Saturday, December 31, 2005

Looking back on 2005

Well, the past twelve months went all over the map, and sometimes drove straight off of it. There were a lot of things that happened that I didn't share on this blog, including at least one real tragedy that we're still waiting to see how this is going to get resolved. This blog isn't really an online journal or diary of everything that goes on in my life: it's just a synopsis of my persona that comes out of writing about the things that interest me, or thoughts I have on various subjects, or sometimes when I need to set the record straight on something. But there was much more going on "behind the scenes" that didn't get put in the spotlight.

What to make of it all? For me, 2005 was a year with a number of disappointments and harsh realizations... some of which I've already written enough about. But toward the end this year started turning into something with a lot more optimism and hopefulness. On one front in particular, I couldn't imagine being more happy.

I can't say that this was a year without some action. 2005 saw friends and I doing some pretty crazy things especially regarding the hooplah surrounding the last Star Wars movie. Speaking of which, one of the highlights was the 1200-mile round trip that Lisa and I made to Star Wars Celebration III... which I still haven't gotten the pics online from it, but only because there were so many. This blog was the first place where it was announced anywhere that one of my best friends is getting married. Not long after that I got to finish and premiere my first movie, and Lord willing there will be more in the future. And speaking of that, there was my excursion deep into the bowels of a nuclear power plant to help with some filmmaking this past summer.

Admittedly, there were some upsets this past year. But now that it's winding down, and looking back on it all and what I went through and now that I'm still standing and able to smile about it all, and with all the positive that did happen... I don't know if I would have changed anything about my personal life this past year. In a weird sort of way, it all worked together to bring me to the point that I'm at now, and I'm really thankful to be here.

So... where do I go from here?

I've no idea what to say to expect. I do plan on "reinventing" this blog though, and sometime soon. The way it looks doesn't reflect who I am anymore all that well. I'm probably going to make it more serious somewhat. However, sometime in 2006 is when I will finally use my funniest graphic ever, I think. So there's one or two surprises that I plan on unloading sometime in the next several months.

So here it is, my final blog post for 2005 after several hundred I've written since last January 1st. I'm glad that I got to chronicle most of the madness and mayhem and merriment that took place during the past 365 days, for the amusement of anyone who might happen to find this blog in years to come.

Here's hoping and praying that all of us will have a great new year in 2006 :-)

Christmas 2005 update #3: Winding down with some crazy Christmas loot

As I said before, Christmas is something that gets stretched out a bit around our place. That's why I waited a bit to report on the goodies that Santa brought us this year...
This was taken Christmas morning before we went anywhere. The night before my sister gave me a giant Darth Vader PEZ dispenser: you tilt back the head and it plays the Star Wars theme music. That might have been the best Christmas present I ever got, until 8 hours later when Anita was upstaged by what Lisa gave me: sitting by the tree on Christmas morning was an (almost) life-sized Artoo-Detoo cooler! You can take his domed head off and put ice and drinks inside his body. He also wheels around on his two legs. Inside Artoo Lisa had put some of the Star Wars M&M figurines, the Darth Vader/Obi-Wan Galactic Heroes set, and a complete set of Star Wars mini-busts. Suffice it to say the Artoo cooler has been probably the most offbeat/neatest thing that I got this year for Christmas, 'cuz it's so cute and I had no idea that such a thing even existed until now. I'm trying to figure out what to do with it after the holidays: maybe keep it in our living room as an exotic conversation piece?

Lisa also got me the Nintendo DS, along with Nintendogs and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (and a nice carry case for it all). She also got me the DVDs of Batman Begins, National Treasure and Apollo 13, and had a pack of Kit-Kats in my stocking. I got her some Xbox and Gamecube games (Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3 with the dance mat, Donkey Konga 2, Pac-Man World 3 and Karaoke Revolution Party) and a Gameboy Advance SP, the kind with the brighter screen. Later that morning we also got The Polar Express DVD, the boxed sets of Lost Season 1 and The Simpsons Season 6, some CDs and a complete set of regular-sized Revenge of the Sith PEZ dispensers. Think our entire family got some wild and wacky stuff. A good haul to be sure... but more than that it was all the good times and laughter we got to have together at Christmas this year that made it so terrific.

Anyway, I just couldn't let this holiday season pass by without making note of that which I can show you in a picture. Some things ya can't do that with, but that's okay. Just know that we all had a great time this year, and I'm hoping and praying that this next year will see us able to do it all over again for Christmas 2006 :-)

Friday, December 30, 2005

The News & Record printed my letter yesterday

You can read it here, and even leave a comment about it if you feel so led. It more or less reiterates what I wrote here last week about how some people's defending of President Bush spying on Americans parallels the arguments made by a prominent German legalist that Hitler was justified in acting above the law.

Grandmother videogame guru proves you're never too old to have fun

CNN has a great article about a 69-year old grandmother in Ohio who is making quite a name for herself as a videogame player.
Grandma, let me play that video game!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005; Posted: 10:21 p.m. EST (03:21 GMT)

SHALERSVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- A 69-year-old grandmother has become the heroine of young video-game fans and the star of a Web log created by her grandson.

Barbara St. Hilaire plays video games 10 hours a day and spends a good part of her Social Security check on games.

St. Hilaire thinks the blog and media attention she's gotten is funny but doesn't quite understand it. However, she appreciates the free games showered on her by video game makers who want to share in the reflected glare of publicity.

And there are the bloggers she has met online. "I guess this is my form of traveling the world," she told the Akron Beacon Journal.

MTV profiled St. Hilaire, hired her as a video game correspondent and offered to screen her interview requests. It's all been, as her 22-year-old grandson Timothy St. Hilaire put it, a bit head-spinning.

"Well, last weekend was hell, but it's over," the grandson told his grandmother's fans on his blog http://oghc.blogspot.com/. The blog is named for her moniker, Old Grandma Hardcore -- as in hardcore video game player...

This is nothing new in Japan, where for years videogame systems (especially Nintendo) have been seen as entertainment for the entire family, including "seasoned citizens". Now the trend is catching on over here. I think it's a good thing: I can't wait to play games with my grandkids someday! Well I can wait but you know what I mean. I found this story after hearing about it on Gamermom, a just-discovered blog that also proves you don't have to relinquish the joystick just because you're getting a little older :-)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Meet Otto the Nintendog

Christmas morning I got a present from Lisa that had been on my list since I first wrote about it back in August: a Nintendo DS and the Nintendogs game. The DS is quite a videogame system: I also got Super Mario 64 and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and have been really entertained by them, but the DS game that's hooked me most has gotta be Nintendogs. Lisa got me the Dachshund & Friends edition, which looks like this...
You tell me: could you resist a videogame box that looks this cute?

I charged up the DS's battery while we were off celebrating with my family on Christmas morning, and plugged in the Nintendogs cartridge later that afternoon. The Nintendo DS also plays Gameboy Advance games by the way, and has a VERY nicely lit screen... but maybe not as bright as the one on the Gameboy Advance SP that I got Lisa. I started the game and played around in the kennel for awhile, then I picked out a male miniature dachshund puppy.

But what to name him? Nintendogs uses the DS's built-in microphone to speak your dog's name and tell it to do tricks: after the pup learns its name it responds to your voice commands. For awhile I played around with "resurrecting" two real-life miniature dachshies I used to have as digital simulacra, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do by Penny and Buster's memory. And I didn't want to name him "Colonel Klink" either: that name is getting saved for the real brown male mini dachshund I plan on getting someday. In the end, I wound up giving him a good German name for a good German dog.

So here is Otto. He's not doing much in the picture because I took his photo while he was asleep. So far I've taught him his name and trained him to sit, speak, and shake hands, and I'm working on having him wiggle his butt in the air on command. Otto likes to play ball but for some reason he's scared of the stick when I throw it for him to fetch. He's pretty friendly to other dogs that he meets when I take him out for a walk (usually about twice a day) but sometimes he's too curious for his own good (like yesterday when he ate a bag of popcorn that was laying in the street). He's a pretty clean dog: he "relieves" himself just about every time we go for a walk, and I've only had to give him a bath once since we've been together. He seems to get hungry an awful lot though, but I guess that's 'cuz he's still a puppy, although one of the nice things about Nintendogs is that the pups never get any older.

Other than that though, Otto seems to display something that's fascinated me ever since I first heard about this game: he's growing and learning, with some apparent personality. I know, it's like that movie A.I.: "his love is real, but he is not". But so help me, other than having a silicon soul, this pup really does come across as having a real heart from the way he acts and responds to stimuli (Otto loves having his belly rubbed, which you can do with the stylus on the DS's touch-sensitive screen). Put the memory of the Tamagotchi "virtual pets" or the Pokémon from a few years back out of mind: Nintendogs is something vastly more sophisticated... and empathetic. I've seen many examples of "virtual life" over the years, but Nintendogs strikes me as the one that's most hit the mark. If there was a Turing test for pooches, Nintendogs would pass with flying colors.

Suffice it all to say, I'm really enjoying Nintendogs... and a lot more than I thought I would, even. If you don't mind the fact that you can't physically rub your dog's fur, this is a pretty good thing to have in place of a real pet if circumstance doesn't allow for that for the time being. Plus it's GREAT to be able to watch your doggy run around the Nintendo DS screen while it's sitting on the desk as you work on other things.

Okay, time to go to the park with Otto. Let's see how he likes playing frisbee :-)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Two unforgettable faces have passed on

Some sad news to report: a few days ago Vincent Schiavelli passed away, and it's now being reported that Michael Vale has also died. Who were they? I bet you'd know 'em instantly if you saw them...

Vincent Schiavelli was one of the most well-known character actors of the past thirty years. He first came to prominence as Frederickson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Later on he appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Amadeus. Fifteen years ago he had a memorable role in Ghost: he played the ghost in the subway who taught Patrick Swayze's Sam Wheat character how to move physical objects. Not long after that he played the Organ Grinder in Batman Begins, which I always thought was a role that he should have been given a lot more to do with: I mean c'mon, a guy with a Gatling machine gun built into his grind organ is a pretty cool thing. Maybe no one else will remember this but I gotta mention that he was pretty good in Tim Conway's "Dorf" videos too. Schiavelli wasn't just a great actor, he was also an accomplished gourmet chef who wrote three cookbooks and articles for various cooking magazines. He died of lung cancer at his home in Sicily (where he'd been busy directing some plays) at the age of 57... way too young for a guy with his talents, if you ask me.

