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  • REVIEW: TRON - Legacy unworthy

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    I am sorry to report that TRON: Legacy is not very good.

    End of line.

    First a disclaimer - the original 1982 Tron is a favorite from my childhood.  I appreciate the film for both the fantasy world it revealed to my imagination, and as a pioneering achievement - a landmark in the development of computer-generated special effects.  But just like with the original Star Wars films, when effects were still expensive to produce, it still had to have a coherent story and decent acting.

    But as we’ve seen with the new Star Wars flicks, you don’t even need that anymore.

    With computers making anything possible onscreen, the new Star Wars flicks should have come with air-sickness bags for all the distracting, churning experiments of how many effects could be stuffed into each square inch.  And as the number of effects went up, the attention spent on trivial matters like dialogue and acting went down.

    A quick plot summary:  The events in TRON: Legacy follow the original Tron.  Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is the head of Encom, Inc. and father to young Sam Flynn.  One night Kevin goes off to work and disappears.  Fast forward 20 years and Sam is a young man (Garrett Hedlund).  A young, angry, misunderstood, very-rich-rebel-without-a-cause young man.  Did I miss any cliches there?  I can assure you the film didn’t.  One night after a family friend receives a mysterious “page” Sam goes and checks his Dad’s old office and finds a secret computer lab hidden behind an arcade game.  A computer lab he found in five minutes apparently went undetected in 20 years of searching for his father - we’ll talk a bit about the plot holes later.  Sam messes with the computer and gets imported to the computer world where he finds the old man as well as the Villain - “Clu” - a program created by Kevin in his younger days, and the computer-enhanced 30-year old Jeff Bridges seems to be generating the most buzz about this flick.  Father, son and a spunky tomboyish love interest for Sam, Quorra (Olivia Wilde) team up to free the grid from Clu’s tyranny.

    TRON: Legacy manages to rip off, er, pay homage to a number of sci-fi classics, in particular Blade Runner, The Matrix, Star Wars and 2001 just to name a few.  In trying to be all things to all people it develops no identity of its own, leaving no cliche unturned.  Seriously, I lost count of how many times Clu bellows at his inept henchmen, “FIND THEM!” and Take her away!”

    An indifferent plot line slows things down too.  We know they’re on the run because they’re running, but it’s not entirely clear why they’re running, or what they’re running to.  Clu supposedly has some evil plan to take over the world, but it was some generic “threat” - I don’t recall what the actual evil plan was.  Clu could have been much more fun if he had been a bit more, well, EVIL.  As a machine with no understanding of or respect for life, he could have been a savage, relentless cruel machine not unlike a Terminator, but with a bit of humor.  This could have been a character you could have built the film around, like Alan Rickman’s fun rendition of the Sheriff on Nottingham.  What an opportunity lost with this milquetoast Clu  Here, we’re told he’s a bad guy, but other than chasing down our heroes he’s never really seen doing something bad, other than executing an obnoxious minion, which you’ve seen in pretty much every James Bond movie.  

    Gaping plot holes?  We got ‘em! (SPOLIER ALERT!!!! - - -  If Clu and his cronies could go search Kevin Flynn’s apartment anytime they wanted, why would they not have simply gone there before now to take the disc?).  - - - SPOLIER ENDS  There’s some sort of quasi-religious theme going on too, kind of like the Force, with Flynn as the wizened old Jedi Obi Wan Lubowski.  It brings to mind the image of a tug-of-war among a circle of people - with everyone pulling in different directions, the center moves nowhere.

    But what about the effects?  The action?  Well, there are some pretty cool scenes, but you’ve already seen most of them in the trailer.  The film is so DARK for the sake of being dark (and not in a cool noirish style like Blade Runner) that sometimes it’s hard to see a lot of detail when cycles and gliders are racing by.  About 45 minutes in, the whole thing just seems to meld into a monotone palette of greys, blacks and dark blues.  The action is fine but there’s not enough of it to make this a bona fide “action” flick, and it just doesn’t seem to have heart.  By “heart” I mean like the dogfight at the end of Star Wars, like the Raiders of the Lost Ark truck scene, like the lightcycles from the original Tron.  The action here seems market-tested with nothing new - there should have been something pioneering, a real tribute to the original.  Instead it reeks of “safe” and “formula.”

    As a fan of the original, when I watched it I found myself trying to make excuses for it, asking myself what I liked about it. Well.  Um.  The soundtrack from Daft Punk IS pretty killer and atmospheric - it brought Vangelis’ score from Blade Runner to mind.  And, uh, that’s about it.  I’m a big Jeff Bridges fan but here it just seems like he’s phoning it in.  I really couldn’t find anything redeeming about it, and I was really pulling for this to be a good one.

