Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No "retirement" after 25 years: BLADE RUNNER getting new DVD and theatrical cut

Funny, 'cuz I was just thinking of Blade Runner the other day. It came while going through some things and I found my old copy of the Blade Runner computer game that Westwood Studios released in 1997. Very good game if you can track it down: it seriously pulls you into the world created by the movie. You even get to run the Voight-Kampf test on suspected replicants.

Anyway, Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite movies, from the time I first saw it in 1992. I've got the original DVD release but I've never been all that happy with how skimpy it is on extra features... like, there are none. The production of Blade Runner and all the elements at work in this story are just too rich to leave unexplored in a medium that welcomes that like DVD. Plus, I've seen both versions of Blade Runner: the original 1982 one that has Harrison Ford's narration and the 1992 "director's cut" (which may have been the very first-ever "special edition" of any movie) and the DVD we have now is only the 1992 version. I happen to like both cuts for various reasons.

Well, today has been a good day for Blade Runner fans: it's been announced that the 1992 director's cut is being re-issued on DVD this fall, followed by director Ridley Scott releasing "the final cut" of Blade Runner in 2007 for the movie's 25th anniversary. The 1992 edition will hit shelves this September, then be on sale for four months before being pulled, after which this "final cut" will be released in theaters. I'm guessing this edition will include some deleted material (like the scene where Deckard visits Holden in the hospital, among others). Following the cinematical run, Blade Runner will be released on DVD again, this time in a pack that will include all three versions of Blade Runner: the 1982 narrated original, the 1992 director's cut and the 2007 version, along with tons of supplemental material.

What else can be said, but that it's a great time to be a Blade Runner fan! Maybe someday someone will figure out that the world of Blade Runner would make an awesome massive-multiplayer online role-playing game where we pay to be either blade runners or replicants or civilians... heck I'd pay 15 bucks for that! Or at least give us an updated version of the original computer game.

North Carolina finally gets a real lottery today

I never thought this day would come, not in a million years. But, here we are: Starting today you can buy tickets for the Powerball lottery here in North Carolina. We've actually had the lottery since March 30th, when the scratch-off tickets went on sale. But today marks the first time ever that a real numbers racket has been allowed to operated in this state. Who knows, maybe one of us will get lucky and become a multi-zillionaire off this thing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Star Wars Celebration the FOURTH coming next May

As a grizzled veteran of two Star Wars Celebrations, I'll vouch for how fun these things are. So I'm glad to hear that Star Wars Celebration IV has just been announced for May 24-28, 2007: encompassing the 30th anniversary of the first Star Wars movie (before it was called A New Hope).

Next year's event is going to be in Los Angeles, which may be a little too far for me to go (depends on some factors. We'll see... I've never been that far west before so this would make a first time experience for me if I did :-).

Now, last year Lisa and I attended Celebration III in Indianapolis and we saw a lot of kooky stuff, including what was almost a near-bloody riot breaking out after they closed the souvenir store that Friday after only being open for an hour and a half!! 'Twas one of the STUPIDEST decisions I've ever seen enacted by anyone in the history of anything. Well, listen to this from the official announcement:

One of the highlights for fans at a Star Wars convention is the chance to buy unique merchandise, including an exclusive, limited-edition action figure. Because this has led to bottlenecks and long lines in the past, the Celebration IV store will be bigger than ever, self-service, well-stocked with merchandise, have plenty of check-out lanes...and be open 24 hours a day from the opening of the show on Thursday until the close on Monday!
I'll believe it when I see it, if I wind up going.

THIS part puts a damper on my hopes though...

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Gen Con LLC will throw the largest party ever for fans of the saga...
I heard from too many people at last year's Celebration that Gen Con was the reason so many things went SNAFU. Compared to Celebration II - when the Lucasfilm crew was managing everything - Celebration III left a lot to be desired. One thing in particular from last year's show still leaves me cringing in disgust... count me as one of those pinning it on Gen Con. I said it before: they can run role-playing game conventions, but not serious sci-fi/fantasy shows (and that ain't a knock on the good people in the Dungeons & Dragons crowd at all, mind ya). It's just that some things require whole different logistics than others, and in last year's case Gen Con wasn't on the ball. But, everyone deserves a second chance to make things right, so maybe they'll learn from last year's mistakes and hit this one out of the park next year. I wish 'em all the best.

So get ready for five days of incessant Starwargasms next year, fellow fans of the saga. Which may be another reason for me to avoid it next year: four days of it nonstop last year left me dead tired by the time I got home :-)

Fun and frustration from X-MEN: THE LAST STAND

"Doh you know oo I am?! Ah'm da Jugga-nawt, bitch!"

-- Juggernaut, X-Men: The Last Stand

This is the line that forevermore wiped out any personal sense of being wildly satisfied with X-Men: The Last Stand.

Don't get me wrong though: I had a lot of fun watching this final chapter in the X-Men film series. I was also frustrated beyond belief at the all too numerous problems in this movie.

It's NOT the train wreck that a lot of us had been expecting after hearing reports for the past year or so on how bad things were going during production. Based on some of those, it had sounded like a stinker on par with Batman and Robin. Thankfully, it's not that bad (and I doubt anything again ever will be as loathsome as that piece of dreck from Joel Schumacher).

No, X-Men: The Last Stand is more like being told you've got a beautiful baby on the way... and then being forced to stand and watch as that baby gets aborted against all moral soundness and sanity. That's what X-Men: The Last Stand is most to me, after seeing it at 12:01 AM this morning: an act of cinematic vacuum aspiration sucking out any and all hope of a future for this series.

The biggest thing I have against this movie is that Fox has stated that this will be the last X-Men movie. And they go all-out here to make darned sure you understand without any doubt that they mean it. From killing off several major characters (and not even giving a few the benefit of a meaningful onscreen death) to setting things up at the end so that the whole mutant crisis that's driven these movies since 2000's X-Men is made thoroughly kaput... I've never before seen a major studio fall over backwards to give euthanasia to a successful string of movies, until X-Men: The Last Stand.

There is absolutely no reason at all why the X-Men series could not go on for another two or three installments, or even six or seven more movies… if that few. This could have been Fox's own franchise like the Harry Potter movies, or more accurately the James Bond series. There's more than enough material from the comics and raw potential per its own merit to drive the X-Men movies to last for decades. Oh sure, there'd have to be recasting every once in awhile, like when Ian McKellan decides he no longer wants to do the Magneto thing, but think of the rat race there would be in the entertainment industry to be that next actor who plays Magneto. Or more wildly yet: Wolverine. Who says that has to be Hugh Jackman (who has done an amazing job bringing Logan to life) who plays everyone's favorite Canadian wildman? James Bond has gone on now with five or six actors playing the role... so why can't the same be done with several characters in one franchise? It would keep the whole shebang a lot more fresh and fun, without necessarily going stagnant in the way Paramount’s Star Trek series did. It's... insanely stupid to be stopping a series with such brilliant potential.

But anyway, about the movie...

The story starts with a flashback to 20 years earlier, a time when Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) are friends and co-workers. We see them approaching the home of the adolescent Jean Grey, to offer her a place in Xavier's school. Look for the amazing effort that was made to make Stewart and McKellan look 20 years younger, if not more. Also look for the obligatory cameo appearance by Stan Lee (that guy shows up at every Marvel party). Pretty solid opening, the movie's going good so far...

Flash forward to ten years afterward, to the office of industrialist Warren Worthington, who walks into the restroom at his office to find his son clipping the feathered wings that have grown from his own back.

Flash forward again to "a few years from now", a point some time not long after X2: X-Men United (one of the few sequels that managed to be better than the original). Xavier's Institute is still in pain after losing Jean Grey. Logan is filling in as a "substitute teacher" and when we first see him, he's leading some students through an exercise in something that longtime fans of the comics have been wanting to see ever since this movie series started: the Danger Room. Meanwhile in Washington D.C. word has reached the office of the President that a "cure" for mutations has been found.

It's a very promising first twenty minutes or so. And then things just... start feeling rushed. Tacked-on. Devil-may-care. Instead of one cohesive X-Men movie it feels like bits and pieces of several stories are slapped into place one after another with no sense of plot or pacing or emotional attachment or build-up to something that pays off in the end.

James Marsden's Cyclops is the worst offense. This morning it's barely registering with me that he was even in this movie at all. I think Cyclops probably has less than five minutes of total screen-time in X-Men: The Last Stand, most of that is feeling guilty and angst-ridden about what happened to Jean. The rest is the most clumsy way of getting rid of a character in a movie that I can think of from recent memory.

Though for some reason, as a counter, I feel compelled to praise Kelsey Grammer's portrayal of Henry "Hank" McCoy, better known as that lovable blue furball Beast. Grammer's McCoy was my favorite new addition to the X-Men series: he’s exactly like the comic book original, right down to saying "by my stars and garters" at one point. Grammer had fun with this role, you can tell. You've no problem believing in Beast whether he's in a three-piece suit advising the President of the United States, or swinging in action during the scene's final battle at Alcatraz Island. Of all the good that was in this movie (and there was some), Kelsey Grammer as Beast is the big standout.

Then the pendulum swings wildly toward the other way again when I think of Juggernaut and that horrible "Don't you know who I am...?!" line. For some reason (I think it has to do with a video that's floating around on the Internet) this line garnered the biggest applause from the crowd at where we saw X-Men: The Last Stand. I didn't find it particularly funny or fitting with Juggernaut's character though (and I've already ranted in this space about some of my other issues with the movie's take on Juggernaut). To his credit, Vinnie Jones brings all the right attitude to the onscreen incarnation of Cain Marko. The problem is that one line... and the fact that he's about four times smaller in the movie than Juggernaut really should be. If they'd poured a few million more into CGI enhancing his build, I bet Jones would have made a much more impressive – and scary – Juggs. And he wouldn't need that stupid one-liner that's now probably going to join other legendary American pop-culture quotes like "Eat my shorts!" and "I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Charles Xavier's death... was ridiculous. I didn't feel this at all, at least not how it was probably intended that I be touched by his loss. I don't know what else to say about this before descending into a diatribe against everything that was so wrong about killing him and how the deed was done.