Then not long after hearing that Schiavelli had left us, it came down the wire that Michael Vale died on Christmas Eve at the age of 83. Vale will forever be remembered by those of us who lived in the 80s and 90s as Fred the Baker, for whom it was always "Time to make the donuts!" at Dunkin' Donuts. So many hilarious commercials that Vale did for Dunkin' that come to mind. My favorite was the one where Fred dresses up as a woman in the aisles of some supermarket before confronting the store's bakery about how fresh their donuts were. Another one had him constantly going out his front door saying "Time to make the donuts!" before literally meeting himself at the end of the commercial saying "I made the donuts!" Vale retired from the Dunkin' Donuts commercials eight years ago, but to this day his is the face that always comes to mind whenever I drive past a Dunkin' Donuts store. In a far more serious vein, Vale also played a jewelry salesman in Marathon Man.

And its sad to see both of these guys depart from us. But they made a lot of people smile in the time that they were with us, and that's worth making a note of.

Those lucky Brits got a new Doctor Who episode on Christmas Day

So being a fan on this side of the pond who happens to have broadband Internet, I did the obvious thing: went looking to download the episode the following morning. Sure enough some good folks in the UK had made it available as a file torrent, so I nabbed it with BitComet. "The Christmas Invasion" is just plain fun with a big dose of yuletide cheer. It's sort of like Doctor Who meets Independence Day meets Gremlins. Stuff like evil Santas with flamethrowers, wicked-looking aliens with nasty swords, homicidal Christmas trees... this is the sometimes silly but always exciting stuff of vintage Doctor Who. "The Christmas Invasion" is the first full episode featuring David Tennant (who also plays Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) previously seen regenerating from Christopher Eccleston's incarnation in last season's finale back in June. And if this episode is any indication, Tennant is going to rule this role: he's the perfect combo of witty, dapper, and dark. I think his might be as memorable shot at playing the Doctor as Tom Baker had back in the Seventies... and that's saying a lot. Those who liked last season's "Aliens of London"/"World War III" arc will especially be interested in this story. So will fans of The Lion King and The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My favorite scene is at the end of the episode, where the Doctor is putting together his new costume (his new threads look "geek chic"), then joins Rose, her mom and Mickey for Christmas dinner, while this really good Christmas song (that I heard was written for this episode) is playing. At the end of the episode there's a "teaser" for what's to come in the new season starting this spring, which includes quick clips of the Doctor reuniting with Sarah Jane Smith (the same actress who last played the role in 1983), a tantalizing look at the redesigned Cybermen, and something that is sure to bring smiles to a lot of old-school Doctor Who fans: the return of K-9! Well worth checking out if you have a fast enough 'net connection but bear in mind that I've downloaded two versions of "The Christmas Invasion" and the new season's trailer is only on the 500 MB-sized one. Trust me: if you're a fan of the Doctor, this is good watchin' :-)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Trans-Siberian Orchestra ISN'T Russian?!?

Their The Christmas Attic CD was a gift to Lisa from my parents and I've been listening to it all day: this might be my all-time favorite Christmas album now. I couldn't help but think that they didn't sound all that Russian though. So I went to their website and got a lot more enlightened about who they are. A really unique mixture of musical style, these guys. After all the other Christmas music I've listened to this season, Trans-Siberian Orchestra was mighty refreshing. Highly recommended.

Christmas 2005 update #2, plus review of Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Yah it was two days ago but Christmas always "lingers" around on this side of the screen for a week or so. Which I like: it takes away from the hustle-bustle of what is otherwise too hectic a holiday. It doesn't wind down for our family until a day or so after New Years... guess you could say we have a Christmahannukah thing going on or something.

I'm probably gonna do a post on some of the goodies that arrived this year, but since there's a few things on the Christmas agenda that we haven't gotten to yet I'm gonna hold off on doing that for now. But that ain't what Christmas is about, not really, is it? This was by far the best Christmas I've had in a very long time. Maybe the best ever. This was a year that saw a lot of stuff going on in my life - most of it I never talked about here - and that it looks to be ending 2005 on a really positive note, I'm really thankful for that. I don't see why I can't keep this good vibe going on long after Christmas, and share it with others. Long story short: despite so many things that went wrong this past year, I feel like the happiest guy in the world right now... and I intend on staying that happy for a long time to come still.

Anyway, it was a good Christmas day and yesterday (which our Brittish brethren love to celebrate as Boxing Day) I went out for a little bit in the morning to make an exchange at Best Buy: I had the Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World game for my Gameboy, but I returned that in exchange for store credit that I used to buy the Peter Jackson's King Kong game for Xbox. Also got The Simpsons Season 7 DVD set, in the normal box not that hideous Marge-shaped container (my parents got me Season 6 in the Homer head and the whole family agrees: that is the ugliest DVD box ever). Then Lisa and I went out and did a little visiting to homes of family and friends, 'specially those from our church. After we got back from my parents' house we decided to have dinner at Pie Works here in Greensboro: definitely one of the best pizza places known to man (any joint that can give you rattlesnake meat on your pizza is gonna get props in my book). And after returning from that, we watched the newest movie to come in from Netflix: Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

I'd never seen anything by Tyler Perry until last night, but I'm definitely going to check out his other stuff now. This was one of the better movies I've seen in awhile. It was not what I was expecting from the title. Diary of a Mad Black Woman sounds like it could be a comedy - it's a very funny movie, don't get me wrong - but this was far and away the most profoundly Christian film I've seen in ever so long. Something I noticed early on: there's no profanity in this movie, apart from the occassional "hell", otherwise there's not even a "damn" that I could remember hearing. Nobody "gets laid", and in the end this is a beautiful story about forgiving not just others, but forgiving yourself. I'm glad I watched the extras on this disc: like I said, I'm going to have to check out Tyler Perry's other work after having seen this. He's an incredibly Christian man who is trying to use his gifts for writing and acting in a way that not only entertains others, but glorifies God. I've a lot of respect for someone who can do all that. He plays three characters in this movie including Madea: imagine a 68-year old woman waving a pistol around everywhere she goes. It was by far one of the most outrageously funny characters I've seen in awhile.

Anyway, we spent last night watching Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and considered it time well spent, and you might want to check it out too. Will chronicle more of what's been going on this holiday season later, including pics of what Lisa got me, which I haven't stopped thinking about once since Christmas morning :-)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas 2005 update #1

Just felt led to make a quick note here for future reference, that Christmas 2005 will go down in history as one of the wackiest to ever hit the Knight household and its extended family. Lot of good stuff happening this year: everyone is here, everyone is doing really well, and there've been some neat gifts for everybody. Can't wait to post the pic of what Lisa got me: without a doubt the most offbeat Christmas gift I ever received.

It's been a pretty messy Christmas despite the good cheer though: rain most of the morning and foggy throughout the day. How Santa navigated across all those chimneys around here last night in the denseness of it all I've no idea.

Okay, just wanted to file something to report that all is well. Now quit reading this and have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hannukah :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

So long and have a Merry Christmas :-)

Barring something unprecedented, I'm stepping away from the blog for a few days. Time to enjoy all the good things that come with Christmas with family and friends. Blogging is a fun thing for me to do, don't get me wrong... but sometimes a guy needs to pause for awhile, and instead of commenting on life to just let it happen. I might post something come Monday, if I do it'll probably be pictures of any turkeys I may fry. Otherwise, go have some fun: I know I will :-)

But before I go, I want to leave on a personal, upbeat note. Last year (a year ago today actually) I posted an op-ed piece that I wrote when I was a student at Elon University all the way back in 1998. Lot of people told me back then that they liked this. No other thing I've written has done as good a job as relaying how much I love the holiday season as this did. So for whoever may find this blog over the next several days or week or so, here again is "Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories".

Take care, God bless, and have a very Merry Christmas...


Originally published in The Pendulum, Elon University, 12/03/1998

Celebrating the Christmas season means celebrating the memories
Chris Knight
Columnist

     Some of the best memories that we take through life are about the times we cherish the most. And sometimes, it doesn’t take much to bring back the joy.
     Last Friday as I was driving around Greensboro, the all-time coolest Christmas song ever came over the speakers.
     Who knows what this genius recording artist’s name is? Does it really matter? Whoever he is, he’ll forever be remembered as giving us the immortal sound of “Dogs Singing Jingle Bells”:

