Saturday, December 29, 2007

Aliens vs Predator: When's the Sequel?

You don't go to a movie called Aliens vs Predator: Requiem and expect Oscar worthy fare. Well, we never look for Oscar worthy fare here in The Midside. What we do look for are movies that are what they say they are and don't seek to be more that definition. Aliens vs Predator is one of those movies. You get everything you expect (and maybe a tiny bit more).

It would be impossible to claim someone made a mistake with the title. There are Aliens. There's a Predator. Heck, there's even a Predalien. And, most of all, it is most certainly a requiem. When I first heard the title, the tail end of the title seemed a bit tacked on. It sounded oddly inappropriate to me. Now I understand why it was put there. The bodies start piling up immediately and there is never a shortage of people to kill. There is most certainly not an attempt to parallel the horrific imagery of the mass death in 28 Weeks Later, but that same sense of dread and tragedy sticks with you.

This story picks up where its predecessor left off. The Predalien that popped out of the Predator's chest overruns the ship, crashing it back into Earth. Minutes later, the all out attack on a small Colorado town begins when a hunter and his eight year old son (yes, you read that correctly) are facehugged. You think somehow (or perhaps hope) that the eight year old will escape. When he doesn't, you know this movie isn't going to hold a lot back.

The strength of the movie seems to be its fidelity to the conventions of the original, excuse me, the originals There is the small group of characters you know just enough to care about yet not enough to demand that big name actors play them. The Aliens lurk in the shadows ala a horror movie. The Predator kicks butt ala an action movie. There is a strong female mother character. While stalked by the murderous extraterrestrials, a guy even yells, "Get to the chopper." How happy do you think he was when he read the script and discovered he would get to say that line?

I'm not foolish enough to proclaim this film as perfect. There was plenty more I wanted to see. Maybe instead of beginning with the father and son hunting, the story could have opened with the morning routine of the town so we could get better acquainted with the characters. I would have liked to see more of the Predator homeworld. I most definitely would have liked a larger presence for Reiko Aylesworth (perhaps best known for her role as Michelle Dessler on 24), but maybe that's just because I think she's incredibly hot. The runtime isn't that long, so more definitely could have been added.

Most importantly, this movie is a million times better than the disappointing Alien vs Predator and leaves a door wide open for a sequel I would actually like to see. It is what Transformer wishes it was: an entertaining and self aware adaption of an appealing fantastical mythology. It is what it is and no one can be blamed for enjoying a movie that doesn't insult its audience or source material.

3/5 Stars

Friday, December 28, 2007

ESPN Sideline Reporter: Michigan St. Back "Runs for Life."

The ultimate example of media hypocrisy may have fallen into my lap. Currently, the 2007 Champs Sport Bowl between Boston College and Michigan State is in the tail end of the halftime break. BC leads 14-10. Their quarterback Matt Ryan threw for both TDs. This story, surprisingly, does not revolve around the much hyped Ryan; rather, the focus is on the leading rusher in the game, Michigan State's Jehuu Caulcrick.

Caulcrick is listed at 6'0 225 lbs on his profile. He ran even bigger in the first half, gaining the majority of his 44 yards after contact, often dragging defenders with him. Since the ball was only handed to him 8 times in the half, he boasted a strong 5.5 yards per carry average. Big powerful running backs aren't a story though. We're talking about football. We can all name a few. What's interesting is what you may not know about Caulrick. Rather, more specifically, what's interesting is the manner in which that information was told to me.

In a traditional attempt to add a "humanizing" story to the game, ESPN (the network carrying the game) sideline reporter Holly Rowe recounted the tale of Caulcrick's youth. Apparently, the young man was born and raised in Liberia until his mother brought him here to America. What makes the story so "special" is that, while living in Liberia, his Dad was a presidential aid up to the time of the "revolution" (as Rowe called it). Caulcrick and his family then, apparently, found themselves constantly on the run from people attempting to kill his father. Can you figure out where this story is going yet?

Rowe continued her tale to say that Caulcrick's mother finally brought him to America. According to Michigan State website, he attended high school at Clymer in New York and his hometown is listed as Findley Lake, NY. In fact, there is no mention of Liberia in his biography on that site. Anyway, the story turned ridiculous when Rowe reached her reason for explicating these facts about the running back.

In her culminating remarks, Rowe stated that Caulcrick still retains some of that feeling of running for his life when playing football.


Didn't the media drag Alabama head coach Nick Saban over the coals for his comparison of his team's loss to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor? Didn't they say the comparison trivialized the tragedy of those incidents because Saban linked them to a game? If I'm not mistaken, his comments were the story of the week. It must have been a slow news week.

Isn't war-torn Africa one of the media's favorite humanitarian issues? Don't they love to talk about how the United States should send aid to stop the violence in such countries such as Darfur (as is the most recent trendy example)? War-torn Africa is portrayed as one of the greatest contemporary tragedies. It must be difficult to talk about every incidence of violence in Africa though because Liberia isn't mentioned often...and apparently not taken very seriously.

