Monday, December 22, 2008

Fantasy Football: The Agony Of Defeat

I feel like the New England Patriots about now.

Not that I had an undefeated season going, but the Hanging Chads pretty much dominated all year. And even in the Super Bowl, they still put together a reasonable score of 126 after averaging 143 per week during the regular season. But they ran into a hotter opponent this week - the Flux Capacitors put up 137 points and still have Matt Forte to go. So unless Forte fumbles six'll be a second-place finish this year.

Sadly, I left a few points on the bench. I decided to sit first-round pick Marshawn Lynch, since he was a "game-time decision" for the late Sunday game. Bringing in Kevin Smith turned out to be a good move, but my usual stud Andre Johnson and my occasional stud Santana Moss both decided to disappear this week. I could have brought in Tashard Choice and still been in it (although it's not clear I would hold on after Forte).

Well, it just goes to show that fantasy football is still got a lot of luck to it. My draft ended up riding me through the season, as I had very few waiver wire players get any time at all - other than kickers and defenses, I pretty much ran with my seven of my top eight draft picks most weeks. And yet, one only slightly-off week is enough to lose it.

Just ask the Patriots.

Oh well - second ain't bad, and a $74 pot will help ease the pain. See you next season, guys.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Movie Review: Battle Creek Brawl

The Jackie Chan Film Festival slowly makes its way into the 1980s, and hops over to America for Jackie's first English film, Battle Creek Brawl (aka The Big Brawl). Although it's his first film specifically for American audiences, it still shares a lot of traits with his Chinese films at the time. Once again, it's a period piece in which he plays a young man interested in martial arts against the wishes of his father, who gets trained by a mischievous/sadistic older master (played this time by Japanese actor Mako), and who gets involved in a battle between two rival gangs. But this time, the period is the Depression-era Chicago instead of imperial China, and the gangs are mobsters instead of rival martial arts schools.

The mobsters are involved in underground fight tournaments and, er, underground roller-skate relay races (leading to a bizarre action sequence and the likely anachronistic dialog "no pain, no gain!"). Jackie's character is coerced into fighting in a Texas tournament when his brother's fiance is kidnapped - a plot point that seems to be largely forgotten by the end of the film. All of the other competitors are large, hulking brute types who fail to put up any kind of challenge to Jackie. So most of these fights are played for laughs, but are largely unimpressive. Only during one sequence where Jackie takes on a set of mobsters in a movie theater, including a knife-welding fighter, do things get at all interesting, and that's really only relative to the other fights.

There really isn't much to recommend here - Jackie tries to incorporate some touches from his Chinese efforts, such as using benches and chairs as shields and weapons. But many of these attempts seem overly posed and oddly paced here. I don't know if this is from using a different set of stuntmen or what, but after viewing the original versions of these stunts, these versions come off as a cheap knock-off.

This is barely a two-star effort, so it's no wonder it caused Jackie to fall back before mounting another attempt to enter the American market several years later. In the meantime, the festival moves back to China for the next entry, the Jackie Chan-directed Dragon Lord.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Really Really?

Hot Air features a clip from CNN where a reporter takes a leap from one nutbag "journalist" to the U.S. being "loathed" throughout the Arab world during an interview with Condi Rice.

Frankly, Captain Ed got a lot further in that interview than I did when I came across it this morning. I only got as far as the first two questions I saw:

QUESTION: Do you regret your role in the Iraq war?

SECRETARY RICE: I absolutely am so proud that we liberated Iraq.


No, not really, you freaking idiot - obviously, she was just putting you on with that first response, and under the intensity of your insightful line of questioning, she was going to break down and admit that she really does regret everything.

Is it any wonder that CNN is rarely accessed at my house anymore?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fantasy Football: Super Bowl Week

Wow, I'm really limping across the yearly finish line in terms of posting. Far too busy to do much, but I have at least started watching Battle Creek Brawl, my next Jackie Chan film. And of course, I've got the Super Bowl to prepare for!

The Money League Super Bowl, that is - where the difference between victory and defeat can be just a few yards - and $72. Which is the difference in the payout to 1st and 2nd place.

I did actually win this thing my first year playing, and have come close a couple of times since then. But this year, this team has been so dominant all season, if they don't close it out with a win, I'll be very disappointed.

Last week's semis were just another example - another 170-point-plus performance (I think we've only had two or three scores that high the whole season, and I had two of them). Just as Jay Cutler was the man on this team at the start of the season, so has Andre Johnson been the man at the end. 207 yards receiving, 1 TD, and 42 fantasy points. He's the number one receiver (although Larry Fitzgerald isn't far behind), but I also have Wes Welker (WR #9) and Santana Moss (WR #12). Not bad for a 12-team PPR league.

Oh, and Andre is playing against Oakland this week, a below-average defense. The only problem I may have here is Houston getting out to too big of a lead, and switching over to the run.

Somewhat amazingly, Thomas Jones is currently RB #2 in the league, with Marshawn Lynch a slight disappointment at RB #13. Tony Gonzalez is TE #1 and it's not even close - he's averaging 4 points per game better than the next closest TE, Dallas Clark. And even if it was mostly front-loaded, Jay Cutler is still QB #4 - not bad for a seventh-rounder.

My opponent comes in on the strength of running backs Matt Forte (RB #1), Michael Turner (RB #7) and Clinton Portis (RB #12), and Antonio Gates (TE #) and Roddy White (WR #4) are respectable. But depth is a problem, with Vincent Jackson (WR #22) and Tyler Thigpen (QB #15) rounding out his main starters.

So I'm pretty optimistic heading into the Super Bowl. Yeah, it's only $124 profit if I win it all, but of course the main goal is the coveted virtual trophy and the bragging rights.

No wait - it's the money.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

....Just Wait A While

Yesterday - mid 70's, windy and cloudy

This morning - mid 60's, unsettled with showers

This afternoon - mid 70's, sunny and windy

Tonight - low 30's, rain, thunder and sleet

If you don't like the weather in Austin....

Friday, December 5, 2008

Movie Review: The Fearless Hyena and Spiritual Kung Fu

Wow, it's been a while since I've been able to get back to my Jackie Chan Film Festival. But now that The Shield and Sons Of Anarchy are over and 24 and Lost have yet to resume, maybe I'll have a bit more time available.

Before the main feature, a brief mention of a movie in Jackie's filmography that I'm skipping past: Spiritual Kung Fu. Although released after Drunken Master, it was filmed somewhat earlier, and with the same Lo Wei-led production team that gave us such non-classics as Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu. Very broad comedy, cheap (real cheap) special effects, an overly convoluted plot, and fight scenes that range from OK to bad. One star.

But the main feature here is The Fearless Hyena, which sees Jackie taking over the writing, fight choreography and (for the first time) direction. It's pretty much just an amalgam of elements from the films immediately preceding it. You've got:

  • Jackie playing a troublemaking youth with some (but not enough) kung-fu knowledge
  • Jackie getting into trouble at a market
  • Jackie helping out a kung-fu school run by talentless teachers
  • Jackie being tortured, err, trained by a mysterious old man (although not "Sam The Seed" from the two previous movies)
  • Jackie fighting the old man with chopsticks
  • rival clans looking to wipe each other out (for some unknown reason), with Jackie on one side of the battle
  • Jackie suddenly learning a new kung-fu style near the end of the movie
  • Jackie defeats the big boss - The End.

Kind of a recap version of Snake And Crane Arts of Shaolin, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master rolled into one. Maybe it's better when seen in isolation, but after seeing the other three movies recently, this one just seemed like more of the same, and lost a lot of impact in the process.

The movie also isn't very well organized. We start off watching a fight scene between the eventual Big Boss and, well, someone we don't know. Then they disappear for a long time while we follow Jackie and his time spent in a kung-fu school. Then they disappear (never to return) while Jackie switches over to training mode. Finally, the evil henchmen reappear at the very end. There's almost three entirely separate plot-lines going on. Furthermore, Jackie's character seems to veer between an expert fighter and a lousy one. Whenever he is fighting his grandfather, in particular, he becomes a bumbling fool, while outside his house, he easily defeats everyone he encounters.

Finally, the big new skill Jackie learns at the end is "emotional kung fu", where he gets to fight while giggling like an idiot, sobbing like a baby, growling like the Incredible Hulk, and generally annoying me. It's not the most annoying secret martial arts skill I've seen on film (that would be the "wildcat" from, I think, Master Of The Flying Guillotine?), but it's right up the list.

There is some good news. There are several good fight scenes (not the last one, sadly, where the giggling and sobbing begin). Particularly well done are several fights with staffs and swords; Jackie usually does well in choreographing those weapons. A 3-on-1 battle near the end of the flick is a definite highlight. And I don't think I've seen Jackie quite as ripped as he looks here, giving Stallone and Schwarzenegger a run for their money for once.

But in the end, the comedy attempts fall flat, and most of what you get here is better shown in the films just before it. Two stars is all I can manage for this one. Next up: I'll be skipping over Dragon Fist to get to Jackie's first attempt at taking the American market - The Big Brawl.

