Fall Update

Well hello!  Fancy seeing you all here.

I wish I could say there was some ground breaking news from the BGF House, but there just isn't.  A visit to Four Pines at Rollman Manor would result in any number of friends hanging out, studying, working, singing, making food, playing with children or dogs, watching TV or drinking beer.

Just like everyone else.

There have been high points and low points.  The low points are of the "We don't talk about it in public" type of things, so don't expect to hear about anything calamitously juicy or worthy of repost on a gossipy site somewhere.  (And yes, I fully expect that.  My fans are rabid and uncouth and would push their mom in front of a speeding 18-wheeler if it meant a retweetable twitpic.  Some of you may have to look that up.)

On to the more high of the points then.

Lil Miss Austin is truly enjoying Derby Brats.  She has a scrimmage coming up and I'm excited to attend.  Her group ranges in age from 8-18 so it can be a little unfair to the little girls, but they break them up.  Among the littler of the skaters, she's one of if not the fastest.  She goes to practice twice a week and still has time to complete all her third grade homework.

However, she has been tired lately.  We worried she was not getting enough sleep, but knew she was getting 10 hours.  Eventually a visit to the doctor confirmed she had mono and so she's been at home recuperating for the last two days.  It's been a little stressful for her as she really doesn't like doctors.
Nothing new with G-man, though he is doing fine in kindergarten.  He has taken to reading more and more.  He's able to put letters and sounds together to actually form the words.  He's moved away from knowing what the words in books are because he's memorized them, to actively breaking them down and reading them.  It's quite exciting to see his brain working.  And he's a Rollman so you can tell his brain is working because his mouth is opening and closing like a fish desperate for water.

The BGF as a whole is a little larger as well.  As you may have been able to tell from the photos on Flickr, the house is a bee-hive, though not the dying of indeterminate fungus type of bee-hive.  The ladies have friends who visit at least once a week if not more.  Everyone's social lives seem to have been turned up a few degrees and the house just never seems empty.  I personally enjoy that and I think if I were by myself for too long without kids or company or friends I'd probably become depressed.  We've adopted a derby girl and her daughter as near permanent fixtures in our lives as well.  Also, Ms. A's mom's dog (which I've loving dubbed Jerk Dog) continues to pee and poop his way into our hearts.  (Don't tell anyone, but it's me who leaves the doors open and then feigning shock when he has run off again.)  (Not really.)

The past couple weeks my time's been consumed with design projects of small and helpful kinds, some robots and a LOT of review writing for TVZ.  We recently switched our cable and internet from Suddenlink to AT&T U-Verse.  DVR, HD Channels, faster internet connection AND a home phone and we're staving about $20 a month.  So my TV viewing hasn't stopped.  In fact, at one point I was reviewing five shows for TVZ.  Don't ask where or why I found the time.  Luckily one show was canceled and the other was picked up by Tiger Lily so I'm down to three.

As to the new cable, like most things AV, the equipment and knowledge I have surrounding the available technology is lacking.  Our surround sound system and TV are about six years old and probably about two years old when we bought them.  They are scratched and don't exactly work right.  I don't have the time to muck with repairing or replacing the receiver or getting a new system so that center channel will just have to be out.  The downside of that is you can't hear anyone.  But U-Verse fits our needs so far.  I have a TV in my room that's also hooked up, which means I can watch all my shows in my room without upsetting the non-geeks.  It also means I'm watching sci-fi shows in my room surrounded by Lego.  I own my geek-ness, I have no shame!

I've officially registered for classes at Austin Community College.  Now I have to officially see if the government will pay for it.  I have my financial aid paperwork done, but I may already have too many credits to qualify.

The holidays are coming up and all our plans are still unmade.  We have general ideas about them and I can say that we'll all generally be at our house or somewhere in Louisiana.  As much as I'd like to see my family in CO, it's just too much this time.  I've said that the last five years I think, it's starting to sound dick-ish.

So overall, no complaints.  Life is decent.  Carry on.

Well, Hell.

I was going to write a post today, but Blogger is either having problems or I'm having problems with Blogger.

