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My Fall Lineup

By Tim Butler | Posted at 22:38

Well, since the rest of the Cranium Leakers are posting their TV schedules for the new fall season, I feel obliged to do the same. Here's my schedule. I know it may come across as a bit confusing at first with all of the options, but just try to muddle through it once or twice and then maybe it'll make more sense.

Sunday
None.

Monday
None.

Tuesday
None.

Wednesday
None.

Thursday
None.

Friday
None.

Saturday
None.

Phew. So you made it through that, huh? Yes, I know its a tough schedule, but somebody's got to do it!

Seriously, the schedule isn't completely true — I do watch some TV. I might watch a movie (often courtesy of Charter's Video On Demand service) or an old sitcom rerun. I just don't find any draw to watch major network TV on a regular basis. The last first run TV series I watched was, I suppose, NBC's Revelations that ran for six weeks in April and May of 2005. I was also into Debbie Travis's Facelift on HGTV for a bit, although my schedule usually meant I missed it and I got out of the habit of watching it.

This is true for several reasons. First, I tend to prefer more of what I'd call “classic broadcasting humor” in sitcoms; the comedy that made shows like I Love Lucy or the Dick Van Dyke Show simply doesn't seem to exist anymore. I'd say that breed of sitcom probably died with the end of the Cosby Show (at least as far as I've been able to tell). Second, for the most part, I prefer comedy over drama in a TV show. In my opinion, drama usually is more appealing in movie form. I was (am) a Trekkie, but nothing after Deep Space Nine was compelling enough to get me to watch on a regular basis.

On top of all of this, there are usually other things I'd rather do, especially as opposed to watching shows live (I watch basically everything in recorded form).

Chihuly at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:07

Today marked the second time I've had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit featuring the glasswork and paintings of Dale Chihuly, the Seattle-based glass artist. This time was a bit unique: the setting was at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the beautiful park of exotic (and not so exotic) gardens founded by Henry Shaw over a century ago. Chihuly's works graced not only the main building, but also the gardens themselves, including the reflecting ponds. I did not pay the price of admission to go into the Climatron and see the main exhibit, although I plan to go back to see that.

I've posted some photos of the day in my photo gallery.

Day After Tomorrow

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:55

Thanks to an airing on one of the Cinemax channels that I was able to nab via DVR a few weeks ago, I watched the Day After Tomorrow tonight. Given the critical thumbs down it seemed to receive, I did not have very high expectation for it, but it was able to exceed those expectations.

Note: this post is a spoiler on a number of plot elements.

This movie, in my opinion, shares a lot with the Da Vinci Code. Yes, more than that I happen to disagree with the world view displayed in each. More importantly, both dabble on the line between truth and fiction, and as such, probably mislead a lot of people unable to deal with such blurrings. In both cases, the fiction/fact blending is what makes the storyline compelling, so I'm not saying that such a mix is a bad thing, only that people need to be cautious.

Having watched the latest iteration of War of the Worlds a short while back, I couldn't help but see much of the plot as the same. An invasion from the skies, something covering most surfaces, cities utterly destroyed across the globe — in short, simply good summer mega budget movie fodder. The difference between the two movies is that far more people, people I'd not question the mental state of, believe in the eventual reality of Day After than of War of the Worlds. Aliens with tripods probably won't invade, but perhaps the Atlantic conveyer really will shut down.

If we get past that and put the two films on the same level, science fiction, then I would say that Day After Tomorrow offers a much more compelling version of the cataclysmic than does War of the Worlds. The acting was good and the characters were well written, likable people. While Tom Cruise never managed to make me care about his character's fate, Dennis Quiad did so early on in Day After. Both are men that are absorbed in their own projects to the detriment of their children, but Quaid's Jack Hall comes off as misguided, not just a jerk.

No, I don't think tomorrow we will face “super-cool” winds that will instantly freeze everything. But just because I don't expect something to happen doesn't mean it can't make for good fiction. We just have to remember it is fiction.

Other Notes of Biases: One other thing should be said. The film is politically tilted about as far as it could be without donkey logos flashing on the screen. The well meaning, if not terribly fast to respond, president looks very much like Al Gore, suggesting all kinds of possibilities. (“This is where Gore should be,” perhaps?) Likewise, the evil vice president, who later sees the light, has a Cheney-esque air to him, though not as much as the president matches Gore. More importantly to the story, the global cooling seems to stop for the most part precisely at the U.S. border, allowing Mexico to be the “good guy” that allows all of the “illegals” to come from the U.S. fleeing the storm. At the end of the movie, when the vice president has become president, he spells this out, noting the “hospitality” of the countries that we previously looked down on as “third world.” Finally, the last remarks from the space station note how clean the earth looks now that the Northern Hemisphere is shut down, but that seems unrealistic both because pollution wouldn't disappear that fast, and (here's what Hollywood doesn't want you to know) the worst pollution comes from newly industrialized countries such as the ones hosting the refugees.

