Saturday, May 30, 2009

Two Can Play At That Game, Darcysport

Darcy has shamelessly posted a cheesecake shot on her blog, in the guise of, you know, being about tennis.

Ha, ha, we all have a few laughs, Darcy gets a few hits, and no harm done, right?

Except that in doing so, she completely misses the most important tennis story of the season. Possibly, the most important tennis story of our time. Seems that young Simona Halep, as well as being endowed with impressive tennis skills has also been over-endowed in some departments.
OK, seriously, normally I'm against any sort of surgical breast changes. I don't like implants, generally. I mean, if you're a pro, they might be a prudent investment. (I'm told they can be worth $5K a week for strippers.) But aesthetically, they seem to lose their appeal the closer you get.

I also don't like reductions. I could be wrong, but I think the complaints that women have (back pain) could usually be resolved by losing a little weight or exercising the torso a little more. Also it seems like a kind of horrible thing, arbitrarily removing parts of the body. (I feel that way about appendix operations, too, so, you know: Just crazy ol' Blake again.)

But in this case, neither of those would seem to be plausible: She's obviously in top notch shape, and those things actually cause drag when she's running across the court. So, good luck and God bless.

And the ball is in your court now, Ms. Sport.

(h/t Protein Wisdom)

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Brothers Bloom: Where Is Your Soul's Ass, Anyway?

"I think you have a big hunk of petrified crap up your soul's ass." So says Rachel Weisz to Adrien Brody in Rian Johnson's new caper movie, The Brothers Bloom. Johnson previously directed the interesting low-budget high school-based "film noir" Brick.

I say this is a caper movie, but it's definitely a different kind of caper movie. The typical representative of the genre--The Italian Job or the "Ocean's" series--deals with the pursuit of a MacGuffin, and the plot usually undergoes a number of twists and turns, sometimes in an attempt to fool the viewer (e.g. Ocean's Twelve). There's usually stuff about the people and how their interpersonal relationships as thieves and conmen are affected, but this is generally baggage that slows the shenanigans down.

The Brothers Bloom turns this on convention on its ear by centering all the action around Adrien Brody's development. The capers are essentially incidental to the story. This is way better than it sounds. In fact, the Boy and I think it's the best 2009 movie we've seen so far.

The story is about Stephen and Bloom, who are shuttled from foster home to foster home, town to town, until they finally find their calling running elaborate cons. Stephen (Ruffalo) is the planning genius, putting little themes and symbols into their games, while Bloom (Brody) is the sensitive one--the people person who makes the confidence part of the con game work.

The problem is that Bloom is sensitive, and a romantic, and he can't ever have the one thing the true romantic really craves: genuine human contact. Since he makes contact through false premises (with less than pure motivations), he can't have a true loving connection. This makes him despondent.

Of course, Brody broods well, and not in a monotone way. (That is, his brooding here seems different from, say, his brooding in The Darjeeling Limited.) As his older brother, Ruffalo gives a really sublime performance. Stephen is clearly a smooth operator, intellectual and calculating, yet he's not motivated by money. He loves the game; he also sees himself as providing entertainment, moral lessons, artistic resonance, even.

The perfect con, he says, is the one where everyone gets what they want.

This is his ethical code, really, and his failure is that he can't give Bloom what he wants. If the caper movie is usually cold, this one is the very antithesis. By trying to help him survive, Stephen has turned Bloom into a pathetic, self-loathing character who seems unclear who or what he is. Stephen, for all his apparent glibness and devil-may-care attitude, actually seems to deeply care about Bloom.

Or...does he? This is what Bloom wrestles with. He provides sincerity and depth for the con game, so is Stephen just using him? We quickly see that he's completely the wrong type to be a grifter. To quote Teddy from Memento, that's why he's so good at it.

The brothers work with a mysterious Japanese woman known as Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi, last seen largely naked in 2006's Babel). Kikuchi is excellent in this film, as a kind of animé-ish Harpo Marx. I have no idea if she can actually speak English, but the device of not having her speak means both that she can remain mysterious and we're spared a lot of (what would have been) tedious dialogue.

The mark for the movie is a millionaire shut-in played by Rachel Weisz. She's a woman who, through various circumstances, lives in isolation but is also hyper-competent in most regards. All her time has been devoted to acquiring various skills, except conversational skills. Almost like her character from "The Mummy", though very well realized and not cartoonish at all.

