Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Movie Review: Black Dragon

Finally, another Jackie Chan movie. Sadly, not one to actively recommend. This is another attempt by Jackie to expand outside of his typical comfort zone and venture into other genres - in this case, a romantic comedy set in a 30s gangster period. It's mostly plot work rather than action, and most of the plot doesn't really make a lot of sense. Jackie plays a country bumpkin who shows up in Hong Kong and gets caught up in a gang battle. As a result, he is inexplicably named the leader of one of the leading gangs when its current leader is killed. And for some reason, the gang decides to go along with this. He decides to try to get out of illegal activities, and instead has the gang run a nightclub. And for some reason, the gang decides to go along with this. And then, he calls on them to help an old lady trick her daughter, her daughter's fiance, and the fiance's rich father that she is really rich. And for some reason, the gang decides to go along with this.

It doesn't really make much sense.

Action-wise, there is only one meaningful scene. It's quite good - it's set in a rope factory, and anyone with any experience with Jackie Chan can imaging the setups to be found in a rope factory. But that's really about it, and it feels kind of shoehorned in, as if Jackie would rather have left it out and done a "pure" comedy film.

Jackie directed as well, and does quite well in the look and design. And it's nice to see Bill Tung in a role other than Jackie's boss - he does very well with his charming con man role. But other than that, this one's really for completists only. Two stars. Next up on the Jackie Chan schedule - we're skipping over The Prisoner in favor of Operation Condor.

Monday, December 14, 2009

One Of These Things...

..is not like the others.

AC/DC. Aerosmith. Metallica. The Beatles. Green Day.

Wait, what?

That's the next band we'll be mashing buttons on plastic guitars to? Green Day? I'm pretty sure I can come up with a dozen bands easily that would merit a full title to themselves before I ever thought of Green Day. Not all of them would want to be immortalized in such a way, but after getting the remaining members of The Beatles to agree to work with you, the next band you went after was Green Day? They barely have enough songs (IMO) for a download pack, much less an entire game.

Give me a call when you get Led Zep to sign on the dotted line.

Bah, Humbug

Been trying to listen to "Majic 95.5" Christmas music. Unfortunately, they have about one day's worth of music, so getting the repeats over and over again is causing some of the "majic" to go away.

Anyway, I've about decided that my three least favorite Christmas songs are:

3. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" : Yeah, this is what I want to hear for Christmas - the screeching voice of Yoko informing me that war is over, if I want it. Hmmm, what about the other guys - do they want it too?

2. Bruce Springsteen, "Merry Christmas Baby" : Mostly because I just really hate Springsteen, and this version is done up as so much a prototypical Springsteen number, it's practically a parody.

1. The Beach Boys, "Little Saint Nick" : Primarily for the worst line in a Christmas song - "Christmas comes this time each year". Oh, really? You mean in late December? Genius.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back Up The Waaaaahmbulance

Look, I recognize it was a tough loss. I was just about throwing my remote through the TV screen during much of that fourth quarter. But I'm Joe Nobody at home watching a game, and you are the head coach and defensive coordinator of a major NCAA football program, so this isn't just embarrassing, it's plain sad:

“You should be ashamed to accept that trophy!” the NU defensive coordinator yelled, pointing at the Longhorns.


“BCS!” Pelini said as he entered the locker room. “That's why they make that call!”


“I want an explanation!” Pelini yelled outside his locker room.


From outside the doors, one word could be heard loudest: “Cheaters!”


Beebe suggested he and Pelini talk in private. They walked into a quiet area near some shiny SUVs, 100 feet from anyone else. Yet Bo and the occasional curse word could still be heard.


Suck it up, losers. Mack Brown complained mightily when we got screwed over last year, but I don't recall him soiling his diapers while throwing a massive tantrum.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Well, Yeah

Once you see it, it's obvious. Why haven't I seen this already?



An electrical outlet with built-in USB charging jacks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'll Proudly Serve...

...as the new Congressman representing the proud folks in the 91st Congressional District of the Great State of Texas.

What? There aren't that many districts in Texas?

Better let Obama know.

Not only that, but these geniuses are claiming that $57000 of stimulus money managed to create - sorry, save or create - thirty jobs? Wow - glad we aren't still complaining about the "Bush Recovery" only creating low paying "McJobs".

And these are the brain surgeons some want to put in charge of health care?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanks For Nothing, Kay

Here I was actually looking forward to voting for governor next year. Not so much that I would be (likely) voting for Rick Perry, but I would get a chance to help send Kay Bailey Hutchinson back into private life. And hopefully get an actual conservative into that seat.

Instead, it looks like she's already decided that she's toast in the primary race, because she isn't going to resign her senate seat during the campaign after all.

Just wonderful. Now I get to vote for Rick Perry for nothing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Don't Send A Boy...

So the Motorola Droid phone that's been talking so tough on TV about how it does everything the iPhone doesn't only has 256MB of storage for apps?

This is the latest mighty "iPhone Killer"?

Yeah, I'm sure Steve is shaking in his boots.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This Better Be A Prank

April Fool's....in November?



The OpenOffice mouse.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Movie Review: Hell Ride

Keeping this one short. I haven't seen a movie trying so hard and failing to be a Tarantino film in my life. You've gotta really, really be in the mood to see this kind of preening trash, and I sure wasn't. One star, and that's just because I don't go to zero.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 16

Following from seasons 12, 13, 14 and 15, Tom Baker reaches the Key To Time season. All stories here concern the Doctor's quest for the six segments of the titular key, along with new Time Lady companion Romana. And how are the episodes? Well...

The Ribos Operation - This is a nice little episode. Although the overall "save the entire universe" arc is introduced, the specific story here isn't saving the universe, or a planet, or even a city. It's just the Doctor and Romana trying to extract a segment while a pair of con men attempt to fleece a warlord out of some money. It helps a lot that the supporting characters - the con men, the soldiers, even the local "soothsayer" - are all well-written, engaging characters. A few dodgy moments with a man-in-suit-type monster aside, this is otherwise a good start to the season. Four stars.

The Pirate Planet - The first contribution to Doctor Who from "Hitchhiker's" author Douglas Adams, this one is perhaps predictably over-the-top. The pirate affectations are amusing at first, but quickly wear out their welcome. Beyond that, there's not much left to recommend. Two stars.

The Stones Of Blood - This one starts out as yet another of those evil cult stories that pop up at least once a season, and it's not much of an improvement (except for the great character of Professor Amelia Rumford). However, half way through it switches over to a parody trial held in hyperspace. I found it an interesting change that helped out the overall story. Again, the monster effects don't work out (how would they show walking stones, anyway?). Three stars.

The Androids Of Tara - A step backwards here, as the Doctor and Romana get involved in a medieval-type power struggle which really doesn't have anything to do with the overall Key to Time arc. It's a lot of mistaken identity and body doubles, and while Tom Baker seems to be having a good time, and there's a fairly charismatic villain, the whole thing seems to be a bit lightweight compared to the larger storyline. Nothing actively wrong, just not what the series needed right here. Three stars.

The Power Of Kroll - This one really didn't appeal to me much. Not too many of these characters are particularly bright; there's a group of evil corporate types led by a clear maniac battling a separate group of primitive natives following a vaguely-defined religion based on the creature Kroll who seems to be as likely to kill off its followers as its enemies. Meantime, we get the Doctor and Romana slogging back-and-forth across swamplands (which also results in K-9 sitting this one out), getting captured by one side or the other. At least the blue-screening in of the titular creature is done better than the Loch Ness Monster from a couple of seasons back. Two stars.

The Armageddon Factor - This one starts out almost as cartoonishly as The Pirate Planet, but once the Black Guardian's minion, the Shadow, is introduced, things look up. Here's a villain that seems to be up to the Doctor's level, recognizing his enemy's faults and capitalizing on them. There's a lot of balls in the air during the middle section here, what with a collapsing time loop, hostages, brainwashed allies, and a bumbling Time Lord assistant, but somehow everything manages to hang together. A good ending to an overall successful season. Three stars.

So the overall season-long arc turns out to be a pretty good idea here, even if the writers did forget about it at times. It's not the best Tom Baker season, but it's pretty solid. Next season: a new Romana, and a season with some great highs and deep lows.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Austin Radio Actually Improves

For the most part, Austin radio sucks. Massively. And it usually just gets worse. But in the last couple of weeks, it has taken a couple of small steps forward - and one giant step backwards.