Logan fighting a Sentinel? Cool! Now, why can't they show us more of the Sentinel other than just the head? Come to think of it, why couldn't this entire movie have been about Sentinels hunting down mutants, instead of it being relegated to a mere exercise in the Danger Room? Again, another element wasted that otherwise could have been terrific.

I didn't care at all about Callisto (Dania Ramirez) and the other "punk/gotchic" mutants that follow Magneto. The only one that really seemed cool to me was the one throwing those "bone knives" at Logan during one scene later on in the movie. On a similar note, I didn't feel anything resonate with the Angel (Ben Foster)

X-Men: The Last Stand's director Brett Ratner has taken a lot of flack for this movie, and during the year-long or so run up to its release. I didn't really see anything wrong here to pin on Ratner as a director, just going by what I understand of the situation. Based on everything I've heard, he was just asked to drive the thing toward whatever destination the Fox execs told him to. Indeed, you can see the heavy-handed mangling done by the suits all over this movie. It's like "blockbuster by committee". In some ways it makes X-Men: The Last Stand a harder thing to watch than Alien 3: a movie that had something like forty writers before it ended up on the screen.

This is like what happened to Star Trek V, but far more unforgivably so. Paramount slashed the funding on that movie but they weren't crazy enough to kill off a proven cash cow. X-Men: The Last Stand could have benefited from longer production time, a better script, a longer running time and maybe a bigger budget... everything needed to give this series a half-decent sendoff if this really is what it retires on. It got none of that. It's like Fox couldn’t decide if they wanted a tent-pole summer blockbuster or a tent stake through the heart.

And now on the morning after... I feel like I watched a movie with a lot of interesting visuals and a few interesting performances, and enjoyed watching what good there was... but ultimately it went nowhere.

I'm sorry, but Fox really, shoulda, oughtta have done better with X-Men: The Last Stand. I can't say enough that there are some fun moments and bits of eye candy in this movie... but in the end, they really can't redeem this film as being a worthy addition to the series, much less a fitting capstone to it all.

One word of warning: stay for the credits. There's one final scene that's well worth waiting a few extra minutes to see.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The finales of IDOL and LOST

This was the first American Idol finale that I've been completely satisfied with.

Now, as for Lost...

On a scale of 1 to 10, that was like a 19.

THAT, my friends, is an excellent season finale. It answered a whole lot of questions, left a tantalizing few unexplained and popped open a fresh can of new ones.

So, what is "it"? And what I wanna know is, what the heck is the deal with the giant stone leg with the four toes?

Well, anyway, good show tonight, Lost producers. And to Taylor Hicks, congratulations!! If you ever read this I want you to know that you're the first Idol guy that I'm gonna buy the CD of the day it comes out :-)

LOST action figures from McFarlane Toys this fall

McFarlane Toys - AKA The House that Spawn Built - is releasing a line of action figures from the hit ABC series Lost! Coming this fall are scale replicas of Jack, Kate, Hurley, Locke, Charlie and Shannon. Here's some more info:
Each 6-inch Lost figure will have a detailed base and photographic backdrop, capturing an episode-specific moment in the character's story. In addition, each package will include a detailed prop reproduction central to the character's story, enabling fans to "own" a piece of the show's mythology. For example, Kate's figure will be packaged with a reproduction of the toy airplane that plays so prominently into her backstory.
And Filmfodder has some more info still:
Each toy will include a full-scale prop that befits its character. For example, Kate's figure will include a toy lead plane and Hurley will come with a lottery ticket. What the heck will they give the rest of the figures? Locke a wheelchair? Jack a coffin with a dead father-type? Charlie a statue with heroin? (That would be kid-friendly!) Shannon.... well, I don't want to guess that one.

If that's not enough, McFarlane will sell deluxe boxed sets that include dioramas of "Lost" locations (the hatch or the beach) and also re-create famous scenes from the show.

Future lines of "Lost" figures will include characters such as Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

The toys will be released this fall, timed with "Lost's" third-season premiere. Naturally.

If action figures aren't your thing, don't worry. Variety also reported that French game publisher Ubisoft has struck a deal with Touchstone Television to adapt the drama into a console videogame.

I can't wait to see the Eko figure complete with "Jesus stick" accessory :-)

My wife is going to kill me once these come out: we've barely enough room for all the Star Wars figures, and now this. But you tell me: who wouldn't want a cuddly Hurley figure bedecking their desktop next to the monitor (maybe he can guard the ranch dressing you're snacking on :-P) I just hope the McFarlane Lost line is somewhat posable: the Spawn figs were only slightly less maneuverable than the old Masters of the Universe toys.

EDIT 3:09 PM EST: Just after posting this I found where McFarlane has released the first pic from their new Lost line. Here's the Charlie figure:

Two things: that figure looks exactly like Charlie. But how can it possibly be called an "action" figure when it looks pretty obvious he's not pose-able at all?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

We just voted 25 times for Taylor Hicks

And I think Mom made a contribution of thirty votes to the cause.

SOUL PATROL!!!

The mental captivity of the two-party believers

This is a paraphrase of something that I found on a political discussion forum earlier today, one well-noted for its rabid Republicanism:
"We can't afford to pay attention to a third party candidate or some other 'unknown'. That would hand the election over to the Democrats, which we absolutely cannot have. This is NOT A GAME! We have to PLAY TO WIN! First we get a super-majority of Republicans in the House and Senate and away from the Democrats, and THEN we knock off the 'Republicans In Name Only'. Only then can we be in a position to do anything meaningful. But we can't be bothered with somebody who is third party or is otherwise unelectable!"
Let's address the obvious first: There will never be a so-called "super-majority" of either party in Congress... or at least not enough to satisfy this kind of mentality, which is all too dominant in America.

And even if one of the two major parties did overwhelm the "opposition" in a massive show of force, what good would it do? Neither one of them – and especially the Republicans of late – have shown the American people that they are as good as their word when it comes to adhering to the principles of the Founding Fathers.

The mindset that originated the above sentiment is at the heart of what is destroying this country. I don't know what is worse: the raw hatred this person has toward anything "Democrat" or his/her unwillingness to see that they have been perfectly indoctrinated by the two-party system into being a good little subservient.

Not even the slaves that lived before the Civil War were in so terrible a bondage as exists over the mind of the average American who refuses to look past his party affiliation.

Third parties and other challengers are not allowed a real turn at the table in America for two reasons: the first is that the two-headed monstrosity that is the Democrats and Republicans has too much power over outside challengers. It is the Republicans and Democrats who control the ballot-access laws. They are the ones who make sure the eye of the media does not fixate itself on any possible threat to their corrupt system. And they have the absolute ability to utterly destroy anyone who does manage to maneuver himself into making a kill shot at the beast.

The other reason is the one that disheartens me most of all: the apathy of the American people and their unwillingness to consider anything beyond the wicked machine of the Republican-Democrat duopoly. On command, the typical American turns his head away from the table as the Democrats and Republicans steal the food from his children.

And what is the reaction of said American? Nothing better than "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

It's time to ask ourselves: what good have the entrenched in power – the ones put there by political alliance or family connection or media favoritism – done for us, as our professed leaders and benefactors? They certainly have not been the servants that too many of them swore an oath to be.

How much longer can we let them get away with hiding behind the curtain of political affiliation? How much more of the fruit of our labors are we willing to let them take from us without recompense?

In short: how angry do we have to be before we lash out against the ones who've been playing games with our posterity's future?

Monday, May 22, 2006

In the pipeline: THE CHARLES SCHULZ CODE, feature-length feature, and something... controversial

Am working on getting the KWerky Productions blog going full-bore which is where updates on our film projects will be posted. But in the meantime...

Production on The Charles Schulz Code has been going on for about two weeks now. We've done some location scouting and have a few roles cast. This one won't be the 54-minute long behemoth that Forcery was: that length may have been a liability with our first movie. This one will be much more "digestible" i.e. less dense with detail. But don't fret: it'll still have plenty of stuff to laugh at especially if you're a fan of The Da Vinci Code or Peanuts lore. Expect it to be done and released in a few weeks.

Work on The Charles Schulz Code is something of a respite from the big project, the feature-length film which we're aiming to have in the can by the end of 2007. Right now it's still very much in the "research" stage, then I'll sit down and work on the script and prolly edit that down a lot. Am really looking forward to seeing the camera roll on this one: I'm just trying to figure out what kind of genre to define it as. It's definitely not humor or anything parody.

And yesterday an idea hit me to try something a little ummmm... eyebrow-raising. This definitely ISN'T something that falls under the KWerky banner: it's more for my own curiosity/enlightenment/satisfaction. A few years ago some guy re-edited Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace so that it was tightened up considerably (among other things, Jar Jar has a somewhat reduced role). Some people said that this "Phantom Edit" was an even better version than George Lucas's original cut. Well, I'm working on an already-existing movie and doing a few things to it that will make it... more timely, among other things. Lord only knows what the reaction to this is going to be.

Anyhoo, just thought I'd post an update on what we'll be up to film-wise in the next little while :-)

Wedding and alligators

At the beginning of this month Lisa and I attended the wedding of my good friend and collaborator "Weird" Ed and his lovely bride Olivia down in Charleston, South Carolina. Which was the very first wedding I ever attended at 11:30 AM on a Monday morning, but anyway... While we were there we got to hook up with one of Lisa's friends from college and she showed us around town. And now Lisa posts a report on her own blog about what went down, including the dozen or so live alligators we saw running around the wedding site:

THE NORMAN ROCKWELL CODE is now online!

