Z2K9 — The Day the Music Froze During the Loading Screen

Update 1/1/2009: All better. The thing “fixed” itself. I was this close to composing a strongly worded letter written under only natural light.

In the time between beginning this post and finishing it, it looks like Microsoft formally announced a solution to the issue, the always exciting “it’ll fix itself tomorrow.” Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I want to listen to my party mix now. Anyway, um, enjoy the increasingly less relevant post below.

I’ve stood by my MP3 player for more than one-and-a-half years. The 30GB Zune isn’t the prettiest, thinnest, or most useful MP3 player, but I like what it does and how it does it. I spent a lot of time getting the video compression settings “just right,” and I didn’t need to purchase wrist weights to “maximize” my runs. I’ve gotten used to people confusing it with a dumbbell but I have never had the “I think someone stole my mp3 player,” panic because I know my husky baby isn’t going anywhere, if only because it would be a real burden for a potential thief if he or she needed to scale a fence.

My previous MP3 player, the geek approved Rio Karma served me just fine (though a few minor repairs) from 2003-2007, at which point it started turning into “computer junk,” component by component, necessitating a new player. Microsoft’s been good about updating the original, 30GB, player even though it’s now one-and-a-half generations old. I can’t argue with that, and the free Zune Software/Music Player is actually a program I’d whole-heartedly recommend to anyone, whether he owns a Zune or not. Everything was going swimmingly – the only real issues I had were occasional freezes (which disappeared with the latest 3.1 firmware) and a totally buff right bicep. This morning, I saw that one of the “tech news” websites I visit was reporting “Hundreds of 30GB Zune Players Fail Across the Country.” I have one of those. Uh-oh.

zune crash
Probably not the sort of top 10 list for which they hoped.

Skimming the article, I saw that the problems started around midnight PST last night, and most users experienced the freeze as their greeting as they turned on the device this morning. Of course, I still hadn’t turned it on, but I was watching The Matrix last night, and needless to say, perhaps the computer gods were not happy at the ending (with Neo’s bring the physical virtual and verbal smackdown to computer program) and were taking their vengeance. Being that guy, I decided I wanted to see the crash myself so I could poke around at it. Well, I succeeded in seeing it crash/freeze, but that was about all she wrote. Apparently, one can disassemble the player, change the computer calendar to any date but 12/31/08, unplug and replug the battery, then reassemble and use it just fine with no issues, but I decided I was done losing tiny screws when I decided the Rio Karma wasn’t worth fixing.

For a device considered not very popular, the news certainly got around. CNN posted a front page link (below “the fold,” though) to a brief writeup. (Now, to the doubters’ credit, the time between Christmas and New Years is ridiculously slow for the news.)

In terms of why it crashed, December 31, 2008 is the 366th day of the year. Odds are it has something to do with something in the software planning on each year being 365 days. Not the most exciting bug, but an easy one to forget to check for. Of course it could be an ugly coincidence, but Occam’s Razor, people.

I was going to write here about how it could be a challenging bug to fix because the devices didn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated and it could be a support disaster, but being that the darn thing will apparently fix itself, I’ll spare the words. (Note to Microsoft employees: I have no idea if that little spiel back there about “doesn’t even get to the point where the firmware updates can be initiated” is even remotely accurate. I’m just counting on all 7 of the readers of this site nodding their heads and saying, “that Dan. He knows about computers.”)

Star Rating is pending the results of tomorrow’s self-update, but let’s not jump to any conclusions.

**

Two stars – nice it sort of fixed itself, not so nice that I actually had to say, “well, I have that song on my MP3 player, but unfortunately, it’s not going to work until noon tomorrow.”

BUT, I have seen some pretty good overly dramatic names for the “situation”: Z2K, Z2K9, ZUNEPOCOLYPSE. I guess give credit for the “social” for making enough noise the problem to be seen in more places than just some isolated support forums.

Of course, none of the postings made any mention of Judgment Day or this being Skynet’s first move, so I’m not completely impressed. That said, in terms of a future where our ground up brains might be used to fuel Gregorian Calendar does help me sleep better at night.

Nate’s Review of Cloverfield

Before I get started, be sure to check out Nate’s review of Cloverfield. Make a point to check out the comments – they get to the crux of the argument and Ken Matthews (yes, that Ken Matthews) even weighs in. No, we don’t take celebrity lightly here at The Bookshelf.

