Friday, June 27, 2008

Get Smart and Wait for It on DVD

I'm a tough movie critic, especially when it comes to comedies. I enjoy a good hearty laugh, but at the same time I've grown weary of the same manufactured comedies over and over. What I find is that so many movies use recycled jokes, pratfalls, and innuendo that quite frankly, it just ain't funny anymore.

This leads me to "Get Smart", the new Steve Carrell movie based on the old TV show.

If you're looking for a movie with recycled writing, this one will fit you just fine. It's got 'em all:

-a dance showdown (why does every comedy need a dance showdown nowadays?)
-spy spoofs (dime a dozen)
-stereotyped bad boy characters (woo-hoo)
-weak political commentary (yawn)

I've been a big Steve Carrell fan since he came onto the scene on The Daily Show and The Office, but his movies are taking a dive, in my book. 40 Year Old Virgin was a knee-slapper, but I just can't get into his other stuff lately. Seems like his work that doesnt have an edge to it just doesn't make the grade for me.

So that's what I think. Please help me Get Smart and let me know where I'm missing the jokes by leaving your comments... maybe I missed by "just that much..."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Extra, Extra... Time to Go Cold Turkey

For the past 5 years or so, I've been a devoted subscriber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a good paper, I get a lot of info from it, and it's helpful to have on hand for using under my cat's litter box. My subscription has been set up to automatically renew using my credit card, and I have just let it keep on charging over the years... I'm not even quite sure what it costs to get it to be totally honest.

Recently, however, I got a new credit card mailed to me to replace my old credit card. And guess what-- the Inquirer can't automatically bill me anymore since the numbers changed. So my subscription will be running out in the next few weeks or so, and the Inquirer's sales team has been calling me relentlessly to remind me that my credit card account has changed. Being the *ahem* wild and crazy guy that I am, however, I'm going to go cold turkey and just let my subscription slide without renewing it. It will be a test for me to see what life is like without getting the newspaper after reading it religiously on a daily basis.

Currently, I read (or skim) the paper during breakfast at home, during lunch at work, and during appropriate bathroom breaks. That's a lot of time spent staring at newsprint, probably well over an hour each day in total.

So I'm going to switch things up a little bit. I'm going to devote more time to reading books (something that's fallen by the wayside recently), catching up on magazines, and perhaps flipping thru to get bits and pieces of articles as they catch my fancy.

On the bright side, by not reading the Inquirer, I will no longer be depressed after reading story after story depicting the waning intelligence and lack of decency in this world. Obviously news, by nature, centers around "what's happening", but I can only take so much of political corruption, violence on the streets, nations at war, environmental destruction, filthy rich celebrities getting into trouble, and so on. My enjoyment of the world definitely takes a hit after reading the news every day, and it doesn't help reading about a Philly team losing a game the night before. For once, it might help to be blissfully unaware of most of the problems with the world, and instead focus on how I can make the world better in my own ways.

On the down side, I will need to find an alternative for protecting the carpet under my cat's litter box...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Airlines: Where'd All the Good People Go?

We've all lamented that air travel has gone downhill every year. From price increases, to squeezing people into smaller seats, to long lines to get through security, to terrible flight delays, airlines have made traveling a nightmare. US Airways has certainly taken the lead in disappointing customers by charging $2 per soda. While I understand the need for businesses' need to make money, it just seems like with all of the highly intelligent, highly educated, and highly creative businesspeople in this world, somebody somewhere could have come up with a better plan than this.

Not only has this drawn a ton of negative publicity, but now this rule encourages travelers to bring their own soda on board and totally defeat the airline's purpose of offsetting the cost to transport the soda.

All of these rules and cost-cutting measures and confusing policies cannot possibly help benefit the airline industry. Hopefully one day some of the great businesspeople of this world will figure out a way to make traveling more enjoyable, more cost efficient, and less of a flea market inside the cabin. Or perhaps it's already happening with airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue, and their innovative brethren.

Instead of scaring away the good people who want to travel, it's time for the good people at the airlines to figure out ways to get other good people to love flying again.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Couch Recommendation: Three Piece Sectional with Chaise Lounge

To this day, one of my best purchases of all time was buying the couch that I have in my living room. I bought it about six years ago when I moved into an apartment with my friend. It has held up well over the years, but more importantly, it's probably one of the best couches I've ever seen, in my biased yet humble opinion.

