Goodbye, Dave

Posted on May 18th, 2015 in Commentary,Entertainment,Television by EngineerBoy
Goodbye, Dave

Goodbye, Dave

Dear Dave,

In my youth I was a big fan of the Tonight Show, and watched Carson most nights. Then one day something strange happened – a new show appeared after Carson, with a new guy doing a new kind of show. The show was raw and unpolished compared to Johnny’s show, as was the host, a laconic smart-ass from Indiana called David Letterman.

But the show was funny. Laugh-out-loud funny, back in the day before LOL was a tingling on anyone’s typing fingertips. So my routine changed – whereas I used to stay up to at least see Johnny’s monologue, I started making sure I stayed up to see yours, which in many (if not most) cases led to me watching a good portion of the rest of your show.

And your show struck a chord with me. I mean, hit the nail right on the head. I love absurd humor. I don’t hold celebrities in reverence, and prefer to see jerks and idiots treated as such, as long as they are willing participants. Your show became the double-edged sword of entertainment – anybody who was anybody needed to go on your show, because it was good business. But, they got no guarantees that they would be treated to softball questions or fawning segments, but instead got pulled off-script and into who knows what.

And it was great television. One segment that was particularly memorable for me, and which I think illustrates the kind of thing I loved most about your show, is your visit to the GE headquarters with a fruit basket to say ‘hello’ after they purchased your employer, NBC:

It was kind of a dick move on your part to show up in the GE lobby unannounced with cameras and a fruit basket, but it was also genius. And the message it sent to everyone (stars, agents, guests, executives) was that the show was first and foremost about being entertaining, and that everyone involved with or participating in the show needed to understand that the guy in the host chair had no hesitation to publicly piss off his new bosses, who sign his paycheck, so imagine how little he’s going to care about fluffing your ego when you’re in the guest chair.

Interestingly, over the years I derived a certain set of manners that you exhibited on the show, that belied your reputation:

You were unfailingly nice to children and did your best to make them feel successful and comfortable
You were unfailingly acerbic to jerks and idiots and did your best to make them feel ill at ease and unsuccessful
A guest’s reputation as a human being, not as a ‘star’, dictated your treatment of the guest
You treated your audience as if they were intelligent beings, and did not pander to a least-common-denominator that might improve ratings at the cost of toning down the show
Sometimes…well, sometimes you were just a jerk, but aren’t we all, sometimes?

In short, the ethos embodied

CleverDonkey’s Final 2012 London Olympic Power Rankings

Posted on August 12th, 2012 in Engineerboy,Politics,Sports,Television by EngineerBoy

London Olympics 2012

2012-08-12 Final Sunday Update

This year we once again tracked Olympic Power Rankings for the 2012 Games in London.  For reference, the 2008 final rankings are located here. The purpose of this chart is to look beyond raw medal count – who cares if countries with hundreds of millions (or even billions) of people win a lot of medals?  They should win a lot of medals, right?  The big question is, which country is kicking ass, pound-for-pound?  The answer is in the table below.

This table creates a weighted medal score by giving every country three points for each gold medal, two points for each silver, and one point for each bronze.  The country’s Power Rating is calculated by determining how many weighted medal points each country wins per 10,000,000 in population.  And to factor in economics, the population only includes those living above the poverty level (according to CIA poverty estimates).  Also, to eliminate the impact of outliers, countries with excessively large populations are capped at 300,000,000 and countries with exceedingly small populations have a floor of 2,000,000 for the purposes of calculation.

Below is the Sunday update, reflecting the final standings.  Congratulations to Hungary for taking the title of the most powerful Olympic nation, pound for pound.  The rest of the top ten are rounded out by Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica, Belarus, the United States, and the Czech Republic.

Well, that wraps up another Olympics, be sure to check back in four years because we will (probably) be tracking them again!