Nate, Nate, Nate. So many words. The movie didn’t “work” because of the medium on which it was delivered. It worked (and worked quite well) because of typical disaster movie conventions (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). The “found footage” created a new way to present those conventions; it didn’t make them “new,” but it serves to create a “wall” in the viewer’s mind when he sees the “character presented as initially important dies abruptly and shockingly” so he doesn’t say, “wow, this is like every other disaster movie ever.” Likewise, the whole “cast in the darkness struggles to find a flashlight, then once they find it, they immediately illuminate something that jumps up and wants to kill/maim/eat them” is perfectly fine – it’s been done before. “Found footage” doesn’t change the presentation of that event – it’s always a point-of-view shot and someone either dies immediately or is injured to the degree of eventually becoming a nuisance (or worse) to the group. I didn’t feel any closer to the characters on the screen than with any other well made action/disaster movie. Was it better than “The Day after Tomorrow?” – absolutely, but the difference isn’t in the “medium,” it’s in the competence of the director and the writer to make it compelling. “Found footage” isn’t a smokescreen which obfuscates the director’s lack of talent or the scenarist’s lack of imagination – he’s either a good director or not, the script is either good or it isn’t.

cloverfield
As I’ve said, the monster was looking for delicious human brains. Imagine how disappointed it must’ve been when it realized the meal outside the restaurant wasn’t real or life-size. Kind of like a pedophile outside a Bob’s Big Boy…yikes. I think that one crossed a line.

Why Cloverfield worked was because of the little decisions made in the screenplay and the directing. There’s not “cheese” in the story or the presentation. The “lovey-dovey” story is restrained and as realistic as it could be in a movie about a gigantic lizard making a buffet out of New York. The love story (effectively the pulse of the movie), has as satisfying conclusion as one could hope for, maintaining a reasonable suspension of disbelief inherent is going to the movies. And, no, the “found footage” doesn’t assist in building up the suspension of disbelief. Know what? I sat in a movie theater at the beginning of Cloverfield, and I left that same movie theater. I wasn’t transported (to a dream world of magic). During the movie, I was still in that same theater. I didn’t forget that. I could get “lost” in the movie, but it’s happened in plenty of other movies which were not “found footage”-based.

The success of Cloverfield is due to the director and writer not taking any easy ways out (other than the camera battery, walking distances, and other shortcuts necessary for the mechanics of the story – not the story itself, mind you). A less engaging version of this movie would have the disaster “following” the characters instead of the characters more-or-less being in the middle of it. They try to take direction, but in the end, they’re at the mercy of the situation, not the screenwriter’s goal of killing of some number of characters in 10 minute intervals. It’s not an Indiana Jones movie where there is literally nothing that the hero can do without it backfiring. The characters never got guns, but you know that the writer wouldn’t have stooped to one of them getting killed because his or her gun got jammed. The writer realized that the story was larger than that. The audience doesn’t need manufactured drama in a world in which it has been established that a 60 story, seemingly bulletproof monster with a taste for mammal blood, much less human brains is on the loose. There’s plenty there already without resorting to cheese. In fact, it’s not until the lead-in to the climax of the movie (it involves a helicopter) that the “bad guy” seemingly singles out the heroes. Previously, Smashy McWrecksALot sort of did his own thing, getting mad at the military for shooting at him and causing people to make allusions to September 11, 2001. Suddenly, something very bad and very focused towards the main characters happens. It takes two-thirds of the movie to finally cave in to the demand that the bad guy single out the heroes. And, all things considered, it’s fine by me. The story went that far without something disgustingly coincidental happening, and given the unexpected nature of the actual event, I’m all for it. And, there were B-2 bombers in the sequence, so that’s practically a get out of jail card for the writer as far as I’m concerned (though, it wasn’t even needed in this case). And none of that required first person “found footage” to work.

“Found footage” adds nothing to the final presentation other than “it was a good movie and the video camera part was cool.” I know, that goes against paragraphs and paragraphs of Nate’s review, but in the end, it’s no different than a movie shot in one take, a movie presented as four simultaneous one-take shots, or a movie presented as a documentary which is definitely not a true documentary. Any adds a touch of “clever” to a movie, but the “traditionals” – directing, writing, acting – are what make it watchable. The Blair Witch Project made it so people were ok with a movie being presented as if footage were found after some event, but it lacked the “traditionals”, and ended up being all schtick and no substance. Cloverfield should’ve been the first “found footage” movie, if only for it to get thought of more highly than The Blair Witch Project for the academic accomplishment of making the concept work.

