That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Archive for June, 2009

And then at the end there is a pretty pretty rainbow.

Posted by kozemp on June 26, 2009

Let me make something perfectly clear right from the start: I loved the first Transformers movie. LOVED it. No one is saying it’s Lawrence of Arabia or anything, but to deny that it is a solidly-built and vastly entertaining film is to deny that the sky is blue. My PARENTS loved Transformers, for God’s sake. We heartily endorse the first movie. It’s great. I love it. And now, a day after seeing Revenge of the Fallen, I love the first movie even more, because now we know what it could have been. We now have firsthand evidence what a bad Transformers movie is like.

Even the poster is kinda lousy.

Even the poster is kinda lousy.

What a really, REALLY bad Transformers movie is like.

The great sadness of ROTF is not that it’s bad. Don’t get me wrong – at a macroscopic level it is frighteningly bad. No, the great sadness is that it suffers from Quantum of Solace Syndrome: somewhere inside the misshapen hulk that is Revenge of the Fallen lies an honest-to-god good movie, cowering in a crawlspace like Newt. Unfortunately the powers that be chose to take that good movie, beat it into cringing submission with a leather strap, and surround it with mountains of crap that might as well have been Junkticons, since apparently our intrepid production team thought that specific, direct references to the cartoon were the most important thing missing from the first film.

Helpful hint: specific, direct references to the cartoon WERE the most important thing missing from the first film, and the fact that they were missing was a GOOD thing. Further helpful hint: for however much we wistfully look back at the cartoon in a vain attempt to recapture the happy, discernment-free days of our youth, we must realize that the important part of that statement is “discernment-free” because when you were seven years old your young brain was physically incapable of realizing that the original cartoon was, and continues to be, FUCKING AWFUL. And aping the tone and general maturity level of a fucking awful cartoon leaves your movie – wait for it – FUCKING AWFUL AS WELL.

To continue with the trend, the key word in that phrase is “tone.” Tone is a slippery word to use when describing literature; unlike technical terms like “plot” or “characterization” it means too many different things to different people (though my perusal of the online reaction to ROTF reveals that a startling percentage of people flat out don’t know what the word “plot” means). It’s sort of style but not really, it can describe a film’s belief as to its intended audience but it also can’t, that sort of thing.

Setting those concerns aside, though, one of the first movie’s strengths was its tone: it was adult, it was realistic (within the confines of giant robot scifi), it didn’t talk down to its audience, and for the most part it was deadly, deadly serious. I’d be willing to bet that at least part of the reason it turned out that way was an attempt to subvert expectations: everyone just assumed a Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay would be an idiotic no-story toy commercial blow-em-up, so they purposefully made a serious alien invasion movie where the invading aliens just happened to be giant shapeshifting robots.

(Imagine Deep Space Nine if the Founders turned into runabouts instead of birds. In a word: FUCKING AWESOME.)

Oh, and it also had ridiculously amazing action sequences.

You watch this scene from the first movie where they fight Scorponok, and if the whole sequence doesn’t take your breath away you must not have had any breath in the first place. (And in that case, you know, stay the fuck away from me, zombie.) It is a perfect amalgam of cinematography, visual effects, music, and editing. It is pure adrenaline on film and there are FIVE MORE JUST LIKE IT. If you want to dismiss it as just an action film and tell me that scifi action movies can’t be great movies in their own right I will kindly direct your attention to Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back, then kindly inform you that you are the worst kind of obnoxious cineaste asshole, and then kindly ask you to shut the fuck up.

Yes, the first movie wasn’t perfect. Sam’s parents and the late, lamented Bernie Mac are overused and overdone. I am unsure as to why Anthony Anderson and the Australian chick (whose name I am not even bothering to look up since you wouldn’t recognize it anyway) are in it at all. And John Turturro, oh for god’s sake Turturro, his performance is from some other movie entirely. So basically, er, the first movie’s problems boil down to the humans. EXCEPT, he noted with evil glee, Sam and the soldier guys. This is not surprising, because – like we talked about below vis a vis Anakin Skywalker – Sam and the soldier guys WANTED things. Sam wanted to save his car/dog and get the girl. Josh Duhamel wanted to see his kid. Tyrese wanted to kick ass. (It is, I would think, safe to assume that the soldier dudes also wanted to get the insanely-hot girl.) All the other humans wanted to run around and wave their hands in the air like flaming spastics. For god’s sake, even the fucking robots wanted something. The Decepticons wanted power. The Autobots wanted to protect the humans. Both sides wanted the Allspark.

This is basic Drama 101 type stuff: characters who want things (even if they’re giant robots) are interesting, and thus make for interesting drama. Characters who don’t want things are not, and thus do not. The biggest problem with the second movie is that it violates this cardinal rule by… well, it’s sort of two-fold.

