Thursday, July 27, 2006

Oh, a Wise Guy, Eh?

Last Sunday morning as I entered the room where all of the Singles meet before splitting up into their separate classes I noticed an unusual addition to the decor: a cardboard cutout of three figures in graduation robes. Over the face of each graduate was taped a headshot of the three male Sunday School teachers in the Singles department: Freezeout, Flyboy, and myself. If I had looked closer, I would have noticed the tags underneath the pictures which instructed the viewer to lift them up in order to find out their "real" identities. But, I didn't need to lift up the pictures, because I recognized the cut-outs immediately.

I can thank my Stooge-obsessed cousin for the immediate recognition, since he had gotten the exact same cutout as a high school graduation present a few years back.

When Freezeout and Flyboy arrived, they were as surprised as I was. With Trouble being out of state, Freezeout headed straight to the next most likely culprit: Cap'n Cluck. Cluckity and Magic Pants pretended innocence for a few moments before fessing up. They then had us pose with the cutout while Cap'n C. memorialized the event on film; I'll be sure to post the unflattering pictures as soon as she passes them on to me.

Oh, and in case you were wondering which one I was, well, let's just say I had "The Curly Shuffle" going through my head the rest of the morning. . .


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Written Word Wed. - I Give Up

I know I've been a major slacker recently, so in order to maintain at least the illusion of substantive postings, I’ve decided to postpone the in-depth book reviews and just do a quick overview of what I've been reading recently, which should also serve to reassure that I don't spend all of my time watching TV and movies . . . just 95%.

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb: Sequel series to Hobb's Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies, focusing primarily on the characters from the Farseer books. Let me just say that if you're a fan of Fantasy, you need to pick Hobb's stuff up ASAP. The Liveship books are still my favorites, but The Tawny Man is a marked improvement over Farseer, and I thought the Farseer stuff was pretty danged good.

The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan: The first two books of the award-winning YA Fantasy series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Think of it as Harry Potter meets Bulfinch's Mythology: a young boy discovers that the reason he's always felt different from everyone around him is that he is actually the son of a Greek god, and soon finds himself at Camp Halfblood with all of the other young Olympian offspring. Although these aren't quite as captivating as the Potter books and suffer from a bit of the "it's obvious to everyone but the characters who the bad guy is" syndrome, I think they still hold some value as a fun series for young readers. I was especially happy with how Riordan worked so many different Greek myths into the story, focusing not just on the big ones like Medusa and the Minotaur, but also featuring things like the Furies and Procrustes.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: One of the prototypical hardboiled detective novels, which I read at the behest of Bubblegum Tate. An entertaining book that may strike some as clichéd, until they realize that it's really where the clichés all originated. I felt that it lost momentum towards the end, but that might have been a byproduct of my taking a break from reading it to finish up a book I got through Interlibrary Loan.

Mike Nelson’s Death Rat!: A Novel by Michael J. Nelson: Comedic novel written by Mystery Science Theater 3000 head writer and host Mike Nelson which follows the misadventures of Pontius Feeb, a nervous and recently laid off academic whose attempts to support himself wind up spawning a massive hoax surrounding a small Minnesota mining town and a mythical giant rat, which makes the increasingly paranoid Feeb the target of a jealous (and bloodthirsty) author and a crazy rock star. Although I thought the ending was a bit weak, the book as a whole was very funny, and I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times.

Mike Nelson's Movie Mega-cheese by Michael J. Nelson: Serious of humorous essays by Nelson about bad movies, a subject near and dear to both of our hearts. If you're a fan of MST3K, this is probably right up your alley.

I feel like I'm leaving something out, but can't think of what it could be. I'm currently about a quarter of the way through The Chosen, the first volume in Ricardo Pinto's Stone Dance of the Chameleon series which my dad recommended; enjoying the heck out of it.

Some of the other books in my reading queue include:

  • Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb (first book in new series)
  • The Ruins by Scott Smith (horror/suspense novel)
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (recommended to me by Flunky Lover)
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (been wanting to finish this for a while)
  • The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto (second book of Stone Dance of the Chameleon)
  • A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin (I can't believe I haven't gotten around to reading this one yet)
  • Dzur by Steven Brust (only two weeks until a new Vlad Taltos novel! woo-hoo!)

Okay, enough padding; back to reading The Chosen


CAP'NS Anthem

Recently I received the following from Magic Pants and Cap'n Cluck as a MySpace bulletin; once again, I couldn't bear to let it fade away into the ether once the bulletin dropped off in a few weeks, so here for all to marvel and wonder at "The CAP'NS Anthem."

*sung to "I am a C-H"

We are the C
We are the C-A
We are the C-A-P-apostrophe-N-S
And we hate N-U-T-S in all
Of our F-O-O-D-S
And we will P-U-K-E
If we E-A-T N-U-T-S.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Movie Mon. - What, No Tweest?

Very little movie watching this week, due to most of my Netflix rentals going towards TV shows, but more on that tomorrow.

Doll Graveyard: Another fine addition to Full Moon Videos long-standing line of low budget horror films revolving on killer toys, this time 4 of the ugliest dolls you've ever seen put on film. Seriously, what were the designers thinking? Half the success of this sort of film is in the merchandising (see the Puppet Master films for example), and if you create things that are too ugly to look at, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Beyond the crappy creature design, the script isn't too terrible, although much of the acting and production values are. But, it's an entertaining sort of terrible, like many Full Moon productions.