    TRON: Legacy fails on a level close to that of the three newer “Star Wars” flicks.  What these films have in common is not only the failure of the film itself, but the watering-down of the originals’ reputation.  BTW, stand by for a marketing catastrophe as Disney has already committed to throwing good money after bad - a sequel and a TV series have already begun production without waiting to see how the first one was received.  Jobs will be lost over this.

    On my famous “These Go to 11” scale, I give it a 4.75.

  • Myth America

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    When a myth is repeated often and for a long time, people will sometimes begin to accept it as truth, even though it has no basis in fact.  When I was in the Marine Corps, I frequently heard people talking about how docile children’s show host Mr. Rogers had been a deadly Marine sniper, who always wore long-sleeve shirts and sweaters later in life to cover the tattooed hashmarks on his forearms denoting his kills.  I must say I was a bit disappointed to learn it wasn’t true (Snopes also ruined Santa Claus for me) - I had heard it repeated so many times by so many different people, I had thought “How could it not be true?”

    Today I’d like to dispel a myth that some on the right have gotten quite a bit of mileage out of lately - the myth that giving a tax cut to the richest creates jobs.

    Let’s say you’ve got a factory owner, and she has 300 workers.  Why does she have 300 workers?  Because, if she’s a smart businesswoman, this is the minimum needed to get the job done - she can fill all her orders and keep her payroll as low as possible.  If business is bad and orders go down, she may lay some people off and have 275 workers.  If business is booming and the orders are flying in, she may hire some more people and have 325 workers.  But the number of her workers is always dictated by market demand for her product.

    What the Republicans would have you believe - and they’ve managed to pull this wool over a lot of people’s eyes - is that if you give her a million-dollar tax break, she’ll suddenly go out and hire a bunch of people she doesn’t need.  For you to swallow this, you have to buy into the idea that this savvy lady will take this windfall and, rather than save it, use it to voluntarily drive up her own payroll costs with no increase in business to justify it.  Would someone who makes a decision like that stay in business very long?  Do you honestly believe this is what a successful business person would do with all this extra money?  “Yeah, I really don’t need ‘em, but I just wanna help out the economy so I just hired a bunch of folks to stand around and do nothing...”

    Then they’ll try to put lipstick on the pig and sell it to you again - the right-wing will tell you that if you give the rich a tax cut, they’ll expand their businesses and reinvest.  It’s the exact same thing: You mean to tell me that a smart businessman (it’s a guy now), given a bunch of money, would go buy machinery he doesn’t need, or expand his factory for no reason?  In the real world - no.  In the fantasyland the GOP lives in, well, maybe.  I frankly find it hard to believe that such highly-educated people can buy into this - a much more plausible scenario in my mind is that they don’t believe it themselves, but shake their heads in amazement when other people lap it up, and they can so readily employ it to deceive people into rallying for a big juicy payday for those who need it least - a nice big Thank You present for those who put them in office.

    And what’s even more cynical about it, this whole “tax-cut-for-the-rich” scam is being passed off under a cloak of “patriotism” and “values” and other noble-sounding words.  As if there’s some great principle at stake and these godly men are the last line of defense between America and the void.  The future of the Republic is in peril if the rich are not given more money.  Greed.  Plain and simple.

    I have heard right-wingers literally scream that the government is not giving money to the rich - it is their money to begin with.  While this statement is literally true it is actually a wordgame.  The $5 in my pocket does not belong to the fast-food burger joint, but if I wish to receive something of value (arguably), such as a burger, I have to give them the money in exchange.  This brings us to something the right-wingers do not like to acknowledge - the government is not “stealing” their money, these wealthy-types never miss an opportunity to ham it up in the victim role.  They are receiving great value for this money.  

    The right-wing likes to talk out of one side of its mouth about how great America is and how much they love it and blah blah blah.  But talk is cheap and the moment they are asked to contribute in a real way to keeping this country great (i.e. paying their taxes) they are quick to gripe.  Your taxes is the rent you pay to live in the greatest country on Earth.  People pay a lot of money for a house on the beach - they pay a lot less money for an apartment in the ghetto.  There’s a reason for that.  If you don’t want to pay taxes to live in the United States, then you can pay lower taxes in a country with a lower standard of living.  Otherwise, quit your whining and pay your taxes!  Why is it that those who have the most money complain the loudest?

    And these people don’t just get the quality of life in the US - they get the quality of life of a wealthy person in the US - and they still can’t just be grateful for their good fortune and contribute to their country.  Omigosh!  Some of that money might go to someone living in a ghetto!

    And as if this was not already galling enough, the Republicans have declared that there is no greater challenge facing our country, there is no situation more dire than the one facing our wealthiest Americans.  The need to give an unfathomable mountain of money to the people who need it the least far outweighs all the other stuff these people talked about during the campaign, like health care, education, immigration, fiscal responsibility, etc.  It is so crucial, that all other business concerning the American people must be shut down until our rich friends are taken care of.  And we’re gonna hold our breath until our faces turn blue.

