Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - Also, Not a Single Milkshake Reference

Following the great love I felt for P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, I decided to read the book which was its nominal inspiration, Oil! by Upton Sinclair. I knew from interviews with Anderson that the film was anything but a faithful adaptation of the novel; according to Anderson, he really loved the first 150 pages or so of the book, but felt like it veered off course after that, so his script took the kernel of the idea of that first section of the book and ran with it. This led to me being quite curious about the source material, and whether or not cutting the other 300 pages of story from the novel out of the screenplay was a good decision or not.

Oh, boy, was it ever.

Now, this is one of those rare cases where the screenwriter was very upfront about the fact that, while his film was "inspired by" another work, that it was very much its own beast; in point of fact, he even renamed the protagonists, transforming Arnold and "Bunny" Ross into Daniel and H.W. Plainview. TWBB and the first third of Oil! share some of the broad strokes: both are concerned with an independent oil man who carts his son along on business trips; the two find out about a possible oil-rich tract of land and investigate it under the guise of quail hunting, and then purchase the land from the poor but highly religious family that lives there, one whom, Eli, becomes a powerful preacher. But whereas the film places the spotlight on the father and his monomaniacal competitive nature, the novel is told from the P.O.V. of the son, a tender-hearted lad who tries to reconcile his hero worship of his father with his growing realization that his father's success often comes at the expense of the less fortunate.

There is a pretty big gulf in the characterization of the father in the two works as well; in the film, Daneil Plainview is a man obsessed with winning at all costs, and demonstrates a violent temper and what is practically indifference to his adopted son. In the book, however, Arnold Ross is a mildly unscrupulous businessman, but only because, from his P.O.V., that's the way the world works, and he comprises again and again his own capitalistic drive to assuage the guilt that consumes his son, whom he loves above all other things.

And then, around the 150 page mark, Bunny goes off to college, and the book suddenly turns from a sly look at inner workings of big oil and their corrupt practices to what amounts to out-and-out Socialist propaganda and screed against capitalism and the corruption it breeds. While interesting at first, for the snapshot it gives of the Red Scare in the early 20th century if nothing else, as the book plods on with Bunny vacillating between the views of his father and the views of strike-leader and rabble rouser Paul Watkins, and then later vacillating between the views of Socialism and the views of Communism, and then vacillating between his desire to promote social reform and his desire to make his class conscious movie star girlfriend happy, and then vacillating between . . . well, you get the idea. Again, as a historical snapshot, the book held my interest to some degree, and you have to applaud Sinclair's desire for an end to the corruption of big business, but after 300 pages of "big oil bad, common man good," I was more than ready to bid the book adieu.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TV Tues - Not Much to Say

Brief thoughts on the last few weeks of TV


Big Bang Theory
(CBS 7:00): Probably the most consistent comedy on the air, post-strike. Especially liked Sheldon's rare insights into normal social cues: "I'm on fire tonight!"

How I Met Your Mother (CBS 7:30): The March Madness inspired episode a few weeks back was great, for its high Barney quotient if nothing else, and the Barney/Ted fight in last night's episode should set up an interesting episode or two, especially since I just read that Brittney Spears will be reprising her role as the crazy receptionist in an episode where she and Barney will team up against their mutual enemy Ted.

Two and a Half Men (CBS 8:00): Happy that they actually let Evelyn and Teddy's wedding play out; I'm sure it won't last, but nice to have the show avoid the cliche of having it called off at the last minute. And I am soooooooooo happy that Rose is back; the show really wasn't the same without her.


Deadliest Catch
(Discovery Channel 8:00): The prank with the beat-up truck was awesome, glad it actually worked. I'm really looking forward to the episode where Phil finally snaps and bludgeons his son to death with that plasma screen TV.


Ultimate Fighter
(Spike, 9:00): Rampage and Forest may not be the best coaches in the world, but they sure are entertaining. Funny, funny guys.


(CBS 7:00): Once James finally gets his throat slit by the female alliance, I will have officially moved from "I want so-and-so to win" mode to "As long as it isn't Parvati or Natalie I guess I'll be kinda happy" mode. Still can't believe Jason fell for their spiel.

My Name Is Earl (NBC 7:00): Post-strike this show has been hit or miss, but last week's installment with the murderball riff was awesome, for Randy's non-stop laughing jag if nothing else. That and him making PacMan noises.

Scrubs (NBC 7:30): I've been watching a lot of Scrubs recently, since the repeats are usually on TV when I do my time on the elliptical at the gym; dang, do I love this show. The episode a few weeks back where nerdy J.D. kept getting beaten up by his more athletic friend kind of resonated with me for some reason . . .

The Office (NBC 8:00): Okay, last week's episode was, if not the low point of the series, at least the low point of the season. While it did have two moments that made me laugh out loud (Dwight pouring out the drink the girls at the bar sent him, Toby hopping the fence and running away), over all the episode left me cold. I think I'm disinclined to like episodes where everyone turns on Jim and Pam.

