March 2007 Archives

The Forgotten

I don't really keep track of how well my opinions match those of film reviewers, despite how useful knowing such a correlation would be in evaluating whether or not to go to the theater. But in the case of The Forgotten, Roger Ebert and I are on precisely the same page.

Even if you haven't seen this 2004 film, you might remember the signature scene from the trailers, in which a man tied to a chair whispers "They're listening" into Julianne Moore's ear just before getting sucked through the suddenly roofless cabin and into the night sky. The movie itself begins with an entirely different tenor, and in fact it seems like you're dropped into the middle of an interesting psychological drama about a woman who may or may not be crazy. And there was definitely a compelling movie to be made with the fundamental premise dangled before us in those opening minutes. The makers of The Forgotten were unfortunately not interested in telling that story. Instead, the story careens from psychodrama to thriller to science fiction-- which might have worked, if it wasn't both preposterous (a frazzled woman evades the most incompetant NSA agents ever) and ignorant.

Science fiction is a genre of ideas. In the best SF, the story posits some intriguing concept and then explores the ramifications of that idea. In the worst SF, wacky inventions or unfathomable aliens are merely the convenience by which the writer makes the characters dance to his tune. The Forgotten is squarely in the latter camp-- especially frustrating because the questions posed are intriguing. But there's no payoff. We barely find out the "who" or "what", and have absolutely no clue about the most important answer of all-- the "why". As Ebert points out, the film desperately needed someone to deliver a clumsy expository speech spelling out all the details. It's not even as if those details were in the film for the viewers to piece together. They're simply not there. The credits roll and you're left thinking, "What the hell was THAT about?" -- and not in an artsy, David Lynchian way.

Comment (1) | last by Dave Heberer, May 25, 2:03 PM

Frak! Frak, Frak, Frak!

There are only two categories of people who should read this entry: those who have already seen the season finale of Battlestar Galactica, and those who never plan to do so. If you're thinking that maybe someday you might watch this series that critics everywhere have been lauding to the skies even though it's based on a campy 70's science fiction show, read no further.

As for the rest of you... Baltar's acquittal was inevitable, but the manner in which it happened, with a grandstanding play by the defense that should never have been allowed, felt like a cop out despite the drama it created. But that's not what anyone's going to be talking about.

They telegraphed Tigh and Anders last week, so that was no surprise. But when Tyrol started hearing the music, I actually cried out, "Oh no, not him too!" Tory is pretty much a non-entity-- she's a minor character who's obviously getting elevated to the big leagues next season. But it is rather interesting that together they comprise the former leadership of the Resistance on New Caprica.

The revelations open up a mountain of questions. Do Cylons grow and age? Tigh and Adama have known each other forever, so just how long have the skin-jobs been around? The other Cylons-- the models we've known about all along-- don't know who the final five are (and, for that matter, the fifth is still a mystery even to us), so who created them? Why have they been living as humans all this time, unaware they were Cylons? How will the other Cylons react when they're revealed? And hey, doesn't that make Cally and Tyrol's child a hybrid like Hera? How has THAT not been detected?

As for Roslin, either she's the last Cylon-- which would be both too pat and too inconsistent-- or the transfusion of Hera's blood created a connection to the Cylon subconscious. That creates some interesting implications, and I hope the writers have the characters realize this and act on it (specifically, inject some more people with Hera's blood and try to gain further insights into what the Cylons are about).

In a way, I was disappointed to see Starbuck show up at the end. I never truly believed she was gone-- all that talk about a destiny made that improbable-- but because it seemed so obvious, I hoped I was wrong. Her Deus Ex Machina return feels neither clever nor unexpected, and I hoped for better. And they'd best have one hell of an explanation for how she survived the explosion of her viper (or did she? Her ship wasn't playing well with Draedus, and she had a kind of glow about her). I don't buy the notion that she's the fifth Cylon-- not after they spent an entire episode on flashbacks of her childhood.

