Reviews: Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Daybreakers, Edge of Darkness

February 4th, 2010

Avatar - 8/10

A highly enjoyable film, although not one for the thinking man. The good guys are good guys, the bad guys are bad guys, and the savages are so incredibly noble that they can actually bond with the planet through their queues.

We saw it in 3D and I greatly appreciated the complete dearth of 3D gimmickry; nothing jumped out at the audience despite the profusion of bows and arrows and falling things. The 3D was used only to give the imagery depth of field, and oh! What imagery! Avatar is a gorgeous movie, from the blue cat-aliens to the floating rocks to the glowing forests to the mech hangars. A true feast for the eyes.

Which is its real power, frankly, because the story is pretty hackneyed and utterly one-sided. And in addition to the aforementioned 'noble savage' conceit (which has long been one of my pet peeves) it has a whopper of a deus ex machina ending. In fact, the story is so annoying that it underlines the truly awesome nature of the visuals in that I quite enjoyed the movie overall.

So take your eyes and leave your brain at home.

Sherlock Holmes - 7/10

I was interested to see Guy Richie's take on Sherlock Holmes, and having seen it, my reaction is a shrug. Certainly a vigorous, fisticuff-oriented Sherlock Holmes is entirely acceptable to the canon, but Robert Downey Jr. just wasn't him. The story was tepid, the action engaging but not thrilling, the accents were dishwater. Throw in a lack of the elements that make a period movie truly period, and a lack of the intellect that makes Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes, and this film was just another forgettable action movie.

Also, Jeremy Brett is God. But I approached the film with an open mind, really I did.

Daybreakers - 6/10

As a connoisseur of vampire movies I wanted to like Daybreakers. The setting, a world where almost everyone is a vampire, farming the few remaining humans, is both intriguing and the problematic endgame of so many other vampire movies. I am a big fan of Sam Neill and Ethan Hawke both; the promise was there.

But ultimately the movie was unsatisfying. It went for too many of the cheap horror movie gimmicks (e.g. a shrieking bat shooting across the scene to scare the audience; the use of this old chestnut to open the film was a bad sign, and it wasn't the last time) and they vigorously went for dramatic visuals at the cost of all logic.

A lot of discarded potential, here - opportunities to comment on the human condition or to introduce moral complexity were invariably sidestepped in favor of a few more bags of spurting gore. Alas.

Edge of Darkness - 5/10

Edge of Darkness is the kind of movie you are rolling your eyes at before leaving the theater. The acting, I will say, was quite good. But the story was largely a litany of unbelievable things: unrealistic police behavior, inexplicable decisions, characters overlooking the most obvious actions or explanations. The movie did capture the tragedy of losing a loved one - but that's taking candy from a baby. Better police/revenge/mystery stories appear every week on television.

If you want a good Mel Gibson revenge film, rent Payback. Or, better, see the Lee Marvin original.

Mmm Lithiated

February 2nd, 2010

So apparently 7Up was originally (1929) called "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda," because it contained lithium as its selling ingredient. This became "7Up Lithiated Lemon Soda," and then in 1936, simply "7Up."

The inventor, C.L. Grigg, never revealed how he chose the name "7Up", but I personally think it may have had something to do with imbibing a great deal of lithium citrate.

Snow Day

January 25th, 2010

Much of the time you plan to do something fun with the kids and it comes off differently than you had anticipated; the kids don't take naps and become grumpy, the weather doesn't cooperate, you forget the camera, something.

But every now and then you plan something fun to do with the kids and it comes off perfectly.

Last Saturday we went up to the snow; the four year-old had never played in snow before. I wanted to go last winter but things just kept coming up; in particular, people getting sick, but other things consumed our weekends as well, and we never seemed to make it, and then the snow was gone.

Originally we had planned to go last weekend but my mother got sick, so there was a bit of a repeat there. But as it turns out, this last weekend was perfect.

Absolutely perfect.

We went back to the folks' house Friday night. Left their place about ten and drove up to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It was an inspired choice - the snow started appearing at around 3,000 feet, and when we reached the park (just above 4,000 feet) it was several feet of fresh powder all around. And since the park is on Hwy 4, with no big ski resorts higher up issuing their siren calls to the hordes, traffic was a non-issue.

It had snowed all week and let up just in time for our arrival. I brought chains for the car, but in the event I didn't have to use them. The highway was clear to the park, just. They had plowed the parking lot; when we arrived at noon only a few other people were there, and we had a winter wonderland almost to ourselves. Three feet of virgin snow in every direction.

