Monday, September 20, 2010

Just watched "The Event"

You'd think the networks (in this case, NBC) would realize by now that it's high-priced folly to attempt big-budget serialized dramas on the scale of 24 and Lost.

Except that, on occasion, they happen onto something. Enter "The Event." A germ of an idea that's just compelling enough to carry you from one hour to the next. And Laura Innes' "I haven't told you everything." is a great sign-off for the pilot episode. In fact, it helps to reinforce that President Elias Martinez (played with a calm determination by Blair Underwood) is probably as in the dark as the audience.

Not to sound like a know-it-all, but I kinda expected the plane to disappear into thin air. But that doesn't make me any less interested in episode two. And isn't that the point? Because now, I'm starting to feel hooked.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Phineas and Ferb, I Heart You

When a children's cartoon on Disney Channel manages to parody CSI: Miami's David Caruso--which isn't really difficult--I have to laugh.

Because David Caruso never acts. Never has. He simply plays himself in various modes of David Caruso-ness. Which is lucrative work, if you can get it. But Phineas, in all his cartoony, triangular-headed wonder, nailed Caruso's pregnant pauses and sense of self-importance. For good measure, the toon also nailed the dismount--which is the always-dramatic donning of sunglasses Caruso does in every CSI.

By the way, could someone tell Caruso that wearing a black blazer daily in Miami doesn't make much sense. Just saying...

Monday, August 16, 2010

"So who's subconscious are we entering?"

Ellen Page's character, Ariadne, voices this question during Inception--which is hands down the most original big-budget film of the year. Ariadne functions not only as an "architect" in the movie--but also the audience surrogate since she's the rookie on the team. Her question serves as one of the film's only laugh lines in a story that toys with time, reality, and dreams.

It’s a cliché in Hollywood to say “Every dollar’s on the screen.” In the case of Inception, though, you sense that every ounce of writer/director par excellence Christopher Nolan’s brain is on view. Because Inception is simply the densest, most daunting film of the year in the way that it demands mental gymnastics of its audience. Put another way, I cannot think of another movie in recent memory as logically intricate and yet as emotionally rich. In fact, Inception isn’t a movie—it’s a film.

With a running time that lasts 148 minutes, Nolan manages to make the time fly mainly due to, again, the density of the story. At its core, Inception is a reverse heist film. Instead of stealing money, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team work to insert an idea in their target's subconscious. Add to that extensive set pieces, car chases, gunfire, a love story regarding a deceased spouse, and a plummeting van cleverly used as an ersatz timepiece, and well, things get crowded.

But the fact that Nolan manages all this with great multitasking skill is a great testament to his filmmaking.

And rarely has a dead character been portrayed with such haunting allure as Mol Cobb (Marion Cotillard), Dom's late wife. Her brooding beauty casts a dark and painful shadow over her husband’s heart. Yet Dom knows that losing her in his dreams is a price he’s unwilling to pay, despite its very real dangers. She's both Dom's foil, imperiling him at every subconscious opportunity, and his drug of choice. Because she knows his dilemma: If he lets her go, he loses her yet again (a second death); if he leaves the door to his mind open, she'll repeatedly tempt him toward a horrible fate.

By film's end, you're left with two ideas: One, that you've just witnessed a masterpiece. Two, that you'll have to rent it to make sure you didn't miss something.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Avengers Assemble! -- and try to set your egos aside

The Avengers is set for a 2012 release. As geeked as I am about this movie, ensemble pieces are often quite difficult to write (who get more screen time than who, and so on). Now multiply that because it's a COMIC BOOK FRANCHISE. Plus, you need time for your villain, action sequences, wanton destruction, etc., and as you can see, it all gets rather complicated.

Oh, and they kicked Edward Norton to the curb. He was going to play Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Norton is only one of our best young American actors.

I'm pessimstic yet hopeful. If that's possible. Hopefully the director, Joss Whedon, do the team proud. Or else he'll have Mickey Mouse (Disney is the parent company) breathing down his neck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Correct grammar won't win you the job. Incorrect grammar could lose you the job.

