Saturday, October 30, 2010

Romeo and Julia

Let me tell you the story of the day TV's Jeopardy! became my enemy. No, it wasn't the Vilnius/"Vilnuis" controversy, though that guess is not far off.

Not long after the Ken Jennings period, I believe, there was an episode with a clue seeking the name of the actress who portrayed "Elaine" on Seinfeld, a '90s NBC sitcom. One contestant immediately buzzed in and answered, "Julia Louis-Dreyfus," which earned a nod from me. Instead of awarding him the money, however, Trebek left the dude hanging and befuddled until his time expired. Then another contestant buzzed in with "Julia Louis-Dreyfus," which Trebek acknowledged as the correct answer.

You see, the first guy had actually pronounced it "Louise-Dreyfus," and the judges had determined that the mispronunciation made the answer unacceptable. The second person had correctly pronounced it more like "Lewis-Dreyfus," which was judged the correct pronunciation.

I didn't entirely agree with the decision, but I was not going to argue against the Jeopardy! judges on the arbitrary rules of their own game. Rather, my complaint at the time was that I didn't think "Lewis" was the correct pronunciation. I could have sworn that I had only ever heard it pronounced "Louise," and I had never really paid it much mind that it didn't match the spelling. I thought maybe it was some odd preferred, or at least commonly accepted, mispronunciation unique to this actress. I figured the judges were adhering to conventional phonics and had never heard "Louis" pronounced in the context of her name specifically, and I awaited a correction and apology from them after the commercial break.

Well, the correction never came, the poor guy who said "Louise" lost the match by a narrow enough margin that it could have been the difference, and I could only sit at home feeling powerless to correct what I still perceived to be a grave injustice. I watched the next week's worth of episodes just anticipating some kind of apology, but it was never mentioned again.

Mind you, I didn't care enough to actually do research and confirm the pronunciation of her name myself. It was only when the actress appeared recently on 30 Rock, and I again thought I heard her name pronounced "Louise," that I finally decided to do some digging.

As it turned out, I was wrong, but so too was Jeopardy! According to the actress herself, her name is actually pronounced "LOO-ee," like the French monarchs. It's quite possible that, all those times I thought I heard "Louise," they were actually saying "LOO-ee." But it certainly wasn't "Lewis." In any case, according to their rules, the judges were correct not to award points to the first guy. But what about the second guy, who said "Lewis"? He didn't pronounce it correctly either. All he proved was that he had seen the actress's name in print and knew how it was spelled. And he didn't even really prove that! Maybe he thought it was spelled "Lewis." (And maybe the lady who was dinged in "Final Jeopardy!" for misspelling "Vilnius" as "Vilnuis" actually knew the correct pronunciation, but just had poor spelling.)

If the show were really testing knowledge (and pronunciation), then neither guy was truly correct. For that matter, the judges proved to me that they didn't know a damn thing themselves, and they were not fit to be deeming one wrong answer less incorrect than another.

No, I'm still not satisfied.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dead Man Talking

Back when I was doing "The Essentials," I tried not to adhere too strictly to any self-imposed guidelines, but I very quickly found myself holding to scheduling an installment for every Saturday. The thing is, sometimes I would write them days, or even weeks, in advance, not necessarily composing them in the order they went up. In such cases, I would just use Blogger's scheduling feature to set them to auto-post at the proper date and time.

It never occurred to me while I was doing it, but now that I think about it, if something unfortunate had happened to me before one of those posts went up, it might then have been just a tad morbid, or at least perplexing, for my readers to have "new" posts coming from me while the world knew me to be dead/kidnapped/in a coma/whatever.

Yeah, I don't think I'm gonna be doing that anymore.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Game Has Changed

EVO 2010 ended unsurprisingly with defending champion Daigo Umehara's Ryu triumphing again over a top American Rufus player in Super Street Fighter IV. But the real story of the tournament was Taiwanese player GamerBee. When he came out of nowhere with his Adon to stunningly upset Justin Wong, en route to a 5th place finish that made national television news in his native Taiwan, it sent shock waves through the community.

If what happened really happened, then everything was thrown into question. It had been one of life's understood truths that Adon was among the most hopeless characters in the game. What did it mean that a virtual unknown from nowhere could take this bottom-tier fighter and defeat several of America's top players in convincing fashion? Suddenly, up was down, snow fell in the summer, two plus two equaled five, and horses rode people. Okay, so maybe the situation was not so dire, but it at least suggested that the tier list was not so figured out as we believed.

