Monday, March 30, 2009

Movie Mon - Guan You, Guan Me, Guan Di

The Last House on the Left: Wes Craven's remake of his directorial debut about a group of criminals who find themselves at the mercy of the vengeful parents of one of their victims. One of those "sorry I paid to see it" films; not horrible, per se, but ultimately feels pointless. There were a couple of scenes that had Li'l Random and I laughing at the unintentional comedy, but there wasn't even enough of that to recommend it for MST3King.

Latest effort from Guy Ritchie about a group of criminals getting in over their heads starts off pretty slow, but by the time the first robbery is pulled, the movie moved into full swing, and I was hooked. The first in a proposed trilogy of films following these characters; while my love for the film isn't equal to my love for Ritchie's earlier films like Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels or Snatch, I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment, especially if it contains anything as genius as this dance scene

Drama based on the true story of a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son is abducted; months later, when the police claim to have found the boy, she refuses to believe it is him, and begins a crusade to find her real child, a crusade that makes her a target for the corrupt police department. Well done film that goes places I hadn't expected.

My Name is Bruce:
Low-budget B movie featuring king of low-budget B-movies, Bruce Campbell, playing himself, albeit a more exaggerated, blowhard version; the plot revolves around a young fan of low-budget B-movies who accidentally unleashes a Chinese god of war (and bean curd) and tracks down Bruce as an expert on the sort of creatures you would find in low-budget B-movies and asks for help, which Bruce mistakes for a birthday present from his agent wanting him to enjoy live role-playing his low-budget B movie role. So, how was it? As far as low-budget B-movies go . . . kind of disappointing. Oh, and it had its moments here and there, but overall, I expect more from Mr. Campbell. Although, I did find the Ballad of Guan Di kind of catchy (warning: mildly bloody towards the end)

Wonder Woman:
Animated movie featuring everyone's favorite Amazonian here -- sorry, Xena -- coming to "man's world" to fight the forces of Ares. I've been pretty impressed with the overall quality of the recent slate of direct-to-DVD animated films from DC animation, and I think that this one is actually the best so far; the chemistry between WW and Steve Trevor (as voiced by Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion) is excellent, and the humor throughout was well done -- really wish I could find a clip of Diana teaching a young girl excluded from playing sword-fight with the boys in the park the proper way to disembowel your opponent; good stuff.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona:
Woody Allen film about two American women summering in Europe who both fall for a volatile artist. I know it won an Oscar or two, and I know people who enjoyed it, but I honestly could not wait for the credits to roll on this one; bored me silly. Might have been a different story if I actually cared about any of the characters.

Rachel Getting Married:
Indie film about a recovering addict (the excellent Anne Hathaway) who is released from rehab in time to attend her sister's wedding. I have to confess, I had been expecting to enjoy this one more than I did after all the raves I'd heard -- although I had heard at least one dissenting opinion from a co-worker* -- but the film felt overlong, and the feuding between the two sisters wore on me. Interesting side note: the actress who plays Rachel, the sister who complains because she feels like her more troubled sibling gets all of the attention, also plays Tara's sister on United State of Tara, on which her character is always complaining because her more troubled sibling gets all of the attention . . . Anyway, I did enjoy the movie on the whole, but I tended to enjoy the scenes centered around Anne Hathway's character more than anything else. She definitely deserved all the praise she received for the role.

Bottle Shock:
So-so drama about "The Judgement in Paris" wine-tasting of 1976 which placed the California wine-making community on the map. A solid cast, but an uninspired script. Not great, not awful, just kind of there.

Nobel Son:
Dark comedy about a selfish scholar (Alan Rickman) whose winning of the Nobel prize in chemistry is overshadowed by the kidnapping and ransom of his son -- a kidnapping that he initially doesn't believe is real and so repeatedly hangs up on the kidnapper. I'd say I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the film at least, maybe even 3/4; but, as it moved into its final act, the decisions and behavior of the characters we were supposed to be cheering for took me out of it. On the whole, would give it a thumbs up, but it would be much more enthusiastic if they had reconsidered that final act.