CleverDonkey’s 2012 Olympic Power Rankings
click column headers to sort up/down

Olympic Power Rank Country Old Power Rating New Power Ranking! Gold Silver Bronze Total Medals Weighted Medals Population (above poverty line)
1 HUN - Hungary 43.14 37.00 8 4 5 17 37 8,577,282
2 AUS - Australia 28.66 28.66 7 16 12 35 65 22,682,201
3 GBR - Great Britain 26.15 26.15 29 17 19 65 140 53,545,320
4 NZL - New Zealand 58.64 26.00 5 3 5 13 26 4,434,060
5 NED - Netherlands 25.37 25.37 6 6 8 20 38 14,978,787
6 CUB - Cuba 24.00 24.00 5 3 6 14 27 11,247,925
7 JAM - Jamaica 106.22 24.00 4 4 4 12 24 2,259,366
8 BLR - Belarus 34.81 24.00 3 5 5 13 24 6,895,247
9 USA - United States 8.44 22.50 46 29 29 104 225 266,579,208
10 CZE - Czech Republic 21.97 21.00 4 3 3 10 21 9,558,825
11 CHN - China 1.63 19.00 38 27 22 87 190 1,166,805,100
12 KAZ - Kazakhstan 18.23 18.23 7 1 5 13 28 15,361,812
13 DEN - Denmark 35.15 17.00 2 4 3 9 17 4,836,400
14 AZE - Azerbaijan 19.47 16.00 2 2 6 10 16 8,219,239
15 RUS - Russia 12.46 15.50 24 25 33 82 155 124,368,673
16 KOR - South Korea 15.01 15.01 13 8 7 28 62 41,293,000
17 SWE - Sweden 14.74 14.00 1 4 3 8 14 9,495,113
18 CRO - Croatia 36.95 13.00 3 1 2 6 13 3,518,302
19 UKR - Ukraine 12.49 12.49 6 5 9 20 37 29,632,961
20 GER - Germany 12.29 12.29 11 19 14 44 85 69,170,855
21 GEO - Georgia 29.55 12.00 1 3 3 7 12 4,061,333
22 ROU - Romania 11.98 11.98 2 5 2 9 18 15,024,877
23 FRA - France 10.93 10.93 11 11 12 34 67 61,298,300
24 SUI - Switzerland 13.51 10.00 2 2 0 4 10 7,403,871
25 LTU - Lithuania 32.68 10.00 2 1 2 5 10 3,060,192
26 NOR - Norway 17.91 9.00 2 1 1 4 9 5,025,600
27 ESP - Spain 8.91 8.91 3 10 4 17 33 37,040,929
28 KEN - Kenya 8.89 8.89 2 4 5 11 19 21,374,500
29 ITA - Italy 8.72 8.72 8 9 11 28 53 60,813,326
30 IRL - Ireland 18.45 8.00 1 1 3 5 8 4,335,898
31 CAN - Canada 7.91 7.91 1 5 12 18 25 31,591,858
32 SLO - Slovenia 38.79 7.00 1 1 2 4 7 1,804,673
33 SRB - Serbia 10.78 7.00 1 1 2 4 7 6,494,047
34 MGL - Mongolia 40.48 7.00 0 2 3 5 7 1,729,152
35 JPN - Japan 6.16 6.60 7 14 17 38 66 107,125,200
36 TRI - Trinidad and Tobago 54.86 6.00 1 0 3 4 6 1,093,703
37 TUN - Tunisia 5.84 5.84 1 1 1 3 6 10,268,196
38 PRK - North Korea 5.70 5.70 4 0 2 6 14 24,554,000
39 RSA - South Africa 5.54 5.54 3 2 1 6 14 25,293,379
40 POL - Poland 5.01 5.01 2 2 6 10 16 31,955,830
41 SVK - Slovakia 11.62 5.00 0 1 3 4 5 4,301,806