30 Rock (NBC 8:30): The MILF Island episode was probably my favorite of the season, but last week's installment with its Amadeus riff was nice.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC 8:00): Everyone in favor of George's decision to stop complaining so much please raise your hands. Okay, now everyone who think George is actually going to stop complaining so much . . . wow, quite a drop off there . . .

Lost (ABC 9:00): Very, very happy that they were able to wrangle an extra hour out of the network to keep the season finale from being too rushed. Was nice to see the return of the smoke monster, which has been conspicuous in its absence this season. I'm still holding out hope that Rousseau is still clinging to life somewhere in the jungle, not just because I really like Mira Furlan and want her to stick around, but because I really, really, really want to know the full story of her early days on the island.


Battlestar Galactica
(Sci-Fi 9:00): Was a bit disappointed that last week's episode didn't give us a look at what was going on in the Cylon fleet following the big schism of the previous week.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Movie Mon. - The Hoffman Hat-trick

It dawned on me at one point this weekend that three of the five Netflix I had co-starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, and had all come out within a week of each other on DVD.

The Savages: Oscar nominated Indie film (Best screenplay, Best Actress) about a theater professor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his aspiring playwright and well-established drama queen sister (Laura Linney) who have their lives disrupted when they have to start taking care of their estranged father, who has been stricken with dementia. Some laugh out loud funny parts here, some incredibly frustrating character decisions there; on the whole, I enjoyed the film, although it dragged a bit in the middle for me.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead:
Drama about two down-on-their-luck brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke) who decide to give their fortunes a jumpstart by robbing their parents' jewelry store, only to have things go terribly, terribly wrong. Let me start by saying that if you dislike non-linear storytelling, you'll want to stay away from this one, which jumps back and forth in time from the P.O.V.s of the brothers and their father (Albert Finney). Well done film with good performances, but something about it left me cold.

Charlie Wilson's War:
Film based on the true story of Texas congressman (Tom Hanks) who, along with the aid of a tactless CIA agent (Philp Seymour Hoffman) and the 6th richest woman in Texas (Julia Roberts), spearheaded a campaign to increase the aid given to Afghan freedom fighters in their battle against invading Russians in the 1980s. Great movie, with an excellent script by Aaron Sorkin (he of Sports Night, West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fame) and great performances all around.

The Orphanage:
Well done Spanish horror film about a woman who returns to the orphanage where she grew up with the intentions of turning it into a home for special needs children, only to find that the spirits of the former residents are restless. A solid film I recommend to any fans of the genre who don't mind dealing with subtitles; and, since it relies more on suspense and atmosphere than on blood and guts (although there is at least one major gross-out scene) it might appeal to more than just gore-hounds.

One Missed Call:
Lackluster remake of a Japanese horror film about a ghost that selects targets for its vengeance through cell phone address books. Some good actors associated with this, but a bit of a snoozer. And that creepy CGI baby . . .


Friday, April 25, 2008

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATBOMB!


Filmtastic Friday, Odd Squodd Edition: Obsession, Light and Dark

Generally speaking, Li'l Random and I take turns making the selections for The Odd Squodd Mostly-Regular Dark and Twisty, Strange and Unusual, Off-Beat, Quirky, Movie Fest, picking out strange films that we love but the other hasn't seen. However, there are times when the choice is made for us due to a new Odd Squodd worthy film coming out, either at the movies or on DVD. Last week Li'l Random's turn to choose got bumped back a week due to the DVD release of a film whose description practically screamed "ODD SQUODD!!!!!!!" at the top of its lungs. After getting confirmation from Li'l Random that the new release would be an acceptable selection, I began to think about another film I had seen a while back with similar subject matter treated in a much darker way. So, I stopped by the media library and checked out this earlier film so that Li'l Random and I could have an Odd Squodd Double Feature of films about lonely guys who become unhealthily obsessed with life-like sex dolls they bought online.

The first film which explored the lighter side of the theme was Lars and the Real Girl, starring one of my favorite actors, Ryan Gosling, as the titular Lars, a lonely, reclusive man who lives in the garage of his childhood home, which is now occupied by his brother and pregnant sister-in-law. The sister-in-law is worried because Lars has become even more reclusive and anti-social than usual, and is overjoyed when he knocks on their door one evening to say that he has a female visitor who he met online; she and her husband are more than a little nonplussed, however, when the female visitor turns out to be a life-like sex doll which Lars insists is alive. Concerned, they trick Lars into visiting with a local physician who also has a degree in psychology, and she advises them to humor Lars in his delusion until they can get to the root of his problems. Soon, the whole town is drawn into the plan, treating the faux girl as if she were as alive as Lars believes she is.

