Monday, August 27, 2007


Listening to NPR on the way home today (well, monday) the All Things Considered program had a bit on the new Bionic Woman series on NBC. Here's the link to the NPR program. Well, this made me think of the old Bionic Woman starring Lindsay Wagnar.

This made me think of the Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors.

Which made me think of Lee Majors in The Fall Guy.

Which made me think of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, because its star (Gil Gerard) sorta resembles Lee Majors.

And then a torrential flood of nostalgia overtakes me. These were the shows that I grew up watching. Some (like Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman) were in reruns, but they filled up my many hours in front of the TV when I grew up. Other shows that I recall at the moment include Knight Rider, Blue Thunder (albeit shortlived), Airwolf, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, Incredible Hulk, I Dream of Genie, Adams Family, The Munsters, and oh so many more. Nick at Night fed me shows way past network rerun status, including Mr. Ed, Leave it to Beaver, and Patty Duke. Oh, those were the days... *sigh* I think I should write a book about the 80's according to me.

So, it makes me feel like what Bowling for Soup was singing about in 1985. Their video for 1985 is rather bland, but here's the best home-made cover video I've found. It's quite funny.


Think a cross between Butterfly Effect, Groundhog Day, and Pulp Fiction.

Premonition stars Sandra Bullock and a few others I don't know. The movie takes you through a week in the life of Linda Quinn Hanson (Bullock) and Jim Hanson (Julian McMahon), Tarantino style, in which he dies, but then hasn't died yet... or will he die at all? Can Linda stop it?

Well, as in Butterfly Effect, or long before, in the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex (by Sophocles), it seems that any attempt to change fate, in actuality, fulfills it. Which is unfortunate. As a teen, when I read Oedipus Rex, while the other kids were giggling over the incest, I was shocked by the unyielding force of Fate, and frightened by determinism, either scientific or theological (e.g. Calvinism.) Wikipedia has a great entry on free will. But now, after living a while and being seemingly beholden to deterministic Fate, I want to see Fate turned on its ear!! It's why I loved Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula righted the wrong, dammit! But more often, Fate has it's way, as in Oedipus Rex, as in Terminator, as in Butterfly Effect, as in The Final Countdown, and as in Premonition. Oh well :(

The premise of this movie is interesting, and so in exploring the theories about fate and free will, I stumbled upon a quote by 19th c. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, "A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants." Another translation I like better (perhaps it is a paraphrase) is, "A human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants." Stew on that a little. How terrible! If that's the case, what hope is there for me?!

Is the movie worth watching? Sure, it's alright. Holes in the plot, but not a waste of your time.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Employee of the Month

I almost didn't think it worthy writing a post about this movie, because, well, it was pretty dumb.

However, it had two redeeming qualities. One, it was filmed in New Mexico, with funding aid from the State's film office. Two, it starred Dane Cook. Unfortunately, neither quality made the movie any better. Oh, it also starred Jessica Simpson, though that neither detracted nor added to the movie, she did a decent job.

Being filmed in NM is a redeeming quality because, well, I'm from New Mexico and it's a fantastic thing for the state that we're really promoting film making here. As an aside, my mom got cast as an extra for a couple movies coming out this fall. Bordertown got dropped from theater release, I think, but it will be released on video at least at the end of August. No Country for Old Men will be released in November. She got cast in Bordertown first as a nun in a hospital scene with Antonio Banderas. It seemed like a scene too important to cut, so unless they re-shot it, I'm pretty sure she'll make the final cut. She was cast as a nun again in Old Men, but I think her's was a background extra thing there.

Dane Cook, if you don't know, is a fantastic comic. Therefore, I was especially disappointed and surprised the movie wasn't funny. Don't know if it was his fault or the script.

Pass on this one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Call on Me

It's another insomninite (my own term!). While youtubing, I came across Steve Winwood's "Valerie." I had no idea who Steve Winwood was until I watched a couple videos, and of course I know his work. If you're not sure, here's links to three youtube videos. I won't embed them because visually they're nothing to write home about, but the songs are classics:

Back in the High Life Again
Don't You Know What the Night Can Do

But tonight's youtube surfing netted something else, something amazing. Nowadays, marketers have paraded sex in so many aspects of of our daily lives that there is so little that titillates (no pun intended) us.

