Friday, January 29, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/29/10

By special request: My friends Esther, Tammy and Karen at Clarke's on Belmont earlier this month.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 14

A mixed bag of old essays: Some about sports, some about public transportation, some about artistic friends, some about kitty sadness. (At this rate, I'll have all of last decade's missing files up on the blog by the end of this decade!)

Can't Take Anymore

Opening Day 2007

Three and Out


Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/26/10

Monday, January 25, 2010

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 13

More blasts from the past, this time from the "awesome" (/snark) year of 2002:

A Hazy Shade of Winter

The Lions in Winter

Ends & Odds

The Screening Room

The Horkin' o' the Green

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/25/10

The Kinzie Square Building across the street from the Merchandise Mart still stands, but this neat sign/clock was removed some time ago.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 12

By now, you must be wondering: "how many files did this guy lose?" The answer? Dozens.

Here are four more "lost" entries: One on sports, and three on vanishing movie theaters.

This Sporting Life: Middle of the Road

Vanishing Chicago: The Nortown

Vanishing Chicago: The Esquire

Vanishing Chicago: The Neighborhood Movie House

"Change We Can Believe..." Hey...Wait...

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. Last night, as I sat in La Casa del Terror, Olivia curled up at my side, the remnants of a tasty Italian sausage dinner scattered across my plate, I pondered all the changes that have happened over the past year.

Like the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, wait. Gitmo is still open.

And our exit from both of the wars started by the previous administration...except we not only still have troops in Iraq and Afganistan, we're sending even more.

And the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"...but the gays and lesbians who want to fight for their country still have to stay in the closet or be thrown out of the military.

Ot the end to partisan bickering in, that's pretty much worse than ever, really. Democrats spent so much time and energy bickering amongst themselves and trying to appease the more conservative members of their party that health care reform stalled, even when they (briefly) had a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And Republicans? If Democrats say "Day," Republicans say "Night"--opposing merely for the sake of opposition.

And...oh, why go on? Little has changed in the intervening 365 days. Much promised. Little delivered. Same old same old.

If we'd elected John McCain, we'd have gotten roughly the same results.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/21/10

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 11

Several years ago, I wrote a series of essays devoted to places and things that were disappearing from the civic landscape under the title Vanishing Chicago. Ironically, nearly all of these essays vanished in the process of moving from my original site to here. Below are a couple of them.

Vanishing Chicago: The Hub

Vanishing Chicago: The Gym

What Do You Need to Get Through Tuesday?

Hershey's Kisses! (Dark and milk chocolate, respectively.)

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/19/10

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 8

Four more lost reviews: One of a classic by George Romero; one of a virtually forgotten horror film by Romero; one of a remake of the aforementioned Romero classic; and one of a blatant rip-off of Romero directed by and starring one of the zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

Martin (1977)

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Flesh Eater (1988)

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/14/10

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

(NOTE: The following review was originally written for a movie review website to which I used to contribute an essay or two a month for about a year.)

In a summer sardine-packed with sequels, one of the least anticipated of the bunch is Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This is understandable. The previous film, based on the famous comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was underwhelming, to say the least. It had decent action sequences and nice special effects, but the humor was labored, the romantic chemistry between the leads (Ioan Gruffud as Mr. Fantastic and Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman) was almost nonexistent, and the story of how they (along with Chris Evans as the Human Torch and Michael Chiklis as the Thing) became the Fantastic Four took up about half the movie (Lee and Kirby dashed it off in about five pages).

This time around, though, director Tim Story and screenwriters Don Payne and Mark Frost get to the action a bit sooner. A meteor/comet/whatever starts zooming around our fair little planet, causing havoc wherever it goes: In Japan, a bay turned solid; in Egypt, there’s snow on the Sphinx; and in the mythical country of Latveria, the Fantastic Four’s old foe, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), is revived after being assumed dead at the end of the last movie.

Normally, this would be something the Fantastic Four would be all over, but they’re kind of distracted right now, what with Reed (Gruffud) and Sue (Alba) trying to get to their oft-postponed nuptials, Ben (Chiklis) is getting cuddly with his blind girlfriend, Alicia (Kerry Washington), and Johnny (Evans) is compensating for his loneliness by dating one supermodel after another and arranging endorsement deals for the team. (His idea for the new team uniform looks like something out of NASCAR.)

