Friday, March 31, 2006

Filmtastic Friday - Coming Attractions

No, I haven't forgotten that I promised to do in-depth reviews of A History of Violence and V for Vendetta; I've just been to lazy to do so.

You can also probably expect a pretty detailed review of the latest contender for "Worst Time Travel Movie I've Ever Seen," A Sound of Thunder; seriously, what were they thinking?

I'd like to do more lists of films like my horror movie series back in October, but I have no clue when I'd find the time.

One thing that I have found the time for, though, is the premiere of Slither today; I came in early and stayed late a few days this week so I could take a long lunch and go see it. Well, I say "lunch," but from what I've heard, it will probably be best if I don't eat anything while watching it . . .

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I Really Need to Update the Cast List

The Singles department is in a near constant state of flux, especially the "young" singles class; since I've started attending First Baptist of Denton, I can think of at least five distinct iterations of my Sunday School class as people have flowed in and out due to changes in jobs, school, and marital status. Over the past couple of months, the class has started to move into yet another iteration as we've started hemorrhaging class members; at this point, there's not a single class member left from when I started, and only one or two who were there before I took over teaching. A few weeks back Smooth Money's Girl became Mrs. Smooth Money; last Friday Cap'n Bumper tied the knot as well at a beautiful outdoor ceremony which was marred only by the fact that it was frickin' cold out; next week I get to be the D.J. at Cap'n Disaster's nuptials (a job which consists solely of pressing "play" on the CD player); and, last but not least, Clan Lightbulb has bid our class adieu as they prepare in earnest for their move to Austin later this year. The loss of these Singles has had quite an effect on the dynamic of the class, as many of them were among the more vocal members, either in relevant discussion points (Smooth Money's Girl), entertaining diversions (Cap'ns Bumper and Disaster) or a combination of the two (Clan Lightbulb); heck, I don't even know how to start off my lessons anymore without Cap'n Bumper or Mama Lightbulb around to make the requisite inappropriate comment to trigger my trademark "And on that note, please open up your bibles to . . ." But, while we're losing quite a few members, we've also gained a few along the way, such as Magic Pants or the man now known as The Anti-Cap'n; life among the Singles is all about change.

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Free-form Friday

I've had a hard time getting myself to focus long enough to do my regular ginormous postings recently, so I've decided to bite the bullet and just start posting more miniscule postings a bit more often during these creative droughts; to kick it off, here's some random thoughts on the joys of memes.

No sooner had I made a snarky comment about how Rocket was practically the only one who responded to my last tag then my friend iamam finally got around to it; at least she had a good excuse. Also, Fellow Book Monkey and Blogger Bubblegum Tate has assured me that he will respond to yesterday's tag; I'll be sure to keep you all updated on if and when any others respond.

I have to say that I kind of like the whole meme/tag format for blog posts; at times they spark my creative energies pretty easily. I've now started searching for regular meme sites, but most of the ones I've found so far are, to put it bluntly, pretty lame. I suppose I could try to come up with my own memes like Rocket's friend did, but that kind of sabotages the whole "being inspired by others" aspect. Plus, a lot of these meme lists can serve as a way to expand my blog monkey base.

So, if anyone out there knows of a good meme list, or has some ideas for blog topics, feel free to send 'em my way.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Back in the Day When I Was Young, I'm Not a Kid Anymore, But Sometimes I Sit and Wish I Was a Kid Again

I've been tagged by Rocket G'ovich with a newish meme; since she was one of the few to actually participate in my previous game of tag, I decided it would only be fair for me to play along.

List 5 things from childhood that define who you were/are and how you thought/think. Weird things you did (and sometimes still do) as a child. They could be kind of typical things, not necessarily “original” things that ONLY you did, but maybe your weird brain did some of them in a different way.

1. My Coca-Cola addiction goes back as far as I can remember. My ears were specially attuned to the sound of a 2 liter bottle being opened; many's the time I would be sitting in the living room, watching TV, only to suddenly race into the kitchen, spurred by the sharp hiss of carbonation escaping from the newly opened bottle of Coke. To this day, the sound of a 2 liter bottle being opened causes my head to whip around towards the source.

2. For years I preferred to sleep on the hideabed in the living room rather than my actual bed in my bedroom. I did not sleep on it lengthwise, because the bars in the frame were pretty uncomfortable, but instead maneuvered myself into the groove in between the bars, which became increasingly ungainly as I grew taller. But in addition to this idiosyncrasy, I would also often squeeze down into the hollow inside the couch where the bed usually rested; before the purchase of the hideabed I would often do the same sort of thing with my regular bed whose wooden frame with drawers on the bottom afforded the same sort of enclosed, hidden area. I'm not sure what it was that appealed to me about that; perhaps it was like my own private world, dark and secure, playing into the obsession my younger self had with secret rooms and hidden passages. Or, perhaps I was just a freak.

3. When I was playing with my toys, I did my best to integrate all of the different styles and brands into a cohesive universe, so that there was a reason that Masters of the Universe were hanging out with G.I. Joes and Transformers. This would result in world-building of a sort, as I imparted all of the action figures with super-powers of some sort or another; in the case of the G.I. Joes it was usually based on their code-name in some way, shape or form, although it was sometimes a stretch (I'm looking at you, Grand Slam and Gung Ho). If a figure was maimed in some way, that also worked its way into my stories; I wound up creating a world populated by legless people to accommodate several mutilated Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures, not to mention Lieutenant Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (who was also psychic, what with her being bald like Professor X and all). And then there was my crowning achievement in imaginary rationalization: I somehow wound up with two Scarlett figures, one of which lost half of its right arm; this disabled figure then became Scarlett's evil twin, Crimson.

4. Along similar lines, outside of the action figures and my totally original creations (a few of whom would be familiar to the few among you who've actually read In a Cabin in the Woods), a large portion of my creative energies in my younger days were spent creating super-hero style scenarios based around pre-existing source material. For example, I had a long-standing storyline in my head revolving around characters based upon Stephen King movies, some of which (Carrie, Firestarter, The Shining) lent themselves more easily to the task than others (Cat's Eye, Creepshow). I also had a random assortment of characters based on everything from the light cycles in Tron to creatures from old Star Trek episodes. And then, of course, there were the never-ending comic book iterations; I might conjure up the story of the children of heroes I liked, granting them variations on their parents powers; I might create an alternate, all-star menagerie of characters culled from the pages of Who's Who in the DC Universe or The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, often going so far as to fill notebook pages with the character line-ups; and, perhaps oddest of all, I would often impose upon myself the restriction of crafting stories about characters based solely on the visual representation of powers on the cover of a book, occasionally going so far as to construct a story based on the wildly divergent scenes in consecutive issues. Hey, when you're an only child with limited social skills, you have to find ways to entertain yourself, right?

5. I'm sure most people who are around me a lot have noticed that I almost always have something to occupy my hands, whether it be a rubber band, an ink pen, or some other random object I've picked up and started fiddling around with; this has been going on for as long as I can remember, and at one point manifested itself in one type of item in particular. You see, some kids have security blankets and some cling to a stuffed animals; I, on the other hand, had a security stick. Multiple sticks, actually. The earliest ones were prizes won at the school carnival; one was a bamboo spear complete with a plastic Indian arrowhead as a tip and multicolored feathers, while another was a thin red rod with a dark blue removable handle. These both served as tools for my imaginary adventures, the red rod serving as a laser sword (hold the empty handle, do the "activation" motion, then make the obligatory light saber noise as stick goes into handle) and spear serving as a mystical medicine stick. But it wasn't long before the spear lost its tip, and then became cracked, and I was forced to repair it with electrical tape, which became its de facto hilt. The stick was sword, magic wand, gun and laser beam and whatever else I could come up with. There would come many other sticks, including a shillelagh carved by my Great-grandfather Sutton which became a favorite for a while, but that old, cracked, school carnival spear was probably the longest lasting one.

Well, that just about does it for that meme, I guess. As for tagging others with the meme, I’ll go ahead and tag a couple of high school friends (Redneck Diva and Andi) and a couple of former co-workers (iamam and Fellow Book Monkey and Blogger Bubblegum Tate); any bet’s on see how many of them actually respond to this tag?

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Theatrical Thurs. - I Done Peed In My Chili

As I mentioned last week, Cap'n Cluck and I got to go see the local community theater's latest production for free. The movie version of the play is currently winging its way to me courtesy of Netflix, but before I talk about the movie on Monday, I thought I'd give my thoughts on the original version of Daddy's Dyin' . . . Who's Got the Will?

Set in the West Texas town of Lowake (pronounced low-AKE-ee), the play centers around a reunion of sorts of a very dysfunctional family, gathering together to deal with their father's declining health. The players include: Lurlene the "bible-thumper," who moved away because her husband felt called to be a preacher; Orville, the loutish, dim-bulb son; Marlene, his mousey, diet-obsessed wife; Evalita, wild child and multiple divorcee; Harmony Rhodes, her hippie boyfriend; Sara Lee, the faithful daughter who stayed in Lowake when the rest of them moved off; and, last but not least, Mama Wheelis, the wisecracking mother-in-law. Taking place on the days directly proceeding and following the father's death, the play takes the characters through a minefield of long-gestating issues and buried resentments, complicated by the free spirited Evalita (who's just decided she's going to be a signer) and paranoid Orville (who's convinced that he's "done peed in [his] chili" and gotten cut from the will) becoming obsessed with finding their dad's missing will. Throw in some mental instability, some infidelity, and some smoking of the reefer, and you've got a wild and crazy time.