I sort of run hot and cold on Ms. Weisz, or maybe just some of her movies rub me the wrong way (I'm looking at you Constant Gardener!), but she's also positively exquisite (in an entirely different way from Kikuchi). Her character is that of an essentially young woman coning out of her shell, and she buoys the movie tremendously. The "crap" line quoted above comes off charmingly sweet and even endearing when she says it.

She embraces adventure (sometimes in a surprisingly sensual way) and brings to the forefront the film's primary thesis. To wit, in the world of human feelings and relationships, how fake is an illusion that everyone believes?

How much, in fact, is life itself a con game?

This is an honest-to-goodness feel good comedy! As mopey as Bloom is, there are enough laughs and light-heartedness to make you feel good about the proceedings. Suspense and concern are not sacrificed. Instead, the characters care about Bloom--and we do, too--and try to get him out of his funk.

Doesn't sound like a caper movie at all, does it?

Just for good measure, the cast is rounded out with Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane. Johnson's cousin Nathan Johnson is back with the score--which I didn't notice. (That's often a good sign.) And the whole thing feels just right at 1:45 (minus credits). It could've been shorter, but only by cheating us out of the excellent ending and giving us a more Ocean-y/Sting-y one.

Funny without being silly or campy, profound without being heavy, well plotted without being fake, adult without being crude--the line quoted at the top is the crudest thing in the movie--and easily the best drawn new characters this year.

So, this is my first likely top 10 movie of the year. It's unlikely that this film won't make it--nothing else from 2009 has my unreserved approval. Of course, today Up comes out, so this may not be in my #1 slot for long.

Random Update #1: There was one kind of weird thing about this movie. Weisz, who does an excellent American accent, has a nasal resonance that reminds me very strongly of Kathryn Erbe. Ruffalo, meanwhile, wears a long black coat, has the slightly unshaven look, and somewhat similar cadence and look of Vincent D'Onofrio. So, every now and again, I got this weird "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" vibe.

Random Update #2: I didn't praise the costumes and sets, and I really should have. This is clearly a movie taking place in modern times, yet the Brothers Bloom wear hats and long coats that evoke the early 20th century. Some of the sets seem very '20s and others seem sort of '40s. Part of the con involves traveling by steamer, for crying out load. This was a very nice touch and gave the movie a timeless feel.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Goode Family

Mike Judge has come a long way since his seminal Beavis and Butthead cartoon "Frog Baseball". (Heheheheh--I said "seminal".) At least financially. Those early shorts, along with the lesser known "Inbred Jed" cartoons, revealed a lot of his sensibility and grasp of human character.

"King of the Hill"--possibly the only primetime show with a genuinely conservative lead (excluding cartoonish parodies done by far-left liberals like Seth MacFarlane's "American Dad")--is something of a phenomenon, having run for thirteen seasons (and possibly being picked up for more by ABC) distinguishes itself by being consistently funny and also essentially kind. Kind sitcoms are only slightly rarer than funny ones, but kindness seems to be one of Judge's hallmarks. Even the biting satire of Idiocracy and Office Space had an essential benign optimism.

So, it's not surprising that "The Goode Family", Judge's new show is both funny and kind. In fact, it's "King of the Hill", only instead of the well-meaning, stalwart Hank Hill, we have the well-meaning, and less stalwart Gerald Goode. (Mr. Goode is surely in touch with his feminine side, a proposition that would appall Mr. Hill.) Judge uses a voice closer to his Office Space character's (the passive aggressive Chotchki's manager) but the cadences are still very similar to Hank's.

It's also a bit more exaggerated, I think, than KotH. At one point, Helen Goode (the wife, played by Nancy Carrell) is at the Whole Foods-clone and looking at a big board which lists things that are Good on one side, and things that are Bad on the other. As she watches, "farm raised catfish" toggles between good and bad several times.

There is a religious aspect to all of this, as well as a social-religious aspect. Where people used to go to church for guidance and also to one-up each other, the Goodes go shopping. And you sort of have to admire Helen for handling the paper-or-plastic dilemma in a way that makes every other woman shopping--who had all been trying to make her feel bad a second ago--feel ecologically inadequate.

There are a lot of good dynamics here already: The Goodes' neighbor is a black man who doesn't eat vegetables. Gerald's boss at the university is more interested in the bottom line while paying lip service to diversity. Helen's father brings rib take out over to the (naturally, vegan) Goodes house.