Last week I found this trailer for a soon-to-be released spoof of The Da Vinci Code. Well, I checked back last night and the complete film The Norman Rockwell Code is now online! Serious props to Alfred Thomas Catalfo and his crew for not only doing an on-the-spot job parodying The Da Vinci Code but also paying homage to the comic genius of Don Knotts.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"The Age of Steel": New DOCTOR WHO gets FIVE STARS!! Plus: "Max Headroom" returns?!

"I thought I was broadcasting to the security services, what do I get: Scooby-Doo and his gang... they've even got the van."

"I'm London's most wanted... for parking tickets."

"Even better... that's the name of my dog."

"Ex-cellent!"

"The human race, for such an intelligent lot you are all susceptible. Give anyone a chance to take control and you submit. Sometimes I think you like it."

"Upgrade THIS!"

"What the HELL was that thing?!?"

"Sally. Sally Phelan."

"This is the age of steel and I am its creator!"

"I'd call you a genius except I'm in the room."

"Ordinary stupid BRILLIANT people!"

"The most ordinary person can change the world."

"I'm sorry."

"That's the Doctor. In the TARDIS. With Rose Tyler."

"He's gone home."

"Nothing wrong with a van... I once saved the universe with a big yellow truck."

Once again, I had to download this week's new Doctor Who episode off the Internet via file torrent, a few hours after it aired in Great Britain. 'Cuz it'd be a year or so otherwise before we get it here in 'Merica.

I thought last week's "Rise of the Cybermen" was one of the best of the entire revitalized series, and definitely tops so far as David Tennant's time as the Doctor goes. Last week there was no "teaser" for this week's episode, and that was a very wise decision as it ratcheted up the "oh @&#$ NOW what?!" factor waiting to see what happened next time.

Well, "The Age of Steel" does NOT disappoint! If anything it's even better than last week's was. The Doctor and gang escape the Cybermen trap and make off in the Preachers's van (with a great Scooby-Doo reference by alter-Pete Tyler). Meanwhile John Lumic, the insane head of Cybus Industries, has decided to accelerate the "upgrading" timetable: thousands of Londoners get zombified by those earplugs and start marching into the Cybus factory. The Doctor and crew quickly come up with a plan to break up and do what they can to stop Lumic... who is about to get an upgrade of his own after his "children" have sympathy for him following an assassination attempt.

There is horror, there is humor, and there is heartbreak in "The Age of Steel". Remember how Aaron took that last look at the moon as he's marched into the death chamber in War and Remembrance? That's what I thought of as Rose and Pete feign going along with the crowd walking toward the conversion chambers. This episode, more than any other Cybermen story I can think of, brings down the boom on the fact that these are humans beneath the steel, as we see not only the business end of them getting cut apart and reconfigured but also what happens when these poor saps get their souls back and finally realize what's been done to them. One scene in particular might strike up some controversy: the Doctor practicing euthanasia on a cyber-converted woman who was supposed to be married. And then there's the heart-rending sight of this other world's Jackie as a Cyber-person.

But the biggest thing of this very emotional story is Mickey. This is Noel Clarke's final appearance on the show, and I've always liked his character immensely for some reason and am sad to see him go, but he definitely goes out swinging. He's been the "tin dog" for long enough and in "The Age of Steel" he makes his mark as fine as any other of the Doctor’s companions. In the end he decides to stay on this alter-Earth, despite the fact that the TARDIS can never return to this other reality, but here he still has a grandmother and now a mission: stop the Cybermen. The last scene is a real "go get 'em tiger" moment. Clarke and Billie Piper have a really sweet goodbye scene that will have some weeping for sure.

Plenty of everything in this ep, including some old-school Cybermen lore from the Doctor and a quick nod to last season's "Dalek" episode from Rose. Roger Lloyd Pack is still in fine form this week as mad industrialist John Lumic... and just as bad-a$$ as the Cyber-Controller. If you're an American on this side of the pond like me, don't wait for Sci-Fi Channel to run it next year, it's definitely worth grabbing off of torrent or wherever.

But there's one more thing that caught my attention from this episode that might be worth mentioning...

After the Doctor unleashes hell at the Cybus factory, there's a shot of Lumic - now the Cyber-Controller - sitting on his "throne" where he starts yanking cables out of his body so he can pursue the destroyers of his plans. And Lumic/Controller starts screaming "Noooooo..." in a cyber-fied voice. He does this again as he's hanging from the dirigible a few minutes later.

What I happened to catch was that while he's doing this, Lumic/Controller sounds exactly like the infamous "Max Headroom" video prankster who hacked the signal of a Chicago TV station in 1987 (click here to watch the actual video on YouTube). Not only does Lumic/Controller's scream sound just like "Headroom" but the hackers broadcast their pirate signal... while the station was airing one of the Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who!! I doubt that the BBC did this intentionally... but it was still something sorta ironic that I couldn't help but notice (though I do tend to notice a lot of weird things anyway).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The wife and I go OVER THE HEDGE

Earlier this afternoon Lisa and I went to see Over The Hedge at the Brassfield here in Greensboro. It's a darned good cute smart lil' movie! I've been looking forward to this for awhile, being a longtime fan of the "Over The Hedge" comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis. The strip is about a group of forest-dwelling animals living on the edge of suburbia, where they make wry commentary and snide comments about the inanity and over-gluttony of us humans while wrecking havoc with the very things we buy and consume, like TV and fast food and lawn ornaments.

And the movie did a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the original cartoon, I thought. It seems to be like an "origin story" almost for how this group of critters first comes together. We see R.J. the raccoon (voiced by Bruce Willis) have his first meeting with soon-to-be best bud Vern, a turtle (Garry Shandling). Central to the plot is R.J. having to replace all the pillaged food that he stole from the den of Vincent, a bear who's promised to find and kill R.J. if the 'coon hasn't restored Vincent's stash in one week (Vincent, by the way, is voiced - somewhat appropriately enough - by Nick Nolte). The movie ignores a few characters from the strip (like R.J. and Vern's girlfriends, the woodtick etc.) but introduces some newer ones that are part of Vern's "family": William Shatner and Avril Lavigne star as father-and-daughter possums, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy appear as the head of a porcupine family, and Wanda Sykes makes for more than a few outrageous moments as Stella, a skunk. The real scene-stealer has got to be Hammy the Squirrel (one of the comic's regulars), the most manic animated character I've seen in a good long time, played by Steve Carrell.

Well, we laughed a lot during Over The Hedge and the kids around us had a good time with it, even during the gags that were obviously intended for the "grown-ups" to catch onto (there's one hilarious reference to A Streetcar Named Desire that readily comes to mind). Definitely worth catching at the theater or later on DVD. If you need any more reason to go see Over The Hedge, it's that it features a much more realistic "treasure hunt" than that other movie opening this weekend has in it :-P

Friday, May 19, 2006

SITH Happened: One year ago today...

...the Star Wars saga finally came full circle with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

I actually saw Sith twice that day: at 12:01 AM with "Weird" Ed, Darth Larry and his wife and Phillip and a few other good crew, and then a much saner time that evening with my wife Lisa and Brian again ('cuz he and I weren't going to end that day without seeing Revenge of the Sith two and possibly three times :-P). And it just kept getting better and better.

Coming out of the theater that day was sort of bittersweet, but something of a relief as well. Knowing that there will not be anymore Star Wars movies, I felt like this series has accomplished what its creator set out to do, that it had nothing more to prove and now it got to go out on top. And now we could go on just being fans of a great saga, instead of fans so busy rabidly hanging onto whatever news trickled out about the movie that we forgot to just simply enjoy the thing. Believe me, as someone who once worked for a good while at what's still the best fan-run Star Wars site on the Internet (and here's hoping that you won the big race, Dustin :-), I've seen way too much of that to not know what I'm talking about.

Guess what I'm trying to say is that with Revenge of the Sith now behind us, I think that Star Wars fans can and finally have become what we were most supposed to be anyway. It's just hard to explain what that actually is, but I believe "respectable" is legitimately something that comes to mind :-)

And for me, on a more personal level, Revenge of the Sith and the closure it brought made me want that much more to be a father, and be able to share this beautiful story with my own children and wonder and cry and laugh right along with them as we watch it together. I really hope and pray that God will give me that opportunity someday, and not none too soon. If there had been the possibility (threat?) of more Star Wars movies, it would have taken away from that thrill. It would have become too much like Star Trek. No, this ended at just the right time, and it ended well. And it's in a good place now: on a bookshelf, waiting to be opened and shared with and appreciated by the next generations of "readers".

Well, I could go on, but that would just be adding "more" to what's probably been said a million times already. If anyone's interested, here's the review of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith I wrote the following day, and if you want a laugh there's also this now-legendary post about me and Darth Larry doing the final "Midnight Madness" of Star Wars toys... and the terrible hangover that ensued.

So happy birthday Star Wars Episode III. It was a heckuva fun ride: one for the ages, definitely :-)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Something cryptic for your careful consideration

Chronolism is a crack in the crystal that is Creation.

Calculated contemplation of this conundrum causes considerable clarification concerning the curious cosmology of Christopher.

