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July 16, 2004

Slow Drivers

Some words of advice for slow drivers:

  1. Driving slowly is not always the best decision. Depending on how slow you drive, you may actually be presenting a greater risk on the road than one who drives too fast. Moderate your speed to be closer to the “flow” of traffic on the same road. I am not advocating speeding by any means; but going significantly slower than the flow of traffic is just as dangerous to other drivers.
  2. If you break for green lights, you will fulfill your goal of needing to stop at a yellow or red light. Lights are timed to keep as much traffic moving as possible. In addition, the yellow light is designed to warn you of a change. Every time you break for a green light, you are increasing the likelihood that you will miss the next light, and so will all of those drivers behind you. As long as the light is green, go!
  3. Any time the road you are on has more than one lane going in the same direction, the rule that slow traffic should be in the right lane applies. This is true on small roads and on super-highways. Please remember it and get yourself to the right when cars start stacking up behind you.
  4. When sitting at an intersection with a light, prepare yourself for the light to turn green and go when it does. The occasional lapse is fine, but when I’m following behind you and have to wait for you to realize that the light is green at every single intersection because you are preoccupied with the topography of your navel, there is a problem.
  5. If you think you are lost, driving slowly and impeding other drivers will not help you. Pull over to the side of the road and get your bearings. Let those who know where they are going to go.
  6. NEVER pull in front of another vehicle (turning, changing lanes, on an on-ramp, etc.) without making sure there is adequate room. This is especially true of the other drivers do not have additional lanes that they can use to avoid hitting your slow-moving vehicle.
  7. Lastly, go on the internet to the DMV sites for your area. Most now have an online tutorial and quizzes you can take. You might want to refresh yourself on all the rules that have changed since you took drivers education 15 years ago. It may be an eye-opener for you! California's interactive tutorial can be found at the following website:

Next time… advice for stupid drivers.

July 2, 2004

Star Spangled Banner

As Independence Day approaches, take a read of this nice article about the Star Spangled Banner.

A lot of people don't know or understand this national treasure and the writer does a nice job of explaining it to today's audience.

Spider-Man 2 Review

So I watched Spider-Man 2 after work yesterday. What a fun movie! In every way the equal (or superior) to the original film.

The Plot
This film shows a beleaguered Peter Parker constantly missing classes, being late for work, and missing out on his friend's lives as his life as Spider-Man takes more precedent. He is failing his classes, is fired from work, is late on his rent, and is losing Mary Jane. These stresses lead to underperformance and a loss of power as Spider-Man, the one area he thought he had control of.

Peter decides he must ditch his alter-ego in order to lead a "normal" life. And his normal life does improve for a time. He is able to mend fences and get back on track for some time. He even tells Aunt May of his culpability in Uncle Ben's death, for which she forgives him (eventually).

Meanwhile, one of Peter's heroes, Doctor Otto Octavius is experimenting with a new energy source that he, and Harry Osbourne who is funding his research, hope will change the world. Unfortunately, the experiment goes awry and Dr. Octavius' cybernetic implants used to control the experiment are fused with his nervous system and start taking over his mind.

Peter's new-found life begins to crumble when Mary Jane decides to get married to some other guy who has been there for her (more on this later). Peter finds it harder and harder not to help those in need, even though he has given up his alter-ego. Harry persuades the newly evil and renamed "Doc Ock," or Doctor Octopus, to capture Spider-Man in exchange for more of the rare element needed for the Doctor to perform his energy experiment again on an even bigger scale. Remember, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Doc Ock qualifies.

The good Doctor attacks Peter and Mary Jane to get at Spider-Man and kidnaps MJ. This is just the catalyst that Peter needs to regain his Spider-Man powers and abilities. This leads to a tremendous fight on an elevated train between the two, and to a final confrontation at the end.

What Works
The animation and CGI in this film is far better than in the previous movie. The fight and excitement of the scenes with Spider-Man are par excellence. Sam Raimi (the Director) intersperses action, humor, and drama so that no scene feels overdone in one area.

The interplay between Alfred Molina and Tobey Maguire is great, both as scientist with college kid and super-villain to super-hero. The two have great chemistry and dialog.

The fight scene on the elevated train is worth the price of admission alone. The completely believable way in which the two "wall-crawling" combatants move around the train and fight is incredible and breathtaking. The resolution to this scene, where Spidey has to stop the runaway train are also incredible. From someone like Superman, we would expect a much simpler solution that works the first time. But Spidey is a flawed young man trying his best-- so Raimi has his first couple of attempts fail (and intersperses a little humor into this scene to both cut the tension and show his vulnerability). I was sitting next to a family of four. All five of us during the fight scene and the runaway train resolution were leaning forward and holding our breaths. When the scene reached its conclusion, all of us gave a sigh and started breathing and leaned back in our chairs again.

Raimi and Toby Maguire also do a great job of showing the human side of super heroics. Spider-Man is the flawed teenage/young adult who has taken on too much responsibility for one his age. We need to see those flaws and believe in them. They succeed in showing us this all-too-human side to the super-hero.

** Spoiler Alert **
The way in which most of the primary characters learn who Spider-Man is under the mask is thoughtfully and well done This both sets up the third film and leads the character to understand that maybe the secrets he has been keeping have been hurting him more than helping him.
** End Spoiler **

What Doesn't Work
The relationship between Peter and MJ is a little overdone. After the first two times of the "I really love you but you aren't there for me" speeches, we get it. Move on. Strangely, the relationship that MJ falls into (with John Jameson son of J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle) because of Peter is underdeveloped. We never get any real insight into how they met, or why they are together, or how they work together. More development here would be nice to help us understand why she is leaving Peter for this other man.

It's a small thing, but the constant close-ups on Tobey Maguire's face and eyes get a little tedious. As with overdoing the speeches mentioned above, this cliché is done one too many times. We get it, use a different technique.

Kirsten Dunst is a good actor and it is disappointing to see her given so little to work with. More MJ and more Kirsten is always a good thing.

Alternately, James Franco seems a little out of his element as Harry Osbourne. There was little subtlety to his acting. Granted, they are setting him up for a major role in the third film, but here he just came across a little out of his depth. I had an unwelcome flashback to Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones.

This film instantly joins 1978 Superman, 1989 Batman, X-Men, X2, and the original Spider-Man as best super-hero comic-book adaptations to film of all time. I think it succeeds at this primarily because it avoided the pitfalls of so many other films-- adding more characters and too many villains. By keeping the focus on Spidey/Peter and only introducing one new villain, we get to actually learn more about the characters, see the universe of these movies grow and change, and feel the progression of the movies as believable and understandable.

Grade: A