Technology Run Amok!

Technology is a wonderful thing. It makes our lives simpler and more efficient, and has provided countless advances that have become essential to daily life. But with all of our technological advancements, we can become a little obsessed with “improving” things with technology that don’t necessarily need to be improved. Often, we go so far with our excitement about technological “advancement” that we add complexity to something that was previously incredibly simple. My lunch experience today was just one such occasion.

One of the partners at my firm and I decided to hit the local pizza buffet for lunch. We ordered up our buffets and drinks, grabbed our drink glasses, and were greeted by a jolly fellow standing at the soft drink machine. In the place of the usual five or six soda choices and the ice dispenser stood a machine with a single opening and one dispenser. Above it was a screen displaying multiple soft drink choices. The attendant happily gave us instructions on how to operate the soda fountain. Apparently it can dispense over 120 different flavors of soft drink. You touch your “base” soft drink on the touch screen, then select the variety of drink you want. For example, I wanted a Dr. Pepper. I touched the logo, and another screen appeared. I could choose between the original, Dr. Pepper Cherry, or Vanilla Dr. Pepper (I think). I just wanted my normal, everyday, original Dr. Pepper. Other choices, such as Diet Coke, had a much larger range of choices. It had cherry, vanilla, lime, raspberry, and maybe even orange.

It’s kind of a neat concept at first, but after about 1.7 seconds of thinking about it, you realize how silly this is. Wow, this soft drink dispenser now offers 120 different options! That’s so cool! Wait a second… No, it really isn’t. It just means that instead of pushing the lever under the Dr. Pepper spigot and receiving my Dr. Pepper menu, I have to navigate through touch-screen menu selections just to get the same soft drink choice that took me no time at all. I can’t even push the water lever; water has its own menu choice. Plus, those people who have zero decision making ability whatsoever will be paralyzed by the number of choices. What starts out as a refreshing beverage choice turns into an existential crisis! Oh, the humanity! Ultimately, this is just another area where technology makes a mundane experience that much more complex.

Speaking of technological complexity, the guys over at ESPN’s Baseball Tonight seem to have trouble working touch screens. God help you if you end up behind one of them at the soft drink dispenser!

Trains in the Distance

Every once in awhile, something happens that triggers incredible nostalgia for me. A brief whiff of a scent, a piece of music, a few words spoken and I’m transported into the past. It’s not always a particular memory, but an association with a certain place. For example, there’s a bird (a dove, I think?) that occasionally will sing in our backyard in the mornings. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported to Kenya, sitting on the porch of our safari “tent” after a morning safari adventure. I’m not sure if I ever heard a dove song (or whatever it was) in the Maasai Mara, but the sound of that bird puts me back in Africa. I love that feeling. Another happened to me this morning.

This morning while ambling about the kitchen in a trance-like state, I hear a train blowing its whistle in the distance. That’s not a particularly uncommon sound in our house, train tracks run nearby. In the still of the morning, the train was a little louder than normal. But it wasn’t the train’s whistle that transported me. No, it was what my wife did. She sang just one line, and poof, I was transported. She sang:

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance; Everybody thinks its true

The line is from Train In The Distance, a song by Paul Simon. I just read that it’s on the Hearts and Bones album, but I know it from Negotiations and Love Songs, one of Simon’s greatest hits albums. It’s music I grew up listening to in my parents’ cars. It became a tradition to listen to that album on trips to Colorado. We might not have listened to it for an entire year, but we made sure to have it on our drive to Colorado. The early-morning wake up call in Dalhart, Texas; stumbling to the suburban so that I can steal an hour or so more of sleep; waking up and hearing Paul Simon as we approach Sierra Grande in New Mexico. To me, hearing Paul Simon means the anticipation of seeing mountains in the distance, and the excitement when they finally appear. As I’ve grown, the tradition has stayed alive. Whenever my wife and I drive to Colorado, we make sure to have that CD on hand. As we cross over into New Mexico, we pop it in. It stays in the CD player usually all the way to Colorado Springs, if we take that route. Last time we went a little different way, taking 160 from Walsenburg to Alamosa, up 17 and 285 to Buena Vista and 24 all the way to I-70 near Vail.