I will give the writers props, however, for violating one of the cardinal rules of series television. When you have a show whose premise is "Survivors of a spacefaring human civilization search for Earth," you're not supposed to have them actually find it. It looks like they're reinventing the show next season, and that raises all sorts of interesting questions. How would a modern Earth react to the arrival of a) an advanced, spacefaring culture? b) an advanced, spacefaring culture that desperately seeks asylum and help, and c) an advanced, spacefaring culture that desperately seeks asylum and help and leads a bloodthirsty, lethal race of artifical life forms bent on humanity's destruction to their doorstep? How will the Cylons react to finding Earth? What's Hera's and Baltar's role in all of this? Is the show leading to a conclusion where Cylons and humans coexist in peace? Will the final Cylon turn out to be someone on Earth (in which case the writers have some 'splainin' to do), Baltar (thus explaining his visions of Six, and hers of him), or a minor flying-under-the-radar character like Doc Cottle?

Alin Sepinwall has a nice blog entry about the finale, including a delightful theory about how everyone in the series is really a Cylon. He also raises an interesting question about how four characters could all know "All Along the Watchtower" as a song from their childhood. Is everything really inverted? Instead of Earth being the lost thirteen colony, a splinter group broken off from this spacefaring civilization long ago, were the twelve colonies really a diaspora of our descendants? Is the show actually set far in the future? Are they coming to Earth to discover a planet destroyed by an ancient human/AI conflict? The Cylons have been saying that everything that's happening has happened before...

Whatever Ron Moore's planning, it will undoubtedly bear as little resemblance to Galactica 1980 as this show does to its forebear. Which can only be a good thing. But... 2008? Frak!

Comments (4) | last by Brian, Mar 28, 3:44 PM

Lost City

At the end of February, the gf and I spent ten days in Mexico. We spent the first four days driving around the Yucatan peninsula, visiting the ruins at Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and along the Puuc Trail, and wandering around Merida. The last six days were spent at a beach resort in Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun), where we relaxed on beach chairs under palapas, snorkeled and swam in the spectacular Carribean water, and read in the comfort of the hammocks on our patio.

lostcities.jpgI've traveled all around Europe, and all the archeological sites I've seen there have been barren, dusty, or scrubby. The ground is typically bare earth or rocky, with little shade other than that provided by reconstructed stone columns. The Mayan ruins of the Yucatan were therefore a pleasant surprise, situated as they are in the midst of a verdant jungle. El Castillo, the giant pyramid at Chichen Itza, looms at the center of a lush green field. The juxtaposition of ancient stone and living grass, especially on that scale, had a surreal quality. Sadly, visitors are no longer allowed to climb El Castillo, so we had to content ourselves with feeling insignificant from its base. Perhaps it's just as well, though-- as we found out at other Mayan sites, size 14 shoes were not a design concern of the Mayan architects who designed their temples' stairs.

El Castillo is an impressive structure, but Chichen Itza's reknown stems largely from its proximity to Cancun, where daytripping cruise passengers and frat boys can hop on a bus, see the legacy of an ancient civilization, and still be back in time for debauched karaoke on the beach. The ruins at Uxmal, farther west and therefore less visited, felt grander and more inspiring. At Uxmal there was a greater sense of what the community might have been like, and the site itself felt like a hidden refuge in the jungle. I couldn't pass up the chance for the photo at right, perhaps the beginning of a "games in situ" series. Had I been really on the ball and had the luggage space, I'd have brought Yucata or Maya along, but Lost Cities seemed perfectly appropriate and, more importantly, portable.

Before I return to Mexico, I'd appreciate it if the country would adopt the following new rules:

  • All speed bumps must be painted in bright, neon colors. Speed bumps in Mexico (called topes) are an entirely different breed from what you find north of the border. They're landmines threatening to destroy a vehicle's suspension at any time. America has surrendered the speed bump arms race to the Mexicans. In the United States, speed bumps gently-sloping rounded rises the road, usually painted yellow to help motorists spot them and slow down-- which is, of course, the whole point. Mexico fights a guerilla war against unwary drivers. There's nothing gentle about Mexican speed bumps, which angle sharply upwards, then plateau for a good meter or more, before angling sharply downward again. Their unpainted surface is perfect camouflage, and warning signs-- if any exist at all-- are small, green, and posted directly next to the bump at the side of the road. By the time you see the sign (or in my case, trigger cardiac arrest by your gf unexpectedly shrieking "Bump!" into your right ear at the top of her lungs), it's too late. Slamming on the brakes is a necessary but futile attempt to avoid the inevitable impact as the tope slams into your stalwart PT Cruiser's underside. Would a little yellow striping kill you, Mexico? Or is this a clever government initiative to placate the poor masses with cheap entertainment and a steady supply of automotive repair customers? In some of the villages we drove through, I could swear I saw some of the locals salivate as we entered town.

