn't have been able to go to any Cubs games until 1988 for fear of sparkling. Now that I think of it,  Glenn Close in The Natural must have been a vampire! Oh, no! Poor Roy Hobbs.)

See how she sparkles!

Anyway, the baseball game goes on for far, far too long, and probably would have gone on even longer except that suddenly the Black-Eyed Peas show up and want to eat Bella along with their peanuts and cracker jack. The rest of the movie involves the Cullens trying to keep Bella from getting stepped on like a leprechaun.

Some other stuff happens, but quite frankly, I've already forgotten... hopefully, there will be some sort of recap at the beginning of New Moon, which is next on my DVR queue. I'll let you know soon...  but in the interim, feel free to mock away!

"I Gotta (Bad) Feeling...

January 8, 2011

I Wish I Had Known

When I first heard about the film Knowing in 2002, I thought the concept was incredibly cool:  A time capsule is buried at an elementary school to be opened 50 years later. When the day finally arrives, it is indeed opened and the drawings that the children had placed inside horrifyingly depict every major tragedy that has occurred in the past five decades -- and there is one drawing left.

Not only that, but Richard Kelly, the director of Donnie Darko -- one of my favorite movies of all-time --was working on the script and was going to direct. I was very excited to see the movie… but it kept encountering delays and eventually Kelly left the project and I forgot about it.

However, with the snow coming down and a free Showtime preview on my dish, there it was on the schedule, just begging to be watched. Sure it starred Nicolas Cage, who plays only two types of characters -- manic depressives and over-the-top manic -- and in both cases, monumentally stupid characters at that. But, nonetheless, I wanted to see what director Alex Proyas, who had helmed the underrated Dark City, had done with the cool story.

Disappointed much? You bet I was. 

Although the story still has a time capsule, gone was the concept of children's drawings depicting disaster. Instead, one little girl, freshly cut from the now-requisite Samara mold of pale and sullen creepy kids, writes out a endless series of seemingly random numbers -- or are they?

Flash ahead to the opening of the time capsule, where Cage's son gets to open the envelope with the numbers. Although Cage spends the night in a drunken stupor, because the single dad still mourns the loss of his wife in a tragic fire, a portion of the numbers catches his eye. He writes these numbers on a dry erase board, but can't quite figure out why they seem to resonate with him -- is it 91-10-1? No, that's not it…  Wait a minute! It's 9/11/01!

Right here the film starts to lose me… I'm actually fine with the idea that he might have seen 9/11/01 in the grid of numbers and then taken a closer look. But for him to decide to play with that particular string of numbers at random without recognizing it as an important date in history? Come on! It's not like he was staring at that day's Jumble and absent-mindedly found a word.

Nevertheless, Cage uses his Google skills to shockingly discover that this list of numbers actually contains a series of dates where tragedies took place, followed by the exact number of people who died in each disaster. I'll actually be generous here and throw the script-writers a bone, and let it slide that the "official number of victims" of many tragedies often changes from when the first news stories get written. There are far bigger fish to fry.

Cage, by the way, is a professor at MIT, so he's supposed to be a big smarty-pants. He shows his discovery to his colleague, best-friend and fellow smarty-pants along with the revelation that there are three tragedies left on the list (all conveniently forecast to occur within the next week) and is met with a resounding "you're nuts and seeing things because you're still in mourning over your wife's death."

Look, I'm not saying if faced with that situation in real life that I'd blindly buy in that this pattern was forecasting future doom. I'd probably assume someone was pulling an elaborate practical joke of some sort, but clearly there was no mistaking that there was a pattern there. The proper response from the guy who clearly understood that he was dealing with manic-depressive/manic Cage would have been to say that when the next date passed and the pattern was broken, would he please promise to seek some grief counseling.

Instead, he challenges Cage by pointing out that there were a whole lot of numbers that they didn't know the meaning of in between the dates, therefore the whole thing still seems random to him. Which is kind of like seeing a page full of seemingly random letter strings, having someone say that they've figured out that these are actually words in French and that you dismiss his theory as lunacy because although he identified "bonjour" and "aurevoir" he doesn’t know what the string of letters "savoirauncomplotmuets" means.

Anyway, the next day, Cage figures out what those other numbers mean. While driving to pick his son up from school, he gets stuck in a traffic jam and while sitting there, his gaze falls upon the GPS in his car. The "extra" numbers, he now realizes, are the location of the disaster, and he is sitting on the site of the one predicted for that day. He gets out of the car to see what is going on and a plane crashes right in front of him.

