June 2004 Archives

Spider-Man 2

If you're the kind of person who has his ear to the ground for this type of thing, you've probably been hearing a good bit of positive buzz for Spider-Man 2. Lots of plaudits and praise along the lines of "better than the first one," "best superhero film ever," that sort of thing. Over at Rotten Tomatoes it's got an absurdly high rating of 96%. Big hype, in other words.

For once, it's all true.

This film gets it all right. From the dynamite opening credits featuring Alex Ross artwork recapping the events of the first film, Spider-Man 2 hits the ground running and never misses a step. The CGI in the film is top-notch. Spidey looks more real than ever as he swings through Manhattan, and Doc Ock's tentacles come alive with personality as no inanimate object has since Pixar's Luxo Jr. Alfred Molina's villain is more nuanced than the laughable Green Goblin from the first film, creating a compelling and well-realized foil for Spider-Man.

The script is solid, with great attention paid to the human side of Peter Parker's double life. The character development isn't mere filler-- angst, moral struggle, and working class problems have always been at the core of the Spider-Man comics, and this movie embraces that legacy. As good as the action scenes are-- and they're very, very good, especially Spidey's first encounter with Doc Ock and an extended fight atop a runaway train-- the rest of the film is equally strong.

I especially liked how much time Spider-Man spends without his mask on this time around. The mask is part of the character, but it's hard for Spidey to look like more than a action figure in that getup. Remove the mask, and suddenly he's human. The climax of the train sequence wouldn't have been nearly as effective had Spider-Man been masked, and director Sam Raimi was very wise to rid the character of the mask during key sequences. In fact, a working title for the film at one time was Spider-Man Unmasked, and at times it seems like everyone in New York but Aunt May finds out about Peter Parker's secret identity.

That's another of the film's strengths. The whole secret identity thing builds a lot of tension. When will the supporting characters discover the truth? How will they deal with it when they do? In most superhero films, those questions are left unanswered. This movie addresses them head-on, and in doing so allows the audience to achieve a welcome dose of closure and catharsis. Bravo.

Superhero series haven't fared well past the first sequel (Richard Pryor in Superman III; the many excesses of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin). If the franchise continues to treat its characters with the same level of respect shown in this film-- and if they can keep Joel Schumacher far, far away-- we're in for a real treat with Spider-Man 3.

Comments (3) | last by DugSteen, Jul 1, 8:44 AM
BURBANK, CA - Television producer Dick Wolf today surprised industry experts by returning control of NBC back to its corporate executives, ending the decade-long occupation by his Law & Order franchise. "The time seemed right," Wolf told reporters. "When we first occupied NBC, its Must See TV was an enormous threat to the neighboring networks. With the termination of Friends and Frasier, NBC now threatens no other networks." Wolf went on to say that his many Law & Order series would remain on the schedule for the time being, to help ease the transition.
Comment (1) | last by Geoff, Jun 29, 7:53 PM

Next Action Star

Caught an episode of Next Action Star on GSN last night, and was surprised to find it was actually watchable. Thirty men and women are "auditioning" for lead roles in an upcoming Joel Silver action film, and over the course of the series casting directors gradually reduce the field down to the eventual male and female winners. Last night the group went from 30 down to 20 after an action scene. The most interesting part of the whole thing-- as with most such shows-- is the elimination process. In this case, we get to listen in as the casting people discuss the actors. One assumes the discussions will get more involved as the field dwindles, and that discussion is oddly compelling-- largely because I'm not a casting director, and so the decision-making process of that world is alien and interesting.

More importantly, Next Action Star immediately follows Extreme Dodgeball, which I just missed this week but will Tivo for next time. I loved dodgeball when I was a kid (we called it Bombardment), so this promises some goofy, surreal fun. Anyone seen it yet?

Comments (4) | last by Nathan Beeler, Jun 29, 11:51 AM

Google Ads

I'm experimenting with Google ads. The whole GMail brouhaha has me intrigued by the technology, and a little extra revenue never hurt anyone-- so go ahead and click on those links, people! I'm kinda curious to see how the ads change over the course of a series of blog posts. It's actually rather tempting to try to force an ad to appear.