For starters, this time around NONE of the humans seem to want anything, even the ones who wanted things previously. Sam has already gotten the girl. In fact, in the new film Sam’s primary problems are that he is trying to break up with his supercar that turns into a giant robot and that he is unable to verbalize his commitment to the hottest girl in the known universe, both of which together demonstrate nothing so much as the fact that our hero is the single dumbest human being alive. The army guys are pretty muted. Lennox has seen his kid (I mean, one presumes he has in the space between movies). Him and Tyrese do nothing but pal around with the Autobots and travel the world kicking Decepticon ass. Their primary concern for 90% of the film’s running time is not the evil Decepticons but an obnoxious White House staffer. We took the only remotely interesting human characters from the first movie and turned them into harried housewives.

The second part of the anti-drama problem is that we have taken our newly-boring heroes, dropped them in with other useless fleshbags (some from the first film), all of whom are now VASTLY less interesting than the giant robots, and then we proceed to spend the vast majority of the film dealing with their stuff.

The movie is called “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and:

– Most of the movie is about humans doing silly human things like going to parties and having relationship issues and how funny it is when old people get high. Transformers: Revenge of Embarrassing Parental Behavior.
– The Fallen is on screen for MAYBE 90 seconds.
– The Fallen doesn’t actually want revenge for anything. He just wants to finish a project he left behind a long time ago, like a paint-by-numbers you start one summer and get bored with and then find in a closet a few months later.
– Again, and this is so important it bears repeating, a movie called Transformers DOESN’T SPEND ENOUGH TIME SHOWING GIANT ROBOTS.
– Oh, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the inaccuracy of the title, but there’s a really old robot in it that you know is old because he has a beard and a cane.

I would have said that a robot with an OLD MAN BEARD is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, but it was only about halfway through the movie.

I’m not going to talk about every face-palming idiotic moment in the film. There are far too many and I don’t want to be here all day. The best exemplar was when Sam and Co. head for the National Air and Space Museum (located here) and, after a short scene in which the film exhumes, robs, and sexually violates the corpse of the most awesome Transformer ever, proceed out the back door of the National Air and Space Museum (located here) onto a windswept prairie in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains (located, say, here). I am not making this up. This transition actually takes place in the movie. What makes it great? Beforehand a character explicitly states that they are going to Washington DC. And then it cuts to the mountain west. It is the platonic ideal of both unintentional hilarity and slapdash, lackadaisical no-thought filmmaking.

Sitting there watching the awfulness unfold before me, muttering “oh my god this is fucking stupid” every 94 seconds, I wondered how things could have gotten so bad. ROTF was made, after all, by the same bunch of guys (less Rogers) who did such a good job on the first one. Say what you will about Michael Bay – and many things can be said – but between The Rock and the first Transformers the guy at the very least knows how to shoot a kick-ass action movie. Kurtzman and Orci are the team behind Fringe, the best show on television that you’re not watching, and their script for the brilliant Star Trek relaunch was tighter than a whore’s miniskirt. For God’s sake, they made the first movie, and we’ve established how awesome that was. So this was the question I kept asking myself: how did they go so wrong this time?

Then I remembered something:

The writer’s strike.

Revenge of the Fallen went into production just as the writer’s strike was starting. They started shooting with just a treatment – not even a full script. Suddenly some of the ridiculous choices started, if not to make sense, than to become at least explicable. So THAT’S why the people never acted like actual people: they didn’t have lines, they were just working off an outline by a guy whose last writing credit was a car commercial!  NOW we know why every single frame that isn’t an action scene is so bizarre and unrealistic! They were created by a replicant whose only programming is on how to direct action sequences! God, the answer was right in front of me all along!

Afterwards, walking out of the theatre, I realized that we have, in fact, been given a great gift: now we know what happens when you spend 200 million dollars to make a movie that literally does not have a script. We joke about, “oh that script was terrible” or “did a monkey write this movie,” but now there is a new nadir to base all future comparisons on. In a way, honestly, it almost excuses the movies worst excesses and most blatant idiocies: what do you expect from a movie with no script?

Son of a BITCH…

Ultimately, there are those who will try to write off the movie’s deficiencies as “it’s just a summer blockbuster.” The only reasonable response to that is NO. FUCK YOU. NOT BY A FUCKING LONG SHOT. Summer blockbusters can be legitimately great movies. The Dark Knight. Spider-Man 2. Jurassic Park. Terminator 2. Iron Man. Pirates of the Caribbean. Men in Black. RAIDERS. For God’s sake, Raiders. Summer blockbusters and outstanding “real” movies all, and if you don’t think so you are fucking stupid. And, even if we ignore the whole summer blockbuster idiocy, Revenge of the Fallen gets held up to a legitimate movie standard because THE SAME PEOPLE ALREADY MADE A GREAT TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. It is not unreasonable to believe – assume, even – that they would do so again. And the fact that they failed doesn’t just make the movie bad – lots and lots and oh god LOTS of other things do that – it makes the movie a disappointment, which is honestly worse than just being bad. If the first movie had been the junk we all expected it to be, then the depths of absurdity plumbed by ROTF would have been a lot easier to swallow; after all, we had a baseline. But to hit such a home run in your first at bat and then go down looking on a piker fastball in your second is just…

Yeah, I know, you’d think we’d be used to that feeling by now.

But the best, most ridiculous, most “my life is an exercise in exponentially increasing insanity” moment?