Spider-Baby: Horror film about the Merrye family, an inbred clan whose children tend to suffer from a degenerative mental disorder that turns them into psycho killer cannibals. Offbeat and darkly comic film from the late 60s featuring horror veteran Lon Chaney as the family chauffeur who is tasked with trying to keep the homicidal kids in check and a young Sid "Captain Spaulding" Haig as the most far gone member of the clan. This one was definitely a product of its times, and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Soft for Digging: Odd film about a solitary old man who witnesses a murder and is then plagued by visions of the victim. As I watched this one, one thought kept running through my head: "This is almost like some sort of student film." Sure enough, barely a minute into the commentary, there was the confirmation that this was indeed a class project. This one isn't for everyone, with its lack of dialogue and glacial pace, but I kind of appreciated its efforts to try to do something different. Not that it didn't have its share of flaws, and I probably wouldn't recommend it to much of anyone, but I'm not sorry I watched it. The Anti-Cap'n probably wouldn't say the same . . .

Lady in the Water: The latest effort from M. Night Shyamalan is a meta-textual, self-aware fairy tale centering around a varied group of oddball characters inhabiting an apartment complex who are called upon to help out a strange visitor from "the blue world" who has been tasked with trying to awaken a portion of humanity. My feelings on this one are kind of mixed; I'd really like to see it again before committing a firm opinion on it. Storywise, I think it's the weakest of Shyamalan's films, which is interesting since it's such a self-aware film; I think that very awareness works against it. But while the narrative itself moves in fits and starts, the character moments kept me entertained, especially the scenes with the uber-cynical film critic who performs a hilarious running commentary on the mechanics of horror movie tropes while being stalked by the monstrous skrunt. The movie is a lot easier to take if you just think of it in terms of being a fairy tale, with its obvious moral and convenient plot devices. I do think that some aspects could have been handled more smoothly, or expressed more explicitly; Heep's acceptance of Story as a mythical creature felt rushed and forced, which in turn stretched the credibility of his seeking for help, a problem that a single line of dialogue, or even a meaningful look or two, might have dispelled. And then of course there's M. Night's decision to cast himself in a fairly pivotal role; I have to say that before this, none of his cameos have bothered me, but in this case it did, probably due to the exact nature of the role. A bit too on the nose, you might say. Still, it's hard to fault him for that, when there are many other directors who place themselves in much larger roles in much larger vanity projects *coughKevinCostnercough* In the end, I enjoyed the movie; it had its share of problems, but it also made me laugh out loud several times, which is always a bonus. In my ranking of M. Night's films, I think this one barely edges out The Village just because it doesn't have the huge "What a tweest!" moment that is supposed to turn the whole film on its ear but just makes you yawn; yes, there are a few minor twists here and there, but those are more plot progression points than "everything you know is wrong!" reveals.


Friday, July 21, 2006

It'd Roll All the Way Down to Fargo, North Dakota

A while back an email went out to all of the library employees announcing the upcoming staff development programs. The final program on the list: a staff hobby & talent show. Now, at the last talent show I decided to perform one of the three Competitive Speech pieces which had been burned into my brain forever, Roald Dahl's "Jack and the Beanstalk." It had been quite a success, and was the first time that many of my coworkers realized just how dramatic I could be (let alone mildly entertaining), so the temptation to perform again was strong . . . but then again, so was the fear of not living up to expectations. While trying to decide what to do (should I do one of my other high school speeches? Read from a short story? Read from a blog post?) I sent an email to the organizer to see what the time limit for individuals would be; after getting a noncommittal "it depends on how many sign up" answer, I promptly forgot about it until two days before the show, when the organizer emailed me to see if I was still interested, and if so, what I was planning to do. After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to go ahead and do one of the two remaining pieces from high school.

In the end, there were only 5 of us participating, which was quite a downturn from last time, but apparently there were quite a few people who wanted to participate but just couldn't because of their schedules. We wound up with a primer on making jewelry; an exhibition of artwork; some samples of music composed by a co-worker; some examples of costumes designed for RenFaires; and me. I did a brief intro ("for those of you not familiar with competitive speech, it's where we did speeches . . . competitively") talking about how this was the only piece I'd ever taken 1st place with (that I can recall, anyway) and it was the first and last time I ever did a poetry piece at competition. I also cautioned that some people think the author is a little weird, but that that was perfectly understandable, since that was part of his name . . .

I then launched into my interpretive reading of "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" by "Weird" Al Yankovic.

I got lots of compliments afterwards, as well as a couple of "Now, what was the author's name again?" questions. I suppose next year I could do the final member of the Competitve Speech triumvarte, but somehow I don't see "The October Game" going over quite as well . . .


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Resistance Is Futile!

Yet another unsuspecting soul has been claimed by the epidemic known as "blogging." The latest victim: my mom. Please, stop by and say hi, I'm sure she'll appreciate it.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Surprise, a Non-Surprise, & The Most Evil Game Ever Devised

Last Saturday Cap'n Cluck organized a surprise birthday party for H.Q., whose birthday was Saturday, and Cap'n Disaster, whose birthday we of course all celebrated on Disaster Day. The cover story was that they were both going to meet at Cluckity's house at 7:00 and then go out to dinner; the rest of us were instructed to get there between 6:00 and 6:30 and park in the back so that they couldn't see the cars. The Anti-Cap'n and I were the first arrivals, and for a while it looked like we might be the only ones there for the surprise portion. While we were waiting, Cap'n C. mentioned that she hadn't ever gotten firm confirmation from Cap'n D. on if she and her Cap'n hubby (who was of course in on the surprise) would be able to be there at the time, so Cluckity decided to give Cap'n D. a call. The conversation went something like this from my perspective.

CAP'N CLUCK: Hey, just calling to see if you guys are going to make it . . . you're on your way NOW? . . . um, hey, let me talk to Cap'n Hubby real quick . . . Cap'n H.? DON'T COME YET, YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE TILL 7:00!!!!!!!