Nothing really major going on, but I thought a couple weeks was too long to let the site go by without some attention. I'll have something up as soon as the editor is fixed.


Review: V 1.1 - "Pilot"

(for more news, reviews and discussion, visit www.televisionzombies.com)

Quoting an online friend, "It moved so fast I felt like I fell asleep and missed huge chunks of it. And then it was suddenly the season finale."

(Review contains spoilers, if you don't want to be spoiled, never saw the original series, don't expect the aliens to end up being villainous lizard people, please don't read on.)

Originally aired in 1983, V was a two part miniseries running on NBC. It was followed by a sequel mini series in 1984 and then a regular series that ran for 19 episodes until 1985. This reimaging (which has been the catch phrase of remakes since BS:G) focuses on the same principle plot points: Aliens from another world visit Earth under the guise of peace and cooperation. Their cover story is they have no home and need resources which are abundant on Earth and once they are replenished they will leave. We come to find out that they are not what they say and a resistance forms to drive the aliens away.

ABC hyped the coolness right off this show. When it first started putting out ads for it, it was exciting, but you couldn't go a single commercial break without seeing Scott Wolf say, "Excuse me?" When it finally aired, my first comment was, "Really? It's only an hour?" To which a friend responded, "Hey, you don't mess with my Dancing with the Stars."


I watched this on my DVR after waiting the traditional 20 minutes in respect for the TV gods and so I could fast forward through the commercials. However, between the DVR skipping and jumping to different spots (well done Suddenlink) and the kids needing to be fed and bathed, I had to watch it in starts and stops. At one point I had to let the recording finish and start over. My reaction, then, was unsettled. Whether or not I gave the show enough of a chance at this point is academic.

Without further ado, meet our story lines.

Erica Evans (Elizabeth "Lost's Juliet" Mitchell) is an FBI Agent (of course) who is investigating terrorist cells with her partner Dale Maddox (Alan "I make everything I'm in a little better" Tudyk.) Erica has a teenage son Tyler and he has a best friend Brandon. They're in a clinic after being in a fight.

Chad Decker (Scott "Party of Five" Wolf) is a news anchor who really wants to be a reporter but the network won't give him a shot. When the Visitors arrive, he makes a joke and suddenly becomes the news liaison to the Visitors.

Ryan Nichols (Morris "Yes this is my name" Chestnut) plays a banker or clerk (his abc.com bio says "business man") who is buying a ring and getting ready to propose to his girlfriend Valerie Holt (Lourdes "24" "NYPD Blue" Benedicto.) He's being hounded by an old acquaintance, Georgie Sutton, who wants him to come back to the operation. Ryan tells him to shove off.

Father Jack Landry (Joel "The 4400" Gretsch) and his mentor (I don't know how priest hierarchies work) Father Travis are arguing over the fact that no one comes into church any more.

And along come the visitors.

Anna (Morena "Firefly" Baccarin) is the leader of the Visitors. They arrive on their giant space crafts which they stole from the Independence Day aliens and hover over several dozen major metropolitan cities. Why is it aliens love to hover over major cities? Wouldn't you want to land somewhere or stay in orbit and send down smaller craft? It seems like a perfect way to scare people and waste a lot of fuel. Yes, they've perfected the technology behind gravity manipulation, but it still seems a bit showy.

Anna calms the people by saying, "We mean you no harm. We are of peace. Always." The once panicked humanity actually applauds the giant jumbotron screen in the sky. Anna gets Chad Decker to do an interview but doesn't want any negative questions. The Visitors were once like humans in their emotions but have since learned to control it and realize that negative emotions are wasteful.

Meanwhile, Agents Evans and Maddox are investigating a terrorist cell. They noticed a certain group's activity increased after the Visitors arrived, rather than decreased like all the others. They go to track some leads but are one step behind at each turn. Finally a clue leads them to a resistance meeting led by Georgie Sutton. Erica and Father Jack are both there and suddenly a floating shrapnel bomb explodes and kills several people. The hideout is then raided by people wielding bladed weapons. They start tearing down resistance members. Erica is attacked by her partner and when she hits him with a metal bar, she sees reptile skin under his human skin.