Walking out of the theatre with Nick and Reg, after a few seconds of stunned silence we turned to each other and started loudly bitching about how heartbroken we were that the movie was so bad, since, after the setup of the first movie, heartbreaking is what this one’s awfulness boils down to. We stood there outside the AMC Neshaminy 24 wailing and gnashing our teeth. Then, at one point, I turned to look at where I’m parked and this is what I saw right over my car:

IMG_0017

They say that whenever God closes a door he opens a window. For the rest of you norms that may be the case. My version of that is a little different: every time God sticks a fork in your eye, he also jabs a tablespoon in your gut.

A fucking rainbow. I can hear you laughing from all the way down here, you bastard.

JLK

*In the comments: your favorite ridiculous moment/non sequitur/idiotic scene from Revenge of the Fallen.

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Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

Posted by kozemp on June 25, 2009

I cannot reliably comment on the US win over Spain yesterday as I did not witness it. I was trapped in meetings all afternoon, and then…

Well, the story of “and then” will be up in the next 24 hours or so. Hint: it’s not a happy story.

JLK

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Ah, Phil…

Posted by kozemp on June 22, 2009

Waaaaaaah.

Waaaaaaah.

Your tears are like sweet nectar.

JLK

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“If it weren’t for my horse…”

Posted by kozemp on June 16, 2009

We have another entry in our occasional series of things I can never un-hear. All are spoken by actual humans. Well, perhaps not humans.

Today’s comes from my lunch just now at the farmer’s market across the street (which is a story unto itself). I was enjoying my milkshake while two thirtysomething women and (I presume) their five children were seated at a table next to me. Just as I was finishing up, one of them said:

“I’m finding it really difficult to be environmentally conscious and an on-the-go Mom at the same time.”

Okay, you see, the problem here is that you’ve already HAD children, but in the interest of minimizing the damage you’re causing to the human race I’m going to have to ask you to not have any more.

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Ain’t nothing special about a town where nobody wins.

Posted by kozemp on June 15, 2009

Okay, so it’s no secret that I get a little worked up sometimes. I wouldn’t say I have “anger issues” – to me that means someone who is uncontrollably angry all the time, and I’m certainly not that. I just get worked up sometimes.

A significant part of the problem, and this is also not exactly a secret, is that there are some things that will set me off far more easily than others. Most are some variation of what I (insanely) consider affronts to my sense of right and wrong, though it has been noted that said sense has emotional problems of its own. There might be some merit to that; known affronts to my sense of right and wrong include wearing inappropriate t-shirts, talking smack about Donovan McNabb, and not showing up at a movie theatre early enough. These things are clearly wrong. It’s not my fault if you can’t see that.

(For the record, if you buy a Che Guevara t-shirt at a store you’re a fucking idiot, if you want Kevin Kolb to start over D-Mac you don’t know anything about football, and if you think you’re going to show up to Lord of the Rings three minutes before showtime and get a decent seat you should sterilize yourself to protect the future from your genes.)

(Actually, now that I think about it, all three boil down to “you = stupid.”)

So, I get worked up. Left unchecked this will tend to lead to situations that are socially awkward at best (“look, it’s not my fault your fiancée is clearly a homosexual”) to downright unpleasant at worst (“someone call 911 before this idiot bleeds to death”). Over the years I’ve developed ways to combat this Hulk-like process, and most of them have been abysmal failures (c.f. drinking, smoking, married women). None of these things worked; indeed, for the most part they just caused problems of their own. About five years ago, though, as my married/engaged/otherwise unavailable women period reached both its end and its absolute nadir – the whole “your fiancée is a homosexual” deal is NOT one of those things I made up – I discovered something that not only cured my black moods but didn’t create other problems in its wake:

Cleaning.

I’m not sure how it started – given the time frame it likely had something to do with the woman marrying the gay guy – but I remember one day that spring just getting more and more pissed off. I was about to explode. Anyone who has trouble with their temper can tell you – when it gets going it can be almost impossible to stop. It’s like a wave that just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it breaks, usually on the person or thing closest by. And this day, oh man I was fucking pissed.  Jaw clenched. Fists balled. Ready to drop the hammer and start REALLY destroying shit.

But, for some bizarre reason, instead of smashing everything in sight, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming the living room floor. And we are talking SERIOUS vacuuming. I was tossing anything on the floor smaller than an end table onto the furniture. I was flinging recliners and other furniture across the room to vacuum under them. When I was done in there I moved on to the dining room, stacking our antique chairs on the antique tabletop and pushing the liquor cabinet into the corner so I could get every square inch of carpet.  In the sunporch I moved the end tables out onto the front steps and, Superman-like, lifted up the couch with one arm so I could push the vacuum under it with the other. A half hour after I began I had cleaned every square inch of carpet on the first floor of my house.

Standing next to the vacuum I surveyed the space around me and realized I felt better. A LOT better. Cleaning, who would have guessed?

So over the next couple weeks every time I got pissed at something I would get down and dirty and clean up part of the house. Clear out the fridge. Disinfect every surface in the bathroom. Polish the dining room furniture. I went completely berserk on cleaning.

