Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight


Let me begin by saying that I'm a huge fan of Christopher Nolan and what he did with Batman Begins years ago, which redefined the Batman series. I've been excited for "The Dark Knight" since it was announced. A lot of times it can be a crap shoot as to whether the story content of a sequel will stand up to the reputation set forth by the previous film. The Dark Knight does not disappoint, Christopher Nolan's reputation remains intact, and the series is built very well on what was started, illustrating how Batman Begins was indeed just as its title states... "the beginning."

The story in The Dark Knight clearly articulates many morality issues, and how we as citizens of a society respond to them. Issues that make us all look in the mirror and re-question what we really stand for, and whether we have what it takes to stand for them even in the midst of total chaos and great despair. Some of the issues reminded me about how Americans deal with the Iraq war, that we should back out or regret getting involved. It is this struggle of how the characters deal with the issues and the choices they make that create the "dark" tone of the film which kind of left a feeling of depression in me when it was over, hence the film title "Dark Knight".

Comparing to Batman Begins... the only complaint that I had with the directing of Batman Begins was that the "camera work" was a little too close to see what was going on during fighting/action scenes. I was glad to see that Christopher Nolan pulled back a bit. He fixed this issue in The Dark Knight, giving him a perfect score from the director's chair.

It is said all over the Internet what great performances everyone gave... particularly Heath Ledger. I agree and don't want to sound redundant here. Every cast member played their role as expected and then some. Give credit to the cast, but I would also like to give credit to the director. A good director plays a key role in bringing out the best in the members of his team... like a good coach on any team.

If you liked Batman Begins, then go see The Dark Knight. It is one of those few sequel movies that bring the story to the next level. And if you've like both films, check out other movies that Christopher Nolan has directed, you won't be disappointed.

4 cars

*This film is not for children. Really adhere to the PG-13 rating. I let my kids watch Spiderman, but have not let them watch Batman Begins and for sure would not let them watch The Dark Knight. Also, if you have teens that do watch it, discuss it with them to make sure they understand the important things that are presented.


The Dark Knight

Once in a while, a film comes along that is the perfect combination of action, drama, special effects, and great acting and directing. The Dark Knight is one of those films. Director Christopher Nolan reaches a new high with this masterpiece. Jeez, I sound like James Lipton saying those things...

The Dark Knight is a film that is truly inappropriate for anyone under 13, given the films dark themes and violence. I disagree with those, however, that felt the violence was excessive or unneeded. Every piece of dialog and action seemed to be carefully planned and add to the message of the movie. To me, that message was that humans are essentially good. If Heath Ledger's Joker had a purpose, it seemed to be to try to prove that humans are inherently evil, perhaps in a bid to justify his own horrible nature.

The Joker, however, seemed to have no real intention other than to cause chaos and terror in Gotham. He took terrorism to another level, showing the same disregard for his own life and others' shown by today's homicide bombers. Unlike the homicide bombers, though, the Joker doesn't believe that he has any higher purpose--he just wants to "watch the world burn." I was a little concerned when I heard the reports of the stellar performance given by Ledger, thinking that maybe they could be attributed to the post-mortem fondness of Hollywood. That turned out not to be the case, and Ledger's interpretation of the Joker was the crowning Jewel of the film. His redition of the character makes Jack Nicholson's Joker look very much like the cartoon character it was probably meant to be.

The other actors' performances were also excellent, with the exception of some of the mannerisms used by Christian Bale while in his Batman costume (I don't want to spoil it, so if you're curious what I mean contact me). The directing and production were equally brilliant, and the fight scenes much easier to follow than in Batman Begins. This is one of the few movies that you'll ever see that comes close to flawless, and well worth paying to see in the theater. I give it 3 1/2 cars.

*Bonus: picture of my daughter as Batman:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movie Review: Wall-E

I worked late several nights this week and I think I got used to it because it's after midnight and I can't sleep. So, it's time for a movie review (the original purpose of FrontRunner Review).

Wall-E is the latest offering from Disney and Pixar, a futuristic sci-fi adventure with a clear environmental message. The movie is set at a time when humans have been forced to leave Earth because excessive pollution caused by unbridled consumerism has made the planet uninhabitable. Wall-E has been left behind to clean up the mess, along with an army of identical robots that have long since broken down. Wall-E and his pet cockroach are finally interrupted in their monotonous lives by a visitor (Eve) who comes to Earth with a special mission. Now it's up to Wall-E and Eve to see her mission through to completion for the good of mankind.

