Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I Survived a Japanese Game Show" - July 29, 2008 episode

From the end of last week's show, Donnell's victory in the elimination game hadn't lessened his anger towards Justin and Andrew, and he refused to speak to them when he got backstage. After a few more heated words, the three men eventually called a truce and made up.

The next team challenge was another dizzying one. Each of the two team members sat in chairs at opposite ends, and the chairs were spun *very* quickly and for quite some time. When the chairs stopped, each team member had to make their way over a walkway (if they fell, they fell into powder and then had to get back up) and then to a set of spinning disks on the floor and then past each other to where the other person's chair was. Nearby, one person would retrieve a set of three keys while the other person would retrieve a heart lock on a belt, which they would then put on. The two team members then had to make their way back over the walkway and while on the spinning disks, they had to find the right key to unlock the belt. Once that was done, they would each retrieve their respective keys or lock and go back to their original chairs. The team who did all that in the shortest amount of time was the winner. Because the Yellow Penguins had three team members, one needed to sit out, and Bilenda volunteered.

Then there was the funny twist. For this challenge, each team would be dressed as a bride and groom. For the Yellow Penguins, Justin got to wear a tux, but that meant Andrew wore the white wedding gown. And for the Green Monkeys, Meaghan got to wear the tux, which left the white wedding gown for Donnell.

The Yellow Penguins went first. Justin and Andrew had some difficulty from being so dizzy, but they managed to retrieve what they needed and then worked to unlock the belt (with Bilenda screaming at them from the sidelines). Unfortunately, Andrew ended up going through all three keys before he found the right one, and their total time was 1 minute and 9 seconds.

Next up were the Green Monkeys. Donnell was a little concerned because he performed poorly during the last challenge that involved being dizzy. However, Meaghan was pretty disoriented this time. She retrieved her belt, but when she put it on, she didn't notice that the heart lock was at her back, so when she met up with Donnell, he couldn't reach the lock, and she had to move it to the front. Donnell's first choice key unlocked the belt, but then they had a mishap where Donnell didn't get his keys back, and Meaghan ended up dropping them in the powder, so Donnell had to retrieve them. The Green Monkeys' time was revealed to be 1 minute and 4 seconds, beating the Yellow Penguins by a mere 5 seconds, securing a win for the first time since the first episode of the show.

The reward for Donnell and Meaghan was to be picked up in a limo that night and taken to a luxury hotel, the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. They were shown into a private dining room where they had their own personal chef and personal waiters, and they could ask for anything they wanted to eat. Meaghan's request for a pizza came as a surprise to both the chef and to Donnell, but Meaghan eventually got her pizza. They were also given a host of other yummy-looking food, including foie gras. They were then taken up to the Presidential Suite, which cost $12,000 per night and was, as Donnell, described it, the size of three apartments, and there was also a swimming pool in the suite.

From the hotel website, here's a description of the suite.

Entertain lavishly in a 260-sq.-metre top-floor suite offering private pool, sundeck and sweeping views. Stylish decor includes living room, dining for eight, kitchen, guest bath, and work area with high-speed Internet. Bedroom includes two plush king beds and master bath with jetted spa tub and rain shower. Includes access to Grand Club lounge, serving breakfast, evening cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Additional window in bedroom (suites)
Separate work area
Two 13-inch flat-screen TVs in bathroom
2 Bang & Olufsen stereo systems
43 inch flat-screen TV in master bedroom
Cable/satellite TV channels
Dual line phones
Full blackout blinds
High-speed Internet access
Individual air conditioning control
iPod docking station
Safe large enough to store and charge laptop computer
Windows that open partially
Separate sitting area
Outdoor heated swimming pool and terrace
Oversized work desk
24-hour room service
43 inch flat-screen TV in living room
Beds in bedroom using Cashmere sheets
Coffee maker
Crib upon request
DVD/CD player
Full kitchen with separate entrance
Humidifier/air purifier upon request
In-room fax machine
Mineral water
Morning newspaper
Whirlpool bath with neck massager

Some pictures of the suite.

The evening's accommodations for Justin, Andrew and Bilenda weren't quite as nice. They were taken by mini-van to a capsule hotel. Their dining room was a little waiting area with metal chairs and a little coffee table, and they were given little bento boxes for dinner, which I would normally love, but they didn't appear to be the nice bento boxes. They were also given a small amount of warm beer to go with their dinner. With dinner over, they were taken to their capsules, which one of the people likened to an MRI machine. Justin said that being 6'2", these capsules weren't built for people his size, and with none of the three being small or slender, they were probably larger than what they expect the normal person to be who would rent out a capsule. They all complained about how small it was, but it didn't look all that bad to me. Sure, it wasn't a king-sized bed, but it looked at least wide enough where they could move around in there while laying down. The height might have been an issue - I couldn't tell how long the capsules were. But one capsule definitely looked to be roomier than say a sleeping bag.

When the Yellow Penguins returned to the house the next morning, they were cranky from being uncomfortable all night, but Donnell and Meaghan returned happy and cheery after their luxury night out.

When they all got to the studio, the Yellow Penguins were each given gi to wear. They had not yet discussed or decided on who would be participating in the elimination round. Bilenda talked to Donnell and Meaghan about who they would put up if they had to choose, and Donnell immediately said Justin and Andrew. So I guess it was ok for Donnell to put the other two guys up, but it wasn't ok for them to put him up. Yeah, they did it first, but after their talk, they supposedly re-formed the alliance. Whatever, Donnell. When it came time to choose, Bilenda said she wanted the Green Monkeys to decide, but Andrew was adamant that wouldn't happen because he knew they'd pick him and Justin. Andrew said that Justin had not failed in any of the challenges so it wasn't fair for him to be put up, so Andrew volunteered himself to compete with Bilenda, and with Justin agreeing, the decision was made.

The elimination game involved the contestants changing into various sets of clothing in three rounds, and the person with the shortest time overall was the winner. They also brought in the previous year's clothes changing winner, who was the all-time champion at that, and the contestants were told that if they could beat him, they would get a special prize. The changing stalls were partitioned off so they couldn't see each other, and as the first clothes combination came up, Bilenda and Andrew raced to change as quickly as possible. What they didn't know but what everyone else could see is that the back of the champion's stall had a secret door, and the champion's twin, already dressed in the appropriate clothes, just traded places, ringing in just before the first person was done. Before the second clothes combination, the twins had enough time to sip some wine and even play a card game before it was time for the correct twin to "be finished changing" and ring in. Before the third clothes combination, they were supposedly going to go one at a time, so they could see the champion's technique, and that's when it was revealed to Andrew and Bilenda that they just used a twin switch. In the regular competition, though, Bilenda had beaten Andrew by a few seconds in each of the first two rounds. For the third round, Andrew jumped to an early lead and Bilenda had some trouble, but eventually Bilenda won the third round as well, which meant it was time for the Sayonara Mob to carry out Andrew. Andrew took his defeat graciously and said he had fun and tried his best and that was what counted. I also thought it was pretty classy for him to put himself up because he didn't think Justin deserved to be put up.

One thing I haven't really mentioned is that there are animated mascots for both the Green Monkeys and Yellow Penguins, and they're sort of anime/cutie versions, which they also usually dress up or adorn with whatever the challenge is. For instance, during the challenge where the contestants were dressed up in baby clothes, so were the mascots. During the challenge of throwing balls to stick to their velcro suits, balls were whizzing at the mascots too. In this episode, the mascots had on wedding attire. I love seeing the mascots and what they do to them - they're so cute.

One thing I've been wondering is how Majide's ratings for these shows are doing in Japan. This is a regular game show, so the gimic for them is that instead of local Japanese contestants, they instead imported Americans, but it's still a regular game show there. I wonder if the "stunt casting" boosted their ratings.

Next week is the 2-hour season finale, which will have 3 elimination games, so presumably, they're just going to go head-to-head and get picked off one at a time until all that's left is the sole survivor. I'm not sure who I'm rooting for other than being against Donnell. His growing attitude has really been bothering me. I'd be ok with any of the other three winning.

