Thursday, January 31, 2008

Four minutes after LOST Season 4 premiere ...

Excellent episode!

Who would have thought that Jacob lives in a mobile home? :-P

Seriously though, it built extremely well on where things left off with "Through the Looking Glass". This story is moving along at a very nice pace toward what looks to be rather forbidding territory.

Creepiest line of the show: "Are they still alive?"

I'm gonna have to watch this again, 'cuz there was so much to absorb.

EDIT 10:18 p.m. EST: Oh yeah, here's the John Locke music video from last night set to Patsy Cline's "Crazy"...

It's that LOST "Bad to the Bone" promo with Sawyer!

If you watched the "pop-up info"-edition of the Season 3 finale of Lost last night, you probably saw this, and like me you no doubt laughed 'til it hurt. Here it is if you didn't get to catch it the first time, courtesy of YouTube...

It's "The Beginning of the End" as LOST returns tonight

In the Season 3 finale of Lost, ABC's hit show about the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, something loomed for the castaways that never, ever happened with Gilligan's Island: the promise of real rescue.

But as everyone who watched the mind-blowing "Through the Looking Glass" knows by now, that may not necessarily turn out to be a good thing.

Eight months later, and the Lost Season 3 finale is still one that has folks reeling in disbelief.

And now, tonight, Lost is back.

Season 4 kicks off with "The Beginning of the End", which is said to be a Hurley-centric episode (so the season premieres in their order have gone pilot episode, Jack, Jack... now Hurley?! Ooh-kay...).

This is the first of eight episodes that were finished before the Writers Guild of America strike. From here on until Lost's sixth and final season, there are supposed to be sixteen episodes per season. I've heard rumors that if the strike ends soon, that they might still get their quota in for this season, which would be good. If not, might as well enjoy Lost while we got it.

And from the looks of it, this is promising to be an amazing season from the getgo. Check out the picture on the right: that's Jeremy Davies who's now one of the new faces in the main cast. You might know Davies from Saving Private Ryan and Solaris (I first remember him from Twister). He's playing Daniel Faraday: apparently one of the people who are arriving from Naomi's boat. Also coming to the Island are Rebecca Mader, Jeff Fahey (if you ever saw The Lawnmower Man then you'll know this guy), Ken Leung (who's appeared in everything from Rush Hour to The Sopranos), and in continuing with the strange affinity that Lost has for hiring actors from HBO's prison drama Oz, Lance Reddick will be playing the sinisterly-named Matthew Abbadon ("Destruction" in Hebrew).

By the way, if you haven't already, you might want to check out the Lost: Missing Pieces "mobisodes". These are short vignettes from the Lost story that ABC has been releasing on cellphones (and then on the web) for the past three months or so. The final one that came out a few days ago, "So It Begins", is a very startling bit of Lost lore if you've been watching from the beginning. And judging by the cast list, it may or may not have some relevance for tonight's episode.

"The Beginning of the End", the Season 4 premiere of Lost, starts at 9 p.m. EST tonight on ABC.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've got one word that describes this "debate" going on right now from the Reagan Library ...

"Bullcrap".

(Only at the last minute did I change that word before posting from something else.)

And some of you still think this is a free country with a legitimate press?

Some of you even dare think that these are the people that we should give our prayers and support to?

Tonight Lisa and I watched The Remains of the Day on our DVD player. Probably Anthony Hopkins's finest film role ever. That line he says toward the end has never failed to haunt me...

"I'm sorry sir, I was too busy serving to listen to the speeches."

Some of us do listen to the speeches, regardless of how many other people are too damned occupied with American Idol or Britney Spears's underwear or with the dog-and-pony show that the mainstream media and the party bigwigs and the power-mongers in our own government parade in front of us... as if those things really matter.

Yeah, some of us are listening. And we know damned well what's going on with this country. What America is turning into.

I'm not just angry because Ron Paul is being treated so unfairly. I would be this pissed-off if any candidate was being treated this way by supposedly "objective" journalists. Because I'd rather every candidate be allowed equal opportunity to come to the table and make their case, and let the chips fall where they may. Let us decide which one we'd rather listen to most. Anything less than that is an insult to the American people (yah like these bastitches care about whether they insult us or not).

Four years ago I posted my now-infamous list of "People Who Should Be Shot When the Revolution Comes". I'm thinking of amending it in the near future. Perhaps I should put "Partisan Pathetic Excuses for Journalists" on the revised list? I mean, the threat of assassination can work wonders...

New PRINCE CASPIAN poster

This is going to be a fun thing for me to post 'cuz I was one of the first members of the general public who got to see Reepicheep in action from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. That was almost two months ago at Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9 and my wife has hated it that I've already gotten to see what Reepicheep looks like... nyah-nyah-nyah!!!

So now she and everyone else gets to check him out too...

Chad races 2 miles, eats 12 donuts and runs back. Did he hurl?!?

For the past few months my lifelong bud Chad Austin has been talking about running the Krispy Kreme Challenge. It's an now-annual charity race that takes place around the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Here's the deal: start at the bell tower on N.C. State's campus, run 2 miles to the nearest Krispy Kreme donut shop, devour a dozen original glazed donuts, and then race back to the bell tower. All within the span of one hour.

As you can no doubt imagine, people blow chunks all over the place on the return leg of this oxymoronic endurance test.

So, how did Chad do? Could he go the distance without adding his own decoration to the landscape? Here is his full report on this year's Krispy Kreme Challenge. And you can also read about what happened from Chad's friend Ashley, who not only ran but also has gory full-color pictures chronicling the gastrointestinal aftermath.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

LOST Season 4 poster

Close inspection will reveal why there's so much reason to be excited about this season of Lost...

Less than 48 hours now before Lost returns. Only one other television series in my entire life had had me this excited about a new season. Yeah I've never been much of a teevee person at all. It's the story that compels me to watch something. And they don't get any more compelling than Lost has become.

Lisa and I have been watching the Season 3 DVD set for the past several days. Tonight we saw "Greatest Hits", which was this past season's penultimate episode. Now we can either watch "Through the Looking Glass" from the DVD or the special "enhanced version" that ABC will be broadcasting tomorrow night with Pop-up Video-style "factoids" on-screen. Might be worth DVR-ing that one, in case there's some new tidbits of info.

Today's sign that the Apocalypse is upon us ...

New Kids On the Block are reuniting after 14 years. For real.

It's no joke. Danny, Donnie, Joe, Jon, and Jordan are coming back.

If Lisa even hints at wanting me to take her to a concert on their new tour, so help me I will tie her up and throw her into a dark bathroom until the band has left town. A husband should want to do whatever makes his wife happy, but this would be undeniable mental cruelty.

Oh well, might as well "celebrate" with one of the New Kids' better music videos...

I'll never do business with Amazon again

It's bad enough that they have a package sent out two weeks after it was ordered...

...but to waste my valuable time with a "customer service representative" who is talking to me from another country and can not speak discernible English at all, when there are plenty of people in America who could both use a job and would not be an insult to the intelligence of Amazon's customers as their "outsourced help", is the final straw.

Most AWESOME video game intro sequence EVER!

Last week I got Rock Band - Special Edition for our new Xbox 360. We finally got it out of the box last night and after getting the instruments put together (without a doubt the first video game that I've ever bought that has "some assembly required") we started playing the game.

I can already tell that Rock Band is going to be one of our favorite video games for a long while to come: we're having a blast with it! Lisa is getting really good on drums, and for once I'm not getting booed off stage while singing ("Don't Fear the Reaper" is my best song so far). We haven't done anything with the guitar yet. I'm gonna study the instructions some more, figure out just what the heck we're doing here before we start really jamming with Rock Band.

And if you've ever played this before, you already know something: that Rock Band has the most mind-blowing title sequence for a video game... probably in the history of anything. Here it is courtesy of YouTube.

And turn up your speakers. Turn them way up!

EDIT 9:34 p.m. EST: I just found out that this song is called "Highway Star" by the legendary English hard rock band Deep Purple. They were once listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as being "the loudest band in the world". And supposedly those are the band members as they appeared in the 1970s who are riding atop those vehicles.

Want your own DHARMA food for when LOST returns this week?

Last May, for the Season 3 finale of Lost, I posted pics of the snacks emblazoned with DHARMA Initiative food labels. In the past few days a lot of people have been writing to me, asking if I had those. A lot of them came from Insanely Great Tees. Unfortunately not long after they published their PDF files of the DHARMA labels, someone (Insanely Great Tees says that it was the Hanso Foundation) got wind of their awesome work and had the files removed. I wound up saving them here though, and that's how I made ours.

But if you're wanting to have DHARMA Initiative food on hand for the big season premiere of Lost a little over 48 hours from now, here ya go: Max Pictures has DHARMA labels for just about everything you'd need: DHARMA Chili, DHARMA Mini-Chocolates, DHARMA Water, and even DHARMA Vodka for those moments when you need to get all good and sloshed like Desmond! Great work there guys :-)

Monday, January 28, 2008

The REAL State of the Union: America is dying

George W. Bush will deliver his final State of the Union speech as President tonight.

