Opinions and Facts

“Weird Al” Yankovic has a new album out

…and it frickin’ brilliant as he always is. Brilliant on many levels. First off, his parodies, which is what he’s best known for, are great as usual. The fact that he and his band can so perfectly copy the sound and production of the song is a testament to their talent. Al’s originals are, in my opinion, where he’s vastly underrated. I usually find his original songs even far better than his parodies. not only are they hilarious, but many of them are just plain great songs musically. Some of the arrangements and parts are just genius and on par with the best of any non-comedy rock or pop song. There is, of course, a polka parody medley, and also several extras you can play on your computer too. I highly recommend this album. It’s called “Poodle Hat”.
There is, of course, a polka parody medley, and also several extras you can play on your computer too.

Steve Martin is brilliant.

For so many reasons, but in particular right now for his page in People’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue –

“It’s very hard being one of the most beautiful people. Having this kind of beauty is actually a burden. Sometimes I go to a party and not one of the other 49 most beautiful people is there. this makes me feel very solitary and alone, because it means I am the most beautiful person in the room.
If I’m going to a party where I know there will be ‘less beautiful people’, I try to ‘dress down’ in order to hide my beauty. But this seems to actually have the counter-effect of actually making me more beautiful. I guess me and dungarees are a pretty potent combination.
I try not to lord my beauty over others. This is very hard. I try not to mention that I am one of the most beautiful people, but somehow it always comes out. I will usually only bring it up when I’m asked to do a task, like open a garage door. People seem to enjoy my beauty and are genuinely happy for me, because after I mention it, they always say ‘How nice for you.'”

“Adaptation” by Charlie Kaufman

Overall this movie didn’t do a whole lot for me, but yet I feel a strange dichotomy towards it because it definitely scores points for originality, brilliance and bravery. Bravery because I think a great majority of people who see it probably won’t “get it” and will think it’s just a waffling, struggling, boring movie that cops out and goes Hollywood in the end. Those people are missing the entire brilliance, and point of this movie, and yet even though I tout it’s great concept and originality, it still was just kind of ok to me. Not something I would want to see again. I’m not sure how to reconcile these two feelings, but that’s just how it is. For a full and detailed analysis of this movie (which naturally is nothing but big nasty spoilers, so don’t go here until you’ve seen it if you don’t care about being spoiled) check out this site.

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive

This movie belongs to a genre my wife and I have made up, called “mind fuck movies”. It really should be a genre. This movie is right up there with the best of them. It will most likely leave you with your jaw agape, scratching your head after the first viewing. The more you think about it, the closer your head will come to exploding. However, upon my second viewing I believe it all came clear to me. Suffice it to say, if you like mysterious movies that totally mess with your head, check it out. Now onto the spoilers and my analysis…
So upon my second viewing I noticed one shot that I hadn’t noticed before which locked a lot of things in place for me. The opening shot in fact. I guess without knowing the story, this little shot just flew by me unnoticed the first time, or I just attributed it to Lynch’s weird, artistic randomness. The opening shot is a blurry shot, from a first person perspective, of someone lying down on a pillow. Fast forward 2 hours and Diane Selwyn wakes up on this same pillow. The first 2 hours of the movie is Diane Selwyn’s final dream. The last part of the movie is a combination of flashbacks to what really happened, mixed with “current” shots of Diane dealing with her guilt and coming unglued as her world falls apart. Diane (who is Betty in the dream) won a jitterbug contest and came to L.A. to try and be an actress. Unfortunately she found this much harder than she expected. She got involved with Camilla Rhodes (Rita in the dream), who later left her and got together with a director (Adam). This crushed Diane, and was the beginning of the end for her. Camilla invites Diane to a party, where, it turns out, she and Adam announce that they’re getting married. This is the final breaking point for Diane. Diane hired a thug to kill Camilla. The thug told her that when the job was done, he would leave the blue key in a pre determined location. What the key went to, I’m not sure. We see the key on Diane’s table meaning that Camilla has been killed. We also see one of Diane’s friends come by for her stuff (I believe this to be Diane’s ex from the tense vibe between them, and the general feel of the situation). She also mentions that 2 detectives were looking for Diane. Most likely because they suspect some involvement in Camilla’s murder, I think. Diane, now dealing with the guilt added to her unraveling mental state, goes over the edge and kills herself.
The dream portion of the movie is incredible to me in that it actually does an incredible job of exemplifying something that’s fairly intangible; the strange ways in which our minds concoct dreams. Many of the characters and elements are merely things that were on her mind, but twisted and put into some other role in her dream. I’m sure most of us have experienced this. Your mind places some random person you saw that day into a seemingly random role, or takes some concept that you were thinking about earlier, and applies that theme somewhere else. Everyone she saw at the dinner party takes on some role in her dream, because her mind needs to put faces on these players, and these faces were the ones most recently on her mind. A random cowboy becomes head of some conspiracy. “Rita” has people attempting to kill her, drawn from the fact that Diane has put a hit on Camilla. “Rita” has a purse full of money, just like Diane had in the real world to pay of the thug. All the various facts stored in Diane’s mind are twisted and re-applied in this dreamland. Diane overheard Adam saying that in his recent divorce, he got the pool and his wife got the pool man, and thus this is manifested in the dream.
The dream is also sort of a “perfect world” in Diane’s mind too. She has an awesome audition that impresses casting directors. She is together with “Rita” who has no memory and therefore it’s like a fresh new adventure where they are both starting anew, and “Rita” can be whoever she wants her to be. Adam has an absolute crap day, which you have to wonder if that’s Diane’s mind wreaking some vengeance. In the real world we hear that Diane lost a leading role to Camilla, but in the dream the only reason “Bettie” loses the role is due to a vast conspiracy. Then there’s the blue key. The blue key, in the real world, symbolizes Camilla’s death to Diane. She sees that key, and knows Camilla is dead. In the dream, once Rita is about to insert the blue key into the box to find out what’s inside, Bettie is suddenly gone. Perhaps Diane was starting to come out of the dream at this stage or couldn’t bear to be there when Rita found out what the blue key unlocked; her own death. Rita turns the key, the camera zooms into the box as if sucked in, then the box drops to the ground. Just as the key was symbolic of Camilla’s death in the real world, it also brought an end to Rita.
Diane wakes up. That was the last dream she’d ever have.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

