Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spot On, Scalia

I'm not really a gun guy myself, but I do in general support gunowners' rights. So I was happy to see that today's Supreme Court ruling in the Heller case went beyond striking down that specific law to clarifying that the Second Amendment does, in fact, apply to individuals, outside of formal militias, and with modern weapons. Thus removing a number of specious arguments used by the left when trying to get gun restrictions passed.

However, this section of the majority decision may be the best part of all:

We look to this because it has always been understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of this right and declares only that it "shall not be infringed." As we said in US v. Cruickshank..."this is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it dependent in any manner upon that document for its existence. The Second Amendment declares that it shall not be infringed..."

Absolutely right. The Constitution does not grant us rights; those rights already existed. What it does is restrict how the government can affect those rights. A lot of people (on both the right and the left) seem to forget that, thinking that the Constitution is in fact the sources of these rights.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movie Review: They Live

A victim of raised expectations. I was hoping for a pretty good film here, based on John Carpenter's earlier works (The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China in particular) and of course on the promise of Rowdy Roddy Piper delivering the immortal dialogue:

I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum!
Sadly, Piper completely botches the line - hell, Kevin Murphy delivered the line better dressed as Santa Claus on MST3K! He doesn't do much better elsewhere - it's no wonder he didn't take off as an action movie star because he can't really drop the one-liner like Ah-nold or Sly can.

The rest of the movie comes off as a fairly pedestrian low-budget actioner, which I guess is all it is, really. The concept is nicely done - aliens live among us (as eeeee-vil Republicans, from the look of it) and keep us subservient through the use of subliminal messages spread out everywhere. Roddy Piper's drifter stumbles upon the truth, and is able to destroy the subterfuge by...well, by shooting a bullet at one satellite dish with a pistol.

Yeah, that's all it took. Not exactly Fort Knox in terms of protection. The only real effective moment comes in an assault on a meeting of the underground resistance - Carpenter did a nice job of having that blast in unexpectedly. But otherwise, things are pretty slow until we get to the big reveal, and then it's a fairly straight line to the expected ending. Can't really give this three stars, since it just seems to waste a good setup on some lackluster scripting and execution. So two stars it is - sorry, Roddy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Un-Super-Size Me

Via the Statesman comes word that Wal-Mart has decided to scale back their planned development at Northcross Mall, taking off one proposed story and dropping sections like grocery, gardening and auto. This was apparently an internal decision at Wal-Mart - certainly none of the various legal barricades that had been thrown up had managed to pass muster.

Responsible [sic] Growth For Austin is of course declaring partial victory:

"We're happy to see this step in the right direction," said Hope Morrison, president of Responsible Growth for Northcross. "It's a better fit for the area and precludes the need for continuing legal action."

Emphasis mine. Now we'll get a chance to see what the issue really was all about. My hunch is that this wasn't about size or traffic at all - it was primarily the vocal libs in the area unhappy about seeing the hated Wal-Mart show up in their area. I believe that if the same exact store had been proposed, but it was proposed by Whole Foods, for example, there would been much less outcry.

But now that Wal-Mart has met the opposition more than half-way, any reasonable rationale for protest has gone away. So, if we continue to see those "No To Wal-Mart" signs up, then we'll know that the neighborhood really defines "responsible" as "anything but Wal-Mart".

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer

The Fantastic Four has always been kind of a B-List set of superheroes, although one suspects The Powers That Be at Marvel would like them to be A-List. At any rate, Marvel and Fox dropped a pretty good amount of money on two movies with this crew and came up with two pretty boring movies. Here, the end goal is pretty much the same as in the last one - all four members must learn to work together to stop Victor Von Doom (these names always work better on paper than on film).

The problem here is that Marvel has always treated the Fantastic Four as their superpowered window on the Nuclear Family, seeing what it is like for a group of mutants to live together as a family of sorts. And so here we get, essentially, a Hugh Grant movie with superheroes. Lame jokes, disrupted weddings, awkward bachelor parties, bickering friends who come together at the end - it's all there. It isn't done in any really interesting way - not even in the "wow look at that disaster" kind of way we got in Peter Parker's Dance Fever sequence in Spider-Man 3. It's just dull. And dull is one thing you cannot have in a superhero movie.