42 DOM - Dominican Republic 9.16 5.00 1 1 0 2 5 5,459,372
43 COL - Colombia 4.44 4.44 1 3 4 8 13 29,278,616
44 IRI - Iran 4.09 4.09 4 5 3 12 25 61,096,681
45 LAT - Latvia 19.32 4.00 1 0 1 2 4 2,070,371
46 ARM - Armenia 18.57 4.00 0 1 2 3 4 2,153,942
47 FIN - Finland 7.39 4.00 0 1 2 3 4 5,413,250
48 BEL - Belgium 4.31 4.00 0 1 2 3 4 9,286,674
49 GRN - Grenada 460.83 3.00 1 0 0 1 3 65,100
50 BAH - Bahamas 93.53 3.00 1 0 0 1 3 320,768
51 EST - Estonia 28.10 3.00 0 1 1 2 3 1,067,745
52 PUR - Puerto Rico 8.05 3.00 0 1 1 2 3 3,725,789
53 BUL - Bulgaria 5.21 3.00 0 1 1 2 3 5,759,094
54 BRA - Brazil 1.97 2.80 3 5 9 17 28 142,358,607
55 UZB - Uzbekistan 2.78 2.78 1 0 3 4 6 21,551,316
56 ARG - Argentina 2.49 2.49 1 1 2 4 7 28,081,967
57 ETH - Ethiopia 2.35 2.35 3 1 3 7 14 59,699,259
58 MNE - Montenegro 34.54 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 579,107
59 CYP - Cyprus 23.84 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 838,897
60 BOT - Botswana 14.08 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 1,420,645
61 GAB - Gabon 12.79 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 1,564,000
62 QAT - Qatar 11.77 2.00 0 0 2 2 2 1,699,435
63 MDA - Moldova 7.62 2.00 0 0 2 2 2 2,623,352
64 SIN - Singapore 3.94 2.00 0 0 2 2 2 5,076,700
65 GUA - Guatemala 2.95 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 6,768,331
66 GRE - Greece 2.32 2.00 0 0 2 2 2 8,630,152
67 POR - Portugal 2.31 2.00 0 1 0 1 2 8,660,523
68 TUR - Turkey 1.77 1.77 2 2 1 5 11 62,095,868
69 VEN - Venezuela 1.52 1.52 1 0 0 1 3 19,710,969
70 UGA - Uganda 1.40 1.40 1 0 0 1 3 21,410,870
71 MEX - Mexico 1.31 1.31 1 3 3 7 12 91,891,288
72 ROC - Republic of China (Taipei) 1.29 1.29 0 1 1 2 3 23,261,747
73 MAS - Malaysia 1.10 1.10 0 1 1 2 3 27,257,438
74 ALG - Algeria 1.05 1.05 1 0 0 1 3 28,567,000
75 BRN - Bahrain 8.10 1.00 0 0 1 1 1 1,234,571
76 KUW - Kuwait 2.79 1.00 0 0 1 1 1 3,582,054
77 TJK - Tajikistan 2.73 1.00 0 0 1 1 1 3,666,000
78 HKG - Hong Kong 1.41 1.00 0 0 1 1 1 7,103,700
79 THA - Thailand 0.83 0.83 0 2 1 3 5 60,175,617
80 IND - India 0.09 0.80 0 2 4 6 8 907,645,067
81 AFG - Afghanistan 0.61 0.61 0 0 1 1 1 16,320,064
82 EGY - Egypt 0.61 0.61 0 2 0 2 4 65,934,400
83 KSA - Saudi Arabia 0.37 0.37 0 0 1 1 1 27,136,977
84 MAR - Morocco 0.36 0.36 0 0 1 1 1 27,729,125
85 INA - Indonesia 0.15 0.30 0 1 1 2 3 205,963,737

