July 4th, 2005

smirking-winslet

Grand Rant Number One

In the middle of a particular rant about some absurdity or bad behavior, I often tell my students, "But Dr. Phil has no strong opinions on the matter." It's good for a laugh. But I am rather opinionated at times, as much as I delight in playing devil's advocate and try to see the same issue from multiple POV's, no matter what my feelings might be.

However, there are a couple of topics which I have complained about for a long time and they haven't yet spilled into this blog. I guess that changes here...

The Number One Question...

Suppose a friend calls up and says that they are going blow through town next week and thought they'd like to stop by for dinner. What do you suppose might be the number one question you'd like answered? I'm sure different people have different priorities, but frankly, one question which will come up soon enough is, "What day are you going to be here?"

Sensible, logical enough. If you are going to cook dinner or go out, you'll need to know when.

Answering the question with "I'm coming on the 29th" is truthful, but you know, often it causes you to either scramble for a calendar or ask the next question, "What day of the week is that?"

What Day of the Week IS It?

Such a simple thing. Our busy working schedules are all planned out based on the day of the week -- especially in academia, where a class might meet at Noon on MTRF. In WMU's parlance, that's Monday Tuesday thuRsday Friday. So if someone wanted to meet me for lunch at noon, it'd have to be on a Wednesday. Right?

When I heard many many months ago that the third/sixth Star Wars movie would open on May 19th 2005, I was surprised to see that this was a THURSDAY. After all, most movies open on Fridays in the U.S., and some blockblusters open on Wednesdays. Just like new DVD releases come out on Tuesdays. That's almost "expected" and yet here we have a big film opening on a Thursday. WTF?

When Marketing People Lie

In the case of Star Wars Episode III, there probably was some logic. Movie attendance has been down in general the last two or three years. Plus after huge advance ticket lines for Episode I, getting 12:01am tickets for Episode II wasn't a huge problem. Would people be tired of all this hype by Episode III? What if sales didn't hit the mark of being bigger and badder than everything else?

I can just imagine a meeting where someone said, "You know, if we open on a Thursday, then we'll have an extra day to pad the numbers for the opening weekend, but we won't be able to be compared to the mid-week openings of the previous installments." "Brilliant!"

But NO ONE Tells You The Day of the Week

None of the pre-opening movie posters said it was Thursday. In fact, take a look through the advertising for many of the plays and concerts and other events. I cannot tell you how skewed the ratio of ads/articles is towards not giving the days of the week. How should I know if I can go to a Moody Blues concert? My availability depends on my schedule! As do dentist appointments, whether I can pick up/drop off my wife at the Amtrak station/airport, or make it home in time to go out to a play, dinner or baseball game.

And it happens so damned often I cannot believe that it doesn't irk anyone else.

Back in the old days, there were those questions they told cub reporters they had to answer to make a good newspaper article: Who-What-Where-When-How... But they're no better than anyone else regarding placing full date and day information in articles or the little info boxes so prevalent in arts and events coverage.

Here's A Hint, Boys

Make my day -- don't make me go track down a calendar. Give me complete information. Month Day Date Year, in any order which is useful.

And if you want to avoid international confusion, skip the 6-4-2005 or 6.4.2005 dates. One would tend to be in June, the other in April, given the usual sorts of dating conventions. But not "always". (And you're going to be kind of safe figuring out the month with 5-31-2005 and 31.5.2005, unless you've invented your own neo-Mayan epic/epoch calendar system -- grin.)

Okay, I get it -- Easter comes on a Sunday, but the rules for which Sunday are complicated and it isn't easy to know now, in June 2005, when I've got no 2006 calendars or schedules floating around, to figure out the date of Easter 2006, but that's clearly another rant for another time (grin).

Dr. Phil
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The Himalayas Are The Heaven Of The World

The Grand Rapids Press television section is sometimes a frustration. It doesn't quite include all the channels we get on our cable system, though there have been improvements. They finally are listing SciFi Channel -- just in time not to be able to figure when the hell they were showing episodes of Farscape. They do, however, manage to have listings (and VCR+ code numbers) for the Travel Channel.