And then there are the two kids: Ubuntu (Judge regular, David Herman) , the child that the Goodes adopted from Africa, without realizing he was a blond-haired South African; and Bliss (Linda Cardellini) who rebels in the first episode by eschewing frank talk about sex with her mom for an abstinence group.

Christians make an appearance in the form of purity pushers. David Herman also plays Trayvor (Trevor?) who Bliss likes and who is an aspiring Michael Moore-type "documentary" maker who is planning to ridicule them. The show doesn't dance around the fact that these open-minded, tolerant people--represented most squarely by Helen--really aren't particularly interested in--or comfortable with--people who disagree with them.

So, a lot like "King of the Hill".

I was laughing out loud through a lot of the episode. Here are some lines I liked:

Gerald, trying to distract his wife from Bliss' interest in abstinence: "The View is on. The pretty one is saying crazy stuff again."

Helen, who doesn't approve of Gerald's support of Bliss, and also doesn't want their newly 16-year-old son to drive: "You're teaching our son to drive and our daughter to not have sex: Where have I gone wrong?"

Gerald, in response to Helen's objections that a man is wearing a flag pin: "Since the election we can all wear flag pins!"

If you missed it on ABC Wednesday, you can view it at ABC.com and IMDB.com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh, Just Say You Don't Like It

...when people tinkle in the pool.

You don't have to cobble together some sort of "science".

I mean, seriously, let's say somebody empties a quart of urine into a good sized pool. Ours holds about 17,000 gallons. A quart is a sizable amount, probably more than the trickles that are likely (mostly from kids, and mostly due to the temperature change, I'd guess).

Even so, that's 150 parts per million, urine-to-water, if my math is right. Since urine is 95% water, we're down to 7.5 parts per million for the health threat. Given that the astronauts just celebrated by drinking pee, I'm guessing it's not too bad.

Meanwhile, we dump chlorine into pools, which is well and truly toxic. I like how the article conflates urine and sweat, saying that the problem is that they combine with chlorine. But you can't help but sweat in the pool, even if you don't know it.

CDC notwithstanding, I think we're seeing the sort of objections that arise when people realize they eat food with bug parts in it. Come on, people, a certain amount of unconscious ingestion of biological matter is part and parcel of life.

Learn to deal.

Second Chances

I ended up seeing Wall-E a second time, and wanted to post on that, but got caught up thinking about multiple viewings.

(This is another from my discarded file. I never posted it because it just rambles. But what the hell)

When I was a child, say 8 years old or so, seeing a movie for a second time was sheer torture. The sense of boredom was overwhelming. (I did it on a few occasions anyway, which should tell you something about how bored I was.) When I hit my teens, I could see a really excellent movie twice and not be completely restless, I noticed. Even then, it was hard. (I saw Witness and Road Warrior twice.) I saw Star Wars twice and disliked it even more the second time. (Really, it probably wasn't until 10-15 years later that I began to appreciate that series for what it was.)

Seeing them on TV was different. I remember, for example, watching Alien on TV while eating spaghetti and realizing I wasn't particularly squeamish. I think because I could look at particular scenes without investing all my attention in the movie, I found it less offensive (let's use that word) to see a movie more than once. The idea of buying a movie to watch over and over again completely confounded me. VCRs were for time-shifting. (And for recording music videos, which were the only exposure to pop music apart from other people's loud radios and record players that I've had.)

I never quoted from movies back then, either, at least partly because it was a momentary experience, disposable. Someone said to me "These aren't the droids you're looking for" and I stared at them blankly.

Somewhere in there, that changed, and I'm not entirely sure why. If anything, with the greater volume of available material, there should be no excuse for ever repeating a viewing.

It might have to do with the human brain. At the Institutes, they talk about the need for fresh material all the time. A child's brain constantly wants new information. That's why the progression for children's toys goes something like "play with it correctly, play with it incorrectly, break it to see how it works, move on to the next toy". You need a high volume of new info to keep a child's brain engaged.

Paradoxically, however, it's children who like to watch the same programs over and over again. The Boy was extremely fond of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards (and, no, I'm not sure that was appropriate) and Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book (and I'm not sure about that one, either, really). Indeed, it was having children that introduced me to repeat viewings for pleasure.

