A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Few Reviews

Batman Begins (yes, I'm waaaayyyy behind) is a fabulous movie. Superbly written, brilliantly acted, and a feast for the eyes. The Tim Burton re-imagining of the Dark Knight (with the outstanding casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker) was excellent, in a comic book sense, and a lot of fun, but this.... This is as close as you could ever get to believing Batman could actually exist in our world.

Christian Bale is spot on as Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine was an inspired choice as Alfred, Liam Neeson surprisingly good as the mysterious stranger who starts Bruce Wayne on his path to becoming Batman, and Cillian Murphy makes for a very creepy Scarecrow. Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer and Gary Oldman are all very good in supporting roles. The only weak spot in the cast is Katie Holmes as an incorruptible DA, but her performance is weak only relative to the excellence of the rest of the cast.

The plot is rock solid, tying together all of the various and disparate Batman bits seemingly effortlessly--no small accomplishment. There is almost no cheesiness in the plot or the script-- also no small accomplishment-- but there are moments of wry humor that ring true precisely because they aren't contrived or standard issue action movie wisecracks. And finally, the music is superb. As fresh as Danny Elfman's driving percussion lines were in the Burton film, they seem old and tired now-- not so the haunting woodwind heavy score of Batman Begins. It does not beat you over the head, and it mixes East and West with great facility. Highly recommended!

Not so the Odd Couple, now being resurrected at The Fireside Theater in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Actually, I haven't seen it, so take this with a large grain of salt, but the advertisements for it are sooooo lame that I'm pretty sure the production is awful. Seriously, though, if the bits they have in the radio ads are the funniest parts... well, there may need to be a suicide watch for the audience because every single line we hear is contrived, dated, and-- most tellingly-- painfully unfunny. The ad also has "testimonials" in it from people who purportedly loved the show. I can't tell for sure-- since it's radio-- but I suspect that the Fireside people put a gun to the heads of the poor saps, because I have rarely heard laughter and commentary sound so completely forced.

Mixed review for Orson Scott Card's Shadow series of novels. These four books are a sequel of sorts to Card's classic Ender's Game novel. They detail the efforts of Ender's brother, Peter, to unite the world as well as showing us what happens to the children that were in battle school with Ender during the war between humanity and the alien Hive Queens. Overall, the four books are entertaining and worth a read if you are a science fiction or OSC fan. Be prepared, however, for a bit of preachiness while you are reading because OSC has his soap box out and he isn't afraid to pontificate.

In particular, Card is surprisingly heavy handed in his use of plot devices to drive home his belief that: 1) Even embryos are people and deserving of protection, 2) Pre-emptive war/violence is sometimes necessary, and 3) Gay marriage is an abomination and gay people should be happy being either single or married to a member of the opposite sex and pretending that they are heterosexual. Of those three, I mostly agree with him on #2, but not so much with #1, and I find his position on #3 completely indefensible.

For the most part, however, Card remembers the old writing dictum "show, don't tell" and his pet topics detract minimally from the overall flow and depth of the novels. And his vision for how unity on earth will finally be achieved is fascinating, as is his treatment of possible futures for China, India, Islam, and the world in general. The books are good, but not great, and there will be lecturing from time to time.

Last review, and something which I've been meaning to comment on for quite a while now but keep forgetting about-- are the "I'm a Mac... and I'm a PC" ads not the most brilliant advertisements to come out in a long time? They are consistently fresh, inventive, funny AND they actually tell you the strengths of the product. I love the one where the PC is inflated like the Blueberry Girl in Willy Wonka and can barely walk around. This one is pretty good, too. Ah heck, they are all good.

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The Mac ads do an excellent job of pointing out the advantages of a Mac (or to defuse a few of the old myths from the FUD days) with humor and affection... and , not coincidentally, in a way that doesn't pitch Macs VERSUS PCs, but as compatriots.

What a fine line to walk.

Interesting that Apple has also created a whole idiom of ads with the iTunes/iPod ads. The brightly colored profiles, with fun, hip music, have wormed their way into the public consciousness in both print and video, becoming ripe for copies and parodies.

The Apple logo, also, tops worldwide recognition, falling behind Coke and one other, I think.

But the question is, does it sell? Does it move the merchandise, does it inspire Joe Sixpack to plunk down the plastic? Signs point to yes; Apple's year over year sales, and profits, have been on a pretty steady climb for several years, and the ever quoted "5%" pseudo-statisitic has been eroding for 7, 8, 10 or even 12.

Nothing like a Mac post to pull BP out of his shell.
Batman Begins was a great movie, until the absolutely retarded and nonsensical "big bad plot" was revealed at the end. A giant microwave oven that flash boils all of the water in Gotham, but leaves all the humans, who are almost completely made of water, completely unharmed? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
True, the big plot ending was a bit... strained. But I was willing to overlook it since the rest of the movie was so good, and they at least attempted to establish the science of the plot.
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