Yeah, that wasn't suspicious at all . . . If nothing else, the experience showed us that Cap'n C. doesn't necessarily do well with sneaky.*

Other guests started arriving (including Magic Pants, the Cardinal, Mr. and Mrs. Smooth Money, and a few nicknameless Singles from FBCD and DBC) and after a while we moved from the kitchen into the living room to await the arrival of the b-day girls, at which point someone pointed out that due to the odd font used for the "Happy Birthday Cap'n Disaster and HQ" banner, the "Q" in HQ looked more like an "O" . . . moments later Cluckity was dangling over the second floor overlook, trying to color in the leg of the Q to correct the problem. After that brief bit of entertainment, we all just sat and visited while waiting for the slightly tardy guests of honor to show up.

H.Q. was the first to show up, and her entrance couldn't have worked any better if we had planned it; when she walked in, instead of turning to her right where we were all seated, she instead kept talking to Cap'n Cluck who, by virtue of opening up the door for her, was on her left, effectively keeping her back to us for quite a while. We all kept quiet until she finally turned around and the hollered the obligatory "Surprise!" Surprise number 1: a success! However, our victory was short-lived as not too long after Smooth Money ventured into the kitchen to get a drink, came back out and announced "Cap'n Disaster's at the back door." We all kind of sighed in resignation, and gave a half-hearted "Surprise" when she finally made her way past all of the party food and into the living room.

After dinner (which Cap'n Cluck had fixed single-handedly, crazy party planner that she is) we visited for a while and listened to some music. While going through Cluckity's collection, Cap'n D. came across one mix CD that she insisted be played. The title? "Middle School Dance CD." We then spent some time listening to such blasts from the past as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Ice Ice Baby," and "I Saw the Sign." Following the mass sing-along inspired by the music, when it came time to choose a party game, there was really only one choice: Deluxe Encore, a.k.a. Pure Evil.

The premise of Encore is simple: the group is divided into two teams who are given the task of coming up with as many songs as possible that contain a word or subject as suggested by the cards, having to sing at least six consecutive words of the song, including the key word/subject. For example, the card might say "monkey," so team one could fire off "Everybody's got something hide except for me and my monkey," forcing team two to sing "1 2 3 the kids love the monkey," which would lead team one to sing "All around the mulberry bush the monkey chased the weasel," so team two would then sing "Come on down to Gorilla City, we got all the Gorillas you need, we got Gorilla Grodd, Sam Simeon, and Beppo the Super-Monkey." And then team one would say "Cap'n Neurotic, you just made that up" and Cap'n Neurotic would say "No, seriously, it's from Ookla the Mok's 'Smell No Evil' CD" and then . . . well, you get the idea.

Now, for those of you familiar with my songbursty nature, this game might seem tailor-made for me, but you're forgetting to factor in two very important facts. #1: I have the whole "deer-in-headlights" thing going on when I'm under pressure. #2: I have little to no will-power and am easily influenced. This one-two combo meant that when it was our teams turn to think up a song, the pressure would cause my brain to go almost completely blank, being filled only with the last song sung by the other team. Much consternation would then ensue on my part.

Some highlights (and lowlights) of the game:

  • The word is "long"; Cap'n D. starts off singing the beginning of "American Pie," but only gets out 4 words; in order to meet the 6 word requirement I finished it up with the only thing that I could think of: "Long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Naboo was under an attack . . .” H.Q. said "Nice try," until her teammate The Cardinal, being one of my people, confirmed that it was, indeed, a real song.
  • An incredibly long amount of time was spent on the category "Songs About Alcohol." There were some pop and rock songs used, three Buffett songs, at least one song from The Simpsons**, and what seemed like a near-infinite number of country-western songs. Oh, and "Raspberries, Strawberries" which I assumed nobody else would know, but I should have known better as The Cardinal exclaimed "Ah, the Kingston Trio."
  • The other incredibly long round was courtesy of the word "down," a word that almost seemed tapped out until someone (I believe it was Cap'n Cluck) sang a children's song which suddenly unleashed a flood of others: "London bridge is falling down," "The ants go marching down to the ground to get out of the rain," "I've got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart," "Row row row your boat gently down the stream," etc.
  • Occasionally the game requires a one-on-one challenge. I lucked out with my one-on-one with Magic Pants when the word was "purple." True, I could only think of two purple songs (Flying Purple People Eater and America the Beautiful(purple mountains majesty), but Magic Pants didn't even have that much luck, making it the only time all night I was able to stump the Human iPod.
  • As pressure filled as the one-on-one could be, even worse was the team-on-one moments, when one person had to go against the whole other team; when I had to be The One, the word was "sweet" and about the only thing I could think of was "Sweet Emotion," for which I couldn't remember any words other than "Sweet Emotion," which cycled endlessly through my head until my time was up.

I'm not sure how long the game actually lasted, although at times it seemed like it would never end; after Cap'n Disaster and spouse left the writing was pretty much on the wall for my team, and we eventually lost. But that wasn't the worst part of the game for me; no, the worst part was getting in my car to drive home, hearing "Life is a Highway" and thinking "Why didn't I think of this for a 'long' song?", followed by hours of sleeplessness as my brain cycled through song after song that I could have used for all the words and categories we had gone through, a process that has continued up through yesterday morning, when I finally thought of another song for "purple."***

Of course, all of that will do me no good, since the next time we play we won't get any of those words and I will have a whole new slew of words to keep me up all night.

*Or maybe that's what she wants us to think . . .
**"When I was 17, I drank a very good beer, I drank a very good beer I purchased with a fake I.D." Yes, that was mine.
***"The things you say, your purple prose just gives you away, the things you say -- you're unbelievable." -- EMF


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TV Tues - It's a First

Monk: Wow, I can't believe it; here we have a mystery which introduces two new characters played by two familiar faces (Chi McBride and my favorite of the DeLuise boys, David) and in the end, neither one was responsible for the murder. It flies in the face of my theory of the "Zeljko Ivanik effect" for TV mysteries. I don't know whether to be happy or sad about that.