Arf arf arf,
Arf arf arf,
Arf Arf Whoof Whoof Whuf…

     Ahh... you know how it goes.
     And there’s the ever-beuh-beuh-beauh-beautiful rendition of Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas” and the Chipmunks and of course “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero,” but hearing those dogs singing “Jingle Bells...” ahhhhh.
     It brought me back to the very first time I heard that: on the radio coming back from school just before Christmas in 1982. I was in third grade at the time. And it brought back memories of the Christmas we had.
     It was cold and very cloudy. I remember that because Santa had brought me a telescope and I didn’t get to use it that night. Which wasn’t too big a worry, ‘cause me and my sister had our brand-new Atari 2600 to play with!
     Another Christmas memory: To this day, I’ll never forgive Anita for the pounding she gave me in “Combat.” I don’t care how fancy Sega or the Playstation get... they’ll never touch the 4-bit pleasures of the Atari!
     There have been many a Christmas since then, and I remember each one well, for all the little things they had with them.
     I’ll never forget Mom and Dad taking me and my sister to see Santa Claus at the mall in ‘84. That morning Dad asked if I’d come with him to cut firewood, so we rode the tractor into the woods. There had been snow earlier in the week, which lay around us in the crisp, cold morning.
     Dad also brought his 30-30 rifle, why I still don’t know. After we had the wood loaded, Dad asked if I wanted to try shootin’ the gun.
     There I was, a ten-year old kid, holding what looked like an anti-aircraft cannon in my tiny hands. Well, I aimed at this tree like Dad told me to, and pulled the trigger.
     To this day I cannot describe the colors that flashed before my eyes, or the sound in my ears. When my existence finally returned, I was flat on my back in the snow, and blood was gushing from between my eyes where the scope had hit my nose from the backfire.
     That night Santa saw the bandages and said “Ho ho hoooo, and what happened to you, little fellow?”
     “I got shot, Santa,” was the only thing I knew to say.
     Hey, was I gonna lie to the Big Man? Uh-uh, no way was I gonna lose all that loot!
     The following year’s Christmas I remember for many things, but especially feeding the young calves on our farm. It would be the last year our family would be running a dairy farm, and I had started helping with some of the work around the barn.
     Dad set up a Christmas tree in the milking room, with wrapped-up boxes beneath it.
     Tinsel hung from the front doors of the barn. And there was something about the feel of the place there, that has always held a special place in my heart, as if we knew that there would not be another Christmas like this one.
     I wish there had been another Christmas on the farm, because there’s something I wish I could have seen. And as silly as some people might find this, I really believe that it happens.
     You see, if you go out at midnight on Christmas Eve, you will see all the animals in the farmyard, and in the fields, and in the forests, and wherever else they may be, stop where they are.
     And then they kneel.
     They kneel in remembrance for another night, long ago. It was Christmas, but how many people could know it then?
     Nothing remarkable, to be sure: Caesar had decreed a census through the land, and each man went with his family to his town.
     One man in particular took his wife, a young woman quick with child. But there was no room for them at the inn. So that night, in a dirty and filthy stable and surrounded by animals, a child was born.
     You see, it’s easy for us to forget. At this time of the year, we are too overwhelmed by the consumption and the material and the glitter /and all the customs that come with Christmas.
     And it’s too easy for us to forget that Christmas is, before everything else, a birthday.
     But the animals, who watched over Him as He lay as a newborn babe, two millenia ago... the animals have not forgotten.
     And so they kneel every Christmas and give glory to the newborn king, and in awe that God would send His Son to live among us in the greatest act of love.
     And to teach us many things, but especially to “love one another”. And to bridge the gap between man and God.
     The birth of Jesus Christ: the greatest Christmas present there will ever be. His birth, which would give mankind the greatest present it could ever ask for.
     Who in the world on that night could know the price that this present would someday have?
     Heaven and Earth sang praises to His glory on that night. The animals have always remembered that night. And Heaven and Earth still praise and sing unto Him.
     And if you only take a little time out from how busy things become at this part of the year, you can hear the singing, too. And it is a great temptation to join in that chorus.
     And perhaps in hearing, we will not forget the real meaning of Christmas, either.
     This Christmas Eve night I plan to be outside, with the same telescope that I got for Christmas all those years ago, and trying to envision a bright star over Bethlehem. Around midnight, I’m going to take a walk over to my aunt’s farm.
     Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men.

Dedicated to the memory of W.C. “Mutt” Burton, for whom Christmas was always “In My Bones.”


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"The Attack of the Hacked Santa"

Maybe you've seen those "animatronic" singing/dancing Santa Claus dolls in Wal-Mart lately. Well one guy figured out a way to "hack" it so that Santa is doing and saying things he wasn't originally programmed to do. Some really clever (and quite funny) mayhem ensues! Here's an MPEG video of one bad Santa in action.

Gorilla Warfare: Stalin tried to breed half-ape super soldiers

According to Scotsman.com, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of half-man/half-ape "super soldiers" in the mid-1920s. From the article:
THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a "living war machine". The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

Here's the part of the story that made me almost spew Dr. Pepper all over my screen:
Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.
I don't even know how to begin to be curious about something like this.

Carl Schmitt, yesterday's Nazis and today's Bush sycophants

Those who are now claiming that "Bush broke no law" when he violated the Fourth Amendment - by letting the government spy on Americans without warrants - sound an awful lot like one particularly notorious Nazi apologist. Carl Schmitt was a German legal scholar who believed in having a strong dictatorship rather than democratically-elected government. He went on to write a lot of complimentary essays on what Adolf Hitler was doing. In 1934 he even published "Der Führer schützt das Recht" ("The Father protects what's right"), in which he argued that Hitler was being virtuous when he carried out his "Night of the Long Knives". Possibly as many as 400 "political enemies" were murdered on Hitler's orders, and Schmitt defended it by saying that Hitler was part of a higher moral law than that which abhors murder. Carl Schmitt did everything he could to justify Hitler being above the law... exactly as too many of Bush's supporters are now saying that "their man" can't be bothered by the Constitution of the United States.

It's been said that had it not been for Carl Schmitt, the Nazis would not have enjoyed as much legal authority as they did when they carried out their plans against their enemies and anyone deemed to be "inferior".

Lord only knows what today's Bush apologists are paving the way for with whatever else the future has in store for us.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bush admits he's spying on Americans

Is the telescreen watching you tonight, comrade?

Lot of his supporters are saying "it's legal", that there's provision for this in the PATRIOT Act and even in the Constitution itself believe it or not. Yeah, maybe it is legal... but there was no question of legality either when the Nazis spied on its citizens, seized Jewish businesses and then forced millions to walk toward "the showers".

Even if Bush does not abuse this power (and anyone who believes he's not is a hopeless cause in my estimation) there is always going to be someone else down the line who will. Someone with a lot more wisdom and foresight would have seen where this path is leading us, and not have stepped foot on it to begin with.

But since when have most of our "leaders" ever shown any real wisdom?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tonight's Monday Night Live...

...was without any shred of doubt the most surreal - and funniest - hour of television I've ever seen in my life. As Ken Echols said at one point, "This is finally the show that sends us to prison!" Hula-hooping Santa, "Arnold the Elf", a dog running around the set, Ken and Mark Childrey cutting loose like never before... When I told Chad that this was the most insane edition ever, he commented that "that's saying a lot." If you know Monday Night Live like we do, you'll understand the amount of crazy we're used to with this show. Well tonight they went full-tilt whacko. Everyone in the house - Mom, Dad, Lisa, me - was tearful with laughter. Here's the link to the show's official website. They had an audio archive up somewhere, if this episode gets hosted soon I'll make a link to it. Someday I hope they make a streaming video of the show available so that everyone can check out their antics. Maybe they'll even convert their weekly editions into MP4 video for iPod viewing or something... that would be sweet :-)

EDIT: Here's the MP3 of the audio from last night's Monday Night Live, courtesy of RockinghamRadio.com.

Post #666: The Top Ten WORST Christmas Songs EVER

The Knight Shift hits a notorious milestone with this entry: my Blogger dashboard tells me that to date I've made six-hundred and sixty-five posts on this blog. That makes the one you're reading now #666. Does that mean this article is the tool of Satan? Well whether it is or it isn't, I saved #666 for something that sounds like Hell...
The Top Ten
WORST
Christmas
Songs
EVER

Let's be clear on what this means: songs that were clearly made for humorous intent, like parodies, do not qualify. I'm looking for songs that were either attempts at serious Christmas cheer, or recordings so atrocious that it would have been a sin not to include them here. Meaning that stuff by the Chipmunks, "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Christmas At Ground Zero" and anything by Bob Rivers isn't being counted here (even though I like all of those).

Awright, on with the list...

10. "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" by John Denver
Nothing brings holiday cheer quite like John Denver making a plea in song to Dear Old Dad that he doesn't come home completely smashed and ruin Christmas like he does every year.

9. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as sung by the Jackson 5
Michael Jackson and Santa Claus have something in common: they both like little children. Except Santa gives out toys and Jacko takes in boys. The first time I heard this song I could have sworn that it was a girl singing it.

8. "Jingle Bells" as sung by Barbra Streisand
Heard it just once. That was enough, thanks...

7. "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano
Not really "bad", just annoying! I first heard this song on Christmas Eve in 1982. I'm still trying to get it out of my head. Lisa made me put this one on the list, so blame her as much as me for it being here.

6. "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney
Number one, the instrumentals in this makes it sound more like "A Clockwork Orange Christmas Time". Number two, the song gets way too much airplay during the month of December. One of many songs that are the bane of everyone who works in a department store or office at this time of year. "Dear God make it stop make it stop MAKE IT STOP!!"

5. "O Holy Night" as sung by South Park's Eric Cartman
It was the "Mr. Hankey" Christmas episode that ruined South Park for me (the recent Scientology episode was pretty cool though). This rendition by Cartman doesn't help matters any. I don't care if it was done for humor: singing "O Holy Night" in that kind of voice, forced into it by cattle prods... what an unholy tune.

4. "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" by Lou Monte
I was set to make #4 be "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" until I heard this one. Don't go looking for it, please, if you value your precious mind.

3. "Do You See What I See?" as sung by Rosie O'Donnell and Sesame Street's Elmo
Horrible, horrible duet. This one is from O'Donnell's Christmas album. I like to think that the thousands (millions?) of them that didn't sell got pushed into a landfill in Arizona and covered with cement. Elmo's voice in this should be studied by the Pentagon for use at Guantanamo Bay.

2. "The Christmas Shoes" by NewSong
Dear Lord, where do I start? There is something terribly disturbing about the thought of a little boy buying his mommy new shoes for her trip to Heaven, almost implying that Jesus Christ has a foot fetish. There's no telling how many people this song has killed from diabetic shock. People who like this song have their cable tuned into the Hallmark Channel 24/7, I'm sure of it.

1. "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Feeling suicidal this holiday season? This song will absolutely have you reaching for the razor blade. What is it with ex-Beatles trying to belt out Christmas songs anyway? At least McCartney's is happy. I present this song as Exhibit A in proving to the court how Yoko Ono totally destroyed John Lennon (along with "Imagine"). That's Yoko's voice in this song too by the way... which I thought for the longest time was some poor guy with a hernia. Just plain dreadful to listen to.


Dishonorable Mentions

There's going to be a lot of other songs that people will suggest as "the worst ever", no doubt about it. There's no way to cover all of them, but here's a few more worth noting...
"Soulful Christmas" by James Brown

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" by Bruce Springsteen

"Christmas With The Devil" by Spinal Tap

"Santa Baby" by just about everyone (but especially Madonna)

I'll add on some more to this list if anyone suggests any others.

There you have it: my Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs Ever. As good a use for post #666 as there's ever likely to be :-)

"Beautiful": Review of Peter Jackson's King Kong

I must confess something: before I started writing this review of Peter Jackson's King Kong, I was already well begun on writing a whole 'nother review about the movie. And THAT one came in place of the one I started working on Thursday morning.

The morning after going in to see King Kong, I woke up feeling totally jazzed about the previous night. I was set to write what could only be described as one of my most positive reviews ever. Probably by noon I'd gotten a darned good start at it too. Every fiber of my being wanted to scream out to the world about how overwhelming an experience King Kong is.