As always, he won't dare speak the truth about the condition of this country to the American people. Too much "legacy" is at stake to do anything other than to BS people as he's done throughout his term.

So it falls to me to go where most politicians, the mainstream press, the partisan sycophants, and the useful idiots fear to tread, and lay down the real smack on the true state of the union...

- You will hear Bush tonight repeat that "America is strong" or that "our union is strong". This is a damned lie. The truth of the matter is, America is not only not strong, America is dying. In fact, America may be dead and beyond resuscitation already.

- We have precious little industrial infrastructure left. Bush and his buddies have sent most of it overseas.

- We are being overwhelmed with illegal aliens. There's no way in Hell that Bush will touch upon that one.

- Our economy stands upon the edge of a knife. That Bush and Congress are flooding it with money that doesn't even really exist anyway demonstrates the "wisdom" that our "brilliant leaders" have been endowed with. It's almost enough to make one wonder if they want to bring about this country's financial collapse.

- We continue to be mired in meaningless wars overseas that have nothing to do with legitimate American interests. All that we will have to show for them are thousands of armed forces personnel dead, many more maimed either physically or mentally and almost certainly emotionally also.

- We no longer have a free press in this country. One need only look at how Fox News has blatantly sought to manipulate the current presidential election to know this. The only true "fair and balanced" coverage you will find these days will not be on cable television, but from independent outlets... and even then, you're supposed to judge for yourself without having some big company judge for you.

- The American political process is completely bankrupt and unable to produce sincere, legitimate leadership. By that I mean individuals who seriously want to serve others, instead of wanting to only exploit government and the power that comes with it. That we have a country where "anyone can grow up to be President" is now a damned lie. The reality of it is, you only can get elected if the party bigwigs determine that they can use you in their schemes enough to give you enough backing to run for office. And then when you win, you belong to them. The system does not like people with honest principles taking a stab at things. It has a nasty tendency to destroy those who try.

- There is no more "rule of law" per the Constitution. We no longer have a government "of the people, by the people and for the people". We now have government that exists for sake of government. It is now the rule of force. We live at the peace of the gun. This is not government as the Founding Fathers intended for it to be at all. Why should any of us feel morally bound to be loyal to this government, then? Why should any of us be asked to potentially give their lives for this government? Because I can't fin any reason either per moral conscience or per studies of scripture that mandates this in the least bit. I'm loyal to the Constitution. I'm not loyal to men who would destroy the Constitution.

- This country is becoming a fascist state, and we all know it. But damned few of us are willing to admit it.

As sometimes happens on this blog, I might watch the address tonight, with my back to the TV so that I can "tune in" without the distracting visuals, and post my thoughts about it live.

LEGO building blocks are 50 years old today!

It was fifty years ago today in Copenhagen, Denmark, at 1:58 p.m. local time on January 28, 1958, that Godtfred Kirk Christiansen - the head of a toy company called LEGO - filed the patent paperwork for a plastic building block with a "stud and hole" design.

And since then there have been enough LEGO bricks manufactured that they could build ten towers stretching from the Earth to the Moon.

Celebrate LEGO's anniversary by finding more amazing facts about the classic toy here.

By the way, I will admit to being a life-long LEGO Maniac. When I was a kid I had so many LEGO bricks, that my Mom gave me this big suitcase to put them all in. I still have it too. My most recent LEGO purchase was the new Indiana Jones "motorcycle chase" set that I got at the LEGO Outlet at Discover Mills Mall near Atlanta a month ago. Probably my favorite LEGO model is a tie between the Millennium Falcon (the second version) and the AT-AT from the Star Wars series.

Now if only Lisa would let me get the big Millennium Falcon LEGO set - the one that costs five hundred bucks - I would be in Nirvana :-)

Anyhoo... Happy Birthday LEGO!

Guillermo del Toro to helm THE HOBBIT?

It's being reported this morning in industry trades (and I first heard about it from Ain't It Cool News) that Guillermo del Toro is the likely choice to direct the upcoming film duology of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The series is already being produced by Peter Jackson, as a prequel to Jackson's earlier mega-successful The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

I'll admit some disappointment here, because I was sure that del Toro was also in the running to direct Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which is also said to be a two-part production). But that aside: del Toro is a superb choice to bring The Hobbit to life on the big screen. I'm a huge fan of his Hellboy movie (and am looking forward to seeing Hellboy 2: The Golden Army) and I thought that Pan's Labyrinth, although I didn't quite "get" it, I still gotta love del Toro's signature visual style. Now imagine that same imagination getting to work on Mirkwood Forest, the spiders' lair, the elves' hall, Esgaroth on the Long Lake, the Lonely Mountain, the Battle of Five Armies... and of course, Smaug (maybe he'll be voiced by Ron Perlman? :-P).

If this story is true, then I am really, really looking forward to seeing The Hobbit when it comes to theaters. Especially with Lisa, since this is one of her favorite books :-)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Happy Birthday to Jenna Olwin!!

Our dear and wonderful friend Jenna Olwin is celebrating her birthday today...

Happy Birthday Jenna! May God bless you immensely on this day and all the days to come :-)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I spotted the "thing" in CLOVERFIELD ... I think

"Weird" Ed (my college roomie and filmmaking partner) has been visiting us for the past few days, and yesterday he and I went to see Cloverfield. It was his first time catching it, and my third. I went again so that I could enjoy watching his reaction but also so that I could try, again, to see if I could spot the "falling object" in the Coney Island scene that's the very last shot of the movie.

So we saw Cloverfield at the West End Cinema in Burlington (where we always used to go for movies when we were at Elon together), and "Weird" Ed liked it an awful lot. And this time, I'm pretty sure that I did see it this time. It's very fleeting. Even if you have your eyes wide open and trying not to blink, it's not easy to see at all. A very small dark object that hits the water and kicks up the foamy wake. Here's a pic of the splash.

According to the backstory that's been generated by the viral marketing for Cloverfield, this object is not the monster. Cloverfield creator J.J. Abrams says that the creature was already on Earth, that it was down on the ocean floor for thousands of years before it woke up feelin' pokey after being aroused. That thing falling out of the sky and hitting the water off Coney Island? It's supposed to be a satellite known as the "Chimpanz III" owned by the Tagruato Corporation of Japan, which makes Slusho (the soft drink that's shown a lot in Cloverfield. According to the backplot, the satellite fell and Tagruato went looking for it in addition to the secret ingredient for Slusho, which can only be found deep in the ocean. And that's how the monster was awoken and wound up coming ashore.

Sounds a bit hokey even for a sci-fi movie. But I've no doubt there are some who are disappointed that the Cloverfield monster wasn't a guy in a big rubber suit, either :-)

EDIT 4:41 p.m. EST: Looks like the Bad Robot/Paramount dudes weren't being too fanciful about falling satellites at all, since this afternoon there's now word that a U.S. spy satellite is going to come crashing down in the next few weeks and they can't figure out where it'll hit. Let us pray that it veers clear of the Coney Island vicinity :-P

Friday, January 25, 2008

FLAMETHROWER: TV Christians who don't "get" it ... yet

Yesterday I read a story on WorldNetDaily about a new TV show called Flamethrower, on the Faith TV network. The show describes itself as "The View if it was produced by Ann Coulter. Four panelists, all young men and women, all four believe in Judeo-Christian values, all four want political change and none of them are afraid to say what they think."

For this week's show, they had scheduled to broadcast a segment where the show's creator, Molotov Mitchell (already I've got a baaaaad feeling about the nature of this series), devours a cookie emblazoned with the frosted visage of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The whole thing is apparently meant to be a stunt intended to offend Muslims, particularly since according to Islamic tradition images of Muhammad are forbidden... which has always struck me as funny 'cuz how do we know what Muhammad looked like, anyway?

Here's a pic of "Molotov" Mitchell committing sacrilege while satiating his sweet tooth...

However, in the wake of the initial report about Flamethrower's show this week, Faith TV has now pulled the plug on the segment. "We're not going to air it," said the president of the network. "We feel this program just goes beyond the bounds of good taste."

I agree. And I say that as a follower of Christ myself.

"Molotov" Mitchell told WorldNetDaily that "Islam is not even a religion... It's an ideology of 'might makes right' disguised as a religion." I don't disagree with Mitchell on that point at all. And without elucidating further (because it would take way too long for this kind of post), I'll even say that there hasn't been a worse cancer upon human history than Islam. It is collective madness at its most destructive.

But how is Christianity any different from Islam, when its own adherents stoop this low? Can somebody please tell me how, precisely, the Flamethrower team is furthering Christ's love toward others by doing this kind of thing?

Does the Flamethrower staff believe that Muslims are too far beyond the love of Christ that they cannot find redemption?

Let me be clear on this: Islam is a "religion" that cannot be reasoned with. When coupled with unbridled power, it has invariably become the most bloodthirsty cult in human history. There will never be "peace in the Middle East" between those of the Judeo-Christian persuasion and the Islamic mindset. Heck, there can't even be peace among Muslims themselves per their religious traditions: witness the civil war that would break out in Iraq if the United States were to pull out. Which is probably the biggest reason we should have never involved ourselves in that fraud of a country anyway, but I digress...