The creators of Wall-E did a great job creating loveable characters for this movie. It's no simple task to make inatomate objects like robots expressive and even cuddly, but they pulled it off with flying colors. In my mind, Wall-E bears a resemblance to E.T., while Eve looks like an iPod crossed with an egg:

Also, the producers were able to create a very involved dialog and convey a great deal of emotion and meaning between the robots using only about five words repeated over and over, by only varying the inflection and tone (think about the way that R2D2 spoke in Star Wars).

For those of you that are movie buffs, you'll notice plot similarities with 1972 sci-fi film Silent Running (I haven't seen this movie, and this fact was pointed out to me by someone else--thanks Chris). Also, several explicit references are made to 2001: A Space Odyssey, including the use of Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme song from that movie). Interestingly, Wall-E treats the subject of the Also Sprach Zarathustra, that of the human race overcoming itself to become superior. However, in this case humans are taking a step forward after several steps backward.

A solid story line is matched by great animation in this film and topped off with a very capable cast, including Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Sigourney Weaver (yes, she's back in space , this time as the ship's computer), and the hilarious Fred Willard. This movie is definitely intended for younger audiences, so you're tweens and teens may not be very excited about it, and it's not Pixar's best effort. However, it's enjoyable and worth watching if you have small children, at least on DVD. As a bonus, the movie was squeaky clean and not too intense for my 3 1/2 year old daughter.

In all, I give this move a solid two and a half cars:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ode to Public Pee

Okay, not actually an ode, because I'm no poet.

A couple days ago I was on Trax and noticed a puddle of some liquid hovering toward the front of the car. As we lurched forward, though, inertia kicked in and started the liquid flowing toward the back of the car.

The floor is grooved, so it ran down each groove at a different pace. It sort of reminded me of the way that the blob traveled, flowing along cracks and crevices, only faster. At each stop, the liquid took a rest, only to resume its march forward the next time we were in motion.

I should say at this point that it probably wasn't pee, but I like to think it was (especially since it didn't touch me). I watched in delight as it enveloped the shoes of the other passengers (everyone on the train seemed oblivious to it except for me).

Lucky for you, I was able to snap this picture of the liquid in question as it overtook a dude's shoe. You'll have to click on the picture and then look veeeeeeery closely:

The moral of the story is: when on public transportation, keep an eye on the floor. And on your seat. And on the people next to you. Basically, try not to touch anything.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Long Way Home

Traveling on FrontRunner / TRAX is a lot of work. Half the trip (the easy part) is spent riding on FrontRunner, while the second half involves riding on TRAX, with about 1-2 miles of walking to fill in the gaps from TRAX to work, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, a Friday, Eli and I began another journey home from work. I felt bad from the start because Eli had his long board (he gets around pretty good for a guy his size on the long board), while I had to walk. I told Eli not to wait for me, but he insisted... so I slowed him way down for the first part of the trip.

We finally make it to the TRAX station, and have to wait about 10 minutes for the next train. Gettting on the front car... it was way crowded. So crowded that many people were standing (including us). As the train started moving, I said to Eli "I didn't see very many people getting on the back car, I wonder if it is less crowded back there"... Eli turns to me and says "Should we do it? Should we run back to one of the rear cars at the next stop?", to which I replied... "Yep, Doooo it!".

At the next stop, we both jump out of the front car and race to the back. I was in front, but to my credit, I did stop a few seconds to let a little old lady get on, but she was interferring with the plan. While running to the rear car, the doors were open on the second to last car, and Eli yelled "I think we should just get on here"... I ignored that suggestion and said "I'm going all the way". Big mistake. When I hit the button on the last car, the doors would not open. I looked at Eli who said "oh crap", while at the same time, the doors that Eli suggested had just closed. We got left behind. It was completely my fault so I really felt bad... so we had to wait another 15 minutes for the next train.

During the wait, Eli calls his wife to explain to her what happened. When he got off the phone I asked "Is she mad?" to which he replied, "Yep, she's mad dude.". I said "I take full responsibility... sorry". Eli told me that his wife doesn't stay mad long and that she would be over it soon. I told Eli, that I wasn't even going to call my wife, I was just going to see if we could make up time somehow.

