Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category




“I mock you, Darth Squash! The force has not given you strength enough to become a mainstream dessert item, or clairvoyance enough to avoid the carving knife!”


“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 1, 2007 at 09:05

Posted in Movies

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

There is no such thing as a free monkey.

Recently I got a call from a lady named Betty Childers. Betty was calling to report “a scam on your Web site.” We take that kind of thing very seriously here at Lubbock Online, so I took her information and immediately checked with our classifieds manager.

Betty was responding to an ad that offered to provide a monkey from Cameroon “for free adoption.” The Avalanche-Journal stopped running these ads about a year ago, but versions of them are still floating around the Internet, waiting to trap the unwary.

Betty contacted a man named “Dennis Williamson” at his Yahoo address and eagerly awaited the arrival of her monkey. A few days later, she was told that Pan American Airlines needed her to pay $220 in “monkey insurance” before they could ship a monkey overseas. (Note: Pan American World Airways went out of business in 1991.)

Time passes, and Betty gets another e-mail, this time claiming that her monkey had been “held up in customs in France” and that it would take another $300 to get him released.

Betty was very upset about having her monkey “held hostage,” but she lives on a fixed income and could not afford $300. The broker offered to pay $200 of the fee if Betty could send him another $100, which she did. So Betty is out $320, and she still doesn’t have her monkey.

These kinds of stories are regrettably common.

The most infamous Internet scam is the Nigerian 419 or Advance Fee Fraud scam, where a wealthy foreigner offers to cut you in on a large percentage of a questionable fortune, as long as you provide a couple thousand up front.

It takes a special combination of greed and gullibility to fall for the 419 scam, but the monkey scam is a bit easier to understand. People give away puppies and kittens all the time, why not try the same thing with a monkey? (The ad describes the monkey as “DNA tasted” which may be my favorite spelling mistake of all time.)

Ultimately, the best way to be safe on the Internet is to use some common sense. Deal with established businesses, don’t send money to strangers, and if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Don’t open unsolicited e-mail attachments, and don’t forward strange or cute e-mails to other people.

The Web site Snopes.Com has an extensive database of scams, pranks and tricks that have been circulating on the Internet for years. When in doubt, check Snopes first.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 12, 2007 at 14:18

Posted in Columns, Humor, Movies, TV

Duff: Fan commentaries bring power to the people

Duff: Fan commentaries bring power to the people

For some of us, the best part of the movie starts on the way home. I find the most enjoyable part of a film is the post-credits recap, sharing favorite moments and making idle observations with friends.

By the same token, I think the best part of a DVD is the commentary – listening to actors, directors and film crew talk about how the film was made. For years, film commentary was the province of creators and critics. Now, thanks to the Internet, anyone can do it.

Fan commentaries are MP3 audio files, distributed free over the Internet. Download the file, cue up your DVD, turn the sound down and press play on your MP3 player. It’s like watching the film with a whole new gang of friends. Fan commentaries come in all shapes and sizes ranging from sharp and technical to silly and profane.

Most of the good ones are a mix. There are hundreds of great fan commentaries available on the Net. A simple Google search for “fan commentary” will bring up hundreds. But for my money, the best fan commentaries on the Net come from a gang of Australians at MMMcommentaries.com.

A perfect mix of smart and funny, the gang at MMM reviews genre films and science fiction classics. They’ve dabbled in “Star Trek” and reviewed a ton of “Doctor Who,” but their masterpiece is a “Star Wars” marathon that covers all six films. There’s plenty of technical stuff in here (and plenty of cheap laughs) but what stands out about the MMM gang is their love of story.

They’re not afraid to dive into the plot and dig into character motivation. Sitting through “Star Wars” with the MMM guys will bring out hidden gems in the classic films and make it easier to endure the prequels. And let’s not forget the international angle. The MMM guys would be funny in any language, but the Australian idioms really make it for me.

I take a lot of technology for granted these days, but part of this still feels like magic to me.

I’ll spare you the corny speech about world peace and the international brotherhood of science fiction fans, but clearly, the world is getting smaller every day.