**

Nate’s Review of Cloverfield gets two stars. Basically, the message is the message. The “medium” may add something to it, but in the end, people are attracted to story and emotion, not technique and the ephemera of film production. In fact, I’ve always interpreted “the medium is the message” as the medium says more about “where we are” than the message itself. For example, the fact that someone can be in the supermarket, see someone trip over a cracked egg and knock over a ceiling-tall paper towel display, open his telephone, video record the event, then instantly send it to any number of other people to view on their phones, computers, TV’s, etc. says more about “our situation” than the fact that a movie was made about a monster using New York City for tackle drills and it was presented as if someone found a video camera. Of course, I’ve not taken any media theory classes, much less read that guy’s book, but that’s what I take from his famous quote. And no, when the first mainstream movie presented as if it were “found” cell phone video footage comes out, that’s not saying any more about our current state than the fact that Cloverfield just gave the “disaster movie” genre a big F-U middle finger and said “beat that.” Cloverfield just realized that the key to connecting to audiences is by turning a huge event (monsters attacking a city) on its ear by focusing on a tiny group who aren’t in a position to fix the problem and showing how they handle it and each other. It’s always been assumed that a “bigger picture” perspective with a secondary focus on a small group of charismatic characters was needed for a disaster movie, but Cloverfield is proof otherwise, focusing on that small group and barely even addressing the “bigger picture.”

****½

Cloverfield itself gets four-and-a-half big stars. As I was walking out of the theater I thought to myself that the story and its presentation completely precluded a sequel (wondering about a sequel is a good sign that the movie was well received) – then re-reading Nate’s review, he pointed out that there is plenty of material to be mined from other groups of characters – specifically, not yuppies – affected by the event. As I said above, the movie worked so well by taking a huge event and focusing on a tiny slice of it. This contrasts with Juno, which left me slightly disappointed as it delivered a relatively small event and focused on a small group of characters. (At the risk of digressing, Juno was very good, not great. Witty dialog that writers in their 20’s put on the page because they like to think they were that sharp in high school [they weren’t] aside, it just seemed like a small story presented on a small scale. The big “drama” event wasn’t quite “big” enough. Granted, it wasn’t overwrought, but it seemed to play it slightly too safe.)

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

“Heroes” – Four Months Later

Every Tuesday, I’ll be blogging about the show “Heroes”, for the TV site Magnetic Media Fed. Here’s my review of last week’s season premiere.

heroes_promo.jpg
Sometimes, I wish this was a show called “Her Es” about a girl and her magical adventures with her favorite letter of the alphabet.

For as weak and underwhelming as last year’s finale was, this episode was everything a season premiere should be. It took nearly all of the incredibly good-looking characters from last year and put them into new and intriguing storylines, with mostly success, and it introduced a bunch of new faces into the mix as well. It effectively created plenty of new mysteries and raised lots of questions, but as we’ve learned in the past, how well they pay off is anyone’s guess.

The main problem with this show (besides cramming an insane amount of story into one season) is that it relies too much on setup. Everything is plot setup for a future payoff. Think back to last season. You had about a thousand characters, with the unspoken promise that all these characters would come together in some sort of pre-determined climax, and a battle of immense proportions would ensue. Interestingly enough, the real climax of the season didn’t come in the season finale, but in an episode three weeks before it, with events that technically aren’t even going to actually happen since the present was changed to fix the future (GREAT SCOTT!). This is not to say that tremendous amounts of setup aren’t worth it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with being strung along, even if the end is weak, because I enjoy the ride, the guessing at where the plot is going to go, or what the answers all are. You look at LOST, and even though they didn’t really start giving much payoff to any storylines until halfway through this past season, I enjoy being thrown all these curveballs, all these mysteries to ponder.