When a tight-ass general (Andre Braugher) shows up (at Reed’s bachelor party, no less—rude, man), the team is thrown into conflict: Sue wants a “normal” life for their family, Reed wants what Sue wants, and Johnny and Ben don’t want to be cast adrift. All the personal stuff gets left off to the side when the big ball of light turns out to be the Silver Surfer, a cosmic-powered being who searched out suitable planets for his master, Galactus, to feed on. Next on the menu? Earth.

The movie really takes off (pun intended) when the Surfer is on screen. He’s one of the coolest characters Lee and Kirby ever created, and he’s wonderfully realized here, even with two actors playing him (body by Doug Jones, voice by Laurence Fishburne), coming off as an immensely powerful, graceful and conflicted creature who doesn’t want to fight the Fantastic Four (though he does a fair job of kicking their asses) or wreck our world but doesn’t have much choice.

The Surfer is just great to look at, and he gives this sequel something the original movie lacked: a sense of wonder. Amazing things were taken in stride in that first film. Here, eyes widen and jaws drop, and rightfully so, for the end of the world may well be nigh, whether it’s Galactus eating our planet or Doctor Doom making off with the Surfer’s board (and thus his power) for his own evil purposes.

Rise of the Silver Surfer retains the strengths of the previous film, like the dysfunctional-family dynamic of the team and exciting action sequences, this time played out on a global (and ultimately cosmic) scale. Unfortunately, the weaknesses of the previous film come along as well, like the lack of fizz in the romance between Reed and Sue (they seem to be getting married only because everyone expects them to) and the flat comedy.

Still, Chiklis once again comes through with a good performance (even though he’s buried under foam rubber most of the time) that gets across the Thing’s angst—the other members of the team can at least pretend to be “normal,” but what’s a guy who looks like a dried lake bed supposed to do? Evans also hits the right notes as the Torch, alternating between being a dick of a little brother and being a hurt little boy afraid of winding up alone. McMahon isn’t given much to do (he’s either under Doc Doom’s mask or makeup that makes him look a lot like Emperor Palpatine much of the time), but he makes the most of the few scenes he has where his face is actually visible.

Rise of the Silver Surfer is an improvement on the original Fantastic Four, and in a summer of bloated, lumbering sequels (yeah, Pirates of the Caribbean and Spider-Man, I’m lookin’ at you), it’s refreshing to have one come in at a tight hour and a half. Maybe by the third time around, Story and crew will get it all right. That this film makes me hope there will even be a third Fantastic Four is a pleasant surprise.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/13/10

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Least Surprising News Stories of 2010 (So Far)

1. Sarah Palin goes to work for Fox News.

2. Mark McGwire admits that he used steroids.

3. "Jersey Shore" cast member gets in fistfight with (fill in the blank).

4. Mariah Carey says something really, really incoherent.

5. Rod Blagojevich says something really, really stupid.

6. "Jay Leno Show" a colossal flop.

7. Sun rises in east, sets in west.

Review: Stephen King's The Mist (2007)

(NOTE: The following review was originally written for a movie review website to which I used to contribute an essay or two a month for about a year.)

I always preferred Stephen King’s short stories to his novels—all the character development and salty dialogue with a lot less rambling and wheel-spinning—and one of his most evocative shorter works is “The Mist,” a novella in which a violent storm damages a military base where some pretty freaky, ultimately unwise transdimensional experiments are being conducted, turning loose a fog bank filled with Lovecraftian nightmares on a small Maine town.

The first time I read “The Mist,” I was working as a freelance proofreader in an office building that afforded a perfect view of Chicago’s northern lakefront. As I read between assignments, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the shoreline was rapidly fading from view—fog was rolling down the shoreline, swallowing first the suburbs in the far distance, then Lincoln Park and the attached beaches, then Oak Street Beach just a couple of blocks away and the Drake Hotel. Everything had been enveloped in a wave impenetrable white.

I put the book down and found some other way to entertain myself while the weather cleared up.

Writer/director Frank Darabont, who has adapted King’s work for the big screen before (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), is an ideal choice for this material. He has a firm understanding of the rhythms of King’s storytelling and verbiage and the strong visual sense to realize King’s frightening visions on screen.

What Darabont doesn’t have, unfortunately, is the ability to step back and objectively spy opportunities to prune King’s source material and ratchet up the tension.