Still Alive...

...just far too busy to post.

But I did spot gas for $1.57 for regular, $1.81 for premium yesterday. It's been a while since it was that low - my fuel log book shows I paid $1.56 for premium back in February 2004, and that's the cheapest I've bought gas for my POS Cruiser (god, how I hate my car now).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 12 Recap

No BCS drama around here!

My money league team clinched the overall #1 playoff seed this week with another relatively easy victory. Of course, it helps when you're opponent has a horrible week - even a 41-point performance by Drew Brees on Monday night only brought them to within fifty of the mighty Chads. The second-highest score for the week again, this time led by twenty-point-plus scores by Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Marshawn Lynch and Tony Gonzalez (who is now TE#1 points-wise overall in the league). Even an off-week by Jay Cutler couldn't keep them down.

The Chads now head into the last week of the regular season with a 138-point margin (almost 9 percent) over the next highest team, giving them a meaningless final game and a bye for the first playoff week. I'm guaranteed to finish in the top four, and the top three split up the pot. So all I need is one win in either of two playoff games, and I'm in the money.

Would that it was that easy for the Longhorns....

The Shield Finale Predications

Based on no advance spoiler knowledge...I think Vic walks tonight.

He's got his eye on the prize - namely, saving himself and Corrine. Of course, once he finds out he bet on the wrong horse - Corrine instead of Ronnie - that'll just be one more burned bridge he'll leave behind. I don't think he's come this far to throw away his lifeline, not for Corrine or for Ronnie. So I think he'll leave Ronnie to his fate, walk away from his family once he finds out they've been working against him, and head off into his new life as a federal undercover man with his head held high. He's been totally exposed, but as long as he's got his immunity deal, he'll just keep rolling.

Everyone else gets the shaft. I think Ronnie likely ends up dead, rather than captured, perhaps during the drug raid. The only question is whether he ever finds out Vic screwed him over before he goes. Shane and Mara also end up dead, and at this point, I think by their own hands. I think Claudette doesn't die, but does resign her position voluntarily, die to illness and mishandling of the Mackey investigation. Dutch ends up in charge of the Farm, but only temporarily, as the Vic/Ronnie scandal proves to be the last straw, causing the district to be shut down. Dutch also ends up killing the young serial killer he has been tracking in self-defense.

At any rate, this episode probably ranks higher than even the most recent Lost finale on my expectations meter. Bring it on!

Monday, November 24, 2008

TV Review - 24: Redemption

Well, it's good to have Jack back, even in this form.

I haven't had too much of a problem filling my TV time, with The Shield having one of the best season-long runs I can remember and Sons Of Anarchy having a good showing in its first season. But both of those shows will be disappearing after this week (with Sons to return sometime next year), and so it's time for the second-half of the "fall" season to start. That means welcome returns for both 24 and Lost.

While Lost also managed to turn in a great season last year, 24 has definitely been headed the other direction. After a great fifth season, season six turned into kind of a lackluster disaster, and the off-season hints of things to come (Jeanene Garofalo? urk..) left me dreading the return of a neutered Jack Bauer.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached this two-hour 24 movie, subtitled (although not on-screen) "Redemption". First off, I thought the producers chose a good backdrop, a fictional example of one of the all-too-real African genocides currently going on. Rather than drag out another nebulous terrorist group, we get an alternate scenario that provides real danger for Bauer, and a way for him to try to find some personal redemption, and shines a spotlight on an under-reported real problem that exists in the world today. Much better than, say, Jack helping a group of eco-warriors fight an evil, global-warming corporation or something.

And the fact that we get to see some very well-deserved shots taken on the feckless United Nations and the U.S. State Department is just icing on the cake. "Go hide in the shelter with the other children" - and then he does! Just outstanding.

But just so we know it's still 24, there is a tieback to a nameless "old white guy" (played this time around by Jon Voight) and to moles in the five-minute old administration of whatever the new president's name is. Those are just setups for the next season, though, and they didn't distract too much from the main plot back in Africa.

For a "two-hour event", we didn't get a big set piece on the order of the fighter strafing-run from....back in season two, I think? But we did get a lot of standard 24 beats - Jack as pistol sharpshooter, Jack being tortured (that just makes him angry), Jack killing a man with his bare hands, err, feet, a confederate taking the kill so Jack can continue, and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary for 24, but just seeing it back in action and done well after the disaster of the last season makes me happy.

At least until the new season starts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 11 Recap

It's better to be good, unlucky and lucky than good and unlucky.

My money league team this week was good. They got the second-highest point total for the week, racking up 136 points behind 33 points from Marshawn Lynch (RB #1 for the week) on Monday night and 19 points from Thomas Jones (RB #15) on Sunday. For once, the QB and WRs weren't leading the scoring, particularly Andre Johnson who will suffer, I think, from the continuing absence of Matt Schaub in Houston.

But they were also unlucky. I may have been the second-best team in the league, but I was also the second-best team in my matchup, as my opponent put together the kind of game I had last week. As a result, my second loss of the year, 176-136.

But - they were also lucky. I came into the game in first place, with a one-game lead over two other teams. Amazingly, they also both lost this week, meaning my one-game lead is intact. Even better, I outscored both of them, so my point total lead (the first tiebreaker) expanded as well. Now I effectively have a two-game lead with two left to play, meaning I'm almost certainly a lock for the playoff bye. And that means I only need to win one of those two playoff games to be in the money.

My other two teams are now effectively dead. The ESPN team limped to a 109-45 thrashing, dropping them to 7-4 and barely holding onto the last playoff spot. My hapless Fox Sports team also lost badly, 113-65. They're now 5-6 and two games out of the playoffs with two to play.

At least the team I'm most interested in continues to be good. And lucky.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanks, Bank Of America!

Went by Bank of America to deposit a check. They have a wonderful (for some bizarro-world definition of wonderful) new addition to their ATMs, at least around Austin. You used to place your checks into an envelope and then insert the envelope into a slot, after typing in the amount of the deposit.

Now, you just slide the checks individually into the slot without an envelope, and it is supposed to scan the amounts automatically.

At least, in theory.

Or, in my case, despite having a nice, non-crinkled-up check, you sit there impotently stabbing the slot with the piece of paper that it steadfastly refuses to accept.

You know how wonderful it is when you try to use a dollar bill (or three, if you are at a motel) to buy a soft drink from a machine, and it just doesn't work? Not the kind where it sucks in the bill, thinks about it, and then spits it back out - but the kind where the machine won't even think about sucking it in at all?

Yeah, it's wonderful like that.

I understand why they did this - no need to stock envelopes. But at least the envelope provided some heft, some thickness to aid the machine in grabbing the deposit. Not any more.

And I haven't even got to the scanning part. At least my check was printed on a printer - what's going to happen to all of the hand-written checks? Does the ATM display the amount it thinks it is? What if it doesn't match the amount you think it should be?

Maybe I'll never get to find out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It Was Nice While It Lasted

"The avalanche has begun; it is too late for the pebbles to vote."

$700 billion bailout of the financial industry.
$25 billion bailout (so far) of the auto industry.

Next in line, Detroit, Atlanta and California.

Hell, why don't we just forget about capitalism and federalism altogether?
I mean, what good have they done anyone?

Jesus H. on a pogo-stick.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 10 Recap

Well, there are some weeks it all comes together. I posted earlier about the night that Jay Cutler had last Thursday. The trend continued up and down my roster. With Monday night still to go, I started Jay Cutler (QB #1 for the week), Thomas Jones (RB #2), Kevin Smith (RB #12), Wes Welker (WR #4), Tony Gonzalez (TE #1) and the Carolina defense (D #2). About the only dud on the roster was first-round pick Marshawn Lynch, who at RB17 for the season is underperforming more than a bit.

Add it all up and you get a 199.56 - 73.48 drubbing of my previous co-leader on top of my money league. This brings the mighty Chads up to 9-1, the highest point total in the league by about one-hundred points, a clinched playoff spot, and most importantly, nearing a clinch of a bye week in the playoffs. I think one more win ought to do it for me.

My other teams continued their meandering ways. My ESPN team needs some help from Larry Fitzgerald to pull out a win and avoid dropping to 6-4 on the season. Winning the division is pretty much out of the picture at this point, but if we don't get this victory, even reaching the playoffs may be a stretch.

Meanwhile, my hapless Fox Sports team reaped the Jay Cutler whirlwind and is cruising to a 138 - 67 win. Mostly on the back of Cutler, this team has managed to crawl up to a 5-5 record, just enough to land one game out of the playoffs with three games left to play. It could still happen.

My Suicide Points league lead, which seemed pretty secure for the last few weeks, has now disappeared in the wake of the New York Jets 44-point drubbing of the Rams. The Chargers could only manage a one-point win over the Chiefs, so now I find myself going from a twenty-six point lead to trailing by seventeen points in a single week.

Oh well, can't win them all. As long as the Chads keep rolling, I don't really care about the rest.

