Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exploding Across Your Screen

Last year, little brother mentioned an upcoming movie with most of the major action stars.  There are a few actors out there who can shine even in horrible movies shot for a $50 budget (witness Drew Barrymore- of all people!- in Guncrazy), but some actors are capable of very good work, but rarely are given good scripts and direction.  Dolf Lundgren is a prime example. Lundgren starred in 1989's The Punisher, but despite Lundgren's martial arts ability and believable onscreen toughness, the script was so bad, The Punisher was shown in one theater, then sent straight to video. He had enjoyable roles in Showdown in Little Tokyo and I Come in Peace, lower-budget but very fun flicks in 1990 and 91.   Universal Soldier with Van Damme was in 1992, and Lundgren played his part beautifully, but the script tried too hard towards the end.  These days, Lundgren has fallen into the Steven Seagal/Cuba Gooding, Jr. routine of starring in cheap action thrillers, though, like Wesley Snipes, Lundgren can still put in a solid performance- and would beat Seagal's posing, spouse-abusing flabby ass into hamburger without breaking a decent sweat. One of Lundgren's selling points was his extremely fit, ripped body, though it was a capable, realistic martial artist form instead of Schwarzenegger's swollen bodybuilder physique.

A more recent, and probably more gifted actor is Jason Statham.  Another very capable martial artist, Statham was impeccable in one of my favorite movies, 2000's Snatch.  He's starred in action fantasies such as The Transporter and the 2008 remake of Death Race, both enjoyable fluff, and been in other roles not demanding martial artistry, such as the well-done The Italian Job and the true story The Bank Job.  True, Statham broke my heart when he voluntarily participated in the Uwe Boll "movie", In the Name of the King, but I forgive you, Jason.  (I wouldn't even watch In the Name for Kristanna Loken, who has now been in TWO of Boll's abominations.  Kristanna, you are dead to me.)

When Philip mentioned a movie that would have Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Jason Statham, and others, I admit, I was wildly excited.  (The "others" turn out to be Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Gary Daniels, and Terry Crews!) Claire, on the other hand, commented, "Smells like desperation."  Could a movie packed with stars deliver?  The Expendables opened a week ago, and I found myself awake early this morning.  When I work following a day off, I like to get up early, and then go back to bed for a nap in the afternoon before going in to work.  I lucked out, finding my closest theater had a 9:15 showing, which I enjoyed  (After having my ID carefully scrutinized at AMC.  I guess the ticket-taking attendant thought I was cutting my high school classes!)

On to the movie.  The plot is pretty basic, probably because it's been done in real life many times in the past 100 years.  A group of mercenaries is hired to kill the leadership of an island currently run by a murderous dictator.  The client may have ulterior motives.  (There was a lot of this type of thing that happened in the 60s and 70s in Africa, and some of the mercs ended up fighting for purely personal motives, and being abandoned by their employers even before that point.)

One trailer shows a discussion between Arnold Schwarzenegger and cowriter/director/star Stallone.  Unlike many trailers these days, the entire story isn't given away, and the best part of the conversation isn't shown!  This is an extremely funny exchange, for which Willis is also present, and the only time Willis and Der Gubernator are in the film.

How much realism do we want in a movie?  Expendables finds a pretty good balance between the ultra-realistic movies like The Way of the Gun and outright fantasy such as Shoot 'Em Up and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.  The only perpetually unrealistic element is knife throwing, but I can forgive this when so many things are done right- such as depicting what happens when a small skilled martial artist fights a large skilled martial artist, or showing a rapid handgun reload without silliness like tossing magazines in the air or "self-loading" magazine pouches.  Stallone's Barney Ross shoots his 1911s about as fast as humanly possible, though his shots 4 through 6 with a single-action revolver might be faster than actually possible.  He also carries 3 sidearms, in addition to his rifle (for any non-gunnies: this would never happen). Terry Crews rocks an autoloading shotgun sometimes loaded with exploding rounds, but he's not running around with a Mini Gun a la Predator or Terminator II. 