That being said, I do and have always thought that this show throws way too many at one time, and therefore has a hard time hitting a home run with any of them (how’s that for a baseball metaphor?). This episode alone had eight storylines running “” nine if you count the Dr. Manhattan-like reformation of previously exploded Peter Petrelli “” and we still haven’t even seen the Sanderses, Sylar, and newbies Veronica Mars and Dana Davis yet, not to mention this Bogeyman guy. That’s possibly fourteen different ongoing plots running at the same time. In addition, there were also a ton of small mysteries and such that were briefly touched upon that are presumably going to become bigger as they go along. Is it safe to assume that all of these mysteries will get solved in a neat and orderly fashion? Now that all the Heroes, at least the ones from season one, have each other on speed-dial, is it safe to assume that they’ll all congregate at the Hall of Justice and figure it all out? As Kensei would probably say, “Not bloody likely”. Does it mean that a bit of a letdown at the payoff isn’t worth the months of awesome exposition? We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

For now, I liked more about this episode than I disliked. To clarify, the only thing I didn’t really care for at all was the Honduras duo, but I’ll get to that later. Even with my criticisms, I think that overall, they’ve done a great job in moving the characters on from last season, and organically segued them into new storylines with some growth. The only one that didn’t really feel natural was the Parkman divorce thing, because of where the two characters were at the end of last year, but I can see how his sense of duty to this girl might be more important. With that in mind, onto what I liked and didn’t like.

I really enjoyed the Parkman/Molly stuff. The two are good together onscreen, and are given some of the best material from the episode to work with, especially their dinner scene. In a show as plot-driven as this is, it’s good to see some character moments, and I could watch Greg Grunberg all day. His fellow Alias alum, and the second best part of that show, NPH-lookalike David Anders is going to be great in Hiro’s “TMNT3”-meets-“The Last Samurai” storyline, even though it’s very tough to tell why this story is even being told in the first place and why Hiro can use his powers in old Japan, but can’t teleport out of there, or back to when he got in the middle of that fight. Maybe it was because of the eclipse, which lasted all of one minute and served no purpose besides looking cool. It’s no big deal, though, because I think this dynamic between the characters/actors could work, and I’m willing to see where it goes, even if it’s just some character growth for Hiro. The best “little thing” about the episode was when Hiro took his glasses off when Kensei asked if he was a scientist and then put them back on to make sure he wasn’t seeing things when the mask came off. I think I might like the Mohinder storyline this year, as he’s basically playing go-between for HRG and Stephen “Werner Brandis. My voice is my passport; verify me.” Tobolowsky. It really is a perfect fit for where he should be, and a natural progression from what happened at the end of last season, not to mention that the two more interesting characters/actors will be driving the story. I liked the mystery of the deaths of the elder heroes, even though I question how George Takei knew who hoodie-guy was, even though we never saw who he was. Although, we never knew what Takei’s superpower was anyway (seems like a waste), so maybe it was some sort of people identification power. It’ll be interesting to see whether this plotline is a tie-in to the Bogeyman story, the Sylar story (probably not), or the “Company” story.

What didn’t I like? Claire’s re-introduction to high school/HRG’s Office Depot job. I get that they’re trying to start a new life and be boring and low-key, but could they do it with some more realistic characterizations? I understand that I’m saying this about a superhero show, but it always seems like the normal people who are always the side characters, are the most unrealistic, ironically. Take HRG’s porn-star-mustachioed boss; I can’t imagine a guy working at a place like that taking his job so seriously. Not only that, but the whole story was kinda a waste of time, really, other than to have something for HRG to do for the episode. There’s no reason why it couldn’t just be casually mentioned that he has a job somewhere, if that’s even necessary. I didn’t buy Claire at school either. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always hated the completely unrealistic Hollywood portrayal of high school as this place where there’s only 40 people, and the cheerleaders always wear their uniforms to school for some reason and have practice during their gym class that only has one guy in it. Actually, was there more than one guy at the school in total? The only one I saw was the ridiculously-named “West” whose superpowers seem to be showing up at exactly the most convenient time, plot-wise, and super-stalking. I liked the robot vs. alien convo the first time, but thought the call-back was unnecessary. Also, while I’m at it, my high school was on the state “empowerment” (read:worst of the worst, academically) list, and even we knew who Darwin was. The kids at this school must not have watched season one of Heroes, because that’s all the narration ever talks about. Another issue about this show is that I can’t remember one side character, who has been focused on, even minorly, and who doesn’t have a power of some sort. It’s getting incredibly easy to guess that someone is going to be superpowered, and that totally blows the reveal, in this case, when he flew at the end. Maybe the twist is that he actually is an alien, and those questions were totally literal. Lastly, that dinner scene was probably the most bizarre, out-of-place segment I’ve ever seen on the show. It was like someone hired Terry Gilliam to do it, what with the strange tension, weird close-ups, and the mom bringing the dog to the table and talking to it.