Movie Review: Drunken Master

And at last, after much delay, we finally get to the point in my Jackie Chan Film Festival where we are firmly in the "classic" era. He has largely escaped the Lo Wei influence and shown that his more comedic persona can result in blockbuster success (at least in China - success in America was still quite a ways off). This movie borrow a lot from the immediately preceding Snake In The Eagle's Shadow in terms of personnel, both in front of and behind the camera. Most specifically, Yuen Siu Tien returns in his "Sam The Seed" persona (here called Su Hua Chi), the old beggar whose age and appearance hides his kung-fu prowess. This time around, rather than playing an old man that Jackie's character meets by happenstance, here Jackie (playing the legendary Wong Fei-Hung) is instead handed over to Su for training by his father, who has disowned his son in the wake of a series of misdeeds.

Actually, for much of the film, Jackie plays Wong as pretty much a jerk who deserves the torture heaped upon him during the film. And if you like seeing Jackie get tortured, then this is the film for you - he gets into fights at the market (and gets beat up) and at his house (and gets beat up some more), and then some more during his training. Even during the inevitable showdown at the end, it isn't a case of an unbeatable Wong destroying his opponent - they are actually fairly evenly matched for much of the fight, and Wong takes his lumps several times.

For a movie called Drunken Master, there sure isn't very much drinking going on. The drunken boxing styles aren't even mentioned until over an hour into the film, and then (as usual) Jackie goes from reading a book to a near expert in no time at all. We get a lengthy montage of Wong demonstrating all of the Eight Drunken Gods (except for the feminine Miss Ho style, which he finds he needs later on), but there really isn't any learning curve shown on film - he just goes from novice straight to master.

There is a good variety of fight scenes here. In particular, an early fight scene set in a market that has Wong up against a sword-wielding noble and a conman who uses his head as a weapon are particularly well-choreographed. Later scenes get more into the straight acrobatic hand-to-hand combat style we've seen in a few Chan film now, and get a little more repetitive, but are still generally well-done. And for those that have seen the later Drunken Master II (aka The Legend Of Drunken Master), the drunken boxing doesn't get into quite the wild frenzy here as in that later film.

I'm pretty stingy with the five-star ratings, so I'm only going to grant this one four stars. But it is clearly the class of the festival so far. Next up, Jackie takes the director's chair for the first time in another film whose title might clue you into the fact that it isn't to be taken too seriously: Fearless Hyena.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sign Me Up

Via Instapundit, a report of micro-nuclear generators capable of producing power for 7-10 years for 20000 homes before refueling, at 10 cents per watt, hitting the market in the next few years. I've been amazed with all of the "energy crisis" talk during the recent campaign that we seldom heard the one word that actually makes sense - nuclear. Any plan to reduce coal for electricity generation that doesn't include substantial investment in nuclear - especially when the proposed solutions include much more expensive, less reliable and less mature solutions like solar and wind - is just whistling past the graveyard, in my opinion. (The snarky side of me would point out that President Obama will just power everything with rainbows and unicorns and his amazing charisma, but of course, that would just be snarky.)

However, Austin would never go for anything like this, given (a) the disastrous participation in the South Texas Nuclear Project back in the 80's, and (b) the Bezerkeley-envy in this city that makes it more likely they would be explicitly anti-nuclear than ever considering anything like this.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I've been far too busy to post much, but this is deserving of a post:

Andre Johnson has been big the last few weeks, but the reason my money league team is 8-1 (and now likely to go to 9-1 and in the playoffs) is Jay Freakin' Cutler.

447 yards and 3 touchdowns? 41 points (in a league where 100 is pretty good for a nine-player team)? Amazing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

DVD Spending Tab XXII

Another couple of holes in the Chan section of my library filled on the cheap:

Heart Of Dragon
+ My Lucky Stars + Pale Blue Balloons (I don't know what that last one is, it isn't a Jackie Chan film, it was just thrown in the lot): $3.99

Robin-B-Hood: $4.20

Yearly total: 24 movies, $82.71 total, $3.45/movie.

Doorknob Of Fate

Not sure what to make of this. I just got doorknobbed with a flier encouraging me to vote Democrat "not just at the top of the ticket".

Now I live in Austin. Obama is going to carry Travis County easily.

Austin is in Texas. McCain is going to carry Texas easily.

As a result, I largely get bypassed by most of the direct political crap, at least at the national level. So I'm not really sure what this flier implies about the state races.

Are the Dems feeling their oats, hoping to ride The Chosen One's coattails to some statewide gains here in Texas, a state that hasn't had a Democrat in statewide office for a long time now (probably since Ann Richards' time, and she's in the grave by now)? (BTW I don't think that will change this year either - Cornyn is a shoe-in to retain his seat, most other statewide seats don't change this year, and even the Austin Comicle thinks a change in the state legislature balance is a longshot.)

Or are the Obamalots worried about complacency setting in among the disciples, expecting a lower turnout than expected in an area he is going to win regardless? I wouldn't think they would need a good old, Chicago-style bus-in-the-ignorant-masses type GOTV effort here in The People's Republic of Texas.

As I said, it won't have any real effect here in Texas, but it's curious nonetheless.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Movie Review: Snake In The Eagle's Shadow

The Jackie Chan Film Festival continues its slow march towards the 1980's with the film largely regarded as starting the "classic" Jackie Chan period, where he went from a reliable lead or supporting actor to martial arts superstar. And it is a definite improvement over all of the previous films in the festival so far, at least in terms of action scenes. The plot is still one of the standards in the genre - one kung fu school looking to take out another one for some undisclosed reason. Here, each school is identified by the animal it mimics in its style, the Snake-Fist school and the Eagle Claw school. Since Jackie is fighting for the Snake-Fist side, you get a lot of poses like this:

I know nothing about martial arts styles, so I have no idea if any of this "snake fist", "cat's claw", "praying mantis" stuff is at all realistic. But it is at least overdone here, with hissing sound effects for each "strike" of the "snake" (and later, when Jackie incorporates "cat's claw" into his attack, we get yowling cat sound effects). Combined with the general acrobatic style of the fights here, you end up with a fairly light style of martial arts fighting, instead of a more bruising slug-fest or "ultimate bad-ass" type of fighting.

But it can't be denied that the fight scenes are well-choreographed and executed. This was the first film directed by Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix, etc.), and there's a clear step up in quality from the previous Lo Wei-dominated efforts. The fights are more inventive in their use of props (particularly early on, where an old man defeats a group of attackers with chopsticks and a rice bowl), and everything just moves faster and smoother. There also isn't so much of a reliance on quick cuts to hide things like trampolines and reversed film (although that does show up at the end once Jackie starts jumping around like a cat).

This film also brings back another genre staple - the strange old teacher training the young misfit. Here, we get the "return" of Sam the Seed, previously seen "alongside" Jackie in Master With Cracked Fingers through the magic of film editing. And so we get another training montage, with combinations of torture and odd tasks (grabbing eggs balance on top of poles?). Things sometimes progress a little too quickly (Jackie goes from bumbler to better-than-competent in record time), but it's all pretty standard stuff for the genre.

I'm going to give this one three stars, although we're now hitting more on the "high" three stars instead of "low" three stars. Things are definitely on an up-turn, and for our next films we get a variation of this film but replacing animal styles with wine - the classic Drunken Master.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 6 Recap

Back on top, baby.

Just as my Longhorns took over the #1 spot in the polls for the first time in a long time, so too did my money league team return to its early dominating ways. Jay Cutler had his second average week in a row, but Andre Johnson had his second big week in a row. But the MVP of the week goes to Thomas Jones of the Jets, who finally showed something in racking up 28 points with three touchdowns. Throw in a defensive TD by the Bucs, and I know I've got a good week going. All told, the Chads ran to a league-high 151 points, easily outpacing the 80 points put up by my opponent. Now 5-1 and with the highest point total in the league (which is the first tiebreaker).

My ESPN team, meanwhile, limped to a win, currently leading 81-70 with Eli Manning left to go tonight. I gave Julius Jones a shot this week, so of course he came up with only 44 yards, and Jason Witten had an uncharacteristic bad game. But still good enough to pick up the win, which takes them to 5-1 as well, tied for first place in the division.

The sad Fox autodraft team continued its mediocre ways, as well, currently losing 115 to 75, with more opponent scoring possible tonight. Tomlinson continued to be just OK, and he has no support in the other RB spot, this week with Jerious Norwood (37 yards, 1 fumble) acting as the black hole in my lineup this week. This group falls to 3-3 on the year, still in the running for the playoffs, but really not competing for the title.

Finally, my suicide points league barely squeaked into the positive, picking up 2 points on Minnesota over Detroit. However, my two closest competitors got -2 points with the Redskins losing to the Rams, so it's still a net positive week. My 45 point lead is still looking strong.

We're just coming up to the half-way point of the season, so if my money league team can pick up a few more wins, we can start thinking about clinching a playoff spot soon. Hopefully.