Expendables doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's serious enough.  I think today was the first time I've ever seriously thought, I want a flying boat.  It's a little sad that Ahnuld isn't in condition anymore to throw any lead in this movie, but there's still plenty of action to spread around.  Couture and Austin aren't the best actors, but director Stallone wisely handles this by keeping their mouths shut almost the entire time, making them MUCH better actors. 

I'm really happy Lundgren gets to be in a vehicle with a good script again, and he delivers.  Everyone does, though Roberts as an EVIL corporate overlord doesn't use his own martial arts abilities.  Jet Li provides very earnest comedic relief as well as kicking ass, and Mickey Rourke is just scenery.  Disturbing scenery.  He may not be acting.
Really, about the only way this movie could be better, is if Steven Seagal and Jean Claud van Damme were in this movie, too.  And they were both gruesomely killed by Chuck Norris in a 30-second cameo.  An extremely enjoyable 4.5/5 stars.  Language, bloody violence, and a rollicking good time.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Eight people died because of their own stupidity on Saturday, August 14, 2010. The eight were among a group crowded close to watch off-road trucks in Mojave Desert Racing's California 200, when driver Brett Sloppy rolled his Ford Ranger after a jump.

The section where too-few stupid people were forcibly ejected from the gene pool is popular because the off-road vehicles are airborne. Fans stood as close as four feet from the racing vehicles, despite no guardrail or other protection. The only real apparent tragedy is the injury of a child who was one of the 12 injured survivors.

Hey, stupidity should hurt, folks. I'm sorry a child was injured, but much like the joke about 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea...What do you call the death of 8 people who were stupid enough to stand just feet away from A RACE TRACK without any protective barrier? A good start.

Friday, August 13, 2010

UC Berkeley Wants Your Genes

The far-left would like you to believe they are champions of individual liberty. One must then wonder why UC Berkeley, that bastion of pinko wackyism, wanted to take samples of DNA at new-student orientation. It's a sad day when the California State Assembly, of all groups, has to exert some common-sense.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Captivate Me!

Almost three weeks ago, I was given a Samsung Captivatefor an anniversary gift. I had been using the LG Neon, and to say that I was not happy with it would be a fairly dramatic understatement. (Besides other issues, about half of the time I would make a call, there would be perhaps a 15-second delay before I could hear the other party.) I recently bought an inexpensive Chinese media player, and- surprise!- got what I paid for. Claire knew of my issues with my media player, and offered to buy me an iPod Touch.

After some research, I suggested that perhaps a good smartphone would meet my portable media needs as well, and resolve my phone issues, too, and might be in the same price range. I bought my Palm Centro (which succumbed to "battle damage" because someone was dumb enough to take it on missions with him at WLC) just over a year ago, so I have many months to go before I am eligible to get discounted pricing for renewing my two-year contract. I have been very interested in Google's Android operating system as an open-source alternative to the iPhone, with its proprietary code, but ATT was late to the Android game, since iPhone is only offered by ATT (and they must have believed they'd be competing against themselves). The first ATT Android, the Backflip, didn't appear to be an ideal solution.

At the ATT store, Claire urged me again to get a phone that I was really happy with, even if it was more than I'd wanted her to spend. The manager pointed out the Captivate (ATT's version of the Samsung Galaxy S), which was so new the sticker hadn't even been put on its pedestal yet. The screen was very large (4"!) and bright, the colors were vibrant, controls were intuitive and I was quoted a no-commitment price of $350. (Which was apparently at least $150 cheaper than it should have been, but ATT had some much-needed kissing up to do to me, anyway.)