So where to start. I’ll start with the conclusion; Loved it. That is not to say I have no nits to pick. I’ll get to those, but I just wanted to get it out of the way up front that I loved this movie, and it is a classic that stands far above the vast majority of movies. Now to the details.
I thought “Fellowship of the Ring” was as good of a movie version of the as was possible. Every change that was made, every part that was left out, I could totally understand why it was done. I’m pretty sure I even agreed with all the changes. I can’t say the same about “The Two Towers”. It was a bit slow to get going, and the flow and pacing was not as good as it could have been. There were definitely far more liberties taken this time around than on “Fellowship”. Again, I’m not against liberties in principle, and sometimes they’re even necessary to make a story work in the film medium, but some of the changes from the book just seemed pointless and unnecessary. Never the less, I found it enthralling, and destined to be a classic. I’m sure I will go to at least a few more showings, and will buy the DVD on the day of it’s release. I just hope Peter Jackson and company pull in the reigns a bit for the next movie and don’t get quite so loose with it. I never questioned anything about the first movie, but this one did leave a few criticisms with me. Still highly recommended though. I wait eagerly for “Return of the King”.
The Specifics
Let ye be warned, thar be spoilers ahead! Big nasty spoilers with pointy teeth!
I could spend endless amounts of time and space going over each bit but here are the ones that jump to mind:
Gandalf: The whole story of exactly what happened to him was highly confusing and surreal. He’s falling into a crevice, wait he’s on a mountain top battling the Balrog…
Admittedly, it was equally confusing and surreal in the book.
Wormtongue: I actually really liked Wormtongue although he was very obviously a bad guy. As soon as you see him you think “well there’s an evil dude”. I thought it probably shouldn’t have been so obvious.
Theoden: The whole bit with Saruman actually “posessing” him was a bit odd. not necessarily bad, but yet it didn’t quite sit right with me. Especially since Wormtongue “influencing” him doesn’t work with that scenario. Why would Wormtongue be whispering persuasive words if Saruman was in control of Theoden anyway.
Faramir: He was not much more than a Boromir copy, while in the book it was his contrast from Boromir that gave him such character. The entire journey to Osgiliath with the hobbits was not only completely fabricated but pointless and unnecessary. This was one of the changes that left my wife and I truly scratching our head.
The Ents: After their long decision, the Ents are supposed to decide to go and take Isengard, but instead they decide not to go, only to change their mind later when Pippin tricks them into seeing all the trees that had been killed. Again, a bit pointless to me. In the book, the Ents are already quite outraged at Saruman, and it is their own decision to go to Isengard and do something about him. I personally think this would have been a much better way to go.
Aragorn: The fabricated Warg attack scene was fine, but having Aragorn fall off the cliff to his apparent doom felt a bit contrived and unnecessary.
Arwen: I like Arwen’s increased role in the story, as opposed to barely being mentioned in the book, but was a bit confused when Elrond was lecturing her about how if she stayed, she would have to bear Aragorn’s death, and watch as those around her all died. This confused me because the whole point is that Arwen was becoming mortal herself if she stayed with Aragorn so she too would eventually die. The only sense I could make out of it was that maybe Elrond was saying that even as a mortal elf, her life span would still be much longer than humans, and therefore she would have to bear Aragorn’s death, plus many more before she herself died.
Helm’s Deep: Brilliant scene, but why the gratuitous company of elves? There was never a company of elves who showed up at Helm’s Deep. Not to mention they were led by Haldir, a lothlorien elf, but yet they said they came from Elrond (true that is possible that they were collaborating, but still an odd choice). I agreed with the change of Gandalf showing up with Eomer instead of the original character from the book. This played up the drama of Eomer’s banishment and provided a good conclusion to that angle, while also eliminating the need to introduce a new character just for that one scene who had no other purpose.
The Ending: While I can’t say I really have much of a problem with where they ended, I do think it would have been better to end where the book does. A big, cliffhanger ending where it looks as though all is lost. It just lends itself perfectly. This is why “The Empire Strikes Back” is such a strong movie.
Also check out Jess’s review.

