Archive for July, 2008

22
Jul
08

Soulmate

natasha (Performed by Natasha Bedingfield)

Incompatible
It don’t matter, though
Cause someone’s bound to hear my cry
Speak out if you do
You’re not easy to find

Is it possible
Mr. lovable
Is already in my life?
Right in front of me
Or maybe you’re in disguise

Chorus
Who doesn’t long for someone to hold
Who knows how to love you without being told
Somebody tell me why I’m on my own
If there’s a soulmate for everyone? Continue reading ‘Soulmate’

18
Jul
08

The Dark Knight: Review (or Heath Ledger “Lovefest”)

Joker-dev They say that every great hero needs an antagonist.  Ali would not have been revered had he not competed against Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston and George Foreman.  People remember 80’s wrestling for the spotlight that Hulk Hogan was able to bring to it.  However, if not for Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Andre the Giant and Randy Savage, we wouldn’t have had the epic moments that still give me goosebumps today.

I’ve never been a big Heath Ledger fan.  I thought his performance in Brokeback Mountain was exceptional, as he portrayed a character whose repressed sense of love was evident –even in the way that he walked and spoke.  But aside from this, I would never admit to having seen greatness in him.  He was just another actor who, instead of taking a wealth of easy, guaranteed-money, movies highlighting his physical appearance, he instead took the ‘Johnny Depp route’ and decided in favor of more challenging roles.

OK, I know I’m beating around the bush, but the setup is important for what I’m about to say: Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was probably one of the best performances by an actor playing a antagonist – comic book villain or otherwise – that I’ve seen… maybe ever.  He’s that good.  The entire time that I was watching this film, I kept peering around the theater to see of other people were as in awe as I was to watch this award winning performance.  And what’s sad about the film (aside from the fact that Heath is no longer with us) is that without his performance, this is probably just another acceptable Batman film.

I wish I could talk more positively about other aspects of the film, but there’s not much here that hasn’t been seen in 2005 with Batman Begins.  The car’s the same.  We do get a cool new feature, but it’s pretty much the same car.  The toys he uses are a slightly better.  There’s a bit of a love struggle (and Maggie Gylenhaal, despite being incredibly fine, is about as annoying as Katie Holmes was).  And yes, the cast is strong: Christian Bale and Gary Oldman turn in solid performances, as do Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.  But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a notable movie without the performance of Heath Ledger.

So, (I’m sure you may be asking, if you haven’t seen this yet) what is it about his performance that is so notable?  I remember when this film was being made and I believe I recall hearing or reading somewhere that Heath was ‘studying’ different sources to get the role right.  I’m always amazed to hear actors talk about all this ‘studying’ that they do, yet the benefits can rarely be seen on screen.  Yet, this performance as the Joker is more than a comic book villain who comes to life.  From the moment he makes his entrance, we see something intrinsically evil about him.  Yes, he’s got the makeup and it makes him incredibly creepy looking.  But it’s more than the makeup.  He’s not physically menacing.  He’s actually kind of lanky.  But everything – from his expressions to the way that he walks – conveys to the audience that you’re dealing with someone who’s missing more than a few marbles.

Continue reading ‘The Dark Knight: Review (or Heath Ledger “Lovefest”)’

18
Jul
08

About the Whole “Jesse Jackson Statement” Thing….

art.jackson.wls Over the past few weeks since the incident where Rev. Jesse Jackson was captured on microphone saying unfavorable things about Senator Barack Obama, I’ve had discussion where a few friends have shared their thoughts.  An overwhelming number of people think that the statements were crude and that they aren’t consistent with the character of a man who, despite not being perfect, has led a life trying to help and unite others.  On the other end of the spectrum are a few who say that his comments are his own – they happened at a time where he thought the microphone wasn’t on.  They feel that despite the fact that it wasn’t wise for him to make comments on a stage regardless of whether the “On Air” sign is glowing or not, our first amendment allows him to make those comments as his own opinion.

The most interesting response forwarded to me was one written by a gentleman named Najee Ali.  In his ‘Open Letter to Jesse Jackson’ he acknowledges Jackson’s accomplishments, but in the same breath he accuses him of being an opportunist and of hurting Barack Obama’s chances in the upcoming election.  The most interesting charge was much more personal.  He admits to knowing Jackson’s youngest child Ashley, and then turns the letter into a personal attack, saying that perhaps Jackson should pay more attention to Barack’s most recent message to fathers around the country.

And it’s here where my silence must break.

Continue reading ‘About the Whole “Jesse Jackson Statement” Thing….’