The repercussions of GamerBee's run could be seen at last weekend's Season's Beatings: Redemption, the first major international tournament since EVO. Perhaps it was not as big as EVO (and maybe EVO still isn't Japan), but most of the top players were in attendance, including Justin Wong, Daigo, and GamerBee himself.

This time, GamerBee entered as a legitimate favorite, so perhaps it was not so surprising to see him win it all. Well, no, it's still hard to come to grips with an Adon player winning a major competition. But Season's Beatings was full of unexpected results that would have been thought inconceivable just a few months ago.

The first stunner was Daigo's early exit. Who took out Umehara's Ryu? His first loss came at the hands of TwistedJago, by some accounts the best Bison player in America. It was a close match, and with this being a double-elimination tournament, Daigo still had a chance to come back by fighting his way through the losers bracket. His first opponent in losers was Marn, one of the East Coast's top SFIV players since the original version's release. Ever since Super came out, Marn had been maining new character Dudley, and he had not had very impressive results to show for it. Sticking to his guns against no less an opponent than Daigo, would he pull a "GamerBee" and manage a major upset using an obscure low-to-mid-tier character?

The other highlight of Season's Beatings had to be the much anticipated rematch between GamerBee and Justin Wong. The tournament's "Redemption" moniker seemed specifically chosen to hype up a possible match between Justin and his unexpected EVO vanquisher.

Actually, before they could meet in the tournament proper, the two would face off as members of opposing teams in the 5-on-5 "USA vs. The World" exhibition. Once again, it was Justin's Rufus against GamerBee's Adon, and instead of Justin avenging his EVO loss, it was GamerBee winning in commanding fashion, proving that his last victory was no fluke.

Of course, the top American players tend to regard these exhibitions as merely arenas for sandbagging. Most experts will tell you that winning is a matter of knowing your opponent, more so than knowing the game. But even in this online age, it's not exactly a simple matter to arrange a sparring session against a player even just from another state. So an exhibition with no money at stake is a good chance to feel out a foreign opponent who might later prove an obstacle in the main tournament. A shrewd player like Justin has been known to use such opportunities to get a read on a potential threat's tendencies, while he himself holds back and saves his best for the money rounds.

Sure enough, when he inevitably ran into GamerBee in the main tournament, Justin revealed that he had been saving something especially for his Taiwanese rival. This time, he would turn the tables and leave GamerBee scratching his head. For this opponent, Justin swapped out his signature Rufus for his own eyebrow-raising character choice of Makoto, another one of the game's worst characters, who is virtually unrepresented in the competitive scene.

Now, you might think that Makoto should be the sandbag character and Rufus the money character, in which case Justin was seemingly disrespecting his opponent. But Justin Wong is a guy who lives off his tournament winnings, and even if Season's Beatings isn't quite EVO, he's in it to win it, especially up against the very guy who eliminated him in EVO, thus robbing him of both prize money and pride. And Justin has shown before that he actually has rather a large and eclectic bag of secret weapons. After his Rufus lost badly to Daigo in their first SFIV match, Justin experimented (unsuccessfully) with Abel, Balrog, and Fei Long against Daigo's Ryu in subsequent major tournament situations. There aren't many players who could thus push Justin to stray from Rufus just to counter them, so his resorting to Makoto here was truly a testament to his respect for GamerBee's skill with Adon. It also meant that he truly believed Makoto had potential, and he came in fully prepared to prove it.

So, a match between an Adon and a Makoto as the most anticipated bout of a major tournament? It sounds just a bit ridiculous, yet there it was, real and competitive, and perhaps it was time for everyone watching to forget what they thought they knew about "tiers."

Of course, that was not the end of it. Although Justin had avenged himself, this was, once again, a double-elimination tournament. Unlike Daigo, GamerBee would fight his way back through losers, and Justin would find himself having to try and finish what he started, facing GamerBee once more, this time in an elimination match in the top 3, which was perhaps only proper.