Effective communication skills, especially the written kind, are a must for today's workplace. This article explains it well. I don't care if you were a math major and never had to pen a term paper, you should learn to compose your thoughts in a professional, concise, and (preferably) error-free manner.

The current economy only ratchets up the pressure. If you're searching for a job, any grammar mistake on your resume or cover letter is the equivalent of a gymnast falling off the balance beam. You've differentiated yourself by your mistakes.

Don't be that gymnast. Read whatever you've typed before you hit the "send" button.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I love/hate CGI

I'm a fan of Christopher Nolan, the director behind Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Inception. As much as I enjoy the way he crafts stories, I have an equal appreciation for his use of special effects.

Or perhaps I should say his non-use of CGI (computer-generated imagery).

As amazing as CGI can be, as wholly as it can flood our eyes with visuals from an alien landscape, it can't quite rival reality. A for-instance: When Batman's motorcycle (excuse me, Batpod) causes the Joker's truck to flip over in The Dark Knight, the scene feels genuine because the shot is genuine. It's a real 18-wheeler flipping.

Why is this important? Because as an audience member, I access my knowledge of a truck. I've driven them, traveled in them, even had a wreck with one. Watching a gunfight, I can draw upon my experience of having fired a machine gun. The sound, the recoil, the scent. When we see real smoke or fire on the big screen, our senses and memories unite to draw us in closer.

Christopher Nolan's understanding of how to enrich a story with real-world action is just one of the reasons I admire his work. Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to try hotwiring the Batmobile.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Buzz Lightyear vs Iron Man

Inevitably sequels fail to measure up to their predecessors (The Sting II, anybody? And for that matter, all odd-numbered Star Treks). But every once in a cineplex, you discover the exception. This year, that would be Toy Story 3--which gets my vote for Best Picture, to date.

Before divulging two spoilers, I'll say TS3 is likely the smartest film of the trilogy. It navigates a bittersweet subject--coming of age, leaving home and childhood behind--with extraordinary poignancy.

Before I contrast this with Iron Man 2, a pair of observations: First, the incinerator scene late in the third act stunned me. To watch the expressions of the toys' faces as they faced imminent death was to see animation that rivals any emotion a human face can produce. Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest linked hands to confront their end with an acceptance made all the more touching because it was wordless. And you couldn't help but wonder, How will they escape?

Second, when Andy passes his toys on to Bonnie (who wears the big brown eyes and rounded face of an older Boo from Monsters, Inc.), you will hear adults reaching for kleenex. The filmmakers know their audience has followed the story from the first Toy Story to its conclusion. They know Andy has grown up, just as the audience. His rites of passage are ours, too. And no animated film in my life has provided a more heartbreaking/reassuring final scene.

Iron Man 2 would've benefited from a little more emotion--and better villains. The Armored Avenger has to face down his own mortality, and the best competition they could give him was a guy with glorified buggywhips and a weasly arms-maker. Come on.

When I think back to Iron Man's first encounter with Whiplash, I remind myself: Dude could fly around and strafe greasy-haired Mickey Rourke to death. But no, he stands there and makes it a ridiculous fight.

Plus, Sam Rockwell is badly miscast as Justin Hammer. Too young, too whiny, and insufficiently mean. If your character's last name is Hammer, that should be a big honkin' clue how to play it.

The film's best moments tend to be short and subtle--as when Tony Stark checks his rising blood toxicity. His face tells the tale; he's dead man walking. The lunch he cooks for the always radiant Gwyneth Paltrow, and his subsequent gift to her of his corporation, have the earmarks of a man who's living his bucket list.

As with all comic book movies, though, the quality of the rock 'em sock 'em fights count heavily. And Iron Man 2 is left wanting in this area. Which is the ultimate irony, of course. The best of Iron Man 2 takes place when Tony Stark is outside the suit.

The Ask

I don't believe most people are comfortable asking for money or closing a deal. Unless you're a born salesman, it's an acquired skill. Which is why Sonia Simone's article is both funny and true. It helps to have a small arsenal of devious psychological tactics at your disposal and the tenacity to use them when making a pitch.