So when my wife sang that one line from Train in the Distance, I was immediately back on the road to Colorado. It’s always a different road, though. This time I was transported to Highway 160, about halfway between Walsenburg and Alamosa, near Mount Mestas (oddly enough, part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, featured in Simon’s Hearts and Bones, another song on the album) and Iron Mountain. It’s early fall and the aspens are turning. A backdrop of deep-green pine provides sharp contrast to the bright gold of the aspens and browns of the grass in the valley. The air is clear without a cloud in the sky and the temperature is mild; the day is perfection. I’m captured by the natural beauty of the mountains. We turn north in the San Luis Valley, with the Sangre de Cristo Range to our East. The road is flat and straight, but the views continue to captivate me. Eventually the Sawatch Range will come into view, but for today I’m content with views of Blanca Peak, Mount Lindsey, and the golden beauty of changing aspens. And Paul Simon warns us that negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same.

Friday Funny: Star Treks & Recreation

I had planned on taking a week off from the Friday Funny post; it seems like most of what I’ve been posting recently have been either Movie Mondays for Friday Funnies. But, I just couldn’t pass this one up.

I’m a giant nerd. If you haven’t figured that out yet, then you’re not one of the six people who regularly read my blog (that number may have dwindled to two or three during my hiatus, I’m not sure). I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show will forever hold a special place in my heart, as those characters took me through my middle school and high school years. The show was something that my mother and I could have serious discussions about and helped strengthen our relationship during those oh-so-tumultuous teenage years.

This isn’t a recut or a mashup, it’s simply a scene from one of the shows with a laugh track added in. There are plenty of awkward humorous moments in the show, and this one is no exception. The laugh track works pretty well, I think. The “credits” set to the theme from Parks & Recreation just make it all the better. And to prove my nerddom, this is from the final episode of the series, “All Good Things…” Enjoy, and happy Friday.

Cowboys & Aliens: I Ain’t Sayin’ She a Gold Digger

A dilapidated gold rush town now run by a seemingly ruthless cattle boss. A lynch mob. A canyon ambush. And aliens. It’s all there in Cowboys & Aliens. The film delivers on the title in spades. But as the credits began to roll and I whipped out my phone to make my notes, I found myself not having a ton of things to type in for later. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was. Did I like it? Did it suck? Find out in a little bit. But first…

The Trailers
Mission Impossible 4 – Yep. When you go to the movies every week, you start seeing the same trailers over and over again.
War Horse – The trailer opens with “A Steven Spielberg Film” which grabs my attention. The rest of the trailer? Not so much. Lots of shots of a kid, and lots of shots of a horse. Not a lot of other details. Oh, it’s World War I.
Three Musketeers – How many times has this book been adapted for the silver screen? I don’t care. Milla Jovovich as M’Lady De Winter and Christoph Waltz (famously Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds) as Richelieu have me looking forward to this one. Plus, they’re going steampunk a bit it looks like. That can’t be bad, right? Right??
The Amazing Spider-Man – My Dad looks at me after this one is finished and says, “Really?” Exactly, Dad. Exactly.
Battleship – It’s the Milton Bradley game made into a movie, only the bad guy’s pieces are aliens. But hey, it’s got Tim Riggins from FNL in it so there’s that.
Tower Heist – A thuggish Eddie Murphy teams up with Ben Stiller to take down Alan Alda, a Bernie Madoff-like investment guru who stole a bunch of money. Oh yeah, it’s directed by Brett Ratner. I think I’ll pass.

The Movie
The movie starts out pretty much the same way the previews suggest – Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of nowhere in his long johns, not knowing who or where he is. He ends up in town at a bar, has a near-standoff with the unruly son of the local cattle baron, and gets locked up for being a wanted man. The unruly son gets locked up for accidentally shooting a deputy. Harrison Ford, the cattle baron, learns of his son’s plight and organizes a lynch mob to come and collect his son. It seemed like they were setting up Ford’s character to be the antagonist of the film, and if this movie had just been titled “Cowboys,” that probably would have been the case. But not long after Ford’s lynch mob arrives in town to collect his wayward whelp the real antagonist arrives and begins abducting the townsfolk in what appears to be the alien equivalent of round-up, complete with alien lassos. Daniel Craig manages to shoot one of the alien craft out of the sky with his mysterious bracelet-turned-alien-killer-thing. The townsfolk lose many to the alien abductors. Amongst the abducted are the Sheriff and Harrison Ford’s son. This, of course, forces Harrison Ford to team up with Daniel Craig, and they give the aliens a merry chase. All the while, the mysterious and striking Olivia Wilde hovers about, acting quite mysterious yet remaining striking throughout. You know she knows more about what’s going on.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the aliens are after one thing. It’s not us… It’s not our water… It’s not all of our natural resources, no. They’re after… Gold. Apparently, they love gold. It’s as rare to them as it is to us. As far as I remember, though, they didn’t really explain why they love gold, or why they need it. It also didn’t really explain all of the people round-ups that had been happening. If they’re after the gold, why round up all of the people? Snacks, I guess?