Let the Right One In:
Swedish vampire film about a bullied young boy who is befriended by a vampiric young girl. A more serious take than the last Swedish vampire flick I watched, this stylish film actually lived up to the hype I had heard about it. Recommended for all you fans of foreign language horror films out there -- yes, all two of you.

Happy Go Lucky:
British film about an overly perky young teacher who decides to get driving lessons and is paired with a curmudgeonly instructor who is her polar opposite. This film was much more character driven than plot driven, and as such, your enjoyment will probably be tied directly to how much you can identify with or enjoy the lead character. For me, she was a bit too perky/quirky/giddy/what-have you for my taste; however, the scenes with the abrasive driving instructor were almost all pure gold, as were the scenes with the Flamenco instructor. Most of my time without those two on screen was spent wondering when we'd get back to them.

Role Models:
Entertaining comedy about two guys (Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd) who have to serve community service working for a "Big Brothers" style charity to avoid prison time and get assigned particularly challenging "littles" to care for. The heart of the film is Paul Rudd's grouchy, sarcastic character developing a friendship with the geeky, LARPing Auggie (played by McLovin), and probably the funniest scenes in the film revolve around the two of them. Not that there's not entertainment to be found in Scott's bonding with Tracy Jr. from 30 Rock; plenty of funny stuff there as well. All in all, a really enjoyable comedy; sure, the plot is pretty predictable, but the humor trumped that.

One day his Facebook status simply read "Rachel Getting Married = Andrew Getting Angry"


Friday, March 13, 2009

Fragmented Friday - Who Watches the Watchmen's Man-things?

Latest diet update: as of yesterday morning, I was down 25 lbs since the beginning of the year.

Last night I went to a birthday dinner at Chili's in honor of Sunshine and Trouble, even though Trouble had declared multiple times that she was not having a birthday this year. Because of the timing of the dinner, I didn't get to watch OSU and OU play in the Big 12 quarterfinals, and had to settle for checking the score regularly on my cellphone. It was probably a good thing I didn't get to watch it, as the close score probably would have given me a heart attack. By the end, I had set the ESPN site to refresh automatically every 15 seconds, and so it was that it popped up the following info: "OSU 69 OU 70 FINAL." I sighed and announced it to the table, saying I was sad but was at least glad that the Cowboys had played them close. About 5 or 10 minutes later, one of the other guys said "Hey, Todd -- OSU won." Turns out he had just gotten a text from our former Singles pastor Freezeout who was actually at the game, and who is a big OU fan. I went back on my phone, and sure enough, the score now read OSU 71 OU 70. I later learned that OSU had gotten fouled with only a couple of seconds left and made two free throws to win the game; had just jumped the gun.

It amuses me greatly that most of the complaints I have heard from people about Watchmen have all centered around Dr. Manhattan's penchant for total nudity and the blue CGI private parts that accompany said penchant; who cares about plot, or acting, or direction or any of that jazz, just don't make us look at Dr. Manhattan's special purpose!*

My first time playing racquetball after the night of multiple buttkckings, I had made my first hit of my first game when Trouble said "What's wrong with your racket?" A quick glance showed that the top strings had broken. I went ahead and finished the game as is, since Trouble herself was playing with a cracked racket and had been for a few weeks, only waiting for payday to go buy herself a new one. Later, I emailed Cap'n Peanut to let him now that I had decided that the only possible explanation was that when he had borrowed my racket to play PigPen he had warped my racket with his crazy gorilla strength, and that a bill for a replacement would be forthcoming; he replied that it was nice to know that it was my shoddy racket that had been responsible for his less-than-stellar play that night.

Have you ever found out a piece of information that you were kinda glad to know, because you would hate to have been kept in the dark about it, but at the same time you kinda wish you didn't know, because that little piece of secret information fills you with concern and worry? Welcome to my world.

Last weekend the Singles had a game/movie night at Mei-Mei's parents' house; as always, the movie was shown out-doors, projected onto her parents' garage door. When the email invite went out, Cap'n Cluck urged everyone to remember lawn chairs and blankets. When I saw that, I decided to do one better than bringing a regular blanket, and instead brought one of my Christmas presents from my mom. So it was that about 20 minutes into the movie, as I started to get a little chilly, I wrapped myself up in a nice warm Snuggie**. The rest of the movie was spent with me looking for excuses to move my Snuggie-wrapped arms around for some reason, as every movement would sent Trouble and Lizard into paroxysms of laughter. One of those "you had to be there" times, to be sure, and I know most everyone else was lost as to what the three of us were dying laughing over.