How I went from loving to loathing TiVo…

Posted on August 28th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews,Technology,Television by EngineerBoy

I still *want* to love you, but you're losing me

Dear TiVo,

I read two articles recently that spurred me to write you this letter.  The first article described how at the end of July 2009 you had 3.05 million subscribers, but at the end of July 2010 you were down to 2.38 million.  Five years ago this would have surprised me, but not any more.

The second article was from your site, describing the spiffy new QWERTY TiVo remote with a sliding face and a full keyboard.  I was overjoyed by the news, as I’ve been waiting for a remote like this since I bought and activated my first TiVo back in 2002.  I read the article in great anticipation, wondering how pricey the remote would be.  Hm, $90.  Not unreachable, but seemingly a little steep, which would make it in keeping with everything else you sell.

But then I got to the last paragraph, where the last sentence read:

“The new remote will work with TiVo Premiere, Premiere XL, TiVo Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL boxes.”

No Series 1?  No Series 2 or Dual-Tuner?  Leaving us faithful early adopters behind again, are we?

Typical.  This is typical of everything I have come to expect from you over the years.  I still love TiVo-the-technical-solution, but with TiVo-the-company I have gone from love to like to not caring to being annoyed and, finally, to loathing, where I am today.

I now own and use 5 (count ’em) TiVos, but they are all Series 2.  My disillusionment began in earnest when you released the Series3 boxes, and included things like YouTube browsing that were not made available to Series2 owners.  Now, you had a story for why this was so, which was something about Flash, I think, but I didn’t (and still don’t) buy it.  If you had wanted to make it work, you could have.   But, you chose to have those features and functions be differentiators to try and get Series2 owners to upgrade.

So close, and yet so far away

And it’s continued to be that way over the years, up through the latest insult of not letting us have the new remote (pictured at left).  You continue to add new and improved features and functions, very few of which are made available to your existing base of owners, unless they have the latest and greatest.  Now, I understand this from a business perspective, as I work in technology, so I know that it’s hard to keep the installed base happy.  It’s very easy to add new features and functions to totally new and redesigned devices, and your bean-counters are happy to see the R&D and other expenses that go into anything that will grab new customers and dollars.

I can visualize the meetings where you discussed the strategy of

Iron Man 2 (***)

Posted on May 10th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

"If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him."

Iron Man 2 is a not-disappointing sequel, however it’s also not as entertaining as the original.  But, there have been only a very few sequels that equaled or surpassed their predescessors, so that’s not surprising. 

What was surprising, for me, was the understated performance by Mickey Roarke as Ivan Vanko (right), Iron Man’s nemesis with a family grudge in this installment.  Calling his performance “understated” is an…well…understatement, because Vanko is of course a larger-than-life comic book villain.  However, within that context, Roarke’s performance is carefully restrained and excellently realized.

Also well cast and well characterized are Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, head of a competing defense contracting firm, and Garry Shandling (Garry Shandling?!??!?) as Senator Stern, Iron Man’s foe in the Senate who is looking to have the government own (and exploit) the underlying Stark technology.  Scarlett Johansson also does a good job as Natalie Rushman, Tony Stark’s new assistant who is “from legal”.

The story…well…the story gets us from Point A to Point B very effectively, but it felt like a transition piece instead of a complete story.  That may be the way it has to be for movies based on comic books, since the comics have been around for decades and have much more story material than can be compressed into a movie (or two, or three).  However, it seems like a movie of this caliber should at least strive to end at a more momentous and climactic juncture.

The film-making is also sloppier than in the first one.  As an example, there is a sequence where Tony Stark appears as Iron Man at his own Expo (about the size of a World’s Fair) and is attacked by an army of drone robots.  These drone robots are similar to Iron Man, can fly, and are packed with advanced weaponry.  Iron Man takes off with the fleet of drones in hot pursuit, launching a continuous stream of weapon fire at him.  Does Iron Man fly as far away from the gathered expo-attendees?  No, he spends five minutes swooping and diving around the Expo, causing the drone-fire to strafe the crowds of innocent bystanders below, over and over and over and over again. 

He has no reason to hang around the Expo, there’s nobody he needs to rescue, nothing he needs to disarm or defeat, and if he had simply headed as far and as fast away from the Expo as he could he would have saved many, many lives.  In fact, after his 5 minutes of induced-strafing-of-the-innocents, he finally wises up and says something like, “Holy crap, I better get away from the Expo!”, and then zooms off.  Narcissistic personality disorder, indeed.

But, overall, it doesn’t disappoint, which is a bit of faint praise, but also a bit of a relief.  I really liked the first film, and was very worried that the sequel would go off the rails.  It didn’t.  It

Sherlock Holmes (***)

Posted on December 29th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Bound by Logic

Bound by Logic

We walked into Sherlock Holmes with the baseline hope of being entertained, and we were not disappointed.  Director Guy Ritchie has created a period/action/mystery film, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.  We could not recall a single other Guy Ritchie film that we’ve actually watched all the way through, as we typically find ourselves overwhelmed by the style but underwhelmed by the story, however in this case the film delivers on both counts.

The story revolves around a plot to return England to her glory days as the Empire, including re-absorbing the United States, weakened by the Civil War.  A secret society uses advanced (for the times) technologies in an attempt to give the appearance of supernatural powers, and to then rule by fear.  In a parallel thread, Watson is engaged to be married and is in the process of moving out of 221B Baker Street, much to the dismay of Holmes, who conspires to delay the passing of their close partnership.