Now, despite the fact that the object of Lars' affection is a sex doll, this is actually a pretty wholesome film overall; as part of regular church-goer Lars' delusion, his "girlfriend" Bianca is highly religious, and doesn't believe in premarital sex, so their relationship is rather chaste. The same cannot be said for the second part of our strange double-feature, Love Object.

A far cry from the feel-good Lars, eh? Love Object is much darker and more horrific, with a protagonist whose relationship with his doll Nikki is much more perverse than that of Lars and Bianca, especially once he tries to move to a real girl and finds that Nikki is apparently a jealous little hunk of plastic. Where Lars brings Bianca into the light and is embraced and loved by his whole town, Kenneth hides his new obsession from one and all, until it becomes even darker, more twisted, and, worst of all, deadly.

Naturally, Li'l Random and I laughed our butts off all the way through it.

And not in an MST3K sort of way either; no, Love Object is intentionally funny, in a dark and twisty, make you squirm in your seat sort of way.

While I enjoyed the heck out of both movies, there's a reason why Li'l Random and I watched Lars and the Real Girl with Cap'n Shack-Fu and PigPen, but kept Love Object as a strictly Odd Squodd viewing experience; the quirkiness and oddity of Lars is of a sort that's more palatable to the masses, leaning towards the light side of the oddity spectrum, while the black humor and uncomfortable oddity of Love Object is geared towards a much darker and off-beat mindset which L'il Random and I have in spades.

So, I highly recommend Lars and the Real Girl to one and all as one of those rare Odd Squodd approved films which could actually have appeal beyond our warped little minds, but am going to suggest that most of you blog monkeys would find Love Object a bit of a hard pill to swallow.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Special Birthday Wish

Just wanted to wish a quick Happy Birthday to my best bud Cap'n Shack-Fu. May this day be as "special" as you are . . .

And speaking of special, Shack is supposed to have had his first interview with the FBI today; please send all of your happy thoughts and prayers his way.


"What I Watched" Wednesday - Avoiding Frakking Spoilers

I Want Somebody to Eat Cheese With: So-son Indie comedy about an overweight actor/comedian struggling to find a job and a relationship. Couple of funny bits, like Amy Sedaris's cameo as the odd school counselor, and I liked the interplay between the lead and his best friend, but overall, this didn't do much for me.

Lions for Lambs: Less than engaging political drama which tells three parallel tales: a Right Wing politician (Tom Cruise) using an interview with a reporter (Meryl Streep) to break the news of a new military strategy he's spear-heading; a Political Science (Robert Redford) professor trying to reach a student who is squandering his potential; and two former students of the professor, now soldiers implementing the politician's strategy. To be honest, the only parts of the film that kept my interest at all were those revolving around the professor; Tom Cruise's character felt like an alternate universe version of Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia, like if Mackey had decided to enter into politics instead of horribly misogynistic public speaking, but that might just be a product of both characters spending 90% of their screen time being strident with a slightly combative reporter.

The Good Night: Off-beat romantic comedy about a musician (Martin Freeman) who tries to escape from the doldrums of reality with his grating girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) and obnoxious best friend (Simon Pegg) by exploring the world of lucid dreaming, where he begins to fall in love with the (literal) girl of his dreams (Penelope Cruz), something that becomes complicated when he discovers that his dream-girl is apparently real. Not quite what the previews had led me to beleive; the interaction between Freeman and real-world Cruz is not the main thrust of the film at all, but merely a brief stop along the overall journey. As such, I actually enjoyed the film more than I thought I would; the idea of spending half of the movie trying to watch Freeman reconcile his idea of Cruz with real Cruz made me cringe. That being said, I still wasn't overly impressed with the film; good performances aside, it just didn't engage me enough to get anything other than a "eh" feeling out of me.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem: When I mentioned that I had watched this and someone asked "Who won?" my response was "Not the audience." It might not be the most original comment on the film, but it's definitely the truth.

Battlestar Galactica: Thanks to Cap'n Bubbles loaning me the DVDs, I've spent the last few days catching up on season 3 of Galactica, and then got to watch the first few eps of the current season courtesy of Hulu. Boy, am I glad I didn't stumble across the opening credits of Season 4 with their "Oh, by the way, these characters are Cylons now" teaser before finishing off part two of "Crossroads"; it's that sort of easily-stumbled-on spoiler that made me finally get off my butt and get caught up on the show before Michael Ausielo managed to spoil it for me. While I'm still enjoying the show, I have to say that the full-blown love I had for the first season or two just isn't there anymore, and I'm not sure why. One too many instances where characters tear into each other, only to kiss and make up the next episode, and then tear into each other an ep or two later? Or maybe it's that I always enjoyed Baltar more when he was the weasel operating in secret, instead of the almost universally reviled weasel he's now become. At this point, I'm finding the overall mythology of the Cylons and the mystery of Starbuck's destiny the most engaging parts of the series.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - The Plan

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I have been in a reading mood recently, which is nice, since I went for several months without reading much of anything. Last night I finished Memories of Ice, the third book in Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series; as Wrath teh Berzerkr had predicted, it was my favorite book of the series so far. I won't do a full-blown review of it, since I don't want to give anything away to people who haven't read the first couple of installments, but I will say that this is one of the best fantasy series I've read in a while. The next volume, House of Chains, hasn't come in for me at the public library yet, but even if it had, I wouldn't be reading it next. Not because I don't want to read it, but because that would interfere with The Plan.