"Join us or die!" is the Islamic cry. But don't Christians do much the same when they demand that we "join us or burn in Hell"?

Do we try to convince others of Christ because we sincerely love them and are legitimately concerned for their eternal destiny... or do we try to win others to Christ because of our own ego? Because if we can "get more people" to join with us that this somehow validates our creed, when we should be content and motivated by nothing more than the grace of Christ that has saved us.

I don't think the Flamethrower crew understands what it means to be serving the cause of Christ, at least not when they attempt cheap stunts like this. But I don't think they are past understanding. I believe they can learn and grow from this, and come to realize that to follow Christ and present Him to others means that our actions are graced with humility, rather than confronting those apart from Christ with blunt-force trauma.

Why should the rest of the world be convinced of Christ, then? When the Flamethrower staff does stuff like this, it only exhibits before everyone else that they don't have anything different to show for their faith than what the rest of the world presents. We as Christians are supposed to be in this world but not of this world... and when we do things like this, we only demonstrate that we haven't died to this world's ways in the least bit. Christ just becomes another idol for conquest... exactly like Muhammad.

I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't know what it's like to be a Christian such as Mitchell and his compatriots. Years ago, when I was new to the faith (and a bit younger than the Flamethrower panelists) I too was "full of spice and vinegar" as they say... and I was eager to put it to use for my new faith. To show that I was a good and sincere Christian.

Among other things I told former United States Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, to her face, that she was a "murderer" for her support of abortion. Heh-heh... I'd love to see the Flamethrower crew top that one!

But all the same: it was a wrong thing to have done, and a few years later I apologized for it in an op-ed piece in my college newspaper. By that point I had come to realize: this kind of confrontation isn't what being a follower of Christ is about in any way whatsoever. Not when it comes to trying to persuade others about the truth of Christ within us, anyway.

There's not much else that I know to say about the matter other than this: Flamethrower's staff no doubt feels a sense of purpose and power with what they are doing. I absolutely know, because I've had that kind of high myself. And it's something that I have sincerely come to regret. I would save them the shame and guilt that might not come today, but will certainly come years from now, when they realize that they had talent and opportunity to demonstrate Christ in a loving way... and instead they turned Christ into a weapon of hurt and spite.

Maybe this is how you fight a "cultural" war. Maybe this is the temporal realm's way of fighting to "change the world". But I don't care much for changing the world anymore. I'd rather change people's hearts. And so should the staff of Flamethrower.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The most insane music video ever

It's about 9:30 on Wednesday night as I write this. All day I've been fighting, I thought it was the flu at first. Have had a high fever. Felt delirious somewhat. It's not the kind of mindset that you want to be in while blogging, 'cuz you never know what you might say...

But Lisa's been taking care of me, and my fever has been breaking for the past little while. Maybe I'm on the upswing of things. Which I need to be 'cuz "Weird" Ed, my college roomie and filmmaking partner, is due to arrive later tonight. He'll be here for the rest of the week. Gonna be fun :-)

In the meantime, I need to find an "upbeat" thing for this blog, 'cuz looking over the past few weeks' worth of posts, it's a real downer how many posts were devoted to the passing of other people. And maybe something fun to reflect on my current fevered state of mind.

So here's what I came across on Myspace tonight: some consider it to be the most bizarre music video of all time. Personally, I think it's sheer genius. This was a big thing when I was in my last year of high school. So much twisted coolness in this piece.

From 1991, here is "Justified and Ancient" by The KLF... with lead vocals by the immortal Tammy Wynette!

KLF - Tammy Wynette - Justified And Ancient

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Allan Melvin has passed away

Word is just now getting to me that actor Allan Melvin passed away a few days ago at the age of 84.

If the name doesn't ring a bell, I would absolutely guarantee that you would recognize his face and his voice...

Melvin was easily one of the better-known character actors on television over the years. The role that he'll probably be best remembered for was Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch. He also played Archie Bunker's friend Barney on All in the Family (a part that he continued when the show became Archie Bunker's Place) and Corporal Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. Melvin also did quite a lot of work playing various characters on The Andy Griffith Show (I remember him especially as the guy who got mad at Barney for giving him a ticket... and he swore to beat Barney to a pulp as soon as he was out of his deputy's uniform) and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. And he did some animated work too, particularly in providing the voice of Magilla Gorilla for Hanna-Barbera.

He was married to his wife Amalia for 64 years. Melvin was a great actor, but if you ask me a marriage that long is a much more proud accomplishment.

Sad to see Allan Melvin leave us, but he did so much classic work over the years, we'll always remember him.

Heath Ledger dead at 28

You've probably heard by now that Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment in New York City earlier this afternoon.

He leaves behind a wife and a 2-year old daughter.

He also leaves behind an amazing career that was just beginning to take off. The first time I saw him, it was as the oldest son of Mel Gibson's character in The Patriot. He did a great job with the role and I made sure to take note of his name when I saw it in the theater.

I didn't care much for the story itself, but I will admit to having watched Brokeback Mountain once, and Ledger... like I said, I didn't care for what the story entailed, but Ledger did an admirable job with his role.

Ledger had just finished principle photography on The Dark Knight, due out later this summer. I've heard nothing but incredibly strong word about his performance as the Joker... and that it might even be the best Joker ever put on film. Michael Caine has said that it's the "scariest" acting he's seen in his entire life.

I honetly don't know what else to say about this. Such a promising life... gone.

Thoughts and prayers for a good family

I almost posted something about this a few days ago. For a number of reasons - not the least of which is that there haven't been very many details that have been released about this - I held off. But I feel strongly led to make a note of this right now and to ask my readers to keep this family in their thoughts because if there's any people who need to be held up in prayer right now, it's the Baileys.

I never personally knew Regan Bailey, but I grew up as neighbors of her grandparents, Warren and Ruth. They are members of the church that my Dad has been part of all his life. And I've known Regan's father Dan Bailey for a long time too. They are some of the finest people that you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Just a wonderful family, through and through.

Last week, Regan Bailey's mother found her 26-year old daughter dead in their home in Greensboro. Regan's van was missing, but was later found by police.

The authorities are considering the case a homicide.

Regan Bailey's funeral was held yesterday.

Here is her obituary, which from what I understand was written by her sister...

GREENSBORO — Regan Mary-Angela Bailey, 26, of Greensboro, died Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, January 21, at St. Francis Episcopal Church, 3506 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro, NC 27408, by The Reverend Michael Moulden. A committal service will follow in the St. Francis Memorial Gardens.

Regan's life was punctuated by her deep love for her family and friends. In the weeks preceding her untimely death, she enjoyed the Christmas holidays with family, spent the New Year in Florida with relatives, and went swing dancing with friends. In addition to her love of people, she shared a deep connection with animals, and was a caregiver to many stray animals lucky enough to cross her path.

Regan had a compassionate spirit and profound belief in God. She grew up a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church where she was a member of the choir and an acolyte. Most recently, she was a member of Lawndale Baptist Church where she was an active participant in services and numerous church activities.

She was born on August 23, 1981 in Moore County. A lifetime resident of North Carolina, Regan often traveled to other states and countries. Her recent travel experiences included trips to Greece and China with her mother.

Regan was both a teacher and a student. She was an honor-roll student at Page High School. After high school graduation, Regan chose to attend Meredith College, even with the offer of an academic scholarship to Mars Hill College. She graduated from Meredith in 2004. She then went on to volunteer to teach pre-school and elementary school students. She was working on a Masters Degree in Library Science through East Carolina University, and had logged many hours volunteering at the Greensboro libraries in connection with her degree.

A lifetime Girl Scouts member, Regan received her Gold Award after completing a significant project at Dolan Manor in Greensboro, N.C. She was a member of the Greensboro Youth Council and the National Conference, through which she participated in diversity initiatives.

She was preceded in death by her maternal grandparents, Frank and Angelina LaMonica of Raritan, New Jersey, and her aunt, Mary Ann LaMonica Arch, of Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Regan is survived by her mother, Dr. Lois LaMonica Bailey, and her father, Daniel Kerr Bailey, both of Greensboro; her sister, Meredith Courtney Bailey of Washington, D.C.; and her paternal grandparents, Warren Harding and Ruth Butler Bailey of Reidsville, N.C.

She is also survived by her uncle, Frank LaMonica, of Palm Springs, Calif.; her uncle and aunt, Bill and Cathy Bailey, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; her cousins, Daniel and Lynne Arch, of Spokane, Wash., Michael and Valerie Arch, of Hackettstown, N.J., Katherine Arch-Douglas and Jason Douglas, of Boston, Mass., and Sarah Arch of Hackettstown, N.J., William Bailey, of Raleigh, N.C., and Michael Bailey, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; her great-uncle, Augustus Sena of Raritan, N.J.; and her great-uncle and aunt, William and Margaret Fulton, of Oveido, Fla.

The family will receive friends after the service at a location to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to: Dogs for the Deaf, 10175 Wheeler Road, Central Point, OR 97502.