Or, at least, that's the intention. The end result was dependent (as plays always are) by the skill and talent of the cast. In this case (as often happens with community theater) we have a mixed bag. The cast as a whole had some difficulties utilizing their West Texas accents while still being able to project and enunciate clearly; Cluck and I were on the third row of a pretty small theater, and there were quite a few times when we couldn't make out what they were saying. The actor playing the father was the worst culprit; I'm pretty sure his dialogue was supposed to be incoherent, but not incomprehensible. And then there was the actress playing Sara Lee, supposedly the most grounded of the sibling, but played with the broadest strokes and most artificial (not to mention repetitive) blocking: walk forward three steps, shift weight to left foot, stick right hip out, bounce big 80s hair with one hand, repeat as needed, making sure to keep face in a squinty-eyed, frozen rictus of faux happiness. A tad distracting. But there were some standouts in the cast, particularly hippie Harmony, crazy Evalita, and snappy Mama Wheelis; all three of them had a good grasp of comic timing, something that was sadly lacking at times.

There were a few times during the play when Cap'n Cluck and I were the only ones laughing, which I chalk up to the fact that the family in the play were not just churched-folk, they were Southern Baptists; even though their denomination wasn't explicitly mentioned until the end of the play, there were enough Baptist-specific references (such as the WMU) that made it clear to those of us raised Baptist. My favorite part of the play was when Mama Wheelis was on the phone complaining about hippie Harmony's long hair and bare feet, exclaiming "You know what the bible has to say about that! . . . Well, it's in Corinthians . . . 1st or 2nd, I don't know!" Cluck turned to me and said it sounded like one of her relatives; I responded with the name of my own relative it reminded me of. It's always interesting to me just how much of a person's personal history and cultural background goes into the enjoyment of a show, and this one was no exception.

Overall, I enjoyed the play; yes, there were some bugs, and it definitely made me pine for the days when I had a season pass to OSU's drama department which always put on some danged fine plays, but as far as an evening of free entertainment goes, it was definitely worth the time.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills

I just found out that Robert Jordan, author of the bestselling Wheel of Time series, has been diagnosed with primary myloidosis with cardiomyapathy, a condition with a pretty grave prognosis if untreated. Jordan seems optimistic that the treatments will work, and I think we all know that a good attitude is paramount in recovering from any illness. So, here's some positive thoughts and prayers sent his way, to help offset all of the "Oh, crap, is he going to finish the series before he croaks?" thoughts which this news is sure to conjure (yes, I had them as well).

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Written Word Wed. - Truth Rises With the Phoenix

Look, a newly written book review! Will wonders never cease? Much like I did for The Farseer Trilogy and The Liveship Traders, I've decided to just do an overview of the entire series, rather than just focusing on the last book; after all, if you're read the first six, you probably don't need my urging to read the conclusion, and if you haven't read any of them, then reading about book seven (a) won't make much sense and (b) might be a bit spoilery.

Crown of Stars Series by Kate Elliot

  1. King's Dragon
  2. Prince of Dogs
  3. The Burning Stone
  4. Child of Flame
  5. The Gathering Storm
  6. In the Ruins
  7. Crown of Stars

This series is set in a world loosely inspired by medieval Europe. While the action ranges of a large span of time and encompasses a wide range of threats, the bulk of the plots revolve around three characters of uncertain parentage: Prince Sanglant, eldest son of King Henry and leader of the King's Dragons, barred from the throne due to his illegitimate birth, blessed (and cursed) by his otherworldly mother to never die at the hands of man or woman; Liath, daughter of a reclusive mathematicus, who enters into the service of the King's Eagles in order to escape the grasp of the treacherous and power hungry Hugh of Austra who alone suspects the power sleeping within her; and Alain, a common born orphan promised to a monastic life who finds himself caught up in great events after he is claimed as a pawn of the mystical Lady of Battles. These three are thrust into a world of violence, intrigue, and sorcery, as Henry's kingdom faces threats from within and without, ranging from treasonous nobles to the savage inhuman Eika to the ghostly Lost Ones to the secretive sorcerers known as the Seven Sleepers. By the end of the series, the entire face of the world has been changed by the events plaguing the heroes, and none escape totally unscathed.

The Crown of Stars series is definitely an Epic Fantasy, with Alain and Liath both fitting the role of "a nobody thrust into greatness"; in fact, a good deal of time is spent detailing their difficulties in adapting to their new positions and the burdens and obligations that accompany them. While a majority of the adversaries in the series are not so much "evil" as they are driven by overpowering needs for power, vengeance, etc., making them at times sympathetic, there are some villains who are villains through-and-through, with no real shades of grey. While the world of the series is inspired by medieval Europe, Elliot has stated that there aren't necessarily 1:1 correlations between any of the countries/peoples/events of her books and our own history; I found it interesting that the teaching of the phoenix dubbed by the church in the books as heresy was actually very close to the Christian belief of the resurrection of Christ. As often happens in Fantasy series, the presence of magic is sparse in the beginning, but has become commonplace by the end.

CoS is an excellent series. The bulk of the characters are fully three-dimensional, and even those that at times come across as one note generally are revealed to have a bit more depth to them. The political and personal relationships in the series were, at times, complex; in a way, I wish I had waited until the whole series was published before reading them since, having read the first four books back in 2003, there were definitely some connections between characters that had faded from my mind by the time I finished the series. Trying to keep straight exactly who was the heir to what, and how exactly so-and-so was related to so-and-so would occasionally bog the books down for me, but I think if I had read them all at once it would have been much easier to keep straight. I appreciated the fact that the series didn't all revolve around just one over-arching threat; in a way, the structure reminded me of Babylon 5, with the first books sowing the seeds of a larger threat, the middle books dealing with the threat, and the last ones dealing with the aftermath.

My biggest (heck, practically my only) complaint about the series can be summed up in one word: Hugh. I don't believe I've ever hated a character in any medium as much as I hated Hugh of Austra. The whole "nobody believes he's evil because he's so danged good-looking" thing drove me insane; yes, it fit with the religious culture of the world, which was mired in the "bad things only happen to bad people" belief, but it still grated as time after time I had to see this slimy, smug, murderous, abusive, sociopathic priest escape his just desserts; while his eventual fate might fit the idea of "poetic justice," I still would have much preferred a good old fashioned lynching back in the first book.

I feel like I’m selling the series short here, but I don’t want to give too much away. So, I’ll just finish up by saying I highly recommend this to fans of fantasy fiction.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Apparently the Human Mind is Not Unlike Cookie Dough

Zinger sent me a link to the long-lost pilot to a Ben Stiller produced series starring Jack Black as a super-intelligent astornaut on the run from the evil Ron Silver with the aid of his sentient motorcycle Heat Vision, voiced by Owen Wilson.

Yes, it's as weird as it sounds.

Click here to sample Heat Vision and Jack

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R.I.P. A.D.

Well it's official: Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development will not be involved as a showrunner with any efforts to bring the show back for a fourth season ; and, since Showtime's offer was contingent on Hurwitz being showrunner (and since most of the other people working on the show seem to feel the same way), Arrested Development is as good as dead in the water. Which is kind of sad, but as so many people have pointed out (including our own Zinger Stoneheart), the show was able to tie up pretty much all of its loose ends in the Fox finale, so there's not the frustration of unreseolved cliff hangers like on so many other causalties (John Doe, Now and Again, Threshold, Firefly). Here's hoping that all of the cast and crew will be able to find another series that's as consistently smart, funny, and edgy as A.D.; and here's hoping that, when they do, it runs a long long time.

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TV Tues. - Wishful Flushing

Gazziza Dilznoofuses! I had quite a milnarotic week of TV viewage, although there were a few ilznitiotic things here and there.

On to the reviews.

Sons and Daughters: My mom told me this weekend that, after having loved the first few episodes, she now can't stand to watch the show because everyone treats each other so horribly. I can understand that; it's close to my own uneasiness with everyone jumping down Cameron's throat all the time. And yet so far the show amuses me enough for me to push past the mild unpleasantness. My favorite moment of last week was Cameron's reaction to his son's nervous constipation and the resultant syndrome of "Wishful Flushing."

The Loop: Last week's offering was a little weaker than the first two episodes I saw, and I can see myself growing bored with the "Thesis turns his latest screw-up into another win" plot structure pretty quickly, but things like Mimi Rogers' character("Want to see how many times 24 goes into 48?" Priceless) and the tiger cubs attacking the lunch-meat Sam (yeah, you kinda had to be there for that) are reason enough to keep me coming back to the show.

The O.C.: The only thing that kept last week's episode from being a complete waste of airtime was Taylor and her attempts at couple counseling. Amazing how she's gone from being one of the low-points of the show to being one of its few redeeming qualities. If I was to analyze what it is I like about the character so much, it's probably that she's some sort of strange Cordelia/Anya hybrid; popular (in a way) and tactless, but in a "doesn't know any better" sort of way. Would much rather watch her bluntness than watch Sandy slip further into a moral quagmire or see Ryan self-destruct yet another relationship. And don't even get me started on Marissa, whose only redeeming quality is that without her we wouldn't have the awesome Julie Cooper as a character and that would be a crying shame.

E.R.: Flunky Lover made a comment that she was surprised that I was still watching this show; to be honest, sometimes so am I. And yes, there are times when the show has a "been there, done that" feeling to it, which is almost always followed by a "good lord, was that over the top and ludicrous" situation, but I just can't get myself to stop watching. I'm too invested in the characters by this point: I love Abby and Neela and Ray, and even Morris has grown on me a bit. As a matter of fact, the sequence this last week where Morris spends the day with all of the children sired by his collegiate sperm donation was one of the funnier things I saw last week. Now, if they could just get rid of John Leguizamo's character so he could go find a job that didn't squander his considerable talents on an unlikable, irrational character.

My Name is Earl: Another excellent episode last week. I really enjoyed the glimpse into the gang's past, and the use of the "take a number" machine was pure genius. My one question about the ep, though, is this: did the writers conveniently forget that we had actually met Crab Man's family during the wedding episode when they came up with the witness protection gag, or did they come up with their own rationalization for it? And how big of a geek am I for getting hung up on that factoid?