How was Rowe allowed to go on television and make such a ridiculous remark? Caulcrick is a skilled running back because his family ran from the violence in Liberia? Her statement wasn't an indirect comparison in the way Saban's was. It was a direct cause-and-effect relationship. According to Rowe, Caulcrick's childhood experiences were a large contributing factor to his skill as a running back. Memo to college football coaches: start scouting war-torn Africans villages for the next Emmit Smith.

I'm not saying Rowe's comments were a huge deal. I'm not going to lie though. I was a bit taken aback. The ridiculous nature of the comment demonstrates a lack of intelligence on Rowe's part. After the initial shock wore off, I wondered why the media wasn't held to the same level of accountability that they hold everyone else to. Saban isn't a writer, speaker, actor, or any other type of great communicator. He's a football coach. He's not supposed to be able to deliver amazing speeches. Rowe, on the other hand, is a professional.

I realize that an editor probably doesn't stand over sideline reporters' shoulders and ok everything they're going to say, but if someone makes comments like Rowe did, should they be a sideline reporter? Who hired Rowe? Who promoted her to sideline reporter on a national broadcast of a college football bowl game? I'm not saying Rowe should be absolved of responsibility for her comment. However, she is not the only person who is at fault here.

For the sake of the media demonstrating self awareness and accountability (not for the sake of social sensitivity or political correctness), I'd like to see Rowe reprimanded or, at the very least, for her and ESPN to issue an apology. However, I doubt I'll hear about Rowe's comments ever again. Instead, with the media's need to insert such "storylines" and "analysis" into every broadcast, I may just have to start watching games on mute.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sweeney Todd Kills

Tim Burton was destined to direct Sweeney Todd. It is the tragic tale of lost love, unrequited passion, and, um, barbarism. I have to wonder how Burton couldn't succeed with such a story. His fantastical touch glazes the picture with bleakness. Regular Burton cohort Johnny Depp and Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter lead the production of fine performances that also features the dependable Alan Rickman and, yes, Borat. Overall, the small casts combines to make the slow paced and meticulous journey down Fleet Street hard to shake.

Following the open credits, you're immediately greeted with the four main elements of the story: singing, darkness, Sweeney Todd (Depp), and Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower). Todd and Hope sail into London crooning about the tragedy and the beauty of the city respectively. The remainder of the movie follows this course. Todd slowly decays into depression while Hope, as his name would suggest, schemes for a romantic escape.

Depp portrays Todd's descent into madness masterfully (as if you didn't expect that level of craft from him). At first, he is merely a sympathetic figure, Benjamin Barker, the man who was unjustly prisoned so Judge Turpin (Rickman) you could steal his beautiful wife and daughter. However, Todd quickly states Barker is no more and you actually feel the truth behind that statement. The killings finally begin and you fully accept the madness. Todd is no longer a man, no longer Barker, he is the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Notably, Depp carries a decent tune. His voice is not amazing, but doesn't jar you out of the experience due to its pure awfulness.

Carter turns in a similar performance to Depp, complete with the passable singing. I mean, these actors are Burton's people, what else would you expect? Truthfully, Carter and Depp's lack of American-Idol voices adds to the story. Their rough delivery of the songs emphasizes the flaws of their characters. They sing as well as they deal with the world.

The rest of the cast picks up what little slack there is. Bower as Hope guides the light within the darkness well. Rickman, though not given a huge amount of time to develop Turpin, is a villain you have disdain for. Perhaps most surprising are young Ed Sanders as Toby and Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Sanders voice is wonderful, and he does a superb job at delivering such an important role. Cohen is amusingly entertaining as the popular local Italian barber. He is proving to be a talented impressionist. By my count, he has now played an Arab, a Frenchman, an Italian, and an Englishman.

Sweeney Todd is a film worth viewing for most adults, fans of Burton or not. The blood and gore are intentionally over the top to the point of becoming a nonentity for the squeamish. Burton is more concerned with contrasting the bright red with the drab black and blue of the picture than the brutality of throat-slitting; and that perspective is the heart of the story. It's so dark and tragic, but executed beautifully so you don't miss the point. The final shot is also so powerful it's sure to become iconic.

4/5 Stars

Monday, December 24, 2007

MI4: Ending LOST

In this LOST-less period and repeat-filled television schedule, I've been forced to look elsewhere for my filmed and scripted entertainment: movies. I'm not saying I haven't always been a movie fan. I have been. I always focused my energy more on television though. With the writers' strike sending everything to repeats, I've found myself at the theater a lot more often recently. Even more so, I've started watching already released movies I was either avoiding or never got around to watching.

One such movie is Mission Impossible 3. I had simply never gone out of my way to see it. In all honesty, I was partially affected by the negative word-of-mouth about the movie. The real driving force behind my desire to see the movie was that J.J. Abrams wrote and directed it. That desire overpowered my sloth today and, using my parents' on demand cable feature (a nifty invention indeed), my family watched MI:III. It was a lot better than I expected and granted me some insight into the inevitable end of LOST.