DVD Spending Tab XXI

Bought a couple more movies off of eBay:

I had to get another copy of The Protector (the Tony Jaa film), since my first eBay purchase turned out to be a dud. So even though this one only cost $5.31, I've ended up spending $9.32 total on this movie - way more than usual.

And a copy of an admittedly lackluster Jackie Chan film, The Tuxedo - yeah, really just because I'm a completist. At least it was only $3.18.

That makes 20 movies on the year, $74.52 spent total, for a $3.73/movie average.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Movie Review: Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin

Well, not quite as good as I was expecting. The latest entry in my briefly-interrupted Jackie Chan Film Festival is Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin. I think I was confusing this one with Snake In The Eagle's Shadow, which is the film that kicks off the "classic" Jackie Chan period. This one still belongs back in the "early" era, with a more restrained performance from Chan in the lead role of Hsu Yiu Fong. After a prologue describing the creation and disappearance of the Ultimate Kung Fu Book ("The Eight Steps Of The Snake And Crane"), Hsu shows up, dropping lots of hints that he possesses the book. This, of course, draws attention from pretty much every gang around - the Black Dragons, the Flying Tigers, the Nittany Lions - and Jackie easily beats back every attempt at theft. His persona here isn't the goofball from Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu nor the badass from New Fist Of Fury. He doesn't really boast a lot, but he isn't going for the humble newcomer approach, either. He's kind of "casually dominant".

Along the way, he drops hints that he will reveal the book and what he is looking for "later", which is good for us since for most of the movie, he's just walking around getting attacked to no effect. But eventually he reveals that he is setting a trap for someone (although no points for guessing which character it is - he all but twirls his mustache the few early times we see him). And sure enough, the movie ends with a fight between Jackie and the revealed Big Boss that ends rather suddenly - and then "The End" pops up on the screen.

Not much into long denouements at this point in his career.

Fight scenes here are passable, but nothing special. This one doesn't have the "magical" wuxia-type moves - everyone pretty much stays on the ground - and there isn't a lot in the way of weapons or environment incorporated into any of the fights. Just basic, standard stuff. A late fight with Jackie against three staff-wielders holds early promise, but it too ultimately fails to deliver. And the final fight didn't do much for me either.

Given that there really wasn't much plotline either (even compared to other Jackie Chan movies), I can't really give this one more than two stars - a really mediocre effort. Up next, the movie I thought I was going to be seeing - Snake In The Eagle's Shadow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 5 Recap

The dream is over.

Much like last year's New England Patriots (except 14 weeks earlier), my money league team has finally tasted defeat. It was a team effort, as Jay Cutler finally came back down to earth, joining his continually-grounded teammate Tony Gonzalez. The only real bright spot was that Andre Johnson decided to join us here in the 2008 season, racking up 28 points and his first touchdown of the year. But my previously-winless opponent got off one of those freaky weeks, as DeAngelo Williams and Kyle Orton combined for six touchdowns, more than enough to blow me out of the water, 149 to 112. This drops me to 4-1, in a four-way tie for first place but still just barely ahead on points for the tiebreak.

My ESPN team got back on the winning track, 106 to 81. Firing on all cylinders here, as Eli Manning, Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss all posted big numbers, more than enough to overcome a rare off-week for Brandon Marshall. They are 4-1, tied for first in the division.

My Fox autodraft team squeaked out a victory, but just because my opponent forgot to switch out a bye player. Anyone in that spot would have helped him overcome a 60-56 deficit. Sixty points for a win is horrible - it was the third-lowest total for the week in the league, but it was still good enough for a win. Somehow this week has crept up to 3-2, and could still even make the playoffs.

Finally, my Suicide League points team came through big, taking Carolina with a 35-point victory over the hapless Chefs. This extends my lead to a whopping 42 points - truly a butt-whooping in progress here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

Just a quickie, as I'm still working (yeah, STILL) on tiling. But in between I found time to clear this movie off of the Tivo.

It's the least of the Bourne films, but still a decent action flick. I don't know that I remember Bourne actually issuing any ultimatums, though. This one largely dispenses with the intrigue aspects of the previous two, as it's pretty much Jason Bourne plowing his way through multiple assassins in a straight line to find out more info about himself. And when he gets there, we discover...well, we pretty much knew most of it anyway. Bourne also is a bit schizophrenic here - sometimes he's really clever, like how he manages to crack a safe. But sometimes he's really stupid, like immediately after when he taunts his pursuers too soon, giving them time to tighten their nets. So, really, this one ends up being all about the action sequences.

See what I did there - Bourne, schizophrenic...yeah, I guess you had to be there.

They mostly deliver. The biggest downside is the same one from the previous film - Paul Greengrass's Incredible ShakyCam. It's a shame, because I think most of the action sequences here were good enough in terms of fighting, tension, choreography, etc. to stand on their own without this failed attempt to add something more by having the cameraman run along side Matt Damon jiggling his camera back and forth. But you get good hand-to-hand clashes, urban (rooftop) foot chases, a car crash scene right out of The Blues Brothers, just one good sequence after another.

Too bad there wasn't a better film to go around them. Three stars.

Fantasy Football: Week 4 Recap

Well, we survived the bye week.

Week 4 was set up to be the week where my money league roster took the big hit from players on bye. Despite that, I still managed to pull out a narrow 124.22 - 117.30 victory. Fantasy football is strange - you don't expect to be watching Monday Night Football wondering if some guy named Le'Ron McClain is going to get 25 points to beat you. Since he only managed 17 (thanks to a dinged up Willis McGahee), I'm now up to 4-0, the only undefeated team.

The season-long trends continue. Jay Cutler continues to be The Man, posting 22 points despite losing and committing several turnovers. Marshawn Lynch continues to be a serviceable RB1, and Santana Moss continues his explosive ways. Darren Sproles once again proved to be a big WW pickup in this return yards league. However, Andre Johnson and Thomas Jones are now both officially on the "Oh Crap" list - both of their QBs had big days, but neither Johnson nor Jones were at all involved in the offense, and haven't been for a couple of weeks now. If they don't start getting the ball more, I'm going to be in big trouble down the stretch.

Meanwhile, a change of fortune for my other two teams. The ESPN team faltered, losing 102-82. Kurt Warner proved to be an anemic replacement for Eli Manning on his bye week, and Reggie Bush might as well have taken the week off, posting only 38 yards. They're now 3-1 and tied for first in the division.

My Fox Sports autodraft team managed to pick up a win, however, as LT finally showed up after a few weeks of lackluster performances. The Cutler-Marshall combo is also paying big dividends. Somehow this sorry lot has scraped up to 2-2 on the year, and they're still in contention.

I even managed to pull my way back up to the top of my Suicide League points league, as Buffalo grabbed a 17-point win over the Rams. All-in-all, not a bad week. Let's keep things rolling next week, guys.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

DVD Spending Tab XX

Another hole in my Jackie Chan collection filled:

Twin Dragons, $3.13 from eBay.

Yearly total: 19 movies, $66.03 total.

Movie Review: Live Free Or Die Hard

I needed to squint a bit to get full enjoyment out of this one for two reasons. First, since computers are a big part of the plot, I had to invoke the Cinematic Computer Rule: "Nothing you see a computer doing in the movies is possible." Being a computer guy myself, this does sometimes annoy me (such as the iPod in Transporter 2), but here, everything is at a fairly high-level - some guy taps on a computer for five seconds, and he's instantly tapped into a military communications circuit to a jet fighter. That kind of thing. Outlandish enough to just say "screw it" and move on.

Second, even though Die Hard is in the title, you kind of have to squint to make this into a Die Hard movie. Yeah, there's Bruce Willis running around, but he's not really acting much like John McClain here. He's relatively stoically running around, taking and giving out punishment. Not a lot of bantering, not a lot of improvisation, just moving from one set piece to the next. He really only comes close to letting loose in one scene, when he decides to "kill a helicopter with a car". And chief baddie Timothy Olyphant is certainly no Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons - he's not even William Sadler.

So, the movie mainly suffers from the fact that it is a sequel to one of the best action films of all time. But if you ignore it (or at least downplay it), what you end up with is a competent action movie. As I said, it's pretty much plot setup, then set piece, move to next scene, set piece, etc. to the end. Many action scenes are just McClain in a shoot-out with one or two bad guys in a confined space (the goofiest of which occurs towards the end, against some kind of gymnast guy whose acrobatics get the worst of him). But there are a couple of scenes that stand out - Willis and bad gal Maggie Q trapped in an SUV suspended in an elevator shaft, and the world's worst Harrier pilot trying and failing to hit McClain in a semi-trailer on a highway mixmaster.

Another basic, turn-off-your-mind, reasonably good action movie. (Oh, and Die Hard 4.0 would have been a better title.) Three stars.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 3 Recap

It's good not easy to be da king.