First, the good news. KLBJ-AM (NewsTalk 590) and KZNX-AM (1530 AM; ESPN Austin) now have FM repeaters at 99.7 FM and 104.9 FM, respectively. So now both of those stations come in with better FM fidelity than before, and if that rumored FM iPod upgrade comes through, I'll be able to listen to those stations on my iPod as well.

Next, the bad news. I mentioned in an earlier post about the worst radio show I think I have ever heard not named The Alex Jones Show. It's the Charlie Hodge Rock'N'Roll Halftime Show. KLBJ-FM took the sidekick from its morning show and gave him an hour at lunch to do very lame skits, chat constantly about "Cougars", do stunts like Homeless Karaoke, and basically annoy the hell out of me. Well, the management has apparently decided that the experiment worked, because they've now given him four hours instead, from 10am until 2pm. During this show, they do fewer songs than usual, so as to give more time for that special Charlie Hodge brand of "humor".

So now, KLBJ basically has few to no songs playing from 6am until 2pm every weekday. It's almost like they are the MTV of Austin radio - just basically giving up on music. Just another reason for me to stay far away from that frequency.

Movie Review: Dragons Forever

And the rebooted Jackie Chan Film Festival kicks off - with a fairly lackluster effort.

This is another of the romantic-comedy-meets-action-film mashups that Chan did during this period, with more of an emphasis on the romantic comedy part. It's also another pairing with fellow "Three Dragons" Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (last seen together in Wheels On Meals). In this one, Chan plays a womanizing defense attorney (and, naturally, martial arts expert) defending a sleezy corporation (you know it's sleezy, because its chief is constantly smoking a cigar). The corporation is being sued by a woman being affected by pollution from one of the company's plants. His brilliant plan: he attempts to seduce one of the witnesses against the company, while he also enlists Sammo to seduce the plantiff, and he also enlists his psychotic friend Yuen to bug the woman (in order to find out what, exactly? That's never made clear). He doesn't tell any of them about the other plans, and so they end up stepping on each other toes (both figuratively and literally).

Since this is a typical romatic comedy, no points for guessing that both Jackie and Sammo end up falling for their respective targets, only to have things fall apart once their schemes are revealed. Eventually, however, Jackie learns that his client is in fact a narcotics manufacturer, and so the three team up to attack the refining plant. It's far too late to save this film, though, as we've slogged our way through eighty minutes of pain to reach this point, and the eventually action payoff, while impressive as long as it lasts, is far too short. Even a return appearance by Benny Urquidez (also seen back in Wheels On Meals) isn't enough to fully redeem this one.

You may want to give it a shot just for the ending sequence, but be prepared to give that fast-forward button a workout on your way there. Two stars. Next up: Jackie gives the gangster genre a try in Miracles.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A History Of "Brilliance"

John Dvorak, reviewing the original Macintosh:

The nature of the personal computer is simply not fully understood by companies like Apple (or anyone else for that matter). Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation — as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I dont want one of these new fangled devices.


Sad thing is, he hasn't gotten any better with age. He's still technology's first name in "wrong".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Enter The Return Of The Son Of The Jackie Chan Film Festival

Way back in the depths of history, I decided to finally plow through my nearly complete collection of Jackie Chan DVDs. So I scheduled my own personal Jackie Chan Film Festival, and I've been posting my reviews of the films as I go. I got off to a pretty good start, but things stalled out a couple of months ago. Now, I'm going to try to resume the viewing and reviewing.

But first, a recap - here are all of the Jackie Chan films I've reviewed so far, in chronological order:

Master With Cracked Fingers - 2 stars
Eagle Shadow Fist - 1 star
New Fist Of Fury - 1 star
The Killer Meteors - 2 stars
Shaolin Wooden Men - 3 stars
To Kill With Intrigue - 1 star
Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu - 1 star
Magnificent Bodyguards - 3 stars
Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin - 2 stars
Snake In Eagle's Shadow - 3 stars
Drunken Master - 4 stars
Spiritual Kung Fu - 1 star
Fearless Hyena - 2 stars
Battle Creek Brawl - 2 stars
Dragon Lord - 2 stars
Winners And Sinners - 1 star
Project A - 5 stars
Wheels On Meals - 3 stars
Police Story - 4 stars
Heart Of Dragon - 2 stars
The Protector - 2 stars
My Lucky Stars - 2 stars
Project A Part 2 - 3 stars
Armour Of God - 2 stars
Police Story Part 2 - 4 stars
Twin Dragons - 3 stars
New Police Story - 4 stars
The Myth - 3 stars
Rob-B-Hood - 3 stars
The Forbidden Kingdom - 4 stars

Whew - but, I've still got a bunch to go. Here are all of the Chan films not included above, with boldface indicating the films I intend to review. The non-boldface films are ones I've seen before and don't particularly need to see again, but I may get to them if I have some spare time:

Dragons Forever
Miracles
The Prisoner
Operation Condor
Supercop
City Hunter
Crime Story
Drunken Master 2
Thunderbolt
Rumble In The Bronx
Jackie Chan's First Strike
Mr. Nice Guy
Who Am I?
Rush Hour
Gorgeous
Shanghai Noon
Rush Hour 2
The Accidental Spy
The Tuxedo
The Medallion
Shanghai Knights
Around The World In 80 Days
Rush Hour 3

Now.....begin!

Monday, October 19, 2009

This Explains A Lot

Current status: sitting in corner, twitching nervously, wishing I could unsee this...



I'm not sure what's more embarassing - this video, the fact that they then went on to lose to K-State by 48 points, or their inevitable upcoming loss to Baylor.

Next time the Horns get me down (and I'm looking at you, Greg Davis), I'll just try to remember - it can always be worse. Much worse.

Only Chuck Norris Need Apply

I don't specifically go trolling for amusing Craigslist posts, but I did come across one for a set of branding irons - only real men allowed:

If you don’t have any cattle that need branding, I suppose you could still purchase these irons… but I might charge you more. You could use one as a poker for the store bought logs in your fire pit in your back yard. They might also go well with your Corinthian Leather couch in the family room of your cookie cutter suburban home. What you might also do is hang one of these babies on the wall of your kitchen above the microwave. Then, while your fat, pencil pushing fingers are mashing buttons to heat up your supper, you can gaze upon the working instruments of real men and ponder the true origin of meat in your chili cheese dog.


Mmmmm...chili cheese dog...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Productivity Redefined

Another meeting where the first twenty minutes are spent screwing around with LiveMeeting....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Joining The 21st Century

Just testing an app to post to my blog from my iPod touch. Better than waiting for this meeting to start...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Almost No Excuses Left

Number 2 OU - loss
Number 5 Oklahoma St. - loss
Number 3 USC - loss
Number 8 Ohio State - loss

and now...

Number 4 Ole Miss - loss

Texas may not be looking great so far, but at least most everything else is going their way.

Happy Birthday To Me (Yet Again)


At least, it was a couple of weeks ago.

And now for my present to myself...



The new 32GB iPod touch. Yeah, no camera, which is a bit disappointing, but twice as fast and twice as much space for the same price as last month? That's a good deal.

And it means goodbye to my trusty 80GB classic. When I got it, I had intended to use the extra space to act as a video source for the living room, but now that I have the PS3 streaming from my Mac (as a few people have noticed), this use-case probably won't come to pass. Only two years old, and already obsolete. So I'd rather have app download capability than extra space that I don't need.

Now to get busy downloading apps....

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Exist On A List

In honor of my 1000th pageview, I thought I'd take a look at my Alexa ranking.




Awwwww, yeah - if just 24.6 million web sites were to go off-line, I'd be number 1, baby!

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 15

Continuing through the Tom Baker years; also see season 12, 13 and 14 review posts.

The Horror Of Fang Rock: A nice, atmospheric story. The foggy lighthouse is a great claustrophobic setting for a monster story, and the writers give us more than just anonymous monster fodder with the supporting characters. Sadly, things run out of steam by the end, when the so-far invisible monster is revealed to be a florescent jello mold that is dispatched with a small mortar, and a scout ship that is blown up with a lighthouse light filtered through a diamond. I'm guessing the Sontarans didn't have much problem with them in their off-screen war. So, three parts good to one part bad - call it three stars.

