Friday, July 28, 2006

Landis Speaks

In an emotional press conference, Tour de France winner protests his innocence. I'd probably believe him more if he wasn't weeping one second and swinging a folding chair around his head like a baseball bat the next.

Seriously though, I do hope they find him innocent. This was one hell of an inspiring comeback, and for once, I'd like to see a sports hero win without the specter of steroids or some other form of performance enhancer looming in the background.

One of the sad results of last year's steroid hearings (along with McGwire's lame "I'm not here to talk about the past," Sosa's sudden inability to speak a word of english, and Rafael Palmiero's strident (and ultimately false) denials that he was a user) is that we look askew at anyone who achieves any degree of greatness and wonder whether he's juiced or not.

Just last week, I was with some guys who were talking about how Albert Pujols is on the juice, and it's only a matter of time before he's outed. I was his sole defender in the room, and still, a small part of me wondered whether I was just wasting my time defending yet another cheater.

Maybe I've become to jaded to enjoy sports, or perhaps I'm far too naive, because I want our athletes to come by their successes using God-given talent, hard work and drive, as opposed to dirty needles in a cramped bathroom stall, while hoping they can figure out how to evade the next round of testing.

In any case, right now a winner stands in front of the world, trying to maintain his innocence. Even if he succeeds, the taint will be with him for the rest of his life, coloring his actions, spreading doubt into the hearts of those who want to believe in him. In some ways, he's already lost.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Party Shuffle

I'm playing poker online and kind of bored at the moment (don't tell the feds--they're still looking for me after that little incident; I'd prefer not to talk about it right now, from what I hear, the statute of limitations is almost up). And don't worry, I claim all winnings on taxes (so far, it hasn't been much of an issue).

I saw this done here, and thought I would try something similar. So I have the i-Tunes up and here's the first ten songs in the party shuffle:

  1. No Rolling Back - Jay Farrar
  2. Sympathy for the Devil (live) - Jane's Addiction
  3. Eyes on My Back - Joseph Arthur
  4. Narc - Interpol
  5. My Father's Waltz - Hem
  6. Garden - Goober and the Peas
  7. You Might Think - The Cars
  8. Madness (Is All in the Mind) - Madness
  9. What's the New Mary Jane? - The Beatles
  10. Christ is My Hope - The Innocence Mission
I don't use the party shuffle enough; it's a pretty nice mix, and it certainly beats reading donkeys chatting with each other between hands.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I Am Superman and I Can Do Anything

Way back in '03, I sat through the Matrix Revolutions, wondering how I was going to get my money, and more importantly, my time back from that complete piece of garbage.

However, from my perspective, the movie did offer one revelation, if you will: after watching Neo and Agent Smith battle in the skies and throughout the city, I thought "Someone's going to make a kick ass Superman movie someday."

Fast forward to today. Superman Returns is out in theaters, and while I was right in one regard – it is impressive. Otherwise, I’m feeling a big pile of ambivalence about the movie.

For those of you who don’t know, the basic plot is after a mysterious five-year absence, Superman returns to Earth, discovering that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Lois Lane is winning a Pulitzer for her editorial “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Oh, and she’s raising a son and engaged to Perry White’s nephew, and associate editor at the Daily Planet. Lex Luthor is out of prison and he’s raiding the Fortress of Solitude for advanced technology, but he’s using it for a land swindle. And the world? Still needs saving.

This movie does a lot very well. I liked that Bryan Singer chose to make it a sequel to Superman II, effectively removing Superman III and IV from the picture, and using Richard Donner’s version of Superman as a springboard was a great choice, in that viewers are already somewhat familiar with the basic premise and story.

The action scenes, especially the plane rescue, are simply breathtaking. (If you get the chance, see it in 3-D; you’ll thank me later), and Brandon Routh, except for his propensity to pose like Gerorge Reeves in every scene, isn’t bad as Superman. (I was most concerned about him in the title roll – I originally thought he looked too pretty for the part).

But the movie brought a lot of negatives along with it as well. Kate Bosworth, while easy on the eyes, simply wasn’t very convincing as Lois; she failed to convince me that she had Lois’s steely character down. However, she’s still a step up from Margot Kidder’s gravelly voice rumbling “SUUUUPPPPEEERRMMANNN!!!” –shudder-

Superman Returns is also about 30 minutes too long; I’m pretty sure small scenes could have been cut. As it was, the movie screeches to a halt in several scenes and it has a lot of trouble recovering the lost momentum.

And then there’s the plot. I felt like there was a lot of been-been-there-done-that thrown into the movie, and I’m not sure why. Rehashed jokes from the original Superman movie included Superman reminding reporters that flying is still statistically safe and Parker Posey’s character repeating one of Miss Teschmacher’s jokes from the original. Plus, there’s the small problem that the plot is largely a rehash of the first movie, where Lex Luthor is going to kill millions in a land grab. Couldn’t they do better?

I’m thinking probably not. I’ve long suspected that Singer and his writing partners, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, don’t have many original ideas within themselves. Take their biggest recent venture, X-Men 2; the plot was a cross between Chris Claremont’s graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn (watch the end of X2 and then watch the end of Star Trek 2 and tell me the end of X2 wasn’t a straight lift – I expected Patrick Stewart to start saying “Space, the final frontier . . .” in his ending voiceover). It worked, but I was a little disappointed, seeing that there was so much better material available to use.

So we get Superman Returns, which is basically a rehash of Superman: The Movie. I didn’t think it was bad, but I was disappointed that they chose to basically remake Superman instead of mining other parts of Superman’s rich 75-plus year history. There are other villains available – Brainiac, Mongol, Metallo, but they went with Luthor again (and apparently, there was a version of the script where Zod made an appearance, but Jude Law, who Singer wanted for the role, declined so they wrote him out). And lest I forget, the scene where Lois is on board the yacht and finds all of the wigs was also lifted straight from Star Trek 2.

I don’t mind homages; I don’t mind even incorporating elements from previous films, but I believe this could have been a better movie had the filmmakers chosen to go a different route.

In any case, while it's definitely not a great movie, it's not a bad one either. If you're looking for decent check-your-brain-in-at-the-door entertainment with a lot of truly impressive special effects, or you're a big fan of the Man of Steel, then Superman's well worth seeing.

Just be sure to block out lots of time.