Everwood: Oh, good lord, Delia's been possessed by the spirit of bitter Ephraim. Now, that, I could have done without. At least Ephraim generally had a bit more cause to go off on his dad. But while the transformation of Delia isn't all that palatable, at least I have the continuing evolution of Bright and Hannah to make things all better; they get my vote for "best couple on TV," and Bright is consistently in the running for "top 10 favorite characters."

Dirty Jobs: The last new Dirty Jobs for a while was another good one, with Mike going another round with the Vexcon guys; I had to wonder if Mike caught the ironic crack the Vexcon guy made when they realized that they were going to have problems because the church they were working on was not built on solid ground. Gotta love scriptural humor, huh?

Top Chef: Don't think I've mentioned the latest addition to my reality TV slate. In a way, it's a lot like Project Runway for me, in that I know absolutely nothing about the subject matter, and really couldn't care less, but the personality conflicts of the contestants have sucked me in. At this point, the only thing I really am hoping for is that Stephen the sommelier gets booted soon; the cocky son of a gun bugs the crap out of me.

Veronica Mars: About the only consistent complaint I have about this otherwise consistently excellent show is the bullheaded wrongness of Sheriff Lamb; I hate the fact that he instantly shoots down anything that Keith brings to him. Being doubtful and condescending most of the time I could understand, but never ever admitting that Keith has any skill whatsoever is just a bit too much. On a positive note, though, I loved the return of former State member Ken Marino as scummy P.I. Vinnie Van Lowe; he never fails to crack me up.

Amazing Race: This is a rare occurrence: 4 episodes in, and not a single team that I've been cheering for has been Philiminated; how long can the streak last? Not too much longer, actually, since almost all of the annoying teams are gone now. Unless one of the remaining teams suddenly goes all schizo (and my money's on Lake's team for that), this might actually be a season where I'm not actively cheering against one of the final three teams.

Bones: Last time, the guest star was former Angel semi-regular Adam Baldwin; this time, there was a brief cameo by David Denman, who is most recognizable to most people as Pam's fiancé Roy on The Office, but who die-hard Whedonites know played the recurring character of the demon Skip on a couple of seasons of Angel.

Lost: I think my favorite part of the episode (outside of Hurley and Sun's awkward encounter in the jungle) was when Ana Lucia, Sayid, and Charley the Creepy Hobbit all bonded over what jackasses Locke and Jack have become; the acknowledgement that the writers are aware of just how big a prat Locke has become gives me hope that the jerkification has been part of a larger plan that may come to some resolution this week with the latest Locke-centered ep.

The Apprentice: Man, I would hate to work for Donald Trump; he may just be a victim of bad editing, but from the board room clips he comes across as the most mercurial, nonsensical, boneheaded multi-millionaire since Jimmy James, and at least his nonsense was amusing. Who's Jimmy James, you ask? That, my blog monkeys, is an ilznitiotic question if I ever heard one . . .

NewsRadio Season 3: I spent pretty much every second of my weekend which wasn't devoted to work or church watching my Season 3 NewsRadio DVDS: 24 episodes, 10 commentaries, 4 featurettes, and the obligatory gag reel. While I'm not going to say that NewsRadio is the best sitcom ever, nor am I going to say it's my favorite; however, it is a heavy contender for both titles. The strength of the show was a combination of great writing and a great cast, especially since, as the commentaries stress, so much of the writing was inspired by the cast itself. Over the course of the first season the writers incorporated huge parts of the actors into the characters, finding that delicate balance between reality and fiction that made for TV magic, if you'll pardon the hyperbole. My favorite character was always the sardonic Dave, followed closely by the eccentric and unpredictable Jimmy James; the scenes where the two of them played off each other are some of the best on the series. And then, of course, there is the incomparable and sorely missed Phil Hartman; the show never recovered after his tragic death, but at least these DVDs will help preserve his comedic genius. Honestly, I can't wait until they release Season 4 which features two of my favorite episodes, not to mention guest spots by several key Mr. Show cast members. And speaking of guest spots, season 3 had a few that surprised me, including Ben Stiller, Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt, the guy who plays Gary on What I Like About You (yeah, I could look up his name, but would any of you actually recognized it?) and a very young and virtually unrecognizable Leelee Sobieski as the girl Lisa terrifies during the SATs. Man, do I miss this show. *sigh*

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS FOR 24 & THE SHIELD BELOW!

The Shield: So, last Tuesday I taped The Shield season finale and planned on doing my best to avoid any entertainment news sites that might talk about it until I could get it watched on Wednesday evening. I maneuvered carefully through Zap2It, Ain't It Cool News, and TV Guide's entertainment news sections, and then, convinced I was out of danger, moved on to the "Ask Ausiello" column where Michael "I've had non-speaking cameos on Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars this season" Ausiello answers random questions that have been sent him over the course of the previous week. There, at the top his column, was the question "Can you believe Shane killed Lem on The Shield last night?" *sigh* This is why taping things and watching them later is sometimes a bad thing. The episode was still excellent, but it lacked that added punch that having Shane dump the grenade in Lem's lap normally would have had for me. Oh, well.

24: Gee, Audrey wasn't really a traitor, I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked. I'm a little leery of where the whole "sexual harassment" thing might be going, but I kind of like the fact that there was a bit of a curveball thrown in there; you automatically want to hate the Homeland Security guy because he's tampering with CTU, so you grasp onto the "he's a vindictive pervert!" straw with all of your might to justify disliking him, only to find out that he's probably just the victim of a slightly disturbed individual. On a different note, while I usually have to rely on Chloe for my comic relief on this show, it was nice to see Jack take over for once; I mean, I wasn't the only one cracking up at the melodramatic "running through the exploding gas plant" sequence, was I?

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Movie Mon. - Some Very Premium Movies

'Twas a very good week for movie-watching; a couple of them even inspired me to go check out some books from the public library. We'll see if the inspiration lasts long enough to actually get me to read them.

Oh, I've also decided to start including links to the trailers for all reviewed films if available, in case my descriptions don't quite do them justice.


The Happiest Millionaire: Old-school Disney musical from 1967 about an eccentric millionaire obsessed with the Bible and boxing (not necessarily in that order) dealing with his only daughter leaving home, as told from the perspective of his new Irish butler. This one was loaned to me by Cap'n Cluck, who loves this movie with a bloody passion; while I wasn't blown away by it, I did think it was an enjoyable little movie. It had some catchy songs (particularly the bar song "Let's Have a Drink On It" and the school of seduction song "Bye-Yum-Pum-Pum"), although a couple fell flat for me (the intermittent "What's Wrong with That" and the obviously-cut-and-re-added-in-re-release "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas"). A lot of the strength of the film comes from the cast: long-time Disney star Fred MacMurray as the titular character; a young Lesley Ann Warren (who I didn't recognize) as his daughter; a similarly young John Davidson (who I had never seen in anything other than That's Incredible or Hollywood Squares until now) as the daughter's fiancé; and the talented Tommy Steele (who will always be Og the Leprechaun from Finnian's Rainbow to me) as the butler. If you're a fan of old-school, family friendly musicals, you'll probably enjoy this one.

Kairo (English title: Pulse): Japanese horror film based around the idea that the spirits of the dead have started to bleed into our world through electronic equipment. To me, the film was just a muddled mess; I know that Asian films often remain more ambiguous than Western cinema, but this one took it to extremes. Maybe there's a bit of a cultural gap in operation here, but the character motivations made little sense, and the reason for the tendency of people to disappear into black splotches on the wall was never clarified to my satisfaction. I'm wondering if the upcoming American remake starring Kristen Bell will be much better; I'm sure hoping so. As it is, I'd say skip Kairo and rent Ringu or Three Extremes instead.

Howl's Moving Castle: Latest animated offering from Hayao Miyazaki, director of Princess Mononoke and the excellent Spirited Away. This one is based on a novel by British fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, and is the story of Sophie, a self-conscious hat maker who becomes embroiled in the machinations of witches and wizards after a chance encounter with the infamous wizard Howl leads to her being turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. As with all of Miyazaki's films, the animation is wonderfully inventive and beautifully rendered; the story was entertaining if a bit ambiguous at times (such as the exact parameters of Sophie's curse), but never to the detriment of the film, for me at least. While not my favorite Miyazaki film (that would be Spirited Away, which you really, really should see), I think that at this point it's a close second.

Dear Wendy: Adapted from a script by Lars "What can I do to make Americans look ugly and psychotic now?" van Trier, this uneven film centers around a group of outcast youths in a small mining town who form a society known as The Dandies, devoted to two things: pacifism and gun-worship. The Dandies well-structured (if borderline mental) world gets thrown into chaos with the addition of a new member who se take on the proper usage of firearms is a bit more violent. The first half of the film was a very odd, off-beat look at a group of strange but engaging characters: Jaime Bell (Billy Elliot) as the leader of the Dandies who names his gun Wendy and believes that she is a sentient being; Michael Angarano (Will in Sky High) as the runt of the pack who exaggerates everything by a factor of 10; Chris Owen (The Sherminator from American Pie) as the physically disabled Dandy who lets his disability keep him from fully engaging in the group; Alison Pill (Book of Daniel) as the shy girl who teaches herself to hit targets via ricochets; and Mark Webber (Broken Flowers) as the resident munitions expert. Watching these characters slowly come together and create the intricate rules and ceremonies of their society was interesting and entertaining to me; however, as soon as Danso Gordon was introduced as the street-wise parolee, the film lost a lot of its magic for me. I know the point of his character was to (a) show how the Dandies looked to a "normal" outsider, (b) set Jaime Bell's character into a tailspin of doubt and depression, and (c) set into motion the tragic end of the film; but knowing the point of the character's existence and enjoying the results are two different things. I suppose I had bought so whole-heartedly into the world the Dandies created for themselves that I hated seeing the outside interference tearing it apart. Plus, having this little bit of "reality" intruding made the over-the-top ending seem jarring to me; if the major shoot-out had occurred as a result of the Dandies' original doings, I think I might have been able to accept it as part of their off-kilter existence; instead, the wild variation in tone put me off. There was too much good stuff in the beginning for me to totally pan the film, but too much of the end section bothered me for me to praise it. My best advice is to see the film and judge for yourself.