Throughout the film I kept thinking to myself that this was a movie with an identity crisis. Each time I thought that, I chuckled and was reminded that the movie is in fact called Cowboys and Aliens. I suppose I’d hoped for a better merging of the genres, something like Firefly. Firefly was a sort of “space western,” set in the future, but heavily infused with wild west elements. The thing was, given the premise of that show, it worked well. Here, it doesn’t work so well. The cowboy scenes are very cowboy… Open ranges, posses on horseback, your typical western fare. The “alien” scenes feel out of place. I simply think they could have merged the two better, instead of it being a case of dueling genres.

The Cast
This one had a solid cast. Daniel Craig was great as the bad-guy-turned-good and handled himself pretty well as a cowboy. At first I wasn’t really sure about his accent, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of talking so it works out fine. The film makes good use of Olivia Wilde, taking advantage of her striking features to make you think that something isn’t quite right there. Sam Rockwell plays the doctor-turned-saloon-owner who finds his courage and helps save the day. Harrison Ford’s does a good job, but it felt like the movie couldn’t quite figure out what it wanted to do with the guy. First he’s a ruthless cattle baron who will circumvent the law for a son he doesn’t care for at all. Next, we learn that he’s a grizzled civil war veteran that lost a bunch of men at Antietam while fighting for the Union. The problem is, we later learn that when he was a boy, he spent time with his father in Mexico. Did he grow up in the South and fight for the North? It’s confusing. After that, he serves as a father figure for no less than three characters. Despite all of that, Harrison Ford’s performance was my favorite of the movie.

All in all, this was a decent summer movie that felt like the filmmakers simply couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted it to be. The action sequences were well done, the effects were interesting, and the alien design was one of the more unique that I’ve seen in awhile. It had all the trappings of both a western and an alien invasion film, but it just doesn’t blend the two genres as well as it could have. Because of that, I ended up being a little disappointed.

Movie Monday: Cowboys & Aliens

Here we go. I’ve seen more trailers for this one than any other summer blockbuster, and frankly I was getting tired of seeing the same trailer over and over. I’m glad it’s finally here. I was about to say that I’m sure Rise of the Planet of the Apes will take over as the over-trailered movie, but it opens on Friday, so there’s no chance of that happening. At any rate, I’m looking forward to this one. There have been loads of trailers but not an incredible amount of details about the storyline or the characters that I’ve read so far, which is just the way I like it for movies that I’m anticipating. The less I know about it going in, the better. Plus, the movie isn’t being offered in 3D, which makes me oh so happy. Thank you, Jon Favreau.

As a side note, I’ve been seeing that the reviews for this one have been fairly mixed. However, I pay attention to reviewers only when I’m not entirely sure I want to see a movie, like I did with The Green Lantern earlier this summer. When there’s a movie that I know I want to see, I don’t care if the critics hated it so much that they threw tomatoes at the screen during their viewing. I’m still going to see it. As for the ones that I’m on the fence about, I’m probably going to take the advice that Jeremy offered several weeks ago: “Find a critic who likes the same movies you do, read him or her, and ignore the rest. Professional critics don’t judge on quality anymore. Instead, because they see 1800 movies each year, they look for something new and different, rather than just plain enjoyable.” I need to do that. Find a couple of critics that see movies the way I do and trust their judgment on movies about which I’m on the fence.

My thoughts on Cowboys & Aliens coming your way late tonight or tomorrow. Cheers!

Friday Funny: Boogity Boogity Boogity, Amen.

Another excellent autotuning job by the Gregory Brothers. Here they turn their talents on the most ridiculous pre-race prayer of all time. Boogity, boogity, boogity, Amen.

Wait, what?!

Harry Potter and the Recut Trailer!

