Saturday, June 30, 2007
Here’s a question for the mini-masses that might come through: is there anyone in the world making better family movies--animated or otherwise--than Pixar? I honestly don’t think so.
Pixar has found a magic formula for family films, and Ratatouille continues their tradition of excellence. Pixar has figured out that movies for kids don’t need to be so dumbed down that adults don’t enjoy the show. They understand that “for kids” doesn’t mean automatic potty humor. Most important, they understand that there has to be a sense of wonder and magic that is only brought out with exquisite art direction, superb storytelling, and characters that, while perhaps not quite complex, have enough depth to be compelling.
The most natural comparisons for Ratatouille are to other Pixar movies, so here is the quick rundown before talking specifics. Ratatouille isn’t as funny as Finding Nemo or as action packed as The Incredibles, but it is as heartwarming as Toy Story and more satisfying than Monsters, Inc. Last year’s Cars was a solid entry in the catalog, but Ratatouille is something closer to to a classic.
The story, about a rat who wants to be a cook, is far better developed and more involving than I had expected. Forgive me for doubting directory Brad Bird or The Incredibles and The Iron Giant--the man has a wonderful touch with light drama and sense of comedy that most Hollywood directors could only wish for. His consistency is astonishing.
Another thing that Pixar does is cast great voice talent. From Ellen DeGeneres hilariously loopy turn as an absent minded fish in Finding Nemo to Dave Foley’s ant with grand plans in A Bug’s Life, Pixar chooses the right voices to fill their casts. Patton Oswalt, as our hero Remy, strikes the right tone of an eager young man (ahem, “rat") without ever becoming irritatingly earnest. The casting coup, though, is putting Peter O’Toole’s voice to the character of critic Anton Ego. Not only is Ego rendered perfectly, but O’Toole’s voice gives him a brooding presence and flavor that makes him one of the more memorable characters in any recent animated feature.
The artwork on the movie is breathtaking. The views of Paris--at times misty and dark or gorgeously lit at night--raise the art of animation another notch. While I hadn’t thought that an animated could be better than the underwater scenes of Finding Nemo, but there were moments in Ratatouille that the scenery looked as real and as solid as any photograph. Little touches and details abound (take a look at Anton Ego’s typewriter) that keep the scenery not only lovely but constantly interesting. The animators employed by Pixar are, like the rest of the crew, simply brilliant. These men and women are artists.
Ratatouile is a wonder--it’s family friendly entertainment that hasn’t been watered down for the kids, that’s safe for most families (I noticed one--arguable--profanity and there are a few tense moments early on when Remy and the rest of the rats are chased from an old woman’s country home), and that has a great message for anyone who pays a little attention. While it drags just a bit in the third act, and isn’t quite as funny as some of Pixar’s other films, it’s message, acting, and astonishing beauty make it well worth the price of a ticket.
And Peter O’Toole’s big moment, with a commentary about critics, is simply perfect.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Caugh in the iPhone’s Gravitational Pull
Up until today, I’ve been saying that I would wait for at least version 2 of the iPhone to be released before I considered a purchase. You know: let them work out the bugs, see what kind of applications are developed for the li’l feller, see if the prices come down from their astronomical highs. Not that I didn’t want one. As soon as I saw video of the iPhone in action, I started trying to find reasons to buy one.
But I tried to stay strong. I tried to let my rational side keep me from being pulled into that full-on technolust state that overrides the logical decision making of every geek.
The rates are getting me, though. See, I’m already a Cingular/AT&T customer, so all I would need to do to have the iPhone is pony up the big bucks for the phone and then add on a $20/month fee for unlimited data for email and web service along with Visual Voice Mail and 200 text messages per month.
In my head, it isn’t “twenty dollars and the 500+ for the phone and activation”. No, I just keep hearing ”just twenty dollars.”
And that’s cheap. Except, of course, it isn’t; but just trying telling my brain that.
Good Lord, I hope all the other
Brilliant! Fighting Inflation in Zimbabwe
The question of how to control runaway inflation has to be haunting Robert Mugabe’s dreams. The official rate of inflation--which is far lower than the real rate--is set at 3,700%. Which is, you know, pretty bad. Especially considering the last few years of quadruple digit inflation in the country--the Zimbabwean dollar is nearly worthless in its own country and only has value as a novelty outside those borders.