The purpose of The Plan is to make sure that I don't burn out on reading and go another 6 months without reading anything novel-length; whether The Plan will effectively combat this or not, only time will tell, but I think it will, at the least, prolong the reading mood I'm currently in. The Plan is pretty simple: variety. As most of you blog monkeys should know by now, I can get a tad bit obsessive at times, which is why I have to be careful before starting to watch a TV series on DVD since my urge will be to watch an entire season in one sitting, such as with my John from Cincinnati marathon a few weekends ago. This obsessive completist tendency applies to my reading habits as well, especially when I've discovered a new series; I tend to get all of the books I can and read them all at once. A few years back, I extended this tendency to particular authors, compiling a list of all of their works and then methodically working my way through them in chronological order before the burn-out set in about a third of the way through the works of Charles de Lint, and I never have gone back.

I've recently come to suspect that this overload of a particular author could be what's lead to my weakening desire to read; no matter how much I may love a writer's work, after reading several thousand pages of their words, its only natural let a little bit of fatigue would set in. And, no, it doesn't happen every time I read a series in one fell swoop, but it has happened enough times in the last few years to give me pause.

And so, I now have The Plan, which is to avoid reading two books by the same author in a row. Which might seem like a pretty simple idea, but when you're caught up in the midst of a series, and the last book you read ends on a bit of a cliff-hangers or has introduced new mysteries that you're dying to know the answers to, well, it can be difficult to hold off on diving into the next one.

In addition to spacing out works by a particular author, I'm also going to try to space out different genres as well. So, even though I just picked up the final book in Greg Keyes Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series and am pretty keen on reading it soon, I have instead decided to read Upton Sinclair's Oil! -- the novel which inspired There Will Be Blood -- next instead, to sort of cleanse the mental palate. An upshot of this is that it will help force me to broaden my reading horizons some, and not just stick to SF and Fantasy.

I also plan to do a better job of posting about what I'm reading, even if it's just a brief "Hey, read this, it was good" note, but you've all heard that before.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the books I'm planning to read, in no particular order; if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to chime in.

The Born Queen by Greg Keyes
Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone by Carol Berg
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke
The House in the High Wood by Jeffrey E. Barlough.

Kiln People by David Brin
Fallen Dragon by Peter F. Hamilton

Curfew by Phil Rickman
The Long Lost by Ramsey Campbell

Blaze by "Richard Bachman"
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About: A Novel by Mil Millington

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One Step Closer to Becoming Special Agent Shack-Fu

As I mentioned a while back, Cap'n Shack-Fu's army plans were put on hold due to a desire to pursue the chance to join the FBI. Back in February, he received a letter saying that the FBI had reviewed his application and were inviting him to take the Phase I entrance exam. Shack, whose life long dream is to be a Federal law enforcement agent, signed up for the next available testing date, which was the first Friday in March. Unfortunately, that Friday turned out to be the day after the worst snowstorm I've seen in Denton since I've moved here, and while Shack-Fu was more than willing to brave the icy roads to take the test, apparently nobody else was, and the test was canceled, meaning Shack-Fu and all of the other hopefuls had to reschedule for the next available test date a month later.

Now, for most people this would be a bit of a bummer; for Shack-Fu, whose job puts him at risk of being deployed to other states at a moments notice for months on end, it was bordering on disaster, especially as the first week of April rolled around and heavy storms began hammering the region. Once again, the night before the test found us assailed by heavy storms, and Shack had some worry that the tornadoes in Arkansas might get him yanked at the last minute, but luckily, no deployment was issued, so Shack headed to the testing center super-early on that Friday morning to make sure he beat any and all traffic; nothing was going to get in the way of him taking that test.

Well, nothing except the fact that the heavy storms wound up taking out the power in the testing center, causing the person giving the test to announce that it looked like they were going to have to reschedule it for the next month.

I'm pretty sure at that moment in time my best bud was only an instant away from a nervous breakdown.

Luckily, Shack was not the only test-taker that day who was chomping at the bit to take the test, since the bulk of the people in there were others who had missed out on the March test due to the snow; the eager potential-Feds persuaded the person in charge that the dim emergency lights, coupled opening up the blinds, would give them all more than sufficient light to take the test, and so the test was finally administered, and all of us who had been hoping and praying for Shack-Fu to at least get a chance to take the test let out a collective sigh of relief. After a months worth of watching him stress out over the possibilty of missing out on this opportunity, and watching how the stress was effecting his sleep and general demeanor, it was with great relief that I saw the pre-stress Shack-Fu make a reappearance almost immediately following the exam. True, he said he had absolutely no idea how well he did, but just being able to move forward with the process was a huge relief.