Last night's LOST (and a little bit about IDOL)

Lost is a show that has only gotten consistently better as the past season has progressed, especially the past several batch of episodes. Last night brought us "Three Minutes", and we finally learned what happened to Michael after he went running off into the brush with a gun to find his son. Speaking of which, we got to see Walt at last. Admittedly he looks a little bigger 'cuz of his growth spurt, but the Lost creators have said this is going to be addressed at some point soon. My theory: the DHARMA guys have been playing around with his genetics, as part of their age longevity program... would make a pretty plausible explanation given what is being leaked about DHARMA through the Lost online game and such. The new character Mrs. Klugh, I don't think she's supposed to be "the Man in Charge" but she's definitely one of the top dogs running the Others show. She was one character I wanted to see Michael go upside her head on, for sure. Definitely feel sorry for Michael, and maybe a little understanding of "why he did it" even though that still doesn't totally exonerate him. But after his exchange with Eko, I think forgiveness is one thing he certainly wants. All told, excellent episode that ends with an intriguing cliffhanger, that if you remember a certain inhabitant of the hatch from the beginning of this season then I think that's who the boat belongs to...

As for American Idol last night: I really wanted Elliott Yamin to make it through and it be him and Taylor in the final round. But Elliott is going to have a terrific career no matter what. Definitely think it'll be mah man Taylor Hicks gonna win next week: he'll probably pick up what votes Elliott would have gotten. Otherwise I really believe that Elliott might have won.

On a related note if I can figure out how to post sound files I'll try to put up my impersonation of Taylor screaming out "Soul Patrol!!" :-P

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Today...

You know Hugh Laurie's character Dr. Gregory House on the FOX show House? He's the doctor with no bedside manner, always looks grizzled and tired and surly and dresses as if he's a flood refugee. But he gets the job done.

I feel like House tonight, after a lot of things today. Not saying I'm that gruff and arrogant, but it's how he looks on that show... that's my picture of myself right now.

Long story about why that is, but right now I'm able to smile, and thank God for a few things. Was a really amazing day, and tomorrow promises more.

My thoughts on illegal immigration in a nutshell

We - and by that I'm generally speaking about Americans - have been given stewardship over this country by God. So too, has God granted stewardship of the lands of Mexico to her people.

Our house is our own to manage, just as the people of Mexico have their own to take care of.

However you cut the issue, it's wrong for one house to foist its problems onto another, instead of meeting and addressing them head-on, as best they understand and are capable of doing so. So too is it wrong for one house to expect it of itself - or to expect those living within it - to take on something that God never intended them to have.

This doesn't rule out legal immigration at all: that's something perfectly withing the rights of a house to manage itself. But the far more Christian thing to do in this matter would be to politely - and firmly if necessary - turn away illegals at the border, send them home... but with an affirmation that they not only are responsible for their stewardship, they can be stewards of their land.

Just my .02...

DA VINCI getting crucified in early reviews

"Tom Hanks was a zombie", "a stodgy, grim thing", critics laughing during the big revelation and giggling for the rest of the movie...

This is what so many of my fellow Christians have been worried about??

To paraphrase Kent Brockman: "Once again, we've been had."

Bold prediction time: this movie will mark the end of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon. The biggest part of this book's mystique has been the "Jesus Christ was married and had children" thing, that's what's put it in the mind's eye of the masses regardless of whether or not everyone actually read the book. Now that the story has been translated into the film medium (pretty darned close to the novel too, it's being said) and packaged for everybody to readily digest, everyone is now going to be finding out for themselves... that The Da Vinci Code really isn't that good a story.

Well, that's my prediction anyway. We should know within a week or two how the word of mouth is gonna treat this thing.

EDIT 2:48 PM EST: RottenTomatoes.com has given Over The Hedge a freshness rating of 75% so far... better than anything else on the boards right now including Mission: Impossible III (at 70%) and Poseidon (at 29%).

Meanwhile, The Da Vinci Code, with seven reviews so far, is clocking in so far at... ZERO PERCENT!

The lovely spousal overunit and I will be catching Over The Hedge sometime this weekend, in part because I'm a fan of the comic strip it's based on. If these measurements are any indication, that might be the one sound opening flick to catch in the next few days.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Superman returns?

He's FLYING AWAY FROM US!! Maybe this movie should be retitled "Superman Scrams"

Seriously though, pretty cool poster.

Another dude's SOPRANOS intro parody

This is really amazing, I think. As the creator of another spoof of The Sopranos intro, all I can say is "impressive... most impressive." Last month or so is when The Godfather video game came out. Some guy used that to create a spot-on parody of The Sopranos title sequence done a'la the Corleone family! Check it out:

Two stories about America turning into a police state (and guess who's leading the charge?)

The FBI now admits that the Bush administration is letting them look at reporters's phone records to track down "confidential sources".

Meanwhile, Attorney General and member of La Raza (illegal immigration radicals) Alberto Gonzales wants your Internet provider to keep detailed logs on what you do online, for government perusal.

So all of the Bush supporters that I addressed last night also have a growing police state to answer for too.

While we're on serious discussion, I'm going to throw this out for comment from any readers I have: I'm thinking of "farming" the serious commentary/op-ed stuff onto another blog, and let The Knight Shift be for my more personal/upbeat side of things. That's not to say The Knight Shift won't see serious things, but for a lot of reasons I'm led to consider putting all the really hard-hitting stuff in one location away from the "happy" posts.

What say ye: would y'all be okay with that if I did this?

Monday, May 15, 2006

To everyone who (still) supports George W. Bush


"God's man" in the White House

A little over five years ago, I was a reporter with a small weekly newspaper. And I received an invitation to be at the big rally for then-governor George W. Bush at the presidential debate that was held at Wake Forest University.

I wasn't there for very long when I was ejected from the premises, practically at gunpoint (by the way, Forsyth County sheriff deputies and Winston-Salem police officers are good little goose-steppers), apparently on orders from Bush himself because I was small-time media, not affiliated with anyone "big". In other words: I was accountable to no one, and nobody could hold anything over my head. How was I supposed to know beforehand that Bush is afraid of being asked questions by "regular" Americans?

Word eventually got to me that Bush had referred to me and another reporter as "those assholes". The invitation was forcefully taken from me by someone that I have since come to refer to as "the anonymous Bush boot-licker" who then threatened me with physical violence.

Bear in mind that all I did was show up as a journalist from an independent newspaper.

I have since come to be thankful for the events of that evening, because my eyes were opened on the kind of man that George W. Bush really is. From that night forward, I've never been able to buy into any of the illusions that the Bush camp wraps around their man: that he’s supposed to be a "good Christian" and all that.

I got to know well in advance what a lot of Americans are just now coming to realize: that George W. Bush is a damaged, very small man at best, and thoroughly evil at worst.

I just read some of the speech that Bush is due to deliver in a little less than an hour about illegal immigration. The speech that is going to infuriate those of us who knew better already and maybe will knock some sense into those that have thus far refused to believe anything other than Bush being God's anointed man to rule America.

George W. Bush is not serving America: George W. Bush is destroying America. He practically has destroyed America. It will take decades to recover from the damage that he has inflicted on this land. That he refuses to take any serious action on illegal immigration is probably the worst thing that any President has done to America in her entire history.

I never supported George W. Bush. And I tried to warn too many of you about how foolish it was to cast your lot in with this very shallow, petty and vindictive little man.

George W. Bush is raping America without lubricant and telling her to lay back and enjoy it. Tonight's speech will more than adequately illustrate that to everyone.

It's like this: America either has secure borders and controlled immigration, or we cease being a sovereign country. Bush apparently prefers the latter. And so do those of you who still trust in "your President".

Like I said, I couldn't be more thankful that I got to know well ahead of time just what kind of man America was really about to start dealing with. I just wish that I could have done more to sound a warning bell before we started being invaded from the south.

EDIT 8:30 PM EST: Per my usual custom, I didn't "watch" this political speech. I listened to it instead, with my back turned to the television. That way I heard the actual words Bush was using, without being distracted by the television as a visual medium.

Bush said he's not supporting amnesty. Yet he wants to allow millions of illegal aliens who've been living here for years to go on living here without penalty.

And Bush says that's not amnesty?

He said nothing about enforcing the laws that we already have. He said the National Guard that he wants to put on the border (which would number far too few, by the way) would effectively have no real power or authority once assigned.

This whole speech was practically a big "winkin' at ya" to Mexican president Vincente Fox.

Heck he literally said that our border doesn't need to be "militarized". OH YES IT DOES MISTER PRESIDENT!!! The border with Mexico needed to be militarized, like four years ago.

Well, I could go on, but like I said before: I knew about this guy a long time ago, and have been saying all this time that George W. Bush has the spirit of a traitor. Unless someone is what the commies used to call a "useful idiot", tonight's speech should be more than enough to convince anyone about that, too.

Dear Lord, stop me from being this angry tonight...

...but it's hard not to be when you watch the fall of a once-great country before your very eyes.

I've joined the rabble on Myspace

Why oh why have I done this to myself?

Christians and DA VINCI or: Stop waiting for James Dobson to tell you what to do!

Last week I reviewed the novel The Da Vinci Code. It was enough to make me feel that I could not care about watching the movie version this week, and come away none the lesser for it. To be blunt: the book is awful, and with each passing day I can't help but think the problems in it overwhelm whatever good it has. Why The Da Vinci Code has remained so popular is beyond my comprehension. I honestly am starting to believe that once the film version comes out and more people - who have not read the book - see this story unfold, that The Da Vinci Code will start to lose its luster.

Anyway, that doesn't diminish the fact that there is intense interest in The Da Vinci Code. A lot of it is maybe unhealthy obsession over it. And I speak about my Christian breathren in this regard more than I do about those outside the church. It was only in the past week or so that I've noticed the massive cottage industry that evangelicals have grown around de-bunking The Da Vinci Code: books, CDs, DVDs, all sorts of vindictiveness available for a few dollars or a "donation" to some Christian TV or radio show.