Holmes and Watson, of course, work together to uncover the plot and foil the plotters, and the film ends with an obvious setup of the sequel, which will, of course, include matching wits with the infamous Professor Moriarty.

The style is a mash-up of authentic-looking old London combined with modern slow-mo, blow-up, near-super-hero-ish sensibilities.  This could have been a horrific combination, but Guy Ritchie keeps it all just enough in check so that things don’t spin into forehead-slapping territory.

Put it together and it was a solidly entertaining film, and I am looking forward to the sequel.  It wasn’t great or classic cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth, unlike with many (many, many) other big-budget, action-oriented movies.

Paranormal Activity (***)

Posted on November 1st, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Three's A Crowd

First, about the hype.  This is one creepy and disturbing movie.  It may not be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s in the top ten.  The fact that it delivers such a wild ride but was made for less than $20,000 borders on amazing.

The plot is simple – Katie has been sporadically plagued with things going bump in the night her whole life.  She now lives with her boyfriend Micah, and recently she has started noticing strange happenings once again.  Micah, being the typical male, figures that the best way to respond is to buy some new electronics, and so as the film begins he as just come home with a brand-new, high-def video camera and sound recorder which he proudly explains (multiple times) he has connected via firewire to his laptop to document the events.  Then, if they are actually happening they will have proof, but if the tapes show nothing, it will serve to help Katie understand that nothing is actually happening.

That seems reasonable, except for the fact that Micah’s meddling and problem solving only serve to piss “it” off, and so matters begin to escalate.  They consult a ghost expert, who is helpful and friendly, sort of like Tim Gunn if he were on Project RunAway!  However, once the expert figures out that the malevolent entity is a demon instead of a ghost, he gets the hell out of there, leaving Micah and Katie phoning for help from what appears to be the only practicing demonologist in Southern California (ha!), who conveniently happens to be out of town until after the movie is over.

The entire film takes place on their property, from the opening shots of Micah filming Katie pulling into their driveway, to random handheld shots around the house, typical family films from the backyard pool, and most disturbingly, tapes of them sleeping, filmed with the camera completely stationary on a tripod in the corner of the bedroom, in night vision.  Yes, that’s where the fun begins.

The film does a great job of ratcheting up the tension, night after night after night.  We learn from the film that since this is a demon who is fixated on Katie, it wouldn’t help for them to leave, because the issue doesn’t have to do with the house, but with Katie, and the demon would simply follow them.  So, they surf the web and read books and try to figure out what to do.  How successful they turn out to be I will leave as an exercise for the viewer.

The actors who play Micah and Katie do a great job of seeming like a typical, young, upwardly-mobile couple.  Their house looks freshly decorated, and doesn’t have a “lived in” look.  He’s a day trader, she’s a student, he plays guitar, she does bead-work and knitting.  They seem perfectly natural on-screen, just the way all of us look and act when self-consciously filming ourselves with home video equipment. 


The Ruling Class (****)

Posted on October 31st, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Jesus Christ, it's the 14th Earl of Gurney!

Jesus Christ, it's the 14th Earl of Gurney!

I am amazed that I had never heard of this film until very recently.  We watched it last night (via Netflix Watch Instantly), and it was one of the most profoundly absurd, amusing, and disturbing films I’ve ever seen.  If you think you may one day have any plans to see it, my advice is to stop reading reviews right now, and come back after you’ve seen it.

Part of the power of this film is that it starts out as what feels like a quirky little comedy, then evolves into a sort of absurdist satire of the English class system, takes a turn into the blackest of black comedy, and then…well…let’s just say that the longer you watch the stranger it gets, until the end when it will elicit from the viewer an involuntary “WTF?!?”, whether one likes the film or not.

And we liked it, very much.  Well, as much as a disturbing move can be liked, that is.  However, I wouldn’t give it a blanket recommendation to every potential viewer, because it’s just so…bizarre.  I’ll put it this way, if you think that a film that is sort of a combination of Eraserhead, Monty Python, A Clockwork Orange, Murder by Death, and Jesus Christ: Superstar sounds intriguing, then this might be a film for you.