I guess we got a little too comfortable during that 15 minute wait. Eli took off his backpack and kept babbling on about work stuff. He is explaining stuff to me that he is working on while all I hear is "moua mua mua muaaaa", you know the sound you hear when any adult talks in a Charlie Brown cartoon... Anyway, the train finally arrives and we jump on the back car. We both get a seat... this one isn't that crowded. About halfway to the next stop, Eli realizes that he left his backpack, the bag that has a very expensive work laptop, etc.

Well, we had to go back for it, so we again got off at the next stop, to get on the next train heading in the opposite direction to our previous stop. I didn't feel so bad about my mistakes earlier, because this one evened it up. Eli was crapping his pants about whether his bag would be there when we got to it. If you ask him, he'll say he knew it was going to be there, but beleive me, he was crapping his pants.

When we got to the previous stop, we did find the backpack as seen below. Thank God it was still there. Just had to wait for the next train "once again" to get home.

When we got to the FrontRunner platform we only had a few minutes to get on the train before it left. Of course Eli still had to buy a pass (that is a different story). I had a monthly pass, but I wasn't going to take any more chances. As Eli was bumbling around on the machine to get his pass, I stood in the doorway of the train taking hit after hit as the doors opened and closed on me while a "station host" told me to get on. I said that my buddy was trying to get a pass so I'm not moving til he gets on ... I did not want to get locked out again.

We finally got on the train and headed home. I explained it to my wife, she laughed. I'm not sure how things went with Eli's wife though, I never asked.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Eli was here

Think I won't tag you with a marker like you're my personal property? Think again:

You've all been warned.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Am I the world's biggest jerk?

I got on the train this morning and had a seat across from a middle aged woman. I had my longboard with me, and from the way she looked at me I thought she was annoyed. It turns out she was just excited to have some company!

"So, what's the point of those longboards? Are you trying to simulate snowboarding?" she said.

I mumbled something in response.

She continued, "That train over there is full of cars--automobiles. I can't figure out why people don't hijack those trains more often. I mean, I never would. I'm not of the But there's gotta be a couple million dollars worth of cars on there."

Despite the fact that I'm trying not to engage her, she continues to try and make conversation. As she droned on, I realized I needed to do something to make the pain stop. So, I pulled my headphones out of the backpack and slipped them on. Even though the other end wasn't connected to anything (I left it in the backpack), for all she knew it was plugged into some high-tech magical device that she would never understand. I did this mid sentence and she immediately stopped talking.

Remember this trick for the future, it just may save you. In fact, you don't even need headphones with a cord on them. Just get some old headphones and cut the cords. Crazy people will think it's some high end wireless doohicky. If they continue talking to you, just point to the headphones, shake your head slightly, and mouth the words "I can't hear you..."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Oh, *these* are the people in your neighborhood...

Just a quick note about some of the awesome people that I've seen around lately. These people are great and if anyone in these pictures happens to read the blog, I'm not making fun of you so please don't stab me.

Is this chopper style bike the coolest thing you've ever seen? I tried to get a shot of it but this picture doesn't do it justice. It doesn't have a motor, it's just a pedal bike. Pretty sure I need to build one, especially seeing how much the ladies dig it...

A little something for the ladies here. These were the guys sitting in front of us during a recent programming conference. No matter what you all think, trust me, we don't fit the profile of the typical programmer. These guys however, do. Sweeeeeeet skullet, bro. Really, just keep trying to hang on to that hair as long as you can...

Finally, sometimes when you're young a tattoo seems like a good idea, but remember: the time may come when your faded tattoo isn't quite as cute as it used to be. Don't worry, though--you can take the attention of the tat with a sweet pair of diamond studded crocs. Then all you need is a pair of plain denim capris and a PT Cruiser to roll in. Welcome to middle age. Ohhhhhh baby...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Eli isn't a woman

Even though I trim my eyebrows and use lotion, I'm 100% dude. Today's post may not help my argument though. I was on Trax a few weeks ago and my bike was leaning next to another. Looking at the bike, I realized that it was almost the same color as mine (which is not a common color for a bike). In fact, mine is just a little lighter and more feminine. In this picture, mine is in front:

You probably can't tell, but the other bike says "Blue Sky" on it. Here is the person who was riding that bike:

Yes, my bike is less masculine than a young asian girl's...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Review: Creepers by David Morrell