Capote: Oscar winning film about Truman Capote's experiences writing In Cold Blood. A very well done film; Phillip Seymour Hoffman definitely deserved his Oscar win for Best Actor. Capote is an interesting character, at turns compassionate and self-absorbed, and such a skilled liar (both to others and to himself) that you're never sure what his precise motivations are at any given moment. Highly recommend this one, which has inspired me to finally read In Cold Blood.

House of the Dead 2: All Guts No Glory: Low budget sequel to a really crappy Uwe "Isn't Calling One of His Films 'Crappy' a Bit Redundant?" Boll video-game film about zed-words; despite loathing the original HotD with a passion (ranks right up there with Batman and Robin as least favorite movie), I thought I'd see how much a better a Uwe-free film would fare. The answer: not that much. Honestly, about the only thing that really caught me attention in the film was the belated realization that one of the commandos was played by Nadine Velazquez, best known to me as Catalina on My Name is Earl; didn't recognize her without the heavy accent and maid's outfit. All in all, not as painful as the first one, but not really worth your time either.

The Squid and the Whale: Well done drama about two brothers dealing with the fallout from their parents' separation; the elder brother (Jesse Eisenberg of Roger Dodger and Cursed) idolizes his famous author father (Jeff Daniels), parroting his every word without seeing the intense self-absorption that defines his character, while the younger brother (Kevin Kline's real-life son Owen) becomes a determined anti-intellectual "Philistine" to aggravate the father and ingratiate himself with his mom (Laura Linney) and her new tennis-pro boyfriend (William Baldwin). An interesting film, although I must warn the more sensitive among you that there's quite a bit of language and sexual situations here, including a scene that's every librarian's worst nightmare (please don't make me spell it out for you). An engaging character-study.


Everything is Illuminated:
Based on the novel of the same name, this off-beat film tells the story of Jonathan Safran Foer (played by Elijah Wood), a young Jewish man practically obsessed with collecting family memorabilia who travels to the Ukraine to track down a woman pictured in a photograph of his grandfather from before WWII. Jonathan is aided on his quest by Alex, a translator with a knack for interesting turns of phrase ("I'm a very premium dancer, many women wish to be carnal with me"), and Alex's grandfather, a driver who claims to be blind and travels with a psychotic dog they call his "officious seeing-eye bitch." Narrated by Alex, the film shows how Jonathan's journey changes each of them in profound ways. Sometimes touching, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and always beautifully shot (some amazing screen compositions throughout), Everything is Illuminated was by far the best movie I've seen recently. Highly, highly recommend this one. I checked the novel out from the public library this weekend, with luck I'll have a chance to read it soon.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

Last night I had barely gotten home from work when I got a call from Cap'n Cluck, who had gotten some free tickets to the Denton Community Theater's latest production and was calling around to see if anyone else wanted to go. Never one to turn down free theater tickets, I forwent my planned evening of premium couch potato time with a touch of blogging, and went to see Del Shores' "Daddy's Dyin' . . . Who's Got the Will?" instead. So, no big post this morning; I'll see if I can get something up a little later today, as I am once again falling behind in chronicling my oh-so-exciting adventures with the Singles and the Parkerites.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Soundtrack of My Life v.2: Canciones de Coronela

If my exposure to different types of music increased in high school, it practically exploded when I went to college, thanks to access to MTV, alternative radio stations, and the CD collections of my friends and roomies. While my associations with songs in High School were primarily tied to events, most of my college associations are tied more closely with people.

I probably associate more songs with Coronela than anyone else, which is mainly due to the fact that she tends to associate with songs very strongly, not always positively.


Some of the highlights include:

"From a Distance" by Bette Middler: Coronela hated this song with a passion, a fact that Rudy and I would use to torment her by working the title phrase into our conversations:
"Hey, Rudy, from a distance, that looks like G'ovich walking across the lawn"
"You know, Cap'n, from a distance, you're right."
These exchanges usually ended with Coronela threatening us with great bodily harm.

"Stay" by Lisa Loeb: I remember hearing this song for the first time while The Clique was hanging out in the Parker Hall Council office. Coronela was playing her Reality Bites soundtrack, and when this song started she exclaimed how much she liked it. As I started to listen to the lyrics, I could see why; Loeb had perfectly captured some of Coronela's recent relationship experiences.

"Devil Went Down to Georgia": Another song Coronela hated with a passion, which, of course, was also used to torture her; I remember one time when Flunky insisted on singing the entire song while we were eating at Shortcakes, despite Coronela's constant begging for him to stop. Sometimes I wonder why she kept hanging out with us . . .

"100% Pure Love" by Crystal Waters: Coronela used to sing a snippet of this song to one of the guys in the dorm, substituting his name for one of the lyrics. To this day, I can't hear the song without hearing her voice in my head: "I'm gonna get you Robert, I'm gonna get you, yes I am!"

"Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg: Coronela would constantly break into the opening lines of this early Snoop song; subsequently, everytime I hear the song, it's a duet, with Snoop on the radio/CD and Coronela in my head: "With so much drama in the L-B-C, kinda hard bein' Snoop D-O-double-G". Related story: when Snoop's "What's My Name" first came out, Coronela would go around constantly saying "You don't love me, you just love my doggie style," up until the day she say Wild Orchids and found out what that really meant.

"I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" by Meat Loaf: The time: October, 1993, Freshman year of college. The setting: Parker Halloween Dance. The action: swept up in the power and majesty of Meat Loaf's epic love song, Coronela and I were moved to put on our own little floor show, performing an impromptu lip-synch performance. So, 'til the end of time, whenever I hear this song, I shall instantly picture Coronela in tattered brown rags, covered in "dirt" with wild, teased-out hair . . . which instantly makes me think of her wild dancing later on in the evening where she was head banging, banged her head the floor, knocked herself silly, and tried to crawl under a chair to recover.

Good times, good times.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Time to Find Some Other Filler . . .

Due to feeling sickly yesterday, no Crown of Stars review was composed. Lo siento. Instead, I shall now burn the last of my buffer by posting my final review written for my Genre Fiction class. This time, the genre is Horror.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

This novel is set in the small Illinois town of Elm Haven in the summer of 1960. It opens on the last day of school, as sixth grader Dale Stewart and his friends are celebrating the end of not only the school year, but also the end of their time at the creepy school house known as Old Central, which is scheduled to be demolished that summer. But the joys of summertime are soon dimmed as the disappearance of classmate Tubby Cooke on the last day of school triggers a series of strange events: studious Dale discovers that his younger daredevil of a brother Lawrence's fears of monsters lurking in the dark are well-founded; athletic and popular altar-boy Mike O’Rourke is stalked by a mysterious figure dressed in WWI gear who greatly resembles a man thought long-dead; obnoxious class clown Jim Harlen stumbles across a meeting between his current teacher Mrs. Doubbet and his former teacher Mrs. Duggan, who is surprisingly active for a corpse; eccentric genius Duane McBride delves into the history of Old Central and the mysterious (and presumably cursed) artifact known as the Borgia Bell which has hung, unrung and undisturbed, for decades in the boarded up towers of Old Central; and Cordie Cooke, half-crazy sister of the missing Tubby, heads into town with a shotgun, determined to hunt down those responsible for sending a half-dead mockery of Tubby to plague her family. Soon, the children of Elm Haven learn that a crime of violence from decades before has awoken a powerful force of evil, a force which was now ready to consume the souls of the entire town . . . and that was just for a start . . .

This is an example of what Saricks referred to as a Storyteller horror novel. The story begins with a normal town which is slowly besieged by malevolent forces before the gigantic climax of the final battle between the children and the evil force. The focus is more on atmosphere than on graphic depictions of horrific acts. There are a few gruesome descriptive passages, but nothing too extreme. Once the evil reveals itself, the pace is fast and engrossing. The novel probably fits best in the Devil subgenre, as the evil force behind everything is definitely demonic in nature, and is personified in the cursed object of the Borgia Bell. This seems reinforced by the fact that the evil creatures stalking the boys are vulnerable to Holy Water and Communion Wafers, but only when wielded by altar-boy Mike, the only one of the group with strong religious convictions. However, towards the end the force’s servants scoff at the Christian aspect of its identity, and much of the imagery of the creature at the end remind me more of Old Gods stories a la Lovecraft, with the ancient force being summoned by loyal followers ready to see it returned to its place of power.

I chose to read Summer of Night because the author had written one of my favorite SF novels, Hyperion, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book was very well written with well-developed and extremely likable characters. The only character who bothered me was the class-clown Harlen, but that was part of the character’s function in the novel, to be the one self-centered jerk in the group. And, as the novel progressed, even Harlen’s actions made more sense as you learned more of his background. I found myself caring quite a bit for these characters, and when the first of the children finally falls prey to the evil, I was shocked and dismayed to see his life cut short, a sure sign of an engaging story. In fact, I stayed up till almost 3 A.M. a couple of nights in a row because I was so caught up in the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to other fans of horror, especially those who enjoy Storyteller horror novels. In many ways it reminded me of a supernatural Stand by Me, and would probably appeal to readers who enjoy coming-of-age adventure stories. This book might also appeal to fans of fantasy, due to the supernatural elements involved, and fans of thrillers and suspense novels might enjoy the break-neck pace of the novel.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

TV Tues - It's Totally Steak Sauce

You know, normally I have respect for TV Guide critic Matt Roush, but in this week's issue he rates one show that I thought had lot o' problems as an 8, and another which I enjoyed the heck out of a 4.