Return of the Jabberwocky

A&E Channel for many years entertained us with the extraordinary travelogues of one Michael Palin, known to quite a few people in the world as one of the Monty Python boys. Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and a third one taking a giant circle trip around the Pacific Rim -- all extraordinary serial adventures by every conceivable mode of conveyance.

The man was willing to go anywhere, do anything, eat whatever and generally entertain people around the world who have no idea who this mad Englishman is, or why there's a BBC film crew following him around.

Luck of the Draw

So we happened to be watching World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel when we saw a commercial for a new series on Mondays. Michael Palin's Himalaya. No one does travel like Michael, absolutely no one. We've seen three episodes -- they did two the first night -- and it is already enchanting. Who knew the Dalai Lama watched the BBC and had watched Michael Palin's previous travelogues? And the Victorian houseboats on the lake now used as hotel rooms in disputed Kashmir...

I think what I find most appealing about Michael Palin's presentation, is how respectfully he conducts himself as a guest in odd places, manages to find people to explain what is going on, and to mostly show things which I have never seen elsewhere. In a world where tensions have been high between India and Pakistan for a long time, to watch the official daily flag lowering ceremony at one border crossing, where two elite military units do elaborate steps and gestures of contempt for the other in a choreographed kind of dance, all to the roaring crowds of partisan spectators -- and the actual flag lowering is conducted with such precision that neither flag is ever dipped lower than the other -- there is something even magical about such a spectacle, which the humorless Cold War never achieved.

And fearless -- hiking and acclimating himself to conditions over 13,000 feet. Yikes!

Schedule Note

I guess there won't be an episode of Himalaya on Monday, The Fourth of July, so the next one is 11 July 2005.

Dr. Phil
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War of the Words

It's the Fourth of July everywhere, but a holiday here in the States. While I am annoyed by the continuing erosion of American holidays, such that there are many businesses which are open for normal business on the Fourth of July -- hard to have family reunions and other celebrations when everyone has to work -- one thing we've taken advantage of on some holidays is going off to the movies.

So we today we saw the Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise production of War of the Worlds. As I've said in these pages previously, I had some real trepidation about this one. But after reading an article in Wired magazine, it is not unreasonable to: (a) change the date because everyone know the countryside wasn't laid waste in 1890s or whenever the original work was set and (b) NASA probes and satellites pretty much don't show any civilizations on Mars, so we'll skip the whole Martian invasion angle.

It's Got Morgan Freeman In It!

Well, at least for the opening and closing narration.

Tom, despite his recent meltdown on the NBC Today show, does a credible Tom Cruise blockbuster roll -- competent, but not quite believable as a dad with kids this old -- he's going to be haunted by his boyish good looks when he's eighty. And I suppose in the beginning he got to get around the insurance company trying to keep him from freeclimbing by having to climb up to that traveling crane control cab "all by himself." Dakota Fanning, who has showed up in a number of big roles, including Spielberg's alien abduction mini-series Taken on SciFi Channel last year, does a good job and hopefully doesn't get any nightmares from the movies she makes. The brother is adequate as a teenaged boy knocking heads with Tom Cruise. The mother -- oh dear god do we need another yuppie scum all-natural homeopathic what-did-she-ever-see-in-the-dad-before-the-divorce mom? And people who don't like Tim Robbins will probably accept him as some sort of a basement dwelling nutcase (grin) without thinking about it too hard.

The Jaws Effect

Steven Spielberg made blockbuster history with his release of Jaws back in the 70s. And a lot of it had to do with timing -- you didn't see the shark for the longest time. Of course back then, it had to do with the fact that his mechanical shark didn't work worth a damn and wasn't available until they were out on the Orca.

Here Spielberg makes effective good use of a street intersection, which seemingly heaves and dips and breaks open and splits apart in full-sized glory and really looks pretty good -- it felt like twenty minutes before we finally saw the newly envisioned tripod walkers, but that's only because we were having so much fun.