Now, in the past, the time between taking the Phase I exam and getting the results was several months, but the FBI is trying to streamline their hiring process, so Shack-Fu was insured that he would get his results with-in two weeks. So, when barely a week had passed and a letter marked FBI showed up in his mailbox this past weekend, Shack-Fu was surprised, and more than a little apprehensive. Showing tremendous restraint, he did not immediately rip into the letter, but instead set it aside, got ready for the bike ride he had already planned on taking, and took the letter with him to the bike trails, figuring that if it was bad news he would then be able to work the frustration out on the bike ride.

But it wasn't bad news, of course; instead, it was confirmation that Shack-Fu had passed the exam and was now eligible to move on to Phase II of the process. The next step was to do a physical self-assessment in terms of push-ups, sit-ups, and running; a small group of us tagged along to act as witnesses and cheer him on. Now that that's done, he can fax the results in and hope that his score is competitive enough with the other potential candidates that he'll get asked in for an interview soon. So, now it's once again a waiting game, but a waiting game with promise.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Movie Mon. - Worst. Movies. EVER.

Slow movie watching week, as I spent the bulk of my free time reading. The only two new movies I got to watch this week were:

Water Horse: Legend of the Deep: A surprisingly engaging family-friendly film about a young Scottish boy who discovers the egg of the magical water horse near Loch Ness during World War II. Sometimes the cuteness of the baby water horse was a bit much, but the film was quite a bit darker than I had originally anticipated. Not too dark for the young ones, I hope, but dark enough to keep it from being cloying.

The Deaths of Ian Stone: One of the selections for the most recent "8 Films to Die For" movie festival, this film follows the inexplicably American* Ian Stone being murdered time and time again, only to wake up in a new life each time. Let me put your fears to rest right now: this is not one of those "He's dying in the real world and this is all just a fantasy sequence" films, or even a "this is a huge mind-fark and the truth is never revealed" films -- there is a concrete reason for Ian's multiple deaths and life-changes, and what's better, the reason actually makes sense . . . for the most part. Not quite what I was expecting, but an enjoyable enough diversion.

Since the actual movie reviews as sparse, and since I've been lax in blogging recently, I figured I'd fill out this post with something I promised one of Li'l Random's friends I'd do after I commented on her MySpace blog** about the five worst movies of all time; post my own Five Worst list.

The problems with such a list*** is deciding precisely what is meant by "worst movies." I mean, does it hinge on the quality of the acting, or the quality of the plot, or the quality of the directing, or something else? I mean, if you're talking from a purely technical standpoint in terms of the craft of filmmaking itself, yeah, something like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Manos: Hands of Fate is going to qualify as one of the worst films; and yet, for films with that sort of low caliber pedigree, I can harbor no hate in my heart, as their horrible lack of skill somehow transcends normal definitions of "good" and "bad," catapulting them into their own category. A recent article in The Guardian tackled this idea, coming up with the following strict criteria:

  • Must have been made with the belief that it would actually be good
  • Cannot just be an obscure student film
  • Must feature real actors
  • Must generate negative buzz before hand, and then live up to the negative buzz
  • Must create genuine fear in a viewer at the thought of having to watch the film again
  • Must become worse every time you see it
All in all, not a bad set of rules for determining "Worst of All Time," but to attach such a strong label to my list seems a bit too much for me; if I've learned anything over the years its that taste in movies/TV/books/etc. is so subjective that one man's Citizen Kane is another man's White Chicks. But for me, movies that I tend to think of as "the worst" are the ones that conjure up not just fear at having to sit through them again (in which case, Meet the Parents would top my list by a factor of a gazillion) but at the total amount of frustration, disgust, and outright anger the film engenders in me, whether it be at the sloppy direction, horrible plotting, idiotic characters, or mishandling of source material. There are films that I hold in my mind as some of my worst viewing experiences which can be seen as competent films by others, but which for one reason or another drive me into a murderous rage. Here, then, are the Top 10 Worst Movies in Cap'n Neurotic's Mind:

1. Batman and Robin. It amazes me how a director responsible for films I genuinely enjoy (Lost Boys, Flatliners, Falling Down, Flawless) can also be responsible for this horribly misguided trainwreck. Granted, a large degree of my hatred for the film can be laid at the feet of my geeky fanboy nature; I totally cop to that. I mean, when they turned Bane, an intelligent and crafty villain in the comics, into a mindless Incredible Hulk rip-off, the comic geek in me cried foul, and when bad guys being tossed through the air were accompanied by cartoonish sound effects which smacked of slapstick and Adam West-era Batman , the champion for "comic books aren't just for kids" side of me wanted to scream in frustration. But I'd like to think that even without those slaps in the face of comic book fans everywhere, this uneven piece of crap would have earned my enmity.