Again it was Makoto versus Adon, but this match perhaps revealed the difference between the two users of these low-tier characters. GamerBee is old school. He doesn't pick Adon just to take advantage of his opponents' unfamiliarity with the matchup, but because Adon truly is his character, whom he'll live and die by. Meanwhile, Justin's choice of Makoto may have been somewhat of a gimmick, due to run its course, once his opponent caught up to his own rudimentary knowledge of the character's tricks. Yes, as both players proved, there are more characters than just Rufus and Akuma, but the deeper lesson that GamerBee teaches us here is that it really does come down to the player, not the character.

Ultimately, GamerBee managed to adapt to the Makoto matchup, leaving Justin to reconsider his character choice. Unfortunately for Justin, he didn't really have a backup plan, and you can see at the end that GamerBee just beat the fight out of him. He would do very much the same to his final opponent, Momochi, another top Japanese player on a par with Daigo.

Momochi plays Ken, another mid-tier character that is rarely seen going far in tournaments, but he is himself as technically solid a player as anyone in the world. Even so, GamerBee made him look ordinary, and although their match started close, by the end Momochi looked lost and desperate against a character that no one even in Japan plays to half the level that GamerBee does.

So, an Adon, a Ken, and a Makoto as the top 3. Daigo "The Beast" Umehara going out to a Dudley. Usually, as players grow more experienced with a game, the tournament results narrow toward a list of three or four proven top-tier characters. With Super Street Fighter IV, however, I suspect we may only now just be getting started plumbing the depths of this game.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

T.I. Joe

In my more cynical periods, I sometimes feel that we can only be as great, or as good, as the occasion permits, and for us living in these easy times, there are few opportunities for anyone to be more than mediocre.  Of course, the truly great ones are those who do not wait for life to happen, but make their own opportunities.  So who are these "great ones"?  Well, I could name a few in the realm of sports or the entertainment industry, but in "real life"--things that matter--I don't really know.

For most people, it's back to being as good as the occasion.  So it was for rapper T.I. this past Wednesday, when he helped talk a suicidal man off a ledge.

T.I. was driving to a video shoot when he heard the news, over the radio, that a man was threatening to jump off the 22-story building that housed the radio station.  Though "breaking news" every time, such incidents are not altogether uncommon and do not typically attract more than local attention.  With the police already on hand, T.I. could have done nothing and still remained blameless, a mere civilian.  Like most civilians, he could simply have shrugged and gone on with his day, or he could have become just another spectator anticipating either a heartening resolution or a thrilling disaster.

But something in him told him that he was the right man at the right time and the right place.  He stopped what he was doing, went to the scene, and did what he could to help, recording a video message that police used to talk the man off the ledge.

It wasn't something that he had to do, but it was maybe something that only he could have done.  Or maybe the suicidal man would never have gone through with it anyway.  But the point is that T.I. did not just wait and watch, leaving the outcome up to chance.  He heard the call for him from heroism, and he accepted the charges.

I'm not familiar with the rap music of T.I.  I don't imagine I would like it.  I'm not calling him any kind of role model.  Two days after the incident, he was sentenced to eleven months in prison for having violated his probation, after having been released only eight months earlier following a year behind bars on federal weapons charges.  But in his moment of recognition and subsequent action, T.I. was as good as any man.  He did what nobody else should have expected of him, but which maybe we should all expect of ourselves.  We need not all commit our lives to saving the world, but when occasion summons us, however seldom the call may come, will we hear it and be ready to answer, as T.I. did, with our best selves?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Maybe Kanye got it right . . .

I dreamed that Taylor Swift secretly owned slaves.  The story was broken by TMZ or some such thing, and of course it was a big scandal.

A silly dream, certainly, and I mostly forgot about it as the day progressed.

Then, hours later, on the drive home from work, a Taylor Swift song came on the radio, and for a second, I actually felt angry.  How dare they play this trash on the radio? I thought.  What next, readings from Mein Kampf?

Haha, a silly dream indeed.  But such is the power (and danger) of the false memories left by even silly dreams.

Monday, October 11, 2010


As seen at Big 5 Sporting Goods:

Seriously?  Okay, I may not know baseball, but in my world there is right and there is wrong, and that distinction is not difficult to make.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Lion and the Lamb

Does an isolated episode of NBC's mediocre new procedural, Chase, really merit its own post?  That is not the sort of question that I can be bothered with around here at this blog.  But be warned, there will be spoilers for episode 3, "The Comeback Kid," and what follows won't have much meaning if you haven't already watched it.