American Express!
Porn, porn, porn!


Comments (8) | last by Jake, Apr 15, 1:07 PM

Fahrenheit 9/11

The Cannes jury was on crack.

I'm as anti-Bush as the next guy, assuming the next guy doesn't work in the energy industry. In fact, I finally registered to vote this year just so I can dimple a chad in the "Anyone But The Moron We Have Now" column. But this film is not a documentary, nor is it even an op-ed piece. It's a clumsy, juvenile leftist screed with more concern for name-calling than uncovering facts.

Moore's breathless linkage of Saudis to the Bush family raises an obvious question-- what kind of connections did previous administrations, such as Clinton's, have with the regime? Without knowing this answer, it's impossible to weigh Moore's accusations adequately. But he never ventures anywhere near this question, and therefore undermines his own credibility. Context is everything, and Moore provides only the narrowest view as seen through his Captain Liberal Rebuttal-Be-Gone Dogmatic Visor (tm).

The film starts promisingly, with a compelling audio-only depiction of the 9/11 crashes. And there are some funny juxtapositions and inspired musical choices. But the film goes critically off the rails when Moore takes a hard left into Flint, Michigan and devotes the last third of the film to the mother of a soldier who ultimately gets killed in Iraq. His extended profile of her convictions and grief is a cinematic sledgehammer, bludgeoning the audience with the innovative revelation that losing a loved one sucks. And by the way, the Earth is round, too. The implication that the loss is heightened by the questionable nature of the military action in which the soldier's sacrifice was made is facile and insulting, but by this point in the film the audience has come to expect that from Moore.

The Cannes jury's claim their decision was based on the quality of the film and not the political content is literally incredible. Fahrenheit 9/11 may be a milestone in political mudslinging, but not in documentary filmmaking.

Comments (21) | last by DugSteen, Jun 28, 7:31 PM

I spent the last two weeks on the Greek island of Crete. If, like me, the phrase "Greek island" conjures up images of blue-domed whitewashed buildings nestled atop hills with breathtakingly scenic overlooks of the Mediterranean, you'll want to get off the ferry a few miles away at Santorini. Crete's a rugged island with dramatic mountainous terrain and people who are just a wee bit touchy about all the name-calling, thank you very much.

Much of my time was spent exactly as I wanted it: curled up with a book on a beach chair facing the Mediterranean under a shady umbrella, near the town of Chania. Glorious. I don't understand how anyone in that region gets any work done, with the warm water glistening an invitation to lose yourself in its tender embrace. Kind of like porn spam, but without the spelling errors.

The wedding itself was lovely, held in a tiny synagogue oozing old world charm. The reception, in the courtyard of a nearby restaurant, was delightful-- some Greek dancing, plenty of good food, and fabulous ambience. It's always a little odd spending time with a friend's family, as I did with the groom's. It's a little like being in a Star Trek landing party-- the dynamics are fascinating to observe but you're powerless to interfere.

No visit to Crete would be complete without a pilgrimage to Knossos, but it should be because the site is an utter disappointment. If you're going to make guesses and reconstruct an ancient site, go big or go home. I don't want to see a wall here, a room there, a few giant amphorae and painted columns scattered about. I want a full-fledged Minoan palace. I want to sit on the throne, stroll the hallways, peer from the balconies. The problem with Knossos is that so much of what you see is a reconstruction, it's difficult to know what's "real" and what's supposition. And despite this, it's still a fragementary ruin. It felt dishonest to me, and not nearly as impressive or inspiring as other sites in Greece like Delphi or Epidavros. It was also hotter than Catherine Zeta-Jones in a leather bustier, so I didn't spend as much time there as I expected.

I am now a huge fan of Greek salads, although I suspect nothing here will compare to the luscious tomatoes, tangy feta, delicate oregano, and full-bodied olive oil of Crete. The yogurt was also spectacular, especially topped with the silky local honey. The thin, runny goo you find in local dairy cases doesn't hold a candle to the creamy ambrosia that is Greek yogurt. Surprisingly, the lamb-- and I had a lot of it, in many varieties-- was almost universally inferior to the kabobs I make on my trusty Weber. Go figure.