Screw IE, Mozilla, and all the others! It’s Crazy Browser!

So like 90% of the web surfers out there, I have been a long time Internet Explorer user. For quite some time I have heard about what a great browser Mozilla is, too. Well recently I heard about how Mozilla (a free open source browser) had the “smart pop-up killer” ability. Basically this prevents any unwanted windows from popping up, but still lets windows pop up if you request them (like if you click a link that opens a new window). So I decided to give Mozilla a try.
Mozilla is built on Netscape’s engine, so it pretty much looks like netscape. The smart pop-up killer worked great, and was very cool. However as I sued it I noticed more and more quirks. The first thing that bugged me is the complete inability to customize the toolbar at all. When I run IE, I completely reconfigured the tool bar to be very efficient, and compact. With Mozilla, you get the layout they give you, and that’s it. Now I know they are working on this for future releases. I also like to install the Google toolbar so I can search directly from my browser’s toolbar. Luckily there was an equivalent available for Mozilla. However, Mozilla did crash on me quite a few times, and any time it needed to open a “browse” window, such as when I wanted to save a file, the browse window took ages, and ages to open. Now, note this only happened on Windows 2000, but still annoying. The final straw came when I found I couldn’t use my online banking at all. The page was just totally screwed up in Mozilla. Now this most likely isn’t Mozilla’s fault, but the web designer’s fault. However, regardless of blame, I couldn’t use my online banking. One BIG advantage of Mozilla (and several other browsers) is “Tabbed Browsing”. This allows you to have only one browser window running in your taskbar, but within that window you can have as many windows as you want, which each show up as a “tab” in the window. Just click on each tab to go to that browser window. This is especially nice for people like me who like every window that opens to be maximized instead of opening up in a smaller window. Why IE has not implemented Tabbed Browsing, and Smart Pop-up Killing (which is very simple to do) baffles me.
So having had one too many quirks in Mozilla, I went back to IE. I then decided to see if there were any plugins or anything that would allow Tabbed Browsing, because it absolutely rocks. This is when I stumbled upon pure gold. Crazy Browser. This has everything I liked about IE and Mozilla, plus more. Now it does require you to have IE installed. I’m not exactly sure on the whole technicalities of how it works, but basically, it’s a stand alone program (not a plugin for IE), but yet uses certain components from IE to render web pages. It is so utterly customizable, your head will spin. I easily moved my toolbars around to my liking, and customized what buttons and menus I wanted. I told it what I did and did not want to open in a new “tab”. For example, by default, anything you click on in your favorites menu, anything you type in the address bar, and several other things all open in a new tab (basically a new window within the browser window). Well I unchecked a few boxes, and then it behaved just like I wanted and only opened a new tab for things that would normally open a new window when clicked on. There’s also an option you need to click if you want to be able to run more than one instance of Crazy Browser. For example, let’s say you’re researching llamas, and looking for web pages about giraffes. You could have one Crazy Browser open with 5 pages about llamas open (each having their own tab within the browser) and then open another browser and have 5 pages about giraffes open there. Of course if you wanted to you could also have all 10 pages open in one browser with 10 tabs. The important thing being that if you do want to run more than one instance of Crazy Browser you must check a box within the options.
You can also save “groups” of tabs. Taking the example above, I could save my 5 different llama pages as a “group”. then in the future I could click on that one entry titled “llamas” and it would open all 5 pages, each on their own tab. Let’s say you don’t always want to open all 5, but sometimes you do. Then you could just save each page individually in your favorites, and put them all in their own folder titled “llamas”. Now when you open your favorites, you see your “llamas” folder, and you can either click on any individual web page OR click the handy link at the to of the folder labeled “open all links” and open every link in that folder (in this case, our 5 llama pages) just like a group.
Now since Crazy Browser is it’s own program and not a plugin for IE, you can’t use the Google toolbar. At first I thought I would miss it. I don’t. It’s own built in search feature is very nice. You open a little sidebar, type in your search and click on which of the many search engines you want to search. The results then appear in their own tab in the browser. I did miss being able to just click on my search term in the Google toolbar and have it highlighted on the page, but this is a minor quibble which can also be accomplished, albeit not quite as elegantly, by hitting ctrl+f to bring up the “find” box.
Pop-ups are virtually extinct. I have had a few which fooled the browser and popped up in a new tab, and a few of those annoying ones that appear on the same page you’re browsing, but all in all, my browsing is almost pop-up free now. The smart pop-up killer works incredibly well.
There’s also cool drop down menu beside the address bar that lets you translate websites from one language to another using Altavista’s Babelfish function.
So far the only “flaw” I have found (and it’s only a flaw if it bothers you personally), is that you can’t re-order your favorites. They appear in alphabetical order. If you want to do anything with them, such as rename them, change their properties, or delete them, you have to go into the “organize favorites” menu. Also, if you have more favorites than will fit on a page, you have to click on the arrow at the bottom of the list to scroll it. It won’t scroll if you just hover over it like IE will.
Aside from the weakness in the favorites menu I have not found a single flaw. I’ve been to web pages using Flash, Shockwave, etc., and it appears that if the plugin is installed in IE, then Crazy Browser will work with it.
In my opinion, Crazy Browser is everything that IE and Mozilla should be. It is hands down the absolute most incredible web browser I have ever seen. I think that some of the default settings (such as almost everything opening up in it’s own new tab) could initially annoy you, but if you take the time to customize the settings to your personal preferences, I think it quickly becomes the perfect browser. It is completely free, and therefore does not have any kind of official technical support at all, so if you have a problem, you’re pretty much on your own, however I don’t see this is as much of an issue really. It’s preformed flawlessly for me, and I’ve had no problems figuring out all the options for myself without even looking at the help file included with the program. Give it a try, tweak it, and give it some time. Once you’ve gotten used to the change, you’ll never want to go back to any other browser until they get on the ball and put out something of this caliber. I haven’t been this impressed with something in a long time.