The Invisible Enemy: Unfortunately, the enemy didn't stay invisible. It's a pretty weak story - yet another alien mental takeover, which we've seen many times before during the Baker years, but without any of the depth of earlier efforts like Masque of Mandragora or Pyramids of Mars. And we also hit up against the limits of the production staff. This was a pretty ambitious story, with two space bases, a spaceship, an asteroid field and the interior of the Doctor's brain to be realized, and there are more misses than hits. And the Swarm Nucleus that acts as the main baddy here - oof. Starts out as a trash bag with a claw, ends up as a midget dressed up as a giant prawn. And even the characterizations don't work - Leela in particular takes a giant step backwards, written here as a savage idiot. Only the introduction of K-9 is worth mentioning, and he's better seen in later stories anyway. One star.

Image Of The Fendahl: Another Gothic story, with the first two episodes in particular upping the "creepy" factor quite satisfactorily. Things drop off a bit in the back half, as the enemy changes from being a spooky skull to some only moderately effective snake creatures (the special effects again are a mixed bag at best), and the menace posed by the snakes isn't really demonstrated very well - what exactly are they going to do again? And in the end, the Doctor just blows them up - not his most subtle solution. But still, there's a lot of relatively shocking stuff here - the Doctor helping a character to commit suicide (!) high on the list - and the overall mood of the story makes up for a lot of shortcomings. But what's up with Leela's changed hair and costume (which immediately change back at the end)? Hmmm. Three middling stars.

The Sun Makers: Starts off as a broad satire on the English tax system (in the form of an alien corporation that has "taken over" humanity). Tom Baker had, of course, frequently brought a breezy, jokey quality to his take on The Doctor. The first two episodes of this serial are no different, but combined with the overall satirical tone, it for the first time really served as a large detriment to the show in my opinion. He just wasn't taking things seriously enough, and too much finally became too much. Things settle down a bit in the back half, where the storyline turns into the standard "capture-escape-capture-escape" pattern, but the damage was done by that point. And I wonder if the Doctor would find anybody left alive if he went back after say, five years; after overthrowing the corporate leaders, the workers apparently decided to hang out up on the roof and work on their tans! I'm not sure this lot is capable of running their own planet. Oh well. Not much to recommend here; one star.

Underworld: The story of the Argonauts recast as a scifi adventure. Things get off to a pretty good start, and for a change the effects work is actually pretty good (both with the ship being "buried" in the nebula and most of the bluescreen shots in the underground caves). Sadly, the scripting again lets us down, as it devolves into another "destroy the evil computer" storyline. Lots of things end up poorly explained at best. It's not a horrible story, but nothing special either. Three stars.

The Invasion Of Time: Well, another chance for an epic storyline that falls quite short. The decision to join the story "in the middle" (or at least, leaving the Doctor's motivations somewhat mysterious until later on in the story) is a good one, even though we know the Doctor hasn't really switched over to "the dark side". And trips to Gallifrey are usually interesting. But there's lots of other problems here - Leela being essentially shut off to the side for a good chunk of time, the seemingly omnipotent technology of K-9 solving all problems remotely, the relatively easy defeat of the Sontarans once they make their appearance, Leela's sudden and inexplicable decision to stay behind, and worst of all, the endless tramping through the TARDIS hallways in the last two episodes. Really a wasted opportunity here - two stars.

Wow, looking back - I didn't really get much from this set of stories, did I? I don't know if the scripts really took a downturn here, or if I'm just getting burned out running through all of these seasons in a row. Well, now that the fall TV shows and football season are starting up, I'll probably take these at a slower pace for a while anyway. Next season - the Doctor gets a new companion, and a new season-long mission....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fantasy Football 2009: Week 1

Urrrgh. While football season is off to a good start around here - UT sitting at 2-0 going into the Tech game, OU and Oklahoma State already stumbling, Cowboys with the road win - the fantasy football season is off to a rough start.

My one money league team is already got me worried after one week. The Hanging Chads only posted the sixth best point total for the week en route to a 119 - 96 loss. My third pick selection of LaDanian Tomlinson is not looking so hot, with Darren Sproles already soaking up a lot of touches. You know it's not good when my two leading RB scorers were my RB3 and RB4 (Julius Jones and Tim Hightower).

The biggest issue, though, is the injury to Donovan McNabb. He wasn't looking horrible (no yards but three TDs) before his injury, but with him being out for some unknown amount of time, I'm now down to Jason Campbell. Off to the waiver wires, although my next game is against the low scorer for week one.

Elsewhere, my Yahoo! 14-team league also posted a loss, and the third-worst point total. What a disaster - I have Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, and it appears they will be splitting the rock (and the points). Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson means I need better numbers from the Texans than they showed against the J-E-T-S.

As for my two generic public league teams, the NFL.com team won by 104-57 behind the monster day from Adrian Peterson. Even a zero from Anthony Gonzalez (another injury) didn't make a difference. My FoxSports team lost by 123 - 109, mostly thanks to a six-touchdown performance by Drew Brees.

So, only 1-3 in Week 1, and the Money League team is already on the downslope. Not a good start.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Exist In All The Wrong Places

So, besides my ever-popular PS3-to-Mac post, I have actually found a couple of links to some of my review postings out on Teh Intertubes. Unfortunately, they're not quite linked correctly.

Mahalo linked into my review of Cape Fear - except that I was reviewing the original 1962 version starring Robert Mitchum, and their page labels the link as a review for the 1991 remake starring Robert DeNiro. The site claims to be "human-powered", but the few times I've looked into it, I haven't figured out how to get this corrected.

And then last week, I found that someone had added me in as an external review link on IMDb. Well, that's good - I use those links all of the time, maybe that would bring in some traffic. So someone added a link to my Police Story review - but added to the Police Story 2 page. Sigh. I've put in requests on IMDb to move the link over to the correct movie, but it hasn't been acted on yet.

So near, and yet so far.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Exist One Thousand Times

Well, I actually made it:


One thousand hits, as reported by Site Meter. Of course, about 99 percent of them are coming into my first posting about streaming from iTunes to my Playstation 3 - for some reason, they aren't flocking to my Jackie Chan reviews, Doctor Who reviews, or Corgi puppy posts. Oh, well, gotta take what you can get.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If You Don't Like The Weather, Just Wait Three Months

Normally, the first few Longhorn football games are characterized by hot, humid weather, even into October. So imagine my surprise when I check the forecast for this weekend's first game:


A high of 90 degrees? Yeah, I know - that sounds hot. But after three straight months of 100-105, 90 degrees sounds like downright chilly conditions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Officially Smart

Wylie had his graduation match last night from puppy obedience. He goes to Joyce Morgan's school at Austin Canine Central. The puppy class is nine weeks learning basic heeling, sit-stay and down-stay, recall on leash, and a sit for examination. And also, of course, it's for some basic puppy socialization. Wylie's been having a few issues with his down-stay (three minutes is a long time for a puppy), but last night he managed to hold it together pretty well, and got 87 points out of 100 on his final exam, which was good enough to get his first blue ribbon.

Now it's on to intermediate class, and hopefully more blue ribbons in the future.

DSCN3110.JPG

Monday, August 17, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 14

And now on to season 14 of Doctor Who...

The Masque Of Mandragora: This one is a bit hit-and-miss. On the positive, it's another one of those historical settings that the BBC usually does well (both for the studio shots and the exteriors). The main players here were suitably over-the-top, with the astrologer Hieronymous and the evil Count taking top marks here. On the negative, the plot here is a bit coincidental, with the TARDIS just happening to capture the Helix energy, which just happens to find a suitable religious sect to take over, and so on. The script writer also seems to have run out of things for Sarah Jane to do - she spends the first half of the story captured and hypnotized and much of the last episode dancing or literally standing around in the background waiting for the Doctor to save the day. Still, the Doctor and the bad guys are generally good enough here to carry things along. Three stars.

The Hand Of Fear: Sarah Jane's final story is a definite improvement. Sarah is taken over and hypnotized for the second episode in a row, but at least she gets some things to do this time around while under control. Tom Baker is in good form, as well - for example, his casual attitude in watching the nuclear bombing run that he knows will fail. I also like the mysterious cold opening in the first episode (although I wonder if viewers at the time remembered that four weeks later - it's not like Lost today where we have wiki sites to remind us of everything). The defeat of Eldrad by his race was well-done, but not so much his defeat by the Doctor - tripping him into a chasm with his long scarf (a device also used two episodes in a row). And Sarah's send-off is still suitably sad and amusing. Four stars.

