Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Good & Bad: '24: Live Another Day' (5/26/14)

Last week’s “24” ended with Jack Bauer about to be murdered by marines until CIA Agent Kate Morgan swooped in and was all “No way brah,” and made Jack her prisoner.
                This week’s episode opens with Jack still not murdered by marines, but Kate seems to have a pretty loose interpretation of what it means to make someone your prisoner. In Kate’s world, it means dramatically announce that you’re making someone your prisoner and then immediately give that person to someone you don’t know and abandon the area.
Jack survives Kate’s indifferent style of prisoner-taking, but he doesn’t do a heck of a lot else. He spends most of it off-screen, in transit from the US Embassy to where the President is hanging out. When he arrives, Jack gives President Heller the old “Bauer Way or the highway” speech about how to handle the whole killer drone situation. Jack’s way, in this instance, means letting Bauer get in touch with an arms dealer who works with Mama Stark and who probably knows where she is. Rather than put Jack back in the field, Heller chooses highway.
Jack is sent off to pretend to be cats with his former lady love Audrey and the pair rub their faces all over each other for an extended period of time.
Over in Mama Stark’s terrorist lair, she’s kinda bummed about that whole cutting off her own daughter’s finger to force her son-in-law to pilot the drones thing. Daughter Simone and son-in-law Naveed ain’t thrilled about it either. First chance he gets, Naveed scurries away to tell Simone he has set up a trap for Mama Stark: Apparently he left a video she made unencrypted so the Feds should be able to find their whereabouts pretty easy. Simone seems on board. But when the Feds, led by Kate’s ex-partner and also Benjamin Bratt, show up to raid what they think is Mama Stark’s terrorist lair, they’re drone-striked all to hell. Mama Stark totally knew about the double cross and she kills Naveed, putting an end to countless more hilariously doomed-to-fail plots. Simone has a chance to save her husband, but she doesn’t because Naveed is/was a miserable judge of character.
Mama Stark is pretty pleased though, as she has successfully managed to take control of six drones before the Feds, with help from Chloe, Michael Wincott and that flight key Jack liberated from the embassy, realize what’s up. Now she wants President Heller to turn himself in or she’ll drone-strike more stuff.
Sadly, Michael Wincott and Chloe part ways when he wants to stop helping the Feds, but Chloe is just too happy to be back into her old role as the voice in an attractive blonde person’s ear, only this time it’s Kate’s not Jack’s.
In one hour, President Heller loses control of six untraceable and heavily armed military drones to terrorists, has to admit this to the British Prime Minister, learns that his Chief of Staff has been keeping the downside of drone warfare (dead babies) from him, then has to watch on TV with said Prime Minister when one of those drones blows up the team Heller sent to reclaim them.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Contaminated water and short car rides: A game of life and death

I spent the better part of the last week like a contestant on “Survivor.” Only instead of a million dollars, the only thing on the line was life itself.
                For several days, my girlfriend, the two cats and I did all the usual “Survivor” stuff: We schemed, took part in challenges which tested both our minds and bodies and even boiled our own water.
                Well, at least one of those things is true. We boiled the hell out of a lot of water.
                What reduced us to such a primitive state? I can’t say for sure, but to the best of my knowledge:

  • There was a lot of rain, too much rain and something about sediment
  • Our water company, Pennsylvania-American Water, wasn’t able to keep up with scrubbing said water clean
  • This caused water levels in their tanks to drop to a level where bacteria could potentially grow
  • The world went ballistic

At first, we were told to conserve water. But then the next night the message went from “Hey, try not to wash your car more than twice this week” to “Ummm … keep that away from your face.”
                If we wanted some H2O to drink, clean dishes or brush our teeth with, we’d have to boil it, like our forefathers and our game show contestants.
                Some folks weren’t thrilled with Pennsylvania-American Water’s roundabout “It’s cool, you guys … uh … run” reaction to the situation.
I wasn’t all that surprised with the clunky communication. I mean, just look at the name of the company. It kind of sounds like something a person who was only loosely affiliated with the English language would come up with.
                Why is it American but not Pennsylvanian? That bothers me.
                Anyway, the highlight of the week came when Pennsylvania-American (ugh) decided to make amends to the very customers it tried to kill with its water by offering us more water. Naturally, we were suspicious.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Good & Bad: '24: Live Another Day' (5/19/14)