Fan commentaries are just another example of the Internet turning consumers into participants. What used to be passive, static media is now a starting point for fan edits, forum discussions and unfiltered commentary.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 17, 2007 at 14:49

Posted in Columns, Movies

Harry Potter mania sweeps Lubbock Online

Okay, so I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix yesterday. Don't have time for a full review, let me just say — in every film that comes out, the opening logo gets darker and darker. By the time we get to #7 it's going to be jet black and dripping blood.

And it's not just the logo getting darker. Hogwarts is perpetually cloudy and assaulted by thunderstorms. The lighting gets darker with each film. Presumably #7 will be four kids with flashlights, casting spells in a cave. Oh wait, that was Book 6.

Here at the A-J, the online department usually maintains an ironic distance from pop culture events. We don't get excited about lectures, concerts, or your average big-budget movie opening.

But Pottermania has us all going nuts over here. We're a department full of nerds, and we're bouncing off the walls here waiting for Book 7.

We're planning all kinds of coverage for the book release (although I'm still trying to get Mack to dress in costume). Most days work is just work, but events like this make it fun to be in news.

P.S. Yesterday my sock puppet prank attracted a score of anonymous comments. Some people signed my name and posted comments that made me look like a delusional megalomaniac. This characterization is broadly accurate. But then some guy came on and accused me of going to “church camp.” That's a filthy lie.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 19, 2007 at 08:26

Posted in Books, Movies

Duff: Favorite films improved by fan editors

Duff: Favorite films improved by fan editors

Imagine “The Phantom Menance” without Jar Jar. Imagine “Star Trek: Generations” without Kirk. Imagine scenes from Lois and Clark, cut together to make a full movie. These, and much stranger hybrids, are available at Fanedit.Org.

It started with The Phantom Edit, a labor of love from editor Mike J. Nichols – a man who loved “Star Wars” so much he decided to fix it. Disappointed with George Lucas and thoroughly disgusted by Jar Jar, Nichols cut large chunks out of the film, actually making the story stronger in the process.

And although The Phantom Edit is his most famous fan work, it’s not his best. Nichols also edited “Attack of the Clones,” removing redundancy, adding in deleted scenes – proving that editing is a storyteller’s craft, not just a surgical exercise. Nichols’ “Attack of the Phantom” actually improves the narrative in “Attack of the Clones,” going beyond the realm of fan service and turning fan edits into a kind of criticism.

Nichols’ commentary track defines the edit as a labor of love – a heartfelt celebration of storytelling – almost a manifesto. He feels Lucas sacrificed narrative integrity on the altar of special effects, so he cut the film to correct it.

Fan editors are dismissed as pirates, amateurs and vandals by Hollywood, but Nichols’ work gets to the heart of the matter. Most people who watch films think of editing as an afterthought. Some think we don’t need editors at all. I go as far as anyone when it comes to defending a creator’s rights, but a creator who tries to be his own editor has a fool for a client.

So if fan edits are so great, why can’t you buy them at your local video store? It’s not illegal to edit a major motion picture, but it can be illegal to share it. Distributing motion pictures, even extensively edited ones, can be a crime. Creators say fan edits should only be viewed by people who own the original work and should never be sold for profit.

I love the idea of fan edits, and I wish there was a way to make them legal. Editing chores that used to require studios can now be done in your living room. Skills that used to require expensive schooling can now be refined in cyberspace.

Sitting at the intersection of art and piracy, challenging our notions of criticism and ownership, fan edits represent the potential, and the pitfalls, of the digital age.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 13, 2007 at 14:57

Posted in Columns, Movies

Star Wars invasion at the Rose Parade

Here's one for the Star Wars fans.

A brief insight into what it might be like to be George Lucas. You've got all the money in the world, built on the goodwill of millions of fans worldwide, and the service of rabid fans who would do darn near anything for you. He's almost a cult leader at this point.

So, if you had that kind of power, what would you do? How about a full-on Star Wars extravaganza for the Rose Parade? George put all his resources into a series of floats, put a marching band in Imperial uniforms, and flew in members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion to march with the parade.

The best part of this is watching the announcers stumble over Star Wars terms and Internet slang in a vain attempt to be hip. “The onlines and the blogs” indeed. Please folks, if you're over 40, don't try to use Internet slang. You're just going to embarrass yourself.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 11, 2007 at 10:01

Posted in Movies