He gets off to a good enough start, introducing key characters and situations with efficiency. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) needs to pick up supplies and groceries in town and takes his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and crank next-door neighbor Brent (Andre Braugher) with him. He’s in the local supermarket with an assortment of other characters—including Irene (Frances Sternhagen), an elderly teacher; Amanda (Laurie Holden), a young, pretty newcomer; Ollie (Toby Jones), a smart clerk; a couple of dim locals (William Sadler and David Jensen) and Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a misanthropic religious fanatic—when the mist overspreads the area and nasty things begin happening to anyone unfortunate enough to be out in it. Some believe there’s something lethal just beyond the sightline, especially after a stock boy gets dragged off and eaten by tentacles (“What are those tentacles even attached to?” David wonders), but others, like Brent, refuse to believe any such nonsense and believe they should run for help, while Mrs. Carmody spouts about the wrath of God and blood sacrifice. Most trapped in the supermarket think she’s coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, but after a few more deadly encounters with the otherworldly inhabitants of the mist, her talk of expiation starts sounding less and less crazy to some trapped in the store.

It’s the space between those deadly encounters where The Mist suffers most, though this space does allow the scares to carry more weight (rather than wearing the audience down with one shock after another) and provides plenty of room for the exploration of the ways in social order progresses, regresses, collapses and reforms into something much more ugly under the strain of disaster beyond comprehension. But while there’s opportunity aplenty for character development in these stretches there’s precious little, with lots of talking—or, rather, shouted threats and accusations from members of one faction at another.

Worst of the bunch is Mrs. Carmody, who’s such a crackpot from her first line on that even an actress as talented as Marcia Gay Harden can only make her seem remotely human; even the finest musician in the world can only do so much with a guitar that has only one string.

The Mist does indeed have some good fright moments, especially when the transdimensional horrors are only suggested (like when they press against a closed loading dock door or when seen as silhouettes through the haze), and its commentary on mob action is perfectly valid. But Darabont’s rigid adherence to King’s original story (with the exception of the ending, which Darabont expands to admittedly heartbreaking effect) causes the movie to tread water when it should move steadily forward, allowing carefully built tension to ease and ultimately dissipate. The time between fights with monsters could have either been cut down or put to better use, like more character development so we’d care more about their eventual fates.

The Mist is a good movie—and one of the best adaptations of King’s work, which has often suffered in less skilled hands. With some tightening, though, it could have been a great movie.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/12/10

Just in case you're not tired of pictures of snowmen by now...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

(NOTE: The following review was originally written for a movie review website to which I used to contribute an essay or two a month for about a year.)

Resident Evil: Extinction begins with the world in a state of total collapse. The T-virus, that nasty little bioweapon unleashed in the original Resident Evil and spread throughout the improbably named Raccoon City in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, has now covered the world, turning the living into refugees and the dead into shambling, flesh-hungry ghouls. Some survivors search of a safe haven, while others—scientists with the evil Umbrella Corporation—try to figure out a way to either stop the virus or, at the very least, control and domesticate the undead.

Does any of this sound even a little bit familiar? Like you might have seen it in a movie before? Several movies, even? If so, it’s not your imagination, but rather the lack of imagination on the part of Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote the screenplays for all three Resident Evil installments and directed the first. Not only does he continue mining the works of George Romero (especially Day of the Dead this time around), but he also lifts bits from George Miller’s Mad Max movies, X-Men and even Hitchcock’s The Birds.

But you don’t go to a Resident Evil movie for burning originality, do you? You go to see Milla Jovovich kick substantial quantities of zombie ass. And that she does.

Jovovich returns as Alice, the woman genetically altered by Umbrella to be super-strong, super-smart and, apparently, telekinetic—she now makes objects float in her sleep and can throw force fields when she needs to. She hooks up with a caravan traveling through the desert that Carlos (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps) from the previous sequel, as well as tough-as-the-proverbial-nails Claire (Ali Larter from NBC’s Heroes) and medic Betty (singer Ashanti). Meanwhile, in a bunker below the desert, the very, very crazy Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) is mutating the undead when he’s not creating clones of Alice for some rather pointless rat-in-a-maze experiments and dumping the bodies in a ditch afterward.

There are lots of fights with lots of zombies along the way, plus a final confrontation between Alice and Isaacs. And just in case you were wondering—yes, the ending does leave open the possibility of a fourth Resident Evil (pending box-office results, of course).