Sons and Daughters: Although it's still following the "Cameron is always wrong" formula, that's a small complaint compared to how much this show makes me laugh all the rest of the time. Think my favorite part of the two episodes shown last week was the equestrian/pedestrian gag, especially when the two cousins made the trotting sounds when they did their horse pantomime. Very nice touch.

Scrubs: I was very glad to see the J.D./Keith feud put to rest; while the petty jealousy does sort of fit J.D.'s personality, it was a bit too much at times.

Bones: When Adam "Jayne Cobb" Baldwin came on screen as Booth's FBI pal, I harbored a brief hope that he might become a recurring character; ever since Firefly I've been rooting for all the Serenity crew to find regular work. However, before the half-way point I realized that it was semi-famous-guest-star syndrome all over again, and he was actually the bad guy. Ah, well. I had to roll my eyes at the over-dramatic "Booth checks himself out of the hospital to run to the rescue" thing, but the episode also featured David Boreanaz dancing like a goofball to "Hot Blooded," so I guess I have to take the bad with the good.

Invasion: While I was kind of sorry to see the psycho hybrid get bumped off, as she had been one of the more entertaining aspects of the show recently, as a plot point it actually made me happy; none of this "oh, I'm sure we can rehabilitate her, oops, there she goes on a killing spree again, better luck next time" stuff which plagues many serialized dramas. The eyes closed basketball game was interesting, as was the fact that the horn-dog hybrid was able to home in on psycho hybrid, raising questions of a hive mentality. I'm anxious to see what exactly is incubating inside the female hybrids.

The New Adventures of Old Christine: This would be the show Matt Roush ranked an 8 out of 10. 8 out of 10. I just . . . words fail me. Now, the latest episode was a slight improvement in terms of slapstick and pathological lying, but it in no way made me laugh even a quarter as much the next show

The Loop: And this would be the show that Matt ranked as a 4 out of 10. While he did give high points to the office sections with Mimi Rogers as the highly aggressive sexual harasser and Phillip Baker Hall as the highly aggressive borderline loon of a boss (both of which are hilarious), he paid short shrift to the sections with the roomies, which I think is a mistake. True, many of the funniest parts took place at the office, but there were quite a few roomie sections that cracked me up as well, especially those involving Eric Christian Olsen. One nice little touch was the main character's habit of coming up with endless variations of faux swear words; as long as the variety and inventiveness is maintained, that's a running gag that could get a lot of mileage. My ears perked up when I heard the theme song, "Hockey Monkey," which I recognized as a song from Ookla the Mok's monkey-themed concept album, Smell No Evil ; little did I know that this was one of Ookla's rare covers, and that the original version of the song (which, by the way, is the one played for the show) was by cartoonist James Kochalka and his band The Zambonis.

The O.C.: Forgot to talk about this last week, so a little catch-up. As someone who has never bought into the Ryan/Marissa relationship, I wasn't exactly saddened to see them break up; at the same time, the way it happened was mindless and annoying, but not as mindless and annoying as the "Sandy Cohen has become a greedy, soulless capitalist" storyline. What a load of crap that is; Sandy is the moral center of the show, and having his judgment erode so quickly is a slap in the face. However, the opening sequence of that episode featuring Summer having created her own voice-over tape to make her life seem more poignant was one of the funnier things I've seen recently.

My Name is Earl: After a couple of so-so episodes, Earl comes back with a highly entertaining half-hour. I'm glad that they're allowing Earl's dad to soften towards him; a bit of unease is fine, but the sheer hatred bothered me. The scenes with drunk Joy were some definite highlights, as was the deepening mystery of Catalina's past with her comment about her dead mother ("It was either her or me").

The Office: The unfolding of the Dwight/Angela romance continues to amuse and horrify; can you imagine them as parents? *shudder* It was great watching Michael finally finding an audience that could appreciate his sense of humor, and the fear on Ryan's face when Kelly started talking about having babies was priceless. Every week I feel thankful that NBC decided to stick by the show even though its initial run wasn't that highly rated.

E.R.: I swear, the old WB advertising staff have now been hired to work exclusively on E.R. campaigns, putting all of their power of misleading ads into this one show; first we had the Neela/Michael wedding that was advertised a week before it happened, and then the "Carter returns" ads which basically showed the entire amount of Carter footage in the episode, and now we have the "something might happen to Abby and Luka's baby" scare which was resolved before the half-hour mark. Not complaining too much in this case, since I wasn't looking forward to that storyline playing out, but as a trend, it bugs me.

West Wing: I've felt so let down this season with how the writer's have handled the Vinnick campaign; at the end of last season, I would have been okay with either Santos or Vinnick winning, but this season I feel like the deck has been stacked totally in Santos's favor. And now we have the moral quandary of the briefcase, which plays out to make Vinnick look like a mistrustful weasel, and Santos a stand-up, family man. Just sad, really. Plus, not nearly enough Kristen Chenoweth this week. I'm looking forward to the slew of guest stars over the next few eps, and am intensely curious how they're going to deal with John Spencer's death.

Grey's Anatomy: Not a lot to say about this last week's episode, other than that the George stalking Christina scenes cracked me up, especially the lunch scene.

Free Ride: This show is now in the "might watch if there's nothing else to watch" column for me. There's some funny stuff here, but there's just something about the show's tone that bugs me; I can't quite place my finger on what it is, I'm afraid, but something about the how just puts me off.

Dirty Jobs: This weekend Dr. G'ovich revealed that, after getting me hooked on this, he stopped watching it. I shall choose to take that as a compliment to my synopsis skills, ludicrous as that may be. This last week's episode featured the return of the guy from the noodling episode, since people had written in to point out that noodling, while dirty, was more of a hobby than a job. So, Mike headed out with the guy on his actual job as a plumber, which was indeed a dirty one. It was also one of the funnier segments, as the noodling plumber had a great sense of humor and enjoyed needling Mike. The segment with the roughnecks was also pretty funny as they also enjoyed needling Mike. Basically, the more comfortable the people are poking fun at Mike, the better the episode.

How I Met Your Mother: I was glad they finally addressed the question of what exactly Barney does, even if it was just to dance around the topic. The karaoke sequence was nice, both for Barney's rendition of "Dirty Jobs Done Dirt Cheap" and for the slamming dance moves of Marshmallow and Lillypad, which were totally steak sauce*. I was interested to see if Allyson Hannigan would actually sing, since she was pretty adamantly against it when they made the musical episode of Buffy.

The Apprentice: Oh, hallelujah, the most obnoxious loudmouth is gone. I was afraid the members of Synergy were shooting themselves in the collective foot by refusing to give Brent any real responsibility, but luckily his inner troll asserted itself and earned Trump's wrath.

The Sopranos: I was this close to getting to see the season premiere without it being spoiled, but then some jerkazoid posted it online with the express purpose of messing with those of us who had to wait to watch it. So, I won't be discussing any major plot points here, since I know of at least one Sopranos fan who hasn't seen it yet; I will say that, if I hadn't had the ending spoiled, it probably would have shocked the heck out of me.

Along similar lines: after I discussed a key death in last week's post, I have added the following at Fellow Book Monkey and Blogger Bubblegum Tate's request: Warning! There be spoilers for 24 ahead.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R
S

24: As I was watching the ep, I was thinking to myself "Man, I guess I won't need that spoiler space for Tate after all." But then we got to the last five minutes and the attack on Wayne Palmer and the reveal that Audrey sold secrets. Saw the attack on Palmer coming a mile away and, to be honest, wasn't too broken up about it; never have liked Wayne as a character. As for Audrey, I'll be very surprised if there wasn't some logical explanation for it; still, the potential to be quite a twist.



*That mean's "A-1" for those of you behind on your Barney-speak.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Movie Mon. - The Sandwich Jingle from Prize Winner Is Still Stuck In My Head

Saw several good movies this past week, three of which contained scenes which mildly (and not so mildly) disturbed me; one of those three, A History of Violence, will not be discussed below, but will get its own spoiler-heavy post soon, as will my sole big-screen review of the week, V for Vendetta. For now, suffice it to say that I liked both of them quite a bit. And now, on to the not-quite-as-spoilery reviews.

Good Night and Good Luck: Oscar-nominated film about newscaster Edward R. Murrow's attempts to throw light on the paranoiac actions of Senator Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s. A very well made film, with an excellent acting job by David Strathairn, as usual. I just wish I'd been in the mood for a historical set piece when I watched it; while I was able to appreciate the quality of the film, I had a difficult time getting into it. My one complaint with the film is that the storyline of the couple who kept their marriage a secret felt as extraneous as Jaime Bell's character in Peter Jackson's King Kong.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: Film based on the memoir of "Tuff" Ryan, whose mother helped support her family of 12 by constantly entering promotional contests in the 50s and 60s, commonly known as "contesting." At the time, contests were much more than just getting lucky and having your name drawn out of the hat; most of them not only required contestants to write some form of entry, whether it be a testimonial, a slogan, or a jingle, but actually had a large staff of workers who judged the entries on their literary merit. Quite a change from today's scratch off mentality, huh? Anyway, the movie stars Julianne Moore as the incredibly prolific contester whose skills kept her family in appliances, foodstuffs, and on several occasions, rent money, a fact not always appreciated by her alcoholic (and increasingly emasculated) husband, played by Woody Harrelson. I really enjoyed this one; it was hard not to be entranced by the efforts of this mother of 10 who used her natural wit and linguistic skills to great effect.