Psych: Well, I think the addition of a new partner for the skeptical detective is a step in the right direction, since she doesn't seem to be as enamored of him as his girlfriend had been, but I wonder if the reason for the change was due to a decision on the part of the original actress, the creative team, or the network.

Last Comic Standing: I really hate how they've just been zipping through the contestants this season; I guess after the premature yanking of season 3 they decided not to drag things out.

Stargate SG-1: All I have to say is that I'm so happy that Claudia Black is now a full-fledged cast member.

Felicity Season 2: Only two more eps to go to finish out the season. Another batch of familiar faces which weren't familiar the first time around, like Keiko Agena (Lane on Gilmore Girls), Kelvin Yu (Freddie Gong on Popular), and Alex Carter (Detective Vartann on CSI). And while I've seen some surprising faces during this walk down memory lane, none compare with the appearance of Adam Rodriguez as the record exec with a jeri-curl. Once again, there are the "oh, man, I must have repressed that horrible storyline" moments, particularly the Noel/Ruby stuff; I pretty much never liked the character of Ruby, and I had forgotten how much they cranked up the melodrama on the whole abortion episode. On the positive side, this season saw the return of the Docuventary concept, the expansion of the characters of Richard, Meghan, and Sean, and, best of all, the addition of the excellent Amy Aquino to the show as Felicity's confrontational counselor/therapist Dr. Toni Pavone. I think the best part of the character of Pavone is that her sole purpose was to call Ben and Felicity on their crap. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, the character of Ben actually started to grow on me a bit.

Saved: I think the biggest problem I have with the show is that I just don't care about any of the characters. The rookie is too bland, his partner is too abrasive, and the female doc has just annoyed the heck out of me from day one. As for Wyatt, I just have no sympathy for him whatsoever; I can't quite put my finger on what makes his self-involved, cocky jackassery less easy to bear than the self-involved, cocky jackassery of characters on other shows I actually like (the squad on Rescue Me is the most immediate comparison), but maybe its the fact that, to some degree, the other characters seem at least marginally aware that they're self-involved, cocky jackasses, while Wyatt refuses to cop to the fact, hiding behind his righteous "I'm the best there is and I actually care about people" spiel. Or maybe it's something else entirely.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Movie Mon. - It's Historical AND Hysterical

It was a very low-budget horror heavy week for me, rental-wise. How low-budget? Well let me put it this way: when I was looking at the TV listings yesterday, I saw that two of the movies I had just finished watching were going to be on back-to-back . . . on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Sadly, neither one of them was quite up to the level of Mansquito.

On to the reviews.

Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story: This one's a bit hard to summarize: it's sorta based on the "unfilmable" novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a nine-volume work which, as one character in the film says, was "post-modern before there was any modernism to be post about." The novel itself is supposed to be the life chronicle of Tristram Shandy which somehow never really gets beyond the day he's born, getting lost in digressions and meta-textual experiments; meanwhile, the film itself switches between the adaptation of the book and a faux look at the behind the scenes making of the film. A smart, funny film, both in the Tristram scenes (which make me want to read the neverending novel) and in the "real life" sequences (which make me want to track down more of star Steve Coogan's work). By far my favorite film of the week.

Room 6: First of the Sci-Fi Channel movies, this confusing mish-mash of a film about a woman plagued with eerie nightmares about hospitals who finds the dreams coming to life after her boyfriend disappears in a strange ambulance following a car wreck. Despite an interesting teaser and some familiar faces (Christine Taylor and Jerry O'Connell), this was one of the most unsatisfying movie-watching experiences I've had. By the time the big "twist" arrived, as awful as it was I was still happy if only because it meant that the movie was almost over. The worst aspect of the film (outside of the general crappy plot) was the constant screeching of Christine Taylor's character as she jogged briskly away from danger.

It Waits: Low budget horror film about some forest rangers being stalked by a sadistic demon. Second of the Sci-Fi Channel movies, this one actually started off fairly well, all things considered (especially since we watched it hot on the heels of the disaster that was Room 6), but the wheels really came off around the second half as the female lead began to make every decision using that "What is the absolutely dumbest move I can make?" method that is all too common in horror films. Not as annoying as a screeching Christine Taylor, but not all that appealing either.

Wizard of Gore: Cult horror film about a psychopathic magician who slaughters his volunteers on stage, while hypnotizing the audience into thinking they survived. Old-school, over-the-top gorefest from exploitation pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis of 2000 Maniacs infamy. A bit tedious at times, and the acting is mostly atrocious, but generally in an entertaining way.

The Horse's Mouth: Odd British comedy starring Alec Guinness as Gulley Jimson, an eccentric artist with no social skills and a volatile disposition. I enjoyed portions of the film, particularly the sequence where Gully commandeers an empty apartment to paint his masterpiece comprised mainly of pictures of people's feet, but overall I wasn't too fond of this one.

These Girls: Frustrating comedy about a trio of teenaged girls (who include Jaye from Wonderfalls and the karaoke singing sister from Sons & Daughters) who each become involved with the same married man (David Boreanaz), basically blackmailing him into letting them "share" him. Some funny moments, and good performances from all involved, but the murky morality of the ending really bugged me; it wouldn't have bothered me that the guy got as much crap heaped on him as he did if there had been some consequences for the self-involved, witchy girls, but with them all getting off scott free, I felt discomfited.

Just Before Dawn: 80s slasher film starring veteran character Gregg Henry as one of a group of campers who stumble across a couple of inbred psycho killers. Very slow going; I don't mind horror films taking up time with characterizations, since it makes the deaths a bit more meaningful, but this one took a bit too long to get started.

