Archive for May, 2008

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Southington, Connecticut second grade teacher Marie Jarry was forced to resign recently from her job after appearing in a bikini as part of her appearance on Howard Stern’s Sirius radio program. She and her husband were contestants in the “Ugliest Man Hottest Wife Contest.”

This week, Jarry has decided to fight the decision with some monetary aid from the sponsor of the contest, AshleyMadison.com., who has pledged $5,000 in addition to the original $5,000 she originally won. Comedian Artie Lange of the Stern show has also offered to do a benefit show to help raise money for the legal battle.

Hats off to Jarry, who did nothing wrong in her Stern show appearance except show that teachers are human beings who have lives outside of their day jobs just like everyone else. Unfortunately, the media jumped on the story and school officials hastily made a bad decision in pressuring her resignation. In those news stories related to the firing, one parent described Jarry as an “outstanding teacher.” So why would her one day stint on Stern’s program be cause for ousting?

One reason cited is that she used a sick day to appear on the show. I’m pretty certain she isn’t the first person in history to call in sick when she actually wasn’t. If that is a firing offense, half of the working population of the United States would be let go tomorrow.

The real reason for this tragedy – and yes, I think it is a tragedy when good people lose their jobs due to ignorance – is the vilification and demonization of Stern in the eyes of conservative uptight individuals, most of whom have never heard or seen Stern’s show, and just don’t get what he’s all about.

I’m reminded of Senator Ernest Hollings, who chastised “Beavis and Butthead” to Janet Reno and couldn’t even pronounce their names, instead calling them “Buffcoat and Beaver,” while admitting he had never seen the show. How can school adminstrators make sound decisions about our children’s teachers when they rely on third-party opinions of media personalities to make their decisions?

Stern’s show can only be heard by subscribers to Sirius Satellite radio, which requires special equipment and a monthly fee of approximately $12. How many second graders are listening to his morning show? Certainly parents who listen are fans, so they wouldn’t have a problem with Jarry’s appearance. School administrators surely couldn’t have listened, or they would have heard how innocuous the appearance on the program truly was.

Also cited as examples of “inappropriate behavior” by the school board and media are pictures of the teacher from Stern’s website showing Jarry in a bikini. Upon seeing these, there is nothing lewd about the photos and there isn’t anything shown that can’t be seen as she walks down the beach.

Another admonishment by media is that she talked openly about her sex life with her husband to Howard. Anyone who actually heard the show (as I did) would find her comments to be mild and honest, and reflected her genuine love for her husband. Teachers are allowed to have sex just like everyone else.

If there is justice in the world, Jarry will win her fight against the Southington School officials and regain her job. She’s guilty of nothing more than taking a sick day when she wasn’t sick and being a mature, honest, down-to-earth human being who has actual emotions and a well-defined sense of humor.

That is exactly the type of person I’d like to have as a teacher to my own children.

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I’ve always been a gamer, since my friend first got his Atari 2600 for Christmas back in the early 80s. We would spend hours in the basement, staring at a 20 inch television playing games like “Vanguard” and “Pitfall” until our thumbs blistered. I had a TRS80 with a crateful of cartridge based games that we played at my house, too, so we never missed out on any of the video gaming action during those early years.

As time passed, my gaming turned to the PC primarily, with a wealth of great titles to choose from. Although I spent most of my time glued to the computer monitor, I still played with other systems like the Intellivision, Sega, Sega Genesis, and Dreamcast. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally broke down and purchased a next generation gaming system – the original Xbox – when it was bundled with the much anticipated “Halo 2.”

From those first days playing those pixellated, antiquated games with horrible graphics, sound, and minimal storylines, I never would have dreamed about the types of rich, realistic, innovative games we play today. The latest titles seem to continually push the envelope in terms of story, technical and aesthetic quality, and playability.

Today, as a husband and father of three, I’m not always able to find the time to play my newest system, the Xbox 360. That’s why it’s so important that I do my research and find quality affordable titles to play in my valuable and minimal spare time.

Here’s a sampling of the games I’ve been playing lately:

Stranglehold: This Chow Yun Fat John Woo collaborative title is filled with plenty of gunplay and an army villains to kill, with a movie-style storyline and well-voiced cut scenes which propel the story nicely.

The “bullet time” slow motion feature, (in this game called “Tequila time” after the last name of the main character played by Fat), is worth the price of the game. This player-triggered ability allows you to have the ability to slow down time while jumping “Woo style” in the air, firing two-fisted pistols into endless enemies, sliding around on carts, down banisters, and busting through walls and furniture. Other unique abilities such as pushing off of walls while shooting and other special attacks make this game difficult to put down.

The Simpsons Game: This co-op game is the best in the Simpsons series so far, taking a lot of pot-shots at it’s own franchise, the television program, and the video game industry in the process. I played this one with my nine-year-old son, who had very few problems solving the game’s often challenging puzzles and gameplay, referring only a few times to Internet walkthroughs to get through the rough spots.

This is a good game to play with an older child, but there are some adult references made and some questionable language (Marge yells “cmon bitches!” to some compliant dog characters for example.) The only problem I had was that the two copies of the game I purchased both became scratched and rendered unusable by the Xbox 360 for some reason. Luckily, we had already solved the game.

Bioshock: The graphics, story, and voice-characterizations in this game are eery and excellent. Gameplay is unique — this is perhaps the most original title I have ever played. I haven’t finished this yet but it is already on my short list of the best games I have ever played. I’d try to explain the story to you but it may only confuse you further. Check out the review on www.gametrailers.com.