The Bursting of Childhood Bubbles

There are many movies, TV shows, etc., that have major childhood associations for me. For example, I remember spending every school vacation in Austin with my cousin (who is really more like a brother to me), and having certain movies we always wanted to watch again every visit. “Tron”, for example. We both had the action figures, and the cool light cycles with the plastic cord you would pull to send them racing across the room, preferably over some kind of ramp made out of books or something. Disney’s “The Black Hole” was another. I was also a huge fan of Indiana Jones (and still am). I loved the trilogy of Indiana Jones films! Like the Star Wars trilogy I would watch them periodically throughout the years. Well upon one recent viewing a few years back, I came to a startling conclusion: Temple of Doom sucks. I didn’t want to admit it, but there it was staring at me in all it’s child sidekick, monkey brain eating ugliness. I realized that I really wouldn’t care to watch that movie ever again. At that moment a little piece of my childhood died. While I do still like “Tron” and “The Black Hole”, I have also had to admit that they have lost a bit of the magic that they used to hold for me. Sometimes I wonder if certain things would appeal to me at all without the fond past associations and memories.
“V”, and “V: The Final Battle” also fall into this category. For anyone who is not familiar with them, they were television mini-series that came out in the 80’s about aliens coming to earth disguised as human looking peaceful types, but turn out to be reptilian human-eating types. I was totally enthralled by these series when they came out. I even read the books, which I quite liked. However, now that they’re both out on DVD I have found my childlike salivating enthusiasm to immediately buy them preempted by a hint of hesitation and uncertainty.
I used to proclaim that “Young Frankenstein” was one of the all time comedy classics, yet now I find it very hit and miss. There’s some classic moments without a doubt, but there’s also many moments when I find myself getting bored. Again, a moment of sadness at this realization.
Well at least the original Star Wars trilogy rocks as much as it ever did. “Time Bandits” still kicks ass too.