Because it's not everyday that I feel the urge to buy an electric asparagus skateboard--but a clever marketer can inspire me to scratch an itch I never knew I had.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nick Saban would not be pleased.

While at the gym recently, I noticed a well-designed, glossy flyer for Nick Saban’s upcoming football camps. The front page carried a large visual of the coach himself and a listing of all former Alabama players who are on current NFL rosters.

With one problem (noticeable to anyone who can read).

The word “Chiefs”—as in Kansas City Chiefs—was misspelled as “Cheifs.” To compound this, there are three Crimson Tide players on that team. There were also numerous errors with spacing between words and characters.

I know correct spelling may not win anyone a job in this life. But incorrect spelling may cost you a job. It’s the reason God created copyeditors.

Because when you fail to proof a flyer about his football camp, Nick Saban is not pleased.

Monday, May 10, 2010

srsly = Seriously

When it comes to shortened words used for e-communications, vanity plates, what have you, we lean strongly (strngly) toward consonants. I've noticed that often enough to wonder what some words would look like if we used vowels instead.

Take the title of this post. Seriously would become something like "eiouy". Hard to figure out, hard to pronounce. Thanks--commonly reduced to thx--would be simply "a". Our language leaves no choice but to use consonants.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gambling vs gaming -- or the importance of a mere 2 letters

One of the principal reasons I'm against gambling in Alabama is the usage of the word "gaming" as its substitute. It's an artful dodge at best and deliberately misleading (read: lying) at worst.

Check out for the exact definition of a game. Focus your attention on entries 2a and 3a. You'll notice words like "strategy" and "participants in direct opposition to each other."

In light of this, please tell me the last time you heard of someone using strategy while playing slots. For that matter, was the machine is direct opposition to the player?

Slots = gambling. Pure and simple. There's no strategy involved. Only blind, zip-a-dee-doo-dah, hope I chose the right slot machine, luck--if you're so fortunate as to win.

When you attempt to change the nature of the debate to find a word or label (like gaming) more palatable to the masses, something inside you surely must realize: Hey, what I'm advocating is questionable.

There are other reasons I'm against gambling in my beloved home state. Let it stay in Las Vegas, Mississippi, New Orleans, etc. Alabama has more pressing needs.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Carly Fiorina and remedial classes in political campaign advertising

As an aficionado of storytelling and advertising, I'm alternately fascinated by/repulsed by political advertising. And there's a Senate race that catches my attention right now.

I want to like Carly Fiorina--I really do. She's the former head of Hewlett-Packard, a cancer survivor, and now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. This is a lady of real accomplishment.

And yet her new 3 1/2-minute campaign ad has become a viral hit for the wrong reasons. Where to begin... the animal motif, the decision to devote so much attention to her opponent, the freakish man/sheep at the 2:26 mark, the lack of information about Fiorina herself, and the underwhelming amount of time given to her ideas as a candidate.

She has so many weapons at her disposal, but her campaign chose to air a laughably-produced attack ad? Please. With a new candidate--even one with a distinguished career in the computer industry--there's an education process involved. The public has to get to know her.

And this is exactly where you use her life story as a weapon. She has the guts to outlast a deadly illness. She's an overachiever. And she's a breath of fresh air (read: change) for a state with a longtime Democratic senator.

Hmmm, I seem to remember a certain president riding the concept of change all the way to the White House. Now it's time for Ms. Fiorina to position herself as a change agent with a compelling life story.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Watch the crawl

It's often interesting to note the choice of words various networks use at the bottom of the screen. For example: in explaining Alabama's victory over Texas in the national championship, ESPN stated that Bama "survived a late surge by Texas."

This is true, yet only half true.

The other half is that Bama's powerful running game and stifling defense staked them to such a large lead at halftime, that Texas--without its star quarterback--was ill-equipped to mount a sufficient comeback. Had Alabama scored no points at all in the second half, it still would've won by three points.

And still, it's the late surge by Texas that gets ESPN's notice and also their postgame discussion. These choices of words have a way of framing how the game is viewed and remembered. He who controls the nature of the debate often determines its outcome--even if the facts may say otherwise.

So watch how the crawl and the words spoken by the anchors function as mirror images of one another.