You see, it's really about the shape of the couch. It's a three piece sofa that is shaped like a "U". I was too lazy to take a photo of mine, but the one pictured at right is similar in design to my "baby". Essentially it's two sofas at a right angle to one another, with a chaise lounge wrapped around on the opposite side.

The reason this sofa is the best value and most functional is because you have dozens of ways you can sit or lay on it, plus you can have a large number of people configured on it if you have a gathering at your house. You can conceivably sit about eight adults on my couch, which is hands down more than most couches can fit. Plus kids love it because they can make their own little nooks and forts and such with the pillows. (And my cat likes it too, but she likes sitting on any piece of soft furniture!)

Okay, so let's say that you simply want to sit on this particular couch and watch TV. You have a plethora of options. You can lay on the chaise lounge, facing the TV. You can lay sideways on the middle part. Or lay on the opposite sofa piece. Or you can sit on any of the various cushions as you so choose.

One additional major benefit to this type of furniture is for tall people like yours truly. If I want to lay down and take a nap, I can do so fully extended in the middle part without having to curl up my knees or have my legs squeezed in by the arm rests like most couches. To me that is one of the most uncomfortable ways to sleep, but on my couch I have no such restrictions. Needless to say I have logged countless hours in naptime on my beloved couch.

Oddly enough, I rarely see couches of this design in showrooms or in people's homes. Indeed I remember searching a half dozen different stores when looking for the right one, and the one that I got was the ONLY one I saw in any of the stores. Fancy that. Maybe it's a collector's item now. ;-)

So if you haven't gathered already, I would whole-heartedly recommend that if you are shopping for a new couch, and if you have the space in your desired room, you should do yourself a favor and consider buying a three piece sectional sofa with a chaise lounge like I have. If you can find one, that is.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Commercial Suggestion for Cell Phone Companies

I see cell phone companies often bragging in their commercials about how they provide better reception than their competitors.

"More Bars in More Places" (AT&T)
"Can You Hear Me Now?" (Verizon)
"Now, That's Better" (Sprint)

But how much more vague can you get? Not only that, but many of these commercials show a made-up scenario that is supposed to represent a real cell-phone situation, like AT&T's doofus on top of a ridge knocking on car windows trying to find his daughter because he didn't get the message from her that she was staying over a friend's house. It's lazy marketing.

Instead of all this cutesy stuff, here's my idea for a killer, sensible, and direct ad campaign...

If you're really the best wireless carrier, take comparable phones from each company to one spot, line them up on the screen, and simply show the reception on the phone to illustrate just how much better your reception is. Perhaps it's a field in the middle of Iowa where your company has four bars, the others have two or one. Or maybe it's in the lobby of a hotel in Walla Walla Washington, or on the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Course.

To me, seeing the actual reception levels at various places like this is indisputable evidence that your company really is better than the others in providing a good signal. And it would be a lot less annoying than these other bogus characters they've developed.

But hey, that's just me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Book Review: "A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein" by Lisa Rogak

Always admiring of famous geniuses in history, I enjoy occasionally reading about the men and women who do great things and create a legacy that lasts long after they're gone. So when I saw "A Boy Named Shel" by Lisa Rogak in the library, I just had to check it out. Silverstein's poems and drawings were always a favorite of mine growing up, but I really knew nothing about him. Now I probably know more than I ever wanted, having read this detailed story of his life.

Perhaps I always had the hunch that, being a children's book writer, Shel Silverstein would have been a classic "kids' kinda guy". You know... the guy who's always running, laughing, and playing with kids, bubbly and outgoing. Well, sometimes hunches are wrong.

In a nutshell, Silverstein was a bit of an enigma. He grew up with an angry father and was very withdrawn, relying mostly on the comfort of reading and drawing, which never pleased his dad, though his mom was very supportive of him doing what he wanted. As he grew up, he worked hard at drawing and eventually served in the Navy as a traveling cartoon artist overseas, and later became a cartoonist for Playboy, which was just the rocketship he needed to travel to the stars.

His career skyrocketed in all different directions, having made his name in cartooning, children's books, country music writing, playwriting, and more. I never really realized the breadth of work he had done, but this book surely gave a comprehensive overview of all that he did. And it also gave much insight into his personal life which really caught me offguard, quite frankly.