The movie had all the elements of an Abrams story. The picture was colored and filmed similar to the way the trailers for Cloverfield appear (even though Abrams is "only" the producer of that movie). Greg Grunberg has a cameo in an opening party sequence. The story, obviously, prominently features spy games and deception. There are even kick butt women. Maggie Q of Live Free or Die Hard fame stars as a member of Ethan Hunt's team. In the end scene of the movie, it is actually Hunt's wife (played by Michelle Monaghan, no relation to Dominic) who lays waste to the agency mole, impressing Hunt himself when he, um, wakes up.

The parallels to LOST were also undeniable. For instance, the reason Monaghan needs to kill the agency mole is: moments before Hunt died. Immediately following all her shooting, Monaghan immediately begins to give CPR to her husband, vigorously trying to bring him back to life. Remind you of a LOST scene? How about if I tell you the name of the episode? All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues. Ring a bell? Jack and Kate find Charlie hanging from a tree. Jack takes him down and starts administering CPR. Yup, the scene in MI3 was almost exactly the same. Someone I was watching with said something like, "Maybe he really is dead." I replied, "Don't worry, he'll come back." and added to myself in thought, "She'll start pounding on his chest in frustration in a minute." Sure enough, in a Jack like move, Monaghan started pounding on her husband's chest and he came back to life with a cough. The mirror image was ridiculous. I also suppose it's sort of ironic Monaghan was the person being saved in LOST and the person doing the saving in MI3. God, does it say something about me that I notice these things? Actually, I can answer that myself: of course it says something. How about telling me what it says then?

More important than parallel scenes, the plot design of the movie was similar to LOST. The movie began with a scene that was near the end. By the time we reached that scene, our perceptions of it changed. Events did not turn out how we expected. More importantly, the plot revolved around an item called the "Rabbit's Foot". There is speculation about what it is (which contains an end of days scenario). The villain is trying to retrieve. The heroes are trying to stop him from obtaining it. It is, essentially, the mystery that drives the audience. Seemingly, the villain knows what it is, but the heroes and the audience do not. Do you see where I'm going with this comparison? MI3's "Rabbit's Foot" is LOST's "Magic Box." We have the vague and mysterious name. We still have no explanation.

Abrams teases the reveal of the nature of the Rabbit's Foot all the way until the last scene. Back at headquarters, Hunt and his boss have a discussion. Hunt, finally, asks what the Rabbit's Foot is. His boss replies that he'll tell Hunt if he promises to remain in the employ of the agency. Hunt grins and walks away. The movie ends without the audience ever finding out what the Rabbit's Foot actually is. A few members of my family felt hard done by the movie, even declaring it as stupid that they never revealed the mystery. I immediately understood why Abrams wrote the movie the way he did and explained it to them. It doesn't matter what the Rabbit's Foot was. In action movies, there is always some doomsday device that the heroes need to track down. If you don't believe me, just watch a season of 24. What's important is that the device has a name and is important to the characters. It's almost as if Abrams was flaunting the writing technique in front of our faces. Maybe I understood what he did because I'm a writer. Maybe MI3 is a lesson in audience.

What's important about the island in LOST is not it's exact nature, not how it does what it does, but that it does what it does. It is the driving force behind the stories on LOST, the stories which are character based stories. The flashbacks, the hallucinations, the random animal appearances, all these occurrences are part of the powers of the island and they've all had a profound affect on the characters. Do we really need an explanation as to how these things are done? No. Rather, I think the answer we're looking for is why.

Like LOST, MI3 is at heart a character piece. It is the story of Hunt trying to fall in love and have a family in his ridiculous career path. In a way, it is a similar story to Journeyman. However, what makes the story worth watching, what makes me ultimately not care about what the "Rabbit's Foot" is that Hunt saves the world. You could even argue that without his new marriage, Hunt would have never saved the world because his wife became the target of the villain's personal vendetta thus adding a variable the villain did not account for in his diabolical plan. In other words, the why of MI3 is "To Save the World". Of course, LOST doesn't have that easy why.

The nice thing about writing a movie like MI3 is that the why is already written for you. In MI3, the why is always "To Save the World". In Die Hard, the why is always "To Stop a Bank Robbery". To stray away from those answers would simply be unfaithful to the source material (although, fans of the book I Am Legend would probably skewer me here). LOST, however, is a story that was written from scratch. There was no built in why. Right now, all we seem to have is a post-modern mosaic that ultimately will or will not stay true to its post-modern roots. Obviously, in MI3, Abrams strayed post-modern brand of storytelling with the ending, but utilized it with the whole notion of the Rabbit's Foot. Cloverfield seems to contain those elements as well (as it seems to be about random young adults reacting to the crisis shot in a similar style to The Blair Witch Project). I can only hope that at the end of LOST, we are given that ultimate why, rather than letting us decide it for ourselves. In other words, is Ben right, do they need to stay on the island? Is Jack right, do they need to go back? I don't think so. At least not all of them. But that's where post-modernism can lead to one why. We all have our role to play in the grand scheme. But what remains to be seen is what that grand scheme is.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story Review

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story directed by Jake Kasdan and cowritten by Kasdan and Judd Apatow is like a professional wrestling event. John C. Reilly is the big star meant to "draw" the crowds and who will ultimately be "put over" by the movie as part of his resume, but it's the supporting cast you remember most when leaving the theater. I went into this movie expecting Will Ferrell, who I admittedly do not like, type fare and secretly hoping that Apatow's influence would shine through. Both my expectations and hopes were met.