    Let’s say you hired somebody to do a job, and their first day at work they plopped their butt down in their chair and demanded that they would not do one shred of the work you hired them for until you give them a big fat raise.  Would that person be working for you for long?

    There’s another part of the myth that tax cuts for the rich create jobs.  If a right-winger can find any period in history, no matter how brief, in which taxes for the wealthy were cut and jobs were created, they will point to that as though it settles the argument.  This is a confusion many people make between “correlation” and “causation.”

    Let’s say a study comes out with shows that people who drink coffee have a higher rate of lung cancer than non-coffee drinkers.  Some people might hear that and draw the conclusion that coffee causes lung cancer, but they would be mistaken.  There exists a correlation between coffee-drinking and lung cancer, but that does not necessarily mean that coffee causes the higher cancer rate.  Let’s say that further studies reveal that people who drink coffee are more likely to smoke and to congregate with other smokers, exposing themselves to second-hand smoke.  Now we see more clearly the cause of the lung cancer, and it is not the coffee.

    If taxes for the wealthy are cut during a time that market forces are creating jobs - entirely independently of the tax cut - then while those two things happened at the same time, you cannot say the tax cut caused the jobs to materialize.  Every day when my alarm goes off the sun comes up, but my alarm clock does not cause the sun to rise.

    Tax cuts for the wealthiest do not create jobs, but the Republicans sure are glad that a lot of people can be misled into thinking they do.

  • Careful what you wish for

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    I am SO glad the GOP is throwing a tantrum, refusing to eat their green beans and shutting down the gov't until the American people cough up a tax cut for the richest people in the country (who happen to be friends with the Republicans).  Fortunately, the voters will finally see through the charade and realize the right-wing doesn't support them unless they're wealthy.  I mean, I'm sure they can see this obvious truth by now - right?

     

     

    How can ANYONE not see this for what it is?

  • How low can you go?

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    It seems no matter how low taxes go, the GOP, hiding their greed behind the more noble-sounding "small government" mantra, always complain it's not enough.  Does such a number even exist in the physical universe?

    Sean on non-existent tax rate the GOP would agree with.

  • Joe Miller is a screaming LIBERAL!!!

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    So, do you think any of the Tea Party-types are feeling duped yet?  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

    Sean Patrick on Tea Party values

  • Wiiiiiiiiiiiii!

    Posted by Sean Patrick

     

    I took a step into the next dimension of exercise today, and it was pretty cool.

    The wife and I recently purchased a Nintendo Wii and on Black Friday we picked up the Wii Fit Plus expansion pack (and saved 30 bucks on it too!).  Today I hooked up the included Balance Board, a white plastic platform about the size of an open phone book, which is actually a wireless controller that you stand on and operate with your feet.  It’s very sensitive and can detect even slight shifts in your weight from foot to foot.

    So I hooked up the board and after a few questions got started.  The program has different categories of exercises - Strength Training, Aerobic, Yoga and Balance Games.  I figured I’d get started with some of the simple Balance Games.  One of them involves being a soccer goalie and having to move your character’s head to the left, right or middle to block soccer balls while avoiding some other flying objects.  You control your player by quickly shifting your balance to the left, right and middle.  This is not as easy as it sounds.

    The first time I tried it, I had both my feet flat on the board and I didn’t do very well.  I quickly realized that you have to stay up on the balls of your feet, your heels slightly lifted, to be able to shift your weight back and forth so quickly and precisely.  It was a sort of exercise I’d never done before, and I felt challenged to get a higher and higher score.  Afterwards I felt soreness in places I’d never felt soreness from exercise before, largely through the muscles and tendons all through the bottom of the feet, from having kept them tensed for so long.

    I have always been kinda old-school when it comes to exercise.  I lift free weights and for cardio it’s usually a treadmill or stair-stepper.  When some fancy-schmancy gizmo comes along, I’m skeptical.  But I gotta tell you - this Wii Fit thing looks great!  I can’t wait to delve into it deeper and start really breaking a sweat in my living room, without the hassle of driving to an expensive gym.

    Then I thought about where it goes from here.