The Deadly Assassin: Yes, I know, I know - what other kind of assassin is there? Still, this is justifiably considered one of the classics, both because it is a creepy and interesting story and because of the job it does in filling in some of the back-story of the Doctor's home world. The whole surreal scene when the Doctor is trapped in the Matrix is very well-done, even if the ultimate plan of the Master is overly complex (why bring the Doctor into play at all? why does he need to actually get his man into the presidency to capture the relics he needed? and why does no one else around know about the relics' true uses?). Don't overthink it - just go with the style and enjoy. Five stars.

The Face Of Evil: After some pretty well-realized stories, it was past time for the show's production limitations to reappear. While the devolved Sevateem outfits are amusing enough ("Oh, I like the hat" the Doctor quips as the high priest dons a giant spacesuit glove on his head), the fact that there are only about three visible on screen at a time (and only one woman) makes the tribe look a bit thin on personnel. The cheap spaceship sets and horrible laser gun effects later in the story aren't any better. The overall idea (the Doctor's previous meddling causes disaster later on) could have been a very devastating storyline, but it really wasn't addressed as fully as it could have been. Considering the Doctor was responsible for everything that had happened, the other characters sure didn't seem too unhappy with him at the end. This really was a missed opportunity for something special. As it is, two stars.

The Robots Of Death: Ahh, this is one of my favorites. The hit-and-miss design work switches back to big hit - yeah, the spaceship corridors are the usually bare-bones, but I love the robot designs, the ship's common areas show some differentiation and thought, and even the goofy hats and makeup for the crew do a good job of showing a civilization that has become decadent and overly-dependent on its robotic underclass. The plot is really just a locked-room mystery, where pretty much the last man standing is the villian. One problem, though: why did he choose to start his robotic revolution on a mining ship in the middle of nowhere? Shouldn't he have started somewhere with, well, with a civilization to overthrow? And it's even a good start for Leela in her first shot as companion. This one's a definite five stars for me.

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang: And it's followed up with an even better five-star effort. Another historical story, which means good production design from the BBC. And even better supporting characters, with the duo of Professor Lightfoot and impresario Henry Gordon Jago being so good they were briefly considered for a spin-off show. Even the theater performances within the show were good - I love Chang's un-PC "one of us is yellow" as the Doctor slips off-stage rather than be skewered by swords during a magic act. Really the only mark against this one is the horrible giant rat - just a lousy special effect. Why did they keep trying it, giant animals never work out on a show of this budget! Five stars, and the best of a great season of shows.

So there you have it - maybe the best overall season of Doctor Who! Next season is inevitably a step down, but we do get to meet a certain robotic canine....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

They Have That On Computers Now?

From a news article about how the debate over health care reform has crashed the House of Representatives email system:

[A spokesman] said new technology called "load balancing" is in place to try to handle spikes in volume.

Wow, that newfangled "load balancing" technology! What will they think of next?

(And these are the guys we want in charge of health care? Right....)

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Notice To My Readers

I'm headed on vacation for a week, so posting may be a little light around here.

[How would we notice?]

Friday, July 17, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 13

Following on from Season 12, we cruise on through Doctor Who's Season 13, Tom Baker's second at the helm:

"Terror of the Zygons" - Not a favorite of mine. Starts off with a good mystery to investigate, the destruction of off-shore oil platforms, but then quickly deteriorates. The bad guys here, the Zygons, are planning to take over the planet (of course), and have the ability to duplicate anyone (a theme we will see later on this season as well). So what are their plans? Well, they attack the platforms (for no apparent reason), use the Loch Ness Monster (?!) to attach a few people, and then send one person to blow up an environmental conference.

Not the best planning - if you have the ability to copy anyone, there are much better ways to utilize it.

Sadly, the issues don't end with the scripting. The puppet used as Nessie here is clearly no more than a puppet, and not a particularly good one. I'm sure the idea of having the Loch Ness Monster attacking London looked good on paper, but on screen, it looks like a puppet poorly blue-screened against a London backdrop. Just terrible. Fortunately, it's mostly uphill from here. Two middling stars.

"Planet of Evil" - We go from Nessie to a werewolf-type story, crossbred with Forbidden Planet. The Doctor and Sarah Jane end up at the end of the universe, where the boundary with the next universe over has just been breached. This one's a fairly standard adventure story - capture, escape, capture, escape - with a pretty well-done jungle setting (sadly, the show really veers between good set design and cheapo trash once we get to the spaceship). We also start to get a bit of Doctor as a somehow "greater" being here, with his proclamation that he might possibly mediate between the two universes. But really, this one's just a basic adventure. So, a basic rating. Three stars.

"Pyramids of Mars" - Now, this is more like it! This is really one of my favorites. Here, the designers get an A+ from me, with the Egyptian motif everywhere. The best example: there a bit where the Doctor disables a force field generator located in an ancient urn. He opens it up and pulls out a metallic cylinder that presumably is its power source. But - along the bottom of the cylinder are small hieroglyphics! They didn't need to be there, and are barely noticeable, but it shows some attention to detail that isn't always present on this show.

The characters and scripts are well-done, also. The Doctor really sells the menace of Sutekh (although we don't actually see him do much), and his capture by Sutekh as the cliffhanger of part three is suitably exciting. The choice to have Sutekh use a calm, almost melodious voice instead of a typical villian's cackle was outstanding. It's clear almost from the start that Laurence Scarman will die at the hands of his possessed brother, but it's still chilling to watch. And the poacher's little adventure is a nice, humorous sidestory, and a good way to show the takeover of the property without lengthy exposition.

The one really is right up there with "Genesis of the Daleks" in terms of early Tom Baker episodes, and doesn't have the padding issues that plagued "Genesis". An easy five-star story.

"The Android Invasion" - Another good one. Like the earlier "Zygons", it's a case of human duplication by aliens. The main problem here is that it takes the Doctor and Sarah quite a while to see what's going on - of course, we're helped by the fact that the title has "android" in it. I did like seeing some of the UNIT cast again (but why was the Brigadier not present this time around, nor in the next UNIT appearance?), especially since we got to see them in both "good" and "evil" modes. Really, it's just the slow start and a couple of manufactured escapes that act as marks against this story. Four stars.

"The Brain of Morbius" - This one, not so much. It's now Frankenstein's turn for a re-do, as we get the story of a mad scientist trying to revive an evil Time Lord - into a mismatched body with one human arm and one giant lobster claw? Conveniently, here comes the Doctor with a Time Lord-compatible head! And so we get a lot of scenes of the Doctor captured and knocked out, passed around from group to group, with no one quite able to start the operation. Oh, and we get Sarah stumbling around with temporary blindness, and the titular brain - speaking from inside a tank, with synchronized flashing lights. Sheesh. It gets worse, though - Morbius eventually turns into something out of Robot Monster.

We also get a second set of characters, the Sisterhood, with their god-awful annoying chanting. "Sacred Fire! Sacred Flame!" Get used to that - it may be the most annoying thing in Doctor Who since the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon". Really, this is just a dreary, boring story. Not much to recommend at all. One star.

"The Seeds of Doom" - Back to a fairly standard adventure story. Again, we veer back and forth between good design and bad. The snowy scenes in the Antarctic are actually pretty well done, as is the giant Krynoid model seen at the end (very Lovecraftian). But the more human-sized Krynoid has a little too much of The Creeping Terror about it for my taste.

This one goes for more of a James Bond feel for its bad guys. The leader, Harrison Chase, is full-bore cliche - he has the Doctor in his control on multiple occasions, but rather than kill him, he gives him a guided tour, reveals his plans, and then puts him into several escapable death traps rather than just shooting him. As Dr. Evil might say, "Chase...you just don't get it, do ya?"

The main problem here is just padding. This is a six-episode storyline, and much of the last two are just waiting for the giant Krynoid to finish knocking down the mansion. I think as a four-part story, this really could have been something quite exciting. As it is, though, it does lose steam as it goes. In the end, I'll give it three stars, instead of the four it might have reached.