Hanes-Lineberry N. Elm St. Chapel is assisting the Bailey family.

This is an absolutely devastating thing for any family to have to go through, and knowing the Baileys as I do... well, our entire community is definitely grieving with them. They could certainly use any prayers and encouragement that others could offer them right now.

If there is any further information about the case, I'll try my best to share it here.

STAR TREK teaser is now online

In 1991, I saw the teaser for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with narration by Christopher Plummer (who would turn up in the film as the villainous General Chang). To this day it remains, for me anyway, the single greatest bit of promo for a Star Trek movie. And it perfectly encapsulates everything that Star Trek is supposed to be about when the work is at its finest.

Fast-forward to this past Friday, when I went to see Cloverfield - which was created by J.J. Abrams - on opening day. And Paramount wisely decided to attach a teaser for the upcoming Abrams-directed Star Trek movie.

It's not quite as epic as the Star Trek VI teaser... but I'll be darned if I didn't say that this thing gave me shivers while watching it.

If you want to see it (without resorting to watching a crappo-quality bootleg) the Star Trek trailer has been officially released online, and you can watch it in Quicktime too. If you can't wait a few seconds after clicking on the link, here it is on YouTube also...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Hell Époque

Someday, there will be a need to give the times in which we currently live an appropriate moniker. A few days ago, while driving through snow on U.S. 29 back from Greensboro, the idea for one crossed my mind.

I've already started calling our present American era "the Hell Époque".

Obviously this is a pun on "the Belle Époque", which was the last real "golden time" that Europe had before World War I escorted us all into the modern world.

A future history book or Wikipedia entry might describe our own time thusly...

Hell Époque

The era of United States history that stretched from the early 1990s until the end of the first decade of the 21st century, that has come to be regarded as the final years of America's long-time domination of the world's culture and economy.

Although noted for considerable achievements in computers and telecommunications that led to apparent empowerment of the individual, the Hell Époque was also a time of cultural and political stagnation in America that coincided with tremendous loss of individual liberty as the American government began to seize unprecedented power. Most authorities agree that although this had already been a long-time trend in America, the election of Bill Clinton as U.S. President in 1992 saw the start of the final phase of escalation toward an all-powerful American state. This would climax during the presidency of George W. Bush, whose disastrous domestic and foreign policies catapulted the country toward utter ruin.

Most historians agree that it became widely accepted among the American people during the Hell Époque that their government had finally become too corrupt and that the life they had come to believe in had drawn to a close, and that the "rule of law" under the Constitution no longer existed. This was especially apparent following the collapse of the traditional "two party system" and the failure of the American economy in...

So... will time prove me wrong? The way things are going right now, it's not looking like it will. Unfortunately.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Source sez: Michael Giacchino planning to release CLOVERFIELD "Roar!" overture "very soon"

Nothing official has come out yet, but as a follow-up to what was posted earlier today, I'm now hearing from a fairly reliable source (meaning they've been accurate before) that Michael Giacchino's "Roar! (Cloverfield Overture)", the awe-inspiring bit of music from the end credits of Cloverfield, will be released "very soon", as in probably this week. As many have hoped, the primary delivery vehicle is expected to be iTunes, but this is not an absolute. The important thing is, it does look like we'll be able to purchase it shortly.

Thank goodness that this seems to be coming out so fast! I was starting to worry that I'd have to do another petition :-P

Problems reported with iPod classic Firmware 1.1

I haven't installed the Firmware 1.1 upgrade on my new iPod classic yet and now I'm considerably more reluctant to do so, because several people are reporting that the new firmware is causing audio problems. May be something you want to take into consideration when you're presented with the option to upgrade.

I'll post more if anything further develops.

Various CLOVERFIELD items: sequel talk, demand for Giacchino's overture, suggesting a video game ... and the first VERY good image of the creature!

Few things about Cloverfield, the breakout hit monster movie that came out this weekend (here's my earlier review)...

- Cloverfield's success already has director Matt Reeves discussing the sequel, which he suggests might take place on the same night as the attack, but showing a different story with other people's cameras, cellphones, etc.

- I'm seeing a lot of demand for "Roar! (Cloverfield Overture)", the orchestral track by Michael Giacchino (the composer for Lost) that plays over the end credits. It would be great if Paramount and Bad Robot could release this via iTunes or some other online distribution, because it would sell (and I would be one of those buying a download).

- If it's not in the works already, I would like to heartily recommend to The Powers That Be that as Cloverfield represents one of the best launches of a fictional franchise in recent memory, that a more interactive experience is in order. Namely, a Cloverfield video game. Instead of reiterating the story of Rob and his friends, it could be an entirely separate story that parallels that of the movie. Such a game would put the player in the position of someone else who was in New York City on the night of the attack. I imagine that the graphics capabilities of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 would make such a quite a stunning success. And as for the Wii... can you imagine swinging the Wiimote like an axe at those smaller creatures? :-)

- Finally (for now), for everyone who has been looking like crazy online for a really great picture of the Cloverfield monster, talented artist Carman MacDonald easily has rendered the most definitive image yet of the beast. Having seen Cloverfield twice now, I have to say: this one nails the look of the thing extremely well.

Suzanne Pleshette has passed away

Word is just now coming out that Suzanne Pleshette has died in Los Angeles. She was 70.

Pleshette did a lot of acting but she'll forever be known as Emily Hartley, the wife of Bob Newhart's character Bob Hartley, on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s.

Years later, Pleshette returned to the role of Emily in the series finale of Newhart, considered by many people to be one of the greatest final episodes of a television series ever. I watched it the night it aired, and if you've never seen it, trust me: it is an absolutely brilliant and hilarious shock twist that the show went out on, thanks to Pleshette's appearance.

She had been married to Tom Poston, who passed away last year. Now they are together again.

Thanks for the good laughs, Suzanne.

George W. Bush has exactly one year left as President

As of today.

Don't breathe too lightly, children. This past week especially has illustrated how firm he is in his position as the worst President in American history ("stimulus package" my butt). And there are fewer things more dangerous than a President trying to secure his "legacy" with time running out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CLOVERFIELD ending: Where was it and who saw what?

Call it the Zapruder Film of monster movies: right now the Internet is buzzing with discussion about what might have happened in the very last shot of Cloverfield, which opened yesterday.

I went to see Cloverfield yesterday afternoon, and last night I posted my review of it. It wasn't long afterward that an anonymous reader made the following intriguing comment...

In case you are wondering where the monster came from in the closing scene where it is one month previous and they are at the beach if you look out over the ocean in the distance an object (presumably the monster) falls from the sky and right as it hits the water the camera turns to beths face. This is the only hint that the director said he put in there as to where the monster/creature came from. If you are going to see it again this weekend look for that in the final scenes.
I didn't remember seeing anything like that when I watched Cloverfield, and I like to think that I'm a pretty attentive guy to details like that. Unless it was something so incredibly obscure, and I don't believe that J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot guys would obfuscate so major a detail that much.

Then I started reading the blogosphere, and it turns out that other people are saying the same thing too: that in the final shot of Cloverfield, in the footage from Coney Island a month before the attack, that something huge and often described as "dark" lands in the ocean, just before Beth tells Rob that she had a good day.

It bugged me enough to decide that I wanted to see Cloverfield again. And today.

So a bit before noon, Lisa and I got in my car and we went to the Brassfield Cinemark on the northwest edge of Greensboro. After hearing me talk about it, she decided that she wanted to check out what the hullabaloo is about too. We got our tickets and went in and watched the movie. It was just as good a second time around, if not better. As for what Lisa thought about it, ummmm... she might write a review for her own blog, so I won't spoil her thoughts on it :-)

The final scene was approaching. I literally pried my eyelids open with my fingers, doing my darndest not to blink at all. I kept my peepers focused on the much-discussed right-hand side of the screen, looking at the sky and the water off Coney Island.

Okay, I must say: there is something there all right. But the only thing I saw, at all, was a large patch of white foam in the water, like the wake of something massive. I did not see a "big and dark" object fall out of the sky and hit the water. But there is something out there kicking up the surf off Coney Island. What that is, I don't know. But right now I'm not convinced at all that it was something that came falling out of the sky. Out in the water, it doesn't take much to make a plenty big enough wake.

So I personally did not see the "thing" from the sky. And yet, there are lots of people who are swearing quite vehemently that they did see something. If it's a delusion, it's one that's being shared by quite a large number of movie goers this weekend.

At the same time I'm also hearing from other people who reported that they looked for this, but didn't see the falling object either.

Curiouser and curiouser...

A few problems I have with this, if it is indeed supposed to be the arrival of the Cloverfield monster. For one thing, Coney Island was a month before the night of Rob's party: what was the monster doing during all of that time? The more obvious question in my mind though is that if the monster was that enormous, then how in the world did its crashing into the water not get noticed by not only Rob and Beth, but by everyone else at Coney Island? I mean, if a skyscraper came hurtling out of the blue and into the ocean off-shore from a major amusement park, it seems like somebody would have taken note of it, right?