If you've read this blog you know what I'm gonna say: too many Christians are secretly happy that something like The Da Vinci Code has (a) been written and (b) is wildly popular. Because it gives said Christians an opportunity to (a) become prominent and (b) use condemning it to make a lot of money. But there's more to it than that: too many Christians also, it seems, are totally incapable of thinking on their own without "Christian leaders" guiding them.

He wrote it a month ago but Dick Staub has an excellent article on his blog about "evangelical childlike hysteria" and The Da Vinci Code. Here's some of his thoughts on the matter...

...Can you imagine the New Yorker reminding readers that, "skipping a movie is a viable option?" These kind of comments make evangelicals seem like babies strapped into a high chair waiting for Dr. Dobson to tell them what to do next.

If it is true that evangelicals require somebody to tell them they should take part in the cultural conversation than evangelicals are nothing but a docile version of fundamentalism, withdrawn from culture but not feisty about it. An alternative view would say evangelicals are hopelessly conformed to culture, consuming it, marching like lemmings off the cliff, incapable of thinking independently, revealing the truth of Mark Noll's comment "the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is so LITTLE of the evangelical mind." If either of these views is true, evangelicals may sell a lot of books and CD's and cast a lot of votes in culture, but will not ultimately "influence" culture intellectually, spiritually or artistically.

Excellent read, as are the reactions his article elicited.

Anyhoo, the next few days, for me anyway, with all the Da Vinci Code "specials" on TV - both for it and against it - I'm starting to feel deluged by cheaply produced historical pornography. Hope I can maintain perspective and sanity despite it all :-)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Yet ANOTHER devastating secret hidden in code

Behold the greatest conspiracy of the past millennium:

American DOCTOR WHO fans: Download this episode NOW!


The Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper) in a scene from the new episode "Rise of the Cybermen"
In what has become a Saturday night/Sunday afternoon ritual for me, I just finished downloading (with BitComet, after finding it through Torrent Scan so now you know how to nab it :-) and watching the newest episode of Doctor Who a few hours after it aired in Great Britain... meaning it won't run here in America until sometime next year. And boy, was it ever worth it. Tonight saw the return of one of the Doctor's most frightening enemies ever: the Cybermen.

"Rise of the Cybermen" is EXCELLENT (you have to say it like the Cybermen did back in the Eighties: "Ex-Cellent!"). A scary situation lands the TARDIS on an alternate-reality Earth where apparently the Hindenburg never exploded: high-tech dirgibles filling the London skies are the ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury. While the Doctor tries (and fails) to keep Rose and Mickey from running off to peek at their parallel-universe lives (or lack thereof), an insane industrialist named John Lumic, head of the Cybus Corporation, is trying to woo world leaders into accepting the ultimate "upgrade package". The episode ends with the Cybermen - more menacing than ever after an absence of 18 years - marching down on the Doctor and other hostages. There is no preview for next week's episode, "The Age of Steel", that sees the conclusion of this two-part story: all we get is a "To Be Continued...".

Roger Lloyd-Pack, recently seen playing Barty Crouch Sr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which ironically also had new Doctor David Tennant playing Barty Crouch Jr.) used U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the inspiration for his portrayal of John Lumic. Without saying anything about Rumsfeld, Lloyd-Pack's Lumic is madness the likes of which we haven't seen on Doctor Who since Davros. Which may be a problem for some people: in a lot of ways Lumic is too much like the Daleks's creator, right down to the life-support wheelchair and insane babbling. What I mostly wonder about though is how the creation of the Cybermen in this "other reality" conflicts with everything we know about the Cybermen's origins from throughout the previous decades. Want my theory? This "other Earth" is going to wind up being the Mondas - the homeworld of the Cybermen - in the real timeline. I don't know how they'll pull that off but that's what I'm betting.

Some of the best CGI effects seen on TV lately, intense acting, a healthy (and demented: the "In The Jungle" scene especially) dose of humor, and some moments of horror that will have you ducking behind the proverbial sofa... "Rise of the Cybermen" should be considered must-see-NOW viewing for any fans of Doctor Who on this side of the pond.

(By the way, for what it's worth, I think this episode proves that the Cybermen would kick Star Trek's Borg's collective butt anytime :-)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

End of an era: Timm/Dini animated DC saga wraps up tonight

Fourteen years of animated greatness will draw to a close later tonight as Justice League Unlimited airs its final episode at 10:30 PM on the Cartoon Network. So will end the DC animated milieu created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, by far the most successful cartoon franchise of the past two decades.

It was back in 1992 that Timm and Dini's Batman: The Animated Series first glided into the scene, and it cast a long shadow indeed over the 1990s. Chief animator Timm and series producer Dini created an animated version of the Dark Knight that was finally as edgy and complicated as the original comic. In the Timm/Dini Gotham City, Batman was a creature of the night (no daytime appearances ever) who really did lose his parents to a mugger, the Joker was a true psychotic and people actually died in horrible ways. The cartoon's dark style was borrowed from Japanese anime, particularly the look of Akira and other "serious" animated stories. And then there was that voice talent: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred, and a seemingly never-ending array of voices behind the rogues's gallery. The two that stick out in my mind most were Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze and Mark Hamill, who created a whole 'nother career after Luke Skywalker as he gave the Joker frightening new life (in my opinion better than Jack Nicholson ever could).

In the years following Batman: The Animated Series's success, Timm and Dini came out with Superman: The Animated Series, playing out in the same "universe" created in Batman: TAS. Tim Daly provided Superman/Clark Kent with his voice while Clancy Brown was brought in to counter Supes as Lex Luthor. And if you want to see the Timm/Dini 'verse at its most potent, watch the Superman series's two-parter "Apokolips... Now!": in my mind one of the DC animated team's two finest works from its entire decade and a half.

A few more series (mostly centered on Batman/Superman) came out during the Nineties, including Batman Beyond: a bold "foretelling" of the Timm/Dini DC saga set some 50 years in the future. In 2000 that series gave us Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the other acme of Timm/Dini greatness... and probably (in the unedited version anyway) one of the most chilling stories ever told in the animated medium.

In 2001 the Timm/Dini setting grew dramatically with Justice League, and then broadened further in 2004's Justice League Unlimited. By that point the Timm/Dini environment had included darn nearly every super-hero (and villain) from DC's sixty-some years of history.

And tonight, something that began "On Leather Wings" in 1992 (actually the first Batman: The Animated Series episode was "The Cat and the Claw" that aired Saturday morning before the next evening's "world premiere"... I know 'cuz I watched both :-) will end with Justice League Unlimited's finale episode "Destroyer". The episode pits Batman and Superman and Lex Luthor and all those other heroes and villains against Darkseid: the biggest, most bad-a$$ enemy of the entire DC cosmos. Tonight we are supposed to see Superman go full-tilt berzerk with his powers against Darkseid... something I've been wanting to see happen ever since what Darkseid did in "Apokolips... Now!" Can't wait to watch it.

And afterward, I'll raise a toast to what Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and everyone they worked with have given us all these years. Thanks for the good times, guys!! And Lord willing, may you someday return to this great setting that you've given us :-)

Friday, May 12, 2006

TWISTER at 10

It was ten years ago this weekend - May 10th to be exact - that Twister was first released. It came out on a Friday and that night CBS ran The Wizard of Oz. I'm a tornado freak anyway - it's one of my life's goals to someday see a real one - so watching that sorta whetted my appetite for a flick with a hella lot more tornadoes. Anyway, the next day "Weird" Ed and Gary, my two accomplices-in-crime, came by the apartment and we took my car to Greensboro to catch Twister. Halfway through the trip a helluva thunderstorm came up. Think there was some sleet in it when we got to the Janus Theater (which ain't there no more) and they were sold out. We tried driving to the Brassfield, they had 2 or 3 screens showing it and we got in there. By the time we got out the weather was better but we were all stoked about "going out and finding us an F-5!" Ahhhhh, good times! That day was ten years ago yesterday... where does the time go? Might interest ya to know that Twister was the very first movie to be released on DVD too. May have to watch it again fer old times's sake this weekend :-)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Chris finally reviews THE DA VINCI CODE novel!

Here it is: The Da Vinci Code book review. Something I had promised myself I'd never do. But with all the interest in the upcoming movie (and the unflagging interest in the book itself ever since it came out three years ago) I owed it to myself and to whoever might read this blog to do this because I couldn't be objective about it without reading it for myself. Otherwise I'd be guilty of the same thing that I accuse those who try to ban the Harry Potter books with doing: attacking without even knowing what it was that was being attacked.

Last week somebody sent me the soundtrack for The Da Vinci Code, the Ron Howard movie starring Tom Hanks based on the mega-selling book, due out May 19th. The score is by Hans Zimmer, who I last heard collaborating with James Newton Howard on the Batman Begins soundtrack (and is next due to score The Simpsons Movie, believe it or not). Zimmer's score is beautiful, no doubt about it, no matter what the movie might be like. Guess that's where the idea of my reviewing the book first started. And I'll try to be as professional about this as is fitting my history degree.

The Da Vinci Code is Holy Blood, Holy Grail as conceived by William Shatner back when he was writing TekWar!

Which I might be seriously injuring myself for admitting to have actually read TekWar (I was seventeen years old, cut me some slack willya?). Yes, that was the book that The Da Vinci Code's plot most reminded me of. And The Da Vinci Code is such a rip-off of Holy Blood, Holy Grail that it is beyond my understanding how this novel made it into print without first being flagged for plagiarism a hundred times over.

I cannot reiterate that nearly enough, folks: The Da Vinci Code is practically every single major point "brought up" by Holy Blood, Holy Grail poured into the mold of a fictional (in every way possible) novel. The parallels between the two are so not funny. I can't understand in the slightest how the recent lawsuit against Dan Brown in London failed, unless it is to suggest that either the writers of Holy Blood, Holy Grail had sloppy legal counsel or the presiding judge just didn't give a hoot one way or the other.