What’s a tyrant to do?
The easy answer, of course, is to order stores to slash prices on all consumer goods so that regardless of the real purchasing power of the Zim dollar, consumers will be able to afford the basics. Isn’t that a simple solution?
Of course, that ignores the costs that the sellers have to pay to stock their shelves--and their prices, especially on any goods that come from outside the country, aren’t going down. Their prices are going up. The government dictate is essentially an order to sell goods at below their real costs--which, even a ten year old running a lemonade knows isn’t good business practice.
It will also likely have the perverse effect of pushing even more people into the underground economy where barter and the trade of real currencies bypass the idiotic plans of a regime that very obviously has no legitimate plan for rescuing the economy. Which is lucky: the more people that step out of Zimbabwe’s official, fantasy economy and into the underground, reality-based (and, yes, the term has real meaning here) economy, the more the country is propped up. In fact, some people credit that black market economy with being the only thing that is holding off complete economic collapse in the nation.
How far can that collapse really be, though? I’ve been amazed at the resilience and patience of the people combined with a relatively low level of violence, but the situation cannot be expected to last forever.
Because Every Morning Needs Shiny, Happy Ringtones
Poking a little fun at someone’s over-publicized drama should happen every morning. At least, it should when it’s done with that special touch that Shawn brings to the writing.
(If you didn’t check out Shawn’s post, this will make no sense. For the rest of you, put my money on “Shiny, Happy People.” That song makes me want to die every time I hear it.)
Monday, June 25, 2007
Wasted Capital (And My Many Socially Unacceptable Pals)
I haven’t really staked out territory on the immigration bill, but isn’t it odd to watch the Bush administration spending so much political capital trying to push the bill through against overwhelming opposition? Does Bush see this as a way of saving his legacy? If so, I would much rather have seen the administration push this aggressively for something like Social Security reform--and, indeed, success there would have been a legacy of which to be proud.
But this much time and energy spend on a wildly unpopular immigration reform seems like a grand way to blow the last shreds of influence that the administration has with an increasingly hostile congress. Aren’t there more important battles to be fought right now?
That said, how is it that anyone is surprised by the direction that Bush’s immigration bill took? He telegraphed his views all the way through his state of the union addresses and both campaign runs.
Bush will be Bush.
None of which explains the fact that I need to use more naughty language on the site so that I can keep up with these other fine, potty-mouthed bloggers:
Sadly, Andy’s score doesn’t reflect the reality of Andy (whose naughtiness should not be underestimated).
So, yeah. Where was I going with that?
Sunday, June 24, 2007
The Loop: When Did I Last Laugh So Little?
Does anyone else find it sort of sad that Fox--last seen canceling Drive--shows no sign of killing off The Loop, easily one of the worst shows on network TV? Filled completely with unlikable characters, bad dialog, idiotic writing, and predictable plots, The Loop is almost unwatchable. I don’t remember the last time a sitcom made me laugh so little.
Seriously, this might be the dumbest show on TV. And that includes the stuff starring Paris Hilton.
Fox: cancel The Loop and rid my cable box of its oh-so-contrived quirkiness. Bring back Drive--it may not be another Firefly, but it’s sure as hell better than this crap.
Friday, June 22, 2007
I R Restricted (9 Hells, 8 Sucks, 2 Deaths, and a Shit)
Hell, that seems downright family friendly to me. Oops, that counts against, doesn’t it?
Mingle2 - Online Dating
Anyway, if you think my blog is bad (which, let’s be honest, it’s not that bad), you should see me after a few drinks at the upcoming Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash.
Sorry about that.
Which, somehow, leads us to the highly infectious, spotted meme that I seem to have caught from Patrick. Seven pseudo-random bits about my life? You got it, pal, although I do have to warn about the old Soviet style “truth” that got mixed up in the more truthful truth.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
For the Record, 20 June 2007
For the record, I would like to note that I still find it amazing that OJ “If I Did It” Simpson would ever even consider publishing a “fictional” confession to the murder of his former wife and that other guy. Let’s go to make believe land and pretend that Simpson isn’t the murderer that we all know him to be. In that case, publishing the book is a ghoulish way to play on the deaths. What kind of sickness would make you write a fictional account of your ex-wife’s murder? A fictional account that you insist was just a way to help ensure your kids’ futures (which does make some sense since, after this, I’m pretty sure those kids are going to need ongoing--and very expensive therapy--to get them through life).