After a couple months of this me and some of my friends went to a big summer event movie. I think it MIGHT have been Spider-Man 2 but I cannot reliably say. As is my custom for such things I arrived 45 minutes before showtime and advised the other people in my group that I would only hold their seats for fifteen minutes, and that after that they were on their own. As I sat down in the theatre my friends called to say they were running late. They wouldn’t get there until about 2 minutes before the movie started.

“What the fuck?” I said. “I warned you that you’d get stuck in traffic.”

“Oh, we don’t know about traffic yet,” they said. “We just left.”

Now, again, anyone who knows me even a little bit will tell you that I am maniacal about punctuality. Some people are pathologically late; I am pathologically early. Being late, barring absurd and unforeseen circumstances, is the single most rude thing one human being can do to another. As far as I’m concerned there is no greater insult than telling someone you’re going to be someplace and then not showing up when you say you will. It did then, and does still, drive me ABSOLUTELY FUCKING INSANE.  And now I’m being told that my friends are going to be late, not because there was a huge accident or their car wouldn’t start, but because they just didn’t leave in time.

General, take us to Defcon 1.

“Okay…” I said. “Okay, you know what, fuck you. You didn’t leave until after I told you the rest of us were getting here. I’m not holding your seats. You’re on your own.” When they started to protest I stabbed at the “end call” button on my phone.

Normally this is the point where I would start loudly berating the folks I was with about how much I hate people who are late and how people who don’t show up on time are the scumbags of the universe, I would disembowel them, etc etc. Instead, and my memory of this thought is remarkably clear, instead I sat there, stared at my cell phone and thought:

“I could be at home washing the windows right now.”

The worst part: I almost got up and left and went home to do just that. I actually had to force myself to stay and watch the movie, rationalizing that if I got up and left that would have constituted rudeness on my part to the people I was already with, so powerful was the urge to clean. In the years after that my cleaning urges subsided a little bit – partly because almost immediately after that summer I started to mellow out considerably and have since had far less free time to clean than I used to. Nowadays I actually get frustrated by the fact that I hardly have time to do serious cleaning any more.

This past Friday, though, I was at the Tropicana playing poker. This is bad enough in and of itself – I haven’t played at the Trop in almost two years, and there’s a good reason for that. The Trop is a terrible place to play poker. The room is small and cramped, the chairs are uncomfortable, the players are miserable, the staff is a remarkable combination of rude and incompetent, you have to walk through that godawful Quarter thing to get to the poker room, and the building has a nasty habit of falling down on people. I only went there because before I had left I learned that the bad beat jackpot at the Trop was up to $200,000. The bad beat jackpot is something of a lottery, obviously, but if I’m going to be down there playing poker ANYWAY I might as well go to the spot where I could at least theoretically win a shitload of money just for sitting there. For a shot at a hundred grand (in a bad beat hand, the loser wins half the total jackpot) I will man up and play in the hell that is the Tropicana.

I got seated at a brand new table about two minutes after I signed in – short waits and new tables are always excellent – but five seconds after I sat down I immediately regretted the entire chain of events that had led me to that spot.

For starters, my table was dead smack in the middle of the room. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board where each space was a poker table with 10 people and a dealer sitting at it. My table was Paul fucking Lynde in the center square. This meant having to wade through a massive sea of humanity just to go to the bathroom or make a phone call, and I mean a SEA. Because of the $200K jackpot the room was insanely crowded. I’m not sure if it actually was the most crowded poker room I’ve ever seen or if it just LOOKED like it because the Trop shoves their tables too close together and drops their ceiling to like 8 feet and generally gives their poker room the ambience and dimensions of a large self-storage unit.

Secondly, two of the players at my table were shrill women in their 70s who repeatedly complained that when they sat down it was a 2-4 table and the casino can’t just change the game and the stakes whenever they want. It was patiently explained to these women, first by me, then by other players, and finally by the floor that if the casino gave 30 minutes notice they in fact COULD change the game and the stakes at the table. After having the laws of the state of New Jersey explained to them, the hags continued to complain that they wanted to play 2-4. The floor repeatedly offered to seat them at a 2-4 table, but they refused. They wanted to play 2-4 at THIS table. This went on all night. Sigh.

Thirdly, the guy I was sitting next to was the worst kind of Ivy League-Manayunk douchebag. The guy wore cargo shorts and a pastel blue Polo shirt with a collar he appeared unable to operate. And I mean, literally, a Polo shirt. The jerkoff fucking horsie on the front and everything. This gentleman spent the entire night pestering the waitress to bring him beers – “imported, sweetheart, only the imported” to a waitress 30 years his senior – and yelling at the Phillies game on a television that was 40 feet away. “Come on J-Roll!” In my ear. In his pastel Polo shirt. ALL FUCKING NIGHT. People like that should be hunted for sport. I had to try and play poker 8 inches from him.

Fourthly, in an effort to increase my focus on other players at the table I had deliberately neglected to bring my headphones with me when I left the house. Thus my iPhone sat on the rail in front of me, taunting me with the playlist I had loaded to it just that afternoon. “You could be listening to me instead of this rabble,” it said, “but you didn’t WANT to listen to music while you played tonight. What a fool you are.”