I am not a regular viewer of Chase, having in fact only seen the third episode.  I tuned in that night because I saw previews indicating that Robert Knepper would be guest-starring.  As Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell on Prison Break and Samuel Sullivan on Heroes, Knepper has previously played two of my favorite TV characters in recent years.  Both those shows have ended, however, and Knepper does not yet have a new regular gig.  So I turned on Chase to get my fix in the meantime, even though I understood that he would only be playing the villain of the week.  There was also perhaps some question of whether I was really expecting to see Robert Knepper, or if, rather, it was T-Bag/Samuel Sullivan that I wanted to see.  Either way, I was not disappointed, and this latest performance, although a one-shot, forms a nice arc along with his previous two most famous roles.

To recap (or in case you simply refuse to watch Chase), Knepper stars in the episode as Jack Druggan, fugitive of the week, who after living peacefully for years under a stolen identity, one day seems to snap shortly after turning fifty.  He seeks out and guns down the punks who mugged him and his longtime domestic partner, and this bloody vengeance apparently rekindles his glory days, back when he was a lion among lambs, robbing banks at will and enjoying Harvard-educated hookers.  Giving up his stable life of the past seventeen years, he does nothing to cover his tracks, even seeming to deliberately attract the attention of the Chase crew of U.S. Marshals.

At first, Druggan rather seems the opposite of T-Bag/Samuel.  Whereas his previous characters were monsters trying to be men, Druggan seems to have grown tired of playing house and wants to be once more a lion.  Even with the law hot on his heels, far from seeming desperate, he sees the gangster lifestyle as the most glamorous and adventurous existence there could be.  When he sees his photo printed in the newspaper, he offers a better, more recent picture, as if to taunt his pursuers, for he is proud of what he is and uninterested in hiding it.  The self-involved U.S. Marshals, peripheral players on their own show in this episode, try to get inside his head, and they determine that he is the bold, showy sort of criminal, who cannot help himself going for one more big heist, which indeed is his plan.

Maybe the Marshals are right.  Even by the episode's end, there is never any dialogue from Druggan or any other character to explicitly identify him as anything but a monster addicted to bank-robbing.  But there's a lot that doesn't add up with that interpretation.  The Marshals theorize that he went into hiding originally because things just got too hot and he didn't have money left to blow while on the run.  But in my mind, one does not spend seventeen years carrying on a relationship, working a humdrum job, and getting involved as a counselor at the halfway house for recently released prisoners, all simply as a cover while planning out the next big score.

Again, the Marshals connect the dots, seeing his position at the halfway house as the perfect avenue for him to groom and recruit his next crew, which indeed he does.  But his recruitment pitch surprises even one of his prospects, who seems to have been on the road to reform, thanks specifically to the good advice that Druggan always gave him as a counselor.  Druggan's lover also attests that, for those years they were together, he was a good man.  And when he turns, he doesn't turn on her, but invites her to join him.  She rejects his life on the run, of course, and he accepts her answer amicably, saying only that he had to try.

So, for seventeen years, Druggan had a steady job, the love of a fine woman that he loved back, and the admiration of his community for doing God's work.  For seventeen years, he had exactly the life that T-Bag and Samuel seemed to always want but could never make work because they could never escape themselves and their pasts, as men brought up into worlds with few honest options.  Perhaps Druggan was the same--a man who could not escape who he was.  It's hard to say for certain how hard he tried; his turn would have occurred before the action of the episode, most likely when the muggers attacked his lady, enraging him into a realization of his essential nature that he had been repressing.  But, again, seventeen years is a long time to be living a lie, unless that lie was what you wanted more than anything else.  In other words, perhaps he wanted to be a lamb all along, and the lion was the face that he showed again only once he was already defeated.  Defeated by a truth about himself that he did not think he could escape.

For all his proud talk of being a lion, he's not especially vicious by TV murderer standards.  He only kills people that, in his mind, robbed or tried to rob him.  He leaves several witnesses unharmed.  Even when one of his subordinates abandons him, Druggan simply accepts it and lets the man walk away.  He releases his picture to the papers supposedly because he is cocky and wants to be recognized, but perhaps, as much as he wants the world to see who he is, he also needs to be told who he really is by having the paper report back to him his crimes.  And his big score at the end seems uncharacteristically poorly planned, with no other possible outcome but a hopeless firefight.