2. The Family Stone. If you want to know why this film made the list, please read my previous screed against it. Man, just re-reading that post got me all tense and angry; boy oh boy, did I hate that film.

3. Do the Right Thing. I haven't seen this in forever, and it's possible I might be more forgiving of it now, but the fact that Mookie never expresses remorse for depriving Sal of his livelihood is one of those rare instances where the ending actually did ruin the movie for me.

4. House of 1,000 Corpses. Its rare to watch a horror film where you're hoping and praying that every character in it dies soon because they're so incredibly grating, but Rob Zombie manages to pull it off here.

5. A Sound of Thunder. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to make a time-travel movie that doesn't trip all over itself in terms of paradoxes; the biggest problem I had with this movie wasn't that its time travel rules weren't logical, it was that they were inconsistent and contradictory. I spent a good 90% of the film shaking my head in frustration because the latest bit of time travel techno-babble completely negates the previous bit of techno-babble. So many plot holes and idiotic actions, so little time to comment on them.

6. White Man's Burden. The first film of the post-Pulp Fiction Travolta Renaissance to make me realize that John really, really needed somebody to help him pick out his scripts. What frustrated me about this film which was supposedly intended to showcase the shocking reality of racism by having race be reversed was that all of the horrible things that happened to Travolta's character weren't because he was in the minority, it's because he acted like he was functionally retarded.

7. Very Bad Things. I remember very little about this film, other than the fact that every single character in it was so self-centered, shallow, and obnoxious that it was a chore to make it through.

8. John Carpenter's Vampire$. The film that caused Bubblegum Tate to declare "I want my dollar back!." Slow, plodding, soul-draining, dreadful . . . pick a negative adjective, and I'm pretty sure it applies. Again, how can a director responsible for so many films I love (Halloween, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China) create something that is such soul-killing dreck? The mind wobbles.

9. House of the Dead. It was a bit of a struggle to decide which Uwe Boll film to include here, but as pitiful as I found Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne to be, neither one of them caused me the mental anguish that having to deal with the moronic characters spouting idiotic dialogue of this movie did, and so it takes the cake.

10. Soul Plane. No. Just . . . no.

Now, one caveat that I have for this list is that I only included films I was able to make it all the way through; so, the movies that caused me so much anguish that I couldn't finish (The Medallion, Johnny English, Slipstream), while probably much worse than any of the above, aren't listed because I'm unable to make a fully informed report on them.

*Movie's set in Britain, everyone else is British, and not a single comment is ever made about the protagonist being a Yank, a fact that becomes even more perplexing as the secrets are revealed.
**Which I would link to, but she has it set to private so you have to be on her friend list to view it
***Oh, come on, you didn't expect me to make this simple, did you?


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - Terror of the Terror

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The crews of the British exploratory vessels The Erebus and The Terror knew that things were bad; trapped in the ice while searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, The Erebus was damaged so badly it would probably never sail again, the hunting and fishing was proving impossible in the arctic conditions, the coal reserves for heating the ships was running low, and the bulk of the canned provision were proving to be filled with spoiled and rotten food. But nobody on board could imagine that these would prove to be the least of their problems. Following a fatal encounter with a couple of Eskimos, the crew-members are assailed by a mysterious creature whose size, speed, strength, and intelligence all smack of the supernatural. As the creature toys with the crews, killing at will, the sailors find their already slim chances of surviving cut down to virtually zero.

The Terror is what could be dubbed "historical horror"; the Franklin Expedition was real, the characters in the novel (such as main protagonist Captain Crozier) were based on the real crews of The Erebus and The Terror, and a lot of the details in the novel were inspired by what little was discovered of the remains of the expedition. However, the presence of the preternatural creature stalking the crews sprung solely from the mind of Simmons who, despite the inclusion of this "Is it a polar bear or something more?" creature, spends more time focusing on the interactions of the crew and their struggle with the more common natural obstacles of survival in the Arctic than on the battle with the creature itself. Still, the presence of this unfathomable menace provides additional tension to the proceedings.

I have to say, I liked this a heck of a lot. Not what I would call a page turner; Simmons' prose is a bit too dense for that distinction. However, it was a solidly written book with engaging characters and a pervading sense of menace which helped propel it. Highly recommended.


"What I Watched" Wednesday - Shake Hands With Gonga!