So I sat there, miserable. Despite my misery I was playing decent poker but not very much of it; playable cards were few and far between. At some point just after 11, though, my luck nosedived and I was cursed with good cards that didn’t hold up, and against bad players to boot. At one point I had a huge two pair all-in against a terrible player with one pair and a good kicker, only to have my hand counterfeited by the board. I lose a big chunk of my stack.

At about 11:45 I get in a hand heads-up with the jerkoff in the Polo shirt. I have 89 of spades on the button. The flop comes 8d 9d 3c. I am in supremely awesome shape here. The douchebag checks to me and I make a reasonable bet, about 2/3 the pot. He immediately pushes all-in; I have him covered with about 35 bucks to spare. Now this guy has been playing pretty terrible poker all night, and when he makes this play my instinct almost instantly tells me: he has big diamonds. He’s trying to scare me away. If he had a set he would just call and try to get another bet out of me.

My brain screams: he’s got nothing.

I call his all-in and he turns over AK of diamonds. God damn I’m good. I’m a 5-1 favorite with two cards to come.

As the dealer counted out our stacks the douche yelled, “how could you make that call?”

I gave him my standard answer for questions like that: “Because I’m good and you’re not.”

The dealer bangs the deck and lays the turn and the river:

Ace.

Ace.

I throw my cards into the center of the table and yell, very loudly, “FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”

As the dealer awards Captain Douche the pot and the floor hustles over to ask me to please refrain from screaming profanities at a volume that will cause permanent hearing damage, there is only one thought in my head:

“I am gonna clean the living SHIT out of my room when I get home.”

JLK

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Quizo Review: Brittingham’s, Lafayette Hill

Posted by kozemp on June 10, 2009

I’ve been asked over the last two months why I stopped hosting Quizo at the Dark Horse. There are a bunch of reasons. The biggest, most important reason, is that I go to Drexel at night and scheduling my classes around Quizo was becoming a gigantic pain in the ass. Drexel requires a truly obscene number of courses for a  degree and their rostering already seems like it’s done with an orangutan and a fuzzy dartboard, and when you take an entire day of the week out of the equation getting one’s degree in less than 12 years becomes less and less likely.

The other, lesser reason… well, take what happened to me last Friday.

Anne (of former Dark Horse Quizo powerhouse Das Boot) is running the Philadelphia Triathlon (and biking and swimming it, I suppose) to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so she had a karaoke thing at Fuji Mountain to assist in the raising of money. I went down there and… well, honestly, Japanese karaoke isn’t really my thing, but I’m a sucker for charity and it’s nice to hang out with friends.

After an hour or so some more people showed up and when I was introduced to one of them he looked at me and shouted, “hey! You’re the Quizo guy!”

And there’s the other reason I quit.

I used to play Quizo all the time, but since I started hosting at the Dark Horse my participation as a player has been limited to very occasional trips to the Moron Quizo (called such because it is stupidly, ridiculously easy) and the Milkshake Quizo (called such because the bar serves milkshakes). In terms of the actual Quizo game content these places are both laughable (though Nick’s wasn’t always, a story to be told later). My friends and I go to these games for the food and to hang out, not for any kind of actual competition.

My first post-Dark Horse Quizo experience was about a month and a half ago at the Ugly Moose in Roxborough. It was, to put it kindly, the worst Quizo I’ve ever been to in my life. Even the Moron Quizo isn’t BAD, it’s just easy. This place, though, fucking TERRIBLE. Stupid, vague questions: my favorite was “what is the second-most purchased food at carnivals?” Seriously? How the fuck do you research that? Is there good national data on carnival concessions? I also liked “what recent movie became the highest-grossing foreign-language film in history?” and being told that the answer is Crouching Tiger, I guess because 9 years ago is “recent” and everyone in this country speaks fucking Aramaic. The final highlight was the “name that tune” round where, because the idiot asking the questions was nowhere near anyone playing, everyone in the bar was using Shazam. Ridiculous. Awful. Truly the Worst. Quizo. EVER.

After that horrifying experience there was a gap in my Quizo-playing experience (precipitated by Math 122) until last night, when we played at Brittingham’s. It’s the faux-Irish joint on Germantown Pike about 50 feet from the General.

Beware: Anti-TARDIS. (Not as big on the inside as the outside.)

Beware: Anti-TARDIS. (Not as big on the inside as the outside.)

The verdict: surprisingly excellent. 

I tend to have a rough go of it at places like this, primarily because every time I go to a bar west of Rising Sun Avenue I spend the whole evening paralyzed by an irrational fear that I will see someone I went to high school with. The fact that I can now say, “oh, you’re a securities lawyer, that’s terribly interesting, me, well, I put shit into outer space for a living” does not matter. The fact that in the 14 years since I graduated from high school (last night was to the day, in fact) this has never happened does not matter.  Every time I go to one of these places I am gripped by this unreasonable terror. However, last night was made slightly bearable because I was surrounded by five other people – literally surrounded, I sat back in the corner farthest from the rest of the world and directed the other people at my table to shield me from possible onlookers – and because I had both Quizo and a Phillies game to distract myself from the possibility of impending social apocalypse. 