Erica's son Tyler is smitten with a recruiting hottie named Lisa (Laura "Smallville" Vendervoort) and forges his mom's signature so he can be part of the Visitor Youth something or other. As his mom and Father Jack are escaping with their lives, he's accepting a toast at the first meeting of the Visitor Community Awareness shindig.

Oh, also? Ryan is a visitor and helps Georgie escape. He's a traitor. The visitors have been here for decades. This "arrival" is just the last phase of their plan to take over the world.

I have to go back to the quote at the beginning of this post. I rewound several parts of this first episode because I missed something truly integral to the rest of the show. I mean, if you blinked you missed the whole reason Agents Evans and Maddox were investigating an underground storage area. You missed Georgie's speech about who the Visitors really were. You missed the recruitment pitch by Lisa and the interview post mortem by Chad and Anna's first in command Marcus. It was a breakneck pace and at the same time it moved too fast for me to appreciate what was going on.

The comparison I have to V is to the recent film District 9 in which an alien race becomes stranded over South Africa and are forced to leave their ship and live on Earth in a refugee camp. At the beginning of the movie, we are told the entire back story in news clippings and interviews and it takes about 15 minutes. Comparatively, in Independence Day the entire invasion takes place over just a couple days but also spans the full movie until they are fought off right at the end. V took this unsure middle ground where the ships show up in the first couple minutes, but then we spend the rest of the time in an unsure time machine. The only part that gave any indication of how much time had past was half way through when we see the caption "Three Weeks Later" but by that time I was already confused as it seemed much more time had past or none at all.

This treatment could have been given a better chance had it run two hours. I'm not saying that because I think Dancing With The Stars is a waste of my time, but because it was hard keeping up with everyone. You have 40 minutes to introduce four different plots, 8 major and several minor characters AND an alien invasion, something's going to get lost. And in this case it was the identification I had with anyone. What also suffered was the writing. Because we only get a few short moments with each character, their lines have to be jam packed with emotion, meaning and clues. We don't get the film approach to dialog that can be drawn out to explore the full range of an actor's abilities; we get sound bites that are awkward and stiff. Even Mitchell, who is great in Lost had some lines that were just flat. Alan Tudyk was only mildly interesting. The rest of the cast was fairly boring.

I will make an exception for Georgie, played by David Richmond-Peck. He had the typical task of being the Resistance leader and in doing so had to deliver conspiracy and paranoia in a limited space, but I feel he did a bang up job. His revulsion but ultimate need to remain close to Ryan was painted skillfully on his face and the indoctrination scene with Erica could not have been handled better.

There was a lot that didn't make sense in the show. Early on when the alien ship first arrived, the army was already in place to section people off in some random order, but right out in the middle of the streets of New York. There was no reason given and there was no obvious need to do so. Erica and Tyler were a family without a husband and dad and yet despite the arrival of another life form, they can't work out their mistrust. Also, despite the arrival of aliens, Agent Evans continues to work on terrorist threats. Little things like that make me pull my hair out. I don't know about you, but if an alien ship started floating over Austin and Morena Baccarin came out, I think I might quit my job and go wait around by that ship.

This series is going to be set up as a constant fight between the Resistance and the Visitors. It can't go forever and one side will have to win. But they crammed the entire fight into one episode and now instead of any meaningful discovery, all we have left is the fight and I'm not sure I can deal with 17 episodes of rebellion.

Three out of five Anna heads.


Review: Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol

Man, it's another The Polar Express and Monster House with those creepy zombie eyed people with the CG mouths that are close but just not quite past the uncanny valley. Plus, aw hell, it's got Jim Carrey in it. This is going to be awful. It's in 3D too? Yeah, it's going to be horrible. I still haven't forgiven Zemeckis for Contact.

These are all the things we said going into the theater. I was cautiously optimistic. The trailers looked promising, but I really hated The Polar Express and I was worried this was going to be another single actor ham fest with unsettlingly real yet not real animation. But it was a free screening at IMAX and it was 3D so why not, right? Halloween is officially over, I can see a Christmas movie.