Now, let’s come back to the real world, where we’re pretty convinced that OJ killed Nicole and Ron Goldman and then made a slow-motion run for the border complete with fake mustache, passport, and a bit of a bankroll. In this case, the publication of a pseudo confession is idiotic. It shows a continued and callous hatred of the families of the victims, a complete disregard for what this must look like to Simpson’s own kids, and a kind of arrogance that seems to confirm most peoples’ beliefs that there are really two justice systems in America: one that exists for us poor folk and one that gives the wealthy and the famous like Simpson (and Blake and the occasional Kennedy) a free pass when they go around killing folks.
Now, that said, is anyone surprised that the book finally leaked? I don’t think so. Because as ghoulish as OJ is, the public matches him. When it comes to eating up the stories of the bloody famous, the stories--fictional or not--always come out because someone is willing to pay for it.
And, for the record, while it might have been a particularly effective way of killing the guy, supplying the spark to a guy who has just covered himself in petrol isn’t going to win any PR awards and doesn’t help the image of a certain “less than lethal” weapon. I feel for the family, although the poor, dead bastard who died brought on his own death.
Speaking of records: anyone who uses a Celine Dion song as his or her presidential campaign song automatically loses my vote. For the record, Madrugada’s “You Better Leave” might be a better choice for the opposition party.
We should all be paying attention here: the record paints a convincing portrait of the importance of religious tolerance in any society.
I’ve been on record for some time as believing that one of the best solutions to the southern front of our immigration problem is a vibrant Mexican economy and better governance. Something closer to parity in opportunities would ease immigration worries tremendously. That parity seems pretty unlikely, though, doesn’t it?
For the record: Adam “Pacman” Jones + friends w/ guns + strip clubs = bad things. You might imagine that he would have learned that lesson by now. You would be wrong. Seriously, not joking even a little bit: Pacman is a troubled young man who needs to learn not only how to handle himself in the public eye, but also how to distance himself from his current group of friends. Unless he changes his ways, his “entourage” is going to ruin his football career--and that’s the best case scenario. Worst case leaves him dead or in jail for a very long time.
And you can quote me on that. Not that it’s very quotable or anything, but I was pretty sure I needed a strong statement to end the post. Which I’ve totally ruined with my explanation.
Monday, June 18, 2007
An Invitation to Athiests
A Christian writer extends a very respectful invitation to atheists and agnostics to engage in conversation at his site. Given that a few atheists travel this site on a semi-regular basis, I thought I would point them toward that conversation.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
I will not be overcome by the forces of suckiness; I will fight the suckiness.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Kindly linked by the Non-Sucky Kate.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
On Why I Must Be One of the Luckiest Bloggers in the World
Monday, June 11, 2007
So, About Hell’s Kitchen
Is it just me, or does it seem like Chef Gordon Ramsey and the crew really seem to seed their candidates with a couple losers in hopes of making the show even more ridiculous than the average reality show? I mean, aside from the fact that Chef Ramsey is foul-mouthed and temperamental as a typical two year old, some of the contestants have definitely been imported from misfit island.
That’s neither good nor bad; it’s a logical next step in the continued coarsening of network TV and a way of arrogantly projecting a personality into our homes.
And, on the first night (the do-over of the season opener) showcased Ramsey bullying, harassing, and mocking a bunch of frightened, meek, and confused cooks hoping like hell to win the favor of the evil Chef Ramsey. If there is fun to be had it’s in watching the backstabbing, groveling, and crawling while Ramsey berates and brutalizes these people. It’s emotionally vicious, but given the grand prize of a quarter million dollar salary and a restaurant to run, the fervent competition isn’t surprising.
“Why am I watching?” you ask. Because I have a ton of work to do and I hate to work with silence in the background.
