Monthly Archives: June 2010

Deathly Hallows trailer released

Look, let’s just get right to it. If the movie is nearly as good as this trailer makes it out to be, it’s going to be awesome…

I was let down a bit by the last entry in the series, but this one (well, these two, technically) looks like it’s gonna deliver. There’s gotta be an epic battle at the school… look at all the dead (I assume) bodies scattered around Voldemort and Harry in the trailer’s last scene.

Does it need to be in 3D, though? If it was planned to be in 3D, I think it could be really well done, actually. This is a big enough movie that it could be awesome, in fact. If they’re just adding in 3D in post-production, though… that usually doesn’t work as well.

Between this and Tron: Legacy, it’s gonna be an awesome winter at the movies. In fact, I think the local movie theater is planning on having construction finished on their IMAX building just in time for this…

Remember that I haven’t read the books (yeah, yeah, I know), and have no idea what actually happens in the story. So I’d appreciate no spoilers in the comments, please.

Review: Doctor Who 2010

Doctor Who 2010 LogoNew season, new Doctor, new show runner, new companions… lots of change this year. How’d it turn out? (as with the reviews of previous years, I’m going to try to keep this spoiler free)

First, a bit of history… 2009 saw the end of David Tennant’s incredibly popular run as the Doctor with a series of specials rather than a true season. Russell T Davies, the man who brought the show back in 2005, left with Tennant, turning the show over to new show runner Steven Moffatt for the last scene of “The End of Time, Part 2″ – which was also the first scene with new Doctor Matt Smith.

I’m a big fan of David Tennant’s Doctor. I consider him, in fact, to be the best Doctor ever. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to unseat Tom Baker, but Tennant just edged him out, I think. Tennant dug into that role with everything he had and owned it. When he took over from the Christopher Eccleston incarnation, I was initially skeptical (Eccleston did a stupendous job, after all), but Tennant won me over very quickly, and never let me down. His performance was infectious, even when the writing wasn’t.

Now that Matt Smith has taken over for Tennant and he has a full season under his belt, I can say that I like Smith quite a bit, but he took longer to grow on me, and I’m not as strongly engaged with his performance as I was with Tennant’s (or possibly with Eccleston’s for that matter, but that’ll take more thought). Smith, however, has the advantage of much tighter writing under Moffatt than Eccleston and Tennant had under Davies. Davies had great vision for the show and awesome ideas, but his writing wasn’t always as good as it should have been in the details. Davies concentrated heavily on emotions and his scripts frequently rode on strong waves of feelings. To his credit, he made that work to great effect. However Moffatts’ scripts, while certainly not devoid of emotions by any stretch, are more consistent and attentive to plot.

One thing that Moffatt has done that I really appreciate is to lose the Doctor-Companion unrequited love story as a constant element. I even like how he did that. It looked like he might be toying with keeping it for a while, but by the finale there is no doubt that he had planned the whole season to address it specifically as something he was getting rid of. Moving forward now with the companion team in place just fills me with excitement for next year. They’ve earned their places and I think this could be the strongest set of companions we’ve had in a very long time.

Oddly, though, the one “companion” I thought I would be the most excited about is the one I now hope won’t get a regular spot on the crew. River Song is an interesting character, but I’m afraid she may end up being too complex. If she remains a recurring, but not regular character it could be okay. Not sure if I could take her full time, though.

The season long arc of the crack in time was well played straight through to the finale. All the pieces were laid out from the beginning and played out in the end consistently. This is possibly the best finale of the new era. It wasn’t quite the soul-wrenching melodrama of previous finales, but it was just as big – bigger, really, in that the whole of existence was at stake – and left me with excitement for next year in a way that previous years didn’t manage. It felt solid and focused on growth and progression, rather than chaotic and focused on loss.

Best episodes:

  • The Eleventh Hour (more for setup of the series arc than anything)
  • The weeping angels 2-parter
  • Amy’s Choice
  • The Silurian 2-parter
  • The finale 2-parter

My favorite line of the finale: “Fezzes are cool…” (though I don’t think we’ll be seeing quite the same resurgence in Fez sales that has been seen in bow tie sales this year).

So what do you think? Did Matt Smith bring the goods? Best season ever? Barely hanging on? How do you feel about Amy and Rory? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Longest tennis match in Grand Slam history!

Look at that fifth set!!

Holy cow… this is just insane…

What kind of a monster athlete do you have to be to play a single set of tennis for 491 minutes?! That’s over 8 hours of play in just one set… almost 3 times longer than the other 4 sets combined!