Recut trailers are one of my favorite things that the Internets have brought us. You also know that I’m a fan of both the Harry Potter books and films. So what would happen if you took two of my favorite things and combined them? This little gem that explains what would have happened if Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince had been a zany teen comedy instead of a dark, brooding piece about splitting your soul into seven pieces. Enjoy.

Captain America: World Police!

This one is a tough one for me. Despite my lack of knowledge of the lore of Capt. America, I admit that I was a bit excited by what I’d seen in the previews and went into this week’s entry in the Movie Monday series with some anticipation. It was a solid origin story that had a bit of heart, a bit of humor, a bit of romance, and even a bit of tragedy to it. But did it live up to the expectations that I had going in? Read on and find out. But first…

The Trailers
Cowboys & Aliens – Comes out next week. Thank goodness… I’ve seen this trailer too many times. They have one advantage… They underestimate Daniel Craig. If that’s really true, they’re screwed!!
Abduction – Some guy from Twilight tries to be Jason Bourne. Yawn… Wait, what the heck are Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver doing in this movie? Oh well. Yawn.
Mission Impossible 4 – Same preview from a couple of weeks ago.
Adventures of Tintin – Directed by Spielberg. But I spent the whole trailer trying to figure out whether or not it was entirely CGI (the first shots didn’t look like it). It was. I wasn’t captivated.
The Amazing Spider-Man – Um, didn’t we do this about ten years ago? Ten years is long enough for a reboot? Oh well… I’ll probably see it. Maybe.
John Carter – What is this I don’t even… Teaser trailer. Made no sense to me whatsoever. Is it supposed to be hype?

The Movie
Before I get into the movie, I have to tell you that this was the worst moviegoing audience I’ve experienced in quite awhile. If you want to know my feelings on people who talk in movies, you can read a post I wrote a long time ago (aside: it seems I forgot to do any follow-ups with my moviegoing etiquette series. I shall have to think upon that.). Anyway, it was bad. I walk into the theater (the second largest at the cinema I attend for Movie Mondays) and am surprised that the theater has a decent number of people in it. Nowhere near packed or anything; just enough people that I didn’t have the row to myself. I pick a row and settle in for the pre-trailer entertainment. About five minutes later a couple enters, hikes up the stairs to my row, and ask me if the seats near me are taken. I politely tell them that the seats are free, thinking that the couple will take the seats two or three down from me. They don’t. They sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME. What’s worse – this is the work of the male half of the couple. Didn’t this guy ever learn the whole guys-never-sit-next-to-each-other-unless-there-are-no-seats rule? Good lord! The problem is, I’m trapped. I followed the aforementioned rule, so there wasn’t space for me to move over on my left. I suppose I could have relocated, but why should I give up my choice seat? It didn’t get better from there. The family behind me spent the first 45 minutes of the movie smacking and crunching on their snacks, loudly chatting to each other, and guffawing uncontrollably at the mildest humor. To top it off, there were no less than three toddlers in the theater, one of which babbled nonstop at the top of her lungs, completely unchecked by whatever guardian brought her to the movie. I expect this kind of audience at a weekend showing, but on a Monday? It was surreal.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Where was I? Oh yes…
The Movie
The movie’s setting is World War II, and as the introduction unfolds we’re introduced to our hero, a puny young man that is bound and determined to join the army in his father’s footsteps. The problem is that he’s tiny and has a laundry list of ailments that prevent him from being able to enlist. This catches the eye of the Einstein-esque Stanley Tucci, a German-born scientist helping the U.S. Army with its super-soldier program. Of course our hero would catch the scientist’s eye; I mean, nothing screams super-soldier like a 120 lb. athsmatic wimp, right? The movie’s exposition is a bit of a hot mess. We have some training scenes that show just how physcially unfit our hero really is, coupled with some run-of-the-mill basic training humor and a few genuine moments that draw us into the movie. We get to the transformation point where our hero is turned into Captain America, and suddenly the plot takes an unexpected – and unnecessary – turn for the boring. After a strange war bond tour, things finally pick up and the movie gets rolling quickly. I won’t spoil anything else that happens, but it follows a standard action scene/”emotional” scene formula throughout the rest of the film.