I know I need to start up with the TV Tuesday posts again, but until I actually get around to it, I'd like to take this chance to say that this season of Lost is shaping up to be my favorite season, and I can't wait to see where it all leads. I also want to make sure everyone who is without the joys of TiVo/DVRs knows that Scrubs is moving to Wednesdays at 7:00. I'm also looking forward to the new sitcom which will be on between Scrubs and Lost, Better Off Ted.

Just looks like my kind of weird, doesn't it?

*Yesterday Zinger asked me if I had heard anyone make a "Dongtor Manhattan" joke yet; I assured him he was the first I had encountered.
**For the record: not only did I not request a Snuggie for Christmas, until I opened my present I had no idea that such a thing existed. It was a week or so later before I finally saw an actual Snuggie commercial.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hanging Out

A couple of weeks ago, Cap'n Peanut mentioned that he and PigPen were planning on going somewhere to watch UFC 96 and invited me to tag along and I, of course, said sure. However, a few days later Peanut let me know that the plans were off because his parents were having a birthday dinner for his older brother that evening. In the end it worked out, since I would have had to have left early from the Singles Game and Movie Night to meet up with them, and thus would have missed out on tormenting Trouble and Lizard with one of my Christmas presents while watching Back to the Future on Mei-mei's parents' garage door*, but I was still a little bummed not to get to hang out with PigPen and Peanut. Since I'm trying to be more proactive in maintaining my friendships and not not sitting around waiting for people to come to me, I emailed Peanut earlier today to ask if he and PigPen had any plans in place for this weekend, or if they might be free to hang out with me. Peanut replied that they were both free, and wanted to know what sort of plans I had in mind.

I really wanted to reply "I already said: to hang out. Duh!" but thought that such a tone might be counterproductive to actually getting them to hang out with me.

Peanut's reply asking what I wanted to do is a pretty good example of a difference in mindset I've noticed between several of my friends and myself, with my friends being much more action/event oriented while I often couldn't care less. It happens often with Peanut, who isn't much of a sit-around type of guy; it happens with Shack-Fu, who is very task-oriented at times; it happens with Li'l Random, who is difficult to pin down even with very specific plans, let alone nebulous ones; and it happens with Zinger and Pooh-Bear, who will often meet my requests to come visit with questions of if I had anything special I wanted to do. And almost every time my friends try to get some solid plan out of me, I respond with a "doesn't really matter to me" sort of attitude.

It's not that I don't want to go out and do stuff; it's just that, for me, going out and doing stuff isn't necessary for me to enjoy myself. When I call someone up and ask if they want to hang out, it's because I want to be around them, talk with them, joke with them, pick on them, etc. To me, it doesn't matter if this happens waiting in line at the movies, in the middle of an amusement park, or just sitting at one of our homes around the TV set. As long as I'm spending time with my friends, I'm content. And, yeah, some of my favorite memories stem from going out and doing stuff with my friends: the birth of Hyper Force 3000; Bumper Bowling; St. Valentine's Day Meal of Doom; any number of trips to Texas Road House with Cap'n Shack-Fu . . . the list goes on and on. But by the same token, I have incredibly fond memories of just sitting around the house with my friends, swapping stories and goofing around.

Once upon a time, such a focus on activities would get to me as, in my usual neurotic way, I would turn it around in my head as a sign that people really didn't want to hang out with me without something else going on to distract them from me. But as I've matured, I've come to accept that this is just another one of the personality quirks, much like the True Colors system or the Languages of Love/Appreciation; I may be content to sit at home and gab, but others need more stimulation, need to get out of the house and experience something. And as long as both sides understand that about the other, things can run much more smoothly, and with luck not devolved into "What do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do? I asked you first" territory.