All together now - HAI, Majide!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

black and white (cats, that is)

I have come to the realization that while I say that my favorite kitties are calicos, I can't really say I love them all that much because I haven't had any vague connection to a calico since a kitty I had when I was probably about 8. What I apparently really have an affinity for are black and white cats. I came to notice that many of the cats I like and associate with are black and white. And I think I've come across the "culprit" that's the source.

What? You don't know who that is? Why, it's Pussyfoot, of course! Seriously, you *still* don't know who she is? *big sigh* Yeah, I know, lots of people don't know who she is, and many of those who do happen to know *who* she is don't know her name. She is a Warner Bros. character, created by Chuck Jones, that appears in only a few cartoon shorts and is barely marketed, so I suppose it's understandable to some degree that she's not well known, but *I* know who she is, so I'm not sure what everyone else's excuse is. In any case, once you've seen her, how can you not fall in love with her? (Oh, by the way, the dog that's always with her is Marc Antony.)

Here's "Feed The Kitty", her first short. Yes, it's the one with the cookie.

"Kiss Me Cat" - In this short, you actually hear her being referred to as "Pussyfoot". However, I'm also noticing that they keep referring to Pussyfoot as a "him", but I've always considered the cat a "her". Maybe I just like female cats better and so pretty much assume "her" - no matter what. So, beyond all evidence to the contrary, I'm going to keep referring to "her". In any case, this has the wagging finger bit, the chariot, and best of all, Pussyfoot's new look.

"Cat Feud" - This short has her with a different dog, who still looks a bit like Marc Antony but is a different color. It's funny to watch her hiss at the other cat.

She's in another short that I kind of vaguely remember but I can't find it on youtube, but youtube does have yet another short with her, but I watched part of it and don't like it, so I'm not including it here.

If you've ever seen the Pixar animated film "Monsters, Inc.", you may or may not know that there's a connection to Pussyfoot. (I love the movie for lots of other reasons anyway, but this was just an extra little gem.) There's a scene when Sulley is trying to hide Boo where Boo ends up in a trash can, the contents of which gets dumped into the trash chute. Sulley thinks that Boo has been dumped along with the other trash, but unbeknownst to him, she had already climbed out, leaving one of her "antenna", which is why he thinks she's still there. He watches as the trash is crushed and flattened and made into a cube. (And yes, the cube trash made me think of Wall-E, also a Pixar creation. Hmmm...) He melts as he watches all of this through a window and is very sad when the finished cube comes out but then rejoices when it turns out Boo is still alive. This entire sequence is an homage to the "Feed The Kitty" segment when the woman makes the cookies and Marc Antony thinks Pussyfoot has been mixed in. When we saw that part of "Monsters, Inc.", the husband and I were laughing hysterically, and yeah, when we told people about it, they stared at us like we had two heads. Each. And then there are the other people who claim Pixar stole that segment from Warner Bros. Because, you know, they don't know a tribute when they see one. I also think it's funny that Pussyfoot is often just referred to as "kitty", which is exactly Boo's nickname for Sulley.

Someone has put together footage from both "Feed The Kitty" and "Monsters, Inc." so the comparison can be better seen.

Here's a collection of some of Pussyfoot's looks. Isn't she adorable? Yeah, I know, it's the eyes.

As I mentioned, Pussyfoot is not a character that is marketed much, but years ago, back when the Warner Bros. stores were still in existence, they had some porcelain figures, and one day, I saw that they had an armchair with Marc Antony on it, with Pussyfoot perched on top. Wow! Merchandise with Pussyfoot and a really cute one at that! I looked at it for a while, walked around the store and kept going back to look at it. I finally asked for them to take it out of the case so I could see it better. (The husband, SO at the time, said that as soon as I asked them to take it out, he knew it was coming home with me.) And then they showed me that the bottom of the armchair had a secret drawer you could pull out - and in the drawer is the kitty cookie from "Feed The Kitty". That sealed the deal. I had to have it. I absolutely love that piece, and as much a Disney fan as I am, it would probably surprise a lot of people that my most prized and treasured possession is not a Disney property, but rather, this object from Warner Bros.

A number of years ago, on a trip to Magic Mountain, I actually found the cutest t-shirt with Pussyfoot on it. One problem - it was only available in kids' sizes. But I couldn't pass it up, so I bought it, and my giant Thumper plush wears it.

In recent years, Pussyfoot has been marketed a little more, and a friend surprised me one year for my birthday with a cute pillow with Pussyfoot on it. She also told me that there was a whole bedding set as well, which I went looking for.

The pillow on the floor is the one she gave me, and I bought just the comforter from this set.

And then another year for my birthday, the same friend gave me one of the best presents I've ever gotten.

Oh. My. Goodness. Cuteness overload.

Another cat that I'm incredibly fond of is Disney's Figaro, who is probably best known as being in the film "Pinocchio" but is also in some Disney shorts as well.

Here's what she looks like in an Armani piece that the husband got me for my birthday a few years ago.

And here's what she looks like from Robert Olszewski's Storytime Collection.

Here are two other Figaro pieces I have. No, they're not my pictures, and I have no idea what the deal is with the water/lake.

Another well-known black and white cat is Felix, who I'm not as fixated on as Pussyfoot or Figaro, but I still watched his cartoons all the time, and I loved his bag of tricks.

And then, we get to real-life cats. Our cat Orkid is - wait for it - black and white!

On her first day home, she was exploring, and she apparently liked being under my chair.

Here she is next to the Screamin' coaster toy from Disney's California Adventure and the remote control R2-D2, so you can get an idea of her size if you know those items.

I liked how the lighting fell on her face.

Though she doesn't do it as much anymore, she likes sitting in one of the sinks in the master bedroom/bath. She doesn't like it as much if you actually turn the faucet on, even a little.

She loves rustling around in bags and boxes. She decided to hide in this Disney bag.

Here she is, snuggled up with Q, which must be mortifying for him.

One of the more recent photos of her - yeah, I know, I've included it in a blog post before, but I just really love this picture of her.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the kids can play a full baseball game all by themselves

OK, maybe this is one of those things I don't get because I don't have kids. Or maybe this is one of those things I don't get because I'm not a member of a particular religion. Or maybe this is one of those things I don't get just because I'm me.

I saw this article yesterday. I have no idea how people decide how many kids they're going to have. I also have no idea how people decide when they're going to stop. But to me, there's something wrong with having 18 kids, though I can't pinpoint why I think that's "wrong". If someone can afford to raise and take care of 18 kids, why shouldn't they? If a woman really wants to pop out 18 kids in 23 years, why shouldn't she? Maybe the whole over-population thing is something I think about periodically. Maybe I just can't believe that two parents can adequately give 18 kids the love and attention they need to grow and thrive. Sure, there's that whole "the older kids can take care of the younger kids" thing, but I'm not sure I think that's a good idea. And this is coming from the point of view of being the younger kid. Some of my siblings, who are all older than me, spent a lot of time caring for me because my parents weren't available. Were they forced to do things that kids really shouldn't have to do that early on? Did they have to give up some aspects of their own childhood because they had to be the "adult" for me?

I know that in some religions, no form of birth control is allowed except for abstinence. I think some allow the rhythm method (Is it still called that? Was it called that before? You know, the one where you abstain during the time when the women is probably most fertile.), but I think some don't even really allow that, though I'm not sure about that. So in that case, I guess chances are, you're going to get pregnant more often than most other people. The father is quoted as saying that they're just accepting as many kids as God sees fit to give them. I've heard some people defer to God in things that I think makes sense, and I've heard people defer to God in things that I don't think make any sense at all (winning a reality game show? really? seriously.). I'm not sure what category this falls under for me. On the one hand, I can see that if your religion doesn't allow you to use birth control, and you're not willing to be celibate, then babies are gonna be made. But 18 kids just doesn't sit well with me. I guess the saving grace is at least that they're all in one family, as opposed to the people who are spreading their seed around/allowing different seed to be spread to them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Citrus City Grille - restaurant review

We had occasion to be in Orange for a couple of errands this past Saturday, so we decided to have lunch at Citrus City Grille. We'd been there once before for lunch, and the husband had been introduced to the place by a work acquaintance when they had lunch together one day.