Okay, Scare Us Already

Elsewhere we spend a lot of time hiding behind and below things, and so only get to see the escalation in waves. Horrific things happen to buildings, houses, cars, trucks, trains, planes, tanks and ships -- these are played up in a myriad of differing ways and add to the hopelessness of the situation.

Tom Cruise loses, at various times, the members of his traveling party -- they mix it up in good ways to add to the tension.

There are good variations in terrain heights, allowing us to interact with the excellent tripod walkers from different levels.

I'm Sorry Though...

Some of the scenes just look like they were done on a soundstage -- whether they were or not. The front yard of the one abandoned country house, with the pond and the footbridge and the dead cow carcass -- just doesn't feel right on the big screen. Reminds me too much of scenes in The Wizard of Oz which you knew were crowded onto the limited depth of a soundstage.

And the aliens look crabby, sort of like the sourpuss alien faces I've seen in the commercials for a new video game titled, I think, All Humans Must Die!.

And the catch baskets for collecting humans for the aliens' inhuman projects, just remind me too much of the hunting scene leading up to the Flesh Fair in the Kubrick/Spielberg A.I.

The Dumb Physics Awards
**** Includes Spoiler Info ****

Thankfully, they didn't make the family steal a Hummer or other Seriously All-Terrain vehicle to try to drive from New York to Boston... but as my wife pointed out, if she'd tried to drive a boring minivan through any of the debris strewn streets, she'd have a flat tire in about fifty-five seconds. And isn't it convenient how when all the vehicles died on the freeway, that they managed to pull mostly out of the way in little clumps, so Tom Cruise could have a clear path for miles of highway. Yikes.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but if there EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) with an overvoltage high enough to stop an electronic watch and everything else, I think you'd need to be replacing both the lead-acid car batteries and the computer chips controlling the motor before you'd get a modern car to run. "Every" survivalist knows you need either a hand-cranked diesel or a old non-computerized carburetted gasoline engine to even have a chance -- no electronic fuel injection here...

Thankfully the crashed 747, which I think is cut up from a real 747 and not just leftover from the beachfront of Lost, can toast a neighborhood, take out half of the house our family is hiding in the basement -- and miss that one damned lucky minivan.

Then there's the killing ray/beam from the tripod walkers. Just what kind of power supply are they running to be able to fire that many times with that much power. I mean we're vaporizing humans into dust in seconds here, folks.

On the other hand, I guess we're not spending too much time trying to destroy Boston, because all these idiots from New York are forever trying to get into Boston. I guess Beantown wasn't on the invader's AAA TripTik map.

And if the empty machines have been buried under our cities for A Long Time (10 to 1,000,000 years -- you figure it out), don't you think that with all the water, sewer, electrical, communication, gas, pneumatic and subway tunnels and piping under New York City, et al, that someone would've unearthed at least one of these damned things in all that time?

However...

... in the end I have to say that they pulled this off far better than I thought. If you're a fan of any of the earlier incarnations of this story, I'll bet you'll still have your previous favorites intact afterwards. But I think some of the impressive moves in this version make it worth seeing.

Trailers

Elizabethtown refers to the city of that name in Kentucky. A father dies and a son from the city has to take the body back to the relatives who never left Kentucky. Clash of cultures will ensue, for sure, but "to bring balance back to the Force" we have an interested airline flight attendant who helps our social misfit achieve all his goals -- or something like that. Has some potential, as long as they don't go Next of Kin on us.

First theatrical trailer for The Island, but surely not the last. They'll be flogging this hard. Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johanson, both of whom are in everything the last couple of years. Some of the early references to this I've seen talk about it's connections to the The Matrix, but it really has much more in common with Logan's Run and the plethora of movies/stories about growing sentient full-body clones for the purposes of organ/limb harvesting for rich clients. (This isn't a spoiler, it's in the trailer...)

And in the More Remakes We Didn't Knew Needed To Be Remade Department, Billy Bob Thornton is showing up in The Bad News Bears.

Dr. Phil
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