The Bigs: This underated baseball game downgrades the difficulty of most MLB-based titles by translating them more into an arcade-style format. Instead of playing full games or focusing on manager-oriented franchise modes, “The Bigs” takes all of the fun aspects of traditional baseball games and focuses them into the most enjoyable option, the “Rookie Challenge” which has gamers working to hit home runs, steal bases, and achieve other milestones (with their self-created rookie player as the star) in three to five inning mini-games against teams with authentic rosters.

Successful players are granted money they can use to upgrade the abilities and physical appearance of their player. All of this combined makes the game fun and far less frustrating than the often difficult to master pitching, hitting, and fielding models which plague other games of this genre.

>Currently on DVD

Posted: May 5, 2008 in Entertainment

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Charlie Wilson’s War:
The Aaron Sorkin, Mike Nichols directed sometimes light drama shows a lot of the “West Wing” writer’s knowledge of current and what were once current issues geopolitically. Hanks is solid as usual as the drinking womanizing lawmaker who champions the fight to arm the Mujahedin against the Soviets in cold-war Afghanistan. Julia Roberts’ role could easily have been filled by any other actress, and it is interesting to note how remarkable she looks in a bikini despite being a few months pregnant when principal photography for the film took place. The real reason to watch is a stellar performance by the always-on Philip Seymour Hoffman as a CIA operative, who is both amusing and fun to observe as he goes through the paces in the world of black-ops and espionage.

Cloverfield:
The film nerds and comic book guys panned this film as an unoriginal rip-off of “The Blair Witch” project meets “Godzilla,” and faulted J.J. Abrams for not showing us enough of the monster. But I enjoyed this film in the theater, and had no issues with the handheld photography, which I felt added to the frenetic pacing and anxiety created by the plot.

If you want to see monsters, watch the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but if you want to see an interesting, different than the mainstream film that tries to go against the norm in Hollywood, “Cloverfield” will still hold up on DVD, and will have audiences asking for more. Extra credit should be given to the film’s producers for the masterful viral marketing campaign that will be copied for years to come.


Lars and the Real Girl:
I was lucky enough to catch this on an academy screener copy before it was released wide on DVD, and I have to say that this was a great premise which was squandered by the filmakers. Good performances didn’t help to overcome the feeling that this film never quite hit the right note of either comedy, drama, or dramedy. It was too uneven, neither playing it for laughs enough, or letting us in on the backstories of the main characters, especially Lars.

His psychotherapy sessions, if developed a bit futher, could have helped us to determine exactly why he found solace in taking what is essentially a high-priced sex toy and giving it life as his girlfriend. There were some character relationships that were fleshed out less than the rubber real doll who served as one of the movie’s co-stars.

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I read the previews, watched the trailers, and salivated. Growing up a Marvel comics kid and a movie geek, the premise of an Ironman movie sounded like a home-run. But dissapointments have often plagued the comic book translated to film genre. “Daredevil” was hideous, and the original “Hulk” left me wanting for the slow boring Lou Ferrigno drama of the late 70s and early 80s. Also, did anyone watch “Electra” for anything more than the chance to see Jennifer Garner flit about in a sexy outfit?

With Jon Favreau of “Elf” and “Swingers” directing, and Starring Robert Downey Jr., I had to admit, I was a little bit worried going into this one. Still…all of the trailers looked great, and I held out hope that they could actually pull this thing off.

So I plunked down the extra cash to buy an advance ticket for the Thursday before the movie opened, to see a special DLP “print” of the film with my nine-year-old son. The first showing at 8:20 p.m. wasn’t full, but the crowd was boisterous as the trailers for the new Hulk movie with Edward Norton and the latest installment of Indiana Jones flashed across the high definition screen. The audience was filled with film nerds and fanboys on this pre-opening eve for sure.

When the frenetic Marvel comics brand sequence danced across the screen and the lights went down, the audience was prepared for a thrill-ride — which they got. Downey was spot-on, chanelling the cocky, womaninizing, smart-ass quip filled military weapons industrialist Tony Stark and making the character his own. Any lulls in the script were filled in by Downey’s on-screen presence, ripe with one liners and a likeable rogue quality.

But the script wasn’t played for laughs. Although there were light moments which delighted my nine-year-old and caused the adults to laugh out loud as well, the script still had serious points, while not over-politicizing. As Stark grew a conscience and decided to change the direction of his “arm the masses in the name of peace” Stark Enterprises, it would have been easy to lay the anti-war message thick — which Favreau thankfully chose not to do. For a director known primarily for comedy, he pulled off the action and special effects scenes with ease, keeping both in good balance with character development along the way.

Gweneth Paltrow as the sidekick girl Friday, in an interesting co-starring appearance, hit all the right notes, never openly judging Stark’s womanizing, never preaching, but still doing what it took to keep her boss relatively in line. Jeff bridges, sporting a bald pate and gray beard, looked like a classic comic nemesis, and played against type as a symbol of the military industrial complex gone berserk.

Terence Howard as Stark’s pal Colonel Rhodes went through the paces like a pro but wasn’t really given much to do in the film. But there were hints of what he could add to a sequel sprinkled in to the script. Performances by the other supporting actors were true to the comic genre without being too over the top.

As I write, the grosses are yet to be tallied, but I predict a weekend take in the high 80s, with a summer ranking of number two, ahead of the Hulk, and behind only Indiana Jones. On a scale of best superhero movies of all time, “Ironman” falls somewhere between the original Christopher Reeves’ “Superman” and edition two of the “Spiderman” series, solidly in the top five of all time. Burton’s dark “Batman” and the newer, even darker “Dark Knight” films will still fall short of the “true to the comics” take that “Ironman” successfully mastered in this sure to be sequelled blockbuster.