Citrus City Grille is a very nice restaurant that has marks of being an upscale restaurant - white linen tablecloths and napkins, good servers, nice menu - but it's not a stuffy place - on top of the white linen tablecloths is white butcher-block paper. On this Saturday afternoon, most of the people were dressed very casually, though the husband said that when he was there for a weekday lunch, it seemed to be much more of a business crowd.

It wasn't very crowded, so we were seated immediately at a table by the window. They also have outside seating in front of the restaurant.

It looks like the menu has been changed at least some because the soup that I had as a starter isn't listed on the online menu. (And no, I didn't have the soup of the day, which was tortilla soup.) I have loved gazpacho since I was introduced to it at the Catal Uva Bar, and it's especially refreshing on a warm summer's day, so I decided to have the shrimp gazpacho. There were a lot of things that looked good on the menu, but a lot of it was what I normally view as "dinner food", so I opted for the Kobe Cheeseburger with bacon and avocado. Yeah, I know, it's a little weird to have a cheeseburger at a moderately upscale place, but moderately upscale places also generally serve amazing burgers - the quality of the meat and accompaniments really makes a difference. The husband opted to start with the Citrus Caesar salad, followed by the Newporter Chicken.

We were brought a focaccia-type bread (which I liked) and a dipping liquid. I didn't try the liquid, but the husband said it was a combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and something else that he wasn't sure of but he thinks might have been parmesan cheese.

Our starters arrived shortly thereafter. I *loved* the shrimp gazpacho, which also had julienned cucumber across the top. The flavor was excellent, and the shrimp was a nice extra. We were a little surprised that the husband's Caesar basically had a wedge of romaine lettuce with the dressing drizzled on with capers and square slices of romano cheese sprinkled on top. We'd never seen it served that way before, but he enjoyed the salad very much.

When they brought my cheeseburger, it did certainly look like what you'd expect from a moderately upscale restaurant. The meat patty was very thick and juicy, and after I'd bitten into the burger, the juices were still running out of it. The bun is made at the restaurant, and it had three generous slices of bacon and a nice wedge of avocado on top. I don't like burgers without lettuce and tomatoes, so I was happy that they'd included three big slices of tomato (usually, you only get one or two, and they're not that big or thick), but I was pleasantly surprised that instead of iceburg lettuce, they used a spring mix of lettuce (or as we like to call them, "weeds"). The burger was very delicious indeed. Accompanying the burger was a side of what they call thin-cut fries, and they weren't kidding - these were probably even thinner than what I'd normally call shoestring fries. They were ok, but I don't like my fries quite that thin, so I didn't have as many as I might normally have. And of course, since it was a moderately upscale restaurant, they had also brought a little metal cup filled with ketchup (Here's a tangent - do you use "ketchup" or "catsup"? And is there any actual difference? I don't object to "catsup", but in writing myself, I seem to prefer "ketchup". OK, tangent over.) - no ketchup bottles on the table in this restaurant! (But they did have salt and pepper shakers on the table, though they were cute ones. At some point, I'll get around to posting about my apparent salt and pepper shaker obsession that started when we had dinner at Emeril's at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas in March. Oh, wait, I'm digressing again.) There was also a small wedge of watermelon on the plate, so I really enjoyed that.

The husband's Newporter had a breast of chicken with avocado, Swiss cheese and tomato on whole multi-grain bread or as he called it, "birdseed bread". He very much enjoyed his sandwich, which also came with the thin fries and the wedge of watermelon.

The service was terrific, with the server coming by periodically to check on us without being intrusive, and our water glasses were promptly refilled.

I have very much enjoyed my visits to this restaurant, and it's definitely somewhere I'd go to again whenever I'm in the area. The dinner menu looks really good too, but chances aren't good that I'd be able to try it since I probably wouldn't be in the area during dinner time.

Parking is available on the street or in lots a few blocks away, but it's always been busy in the area the times that I've been there, whether on a weekday or a weekend, so you might have to hunt around a bit.

There are also two other locations, both in the Inland Empire, which you can reach from the official website.

Citrus City Grille
122 North Glassell Street
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 639-9600
(888) 668-7474

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Mamma Mia" - spoiler movie review


OK, here's your warning that this is a REALLY LOOOOOOOOOONG review. Yeah, I know, I can hear y'all grumble, "Yeah, so what else is new? You *always* write long reviews." No, I mean, if you take my regular reviews as normal, in comparison, this review is REALLY LOOOOOOOOOONG. If for whatever reason you decide to brave it anyway, I have a few suggestions:

1. Call in sick to work.
2. Take a vacation day off from work.
3. Get a babysitter for the day.
4. Read the review in bits, a little every day when you have a chance. That should occupy all of your free time until the end of the year.

OK, did I mention that this review is REALLY LOOOOOOOOOONG? Can't say I didn't warn you!

You're really going to attempt to read this manuscript, huh?

I mentioned a while ago my feelings concerning the "Mamma Mia" movie that would be coming out, and that I couldn't wait to see it. No, we didn't go to see the movie the morning of opening night at a midnight screening - that honor unexpectedly ended up going to "The Dark Knight". But we did make plans to see it on opening night itself, which is what we did.

Bottom line - I loved it. It was really interesting to see what changes they made from the show, and for the most part, I liked the changes, much of it brought on by the fact that they were doing a movie and didn't have spatial restrictions like they do on stage. Most noticeable in that department occurs later in the film. On stage, the whole segment where Harry gives Donna a check to cover some expenses and where Donna sings "The Winner Takes It All" to Sam are all done inside Donna's bedroom. But why confine yourself to just her bedroom when you have the expanse of an island, not to mention the gorgeous scenery of the trail leading up to where the wedding took place and the surrounding parts of the island and the water. You also get all the beautiful shots as Sam, Bill and Harry are sailing on the boat with Sophie during the "Our Last Summer" segment, something that's totally different than in the show.

There were a number of nice nods to the Broadway show that got incorporated into the movie, but I think they were done so in a way that wasn't intrusive. If you've seen the show, the bits are funnier. If not, they're still funny and good. There's a segment in "Mamma Mia" where heads pop up over the edge of the roof, which during the show always brings a round of laughter, and it did pretty much the same thing in the movie. There's also a lot of choreography during songs like "Lay All Your Love On Me", "Super Trouper" and "Does Your Mother Know" that are identical to what's in the show. The very end of the film might be odd for viewers who don't know the show since most films don't end with a concert segment. It's one thing to just have the 3 women performing, but then Meryl Streep does this bit where she's talking into the camera as if she's addressing the audience, which comes off a bit more odd. But those who've seen the show know that the end is in fact pretty much just a concert, with the songs as encores and oftentimes, with the audience up and dancing and singing along.

Most of my thoughts are tied to performances and characters and songs, so I'll break down my comments that way.

As I'd mentioned previously, I had some trepidation when they first announced that Meryl Streep was cast as Donna because that's not how I envisioned her. I always think of Meryl as being very refined and cultured, and I wasn't sure she'd be loose enough to play Donna the way Donna needs to be. Many years ago, I was a fan of hers from films like "Holocaust", "Kramer vs. Kramer", "The Deer Hunter" and "Sophie's Choice". Then there was a period when she seemed to either got nominated or actually won for whatever role she played in a film, no matter what it was, almost as a knee-jerk reaction, and I got tired of that so really stopped watching her in films, though I did think she was very good in "Death Becomes Her", which was also the first time I remember seeing her in something not serious and heavy. Then I saw her in "The Devil Wears Prada", and I was a fan again. She was amazing in that, especially since her performance was so understated but her character still had a strong grip, really without any shouting or carrying on. I'm glad her performance in "Mamma Mia" came after that, because otherwise, I think I would have had a real problem with her casting. I hadn't seen "A Prairie Home Companion", so I wasn't aware that she apparently sings in that film.