The key ingredient that allows this film’s radical elements to coalesce into a near-masterpiece is the transcendent performance of Peter O’Toole, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather).  He enters the film sporting both the appearance of, and belief that he is, Jesus Christ.  When asked how he knows that he is God, he responds, “Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.”

If you find that quote witty and sublime, you might enjoy this film.  If you find it blasphemous and/or offensive then you may want to skip this movie altogether, because it only gets worse (or better, depending on one’s perspective) from there.  In another example, while reciting his marriage vows he promises to love his bride “…from the bottom of my soul to the tip of my penis.”  Again, if you think you could find that line funny in the proper context, this might be a film you would enjoy.

The basic storyline is that, after his father’s (jaw dropping) death, Jack (Peter O’Toole) returns to inherit his vast estate and title as the 14th Earl of Gurney.  Jack has spent the last few years in and out of asylums, as he is quite mad, but his powerful father would never allow him to be committed, as that would bring shame and disgrace on the family name.  Jack’s surviving relatives begrudge him the inheritance, and so plot and scheme to take control away from him.

That could be the synopsis for a benign and forgettable English parlor

Zombieland (***½)

Posted on October 3rd, 2009 in Commentary,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Zombieland Rule #1: Cardio

Zombieland Rule #1: Cardio

To survive in Zombieland, you have to follow the rules:

Rule #1: Cardio.  These are fast, famished zombies and they will run you down…unless you have speed and stamina.

Rule #2: Beware of bathrooms.  You’re exposed and encumbered, and there’s usually only one exit.

Rule #3: Seatbelts.  When you’re whipping around trying to run over and/or shake off zombies, you want to be sure that *you* stay put.

Rule #4: Doubletap.  Shoot ’em once to stop ’em, shoot ’em again to make sure they stay stopped.

And so on.  These are the first few of an ever-expanding set of rules that Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has derived for survival in Zombieland.  It seems that mad cow disease mutated into a more immediate and vile infection, one which causes the infected to become black-goo-spewing, human-flesh-eating, fast-running, not-very-smart zombies, who roam America looking for their next man-wich. 

Columbus is a nice young man who is trying to wend his way back from his dorm in Austin, Texas to his parent’s home in Columbus, Ohio (hence his nickname).  He meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is a hard-bitten, hard-driving, hard-hitting, zombie-killing machine (with a cool hat, more on that below).  The unlikely duo decide to join forces for as long as they can stand each other, and along the way manage to get conned by a couple of grifting sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who take the boys’ Escalade and leave them stranded.

The tale unfolds from there, and I won’t say much more about the plot.  Zombieland is both a zombie film and a comedy, and it does both genres very, very well.  It compares vaguely to Shaun of the Dead, but it has a much different vibe, and is better as both a zombie film and a comedy. 

And the laughs are big…BIG.  After the film, my throat hurt from the laughing and hooting I’d been doing throughout almost the entire film, which is amazingly short at 83 minutes.  There was even an eye-misting interlude shuffled in between the carnage and mayhem, which was suprisingly effective and well-done.

The film also earns its R rating, as the violence and gore are excrutiatingly high-def and are often presented in super-ultra-mega-slo-motion, so that you can practically count the droplets in the spray of zombie-ejecta, and count the shreds of flesh between their teeth.

However, if you can handle over-the-top-gore and convulsive laughter, then Zombieland just might be the picture for you.

Oh, and stay all the way through the credits.

The Real Deal

The Real Deal

Okay, now, about the hat.  Woody Harrelson’s character is wearing his hat (seen to the left) in virtually every single scene.  And I can tell you from direct experience that that is one cool hat.  It’s made by a company called Real Deal Brazil, and they make them from reclaimed/recycled tarps used on trucks that

The Informant! (***½)

Posted on September 18th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Lies Scene

Lies Scene

The Informant is a *real* movie, made the way movies should be made.  First of all, the script is amazing.  Second, the acting is phenomenal.  Third, the score is perfect.  Fourth, the costumes, locations, and make-up are flawless.  And fifth, the directing and cinematography are beautiful.

And sixth of all, it’s funny as hell!

The story is loosely based on the events surrounding the Archers Daniels Midland price-fixing scandal of the 1990’s, primarily involving lysine, a food additive.  Matt Damon plays a fictionalized version of real-life whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, a high-level ADM executive who turned informant for the FBI.