  • Mexican musicians are prohibited from performing any rendition of the following songs: Guantanamera, The Mexican Hat Dance, and La Cucaracha. Furthermore, it is a capital offense for anyone, anywhere in Mexico, to perform La Bamba. Nobody knows the right lyrics anyway. The Mexican musical tradition must be richer than this, people. Show us some depth.

  • It's the 21st century. Fix the water. When even the locals don't drink it, you've got a problem. Seriously, as your neighbors to the north, it's embarrassing.

  • Fix the toilets so they can handle paper getting flushed. When I think "Mexican vacation" I don't want to think "waste basket next to the potty".

  • Change the symbol for the peso. The U.S. already has dibs on the "$" symbol, Mexico. Stop using it. It's already annoying to have to purchase bottled water. It's really annoying to pay $12 for it. For a new symbol, perhaps something in the shape of a bottle of Corona with a wedge of lime?

  • Comments (2) | last by Jake, Mar 27, 10:59 AM

    Time's Almost Up!

    My game Time's Up! is due to be reprinted, and the publisher wants to update the game with fresh names. Problem is, I'm fried. Eighteen hundred names in, I've already used all the best ones I've got and now I'm scraping the Rodney Allen Rippeys and William Katts from the barrel.

    That's where you come in, gentle readers. Got any suggestions for famous people that I may have missed in the existing editions? The ideal name will be familiar to 75% of players or more, and will not become dated a year or two from now (Scooter LIbby and Kenneth Lay need not apply). I'd be particularly keen on names that resonate with college students, since I'm a bit out of that age range now and don't know the Pussycat Dolls from Josie and the Pussycats.

    Comments (4) | last by Nathan, Mar 16, 11:23 AM

    Radio Gaga

    Today I'll be appearing as a contestant on a little internet radio quiz show called Anyone Can Play, which you can hear at 6PM Eastern time all week long via Shokus Radio. If I'm the champion of the day, I'll take home the grand prize of $25-- enough to pay for my current obsession. Curse you, Matthew Baldwin!

    Comments (7) | last by Derek, Mar 14, 11:52 AM

    It's a Spelling Thing

    From first to last and out, Rob and Amber bid farewell to Amazing Race All-Stars and their fourth attempt at a million bucks. And I couldn't be sorrier to see them go. Granted, Amber is little more than the contractually obligated second teammate and faithful sidekick on the Rob Show, but Rob has always impressed me with his understanding of the game. He recognizes it's a competition for a million bucks and not a sisterhood of the traveling pants. He never cheats, but exploits every opportunity to seize an advantage. The race without Rob will be a far less interesting journey.

    But the lummox brought it on himself in an uncharacteristic lapse of gamesmanship. He chose the wrong task for the Detour, opting for the obviously more complex task merely because it involved hammer and nails. When told his sign was wrong, he said, "This better not be a spelling thing," and then-- incredibly-- did not appear to go back and verify all his spelling was correct. Amber, one assumes, was too busy signing contracts for a CBS Rob and Amber Pass Kidney Stones special to actually check Rob's work. She did try to convince Rob to switch to the other task, but Rob was too frustrated to see the wisdom in cutting bait. Instead of taking a deep breath and thinking through the problem, he flailed around at random hoping to get lucky. And this time, his luck ran out.

    At this point, the only satisfying outcome left to the race is for Mirna and Charla to plummet to their deaths in a freak funicular accident in the Alps. Their behavior toward each other and everyone else in this race has been singularly dispicable, and I'm heartened by the certainty that the only way for that mean-spirited partership to win the race would be to be the only team not to board that ill-fated funicular. With Romber and Kentucky gone, I'm now rooting for either Uchenna and Joyce or Dustin and Candice to win.

    But what I really want to see is Rob and Amber go up against Big Brother's Mike and Will in a game of The Mole.

    Comments (3) | last by Sarah Stone, Mar 15, 8:05 AM