I'll cut right to it. While I was not blown away, I was really impressed. A Christmas Carol is as charming, spooky, funny, scary, and emotionally charged as I've ever seen it. Up until now my favorite renditions were Patrick Stewart's one man theatrical performance and Scrooged starring Bill Murray. This would rank among my favorite versions of Dickens' classic tale.

The film is done in what's called "performance capture." I've never heard the term until today, but I know what it entails. Unlike movies that create the characters with the computer, performance capture sets a skin over the recorded movements of real actors. It's modern day rotoscoping and while it produces very believable movement in what is obviously a computer animated world, it also creates some barriers.

The first barrier being what I already mentioned, the uncanny valley. The hypothesis of this is basically that the closer robots look and act to humans they reach a point where our emotional response becomes negative and they begin to scare and revolt us. Nothing in robotics is quite human enough to over come this, though some people say there are puppets that can be made to act near human without being creepy. (To me "puppet" and "creepy" can be synonymous.) This carries over into the digital actor world when the technology to capture lifelike movements and reactions and emotions begin to dip way down into this valley and start to unnerve the viewers. Regardless of how lifelike the animation is, people will (so far) be adverse to it. The Polar Express (a Zemeckis movie) was one of these. The people moved like people, but the eyes were wrong, the mouths were off. They seemed like dolls or zombies. There wasn't a spark behind the stares and the smiles were heinous grimaces doing not much more than baring oddly gapped teeth.

Carol is able to get past that for the most part. I won't lie and say it's perfect, but the main characters are without the vacant quality Express had. The side characters and street people still showed signs of this and likely only because they didn't have the man hours at the computer to bring them to as much life as Scrooge, Cratchit and the spirits.

The second barrier is one that may not be avoidable with this type of animation. The designers and directors work so hard on making Victorian London believable and real that they designed themselves right out of some of the more fantastical abilities inherent to computer animation. There's not much in the way of lightsabers or heavy blasters or ancient goddesses in A Christmas Carol but there is a whimsical aspect to the spirits and the times they show Ebenezer. In one part of his past, a dance is held and his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig, and his wife cavort and careen around the makeshift dance hall in odd, jerky movements. Their jumps linger, purposefully, too long and at one point Mrs. Fezziwig pirouettes herself into the air like a helicopter. Now, it's one thing when the candle-head spirit of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a hair raising flight through snow covered fields, but when real people suddenly move like fairies, it can make you suddenly feel again like you're watching something that's not quite right.

However, all in all the animation is top quality and the design altogether was remarkable. We walk through Ebenezer's home in the evening and true to form in late 1800's London, there's no electricity or central heating. His large house is cold and dark and at times the only light is his small candle and the only sound is his breathing and the creek of stairs. The character's breath seen in the cold is just the right visibility. The clothing drapes and moves realistically and without the stretching skin quality seen in early and dodgy CG attempts.

The spirits (all voiced by Carrey) were true to the original story and completely brought to life. Everyone who went to the showing came away with a favorite and each specter (including the last) had qualities than made them enjoyable to watch on screen but also of which to be afraid. They were frightful in the way they were intended to be, not because of an emotional attachment to their animation. They were well executed if not, at times, a little gratuitous.

And finally Jim Carrey's performance was quality. This was like watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or even Ace Ventura: Pet Detective again. It was nice remembering that despite some of the crap work Carrey has done (and let's face it, most actors do crap work from time to time) his Scrooge was a wholly enjoyable and well put together performance. Despite some of the trademarks of performance capture (that animates the characters to look like the actors) Scrooge was superb and almost never did I think "That's Jim Carrey doing that." Later in the film as Scrooge becomes more light-hearted, you can see Carrey's face in Scrooge and it does pull you out a little. Up until then the hawk nose and plow chin Scrooge was his own man and not one driven by a comedic actor.

The other actors were obvious and for the most part it did not hurt the story to have them so any more than if it were a live action telling, which in the end is the highest praise a movie like this can earn.

If you have little ones, this is not the movie for you. Rent the Muppet version and be done with it. Zemeckis's version is every bit as creepy and at some points down right frightening as the original could be.

God bless us, every one.