The whole match was played over a series of 3 days at Wimbledon.

70-68?! Seriously?

Looks like I picked the wrong year to skip watching tennis.

That is just absolutely unbelievable.

Wow.

Back to Narnia with a new trailer, and a 2010 movie update

After a troubled history with Disney, 20th Century Fox has picked up the Narnia series and is moving forward. This December we’ll be treated to the next installment in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The first trailer has just been released…


Chronicles Of Narnia 3

It looks good to me, but I don’t remember many of the details of this story. My favorite was always the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Interestingly, Fox has released this trailer to “faith-based” publications, such as WORLD magazine, before mainstream outlets in an effort to emphasize its commitment to Christian audiences (which make up the primary, and most ardent, fans of the books). It has also made of point of announcing that they are “sticking to the story as C.S. Lewis wrote it and leaving in place the spiritual themes that inspired him.” For those who are confused by that, given the presence of the spiritual themes in the first two movies, I think it’s coming from a diminishing of the books themes in the second film, to the point where the focus of the movie was altered. As one commenter on the WORLD article put it:

The problem isn’t so much that the movies haven’t stuck to the story – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was rather faithful to the story, but emphasized the wrong parts of the story as the climax. The problem has been ignorance of the themes of the story. One can rearrange details or flesh out characters on screen in ways that the book doesn’t do, but if one departs from the themes of the Narnia series, one loses the soul of Narnia. Prince Caspian lost this entirely, and became a story of revolution and not a story of restoration.

It’ll be interesting to see how this movie does. I’m positive I’ll be seeing it, but will it make enough money to secure the next movie’s place?

I also thought this would be a good time to see how I’m doing in getting through my 2010 movie list. So far I’ve seen 2 of the 4 movies that have been released that I wanted to see, Iron Man 2 and Prince of Persia. I enjoyed both. The Losers and the A-Team both received a poor response generally, though I still want to see both on DVD. Coming up quick: Toy Story 3, and Knight and Day, two movies that I put on the “maybe” pile, but which I’m leaning toward seeing if I can.

Buff/Not So Buff

My daughters and I are enjoying my new Hadrian’s Walk Buff. They love the balaclava mode. I’m partial to the pirate configuration, myself. Unfortunately an eye patch is not included, but even so I think it makes me measurably cooler to be around.

My wife, however, falls into fits of barely controlled chuckling whenever she sees me in it. Something is going to have to give. I leave it to you, the good people of the internet, to decide the fate of my marriage. I can’t see how that could possibly cause any problems.

Take a look at this photo, and then vote in the poll…

Buff? Not buff?

[poll id=”8″]

If you consider yourself a candidate for a Buff (or even a t-shirt, to hide your non-buffness (see above for proof that this works… at least a bit)) or you are someone who wants to do something nice for someone, take a quick shot over to Hadrian’s Walk.

Not sure what a Buff is or how it works? That’s okay. Watch this. It won’t help, but at least you won’t feel alone.

Ninjas in history

Gone are the heady, playful days of American Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination. These days, Ninja movies are more serious business, focusing on the real historical Ninjas, like the ones who saved Norway in 1984…

Norwegian Ninja is the true story of how Commander Arne Treholt and his Ninja Force saved Norway during the Cold War. The story takes place in the time right before Treholt’s arrest on espionage charges in 1984, and reveals a spectacularly different version of our recent past than has been previously known.

And that’s not the only time the Ninja contribution has been overlooked in world history. Even 400 years ago they saved all our lives with style and clumsy wisecracks, and yet this pivotal event is completely overlooked in the historical record… until now.

Ninjas rock.

Speaking of which… this one’s for Lee…

Return to MidMo and other short subjects

My second guest shot on the Midnight Movie Club was posted this week, reviewing the film “Return To Me” (with a stellar cast led by David Duchovny and Minnie Driver – in the movie, not the podcast). If the stats are accurate, many of you missed this film when it came out in 2000 (though the odds are apparently better if you were in an airplane around then). That’s a shame because it’s a great movie. You really should rent it. You won’t be disappointed. In any event, go listen to the podcast and hear Lee and I wax philosophical about such barely relevant topics as insurance forms for sex addicts, and how much acting ability is necessary to overcome being a complete whack job in real life.

In other news, I saw a couple of movies recently – one new, and one older.

Iron Man 2 was very good. It seemed almost on par with the first installment to me. Some things I liked better, some things I didn’t. Still a very fun ride, though.