So, which category do you fall into, my blog monkeys? Are you a "go-go-go-go-go!" person? Or a "Stay or go, it doesn't matter as long as I'm with my pals" person? Comment hungry bloggers want to know!

Back to my email conversation with Peanut: I did respond with a crack about how if I had to plan things the deal was off, which followed by some ideas about what we could do -- ideas that I had already come up with before my original email because I pretty much knew that a request for concrete plans would be forthcoming.

Who says I can't learn?

*A story for another time . . . perhaps


Friday, March 06, 2009

We Watched the Watchmen*

Last night Li'l Random and I headed to the Movie Tavern for the midnight screening of Watchmen. When I bought the tickets a few days earlier, the guy suggested we get there by 10:30 or 11:00, and that they'd probably start seating at 11:00. I, being a perpetual early bird, got there about 10:15, and there were a handful of people already there and waiting; Li'l Random showed up right at 10:30, which is when the bulk of the people started to flow in; by 10:45 the lobby was incredibly crowded. They did indeed start seating at 11:00, but only allowed 20 people in at a time, allowing enough time in between each wave for people to find seats and possibly order their food. Li'l Random and I wound up barely missing the first cut, but were the lead offs of the second wave and so were easily able to get seats in our regular spot; I think it took most of that hour before showtime to get everyone in and seated.

One of the things I like about going to the Movie Tavern on premiere nights is that there are usually a couple of their wait staff dressed up as characters from the movie; last night there was a Silk Spectre and a Rorschach. I did turn to Li'l Random and remark that if someone showed up painted blue and in a speedo (or worse), I was out of there; when I mentioned this fact to Zinger this morning, he posited that that guy was there, but that I just didn't see him because he was too busy cooking in the back. Thanks for the nightmare fuel, Zinger!

The crowd was pretty lively leading up to the show starting, and Li'l Random wondered if we were going to have to sit through that the whole time; I assured him that from the rabid fangirl conversation I had overheard in line before he got there, there was at least one scrappy female who would be willing to crack some heads if they got in the way of her enjoying the film experience. Still, the concern seemed like it might be justified when the trailers started and the promo for Wolverine: Origins started; have never heard such clamor over a trailer in my life. The noise level continued through the Terminator: Salvation trailer as well, but died off when the movie itself started . . . mostly. There was one idiot who kept making whooping noises early on during the initial fight scene and Rorschach's investigation, but someone near him yelled at him to shut up, and despite a quick rebuttal along the brilliant lines of "No, you shut up!" the troublemaker shut his pie hole, and we made it through the rest of the film with no other incidents -- except, that is, for some distractions provided by the girls seated on either side of Li'l Random and myself.

The girl seated near Li'l Random spent a good portion of the last quarter of the film sounding like she was about to cough up her lungs, which always makes for an enjoyable experience for all involved, but at least her significant other seated in between her and Li'l Random served as a bit of a buffer. The girl seated right next to me, however, was slightly more distracting as two thing quickly became apparent: (1) She was incredibly squeamish when it came to blood and gore, and (2) That said squeamishness took the form of much squirming, squealing, and whimpering for the duration of the bloody sequence. And while the film was far from a non-stop gore-fest, director Zack Snyder definitely didn't shy away from ramping up the brutality factor when violence was called for.

As for the movie itself, well, I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I thought that on the whole Snyder did a good job adapting a very difficult text. Was it perfect? Hardly, although I can probably chalk some of my problems to being such a big fan of the comic that when Snyder's interpretation didn't quite jibe with my own, I found it jarring; most of those moments revolved around Ozymandias. Not quite sure what it was, but the movie version of Veidt rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go. On the flip-side, pretty much every scene with Rorschach was pure gold, as Jackie Earle Haley (probably best known for his role as the rebellious Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears films) managed to perfectly capture the spirit of my favorite character from the book.

Much has been made among the comic geek world about the ending of the film, which differs from the book; I have to say that, from my point of view, the culmination of the villainous plot in the movie works just as well as that of the book, if not more so, but I know your mileage may vary on that one.