The Honduras story I found to be kinda boring and one-note, and considering I just saw that superpower on The 4400 last week, it didn’t shock me as much as it was probably supposed to. This is another wait-and-see story.

Nathan’s story wasn’t really fleshed (HA! I KILL ME) out at all, but one presumes that his perpetual drunkenness, and playoff/get-over-my-breakup beard, along with the Man Without a Face vision will play into future episodes, so I don’t really have any opinion on this.

Lastly, the little things that are going to be important in the future: I think they’re overextending themselves with this symbology. That insignia is in every freaking shot now, it seems like. Even when Peter shows up at the end, he’s wearing a necklace with it on for some reason. It’s in Japan; it’s on Molly’s papers; it’s on the pictures of the Elders. This is the sort of plot point (much like Hurley’s numbers on LOST) which has never been given a specific meaning, and can just be thrown in in random places to make things seem mysterious, and in doing that, they run the risk never being able to answer it, leaving the audience completely unfulfilled. I already mentioned the Nathan’s mirror/scarring shot. Obviously, they keep mentioning this Bogeyman, and it, along with Mohinder’s taking down The Company, the Elders’ murder mystery, and the Virus story seem to be what will comprise the main drive of the season, much like last year’s was to stop someone setting us up the bomb. Hopefully, much like Teri Bauer, Peter’s amnesia will go away after three hours time.

***½

Despite all of these criticisms, the show is still easily one of the easiest to watch on TV, as it’s generally well-shot, well-paced, well-acted, and has a host of diverse and mostly likeable characters. And thankfully, they gave time to the interesting ones this week and left Nikki and that “My Wife and Kids” kid off. We’ll see how long they can walk the fourteen-plotline tightrope for.

The Concept of Eleni’s Oscar Cookies


You can’t even tell which direction Cookie Forest Whittaker is looking in, but man is he still compelling as a pastry.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon this article on EW, briefly discussing the merits of cookies designed with illustrations of the best actor and best actress nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. I found it a little peculiar, but didn’t really think too much about it, until the next day when I walked past the cupcake and cookies store on the main floor of the building I work at. In the window I happened to see the images of the actors, and remembered seeing them on the EW website. I went in to check out the cookies (they’ve done the same sugar screening thing on the top of the cupcake icing too, which i think is creepier), and found that you could buy them in a sixteen pack box set for a mere 56 dollars. For those of you who aren’t hip to the mathematics, that’s 3.50 a cookie. You can check out images of the packs here
Now I don’t know about you all, but unless it’s giant, or some combination of lobster, truffles, filet mignon, and gold, i’m not paying $3.50 for a single cookie. Especially one that’s about the same size and type as the Girlscout shortbread cookies (“trefoils” for those of you pagans out there). But then again, I’ve never eaten cookies that taste like Will Smith.

I get that there are people out there who make a lot more money than I do (especially in NYC), and can afford to purchase extravagant items like this for their Oscar party. I would even argue collectibility, except for the fact that the cookies would totally deteriorate in a not-so-long amount of time. Here’s what I don’t get: At what point does somebody have so much money that his/her sense of worth gets skewed so that they don’t have an issue with buying 16 small cookies for 56 dollars? What makes this whole thing all the more preposterous is that on the Saturday before the awards, they were being sold at half price. Of course, the people there were talking up the “You can buy both sets” deal, but that just goes to show how much the price was jacked up to begin with. And are people really THAT into the Academy Awards? Do people have parties for a five-hour-long, and not particularly entertaining show that lasts until 1 in the a.m? On a Sunday? Is there some prestige earned by purchasing these cookies for your elaborate party? Maybe, but I think that if you went and bought some cheap but vastly more delicious cookies and gift wrapped them yourself, that you’d probably have more. “Ah”, you say. “But they wouldn’t have Peter O’Toole’s mouthwatering face on them”. And to this I say, “I think I’ve just proven my point”.