A tight week for the Money League team, as they held off a furious Monday night surge to barely win, 106.24 to 103.42. I, like many of my fellow fantasy players, were depending on the reports of Ladanian Tomlinson's demise to be correct, thus allowing Darren Sproles to run free. However, LT2 played most of the game and grabbed both goal-line attempts for the Chargers, giving my opponent 12 points. Add in the fact that Brett Fav-ruh decided to forget that he had a running back named Thomas Jones, and things were looking bleak. Fortunately, Sproles made the most of his few touches, getting good yards both as a receiver and a return man (although those on-sides kicks by the Jets didn't help). As a result, I'm now the only 3-0 team in my league.

However, trouble looms ahead. Andre Johnson and Tony Gonzalez continue to be victims of their anemic offenses in Houston and Kansas City, respectively. Justin Fargas and Justin Gage continue to be Justin Injured. And Week 4 is my bye week disaster, with Wes Welker, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Smith all taking the week off. So this week is likely to break the streak. Hopefully, Matt Schaub will either get his act together or get benched, because I need Andre Johnson to hold up his end - I can't depend on Jay Cutler and Marshawn Lynch every week.

My other leagues continued according to form. My ESPN team was the highest scoring team for the third straight week, cruising to an all too easy 128-65 win. Subbing Julius Jones (20 points) for Earnest Graham (1 point) turned out to be a great decision, and Eli Manning, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall continued their winning ways. 3-0 and pretty much on cruise control now.

The Fox autodraft team, on the other hand, is in some trouble. I believed the reports that LT2 would be sitting, and so I started Sproles in his place. Never again. Sproles got 7.7 points, while LT picked up 20 points for my bench. I lost by 2.5 points to fall to 1-2. Good thing this is the team I don't care about.

On to Week 4!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Terms Of Surrender

Well, following the tanking of the first two Seinfeld Microsoft commercials, Microsoft has announced that...well, that two commercials was really all they had planned for Jerry.

That was it. The whole thing. Ten million dollars. For that.


And now they're ready to unroll "phase two" which features...a copycat of Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" campaign. Only without the Mac, apparently.


Well, that ought to do it. Embrace the stereotype! Vista wins!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Movie Review: Shoot 'Em Up

Taking a break from the Jackie Chan Festival to clear this off my DVR. It's basically in the same vein as Crank - a video game film. There's the barest hint of a plot, and even the characters don't really bother much with it. Clive Owen's Man With No Name hero just sort of guesses at what's going on and is usually proven right. As the movie goes on, the plot gets goofier and goofier, to where it eventually becomes an annoyance.

Of course, I'm used to watching Jackie Chan movies, which aren't exactly known for their plotlines, either. So, how's the action. Well, as befits a video game movie, it's also goofy. Owen and Giamatti (two actors who really should be above this kind of thing) both take unbelievable amounts of punishment, fire off endless supplies of bullets, always manage to show up at just the right place with just the right weapons, and taunt each other from behind boxes, posts, whatever as they continue to fire at each other. It gets more than a little monotonous after a while (and this isn't even a very long movie). Sadly, the producers try to up the ante a bit at the end, with skydiving duels, broken fingers and blood spraying everywhere, but the effects budget must have run a bit low by then because things start going downhill visually by that point, as well.

In the end, not as much mindless fun as Crank. A valiant attempt, but just not quite there. Two stars.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 2 Recap

Well, the week isn't quite over yet, but I managed to pick up a ticket to tonight's Dallas-Philly game (road trip!), and all of my fantasy games are pretty much decided already. So...

It's still good to be da king!

My money league team will have to settle for second-highest score this week. But since my opponent is only the third-highest scorer...well, you see where I'm going with this. Jay Freaking Cutler continues to dominate, getting four TDs and a yardage bonus for the second straight week. A last second pull of Andre Johnson due to Hurricane Ike meant starting Santana Moss, who only managed to put up 37 points of his own. The only down side was an injury to Justin Fargas. I don't know his status, but I've got plenty of backups (Kevin Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, and the newly added Darren Sproles). So I'm looking pretty happy, although I may also need to pick up a QB backup at some point (currently have Vince Young). 2-0 and looking strong.

My ESPN team will likely have its second straight week as the league's high scorer, and I still have Jason Witten to play tonight. Big games from Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall (and this isn't even a PPR league) and Eli Manning led the way. The Tom Brady injury is really downgrading Randy Moss, though - going to be hard to get first-round production out of him this year. Even Earnest Graham pulled his weight! Firing on all cylinders here - this team is the class of the league and it isn't close.

As for the much maligned Fox Sports autodraft team, they managed to pull through thanks to some stupidity on the part of one of my fellow owners. Somebody saw that pathetic Raiders performance last week and decided to drop....Darren McFadden? Yeah, I'm playing with a bunch of sharks here. I managed to win the waivers battle for him, and plugged him in place of Ricky Williams. 164 yards later and I've got the win, and thank God because I was counting on LaDanian to pull this team - now he's got one of those nagging toe injuries that will probably keep him in the starting lineup but playing poorly all year long. Oh, and I started both Cutler and Brandon Marshall - that combo worked out well. I don't know if it will last, but I'll take 1-1 for this squad.

So, a 3-0 week, the money league team keeps looking great, and I'll cap it off with a trip to Texas Stadium tonight.

Yep, life is good sometimes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bad To Worse

OK - now it's just plain embarrassing:

If they really wanted to just throw away $10 million, they could have just sent it to me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rock Bottom (I Hope)

Her [Sarah Palin] greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.

Wow, could have fooled me. I've seen some pretty amazingly hateful stuff over the last couple of weeks. But I really didn't think anything could top Bush Derangement Syndrome until I started seeing Palin Derangement Syndrome. The above sentence was written for a column not on politics but on religion and faith.

In case anyone out there thought the level of vitriol and hatred coming from the left in the U.S. might subside after Bush leaves office - think again. Even if Obama wins, this is the kind of reasoning and discourse we can expect to see. Only now, it'll be backed by the White House in addition to Congress and the media.

Any wonder why I will never again vote for a Democrat?

Via Hot Air.

Always Be Prepared

Well, since the UT football game this weekend has been postponed, I guess that means Ike is actually going to have some impact around Austin.

Wait - I haven't checked on my hurricane preparedness yet! Let me check my supplies:

Whew. Looks like I'm OK. Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Words No Titan Fan Wants To Hear

NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports the Titans will sign QB Chris Simms.

Yeah, Vince Young is having "issues" - yet another former Longhorn having a very public breakdown upon leaving the Austin cocoon (re: Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson). But signing Pretty Boy is just a sure path to disappointment. He's got some ability, but what he mostly has is his father's name, and that isn't going to take any team to the next level. He's a placekeeper at best, and the Titans are better off with Kerry Collins starting than this loser.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fantasy Football: Week 1 Recap

It's good to be da king. At least for one week.

My Money League team managed to not only pull out a victory late Monday night, but also to get the league's high-point total for the week (alas, no bonus payout for that). In fact, it could have been better - GB kicker Mason Crosby had a short field-goal attempt blocked just before halftime, and Jay Cutler ended up with 299 yards passing, one short of picking up a five-point bonus for getting to 300 yards. So eight relatively easy points missed out, but I'm not complaining, since I didn't need 'em this week.

Really, the only negative on the roster this week was Wes Welker - not surprising after Tom Brady's sudden disappearance. I'll have to keep an eye on that situation - it may mean either bringing in Detroit RB Kevin Smith more often, or looking to pick up a good free agent WR somewhere.

But not Eddie Royal - he got snapped up by next week's opponent. Having the Cutler-to-Royal hookup would have been nice. But at least my starting Cutler will negate some of Royal's value, and of course, Brandon Marshall returns next week to leech some of Royal's opportunities.

Meanwhile, my ESPN team coasted to an easy 100-72 victory - also high score for the week. Reggie Bush was the standout on this squad, and Eddie Royal was sitting on the bench - hey, I've got Royal and Marshall on this team. How'd that happen? My pickup of Maurice Morris seems to be a bust, but it does help his teammate, Julius Jones.

Finally, my joke autodraft team over on Fox limped home, as expected. I needed Tomlinson to have a big day, but 97 yards and no TDs does not count, and Ricky Williams also disappointed. I would have been better off with Jerious Norwood, but that's going to be the problem with this group - which of my three loser backup RBs to start along with Tomlinson each week? Oh, and a big bust from Ocho Cinco didn't help either.

So a 2-1 start on the year, with both wins holding promise for the future. A good start.

Monday, September 8, 2008

DVD Spending Tab XIX

A couple more DVDs to throw on the pile. From EBay, the recently-watched:

The Killer Meteors, starring Jackie Chan: $3.99

And from Fry's, an old favorite:

Running Scared, starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines (not the recent Paul Walker film): $4.31

Yearly total: 18 movies, $62.90 total (about $3.50 per).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Like Frickin' Frankenstein

I finally figured out what that lame Microsoft ad that has everyone buzzing in all the wrong ways reminds me of...

Dr. Evil trying to prove he's hip by doing the Macarena.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Numero Uno In Your Hearts...