The action sequences were solid. The special effects were quite good, but the blending of future tech in a 1940s environment seemed a little bizarre. I didn’t flinch at laser rifles and mythical power sources, but the fact that everybody had surveillance video left me scratching my head. Then there was Captain America’s shield, a disc made of unobtanium (or the Marvel equivalent, anyway) that had mystical properties of its own. Lighter than steel and both bullet- and laser-proof, the shield also had amazing boomerang qualities as well, rebounding off of its target and sliding back onto the Captain’s arm as though it belonged there. Predictable and a little humorous, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. The best effects of the film, I felt, were in the first 30 minutes of the film where they borrowed a page from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings to make the Captain appear small and weak compared to the other actors. It was a good effect that had me believing that Chris Evans was actually that small.

Despite its predictability, I found myself thinking that it was a good summer movie. In this case, though, good is the enemy of great. The whole time I felt like it had the potential to be a really great movie, but on most fronts it failed to achieve that greatness. It had potential for some really gut-wrenching emotion, and while it achieved some success with a touching moment or two, the movie largely leaves the potential untapped. I just never cared all that much for any of the characters; it’s a shame because they made me want to care but failed to bring it home emotionally. In retrospect, I’m really disappointed in that. There was potential for some real emotion, but the film took the shallow, summer blockbuster route instead of exploring the depth of emotion that it could have.

The Cast
Chris Evans did a fine job as the Captain, but it was the supporting cast that I enjoyed the most. Hayley Atwell is lovely in the female lead; her Peggy Carter is a strong female that feels a little bit before her time. Tommy Lee Jones is our cranky colonel and plays his role well enough. Hugo Weaving as a villain is refreshing to see again, and his turn as Red Skull is pretty good. Stanley Tucci’s performance was my favorite, though. His German scientist looking to make right his past wrongs is genuine and his caring for the pre-bulk Captain is believable. The rest of the supporting cast is standard summer blockbuster faire. We have our “band of brothers,” the Captain’s unit. They even got Buck Compton, who sported a thick mustache and… a bowler hat? That was a weird addition. The unit itself was a model of diversity: you had the rough-and-tumble Asian guy from Fresno, the Frenchman, the bowler-wearing Buck Compton (was he supposed to be Irish? He kinda looked it but I’m not sure), and the trilingual African American. It was classic summer blockbuster caricature; nice and diverse, and completely wrong for the 1940s.

I think caricature is a good way to sum up this one. It’s not quite so over-the-top as Transformers, and it’s good enough that you can see the potential the story contained. But wherever the choice between great & subtle versus good & caricature is presented, the movie always goes with the caricature. It’s still a good summer blockbuster and has wider range than Transformers. While I was left slightly disappointed, in the end I enjoyed myself and Captain America: The First Avenger has me looking forward to next summer’s full Avengers movie.

Old Spice Guy Throwdown!

Hello ladies. It’s shocking to me that I’ve never written or posted about one of my favorite ad campaigns in recent memory, the Old Spice Guy campaign that started as a couple of hilarious commercials and exploded into a social media frenzy when the Old Spice Guy started responding to people’s emails, tweets, and comments with videos on Youtube. It was great.

Recently, though, Fabio has apparently become the New Old Spice Guy. His commercials are, in my opinion, vastly inferior. I’ve been waiting for some sort of throwdown between Old Old Spice Guy and New Old Spice Guy. Well, today Fabio threw down the gauntlet. Check it:

The greatness, though, is that it hasn’t taken long for Old Old Spice Guy to respond to the challenge, and he’s done so in a manner only befitting The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. Apparently the duel will go down tomorrow at noon eastern, live at internet stadium. Check out his challenge accepted response:

It’s Mano a mano in el baño.

Movie Monday: Captain America

This week’s selection is the latest movie to hit #1 at the box office – Captain America: The First Avenger. While I never collected any comics with Captain America as a central figure, this film is one of the ones I’ve been looking forward to this summer. And that shield is universally recognizable. I’m looking forward to it, with one minor hitch in my plans. The non-3D showings of the movie are at 5:10 or 8:30. There’s no way I’m going to the 8:30 showing, and I’ll barely be leaving work at 5:10. None, I repeat none, of the theaters around me have the movie in standard 2D at a time that I can see the film. Do I see it in 3D, despite having railed against the technology last week? I’d be okay with seeing it in 3D if it had been shot in 3D; but alas, it’s one of those films that has been upconverted to 3D. Which means that it’ll suck. I don’t know what to do.