Here are two pictures of Meryl Streep, one from "The Devil Wears Prada" and one from "Mamma Mia". Of course, you can change a person's looks with hair and makeup and costume and she's an actress after all, but I always think of her more the way she looks in the first picture, more austere, prim, prissy, refined, and usually in "important" films, but definitely not something as carefree as a musical incorporating the songs of ABBA. In the second picture, they've really played down and simplified her looks, which befits Donna much better.

Well, she had me sold in this film. She was terrific as Donna, and she has a great singing voice, which is important for this role. There were many very silly and free moments and a few more that were slightly on the risque side, and she handled it all beautifully. Here's a segment from "Dancing Queen" where you can see the funny, silly and carefree side of her, something I didn't previously associate with Meryl Streep. As you'd expect, she was also great in the scenes where she had to be poignant or any of the scenes dealing with Donna's relationship with Sam. I particularly liked her performance at the earlier part of "Chiquitita". In the show, Donna is upset and just buries herself, but in the film, she's actually in tears as her friends try to comfort her.

My biggest praise for this movie, though, goes to Amanda Seyfried, who plays Sophie, and she doesn't just play her - she is *perfect* as Sophie. I could not think of one thing she did that I didn't like or that I would have liked to have seen done differently. Her inflections in speaking and singing were dead on, and her expressions were as well. As many times as I've seen the show, I haven't always been completely happy with the actresses who have played Sophie. Some of them were terrific, but I'd occasionally see someone who didn't sing the songs as well or who didn't play the part as well. Amanda shines in both departments. Yes, I know, I'm gushing, and I wasn't even familiar with Amanda prior to this, but I'm just so thrilled that for the version that I'll have on DVD and that I'll be able to watch any time, the person playing Sophie is just absolutely perfect.

There is one particular bit in the story where, whether by Amanda's choice or the director's, her interpretation isn't the one I like. During her bachelorette party, she's sitting and talking to Bill at one point, who asks if her father is there, and she says she doesn't know. My preferred reading of her line is as a throwaway - she doesn't mean to say that, but she's let down her guard ever so slightly so accidentally reveals more than she means to, and it's not until after she says it that she realizes she's said more than she should have. I have seen some actresses play the line intentionally instead, as a sort of deliberate bait to Bill, and for me, that's too calculating for someone as seemingly naive and sweet as Sophie. Amanda does play the line not as something she didn't mean to say but rather as something she is well aware that she is saying, but her delivery and expression are very coy and shy when she says it, so it's not bait per se but a sort of hope that she's tossing out to Bill, so even though the overall intention is not what I normally like, she does manage to pull off the delivery so that it still works for me.

One curious observation I had is that Amanda's credit in the main billing is later than I would expect. Yeah, Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan get top billing, and Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters and Colin Firth are billed above her since they're established actors. Christine Baranski is last, but the last position is sometimes used as a position of honor when there's a large ensemble, so that makes sense too. But Amanda is also billed after Dominic Cooper, who plays Sky. I would say Sky is a minor lead in the film, but Sophie is definitely a much bigger part of the story and has much more to do in the story, and while I haven't heard of the actor before, I also don't get the idea that he's very well known generally, so I'm just surprised her credit comes after his, especially since the credits aren't in alphabetical order.

Yeah, I know, most people don't even notice little stuff like this. Yeah, I know, I'm odd because I do.

I'm amused that the husband's approval of Amanda comes partly from the fact that she's blonde. Even though the song isn't sung during the course of the film proper, there's a line in "Thank You For The Music" about being "the girl with golden hair". The song is sung in the show itself, so it always annoys the husband when the actress playing Sophie is a brunette instead of a blonde.

Here's a short video of Amanda practicing "Thank You For The Music". And here's a short interview with Amanda talking about her love of ABBA songs. She's actually very cute here with her enthusiasm.

When I heard that Pierce Brosnan was cast as Sam, it made sense to me because his good looks and attitude would certainly work for Sam's character, and I was fine with his acting performance. I get the impression, though, that they basically overlooked his singing ability and hired him anyway. In my opinion, his singing is the weakest of everyone in the film, which is a bit unfortunate since he's the leading man. You don't notice as much on songs where he's singing with other people, but his solos on "S.O.S.", and especially the very beginning of the song, are very jarring. He seems to be trying too hard in trying to emote both musically and facially, and I think his expressions are quite odd in the close-ups on him during the first verse of the song. It was interesting to me that they cut the song "Knowing Me, Knowing You" from the film version, a song that's quite powerful in the show and comes right after Sam is questioning Sophie about whether she really should be getting married, especially after Sam witnesses a disagreement between Sophie and Sky. I'd be curious to know whether the song was cut before or after he was cast, as I don't think he would have been able to handle that song at all. I did find it interesting, though, that he was basically given a solo in the dinner scene at the end with "When All Is Said And Done". I think he did better on that than on "S.O.S.", so it might have been that the notes and pitch were easier for him to hit on the later song. I kept trying to figure out what was "wrong" with his singing, and one thing that occurred to me is that he's not singing with the English accent I might expect - instead, because he kind of slurs and mushes his words together, he almost sounds like you'd expect Alan Rickman to sound when he's singing, since he sort of mushes his words together when he's talking. Hmmm, I can't remember what Rickman sounded like in "Sweeney Todd", which he did sing in. Well, at least Brosnan didn't have that much singing to do, and it was only the one song where it was really obvious that he was weak in that department, unlike a certain other filmed musical where one of the leading male roles went to an actor who could by no means handle the singing, which was especially a problem because his character's whole enchantment was because of his beautiful voice and amazing musical ability. Umm, yeah, not so much in that case.

When I first heard that Colin Firth was cast as Harry, I laughed because I knew he would fit so well. I've been a fan of his since "Circle of Friends", and I really liked him in "Bridget Jones' Diary", "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Love, Actually". He was very good as Harry, as I expected him to be.

They downplayed a little bit of Harry bristling at having previously been told that he's too stuffy and him basically going back to the days when he was spontaneous and free, when he knew Donna. One major change they made with Harry is that in the show, he has a partner, so it's more of a surprise/shock when we learn later in the story that his partner is male - Nigel. In the film, he is presented as being unattached, though the reaction was still there when he mentioned that Donna was the last woman that he loved, and they cut to a guy he obviously has hooked up with while on the island - I did love that shot, though. There's an odd scene earlier in the movie where Bill seems to think that Harry is coming out to him, while Harry assumes that something is going on between Bill and another woman. (I think Harry is referring to Rosie, but there were times that I almost thought he might be referring to Sophie, so that was odd.) His being single also kind of throws off the line sung by Sophie in "Our Last Summer" where Sophie mentions him being a family man. I would have preferred that the story was that he was attached but his significant other has recently left him, and so you could almost interpret his acceptance of the invitation that he thought was from Donna as maybe being sorry that he lost track of her and maybe he was coming to rekindle the relationship. They managed to convey that Harry has an SO in the show without revealing the person's gender or even making it obvious that they were specifically avoiding stating the SO's gender, so I don't think that would have been a problem for the film.

In the show, "Our Last Summer" is a duet by Harry and Donna, when he comes to see her to give her the check, and he actually sings part of "Thank You For The Music" soon after he arrives at the taverna, and it's the first connection made between him and Sophie, so when they were on the boat in the film, and he picks up his guitar, I was expecting him to sing "Thank You For The Music", so I was surprised when it turned out to be "Our Last Summer". I think he sounded great in the first couple of lines by himself, though I did enjoy the ensemble work on the song in the film, so I would have liked to have heard him sing a bit more rather than just as part of everyone else or a line or two in "Take A Chance On Me". Maybe in another film.

Another bit of perfect casting when I heard about it was Christine Baranski as Tanya, who is pretty much the character she played in the television series "Cybill". There are added bits in the show that rounded out Tanya's character a bit more that were omitted from the film, but she was still good and particularly spectacular in "Does Your Mother Know".

Both Stellan Skarsgard and Julie Walters were fine in the film, though they didn't have all that much to do. I think their characters are the least developed in the show anyway. "Take A Chance On Me" is done much differently - in the show, it's a duet between the two of them before the wedding starts, whereas in the film, it's after the wedding, in front of the entire wedding party and guests and eventually becomes an ensemble song.