A video listed in the 'related' bar to Winwood's "Valerie" was "Call on Me," a sampling track by Swedish producer and DJ, Eric Prydz. Never heard of him before, but low and behold, he cut this track. The track alone is mesmerizing, despite the fact it's 3 minutes of practically only three words. But then there's the video... wow... despite the fact it's probably no more explicit than a Suzanne Sommers workout tape. But it's breathtaking, erotically entrancing. You just need to see for yourself:

And I guess I'm not alone in being mesmerized. Someone went to the trouble of creating a website for this single:

Total Recall

No, not the movie, but the book by Sara Paretsky. I mentioned in the AG Chronicles blog when i started reading this book, and I am horrified that it took a month to finish it. It should have taken me a few days at most. I am not doing very well at keeping up with my reading list.

Anyway, I've read two or three VI Warshawski books, and enjoyed them thoroughly. Total Recall is no exception. I stayed up till 3am or so to finish the last quarter of the book, it was so engaging. Paretsky is masterful at setting up the scenery. I remember that in the other books of the series I've read, it was Chicago. In this book, Chicago is the main backdrop, but World War II Europe also makes an appearance.

I like these Paretsky books because they are quite sophisticated, meticulous, yet a whole lot of fun. Victoria, as the protagonist, is easy to relate to. Yet many of the characters in the stories are, by their nature, of a world beyond mine... but Paretsky brings them to my level, for me to see and study. Journalists, doctors, executives, politicians.

This installment had the typical gum-shoe detective work that makes VI so engaging. But an added element really took me aback. The story dug back into the WWII history of Victoria's friends, Dr. Herschel and Max Loewenthal. It masterfully tied the Chicago insurance industry to the Holocaust, using the vehicle of a seemingly mundane fraud investigation. Modern day murder and the horrors of war and the Holocaust are seamlessly weaved into the storyline so that it never becomes too burdensome for recreational reading. These books are the best. They serve primarily as entertainment, but educate along the way.

I am always amazed at either the great depth of knowledge good authors like Paretsky have, or the thorough research they do for their books. I typically am impressed by the well researched scientific basis of science drama authors like Michael Crichton (last book I read being Prey, most excellent). In Total Recall, it was history rather than science, but equally impressive. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm an aficionado of history (unless it involves biographies of the titans of industry) as I am of science, so I can't really say whether the history is accurate, but it sounds accurate. And I trust Paretsky enough to believe she would be painfully accurate in her portrayal of the Holocaust and its survivors. For her to not be accurate, would be a discredit and a destruction to her and to her characters, whose history defines them.

So, a thumbs up. Wikipedia says that the VI Warshaski series goes back to 1982, with 12 novels in all, two since Total Recall (2001). With so much on my reading list, I won't add them to my queue, despite the fact I enjoy them so much. I'll leave it to my wife to find me recreational reading books. She does a great job and thanks to her, I've discovered some marvelous authors and reads I wouldn't have found had I focused on a few authors.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Astronaut Farmer

I won't write anymore about how I can't remember why a movie got put on the netflix queue. I never remember, and it doesn't matter.

This movie was fun, and it was family-friendly enough, though we had to look past some light cursing. Decent acting by Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen. Perhaps I had fun watching it because it was filmed in New Mexico. The scene where Charlie Farmer is soliciting advertising from a cowboy-businessman... that takes place in front of a local feed store!

So, Charlie Farmer is, well, a farmer in Texas and is a good father and husband. He has a dream to build a rocket that will fly into space and orbit the earth. He's not totally loony, as he has a degree in aerospace engineering or something and was in the US Air Force training to be an actual astronaut. But family tragedy brought him back home to the farm, where he continued his simplistic dream of going to space...

In spite of the FAA and other government agency's objections to him flying his rocket, and in spite of the financial ruin he's certain to bring his family, he proceeds, aided only by his teenage son as mission control and the moral support of his wife and young daughters.