Wise Blood: The latest selection for the Odd Squodd Mostly-Regular Dark and Twisty, Strange and Unusual, Off-Beat, Quirky, Movie Fest is a 1979 adaptation of a Flannery O'Connor novel about Hazel Motes, a disillusioned veteran who decides to proselytize his own brand of anti-religion, The Church of Christ Without Christ. As could be expected from a story by O'Connor -- queen of the Southern Gothic genre and its attendant grotesqueries -- the film is filled with morally ambiguous and socially off-putting characters engaging in morally ambiguous and socially off-putting behavior. Interesting seeing a young Brad Dourif as the film's protagonist; nice to see that even early in his career he gravitated towards the strange and unusual. Adding to the feeling of strangeness in the film was the fact that the main characters all felt like they had stepped out of O'Connor's 1952 novel in terms of speech and dress, but the setting and background extras are rooted firmly in the late 70s, causing some occasional anachronistic cognitive dissonance. My favorite parts of the movie were those dealing with Enoch Emory, the naive lad with a mild monkey-obsession who attaches himself to Hazel in an effort to make a friend in the "big city." The sequence where Emory goes through the line to shake hands with Gonga the Giant Ape multiple times was priceless. Of course, I could have done without the over-the-top vaudevillian background music that would play whenever Emory would embark on one of his misadventures, but to each his own.

The Brave One: Slow-moving drama about a woman (Jodie Foster) who becomes a gun-toting vigilante after she and her fiance are brutally attacked in a public park. Much more thoughtful film than I was expecting, with the focus being placed not on the visceral thrill of violent revenge, as in the Death Wish films, but on the psychological impact her vigilante actions are taking on Foster. Not exactly a nail-biter, but enjoyable on the whole.

Eastern Promises:
Director David Cronenberg and actor Viggo Mortenson follow up their successful collaboration on A History of Violence with this well done film about a midwife (Naomi Watts) who tries to track down the family of a Jane Doe who dies during childbirth, only to become mixed up in the world of the Russian mob. Great acting jobs all the way around combined with a solid, intelligent (and, yes, violent) story help make this a must see.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story:
Uneven satire of musician biopics (particularly Walk the Line) finds perennial second banana John C. Reilly finally taking the lead as the hard living musician whose life is formed by his accidental chopping of his brother in half during a machete fight at a young age. I wanted to like this, really I did, but outside of a couple of funny sequences, the bulk of the movie was a tad too forced for me. Which I know was part of the joke, but in the end, it didn't strike me as all that funny. My favorite sequence by far was when Dewey met The Beatles but outside of that, very rarely did anything in this make me laugh.

John From Cincinnati - The Complete Series:
I just wanted to take a second to say that I had a John From Cincinnati marathon this weekend, and that I'm now horribly depressed that we're never going to see the further adventures of John Monad, the Yosts, and the rest of the Imperial Beach Irregulars. A strange show, to be sure, and one that probably only those with Odd Squodd sensibilities could enjoy, but enjoy it I did. Between this, Deadwood, and NYPD Blue, I think creator David Milch has obtained the crown of "King of People Talking to Each in Agitated Tones of Voice While Trying to Communicate Using Subtext to Convey What They Really Mean, Which Can Sometimes Be Frustrating But More Often Entertaining." Honestly, if Milch didn't write the first episode of NYPD Blue I ever saw -- the one where Andy saying "Gay John did this" and "Gay John did that" until Fancy tells him that he's pretty sure everyone knows John is gay -- I would be incredibly surprised. Amazing that as far removed as those three shows are in terms of subject matter, there's still that core of character interaction that ties them together.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

TV Tues - You Think I'm Bluffing?

I have a new favorite website, and its name is Hulu. Why is Hulu my new favorite website? Because it offers access to a ton of TV shows, both new and old, for no cost whatsoever. So, if there's nothing else on TV and all of my Netflix are in the mail coming or going, I can just hop on over to Hulu and watch some old A-Team or Benson or Doogie Howser or or Welcome Back Kotter or WKRP in Cincinnati or Bones or American Gothic or Friday Night Lights or . . . well, you get the idea. In terms of content, the best news is that Hulu is finally making it possible to see Saturday Night Live skits online, like the classic Wayne's World skit with an appearance by Aerosmith

or the more recent "No Country for Old Milkshakes" skit

But even better than that is Hulu's customizable embedding feature, so that if there's one segement of an episode you'd like to share with someone, you don't have to link to the full ep and say "Okay, now skip to about the 10:47 mark for the good stuff." Instead, you just use a little slidebar graphic to get the start and end time to where you want it, and presto! You have your own, personalized, YouTube-esque episode clip to post wherever you'd like so that others can see your favorite moments from your favorite shows

Or, you can post a clip that one of your best friends has been quoting since sometime last year, and which up until now you have been unable to catch playing on regular TV, but now you can post the scene in question so all of The Singles finally know what the heck Li'l Random was talking about

Of course, I wish I'd discovered this site back before the Writers Strike ended and new shows started to come back, but at least now I know if I want to try to convert people into fans of Arrested Development

or Firefly

I don't necessarily have to loan out the DVDs anymore, just point them to Hulu.