All right, time to actually review something on FrontRunnerReview! Yesterday I read a great book by David Morrell called Creepers. This suspense thriller was penned in 2005, so it's by no means new. I actually read it while I'm waiting for a copy of Morrell's latest effort, Scavenger (on a side note, David Morrell wrote First Blood, the book that Rambo was based on). The book deals with journalist Frank Ballenger who is on his first urban exploration with a group of seasoned explorers. Urban exploration, or creeping, is a hobby of amateur archeologists, historians, and thrill seekers. They enter buildings and tunnels that have been closed for years in the hopes of getting a glimpse into the past. Kind of like a large scale time capsule (incidentally, the subject of Scavenger). Despite taking all the necessary precautions for safety, the team runs into trouble. The author's suspense writing is so masterful that it takes a hold of you and won't let you go until the last page (notice that I read all 342 pages in one day). Morrell's writing leaves little to be wanted, except for the several times throughout the book that the voice of the characters tends to echo Morrell's syntax more than their own (imagine an 18 year old guy using the grammar of a PhD in English). Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a suspense novel as engrossing as any Hollywood movie (which I'm sure it will become at some point). I'm giving this book three cars.The subject matter of this book is one that can make you think of your own mortality and the roll you play in the course of history. In another hundred years, will your memory have been completely erased by the sands of time? Probably. Or, will someone explore the remains of your living space, getting a glimpse into the life you once led. John Linnell of They Might Be Giants wrote about the experience of taking a peek into someone else's life:

"My roommate was the landlord’s half-Greek son Chris, who had once played in a band with Flansburgh called the Turtlenecks.
Chris was also the building’s super and he and I spent a few days cleaning out several of the apartments. One of them contained all the possessions of an Eastern European couple that had lived there right up until they died, so many of the things we removed were the accoutrements of the last days of a person’s life, which was kind of disturbing."

Last year, I helped Dani's husband Tom clean out an abandoned storage unit at the storage facility they managed. The tenant hadn't paid rent and had abandoned the unit quite a while before. According to policy, we sorted through the contents of the shed to find anything of value that could be sold and dispose of the rest. I realized as we were cleaning out the unit that the things that could be sold were the things with almost no value. What we were loading on the trailer to take to the dump was the story of a woman's life, and the life of her two children. Pictures from family vacations, childhood drawings, letters (which you felt couldn't be read out of respect). There's no way that this woman left all of these precious belongings on purpose. I didn't know if she had died and her children didn't know about the shed, but today I feel like I should have kept everything and tried to track them down.

In the end, the best way to be remembered isn't through your stuff. It will rot, gather dust and get thrown away. The best way to ensure your memory lives on is through the people you touch. If you make a profound impact on those around you, especially your children and grandchildren, you will be held up as an example for generations to come.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol Scandal!

With all this talk about American Idol being rigged to make David Cook win, I think we've lost sight of the real scandal: Jason Castro is a muppet.

Am I the only one who's noticed? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. See comparison of Jason Castro with Janice the Muppet (from Electric Mayhem -- aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwww yeah):

Isn't there some rule about professional musicians competing in American Idol? I think this needs to be investigated a little further.

At very least, we can be glad this freak didn't win. I mean, dreadlocks on a white guy? C'mon...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Introducing the iBeg

While we were riding on TRAX one day, we noticed a brand-name marked on the bottom of the seats. It said "IBEG". The internet told us that IBEG is a German "transportation technology" company. Obviously they must have contributed to the construction of the TRAX system in Salt Lake City.

Anyway, when we first saw the word "IBEG", we thought... "hmmm... IBEG... kind of sounds like an iPod for the homeless". We both agreed it was a great marketing opportunity. So, Eli went right to work on creating the first iBeg prototype as seen in figure 1. Notice the classic iPod color white with the seamless headphone jack on the side of the Styrofoam cup.

Now to take the iBeg out for a test run. We got off the usual FrontRunner stop in Salt Lake and found the first candidate we could for our focus test. We gave the dude (Willy) our first and only iBeg prototype. After he settled into his usual comfortable spot we snapped a picture and let him use it for the day.

On the way home, it wasn't hard to find the guy. He told us that he really didn't make any money that day because everyone thought that homeless people shouldn't be listening to an expensive iPod and have the nerve to beg for money. He did like the music that we put on it. Keith gave him five bucks and snatched the iBeg out of his hands.

When we were getting on the train, we thought "well if they can't get as much money using the iBeg, nobody in our target audience will want one." Since we wouldn't be able to sell them, we went back and gave the prototype to Willy.

Recently we heard that a transient in Salt Lake was electrocuted while drinking liquor from a styrofoam cup (the iBeg is NOT for liquids). Well, live and learn.