So far, I am LOVING this phone! I use a lot of Google products already, so I can use various Google application FREE instead of paying to use ATT services that are most likely not as good. I can use Google Maps to navigate, use Google Voice to send text messages without using any of my pool of ATT SMS, and use Google Chat to send messages to friends who are using computers or smartphones. If I'm in another application, new chat messages will pop up at the top of my screen, and I get a lot of use out of the Kindle app. Since the Captivate has GPS, I can hear turn-by-turn directions to addresses I type in, or select on the map. (Since I have special abilities of losing myself, I especially like this feature.) Video is clear and bright, the camera is excellent, and the phone's apps are easily customizable. I have tons of storage capacity (16G, plus the 16G micro SD I added), and almost all commands are almost idiot-proof.  Since ATT wants to take every cent they can from their customers, they do not offer unlimited data plans. To reduce my data consumption, whenever possible, I use the Captivate's WiFi.

What I don't love: I'm still acclimating to the virtual keyboard. The Captivate/Galaxy has a "SWYPE" function, but I haven't really played with it yet. It took me a while to find a way to not have to wade through the THOUSAND or so people listed as my GOOGLE contacts when I'm just trying to make a PHONE call, dammit (from "phone" function, choose "contacts", then "groups")! The only true flaw I've found is the power supply. The Captivate's power/data connection is on the curved top of the phone. The slightest jar will knock it loose (a coworker with a competitor's version of the Galaxy with a straight top, does not have this problem).

The Captivate so far has proven to be an excellent mobile computing device and media player, and it's a pretty good phone, too. I give it a 9.75 of 10 possible points.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Old Good Stuff

Martial arts have been a major part of my life.  I moved to Ohio in 1994 to train in a relatively obscure martial art.  My mother had a cancer relapse in 1995, so I moved back to Mobile.  I moved to to Atlanta in mid-1996, because it was almost halfway between my wife's parents and my family, there were jobs to be had- and I could train.  I trained in two dojos in the Atlanta area until I enlisted in the Army in late 2001.

At Fort Lewis, I was fortunate enough to find a 5th-degree black belt in my art, and trained with him for several months.  I've trained here and there with interested novices, but haven't had any formal instruction in at least seven years.  A few months after I moved to the area, I thought of looking up Bujinkan dojos in the area.  Lo and behold, there are many.  I tried to visit the closest THREE TIMES.

The first time, somehow the wrong zip code was attached to the address I typed into Google Maps, which had me wandering around at least 10 miles away from where I needed to be.  The second time, I missed, retraced, called, re-missed- and finally found the complex I was looking for about when training ended.  The third time, the weather wasn't great, and I found the complex in time- then spent 45 minutes or so wandering around on foot, looking for the group.  No dice.  I gave up in disgust after that third time, thinking that maybe it wasn't meant to be.

I've been training with one of the officers from my new unit.  He wants to improve his hand-to-hand skills, so we've been meeting once a week while I teach him a simplified curriculum of things like chokes, breakfalls, and punches.  Before we started training, I'd begun thinking that I should probably give the DC dojo another try, now that I was getting more familiar with the area.  When my trainee asked if we could visit the local dojo, it seemed serendipitous.  I checked the schedule again, and sure enough, classes meet on Mondays- which I usually have free.

My training partner told me we could park on the base on which I work.  And finding the group of martial artists practicing on the lawn, from the direction we walked, couldn't have been much easier.  I participated in the belt training the class was having, and it was a good review.  I'm a little rusty, and I especially need to work on my Japanese terms, but if I can get to class regularly, I wouldn't be surprised if I can get my black belt in less than a year.  Finally.

And hopefully, I'll be back in fighting trim soon, because right now, my back and thighs feel like they've been worked over with a bat.  But I can deal with it.  :-)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monday Mornings

I walked towards the door and picked up my running shoes. Tempy padded over and looked expectantly up at me. "No, baby, you're not going with me," I told her. She kept looking up at me.