But you know how in Jurassic Park – the novel, not the Spielberg movie – it's got Ian Malcolm ranting about "chaos theory": how very tiny things in a system work to totally wreck the entire thing? That's what started happening to my perception of King Kong as I worked through the review in my head: little details of the movie seemed so innocuous at first, but as the day progressed those small things... started accumulating. And then each one started making the last one exponentially worse. I bought the soundtrack CD from the local Target and listened to it on my MP3 player for two hours or so that night, even through the power outage we had from the ice. It was a subconscious effort to stay focused on the good aspects of the movie...

...Though by 9 p.m. I'd started having serious thoughts about whether King Kong was really that great a movie at all. And I realized that I'd begun trying to rationalize for myself why I should give it a great review... instead of being as objective as I could be about it.

By that point I broke down and admitted that all my work throughout the day was completely kaput. I desperately wanted to write a good review of the movie. But I couldn't. I just couldn't. Not without feeling like I was being completely dishonest with whoever might read my review of it. I realized that I could go no further with the original review: I trashed that one and started work on another.

Let me state the obvious: Peter Jackson's King Kong is not a perfect movie. There's just too much that's wrong with it. Some of the effects look unfinished, like the brontosaurus stampede: too many times during which it noticeably looks like the actors are simply jogging in place in front of a green screen. A few of the scenes could have been shortened by a minute or two: the aforementioned brontosaurus scene, and the part where the Venture is running aground near the wall, f'rinstance. With another 3-4 months of post-production work and tighter editing Jackson's King Kong might have come out a completely different film. Darth Larry posted his thoughts on the movie over at his blog and I do feel led to yield to a lot of his points. His review reads a lot like what my own revised one was going to be like: a blunt-honest look at what kept me from giving King Kong my full stamp of approval.

But then, there was something tugging at me to not write that review, either. I've no idea how to put it. King Kong had resonated with my soul and I'm still at a loss for words for why that is. Something reached out from deep inside my being and stayed my hand, because it was telling me that if I were to pull the trigger on that revision – the one pointing out all its faults – that doing so would be something I would really come to regret for a long time to come. Maybe even the rest of my life. I couldn't dare attack King Kong. And so the second review was aborted even faster than the first.

But I wanted to understand why it was that I couldn't say something bad about King Kong either, even knowing that it's not as good as it could have been.

Two days ago I went out with Lisa to do some Christmas shopping. By early afternoon we decided to take in a movie, and she hadn't seen King Kong yet. So we went to the same theater – the Grande at Friendly Center in Greensboro – that Darth Larry and I had seen it at a few nights before, and caught the 1:30 showing. It gave her a chance to check it out, and it gave me an opportunity to watch it and... I think going in this time I had less heightened expectation, since I'd seen it already. Maybe the first time I went in trying too hard to examine the movie. This second time, with my wife at my side, and on the afternoon of what had been a perfect Saturday, I could let myself simply enjoy it.

So now I'm working on my third version of a review about one film. Never before have I had to wrestle so much with my thoughts regarding a single movie. I'm still wrestling with it. It's five days since it came out, and I'm feeling compelled to say something about it. So here goes...

King Kong is my very favorite movie of 2005. And I'll even go so far to say that it ties with Walk The Line as the best movie of the year.

But even if it doesn't win any awards, or won't do as some have predicted by breaking the box office record from Titanic (which I would love to see happen with this movie), and despite all its flaws, when all of that is lost in its vivid detail and terrific plot and wonderfully deep use of character, I cannot help but take a line from Ann Darrow and offer up one word that describes what I feel about King Kong: "Beautiful."

(Okay, I'm writing more than just one word about it. Just follow through with me, willya?)

Even moreso than The Lord of the Rings, King Kong is Peter Jackson's magnum opus. This is the movie he's been preparing all his life to make, ever since he first saw the 1933 original as a kid growing up in New Zealand and tried to make his own with crude claymation at age 12. The first time I ever heard about Peter Jackson it was when The Frighteners came out about ten years ago. Not long after that some photos made their way online showing Jackson with concept sculptures of Kong fighting a dinosaur. He would have made that King Kong too – it was to be set in the 1930s, done in black-and-white but with computer-rendered effects – were it not for a certain trilogy of movies that some regard as the finest saga ever put to film... perhaps even eclipsing the legendary Star Wars series.

But through it all, Jackson's heart was with Kong. You have to know that going in to see King Kong. Everything that Peter Jackson ever loved about the original movie, every trick he's picked up over the past decade, every weird sick fetish the man has – like showing giant creepy bugs and racks of skeletal remains – he poured into King Kong. This is the moment he's been waiting on for the better part of forty years and he shows you how giddy he is to do it. But he also poured every bit as much heart and soul into his version of the Kong story as he did with The Lord of the Rings. And right now, I'm darned hard-pressed to tell you which of these two cinematic creations of Peter Jackson has awed me the more.

Where King Kong first succeeds for me is its first hour, when we're introduced to all the main players amid the setting of the early 1930s. That's a big part of why I love this movie so much. Whatever its detractors may say of the movie, this much has to be conceded: King Kong is a majestic period piece. I'm glad that Jackson set his King Kong in the time frame of the original. The 1933 version was contemporary for its time but an anachronism today. Jackson actually makes his New York City feel more like it's 1933 than the original did... and that's saying a helluva lot. As much as he worked on bringing the giant gorilla to life, I'm convinced Jackson spent as much or more effort resurrecting the New York City of the early Depression. I'm a huge fan of period pieces, especially those set against the backdrop of the 1930s (I was a big fan of HBO's Carnivale for much the same reason, by the way). For someone who appreciates that bygone era, King Kong 2005 is almost a never-ending feast for the eyes.

Peter Jackson opens up King Kong with Al Jolson's "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World" playing against a montage of quick scenes that Jackson shot depicting New York City life in the 1930s. We see things like newsboys standing on street corners with the latest edition of the paper, men walking on steel girders a hundred stories up in the air, throngs of people lined up outside of soup kitchens, and outrageous acts on the vaudeville stage (my favorite is the guy juggling apples while eating them). In fact the first time we see Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) she's doing a Charlie Chaplin impersonation with a small theatre troupe struggling to stay afloat.

Cut to Carl Denham (Jack Black), nervously watching with the studio execs the movie he's shot. He needs money to finish and they aren't willing to invest any more in him. Not even after he pitches the idea of filming on an island that he's somehow got a map to. He ends up stealing his own movie while trying to figure out who to replace his lead actress who quit production (listen for a sly nod to the original King Kong in the exchange between Denham and his associate). Suddenly Denham is a wanted man on top of being a desperate director. And then he practically kidnaps scriptwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and presses him into the service of finishing the film's screenplay while en route to the unknown onboard a tramp freighter.

By this point in the film I totally forgot that I was watching a movie about a mammoth ape, so immersed did I become in the story of Carl Denham, Ann Darrow, Jack Driscoll and the crew of the Venture. Batman Begins had that same effect on me: Bruce Wayne as a vengeful vagrant trekking across Asia had so completely gripped me that it wasn't until he got picked up by Alfred on the plane that it crossed my mind again that this was a "Batman" movie. I know that some people are going to complain that the first hour of King Kong doesn't have enough action, that it goes by too slow, whatever. To me the first hour is fine as it is. It sets up the characters and their conflicts. The first hour of King Kong makes us care about everything else that happens after they reach Skull Island. Whatever editing the movie could still use, this part of the movie is perfect. I really liked how it established the crew of the Venture, including Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), Mr. Hayes and Jimmy (Evan Park and Jamie Bell), and especially Lumpy, played by Andy Serkis. Of all the Venture crew that I came to enjoy as characters – and I liked them a lot, especially the dialogue between Hayes and Jimmy – Lumpy is without a doubt my favorite. You might remember Serkis for his portrayal of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. He does motion-capture for Kong in this movie, and in Lumpy we get to see him in a more traditional role than we've lately seen him in. And the man can act, believe you me. When he's telling Denham the story of the sailor they picked up seven years ago, it made me wonder just who in the world this Lumpy guy is: what had he seen, where has he been?

But all of this is just overture for what happens next: the arrival at Skull Island. Imagine one of those cities of unholy geometry that H.P. Lovecraft used to write about, that gets inhabited by feral humans. That's what the first part of Skull Island – what's on the safe side of the wall – looks like. And from here on it is where King Kong becomes an exercise not for the weak of stomach. Be warned that Peter Jackson didn't hesitate to turn on the gruesome: the natives of Skull Island look like malnourished orcs from The Lord of the Rings. That's nothing compared to what happens in "the spider pit" that the rescue party is trapped in later on in the movie during their hunt for Kong.

Okay, let's talk about Kong. Kong may be the greatest special effect ever committed to film. He certainly shares top honors with Gollum from Jackson's The Lord of the Rings. Both are products of WETA's computer wizardry. And both characters were played by Andy Serkis. And you know why both special effects work to create believable characters? It's because Jackson and WETA understand something that I don't think the artists at other effects houses have picked up on: it's the eyes. You could just look in Gollum's face and tell whether it was the good side or the bad that had taken over. In King Kong the WETA crew has upped their game significantly. You look in Kong's eyes and you see a real soul there. He's not just an animal anymore. This is someone who can be angry, or joyful. He can throw a tantrum or laugh out loud. He can be brash, and he can be quiet. The scenes where Kong and Ann are making eye contact... so help me, they are really making eye contact with each other. Even more than all his other movements (and can this ape move or what) it was his facial expressions that most captivated me about Kong. Expect a whole slew of technical awards for WETA for pulling this off and making him so utterly believable.

The rest of the effects in the movie... well, I've already touched on how some of them could still use some work. Not much more work, but anyone who's had a steady diet of special effects films will notice. But those are so minor compared to everything else. And the effects that ARE perfect... I don't know what more could be done to the fight between Kong and three dinosaurs. I thought the best effects came in the last part of the movie, when Kong is on his rampage through New York City. From the moment he cuts loose from his chains on Broadway (look for composer Howard Shore conducting the orchestra), the visual work is beyond belief.