*

I’ll give them one star for the work that went into creating images of people to put on their cookies, and the fact that anything cookie-related can’t be all bad. Hey, if they were free, I’d totally eat them. But they wouldn’t last long… especially 56 dollars worth of time. That and I don’t find it particularly appetizing to eat a cookie with Helen Mirren on it. Now if they were Razzie awards cookies, filled with raspberry jam…. that might be different.

The Concept of Prehistoric Park

This might be my last traditional review of the year, considering we’re nearing the end of 2006. In this last month of the year, everybody likes to see best and worst of the year lists, so be prepared to be bombarded with those for the next few weeks, culminating with my Top 10 Lists of the Year. Ooooh meta-humor.


Ahhh the good old days when TV about Dinosaurs was relegated to them hitting each other with frying pans. If only Prehistoric Park had a little more of that.

Imagine, if you will, if Jurassic Park were a TV show. Wouldn’t that be exciting? Dinosaurs running around, tearing up each other and people, and all kinds of exciting action week after week. You could have park rangers dealing with all of the problems of running a park for dinosaurs, getting eaten while trying to feed them. I can’t really think of any good storylines, but this is dinosaurs and people in the same environment! This is like the holy grail of excitement… unless you count the Flintstones, and that horrible movie “Carnosaur“… god that was bad

So when I heard about this show, Prehistoric Park, that’s on Animal Planet (originally, it was made for British television, but I would bet that they had a deal with American TV before it was made for funding purposes), I just had to check it out. I was completely let down. There I am with my bowl of popcorn and my dino-pajamas, waiting to see an action-packed hour of dino-tainment, and I’m bored to tears. Why?

Well, “Prehistoric Park” is a documentary about an animal preserve where the curator goes back in time through some sort of timecube or stargate:atlantis or something and brings the dinosaurs back to his park, where he doesn’t do anything except keep them in pens and watch their health. That’s not entirely true. The last episode had a large “plot” involving saber-toothed tiger husbandry. You heard me. As a documentary on this completely real place, and the fact that it’s been made for educational purposes, obviously the main point is to tell us all about the behavior of these dinosaurs and how to medically and behaviorally care for them. And that’s about as exciting, as say, a documentary on real tiger husbandry, and who would really care about that?

I’ve boiled the conceptual problems down to three areas: First of all, since this park is entirely real (it is a documentary after all) are we to believe that these people have never seen or heard of Jurassic Park? You would think that if you were planning a dinosaur island theme park, Jurassic Park would probably be the first place you would look to do research. And you would realize that no matter how safely you think your T-Rex is kept, it’s not. Rule number 1 about having an island dinosaur preserve” No T-Rexes. Even if you have your giant electrical fences or in the case of Prehistoric Park, just giant wooden fences,he T-Rex is gonna get out. If we learned one thing from “The Lost World“, it’s that San Diego is not prepared for a T-Rex attack. (granted, that was pre-9/11, but I seriously doubt that the D.H.S. has a plan for dinosaur attacks). I understand that it’s very unlikely and that The Lost World was a movie, but this is a documentary, so you’d think these Palienticians would be more responsible. They’re just as bad as Cartographers

Secondly, haven’t they ever seen a time-travel movie? In fact there was one that came out about a year or so ago called “A Sound of Thunder” that dealt specifically to going back to the time of dinosaurs and hunting them. When the wrong ones ended up shot, the future (present) was entirely changed. Who knows, they could be abducting the dinosaur that brought their great-great-great etc grandparents together creating a eggs. Everything in this show is presented so seriously that we automatically take every single word for fact. It’s like if the croc hunter went after velociraptors instead of stingrays”. well the result would still be the same either way. Anyway, they could really tell us anything about dinosaurs (say they all wore blue hats, drank horse urine, and were the largest exporter of human pubis in the world) and we’d believe them.

I always liked learning about dinosaurs because there were so many different kinds, all with their own special features and fighting styles. I wanted to see them fight each other and stuff like all kids do. This show totally de-mystifies the whole dinosaur idea, basically showing us the medical side of running a dinosaur theme park, and unless you’re one of the few people who are interested in paleo-veteranary-zoology you’ll be as completely bored as I was.

