Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Night Videos

What the heck. In honor of the settlement of the Broadway strike, I offer up one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. Enjoy!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Talk about a failure of imagination.

For an hour and a half, I felt that old Battlestar Galactica magic. You know, that gritty, in-your-face adrenaline rush that made seasons 1 and 2 so good. Seeing the classic Cylon Raider ships in action was a blast. I almost laughed out loud when we got a peek at the interior, and saw the three Cylon pilots--the third of which was gold. A gold Cylon. In every incarnation of Galactica toys, there's been a gold "Cylon Centurion Commander" figure, but up until this point, there hasn't actually been one in the TV shows (to the best of my knowledge, and I've obsessed about such things). I've never been much a fan of the computer animated centurions in the ongoing series, and have to say I liked the classic centurions better as actual costumes. They just looked fake here. But it was still good to see them again.

What wasn't good to see was Apollo being emasculated again on the command deck. This was the first solo mission of the Pegasus under Apollo's command, so what do we get? Adama tagging along and countermanding Apollo's orders at the first opportunity, then giving a mealy-mouthed rationale that nobody's orders were wrong and we should all be happy that things wrapped up for the best. And Apollo, as always, swallows his idiotic idealism and slinks away with his tail between his legs. And Ron Moore wonders why Apollo is the least popular character on the show?

What bothered me the most, though, is how a tense, engaging episode wrapped up with a bloated, turgid slog through the final 30 minutes. The payoff for the whole movie was a decrepit old man in a pool of snot saying "It's happened all before" and "Kara Thrace is the agent of apocalypse" or somesuch metaphysical mumbo-jumbo? The whole point of this stand-alone movie was to foreshadow the final season? I'm sorry guys, but when you make a stand-alone movie, I feel it should... I dunno, maybe stand alone?

The final season of Galactica may indeed be a good ride, but all indications are that the writers are far too enamored of this ad-hock prophecy/predestiny they've concocted and aren't paying attention to the little things--such as, oh, fans switching channels in droves--that might clue them in to the fact that they've really gone off in the wrong direction with this.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As promised...

My review of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is now online at RevolutionSF.
Midway through Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, Molly Mahoney, played by Natalie Portman, explains to the eponymous Magorium that as a child, people marveled at her potential as a classical pianist -- but now that she's an adult, people are still waiting for her to fulfill that potential. That, in a nutshell, sums up Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium -- a movie with its heart in the right place, but one that never quite lives up to its promise.

I mention in the review that I believe many of the film's flaws can be traced to the fact that Zach Helm is a first-time director. Here's an example that really stood out for me, but just wouldn't fit into the review:

Early in the film, one of the opening scenes, in fact, shows Natalie Portman's character playing the piano, attempting to complete her first concerto. Portman can play the piano. She learned several years ago for a role. So far, so good. Except... Helm frames the scenes as if he's covering up the fact that Portman can't play. He moves the camera in on her face, with the bulk of the piano hiding her hands. Then he does a close-up of her hands, so that you can't see who they're attached to. Then he frames the scene from the side, with the piano, again, hiding her hands. It looks for all the world like the standard filmmaker's trick of disguising an actor's musical inability... and it's very obvious. Which is mind boggling, since a signature tic of the character is to "air piano" songs with her fingers throughout the film. It's not until the end of the film, when she's paying "Jennifer Juniper" in a piano lounge, that there's a long establishing shot that clearly shows her actually playing. And then it's right back to the "hide the hands" mentality. I've never claimed to be any kind of compositional genius, but several better shot structures suggest themselves even to me. All I can think of is that Helm framed them this way because that's the way he most often sees piano scenes set up in movies and television. Which is, to my mind, a error of inexperience.