On a Clear Day: British film about a recently laid off man who decides he's going to swim the English Channel. Nice little film; nothing groundbreaking, but not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

The Quiet Earth: 80s post-apocalyptic film following three vastly different people who wake up to find that everyone else on Earth has disappeared. An interesting film which is worth it just for the first third of the film which follows the main character during his descent into madness before he finds out that he's not all alone after all and declares himself ruler of the world.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

I'm a Glutton for Punishment, I Am

The other day I got something I had given up hope on ever receiving again: feedback on In a Cabin in the Woods! My friend iamam was finally able to make time to get my vanity project read and critiqued. The thing that interested me the most about her comments (apart from the voluminous praise she heaped upon me) was that she singled out the Nature Boy story as the weakest one. Why is that interesting? Because now, all five stories in In a Cabin have been singled out by one person or another as the "weakest" one. That just fascinates me, especially since just about every story has also been singled out as at least one person's favorite. What's the lesson here? Probably that deciding to interconnect stories of different genres and styles, attempting to make them a cohesive whole might not be the best way to introduce characters and concepts.

Anyway, getting the email from iamam has made me think about returning to In a Cabin; I think enough time has gone by for me to be able to return to it and recognize more of its flaws than when everything was still fresh. Although, taking into consideration the varied reactions to it, I have to wonder if I might not just be better off severing the different story threads from each other and expanding each into its own, standalone work. Of course, doing that would require much more writing than I've felt up to doing recently; the one good thing about the first pass at Cabin was the self-imposed deadline kept me focused.

So, here's a chance for more feedback from the loyal blog monkeys who actually read In a Cabin; if you would take a few minutes and fill out this survey it would be very helpful to me. Plus, it's totally anonymous, so those of you who want to crush my soul but not have to deal with the repurcusions, rejoice! The survey will only be active for a month, so those of you who have suddenly been jolted into remembering that yes, you did receive a copy and yes, you did plan to read it, better get hopping.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Have a Delightful Disaster Day!

I was going to wish Cap'n Disaster a happy birthday, but she beat me to the punch, posting the following bulletin on MySpace:





Hey, it's her birthday, and she'll shill if she wants to.

So, of course that got me thinking: what would such a holiday be called? "Center of the Universe Day" seems a bit clunky, so I think Disaster Day seems like the obvious winner obvious choice. But that leads to another question: how should one celebrate Disaster Day? Should one spend it finding disasters to manage? Or should one be forced to sing all day long? Is spending the whole day in quiet contemplation of the Disastrous One too much to ask? The only thing I know for sure is how the day has to end . . .

With everyone lying homeless, drunk in a ditch.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You're Driving Poor Ophelia Insane

A couple of clips from Slings and Arrows courtesy of YouTube.

First, an early read-through of Hamlet while the unbalanced Geoffrey and his spectral companion watch on in horror and disbelief.

And from a later episode, one of my favorite scenes of the series, where Geoffrey (now directing the play) decides to confront his Ophelia about her . . . unique take on the character.


TV Tues - Cheer Up You Melancholy Dane

The summer wasteland is slowly filling up, as Monk and the Stargate franchise return to the air, but the 4th of July weekend still left plenty of time for tons o' TV on DVD.

Last Comic Standing: Was very disappointed to see Joey Gay go, although I have to admit it was one of his weaker sets. I do wonder if he would have done better if it had just been one on one against Michelle; I like to think that most of the people who voted for Chris Porter would have voted for Joey if Chris hadn't been there.

Felicity Season 1: One of the fun things about watching older shows is seeing all of the familiar faces who weren't familiar at the time; for example Donal Logue as the O.C.D. student at the library and Jane Kaczmarek as Julie's birth-mom, not to mention an uncredited (and lineless) Bradley Whitford as her birth-dad. It's also fun rewatching the episodes and seeing some of the entertaining plotlines that I'd totally forgotten about, such as Sensa the Russian student and her over-the-top family. Of course, the flipside is having to sit through the painful storylines again, like Julie's search for her mom or the "Todd Mulcahy gets hit by a bus" thing.

And can I just take a moment to say how depressing it is to me that the "person steps into the street and gets blindsided by a bus/semi/whatever" trope has actually become a horribly predictable cliché at this point? Okay then, moving on.

Something else which came flooding back to me as I was watching the DVDs was just how much I dislike the character of Ben; shallow, self-absorbed and self-destructive, there's really not much in his character that I find appealing. His last minute decision in the season finale that he really was in love with Felicity ticked me off the first time, and ticked me off just as much this time around; character wise it feels like a symptom of the "only wants what he can't have" syndrome, and writing wise it feels like "oh, we need a good season cliffhanger, what can we do to make that happen?" Either way, it put likeable characters through a lot of pain for no good reason, and was a big contributor to why I never wanted Felicity and Ben to wind up together.

Felicity Season 2: Yes, that's right, I got Season 2 from Cap'n Cluck as well. I'm 8 episodes in, and while there are some things which are still highly enjoyable (anything with Elena, Richard, Sean, Javier, Meghan, and Noel (well, as long as Ruby's not around)), the lightning speed at which Ben and Felicity's relationship implodes still frustrates me. Cluckity and I were actually talking about that not too long ago, how TV shows will tease you with a couple, finally get them together, and then have them split up within an ep or two. It seem quick when there's a week between episode, and even quicker when you're watching on DVD. That complaint aside, the show does once again capture a seminal college experience: the video game addiction.

Newsradio Season 4: While I don't think this was the strongest season of the show (think that honor belongs to Season 3), this season does contain some of my favorite episodes. Highlights include Jimmy's twice translated biography; Lisa's catalog of crimes which were all somehow academically related; Bill's political songwriting; Bill's day as the boss; Dave and Lisa fighting over who has to be the boss; and Lauren Graham as the unstable efficiency expert. I'm still torn over whether to purchase the Phil Hartman-less Season 5 if and when it comes out; maybe it will look better to me now than when it first aired.