"Well, okay," I relented, and slipped the leashes on the dogs before I made my way outside to the patio for a Monday morning sit in the pleasantly cool weather visiting the DC area. Since I hit the big time (joking), I actually have my own cigar credit card from JRCigars. Probably the biggest reason I applied for the card was the sampler of high-quality cigars I would get with my first card order. (The fine print said "First order OVER $100, but I still got the sampler!) I decided to break into that batch today with a Romeo Y Julieta Maduro that had been sitting in my humidor for almost two months.

As I sat on the patio, I believed there was almost no risk of me suffering violent attack. Since "very little" is not the same as NO, I had a little alloy Smith and Wesson .38 on my belt. If I felt the risk was higher, I would have worn at least one of my automatics, and if I thought the risk was high, I wouldn't have sat there. I took a Long Hammer IPA with me.

India Pale Ales tend to be too bitter for me, but Long Hammer is one of the few I enjoy. It's still "grapefruity" while not being overpowering. It's powerful enough to stand up to most cigars, while also leaving a clean feeling to offset the heavy taste of a cigar. I often use a good stout, Scotch and water, or whiskey and water, but a Long Hammer works really well.

Romeo Y Julieta cigars are a favorite higher-quality cigar. Since Cuba went communist in 1960, Cuban cigars command a premium, since they are illegal to sell in the United States. The brand, as with several other cigar brands, has spit into Central American-based and Cuban companies. The RyJ Reserve Maduros are made in the Dominican Republic. Non-cuban Romeo Y Julieta are not the most expensive cigars that can be found, but they have a good reputation.

My Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro's wrapper was a bit on the veiny side, but looked well contructed. Since I didn't order it, I'm not sure the exact dimensions- not thinking to measure it before smoking- but I think I may have smoked a 7x48. I clipped the end and lit.

The taste was fairly strong, but not overly bitter or harsh. Espresso is probably the best flavor description, toasty, but not burnt. The draw was not too tight, nor too loose. A good quantity of smoke was produced. The burn time was almost exactly an hour, and the flavor stayed very consistent throughout the smoke. I tend to leave a lot of a cigar unsmoked, but I smoked this one down to just over an inch. The burn stayed fairly consistent, but was not perfectly even.

Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro
Appearance: 3.5 stars
Taste: 4.5 stars
Construction: 4 stars
Burn: 4 stars

The Romeo Y Julieta Reserve Maduro I smoked was a solid 4/5 cigar (actually, a bit better than 4/5). When you're talking about cigars that can be afforded by most of us, the Romeo Y Julieta is a good bet. I may have a new favorite cigar.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


The 80s was the decade of the ninja. Stephen K. Hayes wrote a column for Black Belt Magazine, "ninja" movies were everywhere, and on many young chests shirts showing a portrayal of a "ninja" in a karate flying side kick could be seen. Since most people had no idea what ninjutsu (sometimes rendered ninjitsu[sic]) was, some teachers of karate and tae kwon do rebranded and became instant ninja masters, much as today many schools proclaim to teach Mixed Martial Arts.

2009's Ninja shares some historical elements with many of the 1980's ninja movies, including students practicing karate, ritualized magic, and a Western leading character who ends up fighting a Japanese ninja who has gone to the dark side. (An early scene shows Casey (Scott Adkins) practicing in a white gi while Masazuka(Tsuyoshi Ihara) can be seen across from him working in all black. Symbolic? NOOOOO.) The "good" ninja does not use firearms, while the evil Asian assassin has his own special handgun and high technology armor and tools. At the same time, some of the terminology used in the movie is more authentic than the 80's offerings, and the ground rolls shown by the actors are impeccable. The actual fighting seems to be mostly karate, with the occasional Wu Shu thrown in for theatrics.

Don't watch this movie looking for Oscar-winning performances. Nor is this the movie if you're looking for a trashy B flick with lots of gratuitous skin. If you're in the mood for a movie that enjoyably combines the 80's US ninja flicks with standard elements from Japanese warrior films, Ninja may help with an enjoyable but not over-serious Friday night or Saturday afternoon. And there will be blood. 3/5 stars.