Jack Black as Carl Denham... the very first look in this man's face and you'll swear you're seeing dollar signs in his eyes. The '33 Carl Denham comes across as a combo of Frank Buck and Frank Capra: out to make a dollar with a show but basically an okay guy. In 2005 Carl Denham is more like Cecil B. DeMille meets P.T. Barnum meets Captain Ahab. Black's Denham is the king of the hucksters. He is the ultimate moocher. He is exploitation personified. This is a man who would sell off his dear old grandma if he thought he could profit from it. He is obsessed with finishing his movie, and when he can't do that anymore he finds a new obsession. He doesn't see the people around him... the people he dragged into his mess and the ones who are now hurting the most from it. Other people may get injured or killed but Denham always comes out of it unscathed, only to exploit and destroy even more. You will positively come to hate Jack Black's Carl Denham, even as you start to pity him. Black chews up the scenery in every shot he's in... sometimes without even saying a word. He's the kind of guy you'll absolutely demand to be dragged away in handcuffs by the end of the movie. By far the best on-screen villain of the year. In a perfect world there will be at least three men nominated for an Academy Award this year: Ian McDiarmid for Star Wars Episode III, Joaquin Phoenix for Walk The Line, and Jack Black for King Kong.

Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow... this was NOT what I was expecting in a portrayal of Darrow at all. In the original Ann Darrow is there to scream and be kidnapped by Kong and not much else. Darrow 2.0 is much more proactive and engaging. She's a struggling actress who is trying to keep afloat without losing her dignity. She's trying to hold onto something in this world without it being wrenched away from her. As much as Jack Black deserves at least a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars, Naomi Watts should get one for Best Actress. She deserves that much for her interaction with Kong. She also deserves it from all the other little nuances she brings to her character. Her last time with Kong atop the Empire State Building, that's this year’s "I'll never let go Jack" moment. And she makes it work beautifully.

Adrien Brody's Jack Driscoll is a far cry from what he was in the 1933 original – the first mate onboard the Venture – but I wound up enjoying this character a lot more than I expected. This is the second movie I've seen Brody in, besides The Pianist, and in King Kong he pulls off both a quiet writer and a man of action exceedingly well. One other actor I want to make mention of is Kyle Chandler as Denham's leading man Bruce Baxter. In Baxter I found a characterization of everything that's wrong with the typical A-list actor in today's filmmaking industry: someone upstanding and virtuous on the screen but minus the special effects and trick shots, it's somebody who's really more of a coward than the average Joe. There's a great dialogue between Driscoll and Baxter about this even, before the brontosaur stampede. One more thing I like about King Kong: there's gonna be a lot of good quotes coming out of this movie.

James Newton Howard's score here is beautiful, made all the more noteworthy because he really didn't have much time to put it together. Part of me is forever going to be wondering what King Kong would have been like had Howard Shore finished his work on the project, but I'm still satisfied with Newton Howard's compositions here. King Kong's music can be powerful and thrilling, but it also has moments of quiet appreciation. I'm thinking especially of "the ice scene" (the track is "Central Park" if you have the soundtrack), featuring a really moving piano interlude.

What else can I say about King Kong?

I could talk about "the ice scene", but the less I say about that to the uninitiated, the better: it really is something you need to go in and enjoy unawares. I could talk about all the little (and big) references to the original King Kong: from the exact same "man on a swinging vine" sign you see in Times Square as you'll find in the background of one shot of the 1933 version, to the "sacrificial" re-enactment in front of the chained Kong... that looks EXACTLY like the scene in the original when Denham and crew first see the villagers. I could talk about how my heart really did pound during most of the action sequences on Skull Island... and then broke the moment I saw the biplanes emerge from behind the Empire State Building, putting an end to one beautiful moment, because we know how this is going to end for Kong...

Yeah, this has been a long review. But I've never felt so much about a single movie before in my entire life.

I could say a lot more, but what I really want to say is: I absolutely love Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Please understand something: this is not going to supplant the original 1933 King Kong. Ever. Put the thought out of your mind. The 1933 one is always going to be considered the better of the two (or three, if you also throw in the 1976 remake). They did so much with so little back then, and it still holds up even today. I will be enjoying my new DVD of the '33 King Kong for many, many years to come. But I'll also make room on my shelf for King Kong 2005. They are basically the same story, but two very different movies about that story. Each one should be enjoyed and appreciated on the basis of its own merits. I've no problem having both of these films as two of my all-time favorite movies.

King Kong '05 is a movie made for all the reasons why we go to see movies in the first place. It's great escapist fare. It's also got a lot of characters that we come to feel for. It has moments that will make you grab hold of your seat and moments that will make you long for a Kleenex. It's amazing eye candy. It is a great object lesson of this truth: that it's story - and not special effects – that make a movie really special.

In spite of everything that I could say that is wrong with King Kong, I just can't bring myself to focus in on the negative and not stand back, and just admire it for what it is. Lumps and all, this is still everything that can be right and true with the art of filmmaking.

Go see King Kong if you haven't already. Make sure you use the bathroom before the picture starts 'cuz at three-hours-plus this can be a bladder-buster. More important, try to drop any expectations you might have about the movie. Just take it in for what it is: a really terrific motion picture spectacle with a lot of heart to it.

Man, I hope this makes more money than Titanic. If any movie deserves to be the new top banana, it's gotta be Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Second V for Vendetta trailer is online!

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

The second trailer for V for Vendetta is now online for watching! It's gonna be a long wait 'til March now, since I've gotten all my big holiday movies out of the way, and V for Vendetta is the one now I'm most looking forward to. Anyways, click on the link and watch faceless Hugo Weaving start a revolution.

Today's wimp Christians told to "SHUT UP AND TAKE IT!"

Heard something galactically outrageous on the radio on the way into the office this morning. Some Christian station had a brief public service message, apparently it's a daily blurb about Christians and the law. This one started out talking about why Christians need to "foster good relationships" with local, state and federal government. And do you know why it was saying this? Because, the announcer said, ever since this past summer's Kelo decision in the Supreme Court, governments can seize private property - including land that church buildings sit on - and give it over to someone else for private development. So it's up to churches to "behave" themselves lest they risk government coming in and taking their property away.

Did you hear that: THESE $*%@-ING LILY-LIVERED "CHRISTIANS" ON THE RADIO ARE TELLING THEIR FELLOW BELIEVERS TO LET GOVERNMENT RUN ALL OVER THEM!

Where is the old blood that once coursed through the veins of the American Christian? The spirit that cast off the shackles of overseas tyranny and our own ignorance? Why, it is in the very nature of the Christian to stand in defiance of government, if that government is in the wrong. We are accountable to God, after all... and not the state. And now these "Christians" are telling us that we should allow government to have such oversight of our property not only without protest, but with meek surrender?

Last night I asked if America deserves to persevere any longer. When this kind of crap is what it means to be a "good follower of Jesus Christ", then the answer to that question is a fully qualified "No!" Maybe America should collapse, and let a stronger, more noble breed of citizenry rise from the ashes... because idiots who think we should cower in fear over government like this are NOT the kind of posterity that the Founders wanted to entrust this nation to.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Orwell was only 21 years off

It turns out that President Bush has allowed the federal government to SPY on regular Americans without court-issued warrants.

Just once more, for the record: the man is evil. And anyone who isn't seeing a problem with this is helping to usher in the age of Big Brother.

In the name of God, what is wrong with so many Americans that they just roll over and let this happen?

I'm starting to wonder if America deserves to persevere any longer.

I got Tarkin!

At my teaching gig today my supervisor gave me a Christmas card with a Target gift card enclosed within it. I made a joke about using it to buy some Star Wars action figures, and went on to talk about how I've been trying to find the elusive Tarkin figure from the Episode III line for some time now. It's considered ultra-rare: I've seen it for sale on eBay for $30-50. Ever since I saw it on display at Star Wars Celebration III (of which I am gonna put the pics up sometime before the year's out) I've had a horrible fascination with this desiccated corpse of a children's toy. Well, I had to make a stop at Target after work today anyway and I headed to the toy department, more out of whimsy than anything else. I saw about five Star Wars figures hanging on the pegs and then almost howled with disbelief: there was a Tarkin figure! Just a few weeks ago Darth Larry and me were at a toy show at the Greensboro Coliseum: I went there looking for Tarkin but for the first time in bunches that I've gone to the show I didn't find my quarry. Lots of dealers did have some but they sold out really early on. Darth Larry told me that I'd find one sooner or later, and he was right: there it was, just sitting on the shelf waiting to be plucked up. And I didn't have to spring for it on eBay either. And with the gift card (the rest of which I used to help buy the King Kong soundtrack) Tarkin didn't even really cost me anything! Okay, I'm happy now. Happier than I would have been if I'd somehow found an Xbox 360 this holiday season, even! I got a Star Wars figure that a lot of people are looking for, and it came after a hard-fought but honorable search for it. What more could a guy ask for?? :-)

King Kong has 21st best Wednesday opening

Between Catch Me If You Can and Armageddon.

I can attest to this. At the screening we were at last night, I would say that only 1/4th of the entire theater was occupied. Not what I was expecting in the way of a blockbuster audience at all. This is the one thing that really disappointed me: it would have been a lot more fun to have watched King Kong on opening day with a packed house.

I'm going to talk a lot more about it in my forthcoming review. But I'll go out on a limb and make a bold prediction here: King Kong might start really cleaning up once word of mouth starts getting out. That's basically what happened with Titanic: past the hype about it being the most expensive movie ever, it only really took off after the first week or so when it got around that "Hey, this is a really good movie!" Maybe the same thing will happen with Kong: it's definitely a movie that deserves that kind of lucky strike.

EDIT: I just noticed that even with 21st best opening, King Kong still had a better opening day than did Toy Story 2, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Return of the Jedi. Then again Godzilla 1998 had a better opening day than Return of the Jedi too... guess these aren't adjusted for inflation too well.

Java going out of fashion?

Found an article at BusinessWeek Online about Java losing ground to other programming languages used to create apps for websites. Java is something that's fascinated me ever since I first encountered it in college ten years ago: at the time it seemed like the magic bullet for creating cross-platform applications. It didn't really evolve the way I anticipated it would, but it's still a neat arrow in the web developer's quiver. Anyway, looks like it's gradually giving way to something called LAMP. Head over to the link for an interesting read.