That does it for Season 13 - on the whole, a pretty solid season. Next up: Sarah Jane says goodbye, Leela says hello, and we get a few really classic stories in Season 14.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July = June

Remember that heat wave going on back in June...

Well, here's July...


Ahhh, that's so much better.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So Much For Hulu

My previous entries around accessing Hulu via my PS3 are apparently obsolete, at least for the time being.

Via Engadget HD, Hulu is now apparently specifically blocking the PS3 browser from accessing videos. And so Fox and NBC can now join ABC as networks for which I will have to use BitTorrent or similar solutions to view their back content. Congratulations - you guys lose out on whatever meager compensation you were receiving for ad views.

But it was well worth it in order to be able to....ummm, what was the reason you did this, again?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wylie Update


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Originally uploaded by Bill Vollers
Wylie is now 12 weeks old. He's definitely getting bigger, and he's starting to lose some of his puppy fuzz in favor of some actual fur. Still has the same sharp puppy teeth, but he is starting to get a little more selective about what he'll use them on (i.e. not so much on my arms).

I was planning on starting him in puppy class after the Fourth, but I may have another emergency business trip (back to Barcelona), so I may or may not have to delay until August or even September. But he's already showing some trainability - we've added "in the cage" to his vocabulary, and that's a good one to have.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's Not The Heat, It's...

No wait - it is the heat.

I love Austin and all, but then sometimes you see this...


In June! And that's in the proverbial shade.

We haven't even hit the hot months yet, and the front lawn's already a wasteland. Sigh.

Friday, June 19, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who, Season 12

With the summer comes the end of most of my regular shows (until January! urrrrrgh). And so it's time to pull out some of the stuff I've had laying around for a while - such as the old Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes! Having just finished his first season's worth of shows, here's a quicky review....

"Robot" - Fun for the introduction of the new Fourth Doctor, not so good otherwise. As is often the case for this bare-budget show, the vision of the writers exceeds the ability to execute well on screen. The titular opponent here is a rather clunky collection of bits initially, and sadly the script decides to have it inexplicably grow to huge proportions, resulting in the usual bad blue-screening effect. The plotline is a fairly generic "superior scientists decide to become munificent dictators" story, with a dash of "robot develops human feelings" thrown in. Nothing particularly special.

This one's mainly good for seeing Tom Baker immediately jump into the role of the Doctor, hitting the ground running. Sladen's Sarah Jane meshes well with the new lead, and of course almost any time with the Brigadier is going to be good. But otherwise, not much of a story. Two stars.

"The Ark In Space" - I kind of like this one. It's got a lot of typical elements - Sarah stumbling her way into rescue situations, the suspicious commander, alien mental takeovers, noble sacrifices. There's not really much new here, but it's just a pretty basic, competent story. So it gets a basic rating of three stars.

"The Sontaran Experiment" - Filler. Just a two-parter, this one is mostly interesting for being set completely on location - and a location that isn't that same quarry they used for everything back then (like in the very next storyline, for example). However, the storyline mostly consists of people falling into rocky pits and climbing back out, and scenes of prisoners being tortured as scientific experiments. Unfortunately, the script has an entire galactic invasion waiting on the Sontaran to finish running an experiment to see how much weight a pair of humans can hold up - and then when the experiment is halted, the invasion is called off! Uh, what?

Despite a few good moments (like the fear experiment on Sarah Jane), and the different setting, this one really doesn't have much going for it. It is what it is - filler. Two stars.

"Genesis Of The Daleks" - Ah, but this one on the other hand....yeah, it's good. A definite grim atmosphere, from the battlefield scenes at the very start to the Nazi-invoking Kaled uniforms to the destruction of the Thal dome to the mutants - this one isn't particularly jolly, despite Baker's already perfected mugging. Yeah, there's a few strange moments, such as the giant clam attack (?), and some of the cliffhangers don't make much sense (in particular, Sarah falls off a scaffolding at the end of one episode, only to land on a platform just below at the start of the next one).

There's a great introduction to Davros, the Dalek creator here - sometimes a coldly calculating villian, others a shrieking personification of his Dalek creations. The weak point here, as usually was with the early stories, is the Daleks themselves - I never found them overly scary in their early clunky form. This was fixed in later stories, where they get the ability to hover around and move with some speed. And to be fair, the Daleks don't actually do a lot of the work here - it's mostly Davros and his thugs that do the damage.

I really can't give this one less than five stars - there's a bit of padding here and there, but this is about as good as Doctor Who got at this point in its life.

"Revenge Of The Cybermen" - Back to the set of "The Ark In Space", but this time dealing with an approaching asteroid of gold - a threat to the gold-fearing Cybermen. Only - well, I don't remember anyone actually successfully using gold as a weapon here. The Doctor and Harry try, but they don't end up having any success. This story tries a bit too much with traitors on the various sides - I'm not really that much into watching the political situation on an underground asteroid. Suffice it to say that no one's master plan here was really thought through very well.

I do like the Doctor's response to learning that Harry had caused a cave-in and almost detonated a bomb, though - "Harry Sullivan is an idiot!" Cybermats - not so much. This one gets three stars also for a few good moments.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yet More Playstation 3 and Mac Streaming

I've had a few posts in the past about attempts to get the various media on my Mac (in iTunes, primarily, but also some loose files not in a format that iTunes likes) streaming wirelessly over to my new Playstation 3. In fact, those are about the only posts anyone actually reads on this blog.

Oh well.

At any rate, one of my first posts mentioned an open-source project called, generically-enough, Ps3 Media Server. Back then, it appeared that the software worked, but didn't make the cut for me because it was a cross-platform solution (written in Java) that did not have any support for my iTunes playlists. I didn't really want to serve up my 6000 MP3 in a big jumble - I've worked a bunch on my playlists and wanted to use them over on the PS3.

Well, I've taken another look and over on the code site for PS3MS (or whatever it's abbreviated to), and they now have a Mac OS X-specific build that adds a couple of key options for sharing not only your iTunes library, but also your iPhoto library automatically. And I can report - it works well. iPhoto events and albums both show up correctly, with thumbnails. And the entire iTunes library, with playlists, artists, genres, etc. all show up as appropriate under both the music and video entries on the XMB.

There's even some support for streaming content from the web (YouTube and such), although I'm not able to get most of it to work myself. Maybe I need to twiddle around with the transcoder settings. I'm using a slightly older version (the latest builds are listed as Intel-only, and I'm still running on an old G5), so maybe there are issues that have been resolved by now. Don't know if the elusive Hulu is available through this thing or not (although I don't see how you would do any searching with this interface yet).

So, I'm giving this an extended shot. So far it's worked well....except that I do get some network issues still (with an error code of 80710736) during video playback. I haven't tried a wired connection to see if this resolves the problem or not yet, but I probably will at some point. At any rate, Mac-to-PS3 users may want to give the OS X-specific build a look.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Welcome Wylie

Been almost a month since my last posting, mostly due to being incredibly busy at work. However, amongst all of the madness, I have finally managed to bring home a new puppy. Meet Wylie:


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This will be a new experience for me - he's only ten weeks old, and I didn't get Bailey until she was over nine months old. He's actually not doing too bad on learning - he's already staying in his crate without crying or peeing for hours at a time, and he's already claimed the kitchen as his sleep zone when he's not busy with other things (which is where I was going to have him stay while housetraining). He also hits the potty pretty quickly once he gets outside, so I haven't had to hang around much waiting for him to go.

But - he isn't housetrained. He doesn't know to ask to go outside, and if he's not in his crate or his pen, he'll just go wherever he is. The pee-pads are so far just great things to try to chew on, rather than pee on. So he still has some learning to do there.

Also, he's still just on his razor-sharp puppy teeth. I've found a few puppy-strength chew toys for him, which are his favorite toys so far. But he also is happy chewing on fingers, toes, arms, pants legs, etc. He so far hasn't done much damage to rugs or furniture, but that will likely come at some point (hopefully, just a $3 rug to start with). There will be a steady stream of puncture marks on my hands and arms until the adult teeth start coming in.

So far, he seems like he's going to be a smart boy. He definitely remembers things (like what he was trying to chew on a few minutes earlier when I took it away from him). He also definitely gets into a "Fierce Corgi" attitude when he's prevented from chewing on what he wants. But he's smart enough to know he doesn't want to hang around outside when it's 101 degrees, so at least he's got some basic sense, too.