Oh, and does this group actually do anything during the movie? Nope, not really. The Invisible Woman actually sneaks into a room to see what Von Doom is doing - why doesn't she just turn invisible and spy on him? The Thing doesn't actually attack anyone here - only The Torch does once he obtains Grimm's powers. The subplot where The Torch is able to swap powers with the others is a typical cliche - a new superpower that shows up, is conveniently the one power needed to stop the bad guy, and then is immediately lost. Sigh - this movie really was just lazy in just about every facet.

Jessica Alba continues to be to acting what Jessica Alba is to nuclear science - someone who looks good but is otherwise out of her depth. Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon, who actually can act, continue to be wasted. Only Chris Evans' Human Torch is given anything to do - of course, most of them are recycled jokes from Mystery Men. Oh, and I guess someone played Mr. Fantastic - I can't really remember much about him here for some reason.

I'm giving this one two stars, because it isn't really as bad as, say, Norbit. But compared to other recent superhero films, even lower-budget stuff like The Punisher, it's pretty much bottom of the barrel.

Movie Review: Ocean's Thirteen

Worse than the first, better than the second, and a fairly tepid end to this series. Really, if this was the best they could come up with plot-wise, then it's hard to see inspiration striking for an Ocean's Fourteen. Ocean's Eleven was a nice little caper film - the audience got to see enough of the plot to know what was happening, but not so much as to give away how things would work. Ocean's Twelve, on the other hand, seemed to get really bogged down in execution, without giving us much of a view of how things would work - it was more seat-of-the-pants, at least on screen. By the end, we discover that the whole thing was in fact planned out, but not in a way that the audience could possibly know about. And then it got all dragged down with the whole "Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts" sub-plots; she has been the least part of both of the first two films, and her absence here in the third one was not missed at all.

Ocean's Thirteen has kind of the opposite problem - we see a lot of preparation, but not much execution. In fact, it's kind of hard to see how some of the execution happened at all; what exactly was the purpose of getting Bernie Mac onto the floor with his dominos game? When did all of Livingston's work on the blackjack shufflers come into play? Why did he need to get arrested by the fake FBI man? Why did Eddie Izzard need to be in on this deal at all - just to get the number of people to 13?

It all seemed fairly random, but since the point was just "make Willy Bank lose some money", I guess they thought it was OK. The one actual target - Bank's diamonds - had in many ways the worst planning. It relied on the chemicals taking effect, Ellen Barkin's character suggesting going upstairs instead of anywhere else in the hotel, knowing that Benedict would try to double-cross them - just too many variables. It was a con that didn't really fit in very well with the rest of the movie, and seems to have just been in there to give Matt Damon a scene to do.

In the end, this was just a set of scenes, some of which worked, some didn't. There wasn't really much cohesion to the overall movie. The cast continues to work together well, with the Malloy brothers stealing every scene they were in. But otherwise, this was a fairly pedestrian effort in a series that has seen better days. Three stars.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Movie Review: Death Proof

As much as I enjoyed Planet Terror, the first half of the Grindhouse double-feature, that's how much I was bored, yes bored, by Death Proof. I thought I might be disappointed, but I wasn't expecting to be bored. The film starts with forty-five minutes of Quentin Tarantino wanking himself on camera.

Well, not literally. But figuratively.

Lots of shots of gorgeous women showing off their bare feet and talking about, well, whatever. You know, in that "Tarantinoesque" manner. It went on and on and on. I can't even imagine how restless the crowd must have been getting at this point during the theatrical run, with this tedium coming right after the madness of Planet Terror. The whole thing was basically a long excuse to set up a lap dance scene with Vanessa Ferlito, and while I enjoy staring at that ass as much as the next guy, I....I....

Hmmm, for some reason, I lost my train of thought there.

At any rate, we then get about five minutes of awesome, and it is very good action. Not enough to excuse how long it took to get there, though. And we get a time card ("14 months later") and...he starts over! A new set of girls, and another endless chunk of dialogue. More foot fetish on display, although this time Tarantino lets Kurt Russell do the foot licking instead of giving that scene to himself (re: From Dusk 'Til Dawn).

It's a relief when Russell reappears, so that we can get the final chase scene started, and while it was appropriately tense and violent, I found myself wondering why the girls didn't just hit the brakes and let Stuntman Mike go past them. At least it would have given Zoe a chance to get off of the car. And then suddenly - the movie's over. The End. Have A Nice Day.