Dominic Cooper was fine as Sky, and he did a really good job on "Lay All Your Love On Me", but unfortunately, in my mind, Sky will always be Timothy Ware. Sky was always a sort of forgettable character in the show until the first time I saw Ware, who was in the North America touring company of "Mamma Mia" at the time - he is no longer with them. His performance was just incredible. His delivery during a couple specific parts of the story (when Sophie asks him if he really thinks of his bachelor party as his last day of freedom and when Sky finds out that Sophie has invited her three potential fathers and breathed not a word of it to him) were just different from everyone else's that I'd seen, and it made Sky into a real character for me.

Sky and Sophie from the North America touring company.

The cast of the North America touring company celebrating an anniversary.

I found it interesting that in the show, the character of Eddie, one of Donna's employees, has quite a number of lines and is a minor named character, but he's pretty much just ensemble in the film. I don't think he's even referred to by name. I don't think Pepper is named either (he's the one Tanya plays with in "Does Your Mother Know"), but he has a bigger part in the movie than Eddie, whereas Eddie is really the bigger role in the show.

Oh, and there are cameos by the two male members of ABBA who wrote the songs - Benny Andersson is the piano player during the "Dancing Queen" segment and Bjorn Ulvaeus is dressed as a Greek god during the closing credits sequence.

thoughts on some of the songs

"Money, Money, Money" - The first song by Meryl Streep, where you can hear and see that she's right for the role of Donna. Nicely done.

"Mamma Mia" - I love this song, but I thought the choreography choices were a bit odd. Here's a segment from the song, which shows some of the odd choreography I mentioned. The song as done in the show is much more sedate, with Donna making her way among the three men, all of whom are frozen, and she is incredulous at their presence but disturbed most of all by Sam. She is obviously much more frenzied here, and there's not quite the same feeling of longing. You can also see the "heads popping up" moment that I mentioned earlier, which is mitigated by the fact that she is apparently unable to see them herself, so they're really not a part of the story.

"Dancing Queen" - Loved how they played this - Donna joining in was much more natural. In the show, Donna pretty much wants nothing to do with this and then just pops up and joins in. In the film, Donna is mostly hiding, but she's peeking at Rosie and Tanya, and you can see her concealing a smile, so you're not surprised when she jumps in. I love the pied piper moment as they run through the town, gathering women along the way, and I love that they end up on the dock, all singing and dancing. The ending with Donna pushing Rosie and Tanya in the water and then jumping in herself was too funny.

"Our Last Summer" - As I mentioned, it's in a different spot than in the show, and I would have liked to have heard just Colin Firth sing more of the song, but I did love the scenery and the bits showing Sophie bonding with each of her potential fathers.

"Lay All Your Love On Me" - Loved this segment - even more sexy than in the show. Doesn't hurt that Amanda is so beautiful and Dominic is definitely not hard on the eyes. This is a little segment of the song, where you can see how good Amanda is, both in acting and singing. The very end of the segment also shows the boys showing up for their part of the song. In the show, the boys arrive on stage in their flippers to kidnap Sky, so I was wondering how that was going to work in the movie. And then I saw the shot of them swimming in from the ocean. Perfect, and too much fun. There were more boys in the film than on stage, so the line of them in their flippers was even funnier. And yes, much of the same choreography.

"Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" - Love this segment in the show and loved that they pulled it off well in the film without it being quite as stylized as in the show, which I don't think would have worked in the movie.

"Voulez-Vous" - This segment also keeps much of what's in the show, which I also love, especially since you actually get to see Sophie's perspective, something you can't do in the show. Love the choreography. Here's a segment of the song being shot. I hope there's lots of this kind of footage on the DVD.

"S.O.S." - I've already mentioned how much Pierce Brosnan's performance on this song so does not do it for me. It's especially jarring once Meryl Streep starts to sing, since she does such a good job, which makes it even more obvious that he really can't handle it.

"Does Your Mother Know" - Love, love, love this song. Love that they captured the fun and flirty in the film. The towel diaper is new though and not done in the show!

"Slipping Through My Fingers" - This is the song that brings me to tears every time during the show, with Sophie just sitting at the makeup table as Donna helps her get ready. I can't even describe why it has that effect on me since I don't have a daughter or any kids at all, but the lyrics are just so affecting, and even when there's been a Donna in a show that I haven't necessarily loved, they always nail this song. In the film though, when Sophie asks Donna to help her get ready, I was confused because in the show, she does that when she's mostly ready - all she needs is her hair put up and her dress put on. In the film, she hasn't even started, so I didn't know how that was going to work. Oh my goodness. The sequence starting with Donna just looking at Sophie, and the montage of them bonding, playing, having fun, Sophie sitting on Donna's lap like a little girl as Donna paints her toenails - not to mention Meryl Streep's dead on performance of the song - I was a wreck. I also liked the little coda later when Sophie's in her wedding gown making her way up the hill. This is the ending part of the song where Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried duet on the song. And yes, even just this bit brings me to tears. I also love the little exchange between them at the beginning of the clip - Meryl Streep is terrific in that little segment, and I like the two of them looking into the mirror together. On stage, they're facing each other.

"The Winner Takes It All" - This is a very powerful song in the film, and Meryl Streep does a really good job with it. (In the pre-recordings of this song, she apparently did the entire song in just one take.) She doesn't take on some of the more extended higher notes, but she still manages to very well handle a few of the difficult parts.

"When All Is Said And Done" - This is actually not an ABBA song that I'm familiar with, and it's not used in the stage show. It was done well, and I'll have to find the original sometime to hear what it sounds like.

"Take A Chance On Me" - The abrupt change in both Rosie and Bill with regard to relationships has never really sat well with me, so the surprise coupling always seemed forced to me. Practicality isn't really high on the list in musicals since people don't generally burst into song and proceed to dance in unison, but I thought the dancing/walking on the tables was a bit odd. In the show, they make a mess of the chairs, but that's when no one else is there. The water bursting through was also kind of odd, but it's a fun sequence nevertheless.

"I Have A Dream" - This is the song that brackets the beginning and end of the show, so I'm glad they kept that for the film. It was a nice background to Sky and Sophie's departure.

"Thank You For The Music" - It's too bad the song didn't make it into the film proper, but it's actually the perfect song to play over the end credits, and I see it as a sort of tribute to the writers of the songs used in the film from the filmmakers and cast. Amanda also does a terrific job with this song.

I managed to refrain from buying the soundtrack until after I'd seen the film so that I'd be hearing these versions of the songs for the first time when I saw the film. I am particularly happy that I generally love all the new versions because I now have a CD of the show versions of the songs that I can actually listen to because I *hate* the London cast recording of the show. However, the soundtrack does not have all of the songs in the movie, perhaps because of how much they can put on one CD. "Chiquitita" and "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" aren't on the soundtrack. They don't have "Waterloo" on the soundtrack either, but I'm used to that because they didn't put the ending "concert" songs on the CD of the Broadway show either. And, of course, you don't get Donna humming "Fernando". ;)

I do find it interesting that they have "The Name of the Game" on the CD even though Sophie doesn't sing it in the film. They changed that part so that even though they kept the lines before and after, she didn't have the song itself. I'm wondering if they actually did shoot the scene and it ended up being cut from the film and will show up on the DVD. Or, since I heard that they recorded the songs before they shot the film, maybe they thought they were going to do a scene so had her do the song but ended up cutting the scene even before any of it was shot. In any case, I do love this version of the song, and Amanda does a good job with it. However, while I love how it's arranged, there's something about it that almost makes it not quite right for a daughter to sing to a father. I think it might be the underlying bass line, which gives it a sexier feel. I'm sure Amanda would have been able to pull it off with her acting and expressions, but in just listening to the song, it almost is a throwback to the original meaning of the song. [OK, I wrote all that and then did some more research and apparently, they did shoot the sequence but ended up cutting it out of the film, so I'm expecting to see it on the DVD.]