Slings and Arrows Season 1: Hilarious Canadian TV show about a highly dysfunctional theater company struggling to put on a production of Hamlet in the face of the death of a director, a replacement director who hates the theater, scheming from an opportunistic corporate sponsor, a Hollywood action star trying his hand at Shakespeare, and a new artistic director who once had a nervous breakdown in the middle of the same play and whose sanity is now hanging by a thread. The show stars Paul Gross of Due South who is once again playing a character plagued by a ghost from his past, only this time instead of a straight-laced mountie haunted by his father, he's playing the mentally unstable artistic director whose visions of the recently deceased director may or may not be hallucinations. Also co-stars Rachel McAdams as a fresh-faced new addition to the company and former Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney (who was also one of the show's writers) as the theater manager whose idea of high art is Mama Mia! Great, great show, I can't wait for season 2 to make its way to DVD. Now if I could only get the theme song "Cheer Up Hamlet" out of my head.

Monk: I haven't watched Monk regularly for quite a while now, but the prospect of seeing Stanly Tucci doing his best Monk impression was too good to pass up. The scene where Monk tries to distract the unbalanced Tucci and instead winds up distracting himself as well was probably the high point of the episode for me.

Psych: I really enjoyed this latest addition to the comedy/mystery genre. I liked the two main characters, and thought Corbin Bernsen's role as the disapproving dad adds a nice dynamic, but at first blush the supporting cast of police officers came across as either pretty bland or pretty annoying; the skeptical cop was already grating on my nerves. Here's hoping they can infuse some entertaining personalities into the characters soon.

Venture Bros.: How can I not love a show which has its main villain reciting the cheesy "Can you read my mind?" poem from the first Superman movie to his unconscious ex-girlfriend as he flies over a shopping mall? Answer: I can't not love it.

The Closer: Although I had to stretch my disbelief nigh unto the breaking point to accept that Flynn and Provenza would leave a dead body in Provenza's garage just for a baseball game, it was worth it just to see Brenda Lee Johnson on the warpath.

Saved: While watching last night's ep, The Anti-Cap'n remarked "Why is it the Mormon kid gets all the morally questionable patients?" I hadn't thought about it before, but it's true; all of Wyatt's cases seem to be there for pure drama or pure comedy, but the other crew's cases mostly contribute to the fish out of water syndrome; now that I'm aware of that, it's probably going to bug me.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Movie Mon. - Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum

A couple of weeks worth of movie watching here, so no time to dilly-dally with introductory mohoohoo; on to the reviews.

A Good Woman: Adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan about a notorious gold-digger (Helen Hunt) and the trouble she stirs in the lives of a recently wed couple (Mark Umber and Scarlett Johansson). I read the play many moons ago in my Modern British Drama class at OSU, but remembered very little about it beforehand. Since the film is taken from a Wilde work, you can expect tons of witty and pithy sayings, and in that respect the film does not disappoint. What does disappoint is Helen Hunt, who almost seems to be sleepwalking through the film, her performance is so stiff and wooden. Plus, as entertaining as most of the dialogue is, this isn't a comedy of manners like Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, but a drama, and as a drama it failed to capture and hold my interest. In a way it cleaves too closely to its source material, which is too much a product of its times; it's difficult for modern minds to buy into the scandalized mindset of the characters. At least in play format, most of the scandalous behavior appears off-stage, so the dialogue is used to paint a picture for the audience; here, it's shown, and (for me at least) loses its effectiveness in the showing. Not a bad movie, but I say read the play instead.

Lone Star State of Mind: Darkish comedy about a young man (Joshua Jackson) whose promise to keep his fiancé’s cousin (D.J. Qualls) out of trouble leads to numerous confrontations with drug dealers and other criminals. The Anti-Cap'n introduced me to this one, and I'm glad he did; it's a danged funny little flick that I'd never heard of before. It's basically The A.C.'s version of Firefly, i.e. the DVD that he tries to get everyone he knows to watch; I was greatly relieved that I could honestly tell him that I liked it a lot.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: Comedy about two stoners who get the munchies and set out on a quest for White Castle burgers, running into tons of adventures on the way. This one I watched after having two "What do you mean you haven't seen Harold and Kumar?" experiences within a week -- the first was from The Anti-Cap'n during a discussion about Neil Patrick Harris, and the other was from Zinger and Pooh after Zinger made a comment that all through Superman Returns he kept thinking "Kumar, how could you?" Anyway, as a mindless diversion, it's an okay flick, but not one that I ever need to see again; now, if Harold had actually beaten Kumar to a pulp at some point, I might reconsider . . .

Ultraviolet: SF flick about a future in which people have been infected with a virus that mimics vampirism, and the battle between the normal humans and the infected, the latter of which as exemplified by Mila Jovovich. As eye-candy with interesting cinematography and cool SF-style ideas, this works; as a compelling story, not so much. Still, it's pretty to look at, so if you're a SF fan, it's probably worth a rental.

Cache: French film about a family who begin to receive video tapes from a stalker and, well, that's pretty much all that happens. Oh, yeah, there's a lot of arguing, and a lot of paranoia, and a death or two, but by the time the film reaches its (unsatisfying) ending, I had lost any and all interest in it.

Find Me Guilty: Comedy based on the true story of the longest mafia trial ever, with a focus on Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) a mobster who, dissatisfied with his lawyer's performance in his previous case, decides to represent himself. I didn't expect much of this going in, but was very pleasantly surprised, both with the quality of the (very funny) script and with the performance of Diesel. It was my first time to see Vin not only do comedy, but also do something other than the usual gravelly-voiced performance. Have a lot more respect for him as an actor now, at least in comedic terms. Highly recommend this one.