I just noticed that Fox Sports has renamed Chad Johnson in their fantasy football site as "Chad Ocho Cinco".

He better hope he doesn't get traded to the Lions or the Rams - they've both retired the number 85.

And So It Begins

Just stuck down my first set of ceramic tiles in the bathroom. I can't tell if I mixed the mortar correctly, I don't know if I used too much or too little under the tiles, I don't know if the tiny misalignments between tiles will show up too much, and I don't know if that one tile sitting on a hump will wobble once everything is dry.

The pessimistic side of me is saying I'll be spending my 40th birthday ripping up these tiles and starting over.

But I think I'm not going to be paranoid about it. Tiling isn't exactly brain surgery.

Microsoft Surrenders

X million dollars to sign Jerry Seinfeld, and the result is this?

Oh, I'll bet Steve is just quaking right about now.

Or......maybe not.

Or maybe he's just getting ready for next week.

Non-Money League #2 Draft

And this is why I hate autodraft leagues.

In retrospect, I see what I did. The Fox Sports site lets you set up your draft preferences before starting the autodraft. Any players you don't rank explicitly are supposed to be left in the pool in rank order. But I had added a bunch of RBs to my draft list and then took them back off, thinking they would return to the list in original rank order. But I think they were all added to the end of the player pool order.

As a result, I got LaDanian Tomlinson with the first pick overall...and then didn't get another running back until the twelvth round.

So basically....I'm fucked. If I hadn't drawn the number one pick and gotten LT, I might as well have packed it in. As it is, I need him to be worth about 150% of an average running back just to keep up. That, and have Ronnie Brown get hurt so that Ricky Williams takes over the full load in Miami.

Don't laugh, but here's the roster:

QB: Cutler (6.12), Gerrard (8.12), Young (10.12)
RB: Tomlinson (1.01), Ricky Williams (12.12), Norwood (13.01), Betts (14.12)
WR: Marshall (3.01), Chad Johnson (4.12), Holmes (5.01), Roy Williams (7.01)
TE: Winslow (2.12), Daniels (9.01)
D: Dallas (11.01)
K: Kaeding (15.01)

So what went wrong? How about everything:

* Three backup or RBBC running backs. We start two, so I'm basically down a man every week.
* TE in the second round? And another in the ninth? Sheesh.
* Three quarterbacks? Don't need 'em.

What went right?

* Well, my WR corps is not too bad, and I'm gonna need a lot of production from them.
* Yeah, I overpaid for Winslow, but I think I got a good TE.
* I'm still fairly high on Cutler (but sixth round is also overpaid).
* Cowboys and Kaeding are good pickups for those slots.

Can I save this team? Depends on if I can swing a trade for an RB upgrade, or else hope that one of my backup guys suddenly becomes a starter.

So, in my three teams, I've got one mediocre one and two stinkers. Sigh - it's gonna be a long fantasy football season.

On the other hand....IT'S FOOTBALL SEASON, BABY!

Edit: In a feeble upgrade, I've dropped Owen Daniels to claim Maurice Morris, who has just been named starter in a weak RBBC situation in Seattle. Another half-timer for my roster.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Movie Review: Magnificent Bodyguards

After the last few Lo Wei/Jackie Chan movies on my festival listing (New Fist Of Fury and To Kill With Intrigue among them), I have to admit to having low expectations for the next one, Magnificent Bodyguards. Amazingly, this is a pretty good film. Yes, it's still full of low-budget wuxia effects - in this case, mostly reversed film of fighters leaping down from roofs, cliffs, etc. to simulate jumping up. And this one has the added bonus of having been originally released in 3-D (Wikipedia claims it is the first such Hong Kong film, and of course, Wikipedia is never wrong). So we also get lots of shots of spears, swords, staffs, feet and fist being thrust at the camera. I'm sure it was all very impressive to the contemporary audience; now, it's just charmingly cheesy.

Where we get improvement is in the plot and the fight staging. The plotline here is a fairly standard one. Jackie for a change plays neither a super-stud nor a naive braggard. His character here, while apparently having some renoun in the region, is basically a competent, level-headed fighter for hire, who is hired on here as (no points for guessing!) a bodyguard. He brings along some acquaintences, a deaf fighter who provides some of the comic relief, and a more angry, elder fighter to whom Jackie is actually relatively acquiesent. They are hired on to assist a lady in transporting her terminally-ill brother across a dangerous mountain pass known for being populated by robbers (The Scholar, The King, etc.) to physicians who can help him.

The passage over the mountain turns into a near constant stream of attacks, ambushes and traps. The script keeps things moving right along, only pausing to bring up the mystery of what exactly was up with the ill brother - was he really riding in the cab all along, and is he really ill or is there something else going on? The answer turns out to be a disappointingly bad surprise ending, which takes a little air out of the overall script quality. Overall though, it's still a reasonably well-done little "Saturday serial" type of script.

The fight scenes here are varied and usually interesting. For some of them, they decided to overly focus on showcasing the 3-D effect to the detriment of the fight, but they mainly kept that in check. There are one-on-one fights, group battles, various weapon attacks, hand-to-hand battles, some good footwork from the deaf fighter, the occasional (and usually not overdone) wuxia moves - quite a variety of types. Things get a little out of control in the final fight, with things going on a bit too long and too frantically (before yet another sudden "The End" pops up on the screen - what's up with all of the quick endings?). But all in all, the fight scenes here were a marked improvement over many previous films in the Chan filmography.

Which is not to say there isn't still a good cheese quotient present. The film has a vague kind of Western theme going on, and so the score occassionally breaks into a song that reminded me of a Morricone knock-off more than anything. That is, when they didn't decide to just splice in bits of the Star Wars soundtrack from time to time! It's amazing what they could get away with when nobody was looking.

So, a good solid three star performance here. And with this film, the festival starts to move into the true classic period for Jackie, when he started to take more control of the tenor of his films. Next up: Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin.

Morning Constitutional

Two moments over the weekend that caused my internal grammar Nazi to wince:

  • At the UT-FAU football game, there was a ceremony to retire Vince Young's jersey number (which wasn't actually much of a ceremony). They played a video on the Godzilla-tron highlighting some of his career accomplishments including:

    "In 2005, he led Texas to it's fifth national football championship."

    Yep - there, in probably twenty-foot tall letters on the largest scoreboard in the US, the University of Texas athletics department demonstrated that it doesn't know the difference between "its" and "it's". Sigh.

  • And then, some reporter-ette commented on Gustav's landfall:

    "The rain is literally coming down in buckets."

    Double sigh.
(The occasional Morning Constitutional series highlight episodes of public stupidity on the parts of others that make me feel smarter by comparison.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

DVD Spending Tab XVIII

The hits keep coming. More Chan, this time from Half-Price Books:

Shanghai Knights, $4.31.

Yearly total: 16 movies, $54.10.

DVD Spending Tab XVII

Another Ebay purchase, an anime that I've seen a few episodes of:

Cowboy Bebop Remix Complete Collection + Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, $16.50 for all 7 DVDs.

Now, how to count this in terms of movies. The show is twenty-six episodes, each one about a half-hour, let's make that about 4 movies worth. Plus the actual movie. So...

Yearly total: 15 movies, $49.71 total.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Movie Review: Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu

Every bit as strange as its name. Jackie finally gets out from under the thumb of Lo Wei by writing and starring in (but not yet directing) this action comedy. Saying the comedy here is a little broad is like saying Rosie O'Donnell is a little broad. This stuff is out there even compared to other Chinese comedies of the period, which aren't exactly known for subtlety.

Jackie stars as a layabout, whose dreams of being a martial arts expert come with soundtracks featuring Popeye's theme song and Isao Tomita scores! As he travels around the somewhat episodic plot, he pisses off various parties and picks up (for no apparent reason) a motley assortment of allies, including a younger wanderer with a penchant for fart jokes and an old beggar taking the Sam The Seed role. While the people around him do most of the actual work, Jackie mainly gets beaten up as he tries out the kung-fu moves he hears about while posing as a feared bounty hunter. He mostly survives out of pure luck, until late in the film, when he suddenly becomes more competent (but not any less of an asshole).

The plot here bounds from one place to the next without much thought to coherency, and in attempting to overcome the stoic nature of his previous roles, Jackie goes way overboard in the other direction in playing the buffoon surrounded by bizarre characters. Fight scenes are almost all played for laughs, and aren't anything special. It's better than many of his previous efforts, but you really have to be prepared to forgive a lot in the comedy department. He's trying to get to the point he would reach later on, but he still isn't there yet. Just one star. Next up: one last film before Jackie really hits the big-time, as he stars in Lo Wei's Magnificent Bodyguards.

Non-Money League #1 Draft

Wow - really disappointed with how this draft went. I used a different set of projections than my money league. But for some reason, the WRs seemed more highly valued here, even though this isn't a PPR league and the other one was. I also ended up on the short side of the QB runs. As a result, I've got a really mediocre team, especially in a 10-team league (picking from the 7-spot).

So I'm not expecting much here. That'll teach me not to mock draft a set of projections first.