Marebito: Odd Japanese horror film about an emotionally distanced cameraman who witnesses a suicide in the subway and subsequently becomes obsessed with being able to experience the same terror he saw in the dead man's eyes; this obsession leads him to a strange netherworld filled with mysterious and dangerous figures, one of whom he liberates and brings back to his apartment. This movie was not even close to what I expected, most of which can be blamed on the fact that the Netflix blurb gives a pretty bogus synopsis of the film, claiming that it's about a timid cameraman who's forced to do a story about subway ghosts. The film was oddly hypnotic; I'm still not sure how I felt about it, but while it was on I couldn't take my eyes away from it. This was a much more philosophical film than most American horror films, as the protagonist's inner monologues contemplate the power of terror and his own possible insanity, and his conversations with other individuals range into territory like the hollow earth theory and the writings of Richard Sharpe Shaver. Not a lot to satisfy gore-hounds here, but I will admit that the penultimate seen between the protagonist and his apartment guest gave me the heebie jeebies.

Three Extremes: This film is comprised of three horror shorts from three Asian directors from three different countries: Takashi Miike (Audition, The Happiness of the Katakuris, Ichi the Killer) from Japan's Box about a woman haunted by visions of the death of her sister; Fruit Chan (The First Mission, Finale in Blood, The Public Toilet) from Hong Kong's Dumplings about a wealthy woman willing to go to gruesome lengths to retain her youth; and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, J.S.A., Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) from South Korea's Cut, about a director who is kidnapped and tortured by a psychotic extra. I don't want to say much about any of the segments for fear of diluting their impact, but I will say this: pay very close attention to Cut, which was my favorite of the three sections. All three were beautifully filmed, as I've come to expect from both Park and Miike; I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Fruit Chan's work prior to this, but I'm definitely curious now. I enjoyed all three segments, although Box, while full of some excellent cinematography and screen composition, was the least engaging of the three. Some disturbing stuff sprinkled throughout, especially in Dumplings when you see the crazy cook obtaining the ingredients for her revitalizing dumplings.

The Young Unknowns: Thoroughly unpleasant film about a thoroughly unpleasant group of twenty-somethings in Hollywood. Film centers around Devon Gummersal (probably best known as Brian Krakow on My So Called Life, although he will always be the Pink Rapist from Felicity to me) who plays the self-centered son of a world-famous director whose world is about to come crashing down on him. Film also stars Leslie Bibb (of E.R. and Popular) as a model with a drug habit, and Eion Bailey (also of E.R.) as Gummersal's equally self-centered best friend. While all the actors did fine with what they were given (especially Bibb as the spaced out model), what they were given wasn't all that great. A few snatches of entertainment here and there, but the main characters were all so danged unlikable that I couldn't enjoy the film at all.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Now That's What I Call Timing

No sooner do I make my last post about how there's no trailer available for Snakes on a Plane than I find out that they've just posted a trailer for Snakes on a Plane.

You may have to try a couple of times, the website was acting freaky on me earlier. But that's a small price to pay to see Snakes on a frickin' Plane.

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Filmtastic Friday - Air Marshal Samuel L. Jackson, You Saved My Life!

See, this is what I get for doubling up on Wednesday: falling behind on Friday. So, to tide you over until I get something a bit more substantial written up, here's a rundown of the latest batch of DVDs added to my Netflix queue.

Oh, before I get into the queue, just wanted to remind everyone that V for Vendetta opens today. Zinger and I are planning on seeing it tomorrow, and I can hardly wait, especially since it should have opened back in November.

To make things slightly more interesting, if there's a trailer readily available to the films below, I've linked to it.

Love Hollywood Style: Comedy about four actors trying to find love in Tinseltown, starring a bunch of unknowns and Andy Dick and Faye Dunaway; luckily, the latter two are not one of the romantic entanglements.

Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things: Indie drama about a young boy taken from foster care and given back to his self-destructive mother’s care, who then promptly embarks on a nomadic lifestyle. Quite a few big name cameos, includig Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder, Jeremy Sisto, Ben Foster, and, best of all, Marilyn Manson.

Sorry Haters: Drama about a woman whose chance encounter with an Arab taxi driver draws her into his life in a post 9/11 world. Stars Robin Wright Penn and Sandra Oh.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days: Oscar-nominated foreign film about real life anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl.

The Shooting Gallery: Straight-to-video pool hustler film starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Devon Sawa, and Ving Rhames.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend: Now, this one I’m really looking forward to: Luke Wilson stars as a man who dumps his girlfriend (Uma Thurman), only to discover that she’s a super-hero who sets out to use her powers to make his life miserable. Co-stars Anna Farris (of the Scary Movie franchise), Rainn Wilson (Dwight on The Office), and Eddie Izzard.

You, Me, and Dupree: Comedy about a couple of newlyweds (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson) who agree to let the down-and-out best man at their wedding (Owen Wilson) stay with them; disaster ensues. This one looks like it might be a bit painful for me, but we shall see.

Meg: Based on Peter Benchely’s novel about a super-gigantic prehistoric shark. No cast announced as of yet.

Monster House: Computer animated film about a creaky old house which is actually a monster in disguise.

Stay Alive: Horror movie about a group of teenagers who get addicted to a new video game, only to discover that whoever dies in the game, then dies in real life. Stars Frankie Muniz, Samaire Armstrong, and Milo Ventimiglia.

The Black Dahlia: Brian DePalma’s take on the story of the infamous unsolved murder. Starring Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson.

The 4400 Season 2: The second season of USA’s excellent Sci-Fi series finally comes to DVD; yet another chance to see Jeffrey Combs play a creepy crazy guy with a penchant for H.P. Lovecraft.

The Omen: 666: Remake of the 70s horror classic, set to hit theaters on June 6, 2006. Stars Liev Schrieber, Julia Stiles, and Mia Farrow.

Confetti: British mockumentary about three couples competing for the title of "Wedding of the Year."

Lady in the Water: Latest from M. Night Shyamalan about a man who discovers a character straight out of a fairy tale in the pool he maintains.

Talladega Nights : The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: From the creators of Anchorman, the latest Will Ferrel comedy takes on the world of NASCAR.

Stormbreaker: British film based on a series of novels about a teenager forced into the world of espionage after the death of his super-spy uncle.

The Return of Zoon: Tim Allen stars as Zoom, a super-hero who is called out of retirement to teach at a private academy for super-powered teens. Also stars Courtney Cox, Chevy Chase, and Rip Torn.

The Visiting: Nicole Kidman as a psychiatrist that uncovers an alien invasion; she also discovers that her son might be the only hope of stopping it. Also stars Jeremy Northam, Daniel Craig, and Veronica Cartwright.

And last, but most certainly not least:

Snakes on a Plane: Samuel L. Jackson + snakes + plane = must see movie of the year. Sadly, no trailer yet, but we do have this rough cut to tide us over.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Escape to Green Mountain Epilogue: Let Me Check My Notes

I had exactly 15 minutes after I woke up the next morning to be ready to head to Panera Break to meet Rebel Monkey for breakfast before we hit the road. Another uneventful drive, with me taking over for part of it; I had had every intention of volunteering for the whole drive back to Denton, but I'm afraid I didn't really wake up all the way until we were almost through OKC. We had no run-ins with the law, leading to me believe that the copper curse truly was all on Bunny and Buster's end.

Rather than leaving off with this oh-so-boring account of my oh-so-boring drive home, I figured I'd list a few of the things which slipped through the cracks in my mind in previous postings. Note to self: next time, get out your notes so things don't slip through.

Of course, then I wouldn't be able to have a nice padded post like this.

  • Our first night, Rose Hips, Bunny, and Rebel Monkey made a "quick run to the store" which wound up taking a couple of hours and yielded two significant purchases: Rebel Monkey's 80s compilation CDs and a suitable surrogate for Tin Man in the form of a sticky Sponge-Bob Squarepants figure.
  • At one point early on I happened to catch movement out of the corner of my eye; when I turned towards it, I noticed it was an arm flailing in the air behind the couch which sat in front of the trap door. The flailing of limbs was an indicator that The Mag was climbing up from downstairs.
  • As we were leaving Garden of the Gods, Rose Hips and The Mag decided to race to the car but were soon overtaken by Buster and his impressive speed-walking ability.
  • On our last night in the cabin I was horribly discomfited after almost walking face first into a spider dangling from the bathroom ceiling *shudder*
  • During the Project Runway marathon Bunny was reading some magazine, when she came across a picture of a starfish standing on two of its limbs, with third limb reaching up and draped over the "head" limb in what looked like a provocative pose, prompting her to hold it up and exclaim "look: starfish porn!" Buster then made a comment that mentally scarred Bunny, Rose Hips, and myself; we were then, of course, compelled to share it with Rebel Monkey and The Mag when they wandered in. The comment? "Look, you can see its stargina."
  • The Mag and I were reminded of the peculiarities of high altitude cooking after a misadventure with baked potatoes; luckily, this happened during lunch, and the cooking crew was thus forewarned before attempting dinner that evening.
  • While "doing everything with joy" was the official phrase of the trip, a close runner-up was coined when, in the midst of Project Runway, Buster decided to fix himself an ornate sandwich, proclaiming "the show has inspired me!" From then on, there were many activities which were pegged as the result of sudden inspiration.
  • During The Mag's "I'm bored" phase on the drive home Rose Hips asked "Don't you have some TiVoed shows on your laptop?" to which the motion-sickness prone Mag replied "Are we in a moving car?"
  • On the drive home through the heart of burn-ban country, we trailed a vehicle which was spitting sparks like crazy, which might have been only mildly eye-raising if not for the fact that the borderline pyromaniac vehicle was in actuality a fire truck

I wish I had more pictures to share with you (particularly The Mag's mountain climbing pose and a shot of Elizabeth), but we unfortunately ran out of time to burn off photo-CDs for everyone while I was in town, and I have yet to receive my copy which I'm sure will be in the mail any day now . . .