I felt inspired while watching the movie, and I even felt like crying a little (shut-up) when the rocket actually launched, but now I can't remember what was so inspiring about it... perhaps it was the moral that dogged determination will get you your dreams, and it takes the support of those around you and sacrifice. Thinking back, the premise is all a little silly, even if it was just a movie, but it was a feel-good type of movie. Sorta like Little Miss Sunshine.

So, yeah, grab the popcorn and the kids, and have a nice time.

The Prestige

I didn't remember how this movie ended up on the netflix queue, but it did and I'm very glad. Starring Hugh Jackman (of Wolverine fame), Michael Caine, Christian Bale (don't know him), Scarlett Johansson, and delightful appearances by a medly of other actors, including David Bowie (who, after looking at IMDB, I find has been an on-again, off-again actor for decades) doing a fantastic rendition of Nikola Tesla.

The movie was just plain good. Plot twists and suspense galore. The ending was not clear until the end, as it should be. A must see.

But what really stayed with me was a quote by the character Tesla. It goes something like,
Perhaps you've heard the saying that man's reach exceeds his grasp. It's a lie. Man's grasp exceeds his nerve.
How remarkable! I couldn't find anything to corroborate the real Tesla saying anything of the sort, and some googling revealed that the root quote actually comes from British poet and playwright Robert Browning, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" I better like the Tesla character's twist on this quote.

Man's grasp exceeds his nerve. Yummy. For those of you who don't want to think too much, 'reach exceeding grasp' means people often worry that their dreams, those things people can conceive, are sadly often beyond their grasp. Character Tesla says this is hogwash, for the irony is that the true limiting factor is not humanity's grasp, but rather humanity's nerve. Basically that man is capable of some remarkable things, but we don't have the nerve to seize it. The wikipedia entry of Nikola Tesla is a good read, btw.

So I walk away from this movie with two things: First, a desire to read a Nikola Tesla biography. Second, and most importantly, a kick in the pants -- I often feel that I'm simply incapable of achieving what I desire... perhaps character Tesla is right, though... perhaps I fail to achieve not for lack of ability, but for lack of nerve...

As an aside, I put the 1998 biography of Tesla, "Wizard, the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla" by Marc J. Seifer in the lit queue because Seifer supposedly looked at the Tesla archives in Yugoslavia and used freedom of information requests to get documents regarding Tesla from the U.S. Government. Important because the government apparently took a keen interest in confiscating many of his papers and devices after his death.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Not sure how this movie ended up on the Netflix queue, but it did. I was delighted when I saw it had William H. Macy, whom I first 'discovered' in Fargo (along with Steve Buscemi).

So here the titular character (played by Macy) is living the drab life of a businessman, without love, passion, or purpose. He has some sort of epiphany at a fortune teller's, and in a single night, he is thrust from his gilded-white life to darkness. A netflix customer review compared it to Falling Down, but I disagree. The theme might be similar, but Falling Down was thoroughly entertaining, and one could easily relate to and sympathize with Michael Douglas' character. Edmond was neither entertaining nor sympathetic. Falling Down was about a man who breaks. Edmond is about a nut-job.

The first third of the film seemed to hold great promise. The dialogue was drawn out, but seemed to be headed somewhere. I could easily relate to the protagonist's initial condition. Throw in Rebecca Pidgeon and Julia Stiles and I was quite optimistic. But then Edmond's slide into violence and darkness begins and it all gave way to utter nonsense.

Edmond rants non-stop about prejudice, race supremacy, truth-to-oneself, and living. I don't know what the David Mamet play was about, but the movie felt like a voyeuristic look at a lunatic, rather than an every-man falling into his own darkness and depravity. Whatever introspect Edmond was exploring was on the level of coherence and sophistication I would expect of my six year old.

I won't even bother to put the DVD back in to paraphrase this accurately, but while imprisoned, Edmond is ranting on about how no-one can know the truth about what we are, that no one could take it. Edmond's cell-mate (a black man, to throw in irony, who quickly made him his punk) joins in about how maybe animals can know because maybe they are left-behind aliens. Edmond agrees it's a possibility. With absurdity like that to obscure any depth, how can one take this movie seriously. I get what the screenplay was trying to say, but the movie utterly failed.