The Phillies game, obviously, was awful, made more so by having Mets fans on my team, but the overall Quizo experience was excellent. The questions were well-varied in terms of subject and difficulty – some were actually quite hard, though I have no quibble about their level of ridiculousness. They were just hard. While I have yet to play in anyone’s Quizo, not even the vaunted Johnny Goodtimes, who seems to think of it as collaborative performance art in quite the same way I did, I had two exchanges with the guy last night that convinced me his game is one I’ll definitely want to play in when I am able (approximately every 11 weeks or so).

The first came in the speed round, which was “Famous Quotations.” I immediately kicked myself for never thinking of that during my gig at the Dark Horse; as a speed round choice it’s quite brilliant.  One of the quotes was the infamous “Nuts!” from the Battle of the Bulge. I said the right answer – General Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne – but then said, “he can’t want that. It’s way too obscure. He must want Patton.” This, as we all know, is Classic Quizo Mistake #2: overthinking. After we heard the answers (and we were marked wrong) I went up and talked to the guy.

“General McAuliffe, man, that’s a tough pull,” I said.

“Yeah, most people put Patton,” he said.

“I actually knew it because I’ve seen Band of Brothers like 12 times,” I said. “But I figured no one else had so I changed it to Patton.”

The guy actually smiled. “I watched Band of Brothers again this weekend,” he said. “For about, yeah, the twelfth time sounds right.”

I thought, this is my kind of Quizo guy.

The final round was “Name That Tune,” but in a move that surprised the hell out of me NO ONE WAS CHEATING. I was tempted to use Shazam myself, figuring, as at the Ugly Moose, everyone else at the bar would be doing so as well. But they weren’t. I looked around and didn’t see a single person furtively stealing glances at an iPhone under the table. No one who had gotten 5s and 6s in the previous rounds suddenly got a 10. There was a Name That Tune round, which I have in the past said is essentially unworkable in the age of Shazam, and EVERYONE IN THE BAR PLAYED IT STRAIGHT. And again the questions were excellent, a really well-rounded mix of years and genres. After the round we were talking to him and the variety of songs was mentioned.

He said, “well, I figure, ten questions, five decades of popular music, the 60s through now, so I put in two songs from each decade, and then spread them out across the round.”

That is almost EXACTLY the way I used to think about how to arrange a speed round, balancing what questions go in and which questions go where. That sort of strategic thinking is, to my mind, the mark of an excellent Quizo guy. And even though he doesn’t quite have the flair or panache of a Goodtimes or, dare I say, myself, he injects enough personal humor into the game that it isn’t just a rote recital of questions and answers. I especially liked the constant good-natured needling of Jon and his kids for being Mets fans, and at us for playing with them. There’s something to be said for being good-natured in that position; admittedly it is not something I did very well.

Bottom line: this guy is good. And here’s an extra bonus: the food at this place is pretty fucking great. Quizo night is “burger night,” and while at the Ugly Moose and its Worst Quizo in the Hemisphere all that means is that you can get one absurdly-expensive and badly-cooked burger at a slight discount, at Brittingham’s it’s a full-on cheeseburger and fries for 5 bucks. Let me tell you, it might have been the best five-dollar burger I’ve ever had.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the only downside to this Quizo is the stupid name of the bar. Brittinghams? Seriously? I said to Nick last night, isn’t calling your pub Brittingham’s the real-world equivalent of calling the department store on the Simpsons “Costington’s?” Just… ugh.

Anyway, Brittingham’s, Tuesdays at 8:30, excellent food, excellent Quizo. I’ll be there next week and then, er, sometime in mid-September. Highly recommended.

JLK

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Another first for the First Among the Fallen

Posted by kozemp on June 8, 2009

I was watching The Memorial yesterday, and my dad walked in just after Tiger had birdied the 7th hole to go four under on the day.

“What’s happening?” he asked. 

I said,  “it’s over.”

Tiger was setting the course on fire and the entire field was backing up to him – the classic elements of a Tiger Sunday victory (though he’s never done it in a major Tiger has come from behind to win on tour 20 times).

On his approach shot on 17, the instant Tiger hit it my father shouted “WHOA that ball is up high!” I might have said “yow.” It dropped like a rock 10 feet from the hole and sat there. I said, faux-sarcastic, “yeah, he’s pretty good.”

When Tiger pulled out his 7-iron on 18 and stuck it to eleven inches from a buck-eighty my father just sat in stunned silence and I started muttering “no hope… no hope…” over and over again. I imagine the other 90 players who have so far qualified for this year’s US Open were doing much the same thing at that point.

Tiger Woods has returned, and the end is nigh.

In the past I have written extensively on my beliefs about Tiger’s origins and yesterday was another convincing bit of evidence to support my theory that Tiger Woods is the Devil. Even the poor bastard Tiger was playing with called it “the best golf I’ve ever seen.” Tiger hit 14 of 14 fairways yesterday. He only missed 5 fairways over the entire tournament. He hasn’t driven with that kind of accuracy in, well, technically 11 years, but in reality pretty much ever. Right now, if you’re playing at Bethpage in two weeks you’ve only got one thought in your head:

I. Am. FUCKED.

Before the Memorial you may have been thinking, “hey, I’ve got as good a shot at winning this as anyone. US Open rough, well, that will give everyone a chance.” Yeah, sorry about that, chief: if Tiger Woods is hitting every fairway your chance is gone baby gone. Frankly I don’t know why you’re going to bother even showing up. Do you know what Jones Beach traffic is like on a Saturday morning?