Now Playing: ZZ Top ZZ Top's First Album

Monday, November 19, 2007

Piling on

I've seen something this past week that really ticks me off. And it has to do with the movie Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Not the film itself (more on that in a bit) but rather the reviews of it. To date, I've seen exactly one positive review of it, by MSNBC's Alonso Duralde (although fellow MSNBCer Courtney Hazlett gushes about it in passing). Everything else has been negative. No, negative isn't the right word. "Scathing" would be soft-pedaling it. The reaction to this film has been so unabashedly hateful and venomous that I am pretty much dumbfounded. Now, there's nothing wrong with a bad review if it's honest. But somewhere along the line, it turned into a contest--how to out-rip the competition. From CNN to Ain't It Cool, the reviews generally consist of escalating variations of "suck suck suck suck suck suck DIE!!!!" They generally spend their time coming up with various denigrating insults for the film without actually saying anything substantive about the film at all, and quite often don't even bother to get the name of the film right. To clarify: There's no way to tell if they actually saw the movie at all. The kicker for me came this morning when I found a column listing the 10 worst movies of all time because of Mr. Magorium, but then the author admitted he hadn't actually seen the movie, and wouldn't ever see it because it was so bad. Even though this is the kind of whimsical film he usually enjoys.


I saw Mr. Magorium this weekend. I didn't fall in love with it, and really have to question the objectivity of those two writers from MSNBC. I also didn't hate it. It's a film that tries really hard, but doesn't quite pull off what it's attempting. The performances of Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman are inconsistent at best. The main child actor does a better job than Jake Loyd did in The Phantom Menace, but that's about it. Jason Bateman is awesome in what should've been a throwaway role. It's not a funny movie, per se, but it is clever and amusing. Most of the problems, I feel, stem from the fact that there's a first-time director at the helm, and he's out of his depth.

It's not a good movie, but it's not terrible, either. At best, it's okay, at worst, mediocre. That may well be damning it with faint praise, but it's a hell of a lot more honest of an assessment than most other reviews circulating out there. My full review should be up on RevolutionSF shortly, so I'll post the link when it goes live.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Friday, November 16, 2007

This blog's readability level

Because everyone else is doing it, and I'm a good little lemming.

cash advance

Really, what else would you expect from a blog titled "Gibberish?"

Now Playing: Billy Joel Songs in the Attic

Friday Night Videos

Last night while I was driving home, Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" started playing on the radio. Now I like a good deal of Seger's material, and think this is a fine song. But even though I normally frown on remakes, in this instance I really, really think the remake does the original one better. When Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton took their version to the top of the country charts in the early 80s, they showed how simply performing a song as a duet could dramatically affect the impact of a piece. Even listening to Seger's version, I always hear in my head how it should be a duet. Another song that I feel the same about is Billy Joel's "Until the Night" off the 52nd Street album, but to my knowledge, nobody has ever covered that one, much less done it as a duet. But I digress.

No proper MTV-style video exists for the Rogers-Easton "We've Got Tonight," but I haven't let that stop me. In 1983 Easton has a television special, "Sheena Easton: Act I," featuring an array of performances by her as well as duets with Kenny Rogers and Al Jarreau. It also featured Easton's now-vanished Scottish accent (which I always found endearing) as well as her performing Billy Joel's "The Entertainer," sans the verse "Played all kinds of palaces, laid all kinds of girls." And yes, I did own "Act I" back in the day, on Betamax, no less. So enjoy this slice of music history.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Fixx.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Wild Wild West

I got a review copy of the season 3 DVD set for the Wild Wild West yesterday. Hoping that it held up as well as I remembered (it's been years since I'd seen it, sandwiched between Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on Saturday afternoons), I watched a couple of episodes with my brother.

We couldn't stop laughing.

There aren't really any jokes in the series, per se. Not your standard setup and punchline, nor are there many obvious one-liners. But the storylines and situations are so audacious, the characters so unflappable and over the top that you just sit there thinking "I can't believe they just did that!" And I mean that in the best way possible. If you're only familiar with the abominable Will Smith movie, do yourself a favor and pick up one of the season sets, or at least add it to your Netflix queue. It's brilliant.

Now Playing: Marty Robbins The Essential Marty Robbins

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

HEROES: Four Months Ago

Not a bad episode. Thank goodness. Not a great episode either, unfortunately. It did fill in a number of gaps, but in most cases, those gaps weren't that significant. The biggest revelation is that the relationship between Peter Petrelli and Kensei/Adam came about via legitimate means, as opposed to the amnesiatic manipulation of Peter I (and presumable other viewers) assumed Adam/Kensei was undertaking.