From the Broadway show, in addition to "Knowing Me, Knowing You", they also omitted "One of Us" and "Under Attack". I've never been a huge fan of the "Under Attack" segment, so I was glad they didn't shoehorn it in, since I had no idea how that would work. I'm sorry "One of Us" didn't make it because I think Meryl Streep would have done it well. Maybe they decided Donna already had too many brooding scenes and didn't want yet another one.

I was disappointed not to see "Thank You For The Music" included in the soundtrack, but when we actually listened to the CD, we found a surprise. OK, actually, the husband found it. They actually do have "Thank You For The Music" on the CD as a hidden track. The last song listed is "I Have A Dream" (track 17), which we were listening to, and as it ended, the husband said to just let it keep playing. The track kept going but was playing many seconds of silence, and then eventually, it starts playing "Thank You For The Music", not as another track but just as a continuation of track 17. I'm glad they did include that song, even though it takes a bit of work to find.

Here's an article I found that has a lot of information about the movie and the show. The formatting is a bit odd and makes it difficult to go through, but it's well worth the digging.

Here are a few quotes I want to highlight:

[Regarding] the production's choice for Donna: "We had always leant towards Meryl Streep playing the lead character. It was beyond joyful that she said yes to the offer immediately. We knew she had seen the show on Broadway a few years ago, as she'd written a rather wonderful letter to the cast, telling them how much she loved the show and how she'd wanted to get up on stage and feel what it was like to be part of Mamma Mia! Like schoolgirls, we kept this letter."

"We dreamt of asking Meryl to play Donna," says director Lloyd. "We knew she sang; we knew she wanted to do a musical. She combines everything that is required. She's one of those unique actors who can laugh the world's laughs and cry the world's tears. That's what Mamma Mia! needed, and we have it in her."

Streep had indeed seen the show in New York and recounts, "It was pure joy." She was drawn to the role for its humanity, its spirit and, of course, the music. "The songs are timeless," says Streep. "They just enter your body. When I came to learn them, I found I knew every single one. They have amazing hooks and great melodies."

Streep also responded to the fact that women had created Mamma Mia! and this would be a challenging, physical role that demanded a great deal of stamina. Among other moves, she would have to scale the side of a 40-foot building and sing "Mamma Mia" while balancing precariously on a rooftop. Too, she would sing "Dancing Queen" while performing a series of stunts, which included sliding down banisters to jumping off a jetty and into the sea.

Explains Craymer: "Finding Sophie was a huge task. She had to be impish, but innocent at the same time. She had to be fun, and she needed to sing really well, of course. Amanda ticked every box; she is our ideal Sophie."

Seyfried, known to audiences from her standout roles as "weather girl" Karen in Mean Girls and as Sarah Henrickson, daughter of a polygamist in HBO's Big Love, had previous singing and dance experience. But she would be up against a veritable who's who of young Hollywood eager to land the part. Seyfried describes being chosen for the role of Sophie as "every girl's dream."

The auditioning process was intense. Up against a number of young women, Seyfried's astonishing vocals distinguished her. Recalls Lloyd of the audition: "Amanda has that completely winning, radiant warmth and an almost childlike youthfulness. She also has a fabulously natural voice that made Benny and Björn ask her to sing tracks she wasn't even singing in this film. She walked in and, from the first note she sang, you could feel everybody in the room go, 'This is it.'"

During her audition process, Seyfried saw the show in Las Vegas and was hooked. "It was fantastic," she relates. Like others, she acknowledges the timeless quality of ABBA's songs and relished the opportunity of performing them. Seyfried also admits how excited she was at the prospect of following in the footsteps of the select actresses who had played opposite Streep: "She's incredible. She's so aware of how people might react to her presence and did her best to make me feel comfortable. I feel I have learned so much from the opportunity of working opposite her."


Amanda Seyfried also had Lowe, Ulvaeus, Andersson and Lloyd present during her recordings, but it couldn't have been more of a freeing experience. "It was so exciting and surreal to work with them. They didn't direct me too much," she says. "I had a tone and sound they liked, so they just let me be free with it."
Lowe points out that many of the songs Seyfried has to sing for the film are tricky, such as the complicated phrasing in parts of "I Have a Dream." "The line 'I believe in angels' falls on a break and sits in an awkward place in the song," he provides. "Some women at the audition just couldn't hit it. Thank the Lord we found Amanda, who just came in and did it. When she walked out of her audition, the camera operator and the sound guy just went, 'This is Sophie.' And they hadn't spoken all day!"

See, I'm totally dead on the mark with my gushing over Amanda Seyfried!

Unlike with the show, I only really plan to see the movie again in theatres one more time, and then I'll wait for the DVD release, happily having the CD to listen to in the meantime.

Did you really make it all the way through? Wow, I'm impressed! I probably owe you dinner or something.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Death Star Lego (ok, and lots of other "Star Wars" toys too)

Well, this seems an appropriate time to blog about this particular subject.

First, background on last night. I knew that new "Star Wars" toys were being released today (July 26), but I wasn't sure exactly what was being released. I had a note to myself about 2 new Galactic Heroes (aka little squat people) sets that were coming out that I wanted, but I didn't know yesterday that their release date has been changed to September. As I was browsing the Toys R Us site, the husband noticed the banner proclaiming midnight openings of stores to sell the new toys. Uh oh. We browsed through the list, and since we have no huge Toys R Us stores near us, none of the stores that were doing the midnight opening were near us. I wasn't exactly sure what was being released, but since at the time I had thought the 2 Galactic Heroes sets might be, we decided to go anyway and picked the Glendale/Los Feliz store since it wasn't terribly far away.

We got to the store at about 11:30pm, and there was already a line of maybe 20 to 30 people, some of whom looked like they'd been there for a while since they were in fold-up chairs. We were joined shortly thereafter by a friend to whom I had mentioned that we were going. He didn't end up buying anything last night - I think he just came to laugh and stare at us! ;) But he's a huge Star Wars fan too, and it was nice to be able to hang out with him a bit there.

By the time the store opened at 12:01, there was quite a line behind us as well, and as we got into the store, people were jamming to get close to the huge display of toys. It was pretty much a feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed interested in the new action figures that I didn't even know about, but since the Galactic Heroes were right in the middle of all that, we had to brave through them to get to what we wanted. We picked up three of the new sets.

When the husband had seen the picture of the first set online, he had let out this gasp. I kind of looked at him and said, yeah, Leia's cute in that outfit as a little squat people, but I didn't think it was that big a deal. He quickly corrected me by saying that he loved R2 as a drink cart, and that was the one he really wanted. And yes, if you really want the Destroyer Droid (which I do - I love them - they've joined my favorite Star Wars things list, which the rancor has been on for some time), then you have to buy Jar Jar too.

I should have done some more research last night because today, I found this Hasbro release schedule. I've noted future release dates for things I want, but it doesn't include everything I've heard about.

Speaking of which, I'd heard about the Galactic Heroes landspeeder, which looked really cool.

I haven't been able to find out where/when it's being released. Well, after doing another search, it looks like it was already released at some point, and now, you have to pay large amounts of money for it. Hasbro lists the product at about $13. But if you really want it, this site is selling it for a modest $70. REALLY? Seriously. Amazon offers it for less than that, only $35. I really like it, but not enough to pay 3 or more times the retail price.

One of the reasons I had thought about going to Star Wars Day at Comic Con yesterday was that Hasbro was going to have a presentation. Well, the presentation has been posted here. Here's a direct link to the slideshow.

These are four of the sets I've been waiting for.

But looky here - I hadn't heard about these. They look awesome.

These are the sets we had thought might be out last night/this morning.

Here are two new sets due out in February 2009.

As I mentioned, the rancor is about my most favorite Star Wars thing, and they've got this release coming in February.

It's ok, but I've already got an amazing rancor, so they're going to have to do something spectacular for me to buy another one. (But I am looking forward to seeing the rancors' planet in "The Force Unleashed".)

OK, so yeah, that was all background. Here's the real subject of today's blog. ;)

I was browsing someone else's blog and found out about this new Death Star Lego set.