Failure to Launch: Romantic comedy about a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) hired to trick a bachelor (Matthew McConaughey) into moving out of his parents' (Kathy Bates and (of all people) Terry Bradshaw) house by posing as a love interest, only to (shock!) fall in love for real. Enjoyable comedy that whose predictability of plot points is mitigated by enjoyable performances and totally random acts of comedy, both of which reach their zenith with Zooey Deschanel as Parker's angry, angry roomie; without Zooey, the film wouldn't have been a tenth as enjoyable for me. As it is, it's a fun little comedy, despite the fact that I had to see Terry Bradshaw's naked behind.

Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School: When I first told Biz-Z this film's title, he just shook his head and asked "Where the heck do you find these things?" Indie comedy which expands upon a short film of the same name, while incorporating the short into the larger story: a widowed baker happens upon a car wreck and is press ganged by the victim (John Goodman) into going to a dance class to deliver a message to Goodman's one true love, a mission that winds up changing his own life as well. The short film is interwoven into the movie as a series of flashbacks by Goodman relating how he and his love first met as children; Goodman's younger self is played by a young Elden Henson, who also has a cameo in the present day as a fellow baker, since the short was made 15 years before the feature. But enough background: how was the movie itself? I think the best word to sum it up is "uneven"; the style of the flashbacks clash with the style of the modern day sequences, which is jarring. The flashbacks have a very A Christmas Story feel, while the present day is much more Strictly Ballroom. Personally, I preferred the present day sequences, which were a bit darker, and were also enhanced by a surprisingly strong cast, which included Marissa Tomei, Donnie Wahlburg, Ernie Hudson, Adam Arkin, David Paymer, Mary Steenburgen, and Sean Astin. All in all, a quirky film which made me laugh out loud a few times; not the best movie I saw last week, but it was definitely worth the rental.

The Matador: Off-beat comedy about a businessman (Greg Kinnear) who accidentally gets sucked into the life of an idiosyncratic hitman (Pierce Brosnan) while on a business trip in Mexico. This movie lives and dies on how entertained you are by Brosnan's character, which is completely different from anything I've seen him play before. Personally, I loved it; strange and dark, while still often being laugh out loud funny. Enjoyed the heck out of this one.

16 Blocks: Drama about a cop (Bruce Willis) whose last minute assignment to get a witness (Mos Def) to a grand jury hearing goes off the rails when it turns out that Mos is testifying against a crooked cop, and all of the crooked cop's crooked buddies are out to silence him permanently. First, let me give kudos to Willis for not being afraid to go for the tired, worn-down cop role. However, I must give negative kudos to Mos Def for deciding to speak like Mike Tyson through the whole film; his high-pitched, high-speed, highly-unintelligible dialect only exacerbated my pre-existing headache, and made it highly difficult for me to enjoy the film. Subsequently, I had a hard time staying interested in this one.

Superman Returns: I know, I know, I promised more thoughts on this for today, but it's late, and my mind is blank, so I'll just say that I tend to come into this sort of movie with a lot more baggage than most folks, so my feelings towards it will probably differ a lot from the average movie-goer. That being said, I will state that it's sad when almost every action scene in the film gets spoiled by the trailers; yes, the "non-injury to the eye motif" scene was cool (and a bit disturbing), but having seen it in the trailers for weeks beforehand made it lose a lot of its impact (pun not intended).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest:
Sequel to the highly entertaining PotC: Curse of the Black Pearl finds Captain Jack Sparrow on the run from the mystical Davy Jones while Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann face the death penalty for their efforts to aid Jack in the past; the two problems intersect and lead to a series of action set pieces that ultimately serve to prepare the audience for the next film. I know a lot of people felt let down that not all of the plot threads were wrapped up here, but I thought that as far as cliffhangers go, this was much more Empire Strikes Back territory than anything else; at the end of the film, it seems like the bad guys have the upper hand, and the good guys are struggling with the loss of one of their own, but determined to win him back at any cost. How Empire is that? Let's just hope the next film (subtitled At World's End) just doesn't go the Jedi/Ewok route. Don't want to say much more, other than while this might not be quite as good as the first film, it's still one heck of a fun ride. I do recommend re-watching the first one before seeing this, however; there were quite a few little jokes that might have passed me by if The Anti-Cap'n and I hadn't rewatched Curse on Thursday.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Three is Better than Five in This Case

As I mentioned yesterday, last weekend was crammed full of nostalgic get-togethers with friends from OSU. The catalyst for Saturday's activities was Clan Berzerkr's decision to spend a couple of days at The Eskimo's house on their way to visit Wrath's dad in Louisiana. But, since nothing was planned until the evening, Zinger and I decided to take in a matinee: Superman Returns.

Now, Zinger and I are both the sort of people who like to get to movies a long time before the show starts in order to make sure we get good seats, a tendency that drives Pooh crazy on those rare occasions when he and I go to a movie that she wants to see as well. For once, it almost drove us crazy too, since the theater decided to have its pre-movie music stuck on a 5 minute loop, forcing us to hear clips of the same three songs over and over again, which wouldn't have been so bad if it had actually been, y'know, good music. However, as it is, we were constantly bombarded with snippets of a track by J-rap group Teriyaki Boyz*, which made us both briefly contemplate leaving the theater to go drive our cars off cliffs or blow our brains out, but then we realized: that would be stupid**.