The story of Dewey Cox is both uninteresting and unnecessary. Most of the movie it felt as if the "story" was strung along as a reason to transition from one joke to the next. A large part of the movie is parodying decades and the genres of music they spawned and it often felt as if Cox's story was little more than a framework for these send ups. Attempts at exposition were sandwiched in between scathing musical numbers (the most notable being a 60s protest song in favor of midgets) creating a tone for the movie that left me wondering if Kasdan wanted to parody music itself or VH1 Behind the music type shows. The performance of the star may have been limited by this duplicity.

Reilly puts in an able performance, though plays little more than caretaker of the movie. It is as if he was intended to be the David Garrad of this Jacksonville Jaguars comedy and just hand the ball to his star running backs without screwing up. In other words, he often acted as the set up man, delivering few punchlines of his own. Scenes were stolen by the other characters. For instance, Jenna Fischer turns in a strong performance as Darlene Madison and Jane Lynch completely controls her scene, creating a character similar to her Paula in the 40 Year Old Virgin. It is among these backup players that the strength of the movie is found.

Amidst all this confusion, Apatow steps in and delivers his fledgling brand of comedy. His vulgarity creeps into scenes (be on the lookout for frontal male nudity) and his entourage steals the show, stepping into center stage in what were by far the best two scenes. Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, and Justin Long were hysterical as the Beatles. I won't tell you who is who, but I will say, after this movie and the Superbad DVD extras, I had no idea Long was such a good impressionist. Jonah Hill also utterly owns a scene with one of his trademark rants.

While its shortcomings make it sometimes hard to stay with, Walk Hard is entertaining. It is in no way comparable to The 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, but it's not trying to be. Where those films try to maintain a thread of realism, this comedy rams reality with Cox, cutting it in half and strumming a guitar over its remains.

3/5 Stars

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Journey On

It appears that the writer's strike has finally dealt it's first major blow to my personal television viewing schedule, well, besides the fact that only eight of the 16 LOST Season Four episodes have been produced. Tonight the (presumably) final episode of my favorite new show of the season aired.

Journeyman wasn't the greatest show ever. I won't even try to say it was. Honestly, the only reason I wanted to watch it in the beginning was its main plot device: time travel. Time travel is such an interesting story telling technique and has created some of my favorite movies such as the Back to the Future trilogy and the two Bill & Ted movies. Even the plot of the book I'm currently writing revolves around time travel. It's an ability we wished we had (as a species), but is, in all likelihood, impossible. This yearning combined with infeasiblity stirs the creative juices of many writers such that so many different conceptions of time travel have been created.

The main reason I loved Journeyman is its rules of time travel. The main character, Dan Vassar, randomly started traveling and didn't know why. He soon found that, through his actions in the past, he could change his present, but his knowledge of his "original" present remained. For instance, in one of the better episodes of the series, he returns home to find he doesn't have a son, but has a daughter. His wife doesn't even remember the son. Now, the writers pulled some funky stuff with a psychic knowing the son's name, but the basic premise remains the same: he changed the timeline and he didn't change. There were no predestination paradoxes or other types of paradoxes. The writers seemed to have created a version of time travel that was at least logically consistent with itself.

There were some things I didn't like about Journeyman. The first few episodes of the series weren't that great (which I think is part of the reason it never caught on). It took a little while for the show to find its legs. The writers didn't seem to know if they wanted to do another Early Edition or a more involved series. Some of the characters were hard to emotionally invest in. The newspaper editor Hugh seemed to be nothing more than a token character Dan had to answer to in order to keep his job. Most notably, Dan's wife Katie was hard to invest in. Partly, Dan's time travel partner Olivia was a more interesting character, so I wanted Dan to end up with her. Partly, I don't think the writers ever found a good story for Katie beyond sitting at home waiting for Dan (which a woman clearly cannot do in today's entertainment industry). At one point it seemed as if she would go back to work, though perhaps that story was dropped when the writers knew the series would be shortened. Overall though, Katie was likable. What was worse than her shortcomings was the characters that came along to try and "tempt" her away from Dan, saying he was crazy and she could survive on her own such as her mother and sister. The two never felt like more than caricatures written in to give Katie someone to interact with and to quantify her inner struggle. It would have been much more interesting had she invested more in Dan's brother Jack, her ex, or found another outlet, perhaps another guy.