The DaVinci Code and Poseidon trailers online

It's 8:12 and just drove through some nasty freezing rain/iced-up roadways to get to my office (so weird saying that: "my office"). Gonna be working on the King Kong (2005) review in the next little while but in the meantime, wanted to make a note about the full-length trailer for The DaVinci Code and the teaser for Poseidon being online now. I also found the one for Miami Vice but I outright refuse on principle to make a link to that: you wanna see it, find it yourself, but I ain't gonna be part-and-parcel to the destruction of another 80's landmark. Anyways, The DaVinci Code looks like a great trailer even if it's bullcrap bullcrap BULLCRAP history! Sheesh do we really want to regurgitate that old Holy Blood, Holy Grail stuff this badly? Will say though that Tom Hanks looks the best he's appeared in awhile in this trailer (and I noticed that between this and X-Men 3 that Ian McKellen will be in two movies simultaneously this coming May). Poseidon looks totally aces though. If it's as good a remake as King Kong is, I'll gladly buy a ticket to see this. Or it could be mediocre too. That's the thing about the trailers coming out this time of year: the movies they promo can go either way five or six months from now, but these usually look hella cool. Anyway, if you want to see Tom Hanks looking for those darned Christ-children or Kurt Russell on a topsy-turvy cruise ship, hit the above links for Quicktime goodness.

First thoughts on Peter Jackson's King Kong

Just got in. And like what happened last month with my review of Walk The Line, I'm going to give myself a little bit of time to really digest it all. Will have a couple hours later during the day during which I can write up and post a full review.

I don't even know what to post as a thought about it for the interim. It's just... wow.

Is it perfect? No. Is it perfect enough to topple Titanic as all-time box-office champ? I think so.

It will never supplant the 1933 King Kong. This is an animal all its own. But in terms of being in the spirit of the original, this is the best damned remake I've ever seen in my life.

One word from the movie I'll use to describe this with: "Beautiful."

Time for some downtime. More on King Kong 2005 on the flipside.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

King Kong 1976 review

My good friend Marc asked me in a comment on my gorilla-sized review of the King Kong DVD and Kong: King of Skull Island book if I'd seen the King Kong movies from Japan. I've never seen King Kong Escapes but I've watched King Kong vs. Godzilla twice. The first was the day after Thanksgiving 1982 when some TV station in New Jersey had an all-day Godzilla marathon that I watched while the "grown-ups" were gone to Atlantic City: my very first glimpse of Kong in a movie was the scene where the native islanders get Kong passed-out drunk on berry juice, or something. The next time I saw the flick it was one Saturday afternoon some years later on Channel 48's "Billy Bob's Action Theater": think Vampira's old show but with Jeff Foxworthy's illegit half-brother instead. Some years after that I wound up watching King Kong Lives, mostly 'cuz part of it was filmed in this area. The less said of that unconscionable waste of celluloid, the better...

Anyway, I'll be hooking up with comrade-in-arms Darth Larry in a little bit to see Peter Jackson's new Kong movie (it opens today). So we'll soon have the original classic - which still holds its own against anything that modern-day digital wizardry can cook up - and we'll have the 2005 edition, with Jack Black and Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody directed by Peter Jackson with effects by WETA... 'nuff said.

But what about that other King Kong movie? The seemingly forgotten stepchild of Kong history: where does the 1976 remake figure into all of this?

Recently I had the opportunity to watch Paramount's 1976 redo of the standard Kong story. The one with Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin. I barely remember when this came out, but I recall enough to tell you that this was a huge thing: there were Kong toys and posters all over the place. I think one of the major burger chains even had a tie-in of some sort. I've seen snippets of it over the years but never the entire thing all the way through, so out of a sense of fairness I made myself watch Kong '76...

And... it's not too bad a movie. But it's not too good a one either. Where the '33 one still looks fresh today, the '76 edition looks horribly dated, and I think that's because of how they chose to implement its special effects. Instead of traditional stop-motion animation, they put Rick Baker in a gorilla suit and a servo-loaded mask to create facial emotion (built by the same guy who did the creature's head for Alien). It resulted in using a lot of miniature sets, many of which don't look too convincing. The movie also has numerous problems with compositing: the scene with the log over the chasm is especially troublesome. And some of the elements of King Kong '76 are just plain laughable: the "Petrox" oil company...?? I'll also say that "Dwan" is the stupidest name for a female character ever.

But problems aside, I think that the Seventies Kong does have some virtue. Having it be an oil research vessel that brings the characters to Skull Island is a pretty neat twist on the original tale. The scenes showing Kong held captive inside the ship en route to New York City: there's something that I would love to have seen depicted in the original film somehow. This remake does do a pretty good job casting Kong in a sympathetic light. And if nothing else, King Kong '76 now bears some poignancy in its use of a place that doesn't exist anymore: the original World Trade Center. Above everything else, that is why That Seventies Kong is worth considering. It's also worth bearing in mind that even though it's considered by many to be lackluster today, when it came out King Kong '76 was a major box-office smash. And it had the effect of propelling Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange to some pretty neat things like Academy Awards(tm) and Tron.

I think King Kong 1976 holds a unique place in cinema history. It has some intriguing twists on the classic story, even if it failed to really live up to its full potential because of now-apparent bad production choices. But even that holds some significance: 1976 Kong was the final special-effects movie before the modern blockbuster era. A few months later a movie called Star Wars came out, and suddenly everything - from the way movies were made to the way they were marketed - changed overnight. The '76 Kong came out at the absolute last moment that it could have and still have made a profit. After Star Wars, the bar would have been set so high, people's expections would have been raised so much, that this King Kong wouldn't have passed scrutiny at all. It really was the last big effects film of the era that started with the original King Kong in 1933.

If you wanna know more about the 1976 King Kong, Jeffrey Blair Latta's Kingdom Kong page is rife with info, trivia, pictures and more from the production. It came in quite handy while I was writing this review.

Well, I'm off to see King Kong 2005 now, but I'm glad that I got to get in a word or two about the first two Kong flicks beforehand. Will report back later with the 411 on how this new one stacks up. In the meantime keep smilin' :-)

Yup, Bush's intelligence certainly IS faulty

I'm fast becoming convinced: neo-conservatives are schoolyard bullies that never grew up like the rest of us. Today the punk who enjoyed branding others with a red-hot wire hanger while a college student is telling us "oops, it was bad data all along but I'm still going to send your sons and daughters to die!" From Bloomberg.com...
Bush Says Iraq War Was Justified Even Though Intelligence Wrong

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush accepted responsibility for taking the U.S. to war in Iraq based on faulty intelligence while saying the invasion still was justified by the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and international terrorism.

"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush said today in the final speech in a series intended to outline his Iraq strategy. "Given Saddam's history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision."

What the hell is this blithering idiot talking about?! Saddam may have been a bad guy but he had nothing to do with 9/11!

But wait, there's more...

"I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq," the president said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. "I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities, and we're doing just that."
Remember when Bush told us that going to war was an "agonizing" decision that he didn't take lightly? Well, now it seems like he totally glossed over all reason and sanity, and plowed ahead with his little war.

I'll say it again: cowards should not send others to fight a war when they themselves would not. And that's all Bush really is in all this: a coward who hides behind others.

Early word on V for Vendetta

This past July I made a post about the just-then released trailer for V for Vendetta, hopefully conveying the impression of just how eagerly I'm awaiting this movie. If done right, V for Vendetta has the potential to upset a LOT of applecarts all over the place... which I think might be a good thing. A few days ago Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News had his annual "Butt-Numb-A-Thon" film festival and the audience he assembled got to be the very first people for whom V for Vendetta got screened. Their reaction? Here's what Harry had to say about it, and here's what another viewer thought about the movie. There's some pretty harsh language here (what you can usually expect from AICN) but these reviews really have me looking forward to V for Vendetta that much more. If you've never read the original Alan Moore graphic novel, do yourself a favor and stop by your local Borders or Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy and prepare for a treat. Here's hoping that the Wachowski Brothers really did nail everything in their movie like the early reports are saying they did.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

They should let Encyclopedia Brown run Wikipedia

You might have heard by now about the recent controversy surrounding Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anybody can edit at any time (here's a story at The Register about it, which Wikipedia users responded to less than an hour later by creating an entry for "moral responsibility"). In theory, Wikipedia is a good idea. It guarantees an ever-increasing body of knowledge to use as a reference. This past week I wound up making two edits - and substantially increasing one article - on the site. I've found myself using it on a regular basis... but only as an introduction to whatever I'm looking up info on. Because as this whole mess regarding John Seigenthaler has proven, there ultimately is no oversight at Wikipedia besides what the users provide. Maybe they should let Encyclopedia Brown run the Wikipedia website.

Needless to say, this just begs to be parodied somehow. It was from the article at The Register that I discovered the existence of Uncyclopedia, "the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", currently boasting over 16,000 entries. I've spent a lot of this morning already giggling at some of the stuff posted here. Check out their entry on Wikipedia: "a tragic parody of Uncyclopedia, although Wikipedia claims the reverse." I might have to spend some time working on the entries on this now that I know about it :-)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush showing his ignorance. Again.

This time he's comparing the "leaders" of Iraq to the Founding Fathers of America. Which shows just how much this "president" appreciates or even really understands the history of the country he's supposed to be governing.

Show me where another country's military came into America to "liberate" her. Point out to me how we had to rely on anyone but ourselves to win our own independence. Oh sure, we had some foreign advisors like LaFayette that helped in the training of our soldiers, but we still kept it a clean fight. We made it stay our fight. The Iraqi people can't boast of that at all: they had an outside government - namely, our own - hand them their "freedom" on a silver platter. They didn't make this happen on their own. And within ten years of our leaving the place, they will have torn themselves to pieces because without having the self-discipline that comes with earning something for themselves, they will lack the wisdom for self-governance.

And then show me where among the Iraqi people is there to be found anyone of the caliber of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Paine. Show me where there is anyone like Winston Churchill or Lech Walesa or Mahatma Gandhi to be found coming out of Iraq? The only "statesmen" that have risen to the task in Iraq are the ones that politicians in Washington allowed to come to the fore. It can't be said that there are any self-made leaders arising from that land to serve her: there are only installed puppets put there to insure that Iraq becomes a vassal state to outside interests. Real "Iraqi independence" is not part of the long-term plan to these people: hence, no real Iraqi leaders rising of their own accord.

Someday, America will - I'm praying so anyway - turn away from the folly of electing very shallow people simply because a political party expects them to. We ourselves aren't even a truly free nation anymore, not when our sensibilities are directed by those with money and power and airtime... so what right do we have to give another people such "freedom"?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Syriana review

Just came back from watching Syriana. This one is going to take a while for me to really wrap my brain around it: it's been a long time since I've seen a movie so complex, so multi-layered, so cerebral. It's directed by Stephen Gagan and I've heard some people compare it to his 2000 movie Traffic, but I haven't seen Traffic yet so I don't know how accurate that is. Might have to though after today, but not before probably watching Syriana again.