In light of how many people claim to have seen something fall out of the sky and into the water, and how many claim to have seen nothing at all, I have to wonder: is it at all possible that on some prints of Cloverfield there is a falling object, and it's deliberately missing on others copies? Cloverfield has already arrived at the box office after months of staggering hype fueled by massive speculation on the Internet. Would it really be past Abrams and Reeves and the rest of Bad Robot - the same gang that gave us Lost and Alias, mind ya - to do something this devious with the final film itself, so as to "pour gasoline" on the already out-of-control wildfire that is Cloverfield?

What if some prints of Cloverfield have the monster crashing into the water, and other prints of the movie don't show it at all? It would then become a game of wondering which theaters have which prints of the film.

Hey, Clue did something like this way back in 1986, with multiple endings (I think there were 3 or 4 different endings and which one you saw depended on which theater you went to). It was quite an innovative gimmick at the time. Maybe that's what's up with Cloverfield.

Okay so, now I'm hoping someone else will write in and tell me: what did you see at the end of Cloverfield? Where and when did you see it exactly, too: was it at the very beginning of the final bit of the Coney Island footage, or is it elsewhere in that scene?

I guess I'll have to see this again sometime soon (hey, another reason to play tricks with the ending, eh? :-)

James Allan "Doc" Lewis was born 100 years ago today


Portrait of "Doc" Lewis that hangs in the Order of the Arrow Lodge Building (which is dedicated to Doc) at Cherokee Scout Reservation in Caswell County, North Carolina
(picture courtesy of the Old North State Council's article at Wikipedia)

This past Monday night at the meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education, I spoke during the public comments portion of the evening. Board Chairwoman Elaine McCollum had already shared some very wonderful words about Gene Saunders, and I felt led to talk about Gene too since I had been one of his students. But for the past few months I'd already had it in mind to come to this particular meeting so that I could honor someone else. It just so happened that instead of one person who made a tremendous impact on my life, I wound up going to the podium and talking about two.

After I spoke for a bit about Gene and how much of a difference he had made in my life, I told the board and everyone present that I had felt led to make note of the fact that the birthday of the man who had perhaps done more to further education than anyone else in Rockingham County was this week.

So it is that today, January 19th, 2008, is the 100th birthday of James Allan Lewis. Or as he was better known to Lord only knows how many people who he came in contact with over the years: "Doc Lewis".

He was without a doubt the most memorable character that I have ever known in my life.

And when I say that he was a "character", that is most assuredly not an understatement.

This is the man who defined the meaning of the term "larger than life". From the very first time that I met him, when I was just an 11-year old Boy Scout in 1985, I knew that God must have broken the mold when He made Doc Lewis. If anyone ever pitched a movie about his life to some Hollywood studio, he or she would probably be laughed out of the office and escorted off the premises by armed guards, because nobody could have lived a life like that... could they?

Well, Doc did.

Allan Lewis was born in Danville, Virginia on January 19th, 1908. A few years later World War I broke out, and Doc once told me about how on the day of the armistice in November 1918, that the whole town of Danville celebrated and were doing things like setting off fireworks and dragging an effigy of Kaiser Wilhelm II through the streets, while people spat on and made rude gestures toward it.

In the years prior to the Great Depression, Allan Lewis was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, and then attended Lynchburg College. He then went on to pursue graduate work at Columbia University in New York City, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (which a lot of people will no doubt appreciate that Doc was a life-long avid fan of the Tarheels), and also at UNC-Greensboro.

And during all of this time, while he was pursuing his studies in the field of education, the young Allan Lewis... had an interesting life.

When he was in New York City, Allan became heavily involved with Broadway theatre and the vaudeville stage. How involved? Let's see: I know that Doc became friends with George Burns and Gracie Allen early in his life (yes, that George Burns and Gracie Allen). I know that Doc took Katherine Hepburn out to dinner at least once (yup, that Katherine Hepburn, too). Doc mentioned so many names of famous people over the years, that there's no way to compile a full list of who he knew and who knew him.

And then there's the story of about how he and some friends put their money together to buy a Model T car so that they could drive to New York City for the World's Fair. Doc told me that so many times on the way over there one (and sometimes more) of the tires got a flat... so they had to stop and put the tire in some water to try to find the leak and then patch it up before going on.

Well, there are many more adventures from the early days of Allan Lewis that I've heard over the years, but I would be sitting here 'til noon tomorrow if I were to try to compose them all for this blog entry.

In 1934, Allan Lewis became the principal of Sadler Elementary School in Reidsville. He served for some years there and then was made the principal of Wentworth Consolidated Schools. And in 1948, he was made superintendent of the Rockingham County School system. Keep in mind that the average term for most superintendents these days is about 3 years at any one system.

Lewis stayed on for 22 years. And in that time he not only guided the system through the turbulence of the post-war years, he also vigorously pursued the construction of new schools, especially a new central high school for the then-existing system. A few years after he retired, Rockingham County Senior High School opened its doors, including those for the J. Allan Lewis Auditorium.

But as magnificent and highly-renowned a career as Allan Lewis had as an educator, some will argue quite convincingly that his fame as an advocate for the Boy Scouts of America was far, far greater.

It was at the original Boy Scout camp for the Cherokee Council near Reidsville that Allan Lewis received the nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life. Lewis volunteered to work at the health lodge, and very early on in his time there the boys started calling him "Doc", because he was the one who patched them up. The name stuck.

Doc was an active Scouter for well over 60 years. And he was still working at the health lodge for most of that time, both at the original Camp Cherokee near Reidsville, and then in 1968 when the camp relocated to Cherokee Scout Reservation not far from Yanceyville in adjoining Caswell County.

(At this point I could also talk about "the hermit" who lived deep in the woods near Cherokee Scout Reservation, and how Doc and some other delegates were shot at while trying to visit him one day, and then that the hermit died before the camp was to open and how his pet wolves went nuts and how they found the hermit's bones at his cabin... and supposedly the cabin was haunted... but that's a story for another time.)

Throughout most of his time in the Boy Scouts, Doc became especially involved with the Order of the Arrow, the honor society within the Boy Scouts of America. One of Doc's proudest possessions was a photograph of himself sitting next to E. Urner Goodman, the founder of the Order of the Arrow. Doc was also friends with Carroll A. Edson, the co-founder of the Order.

I became a member of the Order of the Arrow in 1987. Doc told me on the night following my Ordeal that he was proud of me and that from now on, we were symbolically brothers. I don't know if he ever knew how to so many young men, he was far more than their brother: he was also their surrogate grandfather, and maybe even father to some.

I went to two national Order of the Arrow conferences with Doc: one in Fort Collins, Colorado and then a few years later to one at the University of Indiana. Going on a trip with Doc was an absolute hoot! Everywhere we went, he seemed to know something about the place. Chalk it up to him being such a widely-traveled guy: Doc had visited every state in the union except Alaska, and he had visited many countries overseas during his long career. He was also fun to have on the road or on the flight over for all of the hilarious jokes and stories that he would tell us.

Both at the Reidsville camp and Cherokee Scout Reservation, Doc not only was the camp medic, he also put the theatrical knowledge that he picked-up while working on Broadway to use. Among other things, during ceremonies for the Order of the Arrow he would sometimes have a Scout swim across the lake... while carrying a lit torch. He was also experienced with makeup and costuming.

For most of his career with the Cherokee Council, and later the Old North State Council after the Cherokee Council merged with a few others in the early Nineties, Doc served as the council's "Goodwill Ambassador" to the world. He was on the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America for 40 years, and was known not only throughout the United States but around the world for his work with the Boy Scouts. There was one fellow in particular who also was heavily active in the Boy Scouts movement, who Doc not only worked alongside for many years but also became very good friends with. You might have heard of him: his name was Norman Rockwell.

Doc was also a president of Rotary International of Reidsville. He was also involved with several educational organizations and at one time served as president of the Rockingham County Historical Society.

He was certainly an active, involved person. But you know... I still haven't really touched on Doc's personality at all.

Doc Lewis was always "turned on". He probably possessed the most indomitable spirit that I ever met in anyone in my entire life. Imagine Groucho Marx as a Jedi Master, and that was Doc Lewis. He was simultaneously the wisest sage that you'd ever come across and this wise-cracking comedian who would never fail to make you smile. And I don't know if it's really my place to share this or not, but it has to be said: Doc Lewis was the master of the art of the dirty joke. But not "dirty" in the modern connotation at all: Doc was sly and clever with innuendo and subtle terms, the way that such humor was done before it degraded into "gutter comedy". There's one joke of his that I am horribly tempted to share here, and to this day it's probably the funniest joke I've ever heard... but if I were to post it here, Google would not only wipe out my blog but it would also send goons to my house to apply a sledgehammer to my typing fingers so as to make sure that it never happened again. But trust me, it's hilarious (and also rather clean, believe it or not).

Doc was also a dancin' fool. Even well into his eighties, he had a spring in his step lacking in most guys just in their twenties and even younger. Anyone who ever saw him prancing in the amphitheater at the Cherokee Scout Reservation will not ever forget the sight of him hopping across the stage as he encouraged everyone to sing.