Other things learned this episode: Amada Petrelli has just about no redeeming qualities, viciously lying to Nathan's now-walking wife like that. She's just cruel. And what the hell is her power, anyway? The power to sow discord? Sorry, any two-bit soap actress can handle that in a pinch. We do need more of Nathan's (ex?) wife, however.

Veronica Mars/Lightning Lass is just your garden variety unstable psychotic. I was hoping for more.

Did I miss something? When was it established that the Haitian could dampen other supers' powers? I only remember seeing him steal memories prior to this episode.

The los Gemelos De la Maravilla background is kinda interesting in a melodramatic sense. So the sister caught the brother's bride screwing an ex-boyfriend in the middle of the wedding reception, and goes all black oil on them, wiping out the entire wedding party. Oops. The sister seems far more self-centered than is healthy, and the brother far more forgiving (hey, if my sister wiped out my new bride, family, friends and whatnot on my wedding day, I think I'd be a hell of a lot more pissed at her). This family dynamic is so messed up, I can't see them surviving to the end of the season. For all of that, they're still a mere shadow of the wonderfully conflicted Ted/Radioactive Man from season one. Come to think of it, all of the secondary characters this time around are a lot more shallow than those of season one. Interesting.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that the absolute worst storyline revolved around Niki/Jessica. Firstly, we have the utterly pointless reveal that D.L. (aka Walk-Through-Walls-Guy) survived the gunshot wound from the season 1 finale, only to be killed in a LA nightclub by... a gunshot wound. This came after he was clever enough to desolidify when his killer tried to punch him. And Niki/Jessica isn't anymore. Instead, we have Niki/Gina. Gina being a self-centered party girl. Joy. The entire D.L./Niki subplot this episode is a steaming example of writers not only making meaningless changes for the sole purpose of being able to say "Fooled You!" to the audience, but changes that laboriously strive to maintain the status quo. And will somebody please explain to Tim Kring that multiple-personality disorder is not a super power. I'd thought that her actual super power was super-strength, but apparently that's not the case, since it took Niki/Jessica/Gina something like 20 minutes to break down a simple wooden door in last week's episode, whereas your average firefighter or police office would likely kick it in with about five seconds' worth of effort.

Fortunately, the narrative momentum has picked up--that's two back-to-back episodes that were at least watchable. We haven't gotten any dramatic, tension-filled "Save the cheerleader, save the world" moments yet, but if Kring is indeed taking advantage of the writer's strike to embarking on a mid-season course correction, then there may be hope for the show.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Monday, November 12, 2007

HEROES: Out of Time

Okay, this muddled collection of opinions is coming a week late, and since the next episode airs tonight, I'll keep things relatively short (for me, that is).

Good episode.

Cheerleader Claire's flying stalker boyfriend finally figured out that her dad is the evil abductor. Finally. You'd think a creepy guy with an affinity for voyeurism would've picked up on this earlier.

Hiro finally returns to the present and learns from Ando that Mr. Sulu is dead. To no viewer's surprise, Kensei is the uber-bad guy who did him in. I'm disappointed the feudal Japan sequence turned out so turgid, since I'm a fan of movies such as Ten to Chi to by Haruki Kadokawa. The trouble, I believe, comes from a plot wholly contingent on maintaining the status quo. That's a very passive motivation. If, instead of Hiro trying to make boorish Kensei into the hero of legend, he'd discovered, say, a malicious, already-immortal Kensei pulling strings to use legend to his advantage--a long-term Vandal Savage approach--that could've set into motion Hiro sending messages to Ando in the future to work toward thwarting Kensei's plots in contemporary times as well. That, at least, would give Ando something more dramatic to do than sit around reading tiny scrolls.

Parkman faced down dear old daddy and woke up Molly. It's great to see Parkman finally being something other than a passive wuss, but come on! Daddy is Brainiac of this Heroes universe. He's got years of practice. So what if Parkman has the same potential? He doesn't have the experience or control. What he should've had was a Pyrrhic victory or a Bunker Hill defeat. Think Luke Skywalker getting his head handed to him by Vader in The Empire Strikes Back--yes, he surprised Vader with his ability and even got a couple of good licks in, but at the end of the day he was still over-matched. Parkman turning the tables on his father with that cringe-inducing "This is YOUR nightmare" speech simply oozed cliche out of every pore.