04
Jul
08

John Adams (HBO Series): Reason to Be a Prideful American

John Adams Today we celebrate the independence of our great country.  I’m proud and blessed to be a citizen of this great nation (although I feel like we deserve more in the quality of those who lead us.)  The road to this country’s existence may seem like a passive chapter in a history book for some.  But clearly there was a deeper story to be told.  I remarked with a friend at work about some of the films that have been released and how superior they are in quality to the bland and lifeless retelling of our nations history by teachers who seemed to be narrating from a teleprompter.  While this may seem a bit extreme, I believe it would be far more effective to substitute 5th grade history class with a 60” Plasma television, comfortable chairs and a DVD Box Set of the HBO Original Series John Adams.  If the quality of history teachers is anything now like it was when I was a lad, this would be a far more effective lesson.

John Adams is an HBO original series based on the book by David McCullough, but calling it a “TV series” is almost degrading.  This is a high quality theatrical production.  I call it a film and think of it as a film, because truthfully that’s what it is – only one that was cut up into seven parts and had it’s theatrical release omitted.

I don’t know how historically accurate the film is, but considering the scrutiny that films find themselves under these days, I would have to say that it’s probably as accurate as it could be (for a retelling of events taking place 230 years ago.)  I thought initially that this would be a long and boring undertaking.  After all, seven parts of any film is an investment that you may later regret.  But as soon as this one gets started, you realize that this is no typical American history retelling.  No faux flutes and patriotic music to drown out the bad acting here.  This one has some substance.

Everyone by now is aware that Paul Giamatti has the lead role, but aside from Laura Linney (Abigail Adams) and David Morse (George Washington), there aren’t many faces here that I’ve seen before.  And this is a good thing.  In fact, it’s a great thing.  This adds completely to the authenticity of the film.  Instead of finding yourself saying, “Hey, look at Patrick Stewart playing Thomas Jefferson!”, you instead find yourself lost in the story and exploring the ideas through unfamiliar faces.

As well directed and well acted as the entire series is, what I took away most from the series was authenticity.  Sure, it’s difficult to even attempt to paint a picture about what really happened in an event so critical to American history and, for that matter, the history of the world.  But it’s the little things that helped me to commiserate with the plight of Englishmen in a foreign land, trying to push away their mother country.  The flies that make the first Congressional meetings uncomfortable.  The dialect of the different characters.  The toys that the children play with.  It’s the little things that seemed to grab me.

There were many details that we learn throughout the more than eight hours of viewing.  Some of them you’ll find that you knew.  But whether some of the ideas that we learn about (like Adams lack of people skills and Ben Franklin’s taste for French culture) are factual may be somewhat debatable.  But the authenticity is only part of the point.  What’s great here is the discussions that might ensure afterwards.  Whether we’re discussing rumors about our forefathers or actual accurate details, the point is that we’re discussing them.

Continue reading ‘John Adams (HBO Series): Reason to Be a Prideful American’

04
Jul
08

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Review

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Sometimes it’s a good thing to watch a movie without any indication of what’s to come.  I didn’t do any research.  I didn’t even realize that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in the film.  I just kinda put it in my Netflix queue.  Watching the trailer would have probably ruined my experience.  And in that same spirit, this is probably going to be a different review in that I don’t want to reveal too much about the film.  Just know this: 1) It’s not for kids – even if kids are in the vicinity of where the film is being played, 2) It has incredible acting, and 3) It will depress you beyond belief.

This film isn’t short on big names – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and countless other gems) directs.  All of the actors – big parts and small parts – turn in incredible performances.  Of particular note is, of course, Hoffman.  It’s ridiculous how passionate this guy is… how he conveys volumes with no words.  But the other actors turn in great performances as well. 

The film reminds me of something Quentin Tarantino might have written and directed.  However, unlike a Tarantino film, this one is devoid of all fun.  That’s not to say this is a bad film.  Much to the contrary.  This is an interesting, visceral, complicated and difficult film.  The most I’ll say about the plot is that you have two somewhat average brothers who, through poor decisions and just a bad deal in life, are in a bad place.  So, they end up making more bad decisions.  And the further we go, the messier things get.

While this film isn’t particularly bloody or sensational, what made it so gripping was how real these situations could be.  New York was used as the backdrop, so I guess that made it that much more authentic to me.  But the situations that these characters find themselves in made me stop and wonder how I might handle them.  The film is the thread hanging from your jacket…and as you grab it to yank and break it, you realize that yanking it has only created a bigger piece of thread…and now you’re in too deep to go get a pair of scissors…so you yank harder… and before you realize it, half of your sleeve is gone.