I'm sorry, but this was a bad example of Taratino dialogue sticking in the middle of a genre film that's supposed to grab me by the throat and shake me around. A huge misfire, especially compared to Robert Rodriguez' half of the double header. Two middling stars.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Movie Review: Planet Terror

Every bit as fun as I expected it to be. Lots of blood, gore and physics-defying effects. And I don't think I've seen anything as funny recently as the Machete trailer preceding the main feature - I'm ready to see that movie now. A motley assortment of Texas characters (the stripper, the BBQ guy, the sheriff, etc.) square off against a sudden outbreak of zombie-itis, promulgated by an arms dealer and a military commander with a hidden agenda. Keep the exposition to a minimum, and get all of the right people in place for the final shootout scene. And all projected through the speckled, stretched-out film stock of a drive-in special (the "Missing Reel" gag was the second best laugh of the movie).

Just a couple of ticks keep this from being five-stars for me. First, it went on a little bit too long. I think we could have done away with the entire sub-plot involving Josh Brolin's psycho doctor and Marley Shelton's needle-welding wife (not to mention Michael Parks as her dad, but it was inevitable that he would show up in one of the Grindhouse features) probably could have been truncated without much loss. And while I appreciate the attempt to give some characters more than one dimension, I think this film would have worked a little better if it were a little tighter in the middle - this needs to be lean, mean and fast.

Second, we have yet another appearance of the tough-guy Tarantino persona. Guess what, QT - you aren't tough-looking. When you try, you look like a film geek trying to look tough. It didn't work too well in Reservoir Dogs, it was even less so in From Dusk Til Dawn, and your pasty, puffy soldier act here was the worst yet. And on top of things, we got the nastiest effect job in a nasty film, and it gave us the chance to think about your dick. Thanks for that, guys.

But those are fairly minor nits for a film that otherwise hits most of its marks in giving us that good old seventies vibe. Four stars.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Santa Jobs Is Coming To Town

The (as yet incomplete) latest set of goodies from Apple is now out. The next-generation iPhone has now been announced, with a full SDK, downloadable apps, faster internet and a cheaper price. That last is kind of important to me, mainly because I'm pretty damn cheap. I can afford $400 for a phone - I just couldn't get myself to actually pay $400 for a phone. Now that it's down to $200, it suddenly becomes a lot more tempting. Mobile Me (aka .Mac version 2.0) still doesn't have any real appeal to me.

But I probably still won't pull the trigger for a while - I still have a year left on my current contract, and given that I'm still planning on making the HDTV plunge at some point in the near future (with the accompanying more-expensive service charges), I'm not especially eager to increase the amount of my monthly phone bill, as well. (As I mentioned, I'm cheap.)

There haven't been a lot of Mac OS X or Mac hardware announcements yet (although it's early in the conference) - I'm hoping for something of interest there, as my PowerMac G5 is now starting to get shut out of updates, and I suspect the next major OS release will be Intel-only. Problem is, I don't really want an all-in-one unit, but the Mac mini seems to be a little underneath what I would like. Apple doesn't really have a box sitting in the middle price range there that isn't an iMac. Maybe a MacBook would be the answer?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Real Revenge Of The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther (the remake, not the original) was one of the worst movies I saw last year. And now, via CHUD, we get the teaser trailer for the sequel. Because everyone in the movie world is eagerly awaiting just a glimpse of the new Inspector - in about eight months.

It is, frankly, embarrassing for Steve Martin. The accent has gotten even worse. The "acting" even more broad. I'm already imaging this being directed by Harold Zoid, rather than someone named Harald Zwart (who's greatest claim to fame so far seems to be Agent Cody Banks).

And - my God - not only has Jean Reno decided to show up for a paycheck again, but they seem to have roped in Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina and - sigh - John Cleese to also make appearances.

I just don't get it. Why do actors - with, you know, actual talent and a history of great performances - do crap like this? Stuff that can't possibly work?

Yeah, I know, I know - piles of money.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Resolution Increasing

Finally getting closer to my target - a 46- or 47-inch 1080p HDTV for about $1000.

Last week I saw Westinghouse model at Costco for that price, and today I see posted a generally well-received Olevia model for the same (although not at a brick-and-mortar - I'm still a little dubious of buying something like that sight unseen).

Now neither of these are "top-of-the-line" brands (Samsung, Sony, etc.), which is the part that makes me leery of pulling the trigger. Should I wait to see if the "big boys" drop in price?

Arrrrrrgh, I hate waiting. But I'm too cheap.