As a side note, having spent a lot of time in "after day" care, there was a point where you were literally forced to stop playing outside and watch TV. Even if you didn't watch it directly, there was no escape. (This developed two things: My current encyclopedic knowledge of certain abhorrent '60s sitcoms, as well as the bowdlerized versions of every Warner Bros. cartoon from the '40s and '50s; my abiding hatred of TV-as-noise through the years.)

One thing I can identify, is that I view things radically differently now. You can call it "growing up" but I'm not sure if that's a correct differentiation. As a child, I was concerned with plot and story mechanics. I read the thought balloons in comic strips without looking at the pictures at all. I burned through picture books. Actually, with comic books, I note that I filled in the visuals with far greater detail than was actually there. (On going back and looking at old comic books of that era, I'm always surprised how little detail work actually made it to the page.)

The appeal of the visual arts were almost completely unknown to me. (I was hugely moved by Michelangelo's Pieta, but that was a rare occurrence, and I didn't--and maybe don't still--understand why that particular piece had such an affect on me.)

I was, in modern parlance, very left-brained. When I drew a picture, it had a plot, .e.g.

At some point, with considerable effort, I started paying more attention to the visual. I also started paying attention to the hows and whys. A lot of bad movies--especially big budget bad movies of today--are packed with high quality craftsmanship, wrapped around a turd of a story. I can entertain myself if the movie doesn't pick up the gauntlet.

One factor in there may have been the formal training in music. All musicians listen to music differently from non-musicians (which is why they like different things from normal people), but having historical perspective makes it apparent how taste is shaped and not the fixed "I know what I like" kind of thing that most people experience.

If you immerse yourself in early Gregorian chant, where only one note is ever sung at a time, and the figures are simple--and it only takes a few weeks of listening to a lot of this--when the second note gets added, it's like the skies opening up and showing heaven. You can really get a sense of how wondrous and controversial that second note was at the time.

You can repeat this process for many points in music history. And if you love music--I mean, if you really love music, not just the current iterations of pop--you owe it to yourself to embark on some part of that journey.

This is actually harder to apply to movies, but not impossible. It's very hard to watch Frankenstein (1931) and realize that people had nightmares from that. Someone famously called up the exhibitor in the middle of the night and said "Since you made it impossible for me to sleep, I'm going to make it impossible for you!" or something along those lines.

Hell, it's hard to do that with The Thing (1982), and I remember being both floored by the movie and the huge outrage over it. People called it "pornography", the advertising was yanked for it, and John Carpenter's never been the same. 25 years later and it's almost quaint. (But then, horror particularly ages quickly.)

But early on I realized, with movies, the key wasn't who was in it: You're a chump if you go to a movie with a particular actor--no matter how great--expecting it to be good because the actor is in it. A star (like Will Smith) can carry a weak movie and a great actor can provide good moments in an otherwise bad film, but every great actor ultimately appears in a number of dogs.

It's not impossible to rediscover . I couldn't relate to Westerns as a kid at all. It was all sci-fi and horror, if you could get it. I did finally get to a Western film series, where they showed 30 years of westerns, about four movies per decade. And I began to pick up the tropes and symbols pretty quickly--though it was funny to me how many of the movies simply required you to assume the guy in the white hat was the good guy, even if his actions were objectively identical to the guy in the black hat. (Postmodern deconstructionism at work?)

I guess, wrapping this up, the key differences between then and now, barring whatever neurological factors may be at play, are that: 1) I don't expect to be the passive effect of movies that I watch now; 2) I'm not so heavily invested in the narrative structure for my enjoyment of movies, and have a much greater appreciation for and interest in the technical details that make individual moments in movies work.

Similar experiences anyone?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exciting News in the Blog World!

Lots of things happening for our little Althouse-offshoot community. In alphabetical order!

Chicken Little has a blog! A little light on the posts, just yet.

Darcy has a blog! Also a little light on the posts, yet. Darcy gets more space here, though, 'cause she's a hot blond sports chick. I'd hit on her but: a) Don't know nothin' 'bout sports; b) she could easily beat me up.

Hector has changed his blog's name! If Rain in the Doorway (the title of a lesser known Thorne Smith novel) wasn't obscure enough for you, he's now called "Kiarian Lunch" which refers to certain characters in the novel. And if you don't know Thorne Smith, Google. His books are available online for free reading (outside the US, sigh), and well worth the time.