Pixar’s Cars was a mixed bag for me. I liked it, but I’ve got to put it at the bottom of the Pixar pile. For a movie about race cars, it was kinda slow. I know I’m blowing against the prevailing winds since just about everybody I know puts Cars at or near the top of the Pixar list, but it didn’t grab me the same way the others did, and my kids were mostly bored.

In future movie news, the live-action feature release of Green Lantern – not scheduled to open until June 17, 2011 – has already been scheduled for a sequel with the same writing team. That team has also been scheduled to write a new movie about The Flash. It’s unclear whether the Green Lantern sequel or Flash film will be the next on the production line. I really hope this approval and trust is based on what they’ve already seen and not on wishful thinking. I really, really, really want to love the Green Lantern movie.

Looking back to the past, some guy has collected over 3000 classic lunch boxes. He says he has all but about 8 that were ever produced. That is some serious collecting. Here’s one of them:

Hey, kids! Just dropping by to kill you and your swell daggit!

That’s even cheesier than the show it’s based on!

In TV news, Tom Welling has said that next season will be the last for Smallville. I’ve heard that before, but this time I believe it. Chloe, the only original character left in the show, will only be a recurring character next season. Will Clark put on the suit his mom made for him by the end of the season? We’ll see.

After the excellent “Children of Earth” miniseries last year, Torchwood has finally been confirmed to return… but not until next year, and with only 10 episodes. This will also likely be its final season. Rather than centering in Wales, it will be a much more globe trotting season with higher stakes and a huge ending. Jack and Gwen are returning. I’m really looking forward to it.

Finally, this news is a few months old, but I think it’s one of the greatest Hollywood news stories lately: the guy who wrote the John Travolta stink-bomb “Battlefield Earth” has apologized. He also had this to say:

Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those. … Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can’t help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest.

You just gotta appreciate the honesty.

Walking the talk

Back in January, there was a major disaster in the world. Perhaps you heard about it? There was lots of media coverage.

This isn’t a trick question. I’m talking about the earthquake in Haiti.

Lots of attention was paid to the disaster, and lots of money was paid to charities and other support groups trying to help. And that’s great. People were helping other people, as they should.

In February, I was talking to a missionary involved in aid to Haiti. Media coverage was still in place reporting on the difficulties aid groups were having there, but the missionary told me that in just a few weeks their income had fallen back to pre-disaster levels. That surprised me a bit, though I suppose it shouldn’t have. Especially while the media was still on the scene, I expected that charity giving would remain increased for a while longer. But in general we are a people with short attention spans.

Don’t get me wrong… a huge influx of money was needed immediately, and the one-time gifts people provided were excellent. It just occurs to me that most of us, myself included, probably come across an emergency and throw our attention and money at it quickly, and then back away, almost as quickly. We ignore that the problems continue for the long term. Our attention frequently goes back to ourselves and our relatively comfortable lives.

I admire the people who take a longer term approach to helping those in need.

Yes, the disasters need our immediate, extra attention. But the aid organizations are still there helping long after the disasters have moved to the backs of our minds. And then there are the organizations working in impoverished areas, who make a difference day-in and day-out in areas with perpetual problems, where just a little bit of constant income can make a huge difference. I’m thinking primarily here of organizations that help children, such as Compassion International, among others. Sponsoring a child is not much more than a pittance of our first-world incomes, and yet so few of us make that commitment.

And aid isn’t just needed for the third world. Sometimes the disasters aren’t on a global scale, but affect a single family. An online friend of mine is involved in a fund raiser for a charity that supports those with the more personal disaster of the loss of a child. I’ve never met the man in person, but I’m very impressed with the work Dan has done in support of the Joseph Salmon Trust. In an extremely literal way, he’s walking the talk. He’s organized a group of people from many countries to walk across the entire breadth of England on the Hadrian’s Wall walking path to raise awareness and funds for the Trust. The Hadrian’s Walk web site describes it as follows:

In July of this year 60 people from all over the world are coming together to walk the 84 mile length of the Hadrian’s Wall Footpath. They are doing this in aid of The Joseph Salmon Trust, a charity founded by our friends in memorial to their son Joseph who died aged 3 in April of 2005.

The Joseph Salmon Trust supports parents who have lost a child by providing financial assistance to those who need it most. This may be to help with funeral costs, or maybe to enable the self employed some time off work in order to grieve.