I want to say this from the bottom of my heart though: The Da Vinci Code as a novel isn't half-bad. It isn't half-good either.

This is an "almost" book for me. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't, on some level of guilty pleasure, enjoy reading this book. It was far from perfect enjoyment though. Historical problems aside, it just didn't seem to be that well-paced and plotted a book for my tastes. It's the idea of the story that I got a kick out of, even though I severely disagree with the basic premise.

This is the only book by Dan Brown that I've read so far, so I don't know about whatever else he's done. People I trust a great deal on the matter have told me that Brown is capable of writing a good story though, that some of his other books have been pretty decent. But The Da Vinci Code just didn't seem to be that level of runaway bestseller to me. It was like a mediocre attempt at what could have been – if handled considerately – a ripping-good tale. As it is though, it certainly doesn't seem good enough for a filmmaker like Ron Howard to invest the time and money toward making a movie out of it.

(One thing that I thought could have been handled better was the identity of "the Teacher": I saw that one coming a long way off. But maybe that's just me.)

Okay, well, what I can't get over are all the historical errors in this book. Which I won't begin to go into ALL of them, but I'll tear into the ones that were my biggest beef. And this could all too easily turn into a refuting of Holy Blood, Holy Grail instead of being about The Da Vinci Code, and I don't want to do that. There are massive problems with that book that the past twenty years have revealed and you can find all about those elsewhere. Heck, one of its own writers even now admits that it's not a serious historical book at all but a good "potboiler".

I will bring this point up though: Bérenger Saunière never discovered any "secret documents" about the Merovingians, and the reason he became so wealthy is that he was selling indulgences and favoritism regarding the Catholic mass... something that he got into a lot of trouble about with church authorities later on. He didn't get rich because of some terrible secret that he was able to blackmail the powers-that-be with. The whole story about Saunière supposedly finding the documents in a hollowed-out Gothic column (which was never hollow to begin with) inside his church is where the entire plot of the Priory/Christ-children seems to always start with. Incidentally, it is a character named Saunière (who is a museum curator) whose murder is what starts off the plot of The Da Vinci Code.

Problem #1: The "Priory of Sion"

FACT:

The Priory of Sion – a European secret society founded in 1099 – is a real organization.

Already, this book is in heap big trouble.

This bold proclamation of a supposed element of nonfiction is found before the actual story even kicks off. And unfortunately it destroys any possibility that this book could be a serious yarn on a level with, say, The Hunt for Red October or The Bourne Identity.

Let's start with two names: Plantard and Saint-Clair. The Da Vinci Code states in a few places that the only surnames that can trace ancestry back to Jesus Christ are Saint Claire and Plantard. The reality of it is, it was a man named Pierre Plantard – a French schemer and plotter of wild stories – who "founded" the Priory in the mid-1950s. Plantard had a crazy notion that France should once again have a monarch, and believed that he should be that monarch. To establish a claim of legitimacy, Plantard added "Saint-Clair" to his last name – as a means of tying him to old European royalty – and in various places planted documents purporting that the Priory was an ancient organization dedicated to preserving knowledge of Christ's offspring. The story, so it went, was that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had a child, and that child went on to have descendants that became the Merovingian line of French kings. This was supposed to be something that eventually threatened the Catholic Church's hold on power in medieval Europe, so the Church conspired to wipe out the bloodline and all knowledge of it. All of this is what Holy Blood, Holy Grail is centered around.

Anyway, Plantard claimed that he was a direct descendant of the Merovingian kings, and basically the whole Priory thing was something he cooked up to make himself look like a serious contender to a throne that he wanted restored. And that's it: despite what The Da Vinci Code claims, the Saint-Clair and Plantard families are not descendants of Christ, and there never was a real historical Priory of Sion.

Now, peppered throughout this pseudo-history are some real events that did happen, like the crusade against the Cathars in southern France and the pope deciding to wipe out the Knights Templar in 1307. But nowhere, until it appeared in 1956, was there ever found an organization called the Prieure de Sion: the "Priory of Sion".

Problem #2: The "Hieros Gamos" sex ritual and Sir Isaac Newton

When she was 22, the character Sophie unwittingly witnessed her grandfather – who unbeknownst to her was the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion – engage in the "Hieros Gamos": a mass "orgy" ritual done by members of the Priory as a way of honoring the concept of the sacred feminine that has been attacked throughout the centuries by the Catholic Church. It is meant to symbolize the uniting of male and female in the blessed sensuality of the orgasm through which the mystery of God can be known.

Elsewhere in the book (again, copying Holy Blood, Holy Grail almost by rote) it notes that Sir Isaac Newton was at one time the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion.

What exactly did Isaac Newton do during the Hiermos Gamos sex ritual since he was a life-long virgin?

Problem #3: The Gospels... all eighty of them?

Leigh Teabing tells Sophie that there were originally about eighty gospels, and that the ones that went into the New Testament were only included at the behest of the Emperor Constantine at the Council at Nicea. All the others are the so-called "Gnostic gospels", like the recently published "Gospel of Judas". The New Testament gospels, Teabing goes on to say, were products of church invention in the first few centuries following Christ.

Here's the problem: this statement of "historical fact" is now almost forty years out of date. Over the past few decades there have been enough manuscripts found that it can safely be said that the synoptic gospels – those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – were all written and in relatively wide publication by 60 A.D., before the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed a few years later by General Titus's boys. Based on current evidence, the gospel attributed to John was written no later than 70 A.D. and very well likely several years before that, even. With the exception of a few passages missing from some, the vast majority of these manuscripts concur with each other with a tremendous degree of transmitted accuracy. Additionally, there is a mountain of evidence supporting the belief that all of Paul's letters were written and made available throughout the churches of the Roman world by 80 A.D., and again possibly much earlier than that.

As for the other documents considered by some to be "gospels", such as those found at Nag Hammadi several years ago, it is believed by many serious scholars of the era that these were products of fusionist schools that sought to reconcile the then-nascent beliefs of Christianity with what was then the also growing-in-popularity Gnostic worldview. As it is, none of these "Gnostic gospels" have been found to have a legitimate basis in scholarship that we currently know of. That is not to make a blanket statement that none absolutely exist... but if they do, we just don't know about them yet, or at least as much as we do about the traditional gospels as have been transmitted to us to the current day.

Problem #4: "I want to major in Symbology!"

Robert Langdon, the main character of the story, is a "symbologist". Ummmmm I must have missed studying Symbology when I was in college. But I was pretty busy sub-minoring in Psycho-History too so maybe my advisor just forgot to mention it :-P

And there were quite a few other problems, some big and some small, that I happened to catch while reading this book (which took me 15 hours of nonstop straight reading through the night to do). But these were my biggest nit-picks about The Da Vinci Code (well, these and the aforementioned over-reliance on Holy Blood, Holy Grail).

Again, I don't think this is a bad book. I don't think it's an overwhelmingly good one either. Is The Da Vinci Code an evil book then?

C.S. Lewis said that one of the dangers of demons – apart from not believing in them – was that you could believe in them TOO much, to the point where they are given power over you. I think that's what has happened with the hysteria over The Da Vinci Code: too many, and they may be well-meaning, but a lot of Christians are seeing an evil threat when there really isn't any. The Da Vinci Code isn't some diabolical plot aimed at the heart of the Christian faith. It is simply a mildly entertaining book with a lot of problems in it. And what does that say of the strength of our faith when we cry out that a book like The Da Vinci Code is a threat to it, anyway? I mean, this kind of rancor aimed at The Da Vinci Code really makes us Christians look silly at best, and spiritually vacuous at worst.

I read The Da Vinci Code, and my faith in Christ came out none the worse for wear. Just as I was able to read Holy Blood, Holy Grail years ago and didn't feel my beliefs suffer for it in the least way. And so long as my fellow brother or sister in the Lord bears in mind that this book has some pretty glaring flaws to it, I've no problem with them reading it either, or probably seeing the movie for that matter, if as Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, if their own consciences have no problem with doing so.

But as for myself: I've gone through The Da Vinci Code once already. I highly doubt that I'll subject myself to it again, either in book or movie form.

It's got a kick-butt soundtrack by Hans Zimmer though.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wild Wednesday on the tube: IDOL and LOST

For sake of future reference...

"It was fixed!!!" is probably the cry across the country tonight as very nearly everybody was stunned to see Chris Daughtry voted off American Idol tonight. Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul never looked so staggered. I think most thought that after last night's performances Katherine McPhee was going to be the one sent home. Taylor Hicks and Elliot Yamin were the top two this week. Daughtry had an awfully big fan following... I actually thought my personal favorite Hicks would be voted off before Daughtry ever got the axe. Just a plain thorough shocker tonight.

And then there was tonight's Lost, which was simply titled "?" (that's it, a question mark). Well, what can be said of this one: it built off of what happened at the end of the last episode, seemed to answer some questions and opened up a whole lot more. Am really enjoying how it is that Locke and Eko are each working their way around the issue of faith. And was devastated to see what happened in the hatch (the Losties's one, which you'll understand why I make that explicit if you saw tonight's show) toward the end. This one'll get marked for torrent download as soon as it's up tomorrow :-)

Anyhoo, 'twas a crazy night between Fox and ABC.

"This is the way the world ends..." HALO 3 trailer hits online!

Look at this. Just look at this, man!

The biggest Quicktime video I ever saw filled up the entire bloody browser window. I ain't NEVER seen that happen before.