Our only respite from Teriyaki Boyz hell was the potential for a fist fight brewing behind us. I'm a little fuzzy on all the details, since my eavesdropping skills are not what they once were, but here the gist of it: two guys came in to the movie early and tried to save a whole bunch of seats; we'll call them The Savers. Two other guys came in and sat down right in front of them; we'll call them The Sitters. Now, as soon as The Sitters sat down, The Savers told them they had to move, because The Savers were saving two whole rows. The Sitters told The Savers that was ridiculous, that they would sit wherever they wanted because it was ludicrous for two people to try to save two whole rows. Apparently many words were exchanged before The Savers decided to move back a row or two. Nonplussed at being thwarted, The Savers kept on mouthing at The Sitters, talking smack about them and their "rude" behavior until finally the more volatile of The Sitters had had enough, got up, exclaimed "I'll just go talk to the manager and see what he has to say about this" and stormed off.

It was The Storming of the Sitter that first alerted me to the fact that something was going on behind us, but had no clue what. After The Volatile Sitter returned he was ranting a little bit about how he works with tons of lawyers and just let The Savers try anything, yadda yadda. At that point, I was prepared to write The Sitters off as troublemakers, but almost immediately the more volatile of The Savers had descended to the row behind The Sitters and began tearing into them about going to the manager. Voices were raised, words became heated, and I prepared myself for a melee to break out one row behind me. Sadly, no mob rule broke out; instead The Volatile Saver decided that The Sitters were harassing him (even though he was the one verbally assaulting and confronting them) and declared that he, too, was going to go talk to the manager, and stormed off.

It was The Storming of the Saver which made me realize that The Volatile Sitter, while still volatile, probably had had justification. A little while later the manager came up to talk to The Sitters, and it was at that point that I was able to finally overhear enough to know just what the row had been about. The manager seemed to side with The Sitters on the whole "two people trying to save two whole rows is moronic" issue, and that was pretty much the end of it. So, no floor show with the movie, dagnabit.

As for the movie itself, well, I’ll get into more spoilery stuff on Monday***, but for now suffice it to say that as an homage that strives to channel the spirit and energy of the old Donner/Reeves films it’s a success. As a well-written film with a strong narrative and the ability to revitalize the franchise? Not so much. I enjoyed it, but the more I think about it afterwards, the less able I am to give it a positive review.

After the movie was over, we headed back to Casa de Stoneheart for a bit and waited for Pooh to return from shopping before we all headed over to The Eskimo’s house for the rest of the evening’s festivities. It was a pretty full house (12 adults and 8 kids) but still not as crazy as the last PFL draft which also threw Clan Flunky and Special K’s family into the mix. It was a pretty standard Parkerite gathering, with bratwursts being cooked, poker being played, and a dash of nostalgic reminiscing here and there. I know that at one point my sides were hurting from all the laughing; honestly not sure the last time I laughed that hard (and yes, that includes the night of mohoohoo). Of course, I can’t recount everything that had me doubled over in laughter because either (a) I don’t recall it or (b) it’s not really appropriate to discuss in a family friendly blog which is regularly read by my Sunday School class.

One thing that stands out in my head though is a familiar pattern with these gatherings where The Eskimo tries to engage me in conversation; it usually goes something like this.

Eskimo: So, Cap’n , what good movies have you seen recently
Me: [mind goes blank, can only emit monosyllabic gibberish]
Eskimo: Okay, so what movies are coming out soon?
Me: [somehow mind goes even more blank, resulting in distant stare and slight drooling]
Eskimo: [clearly getting uncomfortable] Um, er, um . . . DVD?
Me: [my brain has now become a tabula rasa, plunging me into a persistent vegetative state]
Eskimo: [falling back on his default catchphrase for the evening] Drink faster!

Or, at least, that’s how it feels. I swear, next time, I’m doing research beforehand and taking a cheat-sheet.

Side-note: This “deer-in-headlights” thing is a pretty common reaction from me anytime I get put on the spot; my Bible as Literature professor always told me that he knew that if he assigned me a discussion topic at the end of class that I would always have a well-reasoned, articulate response the next day, but that if he just asked me a question at random, I became a gibbering idiot. Cap’n Spontaneous, I am not.

But momentary mental lapses aside, the evening was a lot of fun, and I learned at least one new word: “newbors****,” which was coined by The Eskimo when he was trying to say “new neighbors.” The only downside was the fact that there may be issues with doing a live PFL draft this year, which would stink, since it’s usually the only chance I get to see Clan Flunky or Special K.

Oh, and I lost three bucks at poker. But it could have been worse; I could have lost five bucks.

Right, Zinger?

*As soon as we heard the name, Zinger predicted it would be boys with a z, and he was right; spooky, no?
**Yes, it's an inside joke; no, I'm not explaining it.
***No, really, I mean it this time
****Or possibly “noobers” for the l33t among you


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Nothing but 90s Weekend

While my actual 4th of July was probably the most low-key, do-nothing 4th I've ever had (consisting mainly of much movie watching by The Anti-Cap'n and myself) the weekend leading up to the 4th was chock-full of activities. While I was driving back to Denton following the activities, I happened upon a radio station that was having a "Nothing but 90s Weekend" which seemed to sum up my weekend fairly well, as I spent it hanging out with the two groups that dominated my social life in the 90s: The Parkerites and The Book Monkeys. Originally my weekend was going to be solely devoted to The Book Monkeys, but about half-way through last week I found out that Clan Berzerkr was going to be in town, so a hasty rethinking of my itinerary was required. So, instead of spending all weekend in Stillwater, I spent all of Saturday with the Parkerites and then got up on Sunday and headed to Stillwater to celebrate Rebel Monkey's 30th birthday. After having all that fun*, my brain was pretty much dead for the next two days, hence the further lack of blogging. I would be typing up a full report of my activities right now, but I'm too distracted by watching Bizarro-Zinger's Pass Paramedic video, which has a bit of a mesmerizing "train wreck" quality to it. My favorite part: the way the test-takers constantly refer to putting on their "body substance isolation material" a.k.a. "rubber gloves."

Anyway, expect some elaboration on my weekend activities sometime soon . . . soon being a highly relative term.

*And no, that's not a euphemism for drinking