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Rest In Peace: 1916-2009

CBS Legend Walter Cronkite Dies

(CBS) The "most trusted man in America" is gone.

Walter Cronkite, who personified television journalism for more than a generation as anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News," has died. CBS vice president Linda Mason says Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. Friday with his family by his side at his home in New York after a long illness. He was 92.

Known for his steady and straightforward delivery, his trim moustache, and his iconic sign-off line -"That's the way it is" - Cronkite dominated the television news industry during one of the most volatile periods of American history. He broke the news of the Kennedy assassination, reported extensively on Vietnam and Civil Rights and Watergate, and seemed to be the very embodiment of TV journalism.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/17/eveningnews/main5170556.shtml?tag=cbsContent;cbsCarousel

My 'Public Enemies' film review

Public Enemies, dir. Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp, released 1 July '09

[[ Warning - Some spoilers herein ]]

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John Herbert Dillinger was a household name in the 1930s. He robbed over 24 banks, escaped from jail twice and was pursued by a special FBI "Dillinger task force" until he died in a shootout with the police. Although Dillinger has since faded into relative obscurity, for an ephemeral moment this summer, the public will likely hear about Dillinger, but only because of the actor who portrays him in this month's film, "Public Enemies." That man, of course, is Johnny Depp. With effortless aplomb, he wins over the audience with his portrayal of intense, brooding men who are delightfully rough around the edges. A proverbial bad-boy, he speaks to the audience when he says in the film, "I like whiskey, fast cars, and you. What else do you need to know? Let's go."

And away we go. Dillinger starts off the film with a rough-and-tumble prison breakout, rescuing his lackeys from jail to begin a string of bank heists. After robbing a string of banks and cashing in, Dillinger lives the high life, though he is surprisingly frugal and chivalrous. He runs into Billie (played marvelously by Marion Cotillard), a girl who has spent most of her dull life on a backwater Native American reservation. He quickly wins her heart with his bravado, and they become an inseparable couple.

However, Dillinger is constantly pursued by the FBI, at times portrayed as a formidable foe, while at other times completely inept and harmless. Pitched as Dillinger's nemesis, Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is charged with leading a task force to track down and neutralize Dillinger and his thugs. Purvis is a straight-laced monotone FBI desk-nerd with little field experience, his voice plagued by a halting and inconsistent Southern accent. Luckily for Bale, the script lets him off the hook by leaving him very few lines to deliver.

And as Mark Twain said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt," and that couldn't be more true for Purvis, who opens his mouth in time to prove how stupid he and his boy scout lackeys are. In fact, the film becomes a story more about the FBI's sheer incompetence as it repeatedly fails to apprehend Dillinger, who proves to be more arrogant than Donald Trump on days when his hair is expertly combed-over. At one point Dillinger walks into Purvis's task force office and asks the agents about the radio program they're listening to (without getting caught, of course). At times obnoxiously implausible, and at other times cheeky and hilarious, the FBI's antics seem to challenge the drama of the film, nearly (but not quite) demolishing its seriousness. Look out for Billy Crudup's excellent caricature performance of the ridiculous FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.

Despite the clawless FBI antagonists, Dillinger eventually begins to fall from his criminal high life. His crime lord friends turn their backs on Dillinger after the FBI hounds the lords, and the walls begin to close around him. With nowhere to go, Dillinger and his men have spectacular, adrenaline-pumped shootouts that are refreshingly unadorned and modest. Unlike many films that portray the 1930s, this film sports one particular contemporary cinematographic fad: the "shaky cam." During the fight scenes the erratic, claustrophobic cameras make the gunfights intense and realistic. Unfortunately, the technique remains for many dialogue-driven portions of the movie.

Despite the minor cinematographic flaw, the film shines because it is carried so well by Depp's portrayal. Done masterfully and effortlessly, he blends the division between actor and subject, to the point where Dillinger seems to be playing Depp just as much as Depp is playing Dillinger. Once Dillinger morphs into a sort of "Dillinger-Depp" film presence, the character becomes a demigod of the 1930s. Depp renders the FBI good guys into lampooned fools, and he catapults Dillinger from bank thug to a mythological specimen of a bygone era.

-- Matthew Peters, written on Monday, June 30, 2009

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7/10 - Good


My Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen film review

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, dir. Michael Bay, starring Shia LeBeouf, released 24 Jun '09

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It's hard to describe what a Transformer is. Imagine trying to describe it to your grandmother. It would be a miracle if you could pull it off without embarassing yourself, your grandmother, or the film industry. However, here's a shot at defining the latest specimen of the summer blockbuster freakshow: A transformer can be summed up as a bizarre, incoherent technological amalgamation of non-descript heaps of metal mashed onto one another, forming a behemoth warrior-robot. However, despite how disjointed, ridiculous and incoherent its metallic components look, the sheer spectacle and grandiosity of the Transformer assuages any initial misgivings. Their newest film, "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen," is also disjointed, ridiculous and incoherent, but the mere spectacle of the plot saves it from utter absurdity.