In six words, this book portrayed Shel Silverstein as a: woman wooer, world wanderer, and workaholic writer.

Never one to settle down, Shel became a master at reeling-in women (a la Austin Powers, perhaps), and managing to move on after short periods of time of being with them, yet staying friendly with many of them over the years. He hit it off with jaw-dropping Playmates and was always on the prowl for new women wherever he went. He never married, but did have two kids with two different mothers. Unfortunately his first child, his daughter Shoshanna, died tragically at a young age. And while he did love his kids, he didn't seem to spend a whole lot of time with them, which kind of surprised me.

Never one to settle down, Shel lived and traveled all over the world, having lived in Chicago (where he was born), New York, San Francisco, Key West, Martha's Vineyard, etc. Thanks to the marvel of air travel, he would up and leave at the spur of the moment and fly somewhere else whenever he wanted. He would even up and leave in the middle of a conversation if it became boring. He just kept on moving and never collected dust.

Never one to settle down, Shel would write at all hours of the day, jotting notes or drawings on whatever he had nearby, be it a cocktail napkin, a notepad that he always carried, or his shirt sleeves. Ideas seemed to pop out of his head and he would write them down in a flash. He also seemed really intense with his work and never took a day off from creating SOMEthing. And his body of work shows it. Not only that, but he would constantly try new creative outlets, be it learning a new intstrument, teaching himself a different type of writing, or something entirely different. His mind was restless.

These traits were repeated over and over again in this biography to the point of becoming trite. He seemed like an incredibly interesting fellow and a one-in-a-million genius at what he did. But definitely not the person I had pictured in my mind. But ultimately, his works became worldwide gold, though to him fame was never important and he shunned the limelight whenever he could.

If you enjoy reading biographies, this one is well put together and quite in-depth, despite the fact of not having much to work with in terms of interviews of Shel. This is becasue he was very elusive and rarely talked to the media. Rogak paints a vivid picture of Shel's life, which is commendable, though by the end I found myself saying "Okay, I get it already" about his life. This is not necessarily a knock on the writer, but more on the fact that his life was such a revolving cycle, and there also wasn't a lot to work from, just quotes from other people. (And that was a challenge as well because there were SO many people that he became involved with over the years, that it was difficult to remember which person was which and what he or she had in connection with Shel whenever someone else was quoted.)

Having read biographies of many celebrities and historic figures, ranging from Andy Kaufman to Ben Franklin to P.T. Barnum, Silverstein most definitely fits into the category of a fast-moving, never-stopping, genius at work. He was like a speeding train that everybody else just tried to catch up with. And few, if any, really could.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Admittedly I'm not much of a sci-fi or horror buff. I find sci-fi to be a little far-fetched at times and horror to be too sickening or repetitive. Fortunately, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks offers a new spin on both genres. It's somewhat sci-fi because it involves the man-made idea of zombies causing chaos in the world, and it's somewhat horror-based because of the destruction the zombies cause, but it's told in a unique way... it takes place roughly in the present time, but told after the actual Zombie War is over. This narrative angle gives it a historical feel and is not in-your-face like horror projects tend to be. And it's an easy read to boot.

Probably the most interesting thing to me about this tale is the parallel that is drawn in this book from zombies taking over the world to other threats that this world faces. Essentially, as you read this book, you can replace zombies with virtually any threat imaginable, such as a highly contagious virus (which is essentially how zombies propogate in this book), to terrorists, to aliens, and so on. As you read, you realize that the tactics used to learn about and fight the zombies are not much different from the tactics needed to control any of the aforementioned threats to our civilization. (And based on this story, let's hope we never have one of these threats happen to this world!)

As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to a plethora of characters telling their respective stories about how the zombies affected their particular locales, with reports given from all over the world. The manner of writing is very straightforward and does not go overboard in trying to impress you with wacky new inventions like a typcial sci-fi production would. The stories feel very natural and realistic, but in a creative, eye-opening way.

I enjoyed reading this book and "taking the plunge" into genres that I wouldn't normally touch. It's a good crossover book for those who like fiction, but not so much fantasy or horror, but don't mind some overlap. Kudos to Max Brooks for proving that creativity runs in the family, being the son of comedic director Mel Brooks and actor Anne Bancroft. And I'm excited to hear that this book will be made into a movie, so hopefully it lives up to its potential and doesn't flop like a zombie shot in the brains...