24: Live Another Day Hour 4

Plot: Oh my god, Gilligan made it off the island. Up is down, night is day and cats and dogs are storming a Bastille concert together. But more on that shocking turn of events later.
                This episode begins with Jack running amok in the US embassy in Britain. Sadly, unlike I first thought, this was not part of some grand extraction mission to bust the adorable and wrongly accused drone assassin Lt. Tanner out of US custody. Instead Jack just wants to get Tanner’s flight key to pass along to use as proof of a terrorist plot to take over drones – and sort of by proxy prove Tanner’s innocence. Tanner swoons when Jack believes his story – that someone took control of the drone he was piloting and used it to blow up soldiers – Jack gets the flight key, everybody wins. Well, until it becomes clear that the embassy-full of PO’d marines aren’t keen on just letting Jack walk out the front door and there ain’t no back door. Jack ends up locked in a basement communications center with three techs held hostage while he tries to transfer the info from the key to Chloe.
                Elsewhere, Simone and her husband Naveed engage in some fun pillow talk, if your idea of fun pillow talk involves terrorism, massive treachery and thousands, maybe millions of people dying. Naveed is no longer too keen on all that and he’s got his and Simone’s escape all planned out. Simone agrees to go with him and then literally two minutes later betrays him to her mother, Mama Stark, the head terrorist. For the first time that I remember, Naveed’s role in all this is explained: they need him to pilot the drones when they take them over. Naveed’s all “Not gonna do it” until Mama Stark cuts her own daughter’s finger to pretty well force him to do it.
                Back in the embassy, the marines are sick of bargaining with Jack so they decide to storm the com room. He’s still transferring the file because the American Embassy still has a dial up internet connection or something. Right before they do, CIA Agent Kate (Blonde Gilligan) drops from an air vent and in the face turn of the series so far announces she believes Jack and wants to help him. As the marines storm the room, she claims Jack as her prisoner and so they can’t kill him. They’re bummed.
                Also in the episode, President Heller goes from useful – wants to hear Jack out, convinces Parliament that drones are still cool, to completely useless when he’s manipulated by his slimy Chief of Staff into ordering the Marines to kills Jack. Just prior to that Jack and Heller have a fun phone conversation where Jack explains what I’ve been saying for three posts: Get out of his way, he’s always right. Oh and we swing by the CIA long enough for Benjamin Bratt to be no help with anything and to haphazardly introduce a Johnny Depp-bearded tech who is in love with Kate. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review: 'Godzilla' is back on the case and that is awesome

Releasing a movie about giant monsters stomping their way through the world’s major cities on the weekend of my birthday? Well gosh, that’s just about the best present a guy could ask for.
                I’m happy to report I won’t be needing a gift receipt as this latest incarnation of “Godzilla,” which was directed by Gareth Edwards off of a script from Max Borenstein, is a quite enjoyable entry into the 60 year-old (!) franchise.
                At the center of the chaos is Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a guy with a tough name and a tougher job: He disposes of bombs for the US Navy. When he was but a small boy with a tough name, his mother (Juliette Binoche) was killed in an meltdown at the Japanese nuclear power plant where both she and Ford’s father, Joe, (Bryan Cranston) worked.
                 Joe becomes obsessed with the idea that it was no accident that killed his wife and that the company that owned the plant is covering something up.
                Eventually, Joe gets busted trying to sneak into the still-quarantined area around the plant to search for clues. This forces now-adult Ford to leave his own wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their little boy behind and go get his father out of jail.
                Of course, Joe immediately goes right back into the quarantine zone – which is mysteriously not very radioactive – dragging Ford along for the ride and this time they both get caught.
                They’re taken to the old plant where they meet a scientist who’s been studying strange phenomena taking place at the plant and beyond for years, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). While there, Joe’s fears are confirmed: The company has been covering something up and whatever that something is, it’s about to wake up.
                From that point we do the usual monster movie stuff. Cities are destroyed, Ford struggles to get home to his wife and kid, the military hopes to nuke their problems away while Dr. Serizawa, who carries around a watch his father gave him which stopped during the Hiroshima blast, pleads for alternatives.
                I’m hesitant to get into much more detail than that because, at least to me, “Godzilla” has a few surprises up its gigantic sleeves and that’s a rare thing to pull off in today’s spoiler-loving world.
                So moving away from the story, the obvious question going in to “Godzilla” was, will it be better than last year’s “Pacific Rim” – a movie that so lovingly paid tribute to Godzilla and his giant beastly friends from yesteryear?
                Well, as good as this take on “Godzilla” is, it doesn’t quite manage to surpass “Pacific Rim.”
                Part of the reason, and part of the problem with “Godzilla,” is there’s just the teeniest, tiniest bit of giant monster fatigue coming so soon the heels of “Pacific Rim.” There’s a decent amount of crossover between the two movies in theme, look and action and so something that may have been a ten last year, maybe it’s down to an eight or nine this time around.
                There’s one scene in particular in “Godzilla” where something, not saying what, takes flight. It’s still awesome, but the exact same thing happened last year in “Pacific Rim” and when I saw it then, I was downright giddy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Good & Bad: '24: Live Another Day' (5/12/14)
24: Live Another Day Hour 3