*
The concept of “Prehistoric Park” gets one star due to having a good idea to start off with and completely wasting it. This show is like watching people oil and polish Transformers instead of letting them do what they do best: shoot laser beams.

Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output

I hope that I’ll be able to post with some more frequency in the next coming while. Look for some smaller reviews in the next couple days.

Humanity, I’m calling you out.

I was doing some thinking the other day about what we’d do if aliens showed up. Obviously, the first course of action would probably be to make sure they’re not going to kill us and eat the delicious delicacy between our ears, but all things considered, these aliens had the means to make the trip from their home planet one (or two) bazillion miles away to Earth, so I’m not sure we’d be able to do too much to stop whatever their plan for us would be, evil or friendly. So, assuming their first step of their visit isn’t “killing them humans good”, they’d probably want to see the pinnacle of what we’ve accomplished as a planet during our shared, human history.

voyager
If part of your skimming of our reviews involves looking at the picture and reading the caption, hoping it will be funny, you’re all out of luck this time.

They wouldn’t be impressed with our technology, so anything we’d mention about that would go as such:
Us: And here’s a bridge that spans a whole mile!
Them: A bridge… as in it spans, uh, water?
Us: Yeah, isn’t it a great testament to our ingenuity?
Them: Oh yeah, that’s really great. We just flew millions of light years to get here, and you’re trying to impress us with something that’s designed to keep your ground-based transportation from getting wet.

As an aside, I could see Apple running a TV ad where aliens are given the tour and they’re not impressed by anything, then they use an Apple and are transfixed. The Apple logo is shown, then we see the aliens replacing the computers on their spaceship (running Windows, of course) with Apples. You heard it here first.

With our comparitively puny technology, we’d be left to show them our artistic achievements. We sort of did this already on a much more limited scale with the golden records sent on the Voyager probes, but odds are, those aliens probably aren’t going to figure out how to make them work. Not because they’re not smart enough, but for the same reason that if cave men would have thought to leave a message for the future, we’d struggle decoding it. I hesitate to sound unnecessarily profound, but there’s something to be said about technological context. In 200 years, the concept of an optical disc will be foreign to us; imagine 2,000 years or 200,000 years. Now imagine that we’re aliens whose definition of “visible light” might be completely different than ours.

Anyway, we’re giving a tour of humanity to these apparently friendly aliens. Technology’s out, human history has just become insignificant (and not just because the aliens won’t care), as from the moment the ship is seen for the first time, everything will be measured as being either “before” or “after” that moment. This all means that the only thing left for us to show off and be proud of would be our art. First things first, we’ll investigate what we’ll consider “art.”

  • Paintings? – Sure. Let’s just remember how easy it is to create absolutely awful paintings though
  • Music? – That, too
  • Sculpture? – Eh, paintings do the same in a more portable medium. Sorry.
  • Architecture? – Hmm. Tough call. I’ll take the easy way out and say that it’s more of an engineering discipline than anything else, that it doesn’t count. Besides, aliens would have different ergonomic needs than we do. If the aliens rolling on the ground and slept hovering in mid-air, our architecture wouldn’t do too much for them.
  • Photography – Too new of an artform, and most successful “photos as art” are more “neat” than transcendent unless they’re pictures of landscapes. Hmm… maybe we’ll use those photos to convince the aliens not to raze our planet and turn it into some sort of intergalactic parking lot. The biggest thing against photography is the fact that its most affecting imagery is usually more journalistic than artistic.
  • Literature – Sorry, you’re cut: aliens don’t know Earth languages, and reading requires too much of a time commitment
  • Movies/TV/Video – eh, too much context in those media (discussed later)
  • Food/Culinary? – Nope. Aliens wouldn’t appreciate the same tastes. Heck, our food might even kill them.
  • Video Games? – HA!
  • Performance Art” – Hey aliens, I’ve heard they have delicious brains!