It does look pretty awesome with all the different rooms/scenes, but putting together mega-piece Lego sets is not my forte. I wish they're release a Death Star in the Galactic Heroes series.

Here's the official site on the piece. Lego had previously released a partially constructed Death Star II, but that one didn't appeal to me as much. One of the complaints I'd read about the new upcoming Death Star was that it wasn't proportional to the awesome Millenium Falcon Lego set, and wasn't the Falcon supposed to be able to fit inside the Death Star? I didn't really think much of the complaint until I happened to mention it to the husband and the friend who we had met up with at Toys R Us last night, both of whom said that it was a stupid comment because given how big the Falcon set was, the Death Star would have to be ginormous (ok, they didn't use that word, but you get the idea) to be proportional, and most people couldn't afford how much that would cost nor have the space to put it. Hmmm, good point.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shall we play a game?

I've been looking forward to seeing "WarGames" since I found out about a month ago that they were going to be showing it on the big screen for one night in celebration of the film's 25th anniversary. We ended up seeing it with three friends, who we met for dinner before the movie. After we had taken out seats and were waiting for the movie to start, I joked to the husband that he wasn't supposed to be at that particular movie with four women, and he responded that four women weren't supposed to be at "WarGames" together in the first place! By the time the show started, the theatre was probably about half full - not too bad a turnout.

First, they showed a series of interviews with filmmakers associated with the film - producers, writers, director and other crew. They talked about how the idea first came about and how it was developed. There were also interviews with people who had been consulted about various parts of the story, as well as people talking about the impact and foreshadowing of the movie's events. They also had interviews with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy and Barry Corbin, who played the General in the movie - I wouldn't have recognized him if I'd just seen him as he looks very different now, but I certainly recognized his voice.

It was really interesting to hear about how a lot of the things came about. I was surprised to hear that the "piss on a spark plug" line was something Corbin had ad-libbed after being asked to come up with something that would express the urgent need to let David Lightman (Broderick's character) have access to the computer. It was also interesting to hear that in the scene where David tries to excuse himself past Jennifer (Sheedy's character), she had ad-libbed the move of trapping him between her legs, and she had thought it was a totally innocent but playful move and had not begun to suspect the sexual tension connotations until she saw the footage. It was also funny to hear the crew guy talking who was responsible for all the blinky lights on WOPR, and as ominous as all those scenes were with the close-ups and the camera circling WOPR, I kept thinking about the guy typing away to make the lights blink menacingly.

Both Broderick and Sheedy talked about how they got their roles and what that one role did for their careers, as well as how well they got along and how much fun it was on the shoot. Broderick also said that he was given a Galaga machine to practice on because he had to be really good at it, and he said he really enjoyed that "research".

After that came the trailer for the "sequel", "WarGames: The Dead Code". There is yet another computer that wants to play a game for real, and yet another hacker who stumbles upon more than he intended.

Here's a link to the trailer they showed tonight.

I could not stop laughing when they revealed that the name of the new computer is RIPLEY - and they refer to it as a "she"!

It looks pretty much like a throwaway movie, but I'm going to have to get it and watch it anyway.

Here's a link to the 25th anniverary DVD release of "WarGames" and here's a link to the release of "WarGames: The Dead Code", both of which will be released on Tuesday, July 29, 2008. This is apparently the "official website" that has information about both films, though I haven't browsed the site to see what it actually contains.

As for "WarGames" itself, it's been years since I've seen it, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I was still tense at parts, and I loved seeing it. Some of the music early on seemed completely out of place, and I don't remember thinking that at the time. Broderick and Sheedy were just so good together, and there was a lot of laughter with all the old computer technology. The oddest thing for me was that a sound particularly struck a nerve - the clicking of the keys as they typed. Keyboards nowadays sound different, mostly because they're a lot smoother and easier. I remember being on terminals in college that still used the more difficult to hit keys, the ones you had to hit harder and clicked harder, and they sounded exactly like the keys that David and everyone else was typing on.

One weird story bit struck me though - Falken mentions that the last ferry to leave the island is at 6:30pm, and when they're in his house and he hears the ferry boat whistle, he mentions that they've missed it and they're welcome to stay, and he says goodnight and goes upstairs. He goes to bed at 6:30pm?

Oh, and yes, I did notice the discrepancy with the Paris flight reservation. On screen, you can see that David made the reservation in Jennifer's name, and yet, when David is being interrogated, he's being asked about going to Paris. Since his name wasn't on the reservation and they presumably didn't know about Jennifer, they shouldn't have known about the Paris flight reservation. But they needed it as a plot point. :)

I hadn't known/remembered that the film had received three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Screenplay, which I think is well deserved. The film also won the award from the Editors Guild - and I didn't even know this when I decided to do a paper in college about the editing, specifically the segment right as and after Joshua finds the complete launch code.

I have recently had the occasion of correctly guessing a password for something that I wanted to get into, and I thought that my ability to know how to guess came from all the hacker books I read after college. Nope. I didn't even realize that subconsciously, I'd learned from "WarGames" that passwords often have a connection or personal meaning (like Joshua), and the words I tried and the actual correct password that I eventually guessed came from my knowledge of that.

Watching and remembering this movie made me think of another movie, "Sneakers", which I also loved. And it hadn't even occurred to me that the two writers of "WarGames" were also two of the three writers on that film. Hmmm, I've love to see "Sneakers" on the big screen again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"I Survived a Japanese Game Show" - July 22, 2008 episode

After the elimination round from last week's game, Donnell went backstage victorious, but Meaghan was especially unhappy to see him there as she was still angry at him. When the six remaining contestants were back in their house, thinking they were done for the night, they got a surprise. Tony showed up (What does Tony do anyway? Not much, it seems.) and told them that the next challenge required three people, so since the Green Monkeys only had 2 people whereas the Yellow Penguins had four people, they had to decide which Yellow Penguin member would switch over to the Green Monkeys. Donnell immediately wanted buddy Justin - or as he put it, "brother from another mother" - to move over to be with him, which Justin seemed to go for at first. However, teammates Bilenda and Andrew were completely against the idea, and Andrew convinced Justin that the best way to win would be for him to stay with the Yellow Penguins. Separately, Cathy contemplated making the move herself, and the next day, when they were at the studio and the group was asked who was moving over, Cathy volunteered.

The team challenge this time involved the velcro suit again. One team member wore the suit while the other two team members tried to throw balls that would stick to the suit (larger balls were tossed by hand, smaller balls were shot out of a gun), and the team with the most stuck balls at the end of the time period was the winner. There was one catch though - the two non-suit-wearing members of the other team would be able to pull the opposing team's suited member back and forth since that person would be on a harness, to prevent them from getting balls stuck.

The Yellow Penguins were up first, with Bilenda in the velcro suit. Donnell and Meaghan of the Green Monkeys were pulling her back and forth, but they were doing so rhythmically, so Andrew and Justin had no trouble hitting her with balls, and Bilenda did a great job of catching balls and then sticking them to herself, so great teamwork on the part of the Yellow Penguins and poor interference by the Green Monkey pullers meant that the Yellow Penguins got a whopping 24 stuck balls.

The Green Monkeys were next, with Cathy in the suit. As soon as they had picked her, I figured they were in trouble because she was so light, and sure enough, Andrew and Justin from the Yellow Monkeys dragged her around like a ragdoll, pulling her hard and abruptly changing directions, so whereas Donnell was initially connecting a number of his tosses, it became almost impossible to put any more balls onto her. Meaghan, meanwhile, was awful at the ball gun, spending entirely too much time aiming and not shooting nearly enough balls to help. I'm not sure she even connected one. The Green Monkeys' abysmal attempt and the Yellow Monkeys' superior effort meant that the Green Monkeys only scored 7 balls.

The Yellow Penguins, victorious for the fourth time in a row, were going to be taken to a temple where they would meet a Shinto priest. The Green Monkeys, meanwhile, were going to learn to make mochi. Meaghan complained that she didn't want to be around stinky clams again. Did she think she was going to be making clam mochi? Ewwww.