The tagline for Syriana is "Everything is connected". I lost count on how many seemingly disparate storylines there are going on in Syriana: at least four, maybe even six of them. In the end, they all come together in cohesive focus on one of the most driving issues of the modern world: Middle-Eastern petro-economic politics. A tired long-time CIA operative, the shady merger of two American oil companies, a young energy analyst looking for profit, a Washington lawyer, unemployed Pakistani oil workers who come under the sway of a radical Islamic teacher, and the struggle between two princes over the dominion of a desert nation... these are what you're going to have to keep track of when you go in seeing this movie. It jumps all over the globe, from the streets of Tehran and the alleys of Beirut, to the upscale posh of Georgetown and rich lifestyle of Texas oil executives. This ain't a "date" movie by any stretch, or even anything fit for casual viewing. Go in to see it if you've seriously got time to ponder it through your gray matter afterward.

What's the meaning of Syriana? I think this is a thought-provoking - albeit fictionalized - tale of American policies among the mega-corporate and the foreign elite. I like to think that this country would not take some of the measures that it does in Syriana to guarantee maintaining the status quo... and yet I'm not all that really assured that our government would not engage in this sort of thing. I mean, we still don't even have a clearly defined end goal in Iraq - we never had that going in - other than being told that we could look forward to incredibly cheap oil after we took the place. In Syriana, as happens in the real world all too often, the value of human life plays distant second fiddle to financial and politicial convenience. It's like what Nasir says at one point: he's trying to bring freedom and an independent infrastructure to his country, but because he chooses not to deal with America he's branded a traitor and a communist sympathizer. Sounds way too much like how the current breed of war-hawks like to condemn those who are against the Iraq war as "un-American", "fifth-column", and too many other nasty things that need mentioning here... doesn't it?

If you're wondering what the word "Syriana" itself means: I've no idea. I thought going in that this would be the name of a fictional Mid-East oil-rich country. There is such a nation at the center of Syriana's plot, but its name is never given. I guess it could be a term for the entire Syria/Iran/Saudi region, but it's a new one on me if it is.

Syriana boasts a solid cast: lots of good faces you'll see here. I already knew that George Clooney and Matt Damon were in it, but I was a little surprised to also catch William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson and Christopher Plummer (even though their names are all over the poster, which only serves to let you know how often it is I actually look at stuff like that, doh!). Fans of the old Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will easily pick out Alexander Siddig as Prince Nasir. Jeffrey Wright is the lawyer caught in the middle of the oil companies merger. Amanda Peet plays the wife of Damon's hotshot oil analyst.

Even though I'm still trying to piece it all together in my mind, I'm glad I caught Syriana on its opening weekend (between this and The Chronicles of Narnia and my coverage of all things classic Kong I've done an awful lot of reviewing the past two days!). If you want something that'll make you actively work to think about it, you can't go wrong with Syriana. Just one bit of caution: the "George Clooney torture scene" is intensely stomach-turning, so don't feel ashamed if you have to cover your eyes.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Richard Pryor has died

Had a perfect day today, and I'm just now reading about this.

He had a Saturday morning TV show on CBS about twenty years ago called "Pryor's Place", that was pretty good. He's mostly remembered for the movies he made back then though, like The Toy and Brewster's Millions (let's just pretend that Superman III never happened, 'kay?). It's also worth noting that he was one of the writers on Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks once said that everything that Mungo did was Pryor's handiwork.

Well, it's sad to see him go. He fought some serious demons in his life, but he also made us laugh a lot in the time that he was here.

Just saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I'm going to yield to Lisa and the review she's writing, because she's the REAL Narnia nut in this family. But overall: I liked it for the most part. It didn't yield as much emotional "umph" as any of The Lord of the Rings movies did, and it's because of that I think the movie could have stood to be much longer. But otherwise, this first (I hope) Narnia movie was a darned good thing to catch, especially now during the Christmas season. I will say this about the movie: it has the coolest looking Santa Claus ever (and this one gives you nice toys like real swords and arrows). Will link to Lisa's review when it's up, and tomorrow I'm hoping to watch Syriana, so expect a review of that too.

KONG-SIZED REVIEW: King Kong DVD and Kong: King of Skull Island

Funny thing about A Christmas Carol: you never have to had ever read the book to understand the entire story. EVERYONE knows what A Christmas Carol is all about. But how many of us have actually taken the time to sit down with the original novel and enjoy it the way Charles Dickens wrote it in 1843? I finally did that when I was in college years ago: reading it in Dickens' prose, it was an entirely new experience from what I knew about the story from movies and television.

King Kong is a lot like A Christmas Carol: everyone knows its basic story, even if they've never seen Merian C. Cooper's 1933 classic. Just about any small child will tell you that Kong climbs the Empire State Building and fights airplanes and that there's a beautiful woman he's madly in love with. Those are some of the most iconic images in movie history. Yet how many people nowadays have allowed themselves the pleasure of watching the original film?

I first saw King Kong on the local PBS station one Friday night during my senior year of high school. All I'd known about it 'til that night were Kong and the Empire State Building, something about an island of natives and dinosaurs, and of course Fay Wray screaming like mad. If PBS hadn't shown it I've no idea when I would have watched it: in an age before Netflix, the local video stores only carried the 1976 remake. So I microwaved up some popcorn and settled in for the movie. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, especially given the time it was made in. Since that night I've come to believe that the original King Kong is the perfect marriage of good story and special effects. Look how well it holds up even today, when digital cinema has all but replaced stop-motion animation and clever camera tricks. It made such an impression on me that a little over a year later when Jurassic Park debuted, I found myself comparing that movie against King Kong. And between the two, there's no contest: Kong is still king.

Now you know that the original King Kong is one of my all-time favorite movies. Suffice it to say I was delighted when a packaged arrived from Amazon.com five days ago. In addition to a certain something being reserved for Christmas, there were two items that I couldn't wait to get my hands on: the newly-released and LONG-awaited DVD of King Kong, and the hardback edition of the sumptuously-illustrated novel Kong: King of Skull Island. Since arriving here Monday I've given myself a little extra time to enjoy both the DVD and book, exploring all the features and nuances in them, and basically letting myself get drawn again back to the world that I was first propelled into all those years ago. So while we're waiting to see what Peter Jackson has in store for us with his new take on the Kong myth this coming week, here's my double-barreled review of some stuff that's sure to appeal to any Kong enthusiast: the King Kong DVD and the Kong: King of Skull Island book.


King Kong 2-disc Special Edition DVD review

This just might have tied with the original Star Wars trilogy as the most hotly-demanded DVD for release since the format debuted about ten years ago. Well, a little over two weeks ago it finally came out and if Warner Bros. (which owns the rights to the classic from RKO Pictures) was using all this time to bring forth a DVD worthy of Kong, then it was time and effort very well spent: this is without a doubt the most majestic DVD ever to grace my shelf. Anyone looking to release a movie on DVD in the future would do well to study what went into this edition. Just as King Kong set the standard for all the special-effects movies that followed, this raises the bar on what should be expected of a DVD.

First there's Disc One, which contains the movie. You've never seen King Kong like this before, if the only thing you've got in your head is what Turner Classic Movies and the occasional PBS broadcast have given you over the past few decades.

This is where Warner went all-out and held nothing back when it came to restoring King Kong to as pristine a condition as is currently possible. The best film elements were tracked down, the entire thing got digitally remastered. The result: from the moment it first started spinning in my DVD player, I was stunned at how superior the image quality is in this release. This is the best movie restoration I've ever seen. It's an incredibly clean transfer to DVD, with the barest hints of any scratch lines or other sign of age. There is a little graininess apparent in some places, but otherwise you might believe that you are watching a virgin print all the way from 1933. Watching it like this, it's a lot like having watched film projection all your life, and then watching digital projection for the first time. That's what happened to me at the second Star Wars Celebration a few years ago, and that's what experiencing King Kong on DVD reminded me of a lot. The sound quality of the King Kong DVD is as fine as the image quality. This isn't Dolby Surround Sound, but it doesn't have to be: the audio is crisp and clear, and without knowing anything about how they treated this, it sure seems to me like Warner Bros. worked as much on the sound component of King Kong as they did on the visual.

Disc One also contains a collection of trailers for some of Merian C. Cooper's movies, including King Kong. But what is really going to appeal to fans of Kong – and just about every other special-effects movie ever made – is the option to watch King Kong with audio commentary from stop-motion living legend Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Jason and the Argonauts, and Clash of the Titans just to name some of the movies he's done) and visual effects guru Ken Ralson (the Back to the Future trilogy, the first Star Wars movie, The Polar Express, dozens of others over the years). Interspersed between Harryhausen and Ralston talking about the work that went into King Kong are audio excerpts of Faye Wray and Merian C. Cooper. I'm a big fan of audio commentary – I've loved the ones on the recent Star Wars DVDs – but this one has really resonated with me a lot stronger than most. It's one that I won't mind coming back to again and again in years to come.

Disc Two is the biggest hoot of a supplementary disc I've yet seen. The first thing on it you MUST watch is I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper. I watched this documentary on Turner Classic Movies within this past month and it's great to have it included in the King Kong set. Narrated by Alec Baldwin (yeah I could say something about him but I won't, this is about King Kong), it's an hour-long examination of the action-packed life of the man who created King Kong. From aerial warfare pioneer (he was one of the first to forsee the power of aircraft in a military capacity) to World War I prisoner of war, to freedom fighter for Poland, to filmmaker in the most unrelenting places on Earth, and then on to create one of the most enduring legends of the silver screen, Cooper did it all and lived to tell the tale. Cooper would later go on to help plan air raid missions for the U.S. Army in World War II. In a lot of ways, I came away from this documentary seeing how the U.S. Air Force could owe much of its existence to the creator of King Kong... pretty cool, eh?