There's so much about Doc that I could share here, and I honestly don't know what I could possibly say about him that could do his memory the full justice that it deserves. He was just an... amazing person to have known. But I guess I need to wrap this up, so I'll relate just a few of my personal memories about Doc.

As I mentioned earlier, we met in 1985, when he came to a meeting of our troop one night. Later that week I was at a Boy Scout camporee and that's where Doc and I really started getting to know each other. To this day I'll never know why he took such a special shine to me, but he said many times over the years that he was really glad for our friendship. Maybe it's because Doc really was an offbeat person, and I was a much younger offbeat person that looked up to him as a model and an example that yes, it was okay to be a bit off-kilter.

I can also attest that I was one of the Scouts that Doc "patched-up" at the health lodge at the Cherokee Scout Reservation. It happened my very first day at the camp: I got a horrible splinter embedded in my foot on the dock at the lake. Two other Scouts had to hold me up as I literally hopped a half-mile to the health lodge. Doc propped me up on the table, took hold of my foot and pulled the splinter out with some tweezers. So yeah, I was one of Doc's patients. I honestly don't think that you could say that you had the full experience at Cherokee Scout Reservation until Doc fixed you up in the health lodge.

Doc was on my Eagle Scout board of review, and I'll always feel honored that he took part in that. He also came to the ceremony a few months later when Jamie Revis and I - the only two out of dozens of Boy Scouts who had been part of our troop with us that whole time - received our Eagle Scout rank. I've a picture somewhere of Doc leading us in the Scout Oath. That was one of the proudest moments of my life.

And then a few years later came one of the more hilarious experiences that I had with Doc. One day in the summer of 1994, I drove to his house and picked him up for lunch. We went to the Libby Hills restaurant here in Reidsville, which is where I was working at the time. Our waitress was this girl who, yeah I'll go ahead and say it: she was very sweet and very beautiful. And Doc thought so too...

"Who's she?" he asked.

"That's (name removed to protect privacy)," I told him.

"She's nice!" Doc said. "Do you like her?"

"Ummm, well... uhhh... well I don't think she's seeing anyone right now," I told him. And I'll admit it: she was that nice kind of girl that I had been hoping and praying to wind up in a relationship with. I found out a few years later that she had gotten married and was doing well, so I'm glad that she ended up happy.

But at this moment in July of 1994, Doc was hellbent on playing matchmaker.

"Here, let me leave the tip. If she asks, tell her that you wanted to do this for her."

Doc Lewis pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and plunked it on the table!

I tried, honestly I tried, to stop him. But Doc wouldn't have it. He wanted me to do something to impress that girl and make her notice me. And oh yeah she did notice. "Chris that was crazy! You didn't have to do that!" she told me a few nights later at work. I told her that my friend Doc had left it for her, and that he thought she was a good waitress and that she was a really sweet person. Yeah, I know: I didn't quite follow-through on Doc's plan. But I'm glad that she got to know that it was Doc and not me who left it for her. And in my own way, I did tell her that I thought she was a good person, too. Maybe that didn't lead to something that Doc might have had in mind... but that was two people who were made a little happier, however briefly, because of it. And knowing that made me happy, too.

So much else that I could write here, about Doc. All these years later after first meeting him, the impact he made on my life still can't be fully measured.

He was one of the greatest people that I never knew. And one of my dearest friends.

James Allan "Doc" Lewis passed away on December 8th, 2004, just over a month shy of his 97th birthday.

He was more than a friend. He was more than a symbolic brother. He was the grandfather that I never had.

I still miss him. And I still love him.

I know of no better way to wrap this up, and to honor his memory, than with a song. It's one that Doc Lewis himself wrote. It's the official camp song for Cherokee Scout Reservation, and has been sung at places such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Wright Brothers Memorial.

Here it is, sung to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad"...

"The Eyes of Cherokee"
(words by Allan "Doc" Lewis)

The eyes of Cherokee are upon you,
All the live-long day.
The eyes of Cherokee are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not try to escape them
At night or early in the morn.
The eyes of Cherokee are upon you,
'Til Gabriel blows his horn.

Until Gabriel blows his horn, we'll wait to see you again Doc.

(By the way, January 19th is also the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe and Robert E. Lee. Doc was always proud of the fact that he shared his birthday with those two historical figures :-)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Review of CLOVERFIELD

Let the word go forth: as of January 18th, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Eight, America finally has a cinematic mega-monster to call its very own.

Which is exactly what J.J. Abrams, the creator of Alias and Lost and the director of the upcoming Star Trek movie (and I also got to see a beautiful teaser for that before this started playing) intended when he set out to make Cloverfield. It was while in Japan that Abrams realized that his own country didn’t have a classic movie monster anything close to iconic as Godzilla is over there. And King Kong was too "adorable" as Abrams put it. He wanted a horrific force of nature that couldn't possibly be tamed, only confronted in the hopes that it could be destroyed. So Abrams hooked up with longtime collaborators Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves and told them his plan...

And now that Cloverfield has finally been released after months of crazy speculation, ever since that cryptic teaser in front of last summer’s Transformers, it must be asked: is Abrams's beastie on par with Godzilla as a mythic menace?

Yeah, I think it is. But I'll know for certain as soon as I can figure out just what the hell it is that I was looking at when I saw Cloverfield earlier today.

I'd wanted to catch Cloverfield last night at a midnight showing with my comrade-in-arms Phillip. Alas! The winter storm yesterday morning had turned the roads between here and Guilford County a bleak sheet of black ice. So Phillip went ahead and saw it. When he came back he was raving like mad about how good it is both in e-mail and in the review he wrote for his blog (and he says some things about Cloverfield a lot better than I probably could...). And then another friend told me that I had to see this as soon as possible. That settled it: after doing some errands I headed over to the Carousel Grande in Greensboro. And on the ride down U.S. 29, to kinda set the mood I played the Wallflowers's cover of "Heroes" from the 1998 Godzilla soundtrack on my new iPod. I know: bringing that particular movie up is baaaaaaad...

I have to agree with Phillip: Cloverfield is the first movie in recent memory that not only does not fail to live up to obscene hype, it wildly surpasses it. And I may have to see it again this weekend (provided we don't get the 3-4 inches of snow that the weather forecasters are now calling for tomorrow).

If you watched the teaser (which broke rules by itself in that it was the first teaser for a major motion picture that didn't reveal the title of the movie that it was advertising) then you already know much about how Cloverfield starts out. A group of friends in New York City is throwing a surprise party for Robert Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who's about to leave for Japan to take on a job as a vice-president of some big company there. And then, about twenty minutes into Cloverfield, all hell breaks loose. If the capsized oil tanker and massive explosion on the other side of town aren't enough to signify that Manhattan is in trouble, then the spectacle of watching the head of the Statue of Liberty crash out of the sky and onto the street will doubtless impress everyone with the severity of the situation.

Here's where Cloverfield differentiates itself from perhaps any other "big monster" movie that's been made: until the ground first starts shaking, I was so immersed in the story of Rob and his estranged girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) and their friends, that I completely forgot that I was watching a big-budget creature presentation. This is not a movie about a giant monster per se. The monster serves as the disaster in which we see these regular people go through the worst day of their lives and how we see them do some extraordinary things as a result. And instead of seeing it as a standard narrative, Cloverfield is told through the perspective of Rob's video camera, operated for most of the movie by Rob's friend Hud (a great character played by T.J. Miller, who brings both gravity and at times much-needed and well-delivered humor to the role).

Obviously, this choice of story conveyance brings a lot of comparisons between Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. But I think that Cloverfield might have pulled the trick off even better than the 1999 horror sensation did (and I say that as someone who has always liked The Blair Witch Project). The scene that really "does it" with Cloverfield is when we see Rob and his three friends taking shelter inside a subway station, and Rob has to share some heartbreaking news with someone on his cell phone. It's a scene that genuinely hurts the viewer to witness these friends have to share this tragic experience. It's not the monster itself that makes Cloverfield compelling viewing, but what happens to these characters as a result of the monster's wrecking havoc.

Don't be led to think that this means we get short-changed when it comes to actually seeing the monster in Cloverfield, because we do indeed get to view the creature up close. But this is not like the 1998 remake of Godzilla, where we hardly saw the title threat at all except for toward the end of the movie. The monster in Cloverfield is all over the place, even though Hud just barely misses catching the entire beast in his camera. Be kind to the man: he's shooting the footage while running for his life. It's a quite effective technique however, because we get lots of tantalizing glimpses of the monster (the creepiest might be when Hud is watching a news broadcast of the army fighting it and the thing starts dropping "dandruff" on the ground) that up the "wanna see" factor without over-doing it.