Well, today was the official announcement of Halo 3, coming in 2007 for the Xbox 360. Which I guess I'll have to spring for an Xbox 360 eventually, just 'cuz like so many other players infuriated by the whacked-out ending of Halo 2, we gotta see how this all shakes down. But until then, here's links to the trailer in Quicktime and Windows Media. Might have to be patient though: it's a long download and their servers seem to be slammed right now.

But maybe this'll whet your appetite for what's to come:

Just finished reading THE DA VINCI CODE

As I said before, this was something I thought I'd never do. But to be the objective observer, I chose to do it.

I was up all night reading through this thing. And so, Christopher Knight will finally, after all this time, write a review of The Da Vinci Code (the original novel). It will be posted soon.

Be warned: there are few things in this world that are more deranged than a professionally-trained historian who's spent the past 15 hours plowing through a pseudohistorical thriller while hopped-up on caffeine and Krispy Kreme(tm) donuts.

It's coming. Run. Now.

Harry Potter bashing in "Jaw-jah"

Being that my better half hails from northern Georgia, I keep my eye on things thataway on a regular basis. So it is that this story crossed my wire:
Gwinnett (parent) wants Harry Potter book series off shelves

The Associated Press - LOGANVILLE, Ga.

A Gwinnett County parent wants the Harry Potter book series removed from all school libraries.

Laura Mallory, who has three children that attend J.C. Elementary in Loganville, is asking the state's largest school system to remove the best-selling Potter series from the shelves.

Gwinnett County Associate Superintendent Cindy Loe told board members Thursday a hearing on Mallory's request will take place on April 20.

Mallory hasn't completely read any of the books. But she said she has read portions of a few books and was offended by the demonic activity.

"My personal religious views don't agree with these books," Mallory said. "We need for our children to read things that teach good morals. Harry Potter lies, cheats and steals and there is no accountability. There are better things for our children to be reading."

The mother of four first challenged the book in September at her children's school, saying the books glorified witchcraft.

Magill Elementary and the school district's review panels already have ruled that the books should remain within the schools.

Students may check out the books while the system handles the complaint, school spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. Parents can request their children be prohibited from taking out any particular books, she said.

Let's dissect this hysterical lady's mad rantings a little further, shall we?
Mallory hasn't completely read any of the books. But she said she has read portions of a few books and was offended by the demonic activity.
Based on this criteria, one could read select portions of the Holy Bible, and have it banned because of all the demonic activity depicted in it :-P

Oh yeah Mrs. Mallory, I am currently completely reading a book that offends a lot of things that I believe in. And I'm not finding it particularly hard to do or self-destructive. It takes a lot more than a novel to shake me from what I believe in... why can't you be that strong?

"My personal religious views don't agree with these books," Mallory said. "We need for our children to read things that teach good morals. Harry Potter lies, cheats and steals and there is no accountability. There are better things for our children to be reading."
If you care about your children bad enough, Mrs. Mallory, then get them the @*%& out of the public school system!!!

I've said this before and will reiterate it again: people like this are not really out to ban Harry Potter or any other book from the public forum. It's not what's in the book at all that gets their juices flowing. If Harry Potter was #27,503 on the bestseller list, these people wouldn't care. Only because it's popular does this sort come out of the woodwork and condemn it. They don't care about the "witchcraft" in the Harry Potter books (which is the furthest thing from real-life Wicca that you can imagine), they just see the Harry Potter books as a vehicle they can ride on their way to a sense of "power" over the rest of the community. Anything that has a modicum of wide appeal - it used to be Dungeons & Dragons, then Pokemon and now Harry Potter - they won't hesitate to pin the "IT'S SAY-TA-NIC!!!" label to it, because it makes them feel "important", ya see. Believe me, I saw this kind of wild behavior from this sort a long time ago (and I ain't really that old, am I? :-P)

It's one thing to not like the Harry Potter books. But to go to this kind of length in attempting to ban them? People who do that need to be chemically rendered sterile for the good of humanity... but that's just me thinking out loud.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Doing something I thought I'd never do

Starting earlier this evening, I began reading The Da Vinci Code. I'm going to try and get a review in before the movie comes out next week.

I HOPE YOU PEOPLE ARE FINALLY BEGINNING TO APPRECIATE THE THINGS I PUT MYSELF THROUGH FOR YOU ALL!!!

President of Iran to Bush: Return to Christianity

Geez, is this a hard one to post. I mean the President of Iran is as raving lunatic as they come but... Here, read this:
Iran To Bush: 'Return To Christianity'
by UPI Wire
May 9, 2006

NEW YORK, May 9, 2006 (UPI) -- A rambling letter to U.S. President George Bush from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested Bush return to Christian teachings.

Any hopes Ahmadinejad would offer a solution to the nuclear enrichment impasse Iran has with the United Nations were dashed in the letter, the first direct correspondence with Washington since 1979.

"Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ... But at the same time, have countries attacked: the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed," the 18-page letter said...

No matter the source, this must be asked aloud:

Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ... But at the same time, have countries attacked: the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed?
Well, can one?

Would a Christian actively employ someone like Karl Rove, who's built his entire life on the destruction of others?

Would a Christian build up a case for expending the lives of his countrymen on a falsehood?

Would a Christian never cease in seeking the destruction of those who disagree with him?

These are the questions we should have been asking ourselves the whole time... and instead it takes someone who's the furthest thing from being a Christian to ask them for us.

So, how about that beam in our eye, fellow believers?

EDIT 3:55 PM EST: It should also be pointed out that so far this letter doesn't sound very much like a serious attempt at reaching out diplomatically on Iran's part... something it had the first chance in 27 years to do. Which shows even more how messed-up this Iranian president is. Just in case anyone is of the mind that I'm defending this guy somehow.

Who should be in THE TRANSFORMERS Live-Action Movie

Depending on who you listen to, Michael Clarke Duncan and John Turturro have all but signed the dotted line that'll put them in the live-action Transformers movie due out next July. They'll be joining Jon Voight, Bernie Mac, Megan Fox and Shia LaBeaof alongside those massive robots in disguise. Word is that Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay are also trying to get some of the voice talent from the original 80's Transformers cartoons to reprise their voices, like Frank Welker as Megatron and Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime. Unfortunately some of that amazing voice talent has since passed on, like Scatman Crothers (who brought Jazz to life) and Chris Latta, who I can't think of anyone who could replace him as the voice of Starscream.

As for which Transformers have thus far been revealed to be making the transit to live-action, I'm more than a little disappointed right now. Word is that only a dozen or so Transformers – from either side – are supposed to be featured... and Devastator may be getting reduced to a mere tank! Which is wrong wrong wrong: Devastator needs to be a composite (see below), Megatron must turn into a gun and as for Scorponok... well, I'd just rather not see him at all. Or for the first movie, anyway.

Before I go into this, I'll post this "disclaimer": I'm a huge fan of the original "Generation 1" Transformers. Or at least those that came out from 1984 until '87 or so. After that, gimmicks like the "Headmasters" and Pretenders sorta lost me. I'm a follower of the storyline canon that Marvel Comics had (the U.S. version, but I did read and enjoy some of the U.K. stories too). In my worldview the Transformers never met G.I. Joe and Cobra. The events of 1986's "Transformers: The Movie" never happened although I'll forever love that flick because (a) it was the very last performance by Orson Welles and (b) it featured "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Dare to be Stupid" on the soundtrack. I never kept up with Beast Wars or the Minicons storylines on the more recent TV shows. But I did read and really liked the "Generation 2" comics that Marvel did about ten years ago, the ones that had old-school characters like Hound and Ironhide cussing out Optimus Prime for being weak in the knees (they sure as hell developed some 'tude since the original comic’s run!). Speaking of which, despite only appearing for one panel, I thought that Liege Maximo was awesome (and intriguing... me want more)! Anyway, after knowing all that...

...Here are the characters that, in my opinion, a live-action Transformers movie needs the most if it's going to stay true in any way to the spirit of the original toys and saga. And I like to believe that the majority of fans will agree with me on these more often than not.

The Characters That The Transformers Live-Action Movie Needs Most

Optimus Prime, obviously. The commander of the Autobots (those are the "good guys" if you're new to Transformers lore) was the first Transformer that many of us ever beheld. Of all the "noble leaders" that came out of the toy sagas of the Nineteen-Eighties, no avatar was so beloved and respected as mighty Optimus. I know of guys (no I wasn't one of 'em) who cried tears when he died in 1986's Transformers: The Movie (which I always thought was a punk's death anyway). It's like this: if there be no Optimus, it be no real Transformers movie.

Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons (the "bad guys"). Not even four million years were enough to dillute his lust for power. The guy that Spider-Man (in the highly controversial issue The Transformers #3) called "Bazooka Joe" 'cuz of the big-a$$ fusion cannon he carries on his right arm. The Megster will definitely make the cut for the live-action Transformers movie. Far less clear is what he'll be transforming into. I say he must metamorph into a Walther P-38 pistol, just like the original toy, before all those "do-gooder" sissy-pants said that toy guns created too much violence and forced Hasbro to turn him into a puny tank.

Bumblebee: the smallest of the Autobots (the vehicle ones anyway) but by far the one with the biggest heart. After Optimus, no other Autobot (or any Transformer for that matter) was so loved. In just about every incarnation of Transformers story that I know of, it was Bumblebee who was the first to make contact with humans. There's a reason for that: Bumblebee was just a real nice guy. I never liked his later "upgrade" into Goldbug: it was like the comics writers wanted to give Bumblebee a more hard-edged Eighties attitude or something. That seems to be mostly forgotten about lately though, in favor of the classic Bumblebee.

