Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Star Trek

I'd like to preface this review with the statement that my favorite mind in Hollywood right now has shifted from M. Night Shyamalan to J.J. Abrams.  Night had a good run but he is no longer the creative genius in the entertainment business.  With Star Trek, Abrams now holds the title as he continues to churn out hit after hit in both TV and movies.  This movie appeals to both Trekkies and Trek virgins alike.   I happen to fall somewhere in the middle as I've seen all Star Trek movies but have not watched much of the many incarnations of the TV show.  

This movie keeps you interested throughout and never lets up in terms of tension.  The pacing is gripping and reminds me of how I felt while watching United 93.  Although both movies are completely different, they both grab a hold of the audience and don't let go until the credits roll.  Much of this credit can go to Abrams as he has a great visual eye for the sci-fi genre.  The script is spot-on too and really weaves the classic Trek story with some present-day humor in a seamless manner.  I especially like how time travel is introduced and sets the stage for the rest of the re-imagined series based on an alternate reality.  Man does J.J. love him some time travel.

The acting is really good all around.  I went into this expecting to be fixated on Zachary Quinto and his portrayal of Spock.  While Quinto was indeed excellent at mimicking Leonard Nimoy (who himself takes a quality turn at passing the torch to the younger generation in this film), the real "star" that emerges from Star Trek is Chris Pine.  I've never seen Pine in any other film but he totally embodies the spirit of the Kirk character.  He is engaging and hilarious throughout the film.  In one movie he has more spunk and spark than Shatner did in most of the earlier movies.  Karl Urban does a wonderful impression of DeForest Kelley ("Bones" McCoy), and Zoe Saldana is an even better modernized and spirited version of Uhura.  But while most of the "new generation" of actors are doing very good impersonations, Pine is taking Kirk to a whole new level.  

Eric Bana is serviceable as the lead villain in this film but what keeps this movie from getting a perfect score from me is Anton Yelchin as Pavel Checkov.  He just seems too much like a caricature of the classic character form the earlier films.  I'm hoping Yelchin's acting will improve with the next movie (which they WILL make).  

The bottom line with Star Trek is that it does a fantastic job of rebooting the series scoring 4.5 out of 5 JRs.  This reminds me a lot of the reboot of Batman with Batman Begins.  I think Trek is slightly better than Begins, but the next movie will be the deal breaker.  If the quality of the next Trek can compare at all with how Dark Knight improved upon Batman Begins, we're in for a once in a millennium film in 2011 or 2012.  By having all of the origin stories out of the way, this new dynamic, engaging and entertaining cast of the U.S.S. Enterprise can truly go where no science fiction film has gone before.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gym 2.0

I mentioned in a recent post that I switched my membership to a new gym (Fairfax County Parks and Recreation's Rec Centers).  Shortly after my first visit I met with an instructor and went through the FitLinxx calibration process.  First off, FitLinxx is a workout tracking system built into all the Cybex weight machines at the participating Rec Centers. The system includes a kiosk at the entrance to the gym where you punch in your personal PIN to start a session. Once your PIN is entered you can then cycle through the machines and complete your workout.

Attached to each machine is a touch pad that lets you key in your PIN to display your workout settings.  The screen shows you the target weight you should use, how many reps you need to do, and where your back/feet/seat position should be.  While you are doing a rep, the screen counts for you and knows based on calibration where your start and end points are to count a successful repetition.  The instructor went through all the machines with me on Monday and calibrated them to match my preferences.  As you cycle through the circuit of machines, the system lets you know how many exercises you have left in your program.  You can increase or decrease weight settings after your sets so you're setup properly for your next workout.  After you do some cardio, you can manually log in your minutes and what machine you used at the kiosk before you go.

Now if all of this isn't cool enough, the system allows you to track your progress online through a very detailed website at  The online system seems to update a few hours after your workout is done and you can track everything you've done over time, breaking down data by exercise, date, muscle group, etc...  The system even tracks how fast you do your reps to see if your form is proper.  They also have standings tables for my South Run location and when I checked last I had accumulated the most FitPoints (whatever THAT means) for men ages 30-39 in May.  

The following table shows an example of the detailed stats through a workout breakdown by machine:

So now I can see actual statistical progress over time and help establish real fitness goals for myself.  Since I'm a big stats person, this is the perfect system to keep me committed to going to the gym more frequently.  Now all I need is one of you Northern Virginia readers to join up and we can have a FitPoints challenge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Final Four in Rock Mode

As I thought, Matty Giraud was sent home last week leaving us with the 4 best singers of the competition.  Good job America!  This week's theme is "Rock Week" which makes the prospect of picking songs for the contestants nearly impossible.  Instead, I will breakdown the final four and list what I believe should be the wagering odds going forwards.  Thankfully we're done with the snooze-fest that was Rat Pack Standards and now we can really get back to some high-energy performances.  And I'm PRETTY sure the contestants will actually sing twice THIS week.