Comments (2) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Jul 4, 7:31 PM

I've received a Gmail invitation-- which, after experiencing the joys of reading POP3 mail via Mail2Web from an Internet cafe, is an attractive proposition. Problem is, gmail addresses must be at least 6 characters long, which means peter@gmail.com is out. I'm not crazy about using my last name in my email address, since I always wind up having to spell it out for people and they get it wrong anyway. So psarrett, petersarrett, and so forth are out. peters, which I don't really like anyway because it reads "peters" and not "Peter S", is already taken. I'm looking for something that's easy to remember and, when said aloud, suggests an obvious, unambiguous spelling.

The comments are open for your suggestions.

Comments (7) | last by Traviseberle, Jul 5, 9:24 AM

14 Years Later

I'm writing this from a free Internet terminal in the Athens airport, where I have 5 hours to kill before the next leg of my journey home. The last time I was in Athens was 14 years ago, and the airport-- like the rest of the city-- was a hellhole. Today I'm in what looks like a spanking new airport, and the city is busy tidying itself up for the forthcoming Olympics. Which is a little like putting a tea cozy on a rusted Buick.

My time's just about up. Free internet terminals, good. Metal chicklet keyboards and 10 minute time limits, bad.

Update: The Amsterdam airport had paid internet access for-- get this-- 3 Euro (~$3.60) for 15 minutes. That's almost 15 bucks an hour! What's the Dutch word for gouging? Meanwhile, their cosy leather sleep chairs were free. Fastest 5 hours I've ever killed at an airport.

Comment (1) | last by Mark, Jun 20, 10:34 AM


Static Zombie will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks as I get out and enjoy the start of summer. You do the same.

ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker this year is exploding into 22 hour-long segments throughout the summer, incorporating many side events as well as the main no-limit hold 'em tournament. The full schedule can be found here. Of special note is the introduction of the rabbit cam, a camera under the table by the dealer which will show what card would have been dealt next when a player folds! Technicians are still working on the Hellmuth cam, which would show us an alternate universe where players in the hand acted precisely as Phil Hellmuth expected they would.

ESPN coverage starts July 6, and runs for 2 hours every Tuesday through Sept. 14.

Comments (2) | last by Nathan Beeler, Jun 28, 10:24 AM

The Chewy

I've long been a fan of the Cook's Illustrated "Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie" recipe. It turns out a substantial, rustic cookie with a good chew. The problem is that while they taste great fresh from the oven or a few hours later, within a day or two the cookies get stale (even in burped storage containers). "A day or two?" you wonder, "How in the world are your cookies lasting that long?" These cookies are large, and one cookie is plenty. Since I'm primarily eating these myself, a batch can last a while. Part of the problem may be that the cookies are fairly thick, and that makes it difficult to get the timing right to ensure that all the dough is completely baked. Underbaked dough is fine in a fresh cookie, but turns into a layer of granite when the cookie cools. I can save part of the dough and bake more fresh ones as needed, but I'd prefer not to have to worry about the problem at all.

Enter Alton Brown. I'm a long-time fan of his Food Network program Good Eats, which I heartily recommend to you as, hands-down, the most fun and educational food program ever. In his chocolate chip cookie show, Alton covers three cookie varieties-- the thin, the puffy, and the chewy, explaining the recipe modifications which result in the changes among the cookies. "The Chewy" produces a great, chewy cookie that also holds up well to longer-term storage, and has become my chocolate chip recipe of choice. Don't feel too bad, Cook's-- I still love your chicken pot pie.

Comments (6) | last by Peter Sarrett, Jun 23, 4:32 PM

If, like me, you wanted to avoid knowing the outcome of the World Series of Poker until it's broadcast on ESPN later this year, do NOT visit Boardgames.About.Com or look at its RSS/XML feed in your aggregator. The headline of one of its news items reveals the winner.

Shame on you, Erik.

Comments (11) | last by Zeigen, Jun 3, 6:58 PM

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