I'll miss Journeyman, although I'm not completely sure it's over. True, NBC hasn't picked up the option on the show, but why would they with all the writers' strike hoopla putting the entire television season into jeopardy...and I don't mean that every network will just air the game show over and over again. Also, if NBC drops the show, I wouldn't be surprised to see it end up on another network (I'm looking at you SciFi.). The most important piece of evidence for the show being in limbo and not sent down to cancellation hell is that the fans are the only one uttering the ugly c word. The creator seems to think some hope still exists. The network hasn't said yes, but hasn't said no either (although, women tend to use that technique and it often does mean no). Most convincing to me is a line from tonight's episode:

"I don't know why, but I think it's going to be a while," Olivia

Something about that statement stuck out to me. Within the context of the story Olivia was having some sort of premonition that she wouldn't see Dan for awhile, but an integral part of the drama of when he traveled, at least for me, was her being there too. They were like the ultimate time-traveling-crime-solving duo. If they didn't see each other for awhile, there would be no story. Outside the story, even if the show is picked up, because of the strike it won't be back for awhile.

Whatever happens to Journeyman, somewhere, somehow, may Dan Vassar journey on.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Am Legend Review

Director Francis Lawrence is quickly moving up my list of favorite film makers. He has an uncanny ability to blend those poppy blockbuster visuals with interesting character pieces that don't devolve into psuedo-intellectual philosophizing. In a way, he is what Michael Bay wishes he could be. He takes a big name star, combines him with a fantastical premise, and brings it to life in a way that puts all types of movie goers in the seats. The incorporation of Christian undertones doesn't hurt his cause either. This time, he trades Keanu Reeves' Christ-like John Constantine for Will Smith's Christ-like Robert Neville.

Much of the movie is an establishment of Neville's state of mind. Through present day events in the year 2012 and flashbacks to the fifteen minutes before the final quarantine of Manhattan, Neville is forced to endure tragedy after tragedy. Smith succeeds in using his natural charisma to make us sympathize with the character, but not feel sorry for him. He is not someone that we want to help, but someone that we want to help himself. As the movie progresses, you want him to figure out how to heal the disease, not just for mankind's sake, but for his sake. Smith is enough Tom Hanks in Castaway, Ahab in Moby Dick, and himself to make it work; and, I'm not animal lover, but the dog they cast as Sam is simply beautiful.

Several scenes throughout the movie are sure to become classic. You'll never look at mannequins, watching the Today show, or going to Blockbuster the same ever again. My personal favorite involves the quoting of one of the most quotable movies ever. Not knowing what to do, Neville walks into his living room where Shrek is playing and delivers both Shrek and Donkey's lines from one of the duo's famed squabbles in perfect unison in both timing and intonation before culminating with, "I like Shrek." Anyone who likes Smith or Shrek will delight in the moment.

The truth strength of the movie though comes in its finale. You see, apparently fans of the book are mad at how badly it was betrayed. They have a point to an extent, but here is an excerpt from that ending:

They all stood looking up at him with their white faces. He stared back. And suddenly he thought, I'm the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man.

Abruptly that realization joined with what he saw on their faces -- awe, fear, shrinking horror -- and he knew that they were afraid of him. To them he was some terrible scourge they had never seen, a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with. He was an invisible specter who had left for evidence of his existence the bloodless bodies of their loved ones. And he understood what they felt and did not hate them. [...]

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain.

[...]Full circle, he thought [...]. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.

I am legend.
The ending of the movie turns this relativistic conception of disease and culture on its head. I won't go into the details to save you the enjoyment, but I will say this: Turning a relativistic stronghold into a Christ allegory is brave story telling that you're either going to love or hate...and I loved it.

4/5 Stars.

The Mist Review

Let me begin by saying I'm not a Stephen King fan beyond the fact that he's a Red Sox fan. Sometimes he writes really original and entertaining stories and I give him all the credit in the world for those few, but most of the time he falls into the category of a genre writer, churning out so many Goosebump-esque tales RL Stine would be jealous. The Mist is one of those stories.

I went into The Mist not expecting much and found myself pleasantly surprised. The cast was sprinkled with familiar faces beyond the Punisher (Thomas Jane) as apparently alpha male David Drayton. The Shermanator is a bag boy. Marcia Gay Harden is a religious local. William Sadler (Death from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and the villian from Die Hard 2) is a surly local. I was excited. I thought this movie might be going somewhere. Then the Shermanator bit it.

Wanting to prove their worth, Sadler, the Shermanator, and another local ignore the warnings of the Punisher and attempt to open the door to the loading dock of the grocery store within which they're trapped. Their goal is to unclog a meaningless generator. Giant tentacles reach under the door as the door rises and latch on to the Shermanator, ripping pieces from him until finally ripping him from the arms of the Punisher and the assistant manager of the store, one of the few likable characters in the movie. The death isn't so much tragic as it is pathetic. It is also the catalyst for the conflict of the story.