But as for the monster itself: I still have no idea what this thing is supposed to look like exactly. The various depictions made by artistically-inclined folk who have seen Cloverfield tend to suggest the general shape of the monster. But I've yet to see a single drawing or painting that completely nails it. The closest I can come up with in describing what the Cloverfield monster looks like, is to ask you to imagine the Kraken from Clash of the Titans with reverse-jointed legs so that it can walk on land. I can't even figure out whether the monster is supposed to be reptilian or amphibian, or something else entirely different. The one very good shot of the monster that we see is going to be in my nightmares for the next few nights, no doubt about it. The thing looks unnatural and unholy, as if it's a form of life that in a saner world would have no right to exist to begin with.

Where did the monster in Cloverfield originate? We aren't told at all, and there's no scientist who comes out in a white coat to explain to us where the creature came from or what it wants or how to get rid of it. But enough tantalizing info is spread here and there for the viewer to take a guess, albeit without knowing for sure whether that guess is anywhere close to being reasonably accurate. If you want to know what I think about it, here’s my theory...

SPOILER – highlight to read: The monster was in the "oil tanker", much like the 1976 King Kong remake. It had been found elsewhere - maybe near the offshore drilling station that's been talked about in the viral media promoting Cloverfield - and capturer: either by the Japanese corporation or the U.S. government. I think it was inside the ship and as it approached the terminal in New York City's harbor, it got loose. Why else would something like that turn up in New York City? It kinda makes sense when you think about it... END SPOILER

And so far as motive goes: there is no reason for why this monster is causing so much destruction. It's a natural calamity that cannot be reasoned with but only endured, in the hope that you’ll live to see tomorrow.

So much else that I could say about Cloverfield here. I am... extremely... overwhelmed by this movie and how it turned out. This is the movie that the 1998 Godzilla could have been and should have been. And I've come to realize that it was wrong to have even attempted to co-opt another country's classic monster character like that. With Cloverfield, American filmmaking has finally owned-up to that mistake.

And I also believe that film-makers would be wise to take note: Cloverfield represents, at last, the maturing of special effects as a true story-telling tool. A year ago Alfonso Cuarón did much the same with Children of Men, which was a much more serious story. With Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams and his crew at Bad Robot have proven that it can be applied just as effectively to a blockbuster tent-pole motion picture event. For thirty years now most escapist film fare has relied on eye candy to deliver the goods and bring an audience to the box office. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it's safe to say after the past several years of relative stagnancy that audiences are no longer impressed with being visually wowed as much as they expect deeper storytelling. The Bad Robot team has wildly succeeded in that endeavor with Lost on television, and now with Cloverfield they have demonstrated that it can – and should – be sought in feature films, also. I for one will certainly be examining Cloverfield closely, because there is a great deal of good that I believe can be learned from it.

How harsh a movie is Cloverfield? If you're prone to motion-sickness, you might wanna take a Dramamine before going in to see this film, because the camera is quite shaky, as has been widely reported. But after a short while I was pretty comfortable with it. And visually there are a lot of images that you won't easily shake-off, including something very nasty that happens to one of the main characters later on in the movie that was one of the ugliest and most unexpected things that I've seen in a monster movie. But I didn't see anything that was as big a gross-out as, say, Kane's death in Alien. Cloverfield definitely qualifies as PG-13 material, even if it does edge perilously close to a hard-earned R on several occasions.

Cloverfield runs for an hour and a half. And if you're trying to figure out how all that footage could fit on one tape in a camcorder, paying attention to the very first moments of the movie will reveal that this is all being pulled from a flash-based memory card (maybe Rob's camcorder is one of the models that debuted at last week's Consumer Electronics Show?). It's just the right length of running time for this story, although I'm also eager to see any deleted scenes when the DVD comes out.

By the way, see that graphic of the Cloverfield one-sheet poster? I received a real copy of that when I attended Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9 last month in Austin, Texas. It's been in a cardboard tube ever since, just waiting to see if this movie was worth having it framed and hung up in my video production suite. After what I saw earlier today, I can say that I'll have no problem putting it on the wall tomorrow morning.

Cloverfield might be the best take I've ever seen on the "giant monster" movie genre. And this is an absolutely amazing film to get 2008 – which promises to be a spectacular year at the movies – off and running with. If at all possible, try to see this movie this weekend or sometime very soon.

By the way, so far as music goes there is no orchestral score for the movie itself at all. But Michael Giacchino has composed a majestic overture called "Roar!" that plays during the end credits. It's well worth sticking around to enjoy listening to, and I hope that it'll turn up on iTunes soon 'cuz I will gladly buy it to put on my iPod!

I'll give Cloverfield a score of 9 out of 10. And will also say that this merits buying on DVD the very first day that it comes out. And hopefully sometime soon I'll be able to buy an action figure of the monster to pose atop my computer, too.

Bobby Fischer, first U.S. world chess champion, has died

Let's get the obvious out of the way: yes, he was a very troubled person. His wild rants against the Jews alone hinted more of serious mental instability than sincere bigotry.

But in spite of it all, Bobby Fischer was - and to many people still is - considered to be the greatest chess player in history.

No man is perfect. And instead of harping on his erratic behavior and bizarre beliefs, it's a much better thing to mark his passing by toasting his talent. Indeed, his 1972 victory over Boris Spassky has been deemed an important moment in Cold War relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

For what it's worth, without passing judgment on his beliefs, I've always thought that the U.S. government went way over the line in harassing him after he met Spassky for a rematch in Yugoslavia in 1992. I mean, threatening a man with ten years in prison... for playing a game of chess?!? He never came back to America after that.

In the end, after a glorious youth that turned into years of reclusion and ridicule, Bobby Fischer has passed away in Iceland at the age of 64.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

NCAA clamps down on live blogging at college games

This may be the dumbest thing that I've ever heard from the world of sports journalism: a few weeks ago the National Collegiate Athletic Association implemented new rules for live blogging at NCAA-sponsored sporting events. The whole thing got started when a sports writer was thrown out of a college baseball game for providing an online chronicle of the action as it happened. The NCAA screamed about "infringing" on the rights of the broadcast partners.

In the wake of the uproar, last month the NCAA established some... strange... regulations for live blogging by professional sports reporters at college athletic events:

Football
- Three posts per quarter and one post at halftime

Baseball
- One post per inning, including extra innings

Basketball
- Five posts per half, two posts in halftime, two posts per each overtime

Not only that, but each blog must display the NCAA logo (what the... %@#&?!?!?) and all blog posts by credentialed journalists must be submitted to "the NCAA Blog Central" (?!?!?).

Naturally, sports writers are having a field day with this lunacy.

Check out Kara Ratliff's story at WebProNews (a website that I heartily recommend) for the skinny on the NCAA's bizarre blogging policy...

Yes, it's true: REAL pics of the CLOVERFIELD monster are now online!

I've just seen it and it looks... interesting. There's yet to be a full-body shot of the creature but I think it's safe to say that some of the "artist depictions" that made their way through the blogosphere during the past few days seem to have been fairly accurate. I don't consider myself very much "spoiled" though 'cuz the pics don't give away too much apart from a vague silhouette and what looks to be lots of teeth. Consider me wonderfully tantalized, and I'm looking forward to seeing Cloverfield tomorrow that much more.

Oh, why am I not posting the pics here? Look, I've had enough "cease and desist" problems with Paramount's parent company Viacom to last me a long time (even though I did quite well on that one). I am not going to tempt fate here, 'cuz I understand that Paramount's legal department is already having websites who've published it to yank it fast. But now you know enough anyway: if you seriously want to see it, and if you're persistent enough, you'll no doubt be able to find it :-)

Ten years ago today ...

... the first news in what became known as "the Monica Lewinsky scandal" came out, when Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report broke the word that Newsweek was sitting on a story about a sexual affair between President Bill Clinton and a 23-year old White House intern.

Those were very crazy days. Can't believe it's been ten years already. I still remember watching Clinton on live television wagging his finger at everyone and claiming that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky!"

I have a friend who teaches history, who predicted all the way back in 1992 that Bill Clinton would be the first in a long series of presidencies that lacked honor and ability and real sense of duty. When the Lewinsky scandal came out, I couldn't help but think back to what he said. And now ten years later, in the closing months of an even worse President and with not much better being rigged to succeed him, I have to wonder if this office will ever have decency and aptitude again in it anytime soon... if at all.

First snow of 2008

Taken just after 7 a.m. EST outside our apartment in Reidsville, North Carolina...

Temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight and it's been dropping since. It's now just below freezing and it's not supposed to get any warmer for the rest of the day. The driveway is already slippery in many spots. The Rockingham County School System canceled classes for today late last night, so Lisa isn't going in. We won't be getting out today.

But Lisa went and pillaged the local supermarket and Wal-Mart last night for supplies. We've got plenty of food. And we've got plenty of things to entertain ourselves with (like the Wii that I got Lisa for Christmas, the one that I camped out overnight at the GameStop in Greensboro to buy it the next morning :-). And, for once, I don't have any projects that I'm rushing to get finished. And no bad guys that I have to really fight either. So I'm going to look at today as a gift from God, and He's finally giving me a chance to do something that I have not done in a very, very, very long time: relax and play.

Heck, I still have that Indiana Jones LEGO set that I haven't put together yet!