Puppy class starts in a few weeks. So time to start studying, Wylie!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Movie Review: Wheels On Meals

Yes, this isn't the advertised next film in my roughly-chronological Jackie Chan Film Festival, but I decided to dust it off for another look. And you know what - it was better than I had remembered.

Now maybe this is just because of my recent pass through a couple of the Lucky Stars films - a couple of the cast members from those films pop up in cameos here. This one is a definite step up from those, both in terms of the comedy and the action. It's still true that this is an Asian comedy, not Western, so the overall tone is different. But the comedy bits here are at least a bit more subtle - and yes, funny - than in some of the prior Chan efforts. That's a good thing, because the first half of this film is focused on the comedy and plot intros, rather than the action.

In this one, Chan and fellow "Three Dragons" Yuen Biao play cousins who run a mobile restaurant out of a van. They deliver meals on skateboards (explaining the title and giving Jackie yet another chance to exercise his 80's skateboarding interest). They get hooked up with a female con artist - Yuen plays the heartstruck romantic, while Chan plays the more sensible skeptic - who is coincidentally being sought by a private detective friend of theirs played by Sammo Hung.

After 45 minutes of comedy beats with these four characters and assorted supporting characters, we eventually get to the plot - she's an unknowing heiress, and her uncle is trying to kidnap her and her mother in order to keep the inheritance for himself. Here's where the action finally kicks in, as the uncle's hired thugs take the women to a castle, and the three friends head off in pursuit.

Once we get there, the actions scenes are top-rate. Jackie and friends are portrayed here as skilled but not overly-skilled, and the thugs are shown as on par with their abilities. So the fights are relatively even affairs, with Jackie deciding to break off rather than fight on more than one occasion. The ending fight between Jackie and Benny Urquidez is considered one of the best ever, and it lives up to its reputation in my opinion - Benny doesn't back down for a minute, doesn't fall for any of Jackie's tricks, and really just gets beaten after a fairly lucky punch by Jackie. It's an outstanding sequence and fairly brutal given the relatively light tone of the rest of the movie.

If you can deal with the relative lack of action (and somewhat better-than-usual Asian comedy bits) in the first half, then the second half of Wheels On Meals should definitely be given a look for Jackie fans, especially compared to some of his other comedic films of this period. Three solid stars, just because overall it doesn't quite rise to "classic" status for me.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Today's WTF Moment

Remember that game show from last year, that was on for about 15 minutes?
The one with people trying to fit through holes in a wall?

Well, what if instead of people dressed in spandex, you had body builders in speedos?

And instead of being cheered on by a studio audience, you were being cheered on by an old man with dancing rabbits?

And what if, for no reason, you also slapped a giraffe and an elephant on the screen?

Well, if that's you, then (a) get back on your medication and (b) prepared to get sued, because you've just ripped off the new Nintendo Wii game, Muscle March!



Wow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Idle Thoughts During The Lost Finale

1. The Goode Family looks really bad.

2. But not as bad as that Land Of The Lost movie. Ooof.

3. This might be the best episode during the best season of TV I've ever seen. Although The Shield season 7 comes close.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Movie Review:Police Story Part 2

And so we get to another Jackie Chan sequel (to the outstanding first film). Jackie reprises his role as Ka-Kui (or "Kevin" in the English version), a police officer who in the last film had resigned from the force after being framed for murder, going after the crime boss responsible for his predicament. At the start here, he's back on the force, but temporarily busted down to traffic patrol. He gets bumped back up to detective duty to help stop an extortion scheme by a group of bombers who blow up a shopping mall (yep - the second Police Story movie in a row to trash a mall). Meanwhile, the crime boss is back out on the street and harassing Ka-Kui and his girlfriend May. And, as usual, Jackie's character is also continuing to have problems with his love life.

In some ways, this sequel is an improvement on the original - in other ways, it isn't. The improvement here comes in the non-action scenes. Amazingly enough, for the most part this movie plays like a straight police procedural, without the usual action film cliches. The tracking down of the bombers is done with bugging, surveillance and interrogations, rather than stunt-filled set pieces. There's still humorous bits (a running gag where a bad guy gets his glasses repeatedly broken by Jackie among them), and for a change, they tend to not be wincingly bad. This isn't by any stretch a super-serious, super-accurate police drama, but compared to a lot of action films (and especially a lot of Jackie Chan films), this one is played more seriously than most.

But don't fear - the usual over-the-top stunt and fightwork does show up again in time for the ending fight. You know you're back in Jackie Chan mode when the final big battle is set in a fireworks factory. The ending sequence has Jackie tortured with fireworks, escaping from a bomb vest, rescuing his kidnapped girlfriend, beating up the bombing crew and escaping from the fireworks factory moments before it explodes. Classic stuff, but it doesn't quite hold up to the glass-shattering climax of the first film, and that's where this one ends up slightly behind its older brother.

This one also gets a strong four stars from me. Up next, a Jackie Chan film I haven't seen before! Jackie tries out colonial-era gangster flick with Miracles aka Black Dragon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Bulletproof News

From The Truth About Cars (which is dismantling the ongoing auto industry scam, err, bailout with a thoroughness and wittiness that I wish more people would read) comes a story about the attempts of Richmond, Indiana to bring an auto plant to their town.

The story is reported by their local paper - the Richmond Palladium-Item.

I don't care about the story, but wow...the Palladium-Item is about the most awesomeist newspaper name EVAR. If more of them had names like that, maybe fewer of them would be on the brink of shutting down.

Hmmm...on second thought, never mind.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gimme Those Wide Open Spaces


Ah, the pleasure of a brand-spanking-new terabyte drive, just waiting to be filled up with junk.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can My PS3 Get Lost Now?

Engadget reports that Disney is now (or will soon be) part of Hulu. While I'm not overly happy about some of the Hulu shenanigans relating to controlling who can see what when, I am hopeful that this will allow my Playstation 3 to stream ABC programs.

Well, OK - actually, just the one ABC program I happen to watch - Lost.

As I mentioned previously, ABC's own streaming seems to be unhappy with the Playstation 3 browser, insisting that I get an approved browser instead. I haven't looked into it much, but I'd be very surprised if there were any technical reason they couldn't have streamed the content to my Flash-enabled PS3 browser just as easily as any other one. But since they decided to be anal about things, I turned to the torrent-o-sphere to get my missing Lost dosage instead, and ABC lost out on whatever meager revenue that might have received from embedded ads or whatnot.

Hopefully, ABC will move content over to the more PS3-friendly Hulu, and leave it in some format that I can use.

And hopefully, Hulu won't keep screwing around with its access policy, either.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Movie Review: Armour Of God

Sneaking another film into the Jackie Chan Film Festival schedule, Armour Of God is one of two takes on the Indiana Jones motif. Armour Of God is sometimes called Operation Condor 2, even though Operation Condor (also released as Armour Of God 2) was released after Armour Of God. Oh, and though Jackie plays a character named Condor in Operation Condor, here (in Operation Condor 2), he plays a character named Asian Hawk.

Make sense?

At any rate, Jackie here plays an adventurer who goes after ancient artifacts. The main one in question here is the aforementioned armor, which comes in five pieces. One collector is trying to acquire the pieces for himself, while a band of Satanic monks (no, really!) is trying to destroy the armor, which somehow will give them great power to do...well, something. The only thing we really see them do in the movie is hire a bunch of prostitutes and eat bread, so it's not clear what their real power is. When a former love interest of Hawk's is kidnapped by the monks (she used to be in a pop band with Hawk - yeah, he's like Buckaroo Banzai but without the surgical skills), Hawk, Mildly Useful Companion #1 and Useless Companion #2 head out to rescue her and reclaim the armor.

This movie follows what is becoming a standard pattern in this point in Jackie's career: opening stunt spectacular, plot description, lame romantic comedy beats, closing stunt/fight spectacular. One's enjoyment of the film depends on how much one can stand those middle sections, where you'll get a few minutes of action and forty minutes of goofy situational comedy on the level of a bad Three's Company episode. Here, it's pretty bad - Jackie's Useless Companion #2 is also the competing love interest, and he's definitely not the best character ever to show up in a Jackie Chan movie - pretty much without merit in any way.