What happens over the rest of the film is a supposed allegory on the Hobbesian nature of man. In other words, when push comes to shove, we don't cooperate, we fight. The first divide is between the Punisher and a New York lawyer who thinks the hicks from Maine are playing a big joke on him. He and a few others walk into The Mist never to be seen again. Then Marcia Gay Harden's character kicks into gear.

If you're a Christian, stay away from this movie. Your faith is drug over the coals as if this movie was made in the days before Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and FoxNews. Harden immediately starts crying Revelations and the End of Days. She demands blood and sacrifice and after the pretty brunette is stung by a giant bug and her face bloats up killing her (always a tragedy), people begin to follow her. It isn't long before they turn on the others in the store, turning on a metro-sexual military young man, even though he's a locale, because The Mist came from the government's mysterious Arrowhead Project in the mountains. After Harden's turn in this movie and Law and Order SVU, it's apparent she is good at playing stereotypical right wing nutjobs, but at least in SVU she was an undercover FBI Agent trying to bring down some Neo-Nazis. Here she just proves how freedom of speech in a crisis isn't always a good idea.

To be fair, it isn't until the final moments that the movie loses most of its worth. Over the large majority of the story, it is a paint-by-the numbers horror movie, complete with stock characters and conflicts. The ending, however, reminds us that every likable character in the movie is killed and that the Punisher, the supposed hero, has left behind everyone he cared for the entire movie in an attempt to do what's "right" instead of doing what's right. I'm all for a tragedy and/or a tragic hero, but when the tragic flaw is just being a dumbass, it leaves you thinking, "Well, at least I know I could easily survive a situation like that one."

1.5/5 Stars

Saturday, November 24, 2007

For Taylor Twellman

Here's a little morsel that was too good for me to pass up. I quote the following from this MLSnet news article.

The New England Revolution came up empty again in pursuit of the MLS Cup. When it was over, a drained Taylor Twellman stood by his locker at RFK Stadium and acknowledged that he was empty of emotion.

"I'm not mad, I'm not sad, it's just nothing," Twellman said. "I've got nothing in me."

Four trips to the MLS Cup, four losses. It's the same fate that once belonged to the Buffalo Bills, a proud football team that lost four Super Bowls. Now, the Revolution have to brace for comparisons to those Bills.

"You guys can call me Jim Kelly for all you want," Twellman said.

Taylor, as fans of the Revolution, we too were empty following MLS Cup. Thanks for the permission to call you Jim Kelly, but I regret to inform you that I already have. Ask the fans outside of RFK after the match who were subjected to the yells of my brother and I. In order to cope, as I walked away with my heart in my throat, I loudly proclaimed the Revolution as the Bills of MLS, you as Jim Kelly, and Shalrie Joseph as Thurman Thomas. I immediately promised revenge in the Patriots-Bills matchup later that night. My brother than tried to start a 16-0 chant. Beating the Bills so badly never felt so good. I hope you and the rest of the Revs tuned in to see your stadium-mates dismantling your namesakes 56-10. You were on TV in the stands at Fenway during the playoffs, so I'm sure you must have taken the same joy from the Pats pounding the Bills that I did.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Welcome to The Midside

Hello one and all, friends and countrymen, random web surfer, family, or potential employer. Somehow, someway, you have found your way to my blog, The Midside. What is The Midside? Rest assured, that question will be answered among the many to come in this post. To begin though, I’m going to ask YOU a question:

Do you trust me?

You are remembering correctly. I’m posing the same question that Aladdin posed to princess Jasmine not once, but twice in the Greatest Disney Movie of All Time (according to Jayemel…Who is Jayemel? Read on.); the same pneumonic device that he unintentionally utilized to show her that she could indeed trust him because he was what he was (and not what others tried to get him to pretend to be). That device is exactly the reason I am putting forward the quandary right now. I’m trying to establish my ethos here. Can’t you cut a brother some slack?

To summarize this introduction to my introduction (huh?), please decide on your answer to my question. If you trust me, kind of trust me, or want to trust me, read on and I’ll tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know (except who actually shot JFK, I’m saving that kernel of information for the height of my popularity). If you don’t trust me, don’t want to trust me, or are apathetic towards me, you’re wasting your time even reading this paragraph, this sentence, this phrase, this word…get out of here already so I can stop addressing you and move on!

Alright, now that I’ve gotten rid of those knuckleheads, the rest of us can move forward on our first journey into The Midside: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know (and A lot of Stuff You Never Did).

Who am I?

My name is Justin M. Lesniewski. I’m currently finishing my second year of graduate school at Clemson University in Clemson, SC. I am a member of the Professional Communication department under the broader umbrella of the English department. In about half a year, I’ll have my Master’s degree in the aforementioned subject. What is Professional Communication? The response to that question could be as long as a PhD dissertation, but the short version is whatever you’re thinking of right now. As long as the communication occurs in a professional context, then it is what I’m being educated to proliferate. Essentially, I’ve been introduced to the different theoretical and practical perspectives on the subject and taught how to distinguish which perspective is best to utilize when.