Plot: Jack and Chloe are hot on the tail of the mysterious blonde-turned-redhead lady currently in possession of some sort of techno-y doo-dad that has the power to control drones. Just when it looks like Jack has the gal cornered on at a subway station, she slices open her own leg and starts screaming at him. Suspecting some form of spousal abuse, London’s finest collection of helpy-helpertons get involved, allowing her to escape.
                Well, that and the fact that Chloe zoned out when she saw a man and a small boy who reminded her of her husband and son. Her uh dead husband and son. She thinks they were killed in an effort to get to her due to her connection with Jack. There are emotions exchanged and so forth and then, as just as quickly as they appeared, those emotions are bottled up and not mentioned again.  Like it’s supposed to be.
                Jack and Chloe make their way back to Michael Wincott’s Techie Fanatic Pad and use his crew to get more information on the currently-redheaded drone aficionado, like the fact that she comes from a long line of terrorists.
                Meanwhile, Red, who goes by the name of Simone reunites with the rest of her terrorist cell, which includes her brother, her husband and is run by her mum, Mama Stark. There’s some tension with Simone and her husband because Simone has spent the last three weeks in deep cover, the sexy kind, but then it turns out he’s not worried about that, he’s having buyer’s remorse about that whole potentially ending the world thing he’s wrapped up in.  It also turns out besides attempting to orchestrate the apocalypse, Mama Stark is also spying on and threatening the hell out of everyone she knows. Luckily for the world, it’s going to take her crew a little while to get the drone controller to work with their PC. Guess they should have used a Mac to end the world, just like Steve Jobs intended.
                Elsewhere, Agents Kate Morgan and Erik Ritter are still getting in Jack’s way, President Heller decides to speak in front of Parliament and has a hard time of it, things seem conflicted between the President’s daughter Audrey and her slimy, Chief of Staff husband, and that same Chief of Staff husband is working to deport Jack to Russia.
                The episode wraps with Jack getting caught trying to sneak into the US embassy in order to talk to a young drone pilot framed for killing a bunch of folks overseas (it was really the terrorists), and then, in an inspired stroke, Jack creates a diversion by shooting a bunch of protestors in the leg to create a riot, allowing him to sneak in with Agents Morgan and Ritter right up his butt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Good & Bad: '24: Live Another Day' (5/5/14)

"24: Live Another Day"
Episode 1&2

Plot: It’s been four long years since whatever happened at the end of the last season of “24” happened. I wish I could be more specific, but let’s all be honest, there’s really only so much “24” a man can take. Eventually the wild bi-polar swings in quality from season to season could wear anyone out.
                Good news is, apparently the last season ended like most seasons of “24” did: With counter-terrorist agent extraordinaire Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) wanted by someone for a crime he may or may not have committed, but if he did commit it, you can bet your lollypop it was because he had to, mister.
                So the mini-season movie-thing that is “Live Another Day” begins with Jack in hiding from the Americans this time.  
                Then just like that, in the midst of rumblings about an upcoming attempt on the president’s (William Devane) life, Jack gets himself captured.  This all seems too easy to CIA Agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski), but everyone else thinks she’s nuts because apparently no one else in the CIA is familiar with pop culture. Whenever the impossible to track down person is suddenly extremely easy to track down, there’s a reason for it. And it’s not because you all suddenly got really good at your jobs.
                But no, it’s just easier to call her a loon because her husband was a traitor who sold state secrets and then killed himself and now she’s moving on to another job.
                Naturally Jack immediately escapes custody, busts out his old partner in crime Chloe (Marty Lynn Rajskub) – his plan all along - and then uses Chloe to track down some techie terrorist group she’s been working for.
                Apparently one of their ex-members is plotting something about using drones to kill the president – there that is again – and Jack wants to stop it because he feels he owes the president – and his old flame  the president’s daughter, Audrey, (Kim Raver) one.
                But then that techie terrorist is betrayed by his girlfriend who then promises to deliver all of his research on killing sitting American presidents with drones to the mom from “Game of Thrones.”
                Also because it’s “24” and even a short season of “24” needs ample personal problems: there’s the brash young CIA Agent who can’t wait for Morgan to be out of the picture so he can take her job, there’s the White House Chief of Staff who also happens to be married to the president’s daughter (conflict!) and the president is beginning to show the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
                All of that and there are still 10 more episodes to go.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The long road to Texas, Vol. 2: Ditching Kennedy to hang out online