The Nikki/Jessica character is still worthless.

Mohinder is quickly becoming the Lee "Apollo" Adama of Heroes. He's supposed to be the morally pure, ethical soul on the show. The one "unencumbered" by super powers. Fine. That doesn't mean he has to be spineless, disloyal and wishy-washy. The whole "Oh no, Bennett isn't a very nice person, so I'll spill my guts about the conspiracy to Mr. Midas who tries to make me do evil things. Oh, and let me have a gun, too." Very, very, very ham-fisted writing. If you want to give Mohinder a legit reason to switch sides, show Mr. Midas and the agency as a good and noble cause, rather than a shady, shifty and ominous quasi-government conspiracy. Sheesh.

By now, everyone and their dog has read about Tim Kring's apology to Heroes fans. It's a start, but I don't think Kring entirely gets it, even now. He complains about romance not working on the show. But the ones that haven't works are the ones cut from whole cloth as plot devices. Romance can work, but it has to evolve amongst characters naturally, in the course of writing the season. Which would be a lot easier to have happen if Kring & Co. didn't stubbornly stick to the formula of keeping everyone with any ability widely separate from other powered individuals.

Kring also says he thought fans wanted a repeat of the drawn-out season one plot buildup. The slow pacing of season one was my biggest complaint about the series. Too much filler, not enough substance. Granted, I'm not anyone Kring need take notice of, but I wasn't the only one making such observations. And Kring still seems to think plague-ravaged New York is an entirely different macguffin than nuclear-ravaged New York. Dude, open your eyes.

I think a lot of the show's problems would be solved if Kring just gets off his high horse and finally admits that yes, this is a comic book show. Embrace the pulp action heritage that entails. Build the show around episode-ending cliffhangers. And for crying out loud, develop some unaligned bad guys that aren't part of any conspiracy, but only in it for themselves. Have some fun. Here's a thought: Have a funny episode. Even the X-Files did that to break the tension every so often. Introduce someone with lame powers--abilities so embarrassing that Sylar refuses to "harvest" them so as not to debase himself. Anything would liven up the turgid slog season two has become.

But "Out of Time" was a good episode, and the most plot-advancing of any recent installments. Hopefully, this is a sign of the direction the series will be heading from here on out.

Now Playing: Various That Thing You Do Soundtrack

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Today's video fix is... well, The Fixx. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Go-Gos

Now Playing: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Young Indiana Jones

My review of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 1 is now live at RevolutionSF. You know, if you want my advice on whether or not the box set is worth the $90 or so it retails for.
I became a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and subsequent Indiana Jones films -- almost from day one, so it was with great enthusiasm that I pulled up a chair to watch the debut of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as a college senior back in 1992. I remember the excitement I shared with my friends when George Lucas announced the project, and the unbearable anticipation as we counted down the days to series premiere. An Indiana Jones series!

I clearly recall that excitement just as clearly as I recall the growing horror I felt as I watched the pilot and realized Lucas had committed the one unforgivable blunder I'd never have expected of him: He made Indiana Jones boring.

And that's just the opening salvo. Imagine how the words fly once the battle is joined.

Now Playing: Billy Joel The Bridge

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Ran into some otherwise innocuous things today that unexpectedly nailed me like Bard's black arrow through the chink in Smaug's underbelly. The result being that I'm in something of a funk and not much in a blogging mood. I've got thoughts on last night's Heroes installment, though. Maybe I'll get around to posting them tonight, maybe not.

Now Playing: Prince Batman Soundtrack

Monday, November 05, 2007


Lookie what bloomed for me yesterday:


Passiflora edulis var. flavicarpa. Edulis is the commercial species of passion fruit. Edulis var. edulis is the purple-fruited variety, which you'll sometimes see in the produce department of high end grocery stores. Flavicarpa, on the other hand, produces a yellow fruit and is usually used for juice. This is the first time I've had any type of edulis flower for me, and I'm quite happy with it. Unfortunately, my foetida var. gossypiifolia is the only other passion flower blooming right now, and the two species aren't pollen compatible. I've attempted to hand-pollinate the flavicarpa with some p. gibertii pollen I had stored, but that pollen is old, so I'm not holding my breath.