QB: Eli Manning (10.04), Kurt Warner (12.04)
RB: Reggie Bush (2.04), Earnest Graham (5.07), Julius Jones (7.07), Ricky Williams (8.04), Mercury Morris (15.07)
WR: Randy Moss (1.07), Larry Fitzgerald (3.07), Brandon Marshall (6.04), Chris Chambers (9.07), Eddie Royal (16.04)
TE: Jason Witten (4.04), Owen Daniels (14.04)
D: Jaguars (11.07)
K: Nate Kaeding (13.07)

Now I have to decide if I want to pick up a third freebie team or not. Cause I don't think following this one is going to be much fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Movie Review: To Kill With Intrigue

Must...resist...bad jokes...based on...title...

Ah, screw it. To Kill With Boredom.

A lame soap-opera plot, mixed with some low-budget wuxia-type abilities, yielding a pretty bad movie. Another Jackie Chan/Lo Wei special, this one has Jackie (still billed as "Jacky") as a young man, Cao Le, who finds out his family is about to be attacked by a gang. They apparently expect to lose and all get killed, and so Cao takes steps to protect his pregnant girlfriend. Does he explain the situation and warn her away? No - instead he slaps her around a bit and dumps her, so she will run off to be with Le's friend. Unfortunately, his brilliant plan falls apart when he unexpectedly survives the attack, and he spends the rest of the film pining after his girl, who is spending her time pining for her lost boyfriend.

The leader of the attacking gang is a lady who was scarred by Cao's father years ago, and she now intended to torture Cao by...well, by keeping him alive, protecting him from other attacks, and then training him to defeat a late-revealed enemy. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense when I explain it either. There's also another sub-plot where Cao falls in with a group of delivery men who end up having a common enemy with Cao (there's lots of co-incidences like that in this film). Things get gradually more inexplicable and unbelievable (Cao is eventually forced to eat hot coals by his new trainer) until the final battle, with a sudden "The End" when the main bad guy is killed (oops, spoiler!).

There are a couple of nice fight scenes involving spears and other weapons (a later gang attack against Jackie is particularly good), but unfortunately most of the fight scenes have a couple of big problems. First, Lo Wei's wuxia dreams definitely exceed his reach in this go around. He seems to want to stick some vaguely supernatural abilities in many of his films, but here he goes overboard with reversed footage, jumps filmed from somewhere near the ground, very fake knife throws, cheesy sound effects - anything to make the actors look like they are really flying around. Most of these just don't work; they just didn't have enough budget or ability to make it look anything but lousy. Second, as part of the attempt to make the wuxia moves look good, Lo Wei keeps bringing the camera in close to the fighting - too close. You end up just seeing vaguely flying arms, pieces of tumbling bodied, but not enough of the action to really see what's going on.

So, besides the lousy plot and the lousy fight staging, was there anything else to recommend? No, not really. One star, and a definite step backwards for Jackie. Next up in the film festival - Jackie finally gets a chance to call more of the shots in the bizarrely-named Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu.

The Narrative Takes Flight

In May, I wrote:

I'm afraid this is now the argument going forward. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why one might support McCain or (gulp) Clinton over Obama. But that doesn't matter - if you don't support Obama, it's because you are a racist. If you attack Obama in any way, you will be accused of racial swift-boating.

While this narrative has been swirling around the lefty blogs for a while, it's now full-force into the leftist mainstream. This week's Newsweek:

What Will The Neighbors Think?
Obama's defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to.
By Jacob Weisberg | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 23, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Sep 1, 2008


Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.

Nice use of logic there: (If (Obama victory), Then (Better America)) -> (If Not (Obama victory), Then Not (Better America)). What a moron. Hey, Jacob: you might want to study up on denying the antecedent.

Oh, and there's that "global test", again. Of course, it's now expanded - if you don't support Obama, it's not just you who is racist, it's the entire United States.

Well, thanks for the free pyscho-analysis, buddy, but you can keep your white guilt over on your side of the aisle. And while you're there, why don't you ask yourself this question: which number is bigger, the percentage of whites who won't vote for Obama primarily because he is black, or the percentage of blacks who are voting for Obama primarily because he is black?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You Gotta Be Kidding Me...

Kay Freaking Bailey Freaking Hutchinson is on the short-list for McCain's VP slot?

My dog Bailey would be a better choice. And she's been cremated for about a week now.

Man...I gotta find me some off-shore accounts somewhere.

Via Hot Air.

I've Said It Before...

...and I'll say it again.

Why on Earth would anyone choose to live in California?

A tax for moving out of the state?
Good Lord.

It's a wonderful place to visit, but there is no way I would ever live there (and I did have the opportunity, once upon a time). I hope this is one California trend that Austin leaves far, far behind.

Via Ace O' Spades.

Not Quite Right

Well, this doesn't normally belong here...

Now underway - installing some of that pile of tile in the background into my bathroom, which means the toilet gets to spend some quality time in the garage. The prior owners of my house did their best, but even an amateur like me can see some real issues with how they did some of the repairs, so I'm expecting my first tile install to be quite an experience.

And after the bathroom comes the other bathroom, and the entryway, and the (gulp) kitchen...

DVD Spending Tab XVI

Got the follow-up to my previous purchase via eBay...

The Protector 2-Disc Ultimate Edition (starring Tony Jaa, not Jackie Chan) for $4.10.

Yearly Total: 10 movies, $33.21 total.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Movie Review: Shaolin Wooden Men

The latest Jackie Chan movie in our festival schedule is Shaolin Wooden Men, another Lo Wei directorial effort. In this one, Jackie plays a mute Shaolin student - the reason he doesn't talk is only vaguely referenced in flashback scenes and not fully explained until late in the movie. As is usually the case in Jackie's early movies, he isn't a particularly good student, until he meets up with more unconventional trainers. In this case, rather than a drunk wanderer, he gets his training from several teachers: a prisoner of the Shaolin temple, a female Buddhist nun, an ancient blind monk. He gets enough training to defeat the ultimate test, the titular Wooden Men, a gauntlet of robotic opponents. He then moves out of the temple, only to get involved in battling his former teacher, the prisoner, and a stranger, who may be the man from his dreams, his father's killer.

It seems like a lot of plot typed out like that, but really, there isn't too much exposition, since things move pretty much in a straight line. We get a pretty good series of training/fight scenes, with standouts being (of course) the battle against the Wooden Men, and a multi-person staff fight (although Jackie just watches that one from the sidelines). This leads to the inevitable showdown fight, which is a worthy ending, with multiple participants taking on Jackie, with hands and weapons. We are also now starting to see a better use of acrobatics in the fight scenes, so the overall effect is better than in the preceding movies.

It's kind of odd that they decided to make Jackie's character a mute in this film; he doesn't even get to silently do his usual moaning-from-self-inflicted-pain shtick. Instead, his character is a fairly humble, stoic type, a hard worker that for whatever reason needed a new set of teachers to reach his potential. But his wheelhouse is clearly being the young clown who emerges into a master fighter, and his early character here isn't nearly a clown. So we end up with a good film, but not a film that Jackie is able to elevate above that level.

I'm going to go ahead and make this one the first three-star movie on our festival's listing, since it mostly manages to avoid the cheesiness of the earlier films we've gone over. It's not a high three stars, but it is enjoyable. Next up: Jackie stars in yet another overly-serious role, in Lo Wei's To Kill With Intrigue.

Ooh, We've Been Mentioned On Telly!

I plan on watching approximately zero hours of coverage of both the Democrat and Republican conventions over the next two weeks; there's more important things to watch, like preseason NFL football. But I have been following some of the behind the scenes stuff from my list of conservative bloggers, and if the Las Vegas Sun (via Hot Air) is to be believed, the Democrats are so worried about Hillary supporters going nuts on live T.V. that they're thinking about getting rid of one of the three reasons anyone would even consider watching:

Democratic officials involved in the negotiations said Monday the idea is that at the start of the state-by-state vote for the presidential nomination Wednesday night, delegates would cast their votes for Clinton or Obama.

But the voting would be cut off after a couple of states, the officials said, perhaps ending with New York, when Clinton herself would call for unanimous backing for Obama from the convention floor. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity while the deal was being finalized.

There's really only three reasons to watch convention coverage these days. There's the acceptance speech by the candidate (eg. "reporting for duty"). There's (usually) a bomb-thrower-type speech (eg. "Poor George!" or "Spitballs?").

And then there's the roll-call vote, where viewers can eagerly watch until their state gets mentioned (eg. "Hello, Springfield!") and the anchors can keep their little tally board going until it reaches the "magic number". But apparently, the Party Of Unity can't quite keep it together this year, and so the country might sadly have to do without one of its cherished traditions.

I suspect we'll survive.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Money League Draft

Just finished the draft for my fantasy football money league. Picking from the 10 slot in a 12-team, PPR league. Lineup is QB-RB-RB-WR-WR-TE-RB/WR-D-K.