People helping other people in their hour of need. Are you helping others, or are you holed up in the bunker of your own life? Not everyone can give money, but are you doing what you can? Are you volunteering in your local community? If you have frequent flier miles, would you consider donating them? If you can give even a little bit, are you? Do you think about it, but never quite get around to it? Why not do something right now? The small list below is certainly not even close to exhaustive, but they’re all charities I have some trust in and who are doing good work to help others. And they all need your support. Even if you don’t have the ability to contribute right now, click through and learn a bit about the organizations, and spread the word. Remind people that help isn’t only needed for the big disasters, but year round.

Charities to consider:

  1. Compassion International – make a one-off donation or sponsor a child for just $38 per month
  2. Salvation Army
  3. Red Cross
  4. Hadrian’s Walk (in support of the Joseph Salmon Trust) – you can buy a Buff (versatile headgear, as seen on Survivor - limited edition, even), or enter a raffle for a European vacation (if you live in the UK)

If there are other charities you trust and want to let others know about, please tell us in the comments.

Percussionists: Object lesson for today

Today we’re having an installation of “What to do, What not to do” for percussionists.

What to do

Back in college I had the privilege of seeing a percussion group called Nexus perform. It was one of two moments in those years that I just had this goofy grin stuck on my face because the awesomeness just blew me away (the other was when the drummer from the Navy Jazz Band did his drum solo… holy cow that was amazing). I imagine that there were those there who were expecting a different kind of concert, but I was completely enthralled. At the end of the night they did a medley of ‘novelty ragtimes’ on the xylophones. The set up was pretty similar to what is seen in the video below.

For those who don’t know, Ragtimes are very structured and generally at a pretty slow tempo. Novelty Rags are much faster, as evidenced by this Nexus performance. Notice how the lead, Bob Becker, seems to exert almost no effort, yet he’s all over the xylophone (or is it a marimba?) with extreme precision and speed (especially at around the 3:25 mark). Just awesome.

For an even better example, check out the 6:30 mark in this video from the same performance.

I wish I could find some video of some of the other things they did in the show. Really inventive, high quality stuff.

What NOT to do

Then there’s this guy. As someone on Facebook commented, “It’s like Chris Farley had a baby with Animal from the Muppet Show.”

And if you must do it that way, don’t wear that jacket. No doubt the guy has some talent, but come on… while I’m impressed, I’m also a little scared.

Bonus Rag

Since we started out with a ragtime, let’s end on one. One of my favorite rags breaks a few rag rules, I’m sure… but you gotta love it. This is a great concert version of Billy Joel’s “Root Beer Rag” from the Streetlife Seranader album.

I prefer the album version, but he always does interesting stuff in the concert versions of his songs. Here’s the original, plus an interesting a capella cover by a German group called Wise Guys.

Saving money thru the power of cluelessness

Earlier this year I had the windows in my house replaced. This cost more money than I had on hand, so I took the loan offered through the company who sold me the windows. Aside from an 11% interest rate, there were terms that would give me time to get a better loan at a lower rate, at which point I was going to pay off the original loan.

So, life happened and time went on. I was delayed in getting the new loan slightly, but managed to get it within a short time of the original loan beginning to accrue interest.

I called this morning to get the payoff amount for the original loan. They quoted an amount including $370 of interest. I said thank you, and hung up, ready to write a check.

Then I thought about it for a minute and realized that was way more interest than I expected, so I did some math. I computed it assuming either daily or monthly compounding, but no matter how I did it, I only came up with $160 of interest due.

$210 is a bit large of a discrepancy for me to swallow. I accept that I’m not a financial wizard, but that’s a rather big difference.

So I called back. I told them how I computed the interest and the difference I found, and asked them to explain what I was doing wrong. I knew it had to be something I was doing wrong, but I wanted to know what it was. She told me that the contract I signed was for an actuarial loan vs. a simple loan. I said, “ok. What does that mean?”

After being put on hold, the woman came back and said she’d have a loan officer call me to discuss. I said, “Great. I just want to know how the quoted payoff was calculated. Thanks.”

A few minutes later, the phone rang. It wasn’t the loan officer, it was the same lady again. This time she sounded tired… a little defeated. She reiterated that the contract I signed was for an Actuarial loan, but the loan officer decided to treat it as a simple loan, so my payoff would include just $160 of interest!

I was actually speechless for a second. A bank just ate $200 in revenue simply because I didn’t understand how an Actuarial loan worked, and they didn’t want to explain it to me. I’m positive that in reality they made no mistake in their calculations. They were legitimately owed the full $370. But simply because I asked how they got that number, I saved $210. That’s just awesome!

The lesson for today: if you don’t understand something, ask a question. Worst case scenario is that you’ll learn something. Or maybe you’ll save some dough!