And, frankly it was funny to watch Aaron have a breakdown before the show had even started in earnest. Somewhere inside of me there must be a seriously mean person for me to enjoy the cruelty on display here…
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Blogger Bash Graphics
In the extended entry are a number of Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash graphics that you can use to help publicize the event. Please don’t hotlink the files--my bandwidth is not inexhaustible. The link should go to the RSVP post.
These graphics will be updated and a second set of banners will be added early next week.
So, feel free to spread the word (and thanks to Walter for pointing out the beer-centric photo).
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Two Bits of News
It’s time for the news. Starring me.
Sorry about that.
Anyway, firstly, I’ve been offered an opportunity two write articles for a small paper. I’ll be freelancing for a little bit of extra money and a little bit of extra exposure. It isn’t much of a world-changing moment for me, but, it’s nice to be wanted, and it will be nice to be able to say that I’m a (semi-pro) writer.
I’ll give more details as the situation develops.
Secondly, come back tomorrow to see new graphics and an updated Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash Bouncy Post. We have a venue, we have a time, we have a date, and, I’m fairly sure, we’ll have some complaints. Hopefully nothing that a couple of shots of something tasty can’t fix…
Be sure to send the word out about the bash. We have a great list of attendees, and I would love to see more added to that list.
Friday, June 08, 2007
A Quick Response to a Post That Probably Deserves Something More Thoughtful
Tom Gilson, at Thinking Christian, has posted a list of 10 misconceptions that Christians have about their own faith. It’s an interesting post to me partially because, with so many flavors of Christianity and so many different beliefs about what we, as Christians, are commanded to do in the name of our faith, it seems like it would be hard to find consensus on some of these points. In particular, his points 3 and 5 would probably rouse a good deal of disagreement in some churches.
But I’m not linking to argue over those points. What I want to address is his point 9:
I certainly don’t disagree with him in reference to those who teach that God wants to shower believers with wealth and tons of stuff. That’s why I wrote, some time ago, Give to God! Act Now And Get These Ginsu Knives 100% Free!.
What I don’t like is the idea that this is some unique American malfunction. Prosperity gospel did originate in the US, but, sadly, it has begun to spread.
Prosperity gospel is beginning to spread through Africa and it abounds mostly in the poorer churches in the US for the same reason that it does sell in some poor nations. It appeals to poorer folks because it gives them something to hope for and makes Christianity something that will reward them here and now. It makes the rewards of sacrifice--the money given, the habits given up--something immediate.
It appeals to the leaders of some churches because it’s a way to grease money out of the masses--if you give now, God will make sure that your giving comes back to you ten fold. Translation to the uncritical mind: give a buck, get ten in return. Give a hundred bucks and get a thousand in return. It’s religion as a ponzi scheme--the type of thing that appeals not to the wealthy (and rarely to the merely comfortable), but to the poor sucker at the wrong end of the economic spectrum who can’t see another path to prosperity.
Mr. Gilson has written a thought provoking list, and it’s a great place to start conversations. Unfortunately, though, his take on prosperity gospel as a uniquely American doctrine is terribly wrong; prosperity gospel is proving a steady hand at converting folks in poor nations who suffer from disease, poverty, and corrupt governments. The psychology--the desire for wealth that leads transactional theology to grip so tightly on the poor--isn’t American, it’s universal. The shame is that the hucksters who sell the stuff seem to be doing a damned good job of spreading the faith.
Now, ask me why I liken prosperity gospel to the almost religious belief in some communities that pro sports offer a realistic path out of poverty even to the extent that sports take precedence over academic achievement…
A Little More Reading:
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Venus: A Ten Point Review
None of which changes the fact that this guy has great taste in blog posts. This young lady does, too.
Update: A much better review than my own, and from a respected voice. I did like the movie more than he did, but I’m a sucker for O’Toole.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Could it Ever Happen?
What’s the over-under on the number of Kossacks who hate al Qaeda more than they hate Fox News? My guess is that the number would be pretty low…
To that question, Shawn has a quick thought for hour day:
Monday, June 04, 2007
Cowboy Diplomacy, Part 1 of at Least 1
For a more nuanced view of the story, feel free to read this.
Other Bits of Recent Posts About Russia
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