Ding Dong the Wiz was Here...

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:26

Last Friday, I made the annual pilgrimage to St. Louis's municipal outdoor theater, the Muny, to see the Wizard of Oz. I wasn't quite sure what to expect in a musical drawing off of the 1939 MGM film, but I did expect to see something fairly good. The movie, I think most people will agree, belongs to that mystical canon known as The Classics ™. When filmography is looked back on much as literature is now, Oz will surely hold a spot in the realm of film-ature.

To me, that made it harder to imagine as a live performance work. While many musicals go the opposite direction from play to film, or films move from dramas to live musicals, it seems a bit less common for a musical film to move to the stage. As far as I can tell, while other stage adaptations of the story have existed, the MGM film has claim to a different sound track, one that this play used. And, for that matter, used very well.

The main characters in this production all seemed to have had spots on the Muny roster from last year (and, in particular, from the two plays I saw: Jesus Christ Superstar and Mame). While they were up against difficult acts from the original, they did a great job with all of the songs, keeping the flavor close to the movie without seeming like they were merely providing stale imitations.

The sets were well thought out, as always, and I was pleased to see that they managed one of the most memorable parts (at least for me): Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch of the West flies at the beginning while riding on her bicycle. :) There were some changes to get the work on stage, for example, pyrotechnics were the preferred means of dramatic entrances or exits, and I would say those alterations were really great. Because they weren't used entirely consistently, the fireworks' shooting up managed to add surprise to several scenes.

Probably the one who really stole the show was none other than Toto, Dorothy's dog. This was one well trained pooch, barking at just the right times, tolerating lots of commotion and just acting rather adorable (and I'm not even fond of dogs, typically). He got a very healthy applause at the end.

As a whole, I'd say the Wizard was not as good as the Music Man or Jesus Christ Superstar at the Muny, but it was well worth seeing, and, if it were still possible, I would say you should go see it.

Rating: ***1/2

Just a Teensy Weensy Request

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:52

Okay, so I have a request. During the summer months, every four years, we have the Summer Olympic Games. During the summer, I have my normal load of business to take care of, but no school work, so I have more time to watch… only, there aren't that many things I enjoy watching during the Summer Olympics.

Similarly, during the winter months, every four years, we have the Winter Olympic Games. During the winter, I have my normal load of business to take care of, plus deadlines on papers, reading assignments, etc. I have very little time to watch… only, there are many things I enjoy watching during the Winter Olympics.

Would it be that much to ask the IOC to switch to featuring the Winter Games during the Summer and the Summer Games during the winter in the future?

As an aside: wouldn't you rather see all that snow when you're hot in the summer than in the middle of winter when you're cold anyway? :D

The XX Winter Olympic Games Begin

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:45

Well, another Olympic Games has begun, and I think it got off to a good start. Winter Olympics are always my favorites, and it seems like so long ago that we last had one. I know that other than with the occasional oddity in scheduling, the games pretty much fall every four years, but the last four years seem so eventful the last games seem almost as distant as Nagano.

I liked the opening ceremony this time around. I wasn't sure where they were going at first with the mass of people toward the beginning, but when they turned into a “giant skier” I was sold. I liked the placard bearers who “wore the Alps” — that was unique. As always it's nice to see the excited athletes from places that generally don't see snow too. The 80's music was interesting — I have to wonder exactly who decided that was the right mood for the parade. Hmm. The Renaissance scene with the floating sun and moon, Birth of Venus, etc. was creative and fitting. The strange, modern dance after that did nothing for me, however. The Ferrari was a creative touch that surely will remain unique to Torino. I also liked the acrobats who managed to get into the shape of a dove — that was really rather impressive.

But, the big highlights were at the end, in my opinion. The lighting of the cauldron is always exciting, and the spectacular method they had for this lighting was really impressive, I think. But the classy ending was perhaps the best surprise. Luciano Pavarotti did a marvelous job with “Nessun Dorma” in an impressive faux opera stage, that even included a chandelier.