Both Donnell and Cathy were in agreement that Meaghan should be one of the players in the elimination round because of her poor performance, but they couldn't agree on who would go up against her. Neither said they were to blame for the loss - which I think is true, but there still had to be two participants in the elimination game. It was then revealed that if the Green Monkeys couldn't come to a decision on the two players in the elimination round, the Yellow Penguins would be able to choose for them.

The next day, the two teams were awoken for two very different purposes.

Andrew, Justin and Bilenda were taken to the temple and were a part of a blessing ceremony with the Shinto priest. They were also taught archery, a meditation device used by the priests.

Meanwhile, Donnell, Meaghan and Cathy were taken to a mochi manufacturing stall. They were taught to crush rice with a hammer until it became doughy, and they then made the sticky balls from there, though their mochi balls turned out to be less than round. They were also given special mochi balls, which Donnell tried - and it turned out to be a wasabi ball, which he thought tasted nasty. He asked for three of them to take back with him though, and when they met up with the Yellow Penguins again, he offered them to Andrew, Justin and Bilenda, but none of them were willing to try it.

Meanwhile, there was still no decision made on who would be in the elimination round. Donnell and Justin talked, and Donnell was confidant that they had a guys' alliance going, so he felt perfectly safe since if it came down to it, he knew the Yellow Monkeys would pick Meaghan and Cathy for the elimination round. At the same time, Meaghan was trying to work the game, and she was talking to Andrew about who they'd put up if they had the choice, and Andrew said definitely Donnell, to get rid of the competition. Meaghan and Andrew formed a secret alliance to oust Donnell.

When it was time for the Green Monkeys to decide, Meaghan put on an act and essentially forced a non-decision, so the choice went to the Yellow Penguins, who had their own conference, with Andrew pitching his case against Donnell. Even though Justin said he liked Donnell, he was all about the game and didn't hesitate to go along with Andrew's suggestion to put Donnell and Cathy in the elimination round. When the Yellow Penguins were asked for their decision, Donnell was completely blindsided by his inclusion, and he felt betrayed by Andrew and Justin, leaving him angry. Meanwhile, Meaghan did a great job of acting completely surprised, though she privately later celebrated her ability to pull the scheme off.

When the Green Monkeys took the stage, Cathy and Meaghan each had a tray of mochi balls (or as the host put it, more like "mochi lumps") that they'd made that afternoon to pass out to the audience.

The elimination round involved the contestant swinging on a rope into a row of seven doors. Three of the doors were solid, and the contestant's goal was to find all three doors in the shortest amount of time. The other doors were fake doors, so if the contestant picked that, they'd swing right through it, and on the other side, they'd get a floury beating from a panda and a gorilla.

Cathy went first, and she had the bad luck of hitting a bunch of the fake doors first, even having trouble breaking through one of the fake doors. She eventually had to go through all seven to find the three solid ones, and her total time was 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

On a side note, I *really* loved this game. You either slammed into a hard door, or you slammed through a fake door and were beaten by people dressed in a panda (with a giant head, btw) and a gorilla outfit. Win/win! Did I mention the Japanese are whack? I was just laughing so much when Cathy got smacked by the animals.

Next up was Donnell, who quickly found two solid doors, and even when he went through the fake ones, he got up and ran so fast that he only got hit once by an animal. He only had to go through six doors to find the three solid ones, and his time was a fast 1 minute and 7 seconds.

Andrew and Justin were very disappointed that Donnell won because they knew they'd made an enemy out of him and that he'd probably gloat about his victory, something neither of them were willing to put up with.

The "sayonara" men came out to take away the loser - but they picked up Donnell instead and were carrying him out before they were stopped by show personnel and the host and told of their mistake, to which they then properly carried out Cathy, who took her defeat well.

As I was watching this show, I was wondering whether or not I had any drums or noisemakers in the house, because I so want to be making a racket along with the studio audience!

I'm really liking this show.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ESPN Zone - restaurant review

We've been going to Downtown Disney in Anaheim since it opened in 2001, but I've never actually eaten at the ESPN Zone. When the place first opened, some of us went in and looked around at the games and such, and I'd heard from friends that they had a decent breakfast, but I just never got around to going. I've tried going for dinner a couple times, but the wait was usually really long, longer than we had time for, so I still hadn't gone. On a recent Friday night, we decided to give it a try, and with the 30 minute wait time and plenty of time before the movie we were seeing that night, we decided to stick it out. The husband was given a pager, and we wandered around for a bit. The little stadium set by the front entrance was kind of cool, and at first, I thought it was a game, but it just really seemed like a display, with some of the little football players twirling around. We then headed upstairs, and I was surprised that they had air hockey tables up there. I didn't remember them from before, but then, it had been years since I'd been up there. Air hockey tables seem difficult to come by now, so it's good to know there are some readily available - when I'm in the mood to be in more pain because playing air hockey tends to do that to me for a variety of reasons. We watched some people ski and shoot baskets and row and kayak and such, and we watched this one machine that was a simulated roller coaster ride. As we looked down at the line at the reception desk (usually, when they're busy, they have a podium set up outside the front doors, but for some reason, they didn't have one tonight, so everyone had to go inside to get a pager), we noticed that a lot more people were in line now, so we decided we'd had good timing in coming a little bit before that big crowd.

Our table was ready earlier than we'd been told, so we went back downstairs and were taken into the dining room. I'd seen bits and pieces of the sports show after Monday Night Football, which is broadcast from that room, so it was interesting to see the room itself. We were given menus and our drink orders taken.

There was a good variety to choose from on the menu, so I had to look for a bit to decide what I wanted. I'd remembered really liking the baby back ribs when we'd gone to Taste the year before, so I finally decided on the BBQ Ribs (half rack) and Chicken (chicken breast), which came with french fries. Both the ribs and the chicken were quite tasty. I'm not a fan of barbeque sauce that's too sweet or having too much barbeque sauce on the meat, and the flavor and amount of the sauce was just to my liking. The meat on the ribs was very tender and came easily off the bone. The chicken was very good too, though it's a pretty big serving all together, so I ended up leaving about half the chicken breast.

The husband had the grilled salmon with green beans and mashed potatoes. He thought it was just ok, nothing special. The friend who was with us had the Smoke House Burger, which came with bacon, white cheddar cheese and onion straws. She enjoyed the burger and thought it tasted very good, but she found that because the bacon was thick cut, it got a little tough because it took her a while to finish the burger.

Our server was nice, but there were times when she would disappear for a while, and we found the service to be generally slow, whether just because of the server or because of the kitchen itself. Annual passholders at Disneyland get a 10% discount, so our friend was the one who fished her AP out to give to the server - who disappeared with it for a while. When she finally came back with the check, she didn't have the AP with her and made some comment about needing to go back and get it. She disappeared for a little while longer before coming back with it, with some comment about dropping it or having to find it or something. If the service that night was indicative of how it normally is, it's definitely not a place to grab a quick bite. As I mentioned, it ended up being ok because we had time to kill, but killing it while sitting at the table just waiting for her to come back wasn't how we had planned to occupy our free time.

As we were getting ready to leave, the friend made some comment about the televisions in the bathroom, and I just stared at her, and she asked if I'd been there, which I hadn't, so needing a bathroom break anyway, we trecked over. We went to the one by the bar area, though there is apparently a larger restroom elsewhere. That restroom had three stalls - and when you went inside, a television monitor hung from the ceiling in front of each stall. The friend commented that they had the TVs so you wouldn't miss a minute of your game/show, but I commented that all three screens were on the same game, whereas there were multiple games on different televisions in the dining room, so if you had been watching one of the other games, you're still screwed. I joked that they should have a different game on in each stall so you could pick which stall you wanted. I was also surprised that there weren't televisions in the open area/sink area itself. If there was a line for a stall, you were still missing out on the games. She wasn't sure if there were televisions outside the stalls in the bigger bathroom.

There are a few things on the menu which look interesting, so I'd be willing to give the place another try, but if the service is as slow next time, it may be my last.