On the whole, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, as did Li'l Random, although it's interesting to me that we came at this enjoyment from two vastly different areas. After all, for him this was a new story, whereas for me it was simply a long awaited adaptation of a work that I have read countless times since I first got a copy of the trade paperback for Christmas of 1988. Yes, that's right, it's been 20 years since I first read Watchmen; if that doesn't make me feel old, nothing will. Anyway, those of us comic geeks who have basically grown up in the aftermath of Watchmen have become a bit jaded to its deconstruction of heroics what with the preponderance of grim'n'gritty books that followed, but to someone whose only real exposure to super-heroics is TV and Movies, the overly humanized heroes here are something of a revelation.

I really hope some more of my non-comic-geek friends see it soon; I'm incredibly curious to see how the bulk of the uninitiated react to it.

*For the record, in my head that title has the word "Watched" pronounced with two distinct syllables: "We Watch-Ed the Watchmen." Why? Partly because the meter better matches the original quote that way, and partly because it amuses me. Okay, mostly because it amuses me.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Dynamic Shift

As I've mentioned before, I often spend great portions of my time dissecting the ins and outs of the interpersonal chemistry and group dynamics of those around me. While my previous posts focused on questions of what forms the basis of such dynamics, my blog post the other day brought to mind an example of a dynamic in which I have observed a sizable shift in a positive direction. Gradually over the last couple of years, I have reached the point that time spent with PigPen and Cap'n Peanut leaves me feeling like part of a trio of good friends, and not just a third wheel tagalong.

It's not that I always felt like a third wheel when hanging out with them, but more often than not, if I was around the two of them for an extended period of time, I would eventually slip into that self-defeating, Outsider state of mind. There were several things which contributed to this, on both ends. On my end of things, there was my natural, neurotic Outsider tendencies, which are really always just a moment away from kicking into full gear in any social situation. But there were a number of factors in the PigPen/Peanut dynamic that exacerbated my neurosis. To start off with, PigPen and Peanut had been best friends for years and years before either one of them met me, breeding a bevy of inside jokes, commonalities, and shared experiences that can be daunting to a newcomer at the best of times, but even more so when you factor in the specifics of the duo's behavior.

For you see, much as the combination of PigPen and Cap'n Shack-Fu results in HyperTwin activity that dwarfs their usual hyper behavior, and the combination of Li'l Random and myself leads to Odd Squodd weirdness which sometimes makes our individual randomness seem logical, so does the combo of PigPen and Peanut result in a ratcheting up of their normal behavior to a sometimes intimidating degree. In their case, the amplified behavior is of the trash talking, insult/put-down humor variety. Once the two of them get on a roll, it's a sight to behold, as they feed of each other's energy and go all out to one-up each other; woe to any outsider who tries to get a shot in on one of them, for they are then hit with both barrels from the united pair.

Adding to the joy was the fact that my status as PigPen's perpetual whipping boy was also usually amped up. So, for example , if Peanut made a crack at my expense, PigPen would jump in and join in the attack; if I were to take a crack at Peanut, PigPen would retaliate on his behalf, even if my crack at Peanut had me taking PigPen's side; can't imagine how that could spark my Outsider complex, can you?

A brief aside: Since people tend to read much more bitterness and vitriol into these sort of posts than what I intend, let me take a moment to state for the record that as far as I'm concerned none of this was malicious or purposeful. PigPen was just trying to zing me like he always did day in and day out, just like I tried to zing him; once again, our friendship is based on mutual antagonism, and I am as guilty of starting crap with him as he is of starting crap with me. That being said, when Peanut got added into the mix, I couldn't help feeling like I was constantly being ganged up on and marginalized. I know that wasn't his intent, but it's how I perceived it, and over time I began to feel more and more like PigPen didn't want me around in general, and resented me impinging on his time with his best friend in specific.

So, what changed? A couple of things.

I think the first and most significant change was that Peanut and I became good friends. You see, even though Peanut and I had known each other for a while before I even met PigPen, let alone moved in with him, we were more passing acquaintances than friends. For the longest time, I thought he didn't like me for some reason; after I moved in with PigPen and got to hang out with Peanut more, I soon learned that what I had read as disdain and dislike was actually a variation of the same misunderstanding that occurred when I first met iamam and Rebel Monkey -- turns out that Peanut wasn't always comfortable when in a new group, and kept to himself until he got more acclimated. Sound like anyone else you know?