Beijing has a hard act to follow in 2008.

Duet

By | Posted at 22:24

The story revolves around a man named Marritza (Harris Yulin), a file clerk who ended up working under the leader of a forced labor camp the Cardassians were running while occupying Bajor. He arrives on Deep Space Nine in need of medical assistance for a rare disease that only those present at that camp are inflicted with (caused by a mining accident). Station second officer Major Kira thinks that the ill person in sickbay must be a Bajoran who had been in the mines. Instead she finds a Cardassian, so she immediately presumes guilt and orders his arrest.

Kira struggles with a serious issue: is she interested in justice or merely vengeance against any Cardassian? She tries to wrap her desires in a cloak of justice, but his prodding, as well as the council of others leads her to admit what she wants: revenge. She wants Marritza to be a terrible war criminal, not a file clerk.

When trying to confirm the identity of Marritza, they find he instead looks like a photo of the cruel leader of the labor camp, not the file clerk he claims to be. When presented with the evidence, he concedes that and glories in the atrocities committed, providing details of how much he enjoyed killing innocent Bajorans. He sees Bajorans as insignificant “scum,” the killing of whom were a bonus to the occupation that mostly served to provide Cardassia with material resources its empire needed. Kira is tortured by the horrid things that spew out of the man's mouth, but she is thrilled with the idea of the evil head of the camp being executed.

But then there is a twist: the Cardassian government informs the station that the man they now believe Marritza to be died six years prior and, further more, it becomes clear that the said leader was not present on Bajor at the time of the mining accident. This information, combined with other bits that they gather, reveals a strange picture: the man they are holding wanted to be caught. In fact, he cosmetically altered himself to look like the camp leader and then arranged for an “emergency medical stop” at the Bajoran owned station — a strange thing for a Cardassian to do. The man is not the leader, but Marritza the file clerk after all.

When confronted with this, the man being held bursts out in even more atrocious descriptions of the acts he claims to have committed; claiming it is insane to compare him to that mere “bug” Marritza. He tries to go on, but he comes apart describing how, first still describing Marritza in third person, then finally switching to first person, he would cower by his bed trying to cover his ears to shield himself from the screams of the prisoners in the camp. He was a coward too afraid to stop the crimes his people were committing. He has come in hopes of receiving the trial his former boss should have, to force the details out and make his people finally admit their guilt; in other words, he has essentially sought to offer himself as a vicarious substitute for his people in hopes of righting the wrongs he was too scared to stop before.

Kira, recognizing the man as the epitome of honor, rather than a war criminal, releases her former nemesis, instead of furthering the prosecution against him, and makes arrangements for him to return to his home planet safely. Unfortunately, this man, who was seeking to heal the wounds between the Cardassians and Bajorans, is fatally stabbed by a Bajoran who runs up behind Kira and Marritza. The major, aghast, cries out to the murderer, who claims he was justified by the fact that Marritza was a Cardassian. “That is not enough,” Kira responds as she holds the now lifeless body of Marritza and the camera pans out to end the episode. The major has come to see that her former hatred and lust for vengeance was empty and destructive, but unfortunately the other Bajoran did not.

The tragic ending, like I said, is classical. The hero, Marritza, is killed unjustly in the midst of his attempts to right the wrongs he was not responsible for. The acting — especially Yulin's powerful enactment of Marritza — and well-written dialogue serve to bring this ever-present issue into a very dramatic height that is dynamic and touching. How often do we let our own need to be avenged, under the cloak of justice, blind us from seeing the innocent people that end up being the victims of a new set of crimes — those that we end up perpetrating?

Duet is an appropriate name, as one finds oneself in the constant dance between mercy and vengeance, between overwhelming guilt and ignorant self-righteousness. The tragic reminds us of how close we could come to being on either side of the situation.

Catharsis.

What Else? The Piper Pays Him!

By | Posted at 21:06

Well, this summer has been a summer of musicals. What could be better than that? Today, I saw what was likely the last musical of the season. My great aunt celebrated her 94th birthday this week, and so my parents and myself went with her to a musical at the community college as something different to give her. I think she liked that a lot more than anything else we could have given her (not even a copy of Captain Billy's Wizbang could have beaten it!).

There was almost trouble in St. Charles city, though. Being a small time event, we did not have tickets ahead of time. When we arrived this afternoon, the theater was sold out. Fortunately, we stuck around to get a “waiting list” number, and ended up with some really nice seats. My dad and myself took two seats in the third row, while my aunt and mother took front row seats. The cost for four people? A mere $14.