The opening and closing scenes are well done, with Jackie getting more stunt work than fight work this time around. (This is the film that features a missed stunt where Jackie required emergency brain surgery.) Outside of a pretty impressive fight sequence at the very end where Jackie takes on four high-heeled-shoe-wielding women (no, really!), none of the fight scenes really stood out. This one is more about the stunts, with the capper being a skydive off of a mountain onto a hot-air balloon. Not that it made much sense in terms of the script. Or physics. But it looked impressive.

Of course, the reason he dove off of the mountain is because he blew up the monk's secret lair with dynamite. With the Armour of God still inside, as far as I can tell.

Oops.

So, in the end, not a movie that really cared too much about characters, plot or dialog. Just an excuse for a few good stunts, and a length section of boredom. Not really his best effort - the sequel movie ended up being a much better take on this kind of thing. As for this one, two stars.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

That's Just Great

Just wonderful - now I get to watch Brian Orakpo jump on Tony Romo twice a year for a while.

Crap.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mini-Reviews: Winners And Sinners and The Protector

Before I get around to the next official Jackie Chan Film Festival film, I thought I'd toss in a few thoughts on a couple of movies that I'm skipping over.

The first is Winners And Sinners, which is the first film in a Sammo Hung-directed series that would continue with My Lucky Stars. And like My Lucky Stars, this isn't really an "action-comedy" so much as a "comedy with a little action". And that should be "very little comedy" and "very little action". Jackie only shows up basically in a cameo role to provide one action sequence where he gets to dig out his roller-skates from Battle Creek Brawl to chase down an escaping car. But even this brief action sequence isn't particularly well-done; the sped-up film is very obvious, as are the jump cuts used to splice different shots together. These seams didn't show up nearly as often in Police Story or Project A, and are pretty disappointing given Sammo's usually-good work behind the camera.

As for the comedy, it's most of the same cast from My Lucky Stars, and the sequences are just about as interminable. They hit on the one girl in the cast, they prank each other, they act like idiots. There's no reason anyone needs to see one of these guys parading around nude because he thinks he has mastered invisibility. Urgh. This one is worse than the sequel, so one star for it.

The Protector isn't much better. This is the 1985 Jackie Chan film, by the way, not the unrelated Tony Jaa film. The Protector was Jackie's second try (after the aforementioned Battle Creek Brawl) at breaking into the American market, and it was just about as successful. It's a typical 80's mismatched cop-action film - the serious kind, not the comedic 48 Hrs. kind - where Jackie is paired with Danny Aiello in a horrible performance as a lumbering, vaguely-racist cop helping Jackie track down his former partner's killer. This one's mostly known for going places Jackie didn't usually go in his own films - gratitutous nudity, lots of gun-play and a completely stone-faced serious character. It didn't work. There are a few fight sequences here, but the director apparently thought he knew better than one of the top fight choreographers in Hong Kong how to set up a martial arts scene, so Jackie got no input into that, either. The result is a pretty grim affair all the way around. To see Jackie as a cop, stick with the Police Story series. A low two stars.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Movie Review: Project A Part 2

A definite let-down compared to Part 1. This one takes the same setting as the first part - colonial Hong Kong, where the police and navy are rival justice organizations. The script also throws in an underground independence movement, Chinese government loyalists and the remnents of the pirate crew disbanded in the earlier film. The basic plot is that Jackie and a few trusted navy men are sent in undercover on the police force to get evidence on a corrupt inspector. However, we also get side trips into stolen jewels, a book containing the names of the rebel supporters, a conspiracy between the police and the rebels, a goofy group of pirates, and a few too many other threads for the movie's own good.

Things get off to a good start in a scene where Jackie and crew take down a gang (also on the inspector's payroll). Sadly, things then transition to a pair of interminable scenes, one where Ma is framed at a party for theft by the corrupt inspector and another where just about every character so far hide from each other in a house for reasons that, frankly, aren't entirely clear even just after watching it. There's lots of sneaking around, people handcuffed to each other, and the usual lame attempts at "comedy" that result in long set-ups for little results. It's quite a long time before we get around to the final big chase scene, such as it is. It's meant to be a big Jackie Chan stunt/fight showcase (it goes on for about twenty minutes) and while there's good individual moments (a fall down a bamboo scaffolding and a fight in a strange rotating drum stand out), it didn't really flow into anything that made much sense as a whole.

In the end, this one has to be counted as a disappointment. I'll give it three stars, because it is better than the two movies immediately preceding it in the Festival, but it's a middling three stars at best. Up next, we'll see if Jackie does better with another sequel - Police Story 2.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: My Lucky Stars

Well, here's another "Jackie Chan" movie that isn't really a Jackie Chan movie. Unlike some of the earlier movies I've reviewed, though, this isn't a case of a pre-fame Jackie Chan supporting role being promoted as a starring role. This time around, it is basically Jackie doing a favor for friend Sammo Hung. Hung was developing a movie series around the Five Lucky Stars, a group of four comic actors (and Sammo himself being the fifth), and he got some of his friends (Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao among them) to appear in supporting roles to boost the movie.

My Lucky Stars is the second movie in the series (I don't have a copy of the first, Winners And Sinners). The plot line is simple: Jackie and Yuen are cops working a case. When Yuen is taken prisoner, Jackie (or "Muscles" as he is called in the English dub, and that isn't the worst nickname in the movie) decides that the police force is infiltrated and wants to bring in some outsiders. So he calls in the Five Lucky Stars, who are former orphanage brothers of his who have become con-men and criminals. That they have no particular skills (other than Sammo) to bring to bear on this case is apparently beside the point.

So after a pretty nice opening set piece when Yuen is kidnapped, we then switch over for an hour to the wacky hijinks of the Lucky Stars. To call this comedy a little broad is to call Rosie O'Donnell a little broad. Actually, to call much of it comedy is to call Rosie O'Donnell a comedienne. Lots of mugging for the camera, lots of bad slapstick, lots of juvenile sexual humor (courtesy of the attractive police detective assigned to assist). There's a couple of chuckles here, but almost all of this section of the film is a complete waste.

It's too bad, because the action sequences at the beginning and end of the film are actually pretty good. They are set in an amusement park and take good advantage of the setting, with men crawling around on rides, battling each other on outside stairways and sidewalks, and (in the best design work in the film) fighting in different rooms in a haunted house exhibit. As usual during this phase of Jackie's career, there is great stunt work (in particular, a nice car jump over a conveniently-placed car carrier) and some well-choreographed fight scenes. It only amounts to about thirty minutes out of a ninety-minute runtime, but what's there is very good.

But since it's only thirty minutes, and since the rest of the film doesn't have much to recommend it, I can't give this film more than two stars. I think I'll have to give a pass to the follow-up, Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. Instead, we'll head back to Jackie Chan in the director's chair with Project A2.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Had Almost Forgotten

Oh right, I was going to head down to Highland Mall on Saturday and shop around a bit.
Thanks for reminding me, Austin NAACP!

And Yet Even More Flash on the Playstation 3

Since I've actually been picking up some hits on my posts about using my Playstation 3 as a media center, I thought I'd mention another issue that has come up. It appears that the PS3 does have some issues with its Flash implementation - in an earlier post, I described how the PS3 browser locked up while pausing a Hulu playback.

Last night, I tried looking up some old Red vs Blue videos on Google Video. I got to a page of search results, but at that point, the PS3 browser again hung up on me. I'm not sure what the root cause was here, but the search result page is a fairly busy page, with lots of subframes and embedded objects (and now that I think about it, that's fairly different from the standard Google search page, which is usually pretty clean). At any rate, the browser lockup this time was more severe - the browser never responded to stop/refresh/back/etc. I was eventually able to exit the browser back to the main XMB screen, but the XMB itself was now locked up. No background animation, no scrolling menu items, no response to the controller. I had to hard boot the PS3 by (gasp) actually standing up, going over the PS3 and holding down the power button. Everything came back up as normal after the reboot. I was finally able to find (and see) what I was looking for over on YouTube.

I think the bottom line is that Flash playback is possible now on the PS3, but only under fairly "ideal" circumstances, and failure can result in a hard lockup. If an occasional reboot is the worst problem, then it falls into the "barely acceptable" category - after all, the PS3 isn't a general purpose computer (at least for most people), and so I'm not usually multitasking on it. If I'm watching a video, that's usually all I'm doing on it (well, maybe a download of some DLC in the background). But if we ever get into a Red-Ring-Of-Death-type situation, where a crash leaves the thing unbootable...