As imagined in The Informant!, Mark Whitacre is a mildly sociopathic, self-deluding, compulsive-lying, white-collar criminal.  When Whitacre blames his own failures on sabotage by competitors, the FBI is called in to investigate.  Lead agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) develops a rapport with Whitacre, and eventually hears about much bigger malfeasance being perpetrated by ADM themselves.  Whitacre’s wife guilts him into revealing the sordid details to the FBI, seemingly because it is the right thing to do.

And over the course of the next few years, Whitacre is run as an undercover agent by the FBI, wearing wires, eliciting damning statements from competitors and co-workers who are being secretly videotaped, and providing substantiating documentation of the global price-fixing being organized by ADM.  And, when they finally have enough evidence to convince the Attorney General’s office that the case is solid, they swoop in and make a bunch of arrests.

And then the fun really begins.  I won’t divulge any of the rest of the story, but suffice it to say that The Informant is an engaging and laugh-out-loud black comedy, made with near-perfect craftsmanship.  Matt Damon added 30+ pounds to meet director Steven Soderbergh’s one-word description of the look we wanted for the character – doughy.  Add the 80’s styled hair and porn-star-ish moustache, and Damon is transformed into a grifter extraordinaire.

And if there was an Oscar category for Best Stream-of-Consciousness-Narration, this film should win, hand’s down.  As played by Damon, Whitacre is placed into many stressful, dangerous, and scary situations, but his running mental commentary is…sublimely detached and egocentric, as if he was having an out of body experience, and while his body and voice stay engaged with the real world, his thoughts wander to trying to figure out how polar bears realized their black noses made them stand out against the snow, and so cover them with a paw while lying in wait for prey.  Did they see their reflection in the ice or the water?  Did they notice other polar bears were conspicuous with their black noses?  That seems like a lot of thinking for a polar bear.

It certainly does.  And this movie will cause a lot of thinking from the audience, because the story moves fast, the plot is serpentine, and there are no dramatic zooms or musical flourishes to alert the audience that

Moon (***½)

Posted on September 13th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Hello, It's Me

Hello, It's Me

If you think you might end up going to see Moon, I strongly suggest that you stop reading this (and all) review(s) and just go see it.  Really, you don’t want to know what happens before you see it.  Trust me.

However, I read reviews all the time for movies I’m planning to see, because how else is one to figure out which movies to see, particularly if you don’t have time to see as many of them as you would like?  So, for the benefit of those of you who are trying to figure out if you might like Moon, the following paragraph (and *only* the following paragraph) will represent my attempt at a spoiler-free review/guide.  Remember, the paragraph after this next one will start to reveal plot, so only read this next paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.

First of all, if you are looking for some light, late-summer fare to while away an evening with mindless entertainment, this isn’t it.  This movie is very challenging, the storyline is purposely confusing, the scope of the story is very small, and the ending is…well…not a typical Hollywood ending.  To give away a little of the flavor of the movie, it is set in the reasonably near future, and, as you may have guessed from the title, it has something to do with the Moon.  This is not a space opera (like Star Wars), it isn’t an breathtaking allegory of the ascent of man (like 2001: A Space Odyssey), and there aren’t any aliens (like Aliens).  All of the technology in this film is easily extrapolated by taking current technology and extrapolating it forward to the time the film is set.  And although the special effects are stunningly well-done, this is a movie based on the character(s) and their interactions with each other, and themselves, and the effects merely serve as just that…effects, not as the story itself.  And the story is incredibly well-done – well-written, well-acted, well-filmed, and well-directed.  So, if you can enjoy serious, small-scale character films that are well-done, and also just happen to be set in the future and off the planet Earth, this might be the film for you.

There, that concludes the generic review/recommendation, such as it is.  I know it contains some nuggets of information, but it couldn’t be helped – and, anyway, if you didn’t want to know about this movie you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place.

So, on to the more detailed review, which will also reveal the plot.

Again, please don’t read any further unless you want spoilers.

Not kidding now, here we go.

One last chance for you to go back.

Okay, if you’re still here, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the lone worker at a helium mining facility located on the far side of the Moon.  He has signed up for a three year contract to work there alone, with only a talking computer called

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