Again, I'm willing to accept this conceit for the purposes of the movie. It's the next step that makes no sense. Cage plugs in the numbers and figures out the exact street corner in New York City where the next disaster will occur. He then calls the FBI anonymously and tells them to clear the streets there, as a "terrorist attack" is imminent, gets in his car and drives to said street corner.

When he sees that it appears to be business as usual, he gets upset and walks up to a police officer and asks why they haven't shut down the intersection. The cop has no idea what he is talking about, and he angrily declares that he phoned in the warning, so why haven't they done anything. At which point she walkie-talkies "It's him" to a bevy of government agents who had been lurking nearby and a chase of sorts ensues, leading Cage into the subway… two trains crash, killing the expected number of people and fulfilling the prophecy, and Cage simply walks away.

The film only gets worse from here as the final predicted death toll is shown to be not "33" as written, but actually "EE" since we learn the young creepy girl often would write letters backwards, and in fact, stands for "Everybody Else." Yes, the final disaster is Armageddon, caused by deadly solar flares that, if they actually occurred as explained in the movie would not actually do the damage that it eventually does, killing everyone on the planet…

…Oh, except of course for Cage's son and the granddaughter of the creepy girl who are saved by being ushered away in a spaceship by a quartet of mute Spike-from-Buffy-looking aliens and brought to a new Eden-esque planet. Did I forget to mention that whole subplot?

I wish I could read one of Richard Kelly's drafts, but I fear that's trapped in a forgotten time capsule somewhere, never again to see the light of day. But since that is not to be, allow me to offer to you my own secret warning code:


January 6, 2011

Mob Mentality

There's two ways to look at the phenomena of flash mobs. On the one hand, these "drive-by, surprise performance attacks" point out glaring weaknesses in the capability of government to truly protect us from a well-planned terrorist attack.

I mean, if groups of motivated people can secretly organize over the internet to meet in a well-trafficked public location, strike quickly with a choreographed set of actions that escalate quickly, and then disperse into the shadows from whence they came -- and each time the event comes as a "shock" to onlookers that almost always include law enforcement, then imagine what tragedy might occur if the weapon of choice of these flash mobs was actual guns instead of merely "throwing your guns in the air and waving like you just down care."

Even more pathetic is this inept CBS report about late-night street fights in Philadelphia that lumps these playful flash mobs in with people who are simply out to fight… and yet, the lack of ability to stop these "events" could well be a cause for despair…

And yet, I choose to look on the bright side of things. The more often that flash mobs that take place on such a large scale, the more obvious it is that the terrorists who seek to destroy "our way of life" are not nearly as organized or capable of causing havoc to our everyday lives as we have been led to believe. Otherwise, they'd have pulled something off by now -- because clearly, even the Great and Powerful Ryan Seacrest is unable to defend himself from being victimized by these nefarious evildoers. 

Is there no end to the Scope of this terror?

January 5, 2011

The Balance of Power

"Reading this blog makes you 74 percent smarter."

Of course, I have no proof to back up this claim, but so what? Clearly if enough people say it is true, then it must be true, right? How else can you explain the mountains of cash that Power Balance has made selling their completely useless bracelets? They say their product works. They get famous athletes to say it works. Therefore, it works? 

We're getting the bands back together!

Bold claims, such as saying that a cheap piece of plastic can suddenly improve a person's energy, strength and athletic performance simply by being worn, require significant amounts of proof.  And yet, what is the "proof" that the company, which recently was forced to admit that "there is NO credible scientific evidence that supports our claims"? 

Apparently, it is a video where athletes like Matthew Stafford, who coincidentally injured the shoulder of the arm he wore the bracelet on this season, are going to show you how the bracelet helps them... unfortunately, as you will see, that part of the "testing" doesn't manage to make the final edit... 

So, to review: Our product works. To prove it, we'll test it on famous people. And then not show you the results, but ask you to buy our product and test it yourself. 

Nice scam... but I'll let the actual results speak for themselves:

"This product gets me tremendous results... there is no doubt I feel much better with the product on... (it) is going to get me to the next level." -- Scott Kazmir, two-time resident of the disabled list in 2010, in danger of not making the Angels rotation for 2011.