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Written Word Wed. -- Not Your Typical Tan

After a couple of weeks worth of stalling, I finally sat down and typed up my thoughts on the latest Amy Tan novel. Next week, expect to see my review of Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars, which I hurriedly read this past weekend so I could pass it on to Rocket G'ovich when I see her this upcoming weekend. I also stayed up really late reading the first volume of Robin Hobb's The Tawny Man trilogy; got about 400 pages read yesterday. Doubt I'll get the series done by the weekend, but you never know; borderline OCD can be a powerful thing . . .

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

In the introduction, Amy Tan purports that this book is based on a famous incident of 11 American tourists who went missing while in Burma, as related through a medium channeling the spirit of Bibi Chen, antique dealer and organizer of the ill-fated trip. Chen's untimely (and suspicious) death shortly before the Burma trip sets the stage for all that is to follow; shorn of her expertise and stabilizing presence, the ugly Americans run roughshod over their substitute tour guide, ignoring Chen's itinerary in favor of their own ideas, which subsequently lead to food poisoning, desecration of holy shrines, and an unhealthy interest from a local "lost" tribe who decide that one of the party is the reincarnation of Younger White Brother, Lord of the Nats, the tribe's prophesied savior. It is this tribe who will be responsible for the disappearance of the tourists, spiriting them away deep into the jungles of Burma, while the one member of their party not taken begins a campaign to force the totalitarian Burmese government to come to his companions' aid. Narrating it all is the disembodied Chen, whose new existence as spirit allows her unhindered access to the thoughts and feelings of all of the players involved, but without the ability to influence or guide them away from their often disastrous decisions.

Saving Fish From Drowning is quite a departure for Tan, eschewing the tight-knit Chinese family dynamic for a wide ranging examination of the foibles of Americans and atrocities of the Burmese government, often exemplified through scenes of broad comedy and even broader characters. Not that there aren't flashes of the usual Tan subject matter; the opening chapters set up the life history of Bibi Chen and her family's move from China to America, a story which would have fit in well with any of Tan's previous work. To be honest, I had a hard time getting past this initial section; I had come into the book expecting a different style of novel, and instead found myself thrust into Tan's usual stomping grounds. But once I powered through Chen's life story and reached the tale of the tourists, I found a different style of novel indeed.

One thing that I enjoyed about Saving Fish was Tan's sense of humor, which is more prevalent (or, perhaps more accurately, more overstated) in this novel than in any of her earlier works; I was pleasantly surprised at how many times the book managed to make me laugh out loud. A lot of the critics of the book lambast Tan for the flatness of the main characters and the overabundance of secondary characters. Personally, I didn't have a problem with either; the entire novel is so stylized that the main characters being partial caricatures only seemed fitting, and I felt the digressions into secondary characters only fit the personality of the narrative voice of Chen. Others dislike the fact that the story is told in such a broad fashion, but again, I just accepted that as a stylistic choice and went with it. There is also some criticism about the novel's ending being anti-climactic, and that criticism I can get on board with, although it was not enough to ruin the book for me.

All in all, I enjoyed Tan's experiment; while I didn't enjoy it as much as I did her earlier works, it did keep me engaged and entertained once I got past the initial chapters. Tan fans looking for more of the same will probably be disappointed; those willing to give this novel a chance and take it for what it is, might find themselves pleasantly surprised.

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Escape to Green Mountain Day 4: Angering the Hornets With Joy

I've been torn between trying to keep my updates timely, and trying to maintain a buffer of material so I have something to post everyday; this time, the need to be timely is winning out, so here you go: the last official leg of my Colorado Book Monkey adventure.

On our way up to the cabin, the girls and I had gotten up and around bright and early; for the return trip, we weren't quite so gung ho. We got up, packed up, cleaned up, filled out our separate entries in the guest book (each of which, by the way, contained some reference to doing everything with joy), and took the obligatory group photo:



We then headed down to the nearby diner called The Pantry for breakfast. Just a few words on The Pantry: man, was that some good grub. Our waitress, the quintessential small diner waitress who Bunny said has been there every time she's eaten there, was definitely an example of someone who did her job with joy, peppering her speech with "darling"s and "honey"s and "sugar"s and the like. Some danged fine home cooking there, too, and in ginormous portions; I ordered the smaller of their two pancake options, and it just about did me in. Buster opted for the chicken fried steak, which I thought to be an unusual choice for breakfast, but considering some of my breakfast choices of the past, I can not sit in any sort of judgment on him. The Mag ordered some bread pudding, which I tried; not bad, but not something I'll be ordering for myself anytime soon. Out stomachs well and truly stuffed, we piled into our cars and hit the road.

The trip up to the cabin had practically whizzed by; the journey home felt nowhere near as speedy, for our carload anyway. I think there were a couple of factors there. First of all, there was no music playing for a goodly portion of the drive, in deference to poor Rebel Monkey's migraine. This, in turn, made us all too aware of the swarm of angry hornets hovering over the Matrix; well, it was either angry hornets or the wind vibrating the heck out of the car carrier, but either way, it was mondo distracting and annoying. After one of our bathroom stops I moved to the front passenger seat while The Mag drove. There are those who can sit in companionable silence for long periods of time with no worry or strain; I am not one of them. In the deafening silence I felt compelled to serve as driver entertainment, and yet my mind was blank; conversational gambits flourished and died in my mind before they could ever leave my mouth.

Thanks to the massive portions from The Pantry, we didn't feel the need to stop and eat until we were a good ways back into Oklahoma. We stopped at a burger joint and enjoyed a conversation about the merits of 24 among other things; afterwards we said our goodbyes to Buster and Bunny, who would be separating from our caravan soon as they headed to Enid while we continued on to Stillwater. However, as it turned out, our caravan was separated a little bit sooner than we had anticipated.

After our meal, Rose Hips took over the driving yet again, and this time we took the lead, traveling at a greater rate over the speed limit than Bunny; while Bunny and Buster dropped out of our rear view for a while, they eventually caught up thanks to Rose Hips seeing a police car ahead of us, forcing her to drop down to a less ticketable rate of speed. We were trapped behind the copper for quite some time; eventually, as we were heading up a hilly section of road, the cop came zipping by from the opposite direction. I noticed Rose Hips staring into the rear view, a look that was followed by her pronouncement that things were about to get exciting as the police car had turned back around, turned on its lights, and headed straight for us.

Or, so we thought, until the cop car settled in behind the Bunny driven vehicle, pulling them over instead of us.

Rose Hips felt awful; we were the ones who had been in the lead, and had been traveling much faster than they had for great stretches of time. And now, here they were, getting pulled over in our place. We had many theories about why they had been targeted and not us; at first glance our two vehicles looked a lot alike, with the main difference being that we had a car carrier on top, while they had a ski rack. We debated calling them to see what happened, but decided to wait for them to call us; a little while later The Mag's cell phone rang. She answered it and was greeted by Buster's pointed question: "Why'd y'all frame us?" Luckily, the cop had taken pity on them, and Bunny had escaped with just a warning.

As darkness fell on our journey, the back seat crew started to get a little antsy; The Mag began to belt out "I'm bored" at random intervals; at one point I asked what she wanted us to do to entertain her, and she replied "put on a play for me." I said okay, and instantly broke into Roald Dahl's Jack and the Beanstalk, which I had performed as both a Humorous Duet and a Humorous Interp for Competitive Speech back in the day. There was silence throughout, whether due to appreciation or appall, I haven't the foggiest.

At one point The Mag was threatening to do something which I can't recall; all I remember is adjuring her "Don't listen to the hornets!" She replied that the angry hornets were her friends, and told her to do all sorts of stuff.

Clearly, it was time to get out of the freaking car.

But, that not being an option, we instead put in the 80s CDs Rebel Monkey purchased on the trip and all sang and car-danced along to a wide variety of nostalgia-laced tracks. Rebel Monkey dug out Elizabeth, the glowing frog proxy, and we discovered that, in the dark, her little light show greatly resembled the lights of a police car; thereafter, when a driver around us behaved badly, we were tempted to pull up behind them and activate Elizabeth, Radioactive Police Frog.

Speaking of the police . . . we received one more phone call from Bunny and Buster before we made it home; apparently, their vehicle is officially a cop magnet, as they were pulled over for speeding yet again, this time mere minutes from their home. Luckily, this time it was Buster behind the wheel, and they were able to escape with yet another warning. Three police encounters, three warning; it's hard to call that sort of luck "good," but it's not quite "bad" either.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached Stillwater; although I was sorry that our Colorado adventure was now over, I was glad to be off the road again. Rebel Monkey decided to spend the night at her mom's house so she could visit with her a bit and see her dog; the plan was to meet up at Panera Bread in the morning for breakfast before The Mag and Rose Hips went to work. I called home to let mi madre know we had made it back to Oklahoma in one piece, logged on to CoIM to post my last minute Movie Monday post, and then headed off to bed.

And believe me, when I went to sleep, I did it with joy.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

TV Tues. - One Out of Three Ain't Bad . . . Although It Ain't Exactly Good Either

Last night as I was flipping through the channels, I came across an early episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on Nick at Nite. As odd as it was to see how much younger all of the regular cast members were, it was even odder to realize that Will's good friend Ice Tray from Philly was played by none other than Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle. Freaky.

That really has nothing to do with anything else I'm going to talk about today; just thought I'd share.

Today's reviews include my thoughts on three new sitcoms, only one of which was really worth my time, although the other two showed promise; I'm hoping that Brett Harrison's new sitcom The Loop which premieres tomorrow is on the more positive end of the comedy scale.

On to the reviews.

Amazing Race: Wow, two weeks in a row the teams I like the least have been at the bottom of the pack, and the teams I like the most have been at the top; no way this is going to last.