Until Sunday’s excerpt from the Book of Revelation my primary reaction to the Memorial was stunned incredulity. The course is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. I mean the tee shots and the fairways are very nice, but the approach shots and the greens are FUCKING INSANE. Every single one, if you don’t hit it to a very, very small part of the green, forget about it: you’re in two-putt city if you’re lucky. At one point yesterday Jonathan Byrd three-putted from inside 5 feet. And if you don’t hit the green, well, you might as well pick up your ball and go home. The greens are protected by bunkers and water and steep embankments and Aliens and shin-high rough, all screaming “HIT IT HERE AND GET FUCKED.” Guys still hit it there anyway. And oh BOY did they get fucked. At one point my father said “I’ve never seen professionals make so many double bogeys.” Davis Love (who my dad calls “Sticky” for reasons I will not describe) TRIPLE bogeyed 18, a fairly nondescript par 4. It was like the first spring Sunday morning at the Byrne – hack-o-rama.

Whether this was because the greens at Muirfield are modeled after a Cardassian internment camp or because once everyone saw Tiger shoot up the leaderboard they decided to fall on their sword and take the early flight home is a debatable point. Also debatable is whether the US Open just became more interesting or less. If you are the sort who despairs at Tiger’s continuing domination of all he surveys I suppose it just became a little less interesting. If, like, me, you enjoy watching Tiger methodically annihilate anything and everything in his path it just got considerably MORE interesting.

Actually, now that I think about it… 

I see the resemblance.

I see the resemblance.

Related? Could be, could be…

JLK

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You were deceived.

Posted by kozemp on June 4, 2009

This week saw the release of the first trailer for The Old Republic. Though Bioware’s propensity for taking a reeeeeeaalllllllyyyyyy loooooooooonnnnnnnng tiiiiiiiiimmmmmme on development means it is unlikely the game will see release in our lifetime, and even if it does you will need a computer that can pass a Turing test to run the game, it’s fun to pretend that someday you might actually get to play this:

As I said to some folks when I first passed on the link: even if you aren’t the video gaming sort, if that doesn’t make you want to pick up a lightsaber and kick some ass then you are seriously soul-deficient.

With the double-whammy of The Force Unleashed and the announcement of The Old Republic, video games have basically become the vanguard of Star Wars storytelling. As someone who rolls with most of the other available Star Wars outlets I can tell you this is true if not necessarily fair. The comics and the novels are good – occasionally very, very good – but despite how well-crafted a character is (Kal Skirata, Zayne Carrick) or how beautifully-drawn a comic can be (Jan Duuresma FTW) when it comes to Star Wars nothing can ever truly match the visceral thrill of watching a huge space battle or a fantastic lightsaber fight. Yes, Legacy and Republic Commando are fantastic. They are OUTSTANDING books in their own right. But they’re not the same as watching Star Wars.

(Yes, I am aware that The Clone Wars is out there, but… good lord, I can’t figure out what the fuck that show is.)

So when it comes to actually watching new Star Wars, until the vaporware that is the HBO series materializes all we’re left with is video games. (You want to go back and watch Episodes I-III, hey, be my guest. I’ll be over here preferring to stick hot knives into my genitals.) This is a classic good-news-bad-news proposition.

Killing stormtroopers is very satisfying.

Killing stormtroopers is very satisfying.

It gives us things like The Force Unleashed, which is a truly amazing Star Wars movie. I’m serious. If you love Star Wars you owe it to yourself to play through, or watch someone else play through, The Force Unleashed. It has a fantastic script, great performances, and killer action sequences. It’s basically the best Star Wars movie since 1983. Unfortunately (this is the “bad news” part of the deal), this great Star Wars movie is trapped inside a terrible, TERRIBLE video game. I’m not going to go into a long thing on why it’s a bad game – just trust me, it is – but you might want to go with the “watching someone else play” option, because playing it yourself is incredibly frustrating.

It gives us things like The Old Republic, where every time even a bare fraction of information comes out about that game it is pored over, analyzed, dissected, deconstructed, reconstructed, and then deemed to be absolutely perfect. Now comes the trailer and it isn’t a bare fraction of information, it’s a massive tome, it’s a fucking Neal Stephenson novel, and once again every letter is completely perfect. This is a game made by people who GET IT. We’ve known that since they made Knights of the Old Republic, which is still probably the single best Star Wars game ever made. They get Star Wars. Most importantly, they get how we REACT to Star Wars. Barring a meteor striking Bioware’s offices and completely wiping out the development staff The Old Republic is almost certainly going to be the definitive Star Wars game experience.  Bioware is one of only two software houses (Blizzard the other) whose success rate is essentially 100%. The Old Republic will blow your mind. It’s a guarantee. The downside? You’re going to have to wait years to play the game, and don’t misunderstand: it’s going to be several years. Perfection doesn’t come quickly. And when it comes out you’re going to have to upgrade your computer to an obscenely expensive, absolute top-of-the-line, Neuromancer level rig to even have a shot at running the game. Perfection doesn’t come cheap either.