So that leaves painting and music. Thinking on both of those forms, what would we include? For music, we have any one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (among countless other things of his that could be included – one of the Brandenburg Concertos was included on the Voyager records, so let’s consider it the example for Bach), we have a selections of “Beethovens”: Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata, and excerpts from the 5th, 9th, and even 7th symphonies to choose from. Handel has Music for the Royal Fireworks, but after that, the remaining selections get a bit thin. The 1812 Overture is quite an achievement, but remembering what I had said before about context and how aliens wouldn’t care about history, it’s not detached from its context (the Napoleonic wars — As Americans we don’t care about them, and aliens would care even less); when someone listens to it, they invariably say it sounds like fighting music. So it (and most any other event/history-inspired piece of music-think Finlandia, The Ring Cycle, etc.) is out of contention because it doesn’t transcend its context. The Brandenburg Concerto has the name of a place in it, yet as music, it’s completely detached from its namesake. Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks also has a very context-heavy title, but what in it evokes a fireworks display without talking in artsy-fartsy “painting with music” terms or even explicitly calls out the “royal” aspect of it?

I’ve just looked into baroque, classical, and romantic music, and anything made before those three was made primitive by Bach’s baroque – and for music of the 20th century, well, let’s take a look. Aaron Copland wrote some nice music, unfortunately, it’s not alien-worthy. There’s some sort of experimental or even reactionary sense to it, purposefully having instruments out of tune for effect and having some intangible “American” sound, sometimes taking existing folk songs and incorporating them into some larger work. That’s great and all, but aliens don’t deserve experimental music in any capacity. We should be proud of what we’ve figured out, not the steps it took to get there.

Looking at less academic music, there’s jazz, blues, swing, etc., etc. of the pre-Rock times, and all of those are out — if the music has little significance today, it’ll have even less in the future. Now, the Beatles are probably the most significant popular music artifact of the 20th century, but as Nate implicitly said, the music didn’t get very interesting until they started with the drugs. Nothing against the Beatles, but I’m not sure drug users make the best musical ambassadors. (Yeah, Bach, etc. probably used snuff or whatever was popular, but no one says, “Wow, he must’ve been high when he wrote this.” John Lennon, I’m looking through at you.) Also, the Beatles music has words, and as much as I’d like English to be Earth’s language there are two issues: 1) I don’t want the Queen‘s English to be the official one and probably more importantly 2) aliens don’t know English, the Queen’s or otherwise, much less any Earth language.

The other musical heavy hitters of the 20th century? Led Zeppelin – drugs; Pink Floyd – more drugs; Michael Jackson – yeah, that’d be a good idea; (I hate to admit it) Garth Brooks – I don’t even need to provide a reason. Yanni’s quite popular in his own weird way, and he has the language thing taken care of, but his music is too generic for representing human-kind. Yeah, there’s the non-Western World’s music, but let’s be honest: they’re all wishing that they were us by enjoying our pop music scraps we give to them years after their popularity here. It’s the Western way or the highway.

Conclusion: Nothing musical that’s alien-worthy after Beethoven. He died in 1827. Way to go humanity.

On to artwork: Well, the most well-regarded of today’s artists (by art-critics/snobs) is Matthew Barney. Take a look around at that link, and you’ll see that not only is his “work” not alien-worthy, it’s barely human-worthy. Like music, a lot of the more notable recent-ish artists had drug problems (Picasso) which directly influenced their art, “great” or not. Van Gogh wasn’t the most stable (cutting his ear off and all), and Dali – well, his stuff is interesting only because we view it as humans and react to it because of what we expect or don’t expect of what we consider “art.” Aliens have no reason to react in that same way. Also, Mary Cassatt did the whole impressionism thing in an Georgia O’Keefe did for “precludes its inclusion.

Just like with the music, we end up looking back to the “masters:” Rembrandt, the Ninja Turtles (whose work doesn’t really need introduction – except for maybe Donatello, that underachieving I-talian),

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output is given one disappointing star due to its absolute lack of providing anything we’d give to alien ambassadors as the pinnacle of human achievement. Beyond that, because there have undoubtedly been enjoyable snippets since then, we, as fans and humans, can only be distressed once we realize that it/they can’t hold a candle to the previous work. Now, let me prefend (come on people, it means defending yourself before someone has put you in a defensive position) myself here: I am a loud opponent of the “it was first, so it’s absolutely significant and ‘good'” mentality. Beowulf, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Elvis, Sputnik, The Wright Flyer, and on and on – all overrated in any sense other than “first ~.” None of my picks were real “firsts” (except for Bosch and Bach – and Bach only sort of – but he was not the only game in town for that time of music when he was around), so I’m good to go, principles intact. Please, leave suggestions for the alien art and music presentation below.