Okay, off to have breakfast. And then hang out with Lisa. And then do... other stuff ;-)

Ron Price lawsuit abuse shows North Carolina need for anti-SLAPP legislation

The more I think about how disgraced school board member/admitted sign stealer Ron Price's lawsuit against the Moores ended (click here for more info, including links to the sworn depositions that the Moores, Price, and Yours Truly gave), the more I'm feeling honked-off to no end about it.

The man is certainly living up to his county-wide nickname of "Ron the Con" (one that I have heard bandied about everywhere from church to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Eden). Ladies and gentlemen, I posit that the whole sordid drama of this past year has been a massive charade perpetrated by Price and his attorney Douglas Hux. Because this lawsuit had nothing to do with seeking damages for legitimate libel. But it did have everything to do with an elected official using the law to intimidate and silence those who disagree with him.

Does anyone believe that Ron Price would have given up so easily, if he knew beyond all doubt that he possessed such a strong case against Richard and Debbie Moore?

Okay, let me ask this out loud: did Ron Price himself seriously believe that he could sincerely expect a judgment of a quarter-million dollars to be granted in his favor by a jury in a court of law, based on what was said about him in The Neely Chronicle and on WGSR?

I don't believe that Price was out for the money at all. But he was out to make Richard and Debbie Moore spend lots and lots of theirs.

Heck, Price practically admitted as much to The Reidsville Review: "I think we reached our goal", he told the newspaper. For once he wasn't lying, folks. The goal was never to achieve a quarter-million dollars judgment. But the goal was to keep the sword of veritable bankruptcy poised over the Moores' heads by compelling them to spend money on legal defense.

There is something very, very wrong with a system that allows a politician, a corporation, or any other entity to effectively shut-down critics by using a frivolous lawsuit to force those of lesser means into giving up their fight. In that regard, Ron Price did win: Political Soup, one of WGSR's most-watched shows, is no longer on the air (that alone has earned Price more loathing from people in Rockingham County than he would like to know).

Think about that for a moment: a government official - and one who admitted to taking something that wasn't his for the purpose of manipulating an election - has successfully abused the law in order to silence his critics and punish them for speaking out against him.

If that is not an example of tyranny, however localized, then I don't know what is. This kind of thing is supposed to happen in fourth-world banana republics, not Rockingham County.

I doubt that Ron Price feels any guilt or grief about it however. He's certainly of the "neo-conservative" stripe that believes he can get away with anything because God has supposedly "anointed" him, or as he put it "but I was elected."

This was the first time that to my knowledge a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) has happened in Rockingham County. I've never liked the idea of a SLAPP action and now that I've seen it firsthand, my hatred for the concept has grown immensely.

Currently, North Carolina does not have anti-SLAPP legislation on the books. Richard Moore is reporting on his website that in the wake of the Price lawsuit winding-down, that he is contacting members of the North Carolina state legislature about the matter. Since Richard does not believe much in archiving his own website (sigh), it falls to me to publish his salient points for posterity...

SPEECH IS ONLY FREE TO THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD IT
The final total is not in yet, but it looks like Price's vindictive lawsuit is going to end up costing us between $7,500 and $8,000. Contrary to the mythology, freedom of speech is only available to those who can afford it. It is now apparent that Debbie and I are not people who can afford freedom of speech, which is why Political Soup and the Neely Chronicle will not be returning.

Ron Price lost his lawsuit, but he has accomplished his mission ("I think we reached our goal"), and I have learned a painful lesson about being involved in political and governmental matters.

If Price had won his lawsuit, however unlikely, Debbie and I would have been stripped of everything we own - no money, no home. no cars, no furniture, no appliances, no clothes - nothing. For calling an elected official who stole campaign signs a thief, we would have been left standing naked on the side of the road without even a tin cup.

If the lawsuit had gone to trial and we had won, the cost of successfully defending ourselves would have left us financially ruined. Due to Price's magnanimous decision to dismiss the lawsuit, our finances are merely seriously mangled. Ron Price can now do a victory lap around the Rockingham County School Board dais. Maybe drink some champagne and drape himself in roses while Celeste and Wayne anoint his feet with oil.

Ron Price has defeated me, even though he lost his lawsuit. The newcomer has managed to do what many old-timers have tried and failed. W.L. Pryor, Don Moss, Wink Hoover, Jeff Sykes, Jeff Eanes, George Fleetwood, David Wise, James Festerman, John Henderson, Celeste DePriest, and many others were unable to budge me from my pompous little political pulpit. But the dark and handsome stranger from Florida figured out a way to hand me my head in short order. Reckless Ron dared go where no one else would.

Hail to Mr. Ronald Filer Price. I am a beaten man. I surrender unto Caesar.

Despite the fact that Ron Price will be hailed as a conquering hero by some folks, particularly those on the Rockingham County School Board and in local government, something is very wrong with a legal system that makes such things possible. In most states, this sort of lawsuit would not be filed because it would be too financially risky for a plaintiff to roll the dice on such a weak case.

The majority of states now have what are called "anti-SLAPP" laws. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. A SLAPP lawsuit is typically filed by a public official, sometimes by a land developer or someone seeking approval for a project, who uses a SLAPP to silence his critics. In states with "anti-SLAPP" laws, a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit has to assume the risk of paying the defendant's legal fees if the defendant is found not guilty. Thanks to mass communications, most people think that's the way it works everywhere.

Unfortunately, in North Carolina, there are no "anti-SLAPP" laws. If someone, like a school board member, doesn't like what you are saying, he can sue you without taking any risk. If the case makes it to trial and you are found not guilty because there never was any merit to the lawsuit, you are still saddled with paying for your defense. The plaintiff simply has to find an attorney who will work on contingency - it only costs the plaintiff a third of whatever he wins in the lawsuit. If the plaintiff's attorney doesn't win the case, then the plaintiff owes nothing. If the plaintiff does win, then he and his lawyer could both strike it rich. The defendant's ass is financially busted either way it goes.

North Carolina is one of only a few states where it is possible for an elected official to use the legal system to silence his critics without taking any financial risk. The First Amendment doesn't shield you from the financial punishment that North Carolina's legal system and a vindictive public official can dish out.

The conventional wisdom has long been "anyone can sue you for anything, but that doesn't mean they will win or be able to collect if they do win." The conventional wisdom, which was probably meant to bolster the confidence of people who would dare criticize a public official, left out a very important detail. It fails to take into account what it will cost you to defend yourself against a frivolous lawsuit filed in North Carolina. Conventional wisdom does not apply in North Carolina.

It is ironic that a confessed thief can skate right through our legal system, but his accusers end up paying a heavy fine. Excuse me if I look the other way the next time I see someone committing a crime, but I don't want to lose my home and I'm sure you don't want to see me standing naked on the side of the highway. I now completely understand why people say "I don't want to get involved" or "Please don't use my name."

Take my advice - don't get involved, mind your own business, let our public officials do whatever they want, and keep your mouth shut about it. My advice to you is now my personal policy.

Ron Price lost his lawsuit, but there is no victor in the suit. Debbie and I are certainly not victors. We are not crowing about beating "ol' Ron", as "ol' Ron" said we would. We have nothing to crow about. We've had the shite kicked out of us by "ol' Ron" and we're tired, very tired.

We are not ashamed of what we did, nor do we fear the truth, but we'll never again complain about a public official, or government employee stealing campaign signs, or embezzling money, or dong anything wrong again. "Ol' Ron" and the North Carolina legal system have taught us a lesson we'll not ever forget.

Freedom has taken a much worse beating than Ron Price and our wallets. Our lawmakers should be ashamed for allowing this threat to liberty to exist and thrive in our state. But, our lawmakers are probably glad to have the right to do some SLAPPing of their own should it become necessary to shut someone up. SLAPPING is a convenient and effective way to get around the First Amendment.

The above commentary has been sent to our state legislators in hopes of bringing some much needed reform to our state's legal system. I will let you know if any of them bother to respond.

So far, Richard is reporting that Representative Nelson Cole and Representative Bryan Holloway have responded and are "exploring new laws to prevent vindictive public officials from violating the First Amendment by filing frivolous lawsuits to silence their critics".

They really need to push for this. Because if it could happen to Richard and Debbie Moore, it could happen to you. It could happen to me. Actually it's probably happening to me already: I'm expecting a knock on the door any day now and a deputy sheriff serving me with a lawsuit. Or maybe Price will do the smart thing and forget about it... 'cuz you don't mess with a man crazy enough to blow up a schoolhouse in order to run for board of education.

All I'll say for now is: if Ron Price does hit me with a lawsuit, there's a whole new video already hosted on YouTube - that no one from the public can see yet - that is just waiting to be unleashed. And it's all about Ron Price. And it will have everyone EVERYWHERE laughing at him for all eternity.

That's my own perverse "insurance" against more legal abuse like what Price has already done against the Moores. But in the meantime, if you live in North Carolina, do the right thing: contact your state representatives and senators and tell them that frivolous lawsuit abuse must end. Because it costs regular people a lot more than money: it also costs them their rights... which we only have because many people fought and even died so that we might have them to begin with.