QB - Jay Cutler (8.03), Vince Young (10.03)
RB - Marshawn Lynch (1.10), Thomas Jones (4.03), Kevin Smith (6.03), Justin Fargas (9.10), Ahmad Bradshaw (11.10)
WR - Andre Johnson (2.03), Wes Welker (3.10), Santana Moss (7.10), Justin Gage (12.03)
TE - Tony Gonzalez (5.10), Randy McMichael (15.10)
D - Indianapolis (13.10)
K - Mason Crosby (14.03)

I went RB-WR-WR to start, which is not my normal pattern at all. But the projections I was using had a group of running backs that could be had a bit cheaper, so I went ahead and grabbed Welker in the 3rd. The result is that I have a whole bunch of backs with pretty good projections and relatively cheap prices, but not a lot of real game-breaker types. I may have a delimma this year in deciding on any given week between Thomas Jones, Kevin Smith and Justin Fargas. Or maybe one or more of them will bust, and my problem will be solved.

I had targetted Jay Cutler as my QB1; he's getting a lot of good buzz, but still isn't being picked particular early. Getting him in the eighth round is a steal, I think. And I panicked a bit on Gonzalez, but I didn't want to get left out of the possible elite TEs, especially in a TE-required PPR league. I think he was the fourth TE taken, and four is really all there was worth spending a good pick on.

I'll have to run a few numbers now, and I haven't had a chance to look at any other rosters yet to see how things compare. I don't feel like I made any big mistakes, but I don't think I really made any picks other than Cutler that would really pull me ahead. So this may still end up being a relatively long year for this squad.

On the other hand.......IT'S FOOTBALL SEASON, BABY!!!!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movie Review: The Killer Meteors

Fourth up on the Jackie Chan Film Festival is The Killer Meteors, another early supporting role for Jackie that is prominently marketed with his name, even though he isn't the hero and really only has a couple of scenes. 

Here, Yu Wang (Master of the Flying Guillotine) plays the titular Killer Meteor, a man so bad-ass that criminals chop off their own fingers rather than take him on. Killer Meteor is also the name of his secret weapon (which we are teased about many times before its appearance, and it's every bit as cheesy as it sounds). This is one of those "epic" stories where everyone has fancy names and supernatural skills (Iron Fist, Lightning Swords, Killer Meteor). He is hired by Wa Wu-Bin (played by "Jacky" Chan), an "immortal" who is being poisoned by his wife, Madame Tempest (probably should have known at the wedding based on that name that there was trouble ahead). He wants Killer Meteor to kill his wife, but he's also working for the local governor, and then there's Lady Phoenix who may or may not be working for Lady Tempest, and a criminal gang....there are inexplicable double crosses, characters introduced out of nowhere, and so on. Suffice it to say, this isn't the most coherent script ever written.

The fight scenes here aren't too bad. There is some imagination given to their staging, given that most of the characters have vaguely supernatural abilities. It's not quite the full-out flying around as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon type films (for one thing, the budget is a lot less), but it does mean we get more than just men standing around in courtyards or clearings beating up on each other. We also see some different camera angles for a change too, including some nice overhead shots. And the ending fight taking place on poles - always a favorite, but why do they always agree to do it?

Not much for the Jackie Chan fan, though; one fairly nice fight scene early on, and then he disappears for quite a while before being summarily killed least for a while. Come to think of it, lots of characters are summarily killed off...for a while. Oh well.

Sadly, the overly convoluted plot line, especially early on, throws out any good flow from the overall concept and fight scenes. It's definitely a strange movie with good individual moments, more entertaining than the previous New Fist Of Fury or Eagle Shadow Fist, but still not a particularly good film. I'll be generous and give it two stars, but it's a low two stars. Next up: Jackie moves back into a starring role in Shaolin Wooden Men.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Movie Review: New Fist Of Fury

The Jackie Chan Film Festival continues with its third film, one that is well-paired with the previous Eagle Shadow Fist. Both movies are set in the Japanese occupation period (and thus are populated by "those evil Jap bastard"-type characters), both feature the early "serious" Jackie Chan, and both are really better left on the shelf. I can't really say this one is as bad as Eagle Shadow Fist - the production levels are quite a bit better, in terms of sets, actors and fight choreography. I don't know if this film had much of a budget, but it was more than Eagle Shadow Fist.

This is, of course, because it is a follow-up to Fist Of Fury, the Bruce Lee classic. But when Lo Wei's new star suddenly died on him, he decided to dip back into his pool of actors to find a replacement. And so there's several callbacks to the earlier film - breaking signs with flying kicks, prominent use of nunchaku, scratches across the face, that cool strobe effect when the hero waves his hands around. Oh, and those two still shots of Bruce that appear in the middle of the film for no particular reason. Subtle as always.

Of course, Jackie is no Bruce - he's Jackie (or "Jacky", as he is credited here). And so, although we still don't get the more comedic persona he would develop later, Jackie's character here is still a bit more lighthearted than Bruce's. He spends the first two-thirds of the film refusing to join the Chinese resistence, not because of pacifistic reasons, but because he says he doesn't know kung-fu and is too lazy to learn (he'd rather just be a thief). He then backs up his words by getting beaten up several times, including knocking himself out with a set nunchuku.

During the long stretches when Jackie isn't on screen, we get a plotline where the Japanese governor is attempting to take control of all of the local kung-fu schools. As usual in these films, there are collaborators; there are the naive, blustery talkers who get in over their heads; there are the active resistors; and there are those who just want to stay out of the way. Pretty standard stuff. Things proceed along the expected path until for some reason Jackie decides he's had all he can stands, he can't stands no more! He immediately joins the resistance, becomes a master fighter in a three-minute training montage, and kills the big boss.

Oh, and then as an odd coda, Jackie prepares to lead the resistance fighters on to "kill more Japs"....when he is suddenly ambushed and killed in a hail of bullets. The End.


On the whole, I still can't really give this film more than one star, although it is a marked improvement over Eagle Shadow Fist (which probably would be a zero if I went that low). It really would just be thrown in a pile with all of the other Bruceploitation films if not for the fact that Jackie eventually went on to success independent of Lo Wei. Sadly for us, those days are still in the future, for the next film on the schedule is another Lo Wei epic, The Killer Meteors, featuring supporting actor Jackie Chan.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Austin Pays UT To Study Liars

Well, that's not exactly how it was put, but that's the net effect:
Most of the people you see holding signs at corner just want to work, according to a study conducted for the City of Austin by researchers at the University of Texas. UT Researcher Laura Lein and her staff interviewed omore than 100 people soliciting money and food at street corners in Austin.

What they found was a drive to get back to work among almost all of them.

Ahem. Bullshit. I don't believe that for a second.
But researchers also found that there are significant barriers to achieving that goal.

Yep - the fact that it is easier for them to continue their "urban outdoorsman" lifestyle than to get a job.
"Over half had some kind of health condition or other problem that was preventing them from doing at least some kinds of jobs," Dr. Lein said.

Lein says that is especially bad, considering many of them used to do physical outdoor labor but couldn’t anymore because of their physical problems. She says some also didn’t have the basic tools to get a job, including a photo ID, and no real way to get one.

Really? The reason these people don't have jobs is because they can't get a photo ID?


Please - the reason these people don't have jobs is because they don't want one. At least, not the kind they are qualified to hold. But between government, non-government and casual (ie. people giving them money at street corners) sources of charity, it's just easier for them to stand around outside for a few hours than to actually pull themselves together, get a shower, and find a freaking job.

Are there people that truly can't do for themselves? Sure there are - but you don't typically find them pacing up and down medians during red lights. They are invalids at home, or in shelters. If you can drag your body down to the I-35 service road, you can find somewhere to push a broom. Or, God forbid, actually see about improving your skill set to get a better job somewhere.

There - that's my heartless conservative bastard moment for the day.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Movie Review: Eagle Shadow Fist

Another "not quite a" Jackie Chan film. In this one, Jackie plays the young sidekick during the Japanese occupation of China in World War II. He manages to stick around almost to the end of the film before the Heroic Sidekick Death scene, but here he mainly gets to show how well he can take a punch and spit up fake blood.

Oh, and the hero tells him not to cry when he leaves his family to join the resistance. So yeah...not his best role, and basically one that doesn't show anything of his future direction.

Otherwise, we get a fairly standard and fairly boring "evil Japs" movie, where all of the Japanese characters are sadistic, (raping the women, extorting money from the old men, and in one amazing scene at the end, tossing children onto rocks to kill them!), and the Chinese characters are split fairly evenly among collaborators and oppressed. Only a small acting group (including Jackie and the hero) seem to have any desire to even try to stand up to the Japanese.

The fight scenes are of the short but cheesily-brutal variety, and many of them are just not well done. I haven't watched a whole lot of low-budget martial arts films, but this one had the most obviously pulled punches of any I've seen. And of course, a few hours after being run through the heel by a sword, the hero is taking on six opponents at once, with no signs of his earlier wounds.

There's not really much to recommend here at all. For completists only. One star.