Adam Lambert - 3-5 to win it all
As I've said before, it's Adam's contest to lose.  He delivers all-star performances week after week and it looks like he's already on tour.  It does seem a bit unfair that he's had all this Broadway experience, but he's clearly the best singer/entertainer of the bunch.  Melinda Doolittle and Daughtery went down right about now in their respective seasons, so he needs to watch out this week.  If he makes the finals though, it's a stone cold lock.

Kris Allen - 4-1 to win it all
Kris has a slight chance because he is pretty much the polar opposite of Adam but just as creative.  He'll need to really work on changing the arrangements of his songs down the stretch to keep pace.  Kris will have to hope for the front-runner backlash (or the rumored voter backlash about the fact that Adam is gay) to have a real chance.

Danny Gokey - 5-1 to win it all
Could still sneak in and take the title as the sentimental pick.  People keep forgetting that his wife passed not too long ago and here he is with a chance to win the whole thing.  He'll do well on Rock Night and needs to find songs that allow him to stretch his vocals.

Allison Iraheta - 9-1 to win it all
She's the dark horse in the final four but I just don't see her having much of a shot to win.  I expect her to be good tonight though (if I have to pick one song, I'd like to see her sing Joan Jett's "I Love Rock n' Roll").  I agree with what Simon says when he claims that she doesn't believe that she can win the competition.  I feel that at this point she's just happy to be here.

I wish I could setup my DVR to automatically skip all portions of the show in which Paula speaks or stands up and dances during the song.  Happy Cinco De Mayo to all my Spanish and Mexican readers!  I'll have a Corona for you today.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Urine Danger

WARNING: This post contains spoilers from last night's episode of The Amazing Race. Leave now if you do not want to be spoiled....

...There.  Now that you're still with me, I wanted to give my take on the end of the penultimate leg of the race last night.  First of all, this ep was the second-funniest of the season thus-far (the cheese wheel madness of ep #1 is still tops).  The makeup efforts by Luke were hysterical and watching two sistahs try to speak mandarin (coming up with some great mad libs style sentences) was priceless.  Well done Phil for putting together two hilarious detours.

I know that Keisha said she was proud of her sister and that she didn't let her down but how on earth can you stop to take a long pee when you have a 1 in 4 chance of winning a cool million?   Instead of stopping, just pee on the run.  You just drank several bottles of water so most of your pee will be water anyways.  And you're already wearing a goofy Chinese outfit so you can't look any more ridiculous with urine stains.  In the end it seemed that Jen just didn't have the killer competitive instinct needed to get to the end of the race.

My money is on Tammy and Victor to take it in the last leg.  They're just a bit smarter than the other two teams.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Parks and Recreation

I've been going through a real dilemma recently over deciding which gym to belong to.  For the past 6 or 7 years I have belonged to Bally Total Fitness and have been paying a ridiculously cheap rate of $20 a month.  This gives me access to all Bally facilities in the area.  The only problem is that ever since we moved to Springfield, the closest Ballys has been 15-20 minutes away.  We used to live in Alexandria in the Landmark area and were within walking distance from the Landmark Ballys.  I have been trekking out to Landmark every weekend ever since the Springfield Mall Ballys closed down (a few years ago).  

I've been noticing that more and more of my co-workers are joining the Sport and Health that is right down the street from my Mclean, VA office.  I had used a three-day pass recently to check out the facilities (and play some squash).  While the facilities were great, the price didn't seem worth it ($30 for only the Mclean location).  I could pay $45 under my corporate rate to be able to go to any Sport and Health in the area but unfortunately the closest to my house is 15-20 minutes away.  

Finally Lori suggested I try the Rec Center at South Run (where I take Alex to swim class).  South Run is literally 4 minutes from our house and I could actually run/walk there if I was brave enough.  The yearly rate at South Run is $50 a month so I was thinking that would just be too much to justify moving from my cushy $20 a month.  Starting May 1st though, Fairfax County Parks started running a special rate of $43 a month if you pay for a full year.  I went yesterday on a trial one-day pass to check out the facilities.

It turns out that the new gym at South Run is much better than my Landmark Ballys location and on-par with Sport and Health.  They have new equipment, MANY more cable channels on the cardio machines than Ballys did (this IS very important to me), and access to all rec center facilities including basketball, swimming, sauna, etc...  They also incorporate a FitLinxx training system that is hooked into all the weight machines.  Apparently you can track your workout progress by inputting your pin number at each machine and even look at your workout stats online.  This instantly appealed to the geek in me.

Combining the great facilities at South Run with access to all other 8 Rec Centers in the area (including one that's not too far from Mclean), I was sold on the special rate and signed up last night online.  By having a gym much closer to my house I will definitely increase my gym-visit frequency and hopefully get in better shape.  I do miss out on being able to play basketball and squash with my co-workers but I think the benefits of the Fairfax County Rec Centers win out in the end. I put together a quick Google Map that illustrates my geographical gym situation below (click on the icons for more info).

View Gym Locations in a larger map
UPDATE:  I just realized there is a Rec Center in Mclean (shown with green push-pin above)!!!  Sweet.