Micheal H has a blog! Right now, it's empty, but not too long ago it had a very nice post of a speecch Mr. H made.

Last, and not least, not only does Pogo have a blog, it's marvelously idiosyncratic and he's posting up a whirlwind. Fun to read! Lots of pictures!! Weirdly named "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner".

And, as always check out Trooper York, the, uh, glue that holds us all together.

PS: And don't a dope like me forgetting to link Ruth Anne Adams's blog; the woman with the puns of steel.

PPS: And Kelly's back at Loaded Questions, too. Kelly never, ever, ever comes to visit me here, but I'm a good friend so I pimp her site when she bothers to put up stuff. Check it out: She has her own dot-com, too. Hi-falutin'.

A Girl and her Dad

I started a tradition years ago of spending one day a year with The Boy where he got to call the shots. Whatever he wanted to do, we did. This usually involved going to the movies, Chuck E. Cheese's, an arcade, a toy store, a gaming specialty shop, whatever. (These days, it involves going to the shooting range and knife store.)

I naturally carried it forward with The Flower (and will with The Barbarienne, when she's old enough) and yesterday was her day. It's a little different with a girl, I learned. First of all, for part of her day, she wants The Boy to come with her. She likes to go to the movies, but she wants to have grandpa along.

And when I'd take The Boy to a store, he'd pick out five or six action figures that were really cool, and then agonize over which he wanted. I'd never placed a limit on him, mind you. It was just his mindset to check prices and weigh his perceived value against them. I'd have to convince him it was okay to get two or three toys. (And sometimes, I couldn't, if he felt something was priced too high.)

The Flower, meanwhile, would blithely hand me everything she liked from every store that caught her eye. She had found out, possibly through Disney-inspired necromancy, that there was a store called Build-A-Bear. Our first trip there cost us $20 for a bear, and $180 in accessories.

This year was a little different. The Flower loves to be treated, but she also worries that she's being spoiled. I've tried to explain to her that you can't really spoil someone by giving them things. (That's a common misconception.) And in any event, you couldn't really spoil The Flower without some serious effort: Generosity is in a prominent part of her nature.

We started out our day with breakfast at Denny's. The Flower loves Denny's. And I guess I shouldn't complain, since it's cheap. But it usually gives me a vaguely uneasy feeling: Not quite heartburn, but the sense that I've consumed something I really shouldn't have. I've always figured they use some sort of Pam-like spray on butter substitute that disagreed with me. I'm off meat at the moment, though, and breakfast did not leave me with that feeling.

Then it was miniature golf. We tried doing that last year, but the place shut down because of a little sprinkle. But this year we got in a game, with our biggest problem being smacking the balls into the numerous water traps. The Flower was very good at fishing them out. (The Boy's first--and only--game was hilarious: He had decided that it wasn't so much the number of strokes that was important, but the speed at which you progressed through the holes. We literally had to run to keep up with him.)

Then off to the movies with The Boy and grandpa.

The Boy stayed with us for Chuck E. Cheese. The Rat is an interesting phenomenon. (Did you know it was the brain child of Nolan Bushnell, the man behind Pong and Atari?) Over the years, The Rat's Place has gone from being filled with fun, but hard to clean and non-profit generating activities (no more ball pits, and few habitrails) to being largely pseudo-gambling games that encourage you to pump in tokens as fast as possible. Most of the games are designed to eliminate any skill, of course.

Meh. Skee-ball's still one token and nine balls.

What's sort of ironic is that while the pizza is definitely aimed to challenge the "no such thing as bad pizza crowd", the salad bar is very fresh. I find that sort of amusing since the salad bar craze of the '80s has vanished so thoroughly that you can hardly find a good one, even in restaurants that used to be salad bar oriented.

Then it was off to the mall. Build-A-Bear is quite affordable, as long as you just get the bears. They advertise quite prominently that you can get a $10 bear. The accessories are, individually, inexpensive seeming: $3.50 for underwear (yeah, bear underwear) or a pair of glasses, $5 for a pair of pants. A complete outfit makes your $10 bear cost $40 or more, assuming you stick with the cheap stuff.

The Flower has come to realize that most of the accessories get quickly lost anyway, so she was more than happy when I told her she could get two, as long as she didn't dress them. She got a bear (her fourth) and a unicorn, and we spent the same or less than anyone else in the store.