If you’re in the least bit of a slump in life, maybe this one isn’t for you.  I watched this on July 4 – I had the day off, life felt pretty good.  And by the time it was done, I was walking around wondering why my life had so many loose threads.  No, it isn’t very self-revealing.  These are very odd situations and unless you really live on the edge, I’m sure you won’t be able to relate.  But there’s so much tension that by the time you’re done, you really have to go find your happy place.  It’s depressing as hell.

But as much as I felt depressed after watching the film, I must say that in this age of films that are little more than an extended version of the trailer, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is completely unpredictable.  I found that two hour runtime went by in what felt like an hour and a half, because I couldn’t tell quite where things were headed.  But just trust Sidney Lumet.  He knows where he’s taking you.

I don’t often talk about a film’s score (particularly a film of this kind), but it’s worth mentioning that the theme that plays throughout the film is extremely chilling.  It’s disturbing.  It sets the stage quite wonderfully for this completely atypical experience.

To say, “I enjoyed this film” would be almost morbid.  I decided to tolerate the film and I’m pretty happy that I made that decision.  This is certainly not a film I’d own.  But I do encourage anyone who’s up for a different experience and who doesn’t mind a bit of violence and complex adult situations on-screen to check this one out.  Probably the best acted film I’ve seen all year.  (In a year of countless super hero movies, that isn’t saying much, but you get the idea.)

01
Jul
08

I Dream of Kindle

Kindle I remember being a bit cynical last winter when Amazon announced their “revolutionary device” that would change the game.  As a tech enthusiast, I’m probably one of the folks that they should hope gets excited about this.  Then again, I’m not a big reader, so perhaps I’m not quite in the center of their bulls-eye.  When I first laid eyes on the Kindle, my exact thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me”.  It really doesn’t say “2008”.  I’d argue that the Sony eBook Reader is a bit more sexy than a device where about a quarter of the precious real estate on the front of the device is dedicated to a physical keyboard.  (I know, I know – version 1.0).

Being the resident techie in most of my circles, it wasn’t long before the questions started… “what do you think about that new Amazon book thingy?”  “So when are you getting a Kindle?”  My answers were always pretty smug.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understood what Amazon was trying to do.  However, I thought they could have spent a little bit more time designing something that was lust-worthy instead of a device that looks like it was designed in 2000.

Time passed… and I had forgotten about the Kindle.  Regardless of how many times I’d go to Amazon.com and see the thing staring me in the face, my eyes would move somewhere else. 

But then a funny thing happened.  I stopped thinking about the design, and started thinking about the usability.

The time that I spent not paying attention to the Kindle caused me to miss out on the key selling points.  I would pick up random features listing to Leo Laporte’s TwiT podcasts.  And the more that I’d hear, the less cynical I got about the device…

Recently, (and I can’t quite explain how I’ve arrived at this…longing) I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kindle.  I don’t know if an Amazon guy spiked my iced tea or if they flashed a subliminal message while I was reading reviews on iPhone cases.  How it happened doesn’t really matter.  The fact is that I’m starting to see the advantages.  And I want in.

So what’s the big deal?

  • I carry around two copies of the Holy Bible.  (Please don’t judge – sometimes I’ll need to reference the King James version and other times I just want to get closer to the intent via my Student Edition of the New International Version).  By no means is it a heavy burden.  But there might be a more elegant solution.  Perhaps there’s a way to keep that and several other versions of the scripture by my side.  Not to mention the hymn book that I’d like to carry, but because it’s rather big I always leave at home.  Yes, this could be the answer…and for several reasons…
  • The Kindle is searchable.  Rather than wonder where in the book a character was introduced or when a certain thought was uttered, you can simply search through the text.  (How nicely that works is another matter altogether.)
  • The Kindle is online.  Via EVDO (i.e. fast 3G speed Internet Access).  And it’s free.  (Well, you pay for the device, but they’ve committed to free online access.  Never before have I seen that kind of commitment to just giving away 3G access.  This is the stuff Verizon makes you pay $59 bucks a month for.  And yes, it’s only useful on the Kindle, but that’s not a tremendous limitation because…
  • The Kindle has a built-in web browser.  OK, so I’ve heard that it’s so poor in displaying data and rendering pages that they might as well not have included it.  But this might be enough for me.  Many times when I’m traveling home on the bus or to work, I’d like to just pull down a full page of Engadget.com and just peruse the stories.  Nothing sexy.  Just stored.  Not sure if this is going to allow me to do that, but it might be better than the iPhone experience that I have now.  Most of the time, Safari will crash as I’m scrolling through a page like Engadget.  Also, until I get a 3G phone, it’s just a bit slow.  I don’t need a great web experience.  I just want to stay up to date while I’m driving.

Continue reading ‘I Dream of Kindle’