Relive the wonder of Vol. 1.
She was one of those gals who walk around dressed up like it’s the 1950’s all over again. Well, sorta. They’re not fully committed to the bit, which annoys me.
They do the dramatic eyebrows, bright-red lipstick, jet black hair tied up with a bandana in case some housework should come up.
It’s a nice look, but I wish they’d go whole hog with it. These girls tend to mix the old school vibe with some of today’s sluttier fashions (tight this, low-cut that) and then they cap it all off with lots of aggressive tattoos and piercings.
It’d be like seeing a full-on Amish guy walking around with Google Glass on. Something just doesn’t add up.
Even though she seemed nice enough, I got the distinct impressive that her haphazard fashion sense might actually be a symptom of a bit of a flakiness going on inside her noggin.
When the overhead bin above us filled up, she tried to cram an entire suitcase under the seat in front of her. Needless to say, that didn’t work. Then she decided she was just going to sit it in front of her and wrap her legs around it. Surprisingly, that also didn’t work.
Eventually, the flight attendant was once again called into service and he helped her find a reasonable home for the suitcase.
Once the plane was actually in the air, you know the part that should be the most complicated and risky, everything was completely fine. Putting several hundred thousand pounds of plane, people and personal belongings in the air is apparently much less difficult than asking a few dozen people to take their seats in an orderly fashion.
I landed in Texas, hopped in a cab and made my way to my hotel, which is lovely yet frustratingly secluded.
I planned to take a trip into Dallas today and visit were Kennedy was shot, like every good, card-carrying American and Russian should do when in Texas. Same trip, different emotions depending on the perspective.
In order to do that, I would have needed to find a way back to the airport ($25 cab ride or $13 dollar shuttle), somehow get on the right bus to downtown Dallas, make the hour+ trip (complete with two transfers), and then do the whole thing in reverse later.

The long road to Texas, Vol. 1: Manbabies in flight

My Texas odyssey began yesterday at around 5 pm (Eastern standard time, the correct time) in the great state of Pennsylvania. That’s about the time I cleared security at the Philadelphia International Airport, way ahead of my 6:45 departure time.
                So just like the one taken by the legendary Greek wanderer Odyssey, my own voyage also kicked off with about two hours of loafing around an airport listening to podcasts on horror movies. Trust me, that’s how that book started. I should know since I took a Greek Lit seminar in college. Seminar. They don’t just let anybody take one of those.
                Now, the TSA agents at the Philadelphia airport tend to take a lot of flak for being woefully incompetent and needlessly surly and some of that flak – OK all of it – has been totally deserved. Until yesterday.
                It seems that Philly International has adopted a new approach to airport security.
                Apparently the days of emptying out your laptop and toiletries bags, taking off your shoes and belts for some reason and then putting all of those items into half a dozen giant gray bins to be scanned individually are gone.  
                All I had to do yesterday was empty my pockets into my laptop bag and then they just scanned that and my suitcase. With everything still in them. And then they walked me through a metal detector, belted and shoed.  
That’s it. No bins. Simple, speedy … efficient? It was almost as if they had some sort of machine that could let them see inside of your bags without you having to open them first. And maybe even a second machine that was powerful enough to see through belts AND shoes.
Are we any less safe now that people are allowed to walk through security without performing the least appealing strip tease ever? No, of course we’re not less safe and this just makes me all the more angry at TSA for wasting all of that time since 9-11 making people take their belts off.
But don’t worry. Philly’s TSA hasn’t exactly become a well-oiled defender of common-sense. On my way into the building, a lady stopped me and asked me to zipper something on my suitcase, which when left unzippered, made the bag look too puffy. Still fighting the good fight against puffiness at least.
Once I boarded the plane – a very reasonable by Philly standards 30 minutes after my ticket said I would – I made the mistake of putting my laptop under my seat and not the one in front of me. This led to an issue.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Hitting the road: Clinging desperately to my last hours in the Eastern Time Zone

I’m not a man who likes to do things.
                Usually I’m at my happiest when I’m sitting around the house, doing as close to nothing as is biologically possible without crossing over into being dead.
                It’s not exciting, but considering half of the posts on this blog are about people’s bathroom habits that annoy me, I’d say the fact that I’m not an exciting person should’ve been abundantly clear to you by this point.
                If not, um, surprise?
                Despite my deeply-entrenched homebody tendencies, the company I work for insists on sending me on yearly business trips to far-flung, exotic locations.
                I try to make the best of these situations and find something to do while I’m gone. I mean, I might as well make the time away from my beloved couch go as quickly as possible.  
                That wasn’t the case at all during my first trip. That year, I flew to Pittsburgh.
                No, as far as I know, there’s no Pittsburgh, Hawaii. I went to Pittsburgh, PA.
                The fun thing about flying to Pittsburgh from my present location is that it’s about a 45 minute flight. I spent probably twice as much time lounging around the airport, waiting to board the plane, as I actually did in the air.
                And that was literally the only fun thing about Pittsburgh. At least in my experience. I’m sure it’s a great town, but I was totally out of my element that year. I’d never traveled anywhere alone before and I was not comfortable at all. I spent very nearly the entire trip locked in my hotel room.
                Also, you know, it was raining a lot and stuff, and that totally played a significant part in my descent into the hermit life.