Scrubs: I continue to be of two minds about this season, and this last week's episode didn't do much to push it into the positive column for me; honestly, if I never see another "Let's go through the 5 stages of grief" plot on any show ever, I could die a happy man.

Invasion: One of my general complaints about this show is that they try to portray certain things as shocking/surprising/scary/etc. but almost always fall short; but with this ep they definitely succeeded with the whole "band of migrant hybrids emerging from the water" sequence. Maybe not quite as creepy as the score tried to make it, but creepy nonetheless.

Stargate SG-1: And yet again we have the big season finale cliff-hanger where all hope is lost, the galaxy is surely doomed, and SG-1 is apparently dead; after 9 seasons, I have a hard time getting sucked into the "oh, no, how will they ever survive?" emotion they're trying to evoke. Still, any ep where Daniel and Cameron get to riff off of each other is a good one.

Battlestar Gallactica: On-line opinion seems pretty divided over the whole One Year Later device, with the proponents cheering their willingness to do the unexpected and the detractors bemoaning it as a cheap storytelling shortcut. Personally, I'm going to reserve judgment until Season 3 starts in earnest; I definitely don't see it as a cheap stunt, but I'm not sure how well the occupation of New Caprica will work as a season arc. But, since the show has been handled well so far, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. My favorite part of the finale had to be scene when the two Dean Stockwell model cylons were in the brig together. Fun stuff.

24: Sneaky ad campaign: promising "one of these people won't survive," and then bumping off not one, but two main characters. Unfortunately, after the shock of Edgar's death last week, the loss of Lynn and Tony lost a little bit of impact; to be honest, I felt more emotion over the death of the poor security guard who had the misfortune of being in the same room as the paranoid hobbit than i did anyone else this time around. Was glad to see Kim's storyline end so soon; wish it hadn't started at all.

The Apprentice: Wow, what a horrible, horrible disaster Gold Rush's presentation was. I mean, ouch! And, while some team members might have been ticked at the two Jewish contestants who didn't work for religious reasons, I think that it was obvious that their presence wouldn't have made a danged bit of difference as their project manager pretty much ignored everyone who was there. Going into the board room, I was afraid Tariq was going since Carolyn seemed so hung up on the fricking golf thing; was glad that Trump fired the right person this time around.

The New Adventures of Old Christine: Pain. Pure, overpowering, physical agony. Intense suffering. These are the things that I felt during the first episode of the latest Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle. Right out of the gate we have flailing-of-the-arms-with-goofy-look-on-face comedy and lying-for-no-good-reason comedy; not a promising start. Which is too bad, because I really liked most of the supporting cast, particularly Clark Gregg (who's been all over projects by both Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet) and Emily Rutherford (the wacky sister on The Ellen Show and the uptight sister-in-law on the short lived Married to the Kellys), and there were a few lines that made me laugh out loud. Hoping that the more cringe-worthy traits were a one-off, I gritted my teeth and waited 30 minutes for the "bonus" episode; despite a guest appearance by Andy Richter as the "Sad Dad," the show still suffered from the same awkward humor. The show's saving grace is that the other characters not only acknowledge "Old" Christine's spazzy behavior, they openly mock it; Clark Gregg's wry delivery of his barbs helps keep the show slightly more grounded.

Free Ride: Despite a few funny moments, this new sitcom hasn't exactly wowed me yet; still, enough amusement here for me to give it another chance or two.

Sons and Daughters: What a pleasant surprise this one was; the ads hadn't really bowled me over, but I had heard enough positive buzz around it to give it a try, and I'm glad I did. Smart and funny, with some likeable characters. I liked that the dim-bulb jock teenager stood up for his oddball cousin immediately; most sitcoms would have built a whole episode around him learning that family is important and he shouldn't let his desire to be popular and peer pressure affect his decisions, etc., rather than just letting it demonstrate itself organically as a pre-existing character trait. My only real complaint about the show was how quickly everyone turned on Cameron; if the show devolves into a "Cameron is always wrong, even if he's right" sort of thing, I might have to rethink my stance, but as for right now, S&D has moved into my viewing rotation (because what I really need is another show to watch).

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Monday, March 13, 2006

I Could Have Sworn My Percentage Was Much Higher Than That . . .

Gotta love Internet quizzes.

How Abnormal Am I?





You Are 40% Abnormal




You are at low risk for being a psychopath. It is unlikely that you have no soul.



You are at medium risk for having a borderline personality. It is somewhat likely that you are a chaotic mess.



You are at low risk for having a narcissistic personality. It is unlikely that you are in love with your own reflection.



You are at high risk for having a social phobia. It is very likely that you feel most comfortable in your mom's basement.



You are at medium risk for obsessive compulsive disorder. It is somewhat likely that you are addicted to hand sanitizer.

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Movie Mon. - Now, *That's* Effective Advertising

Out of the seven films discussed below, I highly enjoyed two, really enjoyed two, mildly enjoyed one, was amused by one despite itself, and found only one to be lacking in redeeming qualities.

All in all, not a bad week for movie watching.

Lollilove: A very politically incorrect mockumentary from the husband-wife team of Sean Gunn (writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake and the upcoming Slither) and Jenna Fischer (Pam on the American version of The Office) who play characters named Sean and Jenna Gunn, a well-to-do couple who decide to start their own charity to help the homeless in a unique way: by giving each homeless person a lollipop with an inspirational message and artwork. The film follows their efforts to convince people this is a good idea (an uphill battle), as well as their first disastrous outing. Off-beat, dark, unafraid to offend, and very funny (to me, at least). Jenna credits her work on this film for getting her the role of Pam, since in order to offset her husband's over-the-top improvs she had to perfect her own style of low-key camera takes and eye-rolling.

Undertaking Betty: Quirky British comedy (but then again, aren't they all?) about an undertaker (Alfred Molina) who convinces the love of his life (Brenda Blethyn) to leave her husband by faking her own death, a plan that threatens to fall apart due to actual murder attempts from her husband's mistress (Naomi Watts) and a snoopy rival undertaker from America (Christopher Walken). When the opening credits roll, the film is given the subtitle of "A Fable," which went a long way towards making the film work for me: it lets you know right from the get-go that things are going to be a bit stylized and over-the-top. I liked the conceit of having whatever episode of The Jerry Springer Show happened to be on TV actually comment on the plot of the film (loving people from afar, cheating on your spouse, etc.). I also enjoyed the sheer wackiness of Christopher Walken's character who viewed funerals as theatrical events: if your dearly departed's favorite hobby was cards, expect to see their corpse decked out like the Queen of Hearts; his funeral scenes were over-the-top to be sure, but I just kind of went with it. A cute little movie I'd recommend to fans of British comedies.

Kids in America: Teen-age comedy about a group of high school students (led by Gregory Smith of Everwood) who decide to take a stand against their totalitarian principal (Julie Bowen of Ed). The message of the film is pretty simple: "kids, fight for your rights." While I applaud the message, the characters' tactics made the teacher's son within me cringe. There's some wit evident here, from the snippets of the AV club's student films to some characters with a penchant for snappy dialogue, but it almost gets drowned out by the pedantic message and pedestrian plotting. Not a "must see" film by any stretch, but it was enjoyable enough.

Jarhead: Film based on Anthony Swofford's memoir of his time serving in the Marines as a sniper during Desert Shield/Storm. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford, a young man who joined the Marines because he felt he had no other choice; the film follows his rollercoaster emotional ride as he goes from directionless jarhead to avid sniper to stir crazy basketcase and beyond. Gyllenhaal does a great job, as does the always entertaining Peter Saarsgard as Swofford's spotter. Supposedly many of the scenes related by Swofford are based on Marine Corps "urban legends," rather than actual personal history. At first glance, the film may seem to be a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but in many ways, that's the point of it all: the film is as much a reflection of the futility of Swofford's time in the military as anything else. An enjoyable, if occasionally bleak, film. My only complaint is that I had Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" stuck in my head the entire time, despite the fact that the song doesn't even play in the film until the closing credits; but the fact remains that the song was so pervasive in the ad campaign that I can't even see the word "jarhead" without the song popping instantly into my head.

Prime: Well-done romantic comedy about a recent divorcee (Uma Thurman) who gets involved with a much younger man (Bryan Greenberg of One Tree Hill and Unscripted) who just so happens to be the son of her therapist (Meryl Streep), a fact that none of them realizes. There was a lot of potential for annoyance in the film, especially once the therapist discovers the truth but decides not to tell either her son or her patient; surprisingly, the annoying possibilities were never fully realized. Streep's character has good rationalizations for everything she does, and she doesn't try to pull a Monster-in-Law and sabotage the relationship; luckily for her the couple seem capable enough of that on their own. Thurman and Streep are pretty much known quantities at this point, so I have to give a shout out to Greenberg, who holds his own with both. Not your typical romance, and that's a good thing.

Fear of Clowns: Very low budget horror film about a soon-to-be-divorced painter whose art is all about psychotic clowns, and who suddenly finds herself being stalked by (shocker!) a psychotic clown. First thing's first: this movie could have shaved off a good 30 minutes or so and been improved immensely. Of course, even an immense improvement wouldn't have elevated it beyond Z-grade status; some truly hideous acting jobs throughout, many of which were bad enough to make the film worthwhile for fans of bad acting.

Death Tunnel: B-grade horror movie about a group of co-eds trapped in a haunted hospital as part of an initiation ritual. Here's a little tip for all of you budding filmmakers out there; just because you can make a film with non-linear storytelling, doesn't mean you should. The movie tries hard to be creepy, a bit too hard, really; the design of the ghosts made me roll my eyes more than anything else. The acting and script are miles above Fear of Clowns, but that only works against the film: not high enough quality to be good, but not low enough quality to be enjoyably bad. It is, at best, mediocre, at worst, a muddled mess.

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