Well, suffice it to say I'll be unhappy. I haven't done very much scrounging around the Intertubes yet to see how widespread this sort of thing is.

Movie Review: Heart Of Dragon

Finally getting back to another entry in the ongoing Jackie Chan Film Festival. Sadly, it's not a very good entry. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a great string of films (the Police Story and Project A series are both started, and Armour of God is just around the corner), and we come up with this clunker.

This Sammo Hung-directed affair features Hung and Chan as brothers - Hung as a mentally-retarded thirty-year old, Jackie as his cop brother and guardian. For whatever reason, Jackie's character Tat wants to quit the police force (even though he appears to be about the only competent cop we see) and become a sailor. However, he can't without leaving his brother to fend for himself (not to mention his fiance - does Jackie ever have a successful relationship in any of his movies?). So the first half of the movie is broad melodrama, as we see Hung's Danny character get into a series of minor problems, Tat get him out of trouble, and then tries to figure out how to get on his boat. Almost no action at all during this segment, which seems to go on forever.

Things marginally pick up in the second half, as Danny inadvertently gets involved in a robbery that Tat's police unit is investigating, and ends up becoming a hostage. This leads to the only real extended action sequence in the film, as Tat and his unit battle the criminal gang in a construction site. There are some good moments during this sequence, and it ends up being one of the more brutal fight scenes I've seen Jackie in so far (not many Chan movies have Jackie killing a guy with a machete to the neck!). There's also a few nice stunt moments here, but aside from Jackie's brief but brutal fight, it's all fairly generic stuff in terms of the martial arts.

The films then closes with a weird montage - Tat and friends are sent to prison for their actions, and so we see Jackie moping around in jail, looking vaguely suicidal, interspersed with scenes of Danny running around outside, having a good time, apparently oblivious to Tat's predicament. Just a strange downer ending to a strange film.

So, another attempt by Jackie to do something different than his usual action and stunt extravaganza, but a big misfire on his part. Two stars, and that's only for the ending sequence - the rest is one star at best. Up next: Jackie does Sammo another favor, helping to launch a new movie series in My Lucky Stars.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Houses and Homes

Where a home is more than a house...

"House" Songs on my iPod (16):

Billy Joel: "House Of Blue Light"
Great White: "House Of Broken Love"
Deep Purple: "House Of Pain"
Van Halen: "House Of Pain"
The Animals: "House Of The Rising Sun"
Led Zeppelin: "Houses Of The Holy"
Commodores: "Brick House"
Talking Heads: "Burning Down The House"
The Dixie Dregs: "Country House Shuffle"
Widespread Panic: "Party At Your Mother's House"
Traveling Wilburys: "Poor House"
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Red House"
Gorillaz: "Rock The House"
Brian Setzer Orchestra: "The House Is A Rockin'"
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: "The House Is Rockin'"
Men At Work: "Upstairs In My House"

"Home" Songs on my iPod (34):

Dream Theater: "Home"
Chick Corea & Origin: "Home"
Steely Dan: "Home At Last"
Genesis: "Home By The Sea/Second Home"
Geddy Lee: "Home On The Strange"
Chick Corea Elektric Band: "Home Universe"
OSI: "Home Was Good"
Monster Magnet: "2000 Light Years From Home"
The Rolling Stones: "2000 Light Years From Home"
Clarence "Frogman" Henry: "Ain't Got No Home"
Ted Nugent: "At Home There"
Sonny Boy Williamson: "Bring It On Home"
Led Zeppelin: "Bring It On Home"
Triumph: "Bringing It On Home"
Back Door Slam: "Come Home"
ZZ Top: "Comin' Home"
KISS: "Comin' Home"
Porcupine Tree: "Every Home Is Wired"
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: "Gone Home"
Fats Domino: "I Want To Walk You Home"
Oscar Peterson: "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
Tony Bennett: "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
Boston: "Let Me Take You Home Tonight"
The Vaughan Brothers: "Long Way From Home"
Pink Floyd: "Nobody Home"
Sister 7: "Nobody's Home"
True Believers: "Nobody's Home"
Weather Report: "Non-Stop Home"
The Beatles: "She's Leaving Home"
McCoy Tyner: "She's Leaving Home"
The Blues Brothers: "Sweet Home Chicago"
Phil Collins: "Take Me Home"
Supertramp: "Take The Long Way Home"
Metallica: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Think I'll Stay Home

Via News 8 Austin:

Highland Mall will close at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The mall’s general manager issued a statement Thursday saying the mall does not have the necessary security to manage the large crowds expected this weekend with the Texas Relays in town.

In addition, the release stated the closure is because “the safety and security of shoppers and retailers is top priority.”

Ummm....what?

The crowds are too big for the mall to handle - during a track meet?

Yes, yes, I know - the Texas Relays are a big deal. Lots of people in town. But still, I don't remember Highland Mall closing down during, say, the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekend before Christmas. Surely they have more shoppers then than they would during the Texas Relays?

I wonder what the rationale could possibly be....something about this particular crowd?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another Little Push

In practice, Time Warner's decision to look at metering cable internet access in Austin doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me. I'd already put AT&T Uverse on my "to-look-at" list for when I get an HDTV (which should be soon - I'm seeing TV's starting to show up at my desired price-vs-features spot).

Right now, I'm paying about $160/month for local phone, DirecTV standard-def service with Tivo, and Earthlink cable internet service. HDTV would be extra on top of that, and long-distance phone is also (although most of my long-distance calls these days are done on my mobile). I haven't been able to fully price things out, but it looks like Uverse would get me local and long-distance phone, faster internet service, and HDTV service with more channels (including Showtime/TMC/Encore, for what it's worth) for somewhere around $140/month.

Unfortunately, Uverse is not available in my neighborhood in Austin. I'm in some kind of AT&T black hole here (if I may be racist for a moment) - my area was also late getting DSL service, although that's now available. But soon enough it will be here.

And thanks to Time Warner's latest move, that switch to Uverse has jumped from a 90% probability to a 95% probability.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Exist Even More

As I mentioned earlier, here's what blogging about the PS3 instead of Jackie Chan movies does for your hit counts:



First PS3 posting: Feb 21.

I knew I should have gotten that PS3 a long time ago!
No...wait. I don't get paid for this blog.

I know...I'll watch my Jackie Chan movies on my PS3! Yeah, that'll get 'em!

But what was I doing last September that caused that spike in hits? I can't even remember last week, much less last year.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Advantage Hulu

I've posted a couple of times about viewing Hulu videos using my Playstation 3 browser. The conclusion is - it mostly works, although I do sometimes bump up against the limit of what my wireless connection between my router and the PS3 will handle, result in occasional stuttering. I get similar results streaming from YouTube (watched old Bottom Live shows in ten-minute chunks - good stuff there).

Having missing Lost last night, I decided now would be a good time to see how things worked over on abc.com (since ABC doesn't use Hulu or YouTube to distribute its shows - I don't think I actually watch any CBS shows, so that network doesn't matter to me). So, I fire up the browser and head on over.

First strike - ABC has pop-under ad windows. The PS3 browser can handle multiple windows at once, although I think you only get full-screen mode - you have to select which window is on "top". Of course, you don't know until you switch over, and the browser first asks if you want to open a window (I think there is an option somewhere to permanently select the desired behavior). I thought we had kind of gotten beyond those annoying pop-unders, but I guess its just that I've been using more modern browsers on my PC and Mac and so never have to see them.

Second, and more severe - once I got to the Lost page and started the viewer, ABC decided my browser just wasn't good enough. Only Mac and PC need apply, and only if using IE, Firefox or Safari. So Linux is out, as is Google Chrome, I assume.

And of course, so is my PS3.

Now, there's really not any reason for it. It's just plain old Flash video, same as Hulu and YouTube, so there isn't really a technical reason why ABC can't get their content to the PS3. They just decided to put some kind of lock on it, and wanted to overly control how it gets delivered.

But the bottom line is, I now will just jump over to BitTorrent and pull the show from there. Since it's recent, it'll be easy to get. Of course, ABC won't get to embed any advertisements in the copy I get, and they won't get the hit count (and advertisement dollars) on their web site that I would have given them.

So yeah - nice work there, Disney. Good job.