I completed my undergraduate work at Ithaca College in Upstate New York about 45 minutes south of Syracuse. The Bachelor’s degree I earned features a major in Writing and a minor in Philosophy. My coursework for my major featured many different types of writing instruction, but the concentration I chose was Creative. This choice mainly affected what my Senior Project would be. Thus, I wrote a 50 page five story collection titled “Town & Country” which can be found on my website under “Academic” Work.

Prior to my experiences in higher education, my life began and geographically centered on Worcester, Massachusetts, though it is important that I emphasize that I am also well traveled. Until I finished my fourth grade year, I attended Elementary School at H.P. Clough in the small town of Mendon, Massachusetts. I then transferred to the Bancroft School, a private K-12 school in Worcester, which I graduated from in 2001. When I was young, I traveled to a large majority of the 50 states and Canada with my parents, two brothers, and even, at times, my aunt. Although I think I know a lot about this country and our culture, I’ve never been to the North West and would like to go there at some point in the future. Without my family, I toured Europe for three weeks one summer when I was 12 years old with a student ambassador group called People to People. The specific countries were England, France, Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands. As I was young, the experience was very important in my educational growth as an intellectual and person. I’d like to return to England one day and watch a Premier League game as well as visit the two countries that are a major part of my heritage, Italy and Poland.

My professional interests reside in the discipline in education. My first year at Clemson, I taught an English 103 lab. This year, I am an instructor for the main English 103 section. To state my experience in a cliché manner, I have “fallen in love” with teaching. Interacting with students and helping them grow is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I feel it is very important to point out that I used the word “helping” in my previous statement, as it is very demonstrative of my educational philosophy. I believe in helping the individual become an independent critical thinker rather than simply inundating them with facts. This philosophy is especially important at the college level and in relevance to the way in which our culture and technology is developing. In the coming years, a person will be better equipped to survive if he can discern which information he needs to know and how he can use that information rather than simply being handed information relevant to the moment and how to use it in that moment. Thus, I would like to teach, but could see myself as an administrator on the high school or college level. Outside of education, I’d like to publish at least one book in my lifetime. Right now, I am working on a fiction novel that spawned from my undergraduate senior project.

My personal interests mainly focus on sports and television/movies. If you can still remember where I’m from through all this biographical mumbo jumbo, then you’ll already know I’m a fan of the Boston Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox and the New England Patriots and Revolution. That list was actually alphabetical and not in order of importance as the two teams I follow the most are the two listed last. You can add the Clemson Tigers to that list now too. And yes, football and soccer are the two sports I follow the most. My Dad has had Patriots season tickets for over 30 years (when they were still awful), my family has had Revolution season tickets since the inaugural MLS season when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been to three of the four MLS Cups that the Revolution played in (and lost). I’ve also played soccer since the second grade and am always up for a good game. My interest in television revolves around my weekly schedule of shows: Monday- Journeyman; Tuesday- House; Wednesday- Pushing Daises, LOST, South Park; Thursday- Survivor, Scrubs. I also own box sets of many old or canceled shows such as Dead Like Me, Firefly, Highlander, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Wonderfalls. As you’ve probably guessed, I have an affinity for science fiction, especially stories involving time travel or parallel universes. My favorite movies are 300, 8 Mile, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and The Village. I have a bit of an eclectic taste, but will watch almost anything as long as isn’t overly artsy or a “social awareness” picture. I tend to prefer smart movies that form a complete whole rather than a stringing together of entertaining or clever scenes. I also follow the general rule that if a movie receives Oscar buzz and/or nominations, it isn’t very good.

What is this blog going to be about?

It’s tough for me to answer this question and not be sarcastic House-style as I often am. To put it politely, I’m going to write about what ever thought is bustling in my brain at the moment. Those thoughts will mostly follow my interests outlined in the previous section of this entry: sports, pop culture, and education. They will more-often-than-not by twined to first hand personal experiences (is first hand personal experiences a redundant phrase?), stories I hear second hand, or stories I read about. A lot of my thoughts and ideas are observational in nature as I also have an interest in social interaction. Although, that interest is waning as I grow older as it just doesn’t seem as important what other people are doing anymore. Live your life, keep it to yourself, and leave me alone. Better yet, write a blog about it. If I want to know, I’ll read it and respond. Then we can become friends. You can either take that route or give me your phone number and see if I call (especially if you’re a good looking girl). If I call, I care. If I don’t, you can curl up in bed bawling with a carton of ice cream. I understand. No really, I do.