But, anyway, yay!

Now Playing: The Beastie Boys License to Ill

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Between the failed years as a punk band and the period when Jane Weidlin found fame as Joan of Arc in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure as Belinda Carlisle found fame by shedding her clothes for Playboy the Go-Gos actually reined for a time as a tight, rocking band in the '80s. By the time of their final pre-breakup album, Talk Show, they'd honed their songwriting and musician skills to a sharp professionalism that is clearly non-existent in their early albums. Sure, some of the spontaneity was lost, but it's hard not to appreciate their maturing sound. The lead single off Talk Show, "Head Over Heels," is a good showcase for this. It's a very deliberate effort at a pop hit, and succeeds on most counts. The video is almost pure '80s cheese, with just enough surrealism thrown in to let you know that the band isn't taking itself too seriously. Ultimately, it works much better than half-hearted lesbian cross-dressing theme that dominated the "Turn to You" video, which was the follow-up single and the Go-Go's last top 40 hit.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Escape Club.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box

Thursday, November 01, 2007

HEROES: Jump the shark?

Okay, so NBC has put the spinoff (aka mid-season fill-in) series Heroes: Origins on hold due to the looming writers strike. I have to wonder if those same writers haven't already gone on strike after watching Monday's episode (titled "The Line" if the NBC website is accurate).

My usual complaint about Heroes is that too many episodes have no forward narrative momentum. That's not the case here: several plotlines advanced. It's just that where they advanced to left me very, very cold.

Firstly, Cheerleader Claire got revenge on the snotty, arrogant head cheerleader by virtue of disturbing use of her's and her flying stalker boyfriend's powers. Flying stalker boyfriend dropped another in a string of painfully obvious clues that he is bad news by telling Claire she's better than the nasty head cheerleader not because she's a good person, but because she has powers. Uh oh. And he injures the mean girl, creating an opening on the squad for Claire. Trouble brewing for sure, but I'm losing interest. Why? It's such an obvious, color-by-numbers approach to the situation. Riffing on Heathers might make this whole high school cliqueish narrative work, or maybe even Buffy, but the drawn-out lack of imagination is tiring.

Ditto for our south of the border subplot. Here, we were treated to quite possibly the worst-scripted illegal border crossing in history, with straw man vigilante border guards serving as cannon fodder. We also see los Gemelos De la Maravilla have a falling out as Maria--now suddenly under Skylar's complete and total sway--begins killing without remorse. And Skylar is pretty spry for a fellow who was run through with a sword at the end of last season. Resistance to chest wound infection must be another power he picked up somewhere along the way. What started out as the plot thread that interested me the most has now become the biggest train wreck. When storylines depend on people acting with incredible stupidity to advance, you know you've got problems.

As for Hiro in the past... how can you take all the dynamic, illuminati-style plot potential of super-powered beings in feudal Japan and reduce it to tedium via an ancient scroll narrative? I could go into specifics, but that'd take up a whole blog entry on its own.

Despite those problems, I hadn't given up on the show. The potential, in theory, is still there. Except... in Mohinder's storyline, the brooding, non-powered genius is ordered to inject the Taskmaster analog from New Orleans with an engineered virus that is designed to strip her of her powers. Great, we have another ham-fisted moral dilemma. And he's saddled with Nikki/Jessica as a watchdog when he refuses. And he utters a portentous warning that the virus could mutate and jump into the non-powered human population, shades of "The Legacy Virus" from Marvel's X-Men. Lo and behold, Peter Petrelli, he of every power in the book (including a convenient case of amnesia) jumps into the future to find New York devoid of life, a city in wiped out--presumably by afore-mentioned virus.

Does anyone else see a problem here? It's the same damn story arc as last season! You know what? I don't care. Wipe New York out last season, this season, I don't care. Just show some kind of intellectual ingenuity, people. It may be okay for Laverne & Shirly to scramble around every other episode trying to find enough money to pay the rent, but Heroes has something of a higher writing standard to live up to. I'm not tuning in each week to see "the same thing, only different," and if the writers don't get their collective heads out of their collective asses pretty darn quick, I won't be tuning in at all.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box