The second Decepticon to get mentioned here had better be Starscream, or else I'm going to get jumped-flunky all over by his rabid fanbase (who are even scarier than Grimlock's fanbase, parse that as you will). In no matter what version/generation/edition of Transformers storyline, two things are certain: Starscream wants to be the top 'Con, and he'll never stop bitching about that. Starscream was always cool, and it doesn't even matter that he was basically just one different color scheme among three Decepticons that shared the exact same body/molding. This guy holds a special place in my heart because he was one of the first two (along with Brawn) Transformers that I ever owned. If he makes the cut, and if the writers are respectful of his character, expect plenty of in-fighting to erupt in the live-action movie between Megatron and Starscream.

Prowl, who I have to include here because #1 he was second-in-command of the Autobots after Optimus Prime, and #2 because he was one of the favorite Transformers of my friend Chad when we were growing up (and THAT might scare Chad that I remember something like that, heh-heh :-). Prowl transforms into a police car, which is always good camouflage when you're cruisin' the mean streets of Earth. One of Prowl's big strengths (if you ever read the "tech-specs" that came included with every Transformer, like the "file cards" with the G.I. Joe figures) was that he had a highly-advanced logic center that he used to prescribe to Optimus the best plan of action to take...

...and also made him the Autobot counterpoint to Shockwave, who was sort of the Decepticons's version of the "evil" Mr. Spock from the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of Star Trek. Heck, Shockwave even had big pointy ears like Spock! How could he not be Spock... that is, if Spock were thirty feet tall. And had one eye. And had a honking big gun for a left arm. Shockwave had an even bigger jones about wanting to be the top 'Con than Starscream, if you can believe that. That only really came out in the comic book though, and it almost came to serious blows between Megatron and Shockwave. Shocky would say that logic dictated that he be commander of the Decepticons after whatever loss Megatron had led them to... only to later admit his own defeat and then proclaim that logically, for good of the Decepticon cause, that Megatron should be leader. The flip-flopping got so bad between these two that eventually I came to believe that Rat-Bat and Bludgeon were far better 'Con leaders... and Rat-Bat was one of the cassettes and Bludgeon a Pretender! Feh, shows you how bad these internecine struggles got, doesn't it? Still, Shockwave rates high on my all-time favorite Transformers list.

Hound must must MUST be in the live-action movie somewhere. Along with Bumblebee, he's going to be the one who most "scopes out" the alien terrain that is Earth for the Autobots. And he's got all those cool holographic tricks that he can pull off. Since he transforms into an Army jeep he's going to be quite handy for slipping undetected into military bases and checking things out when the "fleshlings" decide to take the matter of giant robots into their own hands. I think Sam Elliott needs to be in the Transformers movie and play an Army general, just so he can wind up sitting in Hound while Hound drives around and tells Elliott what this whole thing is all about. Then Elliott can go tell the President that the U.S. doesn't need to be shooting at the Autobots, just the 'Cons. Anyway, I also like Hound 'cuz he was one of the first Transformers that I ever owned (and I still do).

Soundwave is probably going to be some folks's second choice of 'Con after Megatron, and I can respect that. Even though in the real world Soundwave wouldn't do much else but stand there and broadcast radio or TV signals out to the humans telling them to surrender. Seriously, I never understood the magnitude of admiration some people had for Soundwave. His best "gimmick" was that he transforms into a cassette player and his chest opens so you can insert one of the "cassette"-transforming Decepticons. He also sports some pretty cool guns. But other than that... why all this love for him? Was it his voice in the cartoon, that sing/songy way he had of talking? How was that supposed to be threatening? I didn't know why he had the love then and I don't know why now, but from a logistical standpoint it'd be foolish not to include him in the Decepticons's Earth-based operations in a live-action movie.

Soundwave's Autobot counterpart was Blaster. Who transformed into a boom-box. And Hasbro would have been in a lot of trouble if they had lengthened his name to "Ghetto-Blaster", wouldn't they? Blaster isn't supposed to do much else than Soundwave: stand there and hold Autobot "tapes" in his chest. On the TV cartoon he's made out to be a big-beat buffoon, practically. In the Marvel comic he's much more angst-ridden and bitter: the shell-shocked Vietnam war veteran of the giant robot set, which considering that this was coming ten years or so after that war ended... well, part of me's always wondered how much of the comics from the mid-Eighties (especially what they did with Snake-Eyes in the G.I. Joe comics) was subliminal "coming down" from that experience. I know that's something weird to be talking about in a Transformers live-action movie post, but look into those comics from about twenty years ago if you ever get the chance, and see for yourself. Anyway, Blaster's always been sorta popular, so I can see him in a live movie easily.

It's almost not right to include Devastator (click on the thumbnail on the left) because so far I've been alternating between Autobots and Decepticons, and Devastator really counts as six Decepticons. But in a live-action Transformers movie (and if there's any justice he won't turn into a tank) then Devastator - and all of his component Constructicons - will be featured at some point. The Constructicons are a subset of the Decepticons: they're 'Cons that turn into construction vehicles and equipment. And the six of them - Scrapper, Mixmaster, Long Haul, Hook, Bonecrusher and Scavenger (hah! I typed all of those from memory) - combine into a single "gestalt" robot named Devastator. And there were other gestalts that came into play during the course of the Transformers's run (Superion, Bruticus, Predaking, etc.) but only one is really needed for this first movie. Have the Aerialbots and Stunticons come out in Part 2 but for now: less is more.

Jetfire (yes, I know he's stolen goods from Robotech and no, I'm not calling him by his cartoon name Skyfire) because the Autobots are mostly land-based and they're going to need some air support. And just 'cuz it'd be really neat to see if Spielberg and Bay can get away with ripping off the Macross saga without getting hit with a lawsuit.

Ravage would be sweet to see in a live-action movie, but only if he was allowed to speak like any other Transformer. And he DID talk quite a lot in the comic book. Heck, he was the VERY FIRST Decepticon to speak at all in the comics (which sorta means that Ravage was the first Transformer we got to "hear" real words come out of at all). It's sorta fascinated me how the Transformers managed to "evolve" members that resemble Earth wildlife. I don't know how that is. Frankly, I don't need to know. Ravage just looks and acts too cool to care about things like that. Not only is Ravage one of the "cassette" Transformers (which always seemed to impress people for some reason) but he has the ability to hide/cloak himself in subdued light. He's like the ultimate spy. I can see lots of possible opportunities for using him to come about in a life-action flick.

After Bumblebee, Jazz seemed to be the Autobots's pre-eminent ambassador to the people of Earth. He was fun in the comics and with Scatman Crothers doing his voice, he was awesome in the animated series. Crothers brought real personality to Jazz and... oh geez, it's just gonna be hard to see and hear him without that voice from now on. Maybe this is the role that Michael Clarke Duncan is supposed to be doing. Don't quote me on that though...

Rumble would be probably the one Decepticon small enough for regular, unaugmented humans to gang up on and win. Or color him blue/purple and call him Frenzy if that suits you better. Or was it that Frenzy was red and Rumble was blue? Or was that... wait a sec, which one was Laserbeak and which was Buzzsaw? Darnnit, I hate how they mixed up the colors like that!!

Brawn was supposed to be the second-strongest of the Autobots (well the ones on Earth anyway) after Optimus Prime. Which if you ever owned the Brawn toy you had to wonder about that 'cuz Hasbro made him to be one of the smaller "mini"-sized vehicles (as opposed to the full-sized ones like Prowl and Hound). Had one of the more gusto-ish personalities in both the comics and the animated television series. Well, I always loved this guy anyway 'cuz he was the very first Autobot that I ever owned, so maybe I'm just partial to him because of that, is why I'm including him in this list.

There's not many of the "second wave" of Transformers (the ones from 1985 or so) that I'm thinking would be good for a first live-action movie (that doesn't rule out sequels though) but Astrotrain would be a fine addition, methinks. Just what a crazy movie about metamorphing robots needs: a robot that turns into not one, but two vehicles! Having a space shuttle suddenly transform into a steam locomotive oughtta throw a hella lotta good confusion into the mix.

And when those Autobots come crawling out of battle, they're gonna need someone to take care of their wounds/busted radiators/whatever. And for that, good doctor Ratchet should be on call. Which I again may be partial toward including him here out of personal interest, because I thought Ratchet's character was handled beautifully in issues #5-8 or so of the U.S. comic (the first issues of it being a regular series). If done correctly, Ratchet is a real opportunity for some multi-dimensioned characterization among what might otherwise be an all-too linear story about "I robot, kill you robot".

It might be waaaaay too early in the first live-action edition to bring him out, but if I didn't put Grimlock on this list, I'd no doubt get a nasty e-mail from an irate reader, or hundred or so. Grimlock is the leader of the Dinobots: Autobots that transform into giant mechanical dinosaurs (how such a thing comes about depends on whether you prefer the comics or the television series. Personally I like the Marvel comics's explanation). This being a movie produced by Steven Spielberg, I'd wager two energon cubes that we'll be seeing Grimlock in the first movie, and probably a sly in-joke reference to Jurassic Park thrown in for good measure.

And there are probably some more that I'm not mentioning in this list, like Mirage and Beachcomber and the Insecticons and even Perceptor (who I always thought was pretty cool) but the ones I mentioned above would be a good basis around which to start up a terrific live-action Transformers movie franchise. And maybe it wouldn't hurt to throw in one final character too: a human one...
Circuit-Breaker, from the Marvel Comics The Transformers series. I mean, how expensive would it be to give Jennifer Garner or Angelina Jolie a costume made up of strips of aluminum foil?

UPDATE 2:05 PM EST: What the...?!?

This is supposedly conceptual artwork from the Transformers live-action movie that got out, that is going around on the Internet right now. According to some sources, this is a *possible* look for Starscream:

I really don't know what else to say, except that Bob Burns called and he wants his King Kong armature back :-P

Seriously though, if this is a real indication of the direction they're going for this, my hopes for this movie just sank some.