Sledding! Snow angels! Romping through startlingly deep (thigh-high on me) snow! We probably never got more than 100 feet from the parking lot, but we didn't need to.

Two hours later we stopped for hot chocolate (cooled down from piping-hot thermos temperatures by fresh snow) and headed out.

It was perfect. The four year-old loved it, grandma loved it, I loved it, Mrs. Oso loved it - even the baby was good, although I think he was a bit nonplussed. No one got too cold, no one got too tired - the weather was great, grey and overcast so there was no glare at all. Didn't even need sunglasses. Yet the air was warm enough that one's lips didn't get chapped. We were all dressed just right, including those so-important snow pants.

Pictures are up in the gallery. For those who have forgotten, the username is Mrs. Oso's first name, and the password is mine. Capitalization is important!

Know It All

January 11th, 2010

I was at the gym on the elliptical machine, which meant that I had to choose between 'The Price is Right', some Maury Povich-like show, or ESPN. Normally it would be ESPN hands-down, but in this case they were discussing in detail Mark McGuire's steroid use, about which I could not care any less. So it was 'The Price is Right'.

Now, 'The Price is Right' is pretty far to the 'Wheel of Fortune' side of the game show spectrum, where 'Jeopardy' is for rocket scientists and nuclear parapsychologists, and 'Wheel of Fortune' is for people who get investment advice from their dog (who generally advises them to invest in commemorative plates and "U.S. Mint" gold-clad "1876" $10 coins, for only $19.95 each limit 6 per customer). Being closer to the 'Jeopardy' end of the scale, I found one thing about 'The Price is Right' particularly annoying.

Points are determined by how many people (of a sample of 100) answered a question in the same way that you did. Note the complete lack of 'accuracy' in that statement. It doesn't matter how good your answer was, what matters is that you can think the most common thought. If the sample group all thought that the Wright brothers made the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, well then that's 100 points for that answer and a big goose egg for Alcock and Brown.

What I want is a game show that also involves questions asked of 100 people, but where the contestant scores points for being correct, and the fewer people out of the 100 that also got the answer right, the better. Give the contestant three questions, say, of varying levels of difficulty, in a given category. They choose a level of difficulty, after which the question is revealed. If their subsequent answer is correct they get (100 less the number of questionees who answered the question correctly) points.

If they answer incorrectly, they get horsewhipped by Stephen Hawking in an "Aliens"-esque exoskeleton. No, if they answer incorrectly, another contestant can steal the answer or some such thing.

So, for instance, a contestant could face the following:
Easy: Cheyenne is the capital of which U.S. State?
Medium: Which Canadian city of over 100,000 people is the furthest north?
Hard: Lord Howe Island is administered by which country?

There may have been a game show along these lines, given the quiz show craze of the 1950s, but if so I'm not familiar with it. Next contestant.

Made in 1875

January 11th, 2010

"So I ordered this shipment of lead from China, and when it arrived I found that it was contaminated with toys and pet food!"

Once again, particularly if you have children, avoid buying things made in China. This time it's not lead - it's cadmium! Even more toxic!

Barred from using lead in children's jewelry because of its toxicity, some Chinese manufacturers have been substituting the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium in sparkling charm bracelets and shiny pendants being sold throughout the United States, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The most contaminated piece analyzed in lab testing performed for the AP contained a startling 91 percent cadmium by weight...

...On the CDC's priority list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment, cadmium ranks No. 7.

And, of course, their best domestic accomplice...

Three flip flop bracelet charms sold at Walmart contained between 84 and 86 percent cadmium. The charms fared the worst of any item on the stomach acid test; one shed more cadmium in 24 hours than what World Health Organization guidelines deem a safe exposure over 60 weeks for a 33-pound child....

"We consistently seek to sell only those products that meet safety and regulatory standards," Wal-Mart said. "Currently there is no required cadmium standard for children's jewelry."

An infuriating statement which is surprisingly common!

Two charms on a "Best Friends" bracelet bought at Claire's, a jewelry chain with nearly 3,000 stores in North America and Europe, consisted of 89 and 91 percent cadmium. The charms also leached alarming amounts in the simulated stomach test. Informed of the results, Claire's issued a statement pointing out that children's jewelry is not required to pass a cadmium leaching test.

Remember, if it's not illegal, it's okay! We've outsourced all moral responsibility to the government - and then fought to weaken or eliminate standards wherever possible!

I'd grouse about China, but they couldn't do it without their equally amoral buddies over here. DIAF, Wal-Mart.