Despite the highly derivative script, Resident Evil: Extinction is fast-paced and action-packed, thanks in large part to veteran director Russell Mulcahy (who helmed the first two Highlander films), who keeps things moving while making the battles relatively coherent (unlike in the previous sequel, where it looked like the fight scenes were edited in a blender).

It also doesn’t hurt to have Jovovich, one of the most graceful and charismatic action stars working today, in the lead. Fehr gets to bust some zombie skulls as well, and Larter doesn’t have much to do other than scowl and shoot and look good doing it, so she does all the role requires of her.

Resident Evil: Extinction is, in many ways, the closest film in the series to its videogame roots. Characters run around, punch, kick and try really hard not to get eaten, which is all any player of the game would do. It may not be original--quite the opposite, actually—but it’s also tight, lean and brisk, and that makes it the best in the series so far--if only by default.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/11/10

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/7/10

Supposed to get six to nine inches of snow today. Maybe a foot. Good weather for building snowmen, even if it's not great packing snow. (Even better weather for staying inside and eating soup. Just sayin'.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Destination Truth (2nd season premiere)

(NOTE: The following review was originally written back when I was one of a large number of critics for a website that reviews movies and TV shows. The review was rejected by the editor of said site, and my relation ship with them subsequently ended. The review has been sitting on my computer ever since--time to clean house.)

These days, cable TV is overrun with investigative reality shows, with lots of crawling around in dusty old houses that may or may not be haunted, traipsing through forests in search of Bigfoot or donning scuba gear in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster--all seen through the eye-bleeding green haze of night vision photography.

Sci-Fi Channel’s Destination Truth tries to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack by displaying a more wise-ass, snarky attitude while still approaching its subjects--in the case of the second season premiere, the focus is on the Abominable Snowman--with a semi-serious, semi-scholarly approach. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes irritating and only occasionally interesting.

Host Josh Gates, who looks like a scruffy slacker dude and sounds like Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters with a hint of Ray Romano thrown in, takes his group of investigators to Katmandu, Nepal, where Gates wanders the streets asking passers-by (who clearly don’t speak much, if any, English) if they believe the Abominable Snowman exists. Meanwhile, his “crack team” (his words, not mine) are so anxious to spot a Yeti that just about anything gets them excited, like spotting movement of a distant hill that turns out to be...a cow.

A brief stop at a monastery to check out a reputed Yeti scalp is momentarily exciting, mostly because one of the monks (dressed remarkably like an American deer hunter) threatens to smack Josh with a rock if he doesn’t turn the cameras off. After a mysterious woman negotiates a truce between the investigators and the monks, we finally get a close-up look at the scalp, which is kept in under lock and key in a glass display case and only taken out for ceremonial use. Unfortunately, the monks won’t let Josh and crew take a hair sample--which might have, you know, proven something.

Finally, the group treks out into the thin air of Mount Everest to try and track down some physical evidence of the Abominable Snowman’s existence. They stumble around in the dark (night vision cam--ah!) on slippery rocks and through thick brush with thermal imaging equipment. (Snatches of movement are seen in the distance, but nothing distinct or even identifiable.) Josh sticks his head in various caves and only gets a face full of bugs for his trouble.

Eventually, though, something exciting actually happens: Josh finds huge footprints made by something with an enormous stride. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly dissipates because every single member of the team is shown coming up to the footprints and shouting "Oh my God! Footprints!" before anybody gets around to casting the evidence in plaster. Once back in the states, Josh takes the footprints to an expert, who compares the alleged Yeti print with alleged Bigfoot prints and says that they’re remarkably similar, which only goes to show that Josh’s “discovery” is really nothing new without an actual Yeti, alive or otherwise, to go along with the impressions in the ground.

But is the objective of a show like Destination Truth to actually find the truth, or is it more about the journey than the destination? If the latter is the case, it would be nice if the journey were more entertaining or informative than what Destination Truth has to offer.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/6/10

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dear Spammers

Please stop leaving posts on my blog with links to alleged naked photos of Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and other celebrities.

First of all, I don't want to see any of them naked, mostly because I'm old enough to be the biological father of any one of them. Second, blogger makes it pretty damn easy to filter out spam, so you're wasting your time while wasting little to none of mine. Third--and arguably most important--hardly anyone reads this blog anyway, so you're talking to an empty room.

In short: go find somewhere more populated and entertaining to waste your time, spammers. This house is clean.

Every Picture Tells a Story: 1/5/10