Lord of the Rings (spoiler free thoughts)

Have you read it? If not, then go! Now! I’ll wait. Ok, it’s a pretty long book, so no I won’t. I first read the entire saga just before the “Fellowship of the Ring” movie came out. Now for those of who don’t know, it was really considered one contiguous work by Tolkien, however the publishers insisted on breaking it up into more digestible chunks (metaphorically speaking only – please do not attempt to ingest the book). So somehow it ended up as 3 “volumes” of 2 “books” a piece. However, for the purposes of this discussion we shall refer to it as one contiguous work.
I recently revisited this amazing classic by listening to the 13 hour BBC radio play. This, and many discussions with my lovely Jess (who has read the book 13 times) made me want to sing it’s praises here for those who have not yet discovered it (or even for those who have). Quite simply, I find Lord of the Rings one of the most amazing and totally immersive works of all time. It’s no secret that Tolkien laboriously created one of the most thorough worlds ever created for a work of fiction. He created languages, histories, races, maps and more (as evidenced by the appendices to the book) resulting in a world almost as well documented and “real” as our own. This however has no value if it does not lend itself to an engrossing tale. It does.
Lord of the Rings is so much more than just a book. It is as close as anyone can come to actually being transported to another world. When I was finished with this book, I felt as if I too had been on that journey. I felt invested in all my “friends” in the book. As the story comes to an end, it perfectly mirrors the emotions you feel as your relationship with this story is winding down, and you slowly fade back into this world. So many moments are laced with bittersweet poignancy as they create a microcosm of the emotions and relationships we all share. It’s not a story, it’s an experience. It’s a journey that will leave you forever changed. One you’ll look back on with both joy, and sadness that it’s over as you close the cover and say “Well, I’m back”.

Mitch Hedberg at the Addison Improv

So I went to go see Mitch Hedberg for the 3rd time last night at the Addison Improv. I had seen him previously at the Laff Stop in Houston, and the Capitol City Comedy Club in Austin. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw him on some TV comedy show, and have since turned a huge number of people on to him. In my opinion he is one of the best comedians I’ve ever seen. A truly unique style and viewpoint punctuate his hilarious material and likable demeanor. Mitch just seems like a guy you’d like to hang out with. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been absolutely hilarious, and this show was no exception.
There were several opening comics. Dave Little and Lynn Shawcroft were especially funny. When Mitch finally came on he seemed really low key at first. A bit reserved, possibly a little down, or just tired a bit (this was, after all, the second show of the night), but he quickly got into the flow and the endless laughs started flowing. Now the things about comedians is you inevitably hear some of the same material each time you see them since they can’t crank out an entirely new act every night. With Mitch, I’ve never found this to be a problem. Somehow I find every joke just as funny as the first time I ever heard it. However Mitch had a ton of new material this show, and it was in fact the first show I’d seen where he didn’t just start taking “requests” for his classic material towards the end of the show. It was also the first show I had seen where he didn’t perform many of his “greatest hits”, most notably his “Smackie the Frog” routine. None of this however detracted from the show. It was at least as good as every other performance I had seen of his.
When we went to see him in Austin, my friend, Dudemac, and his wife had brought their digital camera in hopes of getting a picture with Mitch. My friend Esteban spotted Mitch exiting the club and asked him for an autograph which Mitch gladly signed. Dudemac then had me take a picture of him and his wife with Mitch. I also wanted to get an autograph and picture but I really didn’t want to be a nuisance so I let Mitch slip out since he seemed to be trying to get out quickly. Later we found that due to a camera glitch all the pics that had been taken on the digital camera were gone including the ones with Mitch. DOH! So this time we were determined to try again! After the show we immediately went to where we thought he might exit, and sure enough there were he and Lynn leaving the club! Dudemac quickly yelled “Hey Mitch! Can we get a picture?” He and Lynn were both really accommodating and friendly and posed for several pics with us all! I’ll post them as soon as Dudemac gets them off his camera. We hope to get some more pics and maybe an autograph at his Austin show in November.
All in all it was a great show as usual that made our faces hurt from laughing so much, and actually getting to say hi and take a picture was extremely cool. Be sure and check his schedule at www.mitchhedberg.net and go to see him if he comes anywhere near you. Then I can add you to my list of converts 😉 Quite simply, he’s one of the funniest and most brilliant comedians of all time.