    Imagine a not-too-distant future in which all fitness equipment, from dumbbells to weight machines to treadmills, are fitted with sensors and wireless communicating with a central computer.  You get to the gym and tune your headphones to your frequency, and there’s your computer trainer, guiding you through your customized workout based on your fitness level and goals.  Maybe it instructs you to a treadmill for a 5 minute warmup, and as you use the machine it monitors your speed as well as your stride, gently correcting poor form.  Then your “trainer” urges you to a pair of dumbbells and a bench, and encourages you through a few sets of shoulder presses, all the while checking your form, speed, the weight being used.  With computer precision these workouts can be calibrated finely.  A 65-year-old recovering from back surgery would have a workout tuned for that, while I high-schooler who wants to go out for the football team as a wide receiver is given a routine to develop the speed, muscle and balance that position requires.
    Also, waiting for equipment would virtually become a thing of the past.  As the gym's central brain would know exactly what equipment was being used at any time, it would coordinate everyone's workout and efficiently cycle people in and out of the various stations.  When someone finishes on a treadmill for example, opening up a slot, it would then direct someone else who needs it over to that machine, allowing a little extra time for wiping the machine down in between uses.  This system would also be a boon for the gym operator - it would monitor the usage of each piece of gear and alert the owner when certain pieces require preventive maintenance and prevent equipment failures.

    Imagine such equipment and technology being available to every kid in America, every kid playing video games that get them in shape.  Imagine every kid having access to such training knowledge to allow them to start training, making real progress early, towards their fitness goals.  Over the course of generations, could this actually raise the overall physical fitness of the nation?

    I’m sure much greater minds than mine have pondered this, and I can only presume such technology is in the works.  It’s exciting to think of the impending revolution in fitness - the melding of knowledge, technology and sweat on the horizon.

     

  • Interview with Cedar Point Dir of Maint. & New Const. Ed Dangler

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    Coaster buffs like myself will enjoy a full 30 minutes with Ed Dangler, Director of Maintenance and New Construction at Cedar Point.  Topics include various coaster wheel assembly arrangements, launch and restraint systems, how coasters and maintained and repaired, the process through which Cedar Point decides what to build and how to build it and much more!

    Coaster talk with Ed Dangler, Dir of Maint & New Const at Cedar Point

  • Famous for being famous

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    And that's all I have to say about that...

    Now I know who Sarah Palin reminds me of!

  • College football is the new Phish show!

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    I have seen the hippie jam band Phish 18 times.  That sounds like a lot, but a big part of that is that with their free-form improvisational style, every show is unique, has a different character.

    The first time I saw them, I had never heard a note of their music, but went to check them out on a friend’s recommendation.  I hustled into the toasty warm legendary Roseland Ballroom in New York City on a frosty February night in 1993, and from the opening notes I was totally blown away with the music and the playing.  For their first encore, the band members wheeled some large object covered with a sheet out on stage.  Suddenly, the PA speakers are full of a wailing harmonica, the sheet is whipped off to reveal Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, wheelchair-bound at the time from a motorcycle accident.  Soon after, they topped even that when they closed the show with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” but rather than Phish bassist Mike Gordon holding down the bottom end, there was some older guy playing bass.  I later found out that was Noel Redding, Jimi’s original bassist!  To this day, that first Phish show remains the best!

    The second best would have been the third time I saw them.  A huge fan now, when I learned they were coming to Kalamazoo’s State Theatre in the summer of ‘94, I was able to finalge a TV interview with them before the show.  After conducting an embarrassing, gawking-fan interview, I asked singer-guitarist Trey if they would play a favorite of mine I hadn’t seen them do yet, “Run Like an Antelope.”  Before the show I breathlessly boasted to all my friends that if Phish played Antelope that night, it was because I requested it!  Sure enough, second song into the second set, I got my Antelope!

    I used to see them a few times every year, but I don’t go to as many Phish shows these days, partly because I’m just too busy, and partly because I’m just not into the scene like I used to be.  Don’t get me wrong, their music is still incredible, and guitarist Trey Anastasio occupies a spot in my personal Hall of Fame alongside Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen.  I just don’t get to shows like I used to.

    This morning I realized that I have replaced my jones for Phish shows with college football games.

    I would amaze other Phishheads about great shows I’d been to, the times I’d seen “You Enjoy Myself,” the vacuum cleaner and trampoline gags, the time I had fourth-row mail-order tickets at the Palace and they played the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

    Working in sports radio, I now have the opportunity to go to several college football games - great games - and this is where I’d rather go now than to Phish shows.

    Now I amaze other sports fans with big games I’ve been to.  Like being on the sidelines when Michigan State faked the field goal in overtime against Notre Dame.  Like being in the pressbox for the last three Michigan-Michigan State games.  Like being on the field at Notre Dame last week when Western played there.  And next week heading up to Mt. Pleasant to shoot pics at my third straight Western-Central game.  These are my new Phish shows, and the press credentials I collect in my file cabinet are my new scrapbook of concert ticket stubs.  Every game unique, just like a Phish show.  Without the patchouli.

  • Environment or Jobs? How 'bout both!

    Posted by Sean Patrick

    To say that being environmentally responsible automatically costs jobs is a false argument put forth by industries with an agenda.

    Sean Patrick on Economy vs Jobs