At first, the world seems more peaceful after the evil Transformers, known as the Decepticons, lose their one-dimensional overlord, Megatron. The lead character, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), must have had a wonderful college admissions essay where he discussed saving the world with his Autobot pals (the noble Transformers), because he is accepted to Generic Mc'Ivy League University. Sam realizes that some mysterious rock shard in his jacket is infused with arcane powers, and he soon professes to see symbols that nobody else can. A pleasant side-effect of his hallucinogenic episodes is intellectual brilliance: He disproves Einstein's Theory of General Relativity after perusing his 900-page astronomy textbook in 10 seconds.

But Sam's newfound powers are put to the test when Sam discovers that the Decepticons are after his shard, which turns out to hold the secret to a primordial vault that holds a powerful Transformers artifact. (Silly enough, the robots who transform into Camaro sports cars and toasters are, in fact, eons older than the human race). After Sam's voluptuous tomboy girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox), joins the fray, the pair teams with the benevolent Autobots to prevent the Decepticons from doing the expectedly unexpected: destroying the Sun. The stakes are raised when hero-robot Optimus Prime is killed, and the arch-robot-nemesis Megatron is revived.

The plot skids off-track when Sam and Mikaela, along with two homoerotic companions, are hounded by a weakened Autobot force, a Decepticon resurgence and a bureaucratically hamstrung US Army. In a last ditch effort, Sam uses the symbols he's been imagining to help him locate the vault, taking him to Petra in Jordan and the Great Pyramids of Egypt, both of which were built by the robots.

When Sam finally finds the vault and discovers its magical pixie dust, he realizes he can use the dust to revive Optimus Prime and tip the balance of power back to the Autobots. The problem is Optimus Prime's corpse is laying in the middle of the desert and the Decepticons are staking out the corpse as a trap. An exhilarating hour-long fracas of knock-'em-sock-'em robots ensues as the hunks of metal duke it out. Annoyingly, Sam and Mikaela always manage to jump at the last, safest moment, their heels slightly charred by massive fireballs wrought by the pursuing Decepticons.

While the fate of the world is in the hands of a horny 5'9" adolescent, "Revenge of the Fallen" provides overused slap-stick comic relief to tone down the hopelessness of the protagonist's quest. A Wall-E inspired mini-Decepticon humps Mikaela's leg, Sam's dogs hump each other while kitchen-appliance Decepticons bedevil the Witwicky household, and viewers are reminded to drink Mountain Dew when the film features a dorm room's Mountain Dew soda machine. (In the first film, one robot transformed from a Mountain Dew soda machine and shot soda cans.)

Despite the ridiculous plot, the film's flashy CGI graphics and sex-pumped cast juice up our more basic desires and leave our disbelief checked at the door. It's easy to get lost in the visceral clash of monster-metal, in the same way a monster-truck race entertains with its crush of metal against gigantic rubber wheels. This movie's nothing but metal and fury, signifying nothing, but is spectacular nonetheless.

-- Matthew Peters, written on Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Anthropomorphic BART trains on the way to the GameSpot office

During my daily commute from Downtown Berkeley BART to the Montgomery BART station, I'm under a strange impression. Whenever the train car pulls in to an intermediate station between my desired point A to point B, the train driver verbally announces the name of the station and the ultimate destination of the train over the intercom. Once, I had the feeling that it was the train itself that was talking to me, rather than its conductor. Think Thomas the Tank Engine. Thus, each train had its own personality by virtue of how its intercommed voice sounded.

Sometimes I have an easy-going chillax train that's as cool as a fox, as long as his mechanic oils his tracks well. We'll call the train "Col-train":

[[ Cue a low, slow, raspy soulful voice ]] "You're noooow arriving at 12th Street Oakland / City Center. This is the traaaansfer point for all Fremont-bound passengers." [[Train closes its doors and slowly hums along the rails. ]]

Some trains are always rushing to meet their deadlines, posted on digital schedule signs that hang from the ceilings of every station. The signs are narrated by a station intercom, whose voice has an uncanny resemblance to Stephen Hawkings' voice-synther. The hurried trains have an air of urgency about them. Let's call the train "Guarana", after the stimulant of the same name:

[[ A quick beleageured spastic voice ]] SAN FRAN MILLBRAE MILLBRAE! [[ DOORS SLAM. BUZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Hums quickly along. The sound of rattling train car doors. ]]

And there's always that train that makes you late for work. (Sorry, Tor.) Her name is "Vapid," which describes the contents of her cranial cavity (or lack therof). Oh, only if the first letter of your name was replaced with "R." Maybe then you'd feel compelled to live up to your name, but how you fail so miserably!

[[ A jumpy train that jolts and jerks uncomfortably. ]] This is the, uh... Passengers!... Transferring to the... We'll be waiting for the, uh, train ahead of us to go before we move into the Embarcadero st... patience. Thank you for it. The patience. [[ Scatterbrained. Voice of an older lady. ]]

The hour-long commute to GameSpot is facilitated by a number of cars, each with its own distinct personality. Which ones have you met?