Anyway, over time Peanut and I got more chances to hang out one on one, and I gradually began to dismiss the thought that he only put up with me because I was rooming with his best friend, and started to accept that he considered me a friend in my own right. Once I made that mental shift, and began to believe that Peanut actually wanted me around and I wasn't just getting invited along out of pity, that third wheel mentality started to fade. But it wasn't quite vanquished, because I had only dealt with one part of the equation.

The other part of the equation, of course, was my growing paranoia that PigPen really didn't want me around. How did I confront this problem? By employing a radical solution: I talked to him about it. Using my patented Paranoia Resolution Formula, we each figured out where the other one was coming from, and moved on from there. Sadly, by the time I'd finally burned away all of my self-consciousness regarding my place in the group, it was only another month or so before they both moved to Lewisville, and my chances to see them vastly decreased. But at least now that I do get to see them, I can just relax and have a good time, and not question my place in the group.

Although I'd been cognizant of the shift in our mini-group dynamic on some level, it was the day after the evening of multiple buttkickings that I really started to reflect on how large a change there had been. Yeah, PigPen and Peanut still egg each other on to a crazy degree, and yeah, there are times when they gang up on me; but there are also times when Peanut and I gang up on PigPen, and there are times when it's every man for himself, and there are times when we're all united against someone or something else. I no longer let their long standing friendship trigger my Outsider complex; instead I just sit back and enjoy the moments when their long history manifests itself, and spend the rest of my time forging the bonds of the newer friendship I'm building with both of them now.

Amazing what can happen when I get out of my own way, isn't it?


Monday, March 02, 2009

Movie Mon - Craftiness

Haven't really watched a whole lot recently but here are a few brief reviews.

Friday the 13th: Franchise reboot that features a slightly craftier* version of everyone's favorite hockey-mask-clad slasher. Enjoyable enough slasher film; definitely a step above several of the previous installments in the series -- I'm looking at you New Beginning and Jason Takes Manhattan! -- but not one I foresee becoming a "classic" in its own right. Still, it will hold a special place in my heart for the deaths of the couple out water-skiing; both of their demises had Li'l Random and me about to fall out of our seats laughing. Doubt that was the director's intent, but oh well.

Blindness: Allegory about a nameless country which is overrun by an inexplicable plague of blindness, with the focus on several of the first people infected who are quarantined in an abandoned asylum which becomes packed to the gills as the epidemic spreads. Did not like this one at all; I can understand why it got good marks from critics, since it was very effective in achieving the effects it wanted to achieve. But while I can appreciate what they were going for with the film, the crumbling of society and its resultant thievery, violence, and rape were not things I enjoyed watching. While I may be a fan of the dark and twisty, I prefer my dark and twistiness to be either more subtle or more humorous; the stark brutality of Blindness made it a tough pill to swallow. Again, can appreciate the craftsmanship of the film, but doesn't mean I ever want to see it again.

Choke: Adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel about a sex addict (Sam Rockwell) who scams people in restaurants by pretending to choke to death in order to raise money to pay for his delusional mother (Anjelica Huston)'s hospital fees. I had expected to like this one, what with its dark and twisty nature, but somehow the different plot elements never fully gelled for me. My favorite moments all revolved around Huston's character, both in her delusional present, and even moreso in the flashbacks to her younger days and questionable parenting skills.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley: Ho-hum horror flick about a girl who transfers to a new school after her mother goes crazy and tries to kill her, only to soon start hearing voices and seeing things as well. Really not worth the time it would take to critique it; I say give it a pass.

Sex Drive: Teensploitation film about a geeky virgin who goes on a quest to hook up with a girl he met online. Even as teen sex comedies go, this one was pretty bland; there were some amusing bits here and there (the bizarrely over-confident Randy and Andy, James Marsden as the violent older brother) but over all, I was pretty bored throughout most of it.

*Crafty as in sneaky intelligence, and not crafty as in "Oh, look at the nice macrame owl I made in Arts & Crafts." An understandable mistake, since Camp Crystal Lake is known for its macrame owls, ranks right up there with their high body count.