No there where no white knights in the play or angels with wings, but we enjoyed an amazing performance given the price and setting. The scenery was not anything spectacular, but was “good enough.” The performers all gave a five star performance; in fact, I think there were less mistakes in this small time play than in the Muny version of Mame (although the heat on last Monday may have been the cause for that!). The orchestra might not have been as good as the ones at a more professional production (or ones that would have been conducted by the great Creatore or John Philips Sousa), but they did an almost flawless job on all but the most difficult numbers.

Now, I know what you are saying: “I don't believe I caught the name of the play.” I don't believe I dropped it. 15 Challenge points for the person who can guess what the play was without using Google (or another general purpose search engine).

MAME

By | Posted at 0:05

I saw Mame tonight at the Muny. I'm too tired to write anything more about it just now. But, for being so hot, I will say that the light breeze helped a lot. For now, good night.

What You Leave Behind

By | Posted at 23:52

After the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I pretty much quit watching anything Star Trek. I'm not sure exactly why, but I did. I do not believe I've even watched more than a handful of DS9 reruns since that sad day in June of 1999. I did watch part of the first season of Enterprise, but it never pulled me in that much, despite being a decent show.

Lately, I've used the DVR to grab some DS9 episodes off of the TV. It reminded me of why I liked Star Trek so much, and why Enterprise didn't cut the mustard.

I started toward the end of the series, catching three episodes and one episode from season six and season seven, respectively. All of the four episodes showed off DS9's ability to grapple with a wide variety of plots, from a wide variety of angles and do it well. I then recorded a few more episodes, just this week, catching Emissary Part I and II (the pilot episode), along with a few other earlier episodes.

From the beginning, DS9 managed to walk the fine line of being a dark series (both visually and plot-wise) while keeping an air of hope. Emissary is both depressing, beginning with the death of Commander Sisko's wife at the Wolf 359 Borg invasion three years prior to the beginning of DS9, and hopeful, as the Prophets help Sisko realize that he “remains” at the point of his wife's death despite that he feels he has moved on. Using this ingenious plot, the writers started off the Star Trek spinoff by exploring the psychological issues of loss and grief in a powerful, unique way that immediately made you connect with Sisko.

Connecting with the characters is exactly what the series managed best. Watching the early episodes again feels like being reunited with old friends. Two nights ago, I watched the episode that introduced one of the series' most fascinating, complex characters, “plain and simple Garak.” Garak the tailor turns out to be much more as the series unfolds: he is actually a washed out spy of the Obsidian Order of Cardassia and the illegitimate child of the head of the Order, Enabran Tain, who is never willing to acknowledge Garak as his son until Tain's dying moments in a fight with the Dominion. Garak's participation with Tain in a Cardassian-Romulan battle against the Dominion ultimately also brings about the collapse of Cardassia, which, in turn, brings about the Dominion war that covered approximately two years of the storyline, and is the climax of Deep Space Nine's seven year run.

Every bit of the show was interconnected. Few episodes were merely gratuitous stories: they all fit into the bigger picture, even if they were good by themselves. Unlike the Star Trek franchises before or after it, DS9 was really one giant epic that played out over seven years. Rather than being truly episodes, the episodes where more like chapters in a giant book. It has all the marks of a good story: villains who are evil but likable (Gul Dukat, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Eddington and Weyoun, for example), heroes that are flawed and fail to see their destiny (Captain Benjamin Sisko, especially, but Kira, Odo, Bashir and others too), and plenty of ambiguous characters to keep you on your toes (Quark, Elim Garak, Kai Winn, Sloan, etc.).

While each Trek had its high points, Deep Space Nine episodes such as Emissary, Paradise Lost and In the Pale Moonlight that drove DS9 further. While DS9 did pretty much trash the Roddenberrian idealism that formed the basis of Star Trek, I'd say that doing so was probably a good thing: as nice as Roddenberry's utopian vision was to imagine, it wasn't realistic.

Returning to DS9 after six years has given me a new appreciation for it. Instead of already being “inside the universe,” the story must pull me back in, and this has allowed me to analyze it much better than I could before. DS9 should surely rank among the best dramatic tales told on or off of television in the 20th century. Sure, you have to get yourself accustomed to Star Trek terminology and history to fully appreciate it, but once you do (or even if you do not), you'll find an amazingly complex, dark and rich story that accomplished what few other works have ever attempted, much less succeeded at.

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