On the surface, Druggan seemed much more self-assured than either T-Bag or Samuel, but perhaps he was actually a more resigned and knowingly self-destructive version of the same man.  T-Bag and Samuel were men who wreaked havoc on a world they felt left them no other options.  Druggan, who actually spent a long time living the life they could only dream of, ultimately discovered that his dream did not match his nature, and eventually he could be neither man nor wholly monster, and there were no options, period.  Although they were villains, I always found myself rooting for T-Bag and Samuel, hoping that things could somehow go their way.  But perhaps Druggan shows what T-Bag and Samuel would have become, even had they gotten the lives they thought they wanted.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Saw this in 3-D.  Nothing amazing, but I honestly enjoyed the 3-D better here than in any of the animated features I've seen, save for Beowulf.  Paul W. S. Anderson does not waste the tech on subtle effects; his idea of 3-D means bullets and axes flying toward the audience.  Even so, there are lengthy spaces without any noticeable 3-D, and I suppose, on the bright side, I can say that, during those moments, I honestly forgot that I was wearing the glasses.  In other words, whenever the glasses were not enhancing my experience, at least they were not detracting from it either, as has been the case in the past.  Perhaps I'm just getting accustomed to them.

As for the movie itself, it was what I wanted and more than I expected, which is not to say that it was very good or very surprising.

The first Resident Evil was a movie that I enjoyed more so than I would like to admit that it was good.  In fact, it was not very good, but its appealing lead actress and basic laundry list of zombie, sci-fi, and thriller tropes kept things sufficiently entertaining.  The second and third films then gave Milla Jovovich telekinesis, becoming very ugly superhero flicks in the process--a bit like Blade but with none of the wit, stunt work, or costuming.  They were wretched.

Afterlife sees Paul W. S. Anderson back in the director's chair for the first time since the original (though I don't know if that's actually significant, since I'm pretty sure he's never directed a good film).  More inspired by the latest games, it's much more a straight action affair.  There are still zombies, but there are also tons of bad humans, and Wesker, the main antagonist, is basically the superhuman Wesker from the games.  Milla, meanwhile, loses her own special abilities early on, becoming just a regular, albeit ideal, human, overcoming her enemies with skill, experience, and attitude, instead of conveniently timed and vaguely defined superpowers.  Thus freed of its predecessors' most unbelievable element, the movie is by far the most exciting in the series, with action set pieces on a par with the Blade trilogy's.  In my opinion, Milla is also better-dressed and better-armed this time, and the whole affair just looks cooler all around.

I had fun.  In fact, 3-D or no, I enjoyed it more than The Expendables.  And between these movies and Ultraviolet, I'm ready to declare Milla Jovovich the most exciting action star of the last ten years, probably her only rival being Angelina Jolie.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Perchance to Dream

Had a dream that I was watching Chuck on Hulu.  Instead of the usual sponsor's message and short ad, however, the video was preceded by an initialization sequence listing off all the files and processes that Hulu needed to start up.  What particularly caught my eye was the line "loading . . . ," as if the program had to load individual actors into the video.

After I woke up, I was of course reminded of that Batman: The Animated Series episode where Batman figured out that he was in a dream after he tried to read a newspaper and found the printed text nonsensical.  According to Batman, the part of the brain that we use for reading is inactive during sleep.

Well, even though my nine-year-old self thought I could remember being able to read in my dreams, so authoritative did Batman sound, as voiced by Kevin Conroy, that I naturally assumed he had to be correct, and for many years I went on believing that we could not read in our dreams, even if I seemed to remember doing so.

But this time I was certain that I had been reading in my dream, because I specifically remembered Dolph Lundgren's name being misspelled "dolf."  And after a quick bit of overdue research, I couldn't find any real scientific evidence to support Batman's explanation.  In fact, when I Googled "reading in dreams," the first results were questions that turned out to be inspired by that very episode of Batman, and the only answers supporting Batman could actually be sourced back to him.

Well, Batman, you've let me down, but I suppose you did teach me a different lesson: I probably shouldn't believe everything that cartoon superheroes tell me, no matter how convincing they may sound.