Small World Syndrome

Last night, Cap'n Shack-Fu came over to my place with some of his old friends from Duncan who have been in California and are now moving to Denton soon. After a while, PigPen got home from his new shift at work, which actually gets him back to the house slightly before 10 instead of slightly after midnight like the previous shift. Shack introduced PigPen to his friends, and mentioned that R. had been his old youth minister back in Duncan. PigPen, also being from Duncan, mentions that he knows the church but that he went to a different one, which prompts Shack's friends to say that they had actually started going to PigPen's old church not long before they moved out of Oklahoma. They asked PigPen if he knew a couple they were good friends with, and PigPen said "Yeah -- those are my parents." Turns out, PigPen's step-dad was the reason Shack's friends started going to PigPen's old church. When they mentioned they were actually heading up to Duncan the next day, PigPen gave them his step-dad's cell phone number so they could surprise him.

I, of course, had "It's a Small World After All" stuck in my head for most of the remainder of the evening.


Monday, April 07, 2008

"No, I'm Walken . . ."

Okay, gotta share this clip from this weekend's Christopher Walken-hosted SNL.


Friday, April 04, 2008

In the Battle of "Dude, That Freaks Me the Heck Out" and "Man, I Wish I Could Breathe Unobstructed," Which Will Win?

Well, it's not quite a Neti pot, but I did break down and purchase a similar product, the Ayr Saline Nasal Rinse Kit. And, sure, I've since learned that there are several people who have achieved the same effect using syringes, turkey basters, and table salt, but hey, for the convenience of having my salt pre-measured and packaged, I'll willingly shell out the 10 bucks for 100 doses. Especially since I am now a convert to the Ways of the Saline Nasal Rinse.

Yes, it's still kind of freaky (more on that in a minute), but danged if it doesn't work. In the two weeks that I've been subjecting myself to shooting saltwater in one nostril and out the other I've noticed a remarkable change in my ability to breathe through my nose unimpeded by sinus blockage. In fact, the only time in the past couple of weeks that I've woken up congested was when I went to bed so late that I skipped my nightly rinsing routine.

Now, is it a perfect cure for what ails me? Not quite; this week I have had a bit of a runny nose and some blockage, but it's much, much less than what it was before, especially considering the yo-yo weather which usually knocks me for a loop. So, not perfect, but a danged sight better than what I dealt with before.

What surprises me is that this is something that I, a sufferer of allergy problems for the bulk of my life, have never heard of before the Associate Dean told me about it a few weeks back, but now that I've started extolling its virtues to one and all, I discover that not only are many other people aware of it, its because either they or someone close to them is already a convert; if only they had tried to convert me as well, who knows how many allergy-driven sick days I might have avoided?

There is one strange little drawback to the process which I have discovered, which kind of amps up the "man, that's freaky" nature of the whole thing; in other words, if the general idea of the Neti Pot/nasal rinse weirds you out at all, you might want to think twice before continuing.'

Consider yourself warned.

The first time it happened was late last week when, during my pre-bedtime nasal rinse I had the distinct impression that not all of the water that went into my nose came out again. But, as I didn't exactly feel like there was water sloshing around anywhere inside my head, I assumed it was my mind playing tricks on me, finished up my new nightly ritual, and headed to bed. As I lay there in bed, I turned over onto my left-hand side, felt a strange sensation tickling my sinus cavities, and suddenly had to rush to the bathroom as a trickle of left-over salt water escaped from whatever pocket in my sinuses it had wandered into. Strange, no? After blowing my nose -- gently, as all of the literature orders -- I went back to bed, laid down, turned back onto my side, and then had to rush back to the bathroom as yet more of the salt water decided to make its exodus. This time I stood over the bathroom sink, twisting my head from side to side trying to dislodge whatever might be remaining. When no more trickles were forthcoming, I head back to bed, laid down, and turned onto my opposite side, which prompted the third and final rush to the bathroom. Third and final not because that was the last of the water, but because I didn't leave the bathroom until I was that the every last bit of the surreptitiously placed salt water had been forced from hiding.

How did I manage this? Well, as I stood there, head cranks in increasingly odd angles over the sink, I recalled that on the Neti Pot video, the zed-word-ified/robotic lady doing the demonstration finished up by doing some stretches. Thinking "what could it hurt?" I spread my legs should width apart, bent down and tried to touch my left foot with my right hand; sure enough, the last vestiges of the stubborn salt water was finally flushed from its hiding place, and I was able to go to bed with no further incidents, convinced that the addition of stretched to my routine would prevent any embarrassing spurts of salt water from my nose during the course of my day.

Until, that is, yesterday, when my early morning nasal rinse and its moment of "gee, why isn't more water coming out of my other nostril?" was answered approximately 10 hours later when I was at the gym, bending over to do some concentration curls . . .