You'll want to give yourself the full two hours to enjoy the next offering on Disc Two: RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World. It's a seven-part documentary covering EVERYTHING you can imagine about the production of King Kong, and here again, no expense was spared. The daring life of Merian C. Cooper is once again explored, but we are also given an intimate look at everyone else who worked to bring Kong to life, like Ernest B. Schoedsack, who was partners with Cooper (and with whom shared an intense passion for adventure and filmmaking). Much of the story was credited to Edgar Wallace, and the screenplay was written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose (who accompanied Schoedsack and Cooper on many adventures as Schoedsack's wife!). One part of the documentary focuses on Kong's pioneering use of music and sound, owing to the efforts of composer Max Steiner and Murray Spivack (who shares much about Kong's production in interview segments made before his death in 1994). But for me, the most rewarding part of this documentary was seeing the attention given to the man who gave King Kong his life and soul: Willis H. O'Brien, the stop-motion animator who worked tirelessly to make people really believe that Kong was fighting all those dinosaurs, before wrecking havoc in Manhattan. Some of today's most well-known filmmakers and names in movies and special effects – including John Landis, Phil Tippett and Ben Burtt (the Star Wars sound effects wizard) weigh in during this documentary to talk about the effect that King Kong and its creators have had on movies in the seventy-plus years since its first release. That's one thing I found really sweet about this DVD: how many of today's artists pay homage – with a great deal of humbleness – to a lot of people who may not have gotten a lot of credit, until now. Just one more reason why this DVD works on so many levels.

But right now one name is sure to stand out to whoever watches this documentary: Peter Jackson, who's taken his passion for the original movie to daring new heights, not only with his remake (which is said to be intensely faithful to the spirit of the original) but also with some things that he's done outside of production of his own movie. One part of the documentary deals with the long-lost "spider-pit sequence", that was taken out by Cooper after it was shown to a test audience in 1933. Cooper removed it because he felt it was slowing down the movie, and because it reportedly was incredibly sickening to those in the audience. To date no complete cut of the sequence has been located: only a few photographs are proof of its existence. Well it wasn't enough that Peter Jackson finish his own King Kong: he jokes about having to finish the 1933 one also! So included on this disc is a special "re-creation" of the spider-pit scene that Jackson supervised, using many of the techniques that Cooper, Schoedsack and O'Brien used in 1932. There is a making-of that shows how Jackson and his crew at WETA Digital pulled it off. There is also a stop-motion animated sequence of Kong attacking a human that Jackson created, using an armature (the metal skeleton underneath) identical to the one used for the 1933 Kong model. Peter Jackson is all over Disc Two but instead of coming across as an advertisement for his own King Kong, Jackson seems to be all about paying tribute to the original. To me, it seemed like just one more reason to believe why Peter Jackson really is one of the most – if not THE most – down-to-earth filmmakers in the world today.

Stop-motion aficionados will also be interested to know that Disc Two contains footage from O'Brien's earlier effort Creation, with commentary by Ray Harryhausen. There is also a longer segment about Creation in the RKO Production 601 documentary, including its basic storyline.

The King Kong 2-disc Special Edition DVD is available by itself, or as part of a three-movie collection that in addition to King Kong also has the more "cuddly" follow-up Son of Kong and Cooper's later gorilla thriller Mighty Joe Young. Or, you can spend a few extra bucks and get the King Kong Collector's Edition, which has the 2-disc King Kong but also a 20-page reproduction of the original 1933 souvenir program, movie postcards and a few other goodies in a beautiful collector's tin. I might get this one later, if for no other reason than 'cuz I'm a Kong nut. But if you don't care either way whether or not you have the collector's set or a few extra movies, you still can't go wrong with getting the basic 2-disc set of King Kong. After just a few days this has already become one of my favorite DVDs sitting in our rack, and no matter how much I might well-up at Peter Jackson's take on it (I've heard it's a real tear-jerker) the original King Kong is a movie I'm looking forward to enjoying for myself, and with my future children in the many years to come.


Kong: King of Skull Island review
CARL DENHAM: Here's a long sandy peninsula. The only possible landing place is through this reef. The rest of the shore-line is sheer precipice, hundreds of feet high. And across the base of that peninsula, cutting it off from the rest of the island, is a wall.

CAPTAIN ENGLEHORN: A wall?

CARL DENHAM: Built so long ago that the people who live there now have slipped back, forgotten the high civilization that built it. But it's as strong today as it was centuries ago. The natives keep that wall in repair. They need it.

JACK DRISCOLL: Why?

CARL DENHAM: There's something on the other side - something they fear.

-- from King Kong, 1933

Ever since first hearing that exchange onboard the Venture in the original King Kong, I've been fascinated by it. It hinted at a lot of back-story that the movie didn't cover: you could say that King Kong introduced the broad strokes of the brush that George Lucas later used to paint his Star Wars saga with.

It wasn't just the tease about Skull Island either: there are TONS of questions raised by King Kong. Who built the wall, and why? And why the heck is there a gate built into the wall that's big enough for Kong to come through? What was that "high civilization" from which its descendants met with the crew of the Venture? How long had Skull Island been inhabited by humans? Whatever happened to the other young women who were sacrificed to Kong? How did Denham bring Kong into New York City without arousing curiosity or suspicion? What happened to Denham and Kong – and Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll – after the New York City disaster?

And what about Kong himself: What was he? Where did he come from? How did he become the object of worship to the natives of Skull Island?

Right after watching the 1933 movie (but before I began going through the extra features, the audio commentary etc.) I started reading Kong: King of Skull Island, by Joe DeVito and Brad Strickland, with John Michlig. It'd been out awhile (I just noticed that according to its page on Amazon.com that my own review comes exactly a year since it was first published). But after hearing such good word about it for some months now I had to order it along with the King Kong DVD. And I'm glad that I got them both in one shot: this book is the perfect follow-up to – and prequel of – the original movie. It's made for the perfect King Kong experience this past week. I can't imagine going into seeing Peter Jackson's version now after having a better time than the past few days have given me.

I have to say this first: this book was unlike any that I'd read before. It's a real narrative novel, not a "graphic novel" at all (even though it's published by DH Press, an imprint of Dark Horse Comics). But I've never known a novel to be so richly illustrated as is Kong: King of Skull Island. Creator Joe Devito has liberally peppered the pages of his book with beautiful renditions of its characters, paintings of its action scenes, and depictions of Skull Island's unusual wildlife. Some are well-fitting to the accompanying prose. Others are extremely frightening (there is one picture, of something called "Gaw", that especially gives me shivers to look at). All are gorgeous to behold. It's also a huge book: it measures over 11 inches tall by almost 9 inches in width. At 164 pages it feels like it could be twice that length if its dimensions were those of a normal novel. But it also reads pretty fast: I started reading it Monday evening and finished it the following night after spending most of that day at my teaching job. All things considered, it's been awhile since I finished a novel feeling quite as satisfied as I did after reading the last page of Kong: King of Skull Island. For any fan of the 1933 movie, this book is certain to give a Kong-sized amount of pleasure.

And for the Kong purists out there who are wondering about this book’s canonicity, be of good cheer: Kong: King of Skull Island was written with the blessing of the family of Merian C. Cooper. It has received praise from many – including Ray Bradbury – as being a worthy sequel of the original movie. Forget that Son of Kong happened: herein now lies the true story of what happened after beauty killed the beast...

It is 1957: a quarter-century since King Kong went on his rampage through New York City that ended atop the Empire State Building. Within hours of Kong's crash to the ground his body – and Carl Denham – mysteriously vanished. By the late Fifties the Kong incident has been relegated to the status of urban folklore: most people don't even believe that it really happened. The few photographs still existing show an indefinable black mass. In short, there is no physical evidence that Kong really existed, and what memories people had of the event were soon diluted amid the struggles of the Great Depression and the looming threat of war.

Anthropologist Vincent Denham, who was ten years old when his father Carl Denham brought Kong to America, is now searching for answers to the questions he's long had about his long-lost father and his prize capture. A discovery made among his father's personal effects prompts Vincent to approach Jack Driscoll – a little older but on the eve of being a grandfather no less rugged than he was in 1932 – about mounting an expedition to Skull Island. Soon after their ship negotiates the reef guarding the island's peninsula, Vincent is thrown overboard during an attack by the island's vicious wildlife. He makes his way to the beach, is rescued by natives, and comes to be tended to by the mysterious Storyteller. It is she who begins to tell Vincent the tale of Kublai and Ishara: two young lovers who find themselves caught in a power struggle between the island’s two rival factions. What happens to them and the other players that are found on – or make their way to – Skull Island ultimately converge on the central element of this entire story: the magnificent beast-god called Kong.

For anyone worrying that Kong had a miraculous resurrection a'la 1986's disastrous King Kong Lives, you needn't fear: the great ape did indeed die from his fall. But even though he is departed from this world, Kong remains the focus of the tale that began in the movie and continues now in Kong: King of Skull Island. He becomes the device through which is explored not only the wide vista of Skull Island, but the very souls of those entwined in the tale. And it does so with great loyalty to the spirit of the original movie. It also satisfies very well after watching the movie: By the end of the novel, there aren't any questions left from the film that are left unanswered. Everything is accounted for, and given a very believable rationale (yes, including the Kong-sized gate in the wall). If I were to give you two words that describe what happens in this novel, one of them would be "revelation".

The other word would have to be "redemption". On so many levels, this is a story about making an accounting of for past sins... but through forgiveness, not vindictiveness. I'm reminded a lot about the story of Joseph in the Bible: something that started out so horribly wrong ultimately made way for a great good to be done. In fact, this book reads almost like a Christian fantasy/action-adventure saga, with its multiple references to God and how He made His creation, while bringing up the issue of where man's role in all of this is. It’s not a "religious" novel at all, and it's not on a level equal to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but it's nice to see a spiritual component in a story – especially a story so rich with metaphor as Kong's is – that is woefully absent in a lot of modern fiction.

To sum up: this is a book that you can assuredly leave and feel that the time reading it was time well spent. I can't think of anything else comparable to it that might bring the same kind of satisfaction for the hardcore Kong fan. Kong: King of Skull Island is available in hardcover, and in a softcover trade paperback edition. If at all possible, go for the hardcover: it's the kind of book that deserves its space on the shelf along with the very best classics in your collection.


And so ends my major personal activity of the past week: going a little crazy for King Kong, trying to crank out a review that does both of these items their deserved justice. So if you want to get your paws on some good readin' and watchin' in the buildup to Peter Jackson's new King Kong movie this next week, do yourself a favor and get the 1933 King Kong 2-disc DVD set and the Kong: King of Skull Island novel. You'll positively go ape over them!