Outside of the above topics, an occasional political diatribe may slip out from time to time. I’m also gradually learning to keep my politics to myself as I grow older. Most people don’t know what they’re talking about and thus political discussions quickly turn into shouting matches or mudslinging. Since I want to enjoy life as much as possible, it’s not best for me to intentionally not head down that road. Although, it is important to mention that I do believe everything is political, so it will be literally impossible to remove my politics completely. In other words, if you’re smart enough, you’ll figure it out. There’s a nice little challenge that should keep you even more engaged. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

On one final note, I will repost my columns that appear on after every new episode of LOST on this blog as a sort of harbor for safekeeping.

Why should I read this blog?

The short and simple answer to this question is “because it entertains you”. I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll entertain you. I know my humor and writing isn’t for everyone. I hope it’s for enough people to make the effort I expended worthwhile though. I stress entertainment as the determining factor because I’m not going to pretend I’m smart or important enough to accomplish anything else with my writing. If you want brilliant theories on the nature of the universe, go raise Albert Einstein from the dead. If you want advice that will change your life, contact Dr. Phil; I’m sure he’s looking for show ideas.

If you still need more reasons to read my blog or don’t believe I’m entertaining, here’s a bulleted list in no particular reason:

-I’m well educated and have “presence”.

-I’ll never talk out of my ass unless I’m begin satirical and when I don’t know, I’ll admit it. Although, that case won’t happen often.

-I enjoy giving people nicknames and coming up with my own terms for things. For instance, one of my friends looks like the main character from Journeyman, so I call him Dan Vassar. Undergrad I would also nickname random people around campus. One girl was Hoodie Girl because she always wore hoodies and still looked good doing it. Another girl was Disaster because my friend told me he was flirting with her one day and I responded, “You’re flirting with disaster, man.” The friend she was always with quickly became known as Tragedy because what always accompanies disaster?

-I’m honest. I call it like I see it. The less honest I am with you, the less I respect you because I respect people more that can handle the truth. Basically, if I were Colonel Jessep, I would have no respect for Lieutenant Kaffee.

-I come up with random quirky ideas and theories. Recently, I’ve decided on the difference between a “douchebag” and an “asshole”. Both essentially do the same thing and I found myself using the terms interchangeably, so I thought about what differentiates them from each other. The conclusion I came to is that a douchebag doesn’t know any better while an asshole does. Why is it important to consider this idea? It changes the way you deal with people. If a douchebag does something you don’t like, you shouldn’t really get mad because he doesn’t know any better and thus he’s only a douchebag. If an asshole does something you don’t like, you can probably assume negative intent and respond however you feel is appropriate. I say negative intent because you don’t usually call someone an asshole for doing something you admire unless it’s in a snide-jealous sort of way.

-I try not to take life too seriously because I want to enjoy it as much as I can and try to be funny most of the time. I say try because I don’t always succeed or only succeed in one or two people’s estimation. Hey, you can’t please all the people all the time and, as Mitch Hedberg said, “…last night, all those people were at my show.”

-I don’t use any messengers (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, etc) because I grew cynical towards them during my undergrad years. The only reason I have a Facebook is because in my first semester of grad school I found myself missing social events that information about was distributed through the website.

-My love for pop culture means most of my writing will be littered with references that you’ll either “get” or, if you don’t, use to start another game.

-I have no deep dark secrets. I’m a normal nice guy whose parents raised him well. This fact about myself is the main reason I can’t stand concepts like Post Secret. They further the idea that everyone is fucked up thus making it socially acceptable to be a fuck up. I completely understand that people make mistakes and I’m definitely all about forgiving them, but if mistakes are to be forgiven, why is there a need to keep them hidden as deep dark secrets?

What is The Midside and who is Jayemel?

The answer to this question is in two parts:

1. The Midside is a concept I came up with for a “Personal Essay” class I took while in undergrad. If you’re not on the inside, but you’re not on the outside looking in, you’re on The Midside, a location where observation and truth reign supreme. Being “in” is a condition I’ve never really experienced or understood, but I never saw myself as being “out” or unliked either, so I came up with a new word to describe where I “live”. I think most other people live here too and just have a number of reasons they can’t/won’t admit it.

2. Jayemel is a phonetic spelling of my initials I created in homage to Eminem, who I feel is the greatest rapper of all time and one of the best poets of my generation. This alter-ego makes an appearance when I want to refer to myself in the third person or say other unnecessarily egoistical or attitude laced things. It also is the voice with which I write poetry, which tends to be rap based. If I had to describe Jayemel, I would call him overly self assured and in-your-face. Basically, if you know me and ever since me pushed to the brink of fighting someone, that guy is Jayemel.

Any final thoughts?

Final thoughts? Who do you think I am, Jerry Springer? Am I required to do some “Back of the Book” segment a la Bill O’Reilly? If I had to leave any new reader who happened to stumble across my writing with any words it would be the following:

I hope you stick around because the ride through The Midside should be quite a time. But if you don’t, you don’t. I wish you the best of luck in life and hope to see you back around these here parts one day. Oh, and if there’s one thing you take away from your stay here, however brief or long, let it be my catchphrase:

Shut up, you’re wrong.