These are prices I’m willing to pay, however.

Why Star Wars is important – both to me and in general – and why I and others are so attached to it is another piece entirely, but for now let’s just concede those points. I’m willing to pay these prices for the privilege of watching good Star Wars, and pay other prices for reading it, because these ancillary stories are the only option for Star Wars that doesn’t make me want to hurt things. George Lucas gets a lifetime pass for CREATING Star Wars, though it’s only a lifetime pass from, like, me kicking him in the junk if I ever saw him on the street. Not the kind of lifetime pass where I can look at something like Episode II and say, “well, that was in no way horrible.” The fact that other people have taken Lucas’ creation and made things that are profound and moving from it – Kirshner and Kasdan, Karen Traviss, John Ostrander – proves that a) there is something intrinsic to Star Wars, something as simple and fundamental as a FEELING, that resonates, and b) talent actually counts for something.

Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here. I am perfectly willing to ignore the outside, business impact of Star Wars and say that the man is a brilliant technician who revolutionized moviemaking. But Lucas is a terrible writer. TERRIBLE. Oh my great gods he’s terrible. And I don’t mean in, like, that John Grisham or Tom Clancy way where he has a great story but can’t put sentences together (though I hear Grisham actually got good). I mean in a fundamental, bare bones, concrete foundation sort of way. The man cannot write. Period. He has an eight-year-old’s grasp of storytelling: it starts with “once upon a time” and ends with “they all lived happily ever after” (or, in the prequel trilogy’s case, “unhappily”) and everything in between is just a bunch of shit that happens for no discernible reason. Characters exist solely to advance the plot. In the George Lucas vision of Star Wars EVERYTHING exists solely to advance the plot, and in case you haven’t noticed, Stephen King was right: plot is stupid. Plot is boring. The best stories, the lasting stories, are about character and emotion and if there are two things on this Earth that George Lucas has absolutely zero knowledge of, the first is character and the second is emotion.

Look at it this way: just before Episode III came out me and Stephen were talking beforehand about what Lucas could do at that point to save the movie franchise from being utter dreck. Even in those first two awful movies, and even with Hayden Christiansen’s cringe-worthy performance, there was a character there. Anakin’s story was a quest for power and respect. It wasn’t about his shrew of a girlfriend or his long-lost mommy or his traumatic fucking childhood or any of that stupid shit. Anakin is the classic wimpy little kid who hits a growth spurt in fifth grade and is suddenly bigger than everyone else: he’s a bully. He was a kid who got a taste of power, of REAL power, and he wanted more of it. He wanted more and more of it until he eventually wanted all of it. Now THAT is a character, despite Lucas’ best efforts to the contrary. So eventually Stephen and I came to a conclusion: how do you make Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side interesting? You make it about power. You make it about something he WANTS.

This is basic acting theory: in this scene, what does my character want? For a guy who spent his entire adult life around actors it’s amazing Lucas never heard this philosophy, because what we got in Anakin’s transformation was the most laughable element of the entire trilogy. Why does Anakin turn to the Dark Side? Because some dude in a bathrobe tells him to. THAT’S IT. THAT IS FUCKING WELL IT. It’s one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever seen in a movie. I remember joking about it with my parents after the movie came out:

Palpatine: “Come to the Dark Side, Anakin. We have cookies.”

Anakin: “Okay!”

Fucking. STUPID.

It wasn’t about power. It wasn’t about his desires. It was about turning him into Vader because he had to be Vader by the end and we’re running out of movie. On Mustafar, after a whole fight where he spewed wretched, mind-curdling dialogue about how Anakin has truly crossed the line and has to be stopped permanently, when Anakin has no arms and no legs and is ON FUCKING FIRE, why doesn’t Obi-Wan finish him off, which was the reason the whole fight happened in the first place? Because he has to be Vader by the end and now we’re REALLY running out of movie.

Purple lightsabers hurt more than other colors.

Purple lightsabers hurt more than other colors.

Contrast that with the recent Legacy storyline in the novels where Jacen’s fall to the Dark Side is actually motivated by something: he’s trying to protect his daughter. All he wants is to keep her safe. He just makes the slight overcalculation that the way to do that is to, er, force everyone to play nice together and kill anyone who disagrees. But, killer twist: in the end, even though he gets his ass shanked by his own sister, that’s exactly what he gets. Everyone is united (against him). His daughter is safe (with his parents, who he repeatedly tried to kill). His twin sister gets to fulfill her destiny (by killing him). The dude becomes pure evil, for all the right reason, he’s murdered by his own family, AND HE STILL FUCKING WINS ANYWAY.

That’s the difference between being an actual writer and being a guy with a pencil and paper. The difference between plot and emotion. It’s why The Old Republic is going to be awesome and we still can’t bear to watch the goddamned prequels. It’s the difference between George Lucas and everyone else who makes Star Wars:

Knowing that there has to be more than “we have cookies.”

JLK

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