We went by the Disney store to get a few more things, including some gifts for her mother and baby sister. (The Barb shares a room with The Flower and is quite at a loss to understand that big sis has more stuff just because she's been around longer, and the stuff is cooler because she's older.)

Then a late dinner at Denny's. The veggie burger was actually pretty good, surprisingly enough. The Flower ordered hot dogs, and then a big slice of cake. She didn't eat much of either.

Finally home to share all our conquests with everyone.

All-in-all, a successful day. I wish I had more of them.

Inevitability

We have a conceit in this country that we debate things from "both sides". But, of course, any question has multiple facets and nuances, and very often when we're looking at "both sides", we're looking at the same thing, trivially distinguished.

Look at the political parties: They argue only about what the government should exert its force over first, not whether it should exert its force at all. The Dems bitched about the effect the War on Drugs had on civil liberties, but once in power, they didn't repeal those laws. Same with the War on Terror. Both parties bitch about spending when they're not in power, but they never actually reduce spending when they are.

From Britain comes the story of Caroline Cartwright, "remanded in custody"--I think that means "sent to jail while the state figures out what evil to do with you"--for having noisy sex.

Of course, making noise can get you into trouble, that's not new. What's new, is what this Reason article points out: The previous injunction against the woman having noisy sex applied to the entire country. She couldn't go anywhere in England, no matter how remote or soundproofed, and legally have noisy sex.

This is a "liberal" government at work.

Greg Gutfeld repeats the old saw that conservatives want to control your private life and liberals want to control your economic life, but inevitably, all "progress" leads to a goverment that controls everything.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Reason.TV's Gutfeld Interview

Just in case you thought that Greg Gutfeld wasn't doing schtick on "Red Eye", there's a fun interview with him over at Reason.TV. Check it out, check-it-outers.

It was interesting to hear the thought processes behind Gutfeld's oddly evolved persona of sexual deviance with transgendered under-aged pool boys from third world countries, drug use and obsession with unicorns, but there's a similar sort of theme over at Ace of Spades. (Hobo-killing, cheap vodka swilling and the perennial obsession with transsexuals.)

The constant PR blitz that portrays anything "liberal" as cool and anything else as uncool has left those who actually want to debate issues in an interesting predicament. Protein Wisdom's Jeff Goldstein talks about how the left frames the debate and appropriates the right to assign meaning to what others say, even when it's the exact opposite of what they're saying.

But before and beyond that is the non-verbal delineation of tribes--I'd link to Bill Whittle's "Tribes" essay here except his move to Pajamas Media seems to have killed it. (Here's an excerpt from another site.)

The ex-Soviets, the Marxists, the statists--they've won the PR war. Those who object, therefore, find themselves in the unpopular crowd, attacking the cool kids. I think the defense is apparent in the whole attitude that Gutfeld, Ace and to an extent, even Goldstein take: "We may be creepy morons, but we're not stupid enough to believe THIS crap."

Or, for a different perspective, humor is the only defense against power.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Bit Maelstrom First: Embedded YouTube!

Yeah, I know, I know: Welcome to 2007, but I've always kept this a mostly text blog, only occasionally posting a pic (or even rare, a really picture heavy post).

Anyway, I thought this cartoon, circulating 'round the 'net a lot these days, is just so apt, so simple, and expressed in such an obvious way that a child could understand it, that it's also obvious how far we've fallen in how short a time.



Worth watching, all the way to the end, and over again. Basic truths. Of course, the mistake in the YouTube headline is that it's not predicting future, it's reminding us of the past.

This just in...

...I'm a "cyber millennial."

Yet I don't drink at all. (What I love about this link, tho', is that the ad right next to it shows a bunch of chicks in their underwear using beer bongs.)

I'm a little unclear on the designation, actually. Is it a requirement to drink to be a cyber millennial?

I always liked the generational name "buster" for those of us who came after the "boomers" but I guess that never caught on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Night At The Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The first Night at the Museum movie was a rather pleasant surprise for me and The Boy, who were there at the behest of The Flower. It struck a nice balance between silly comedy and (slightly) less silly stuff aided greatly by Alan Silvestri's score, which also helps this movie not degenerate into random-feeling chaos.

What? You didn't expect me to start with the score? In this case, it's absolutely necessary. The score sets the tone as more light adventure than wacky randomity, even though this movie is a lot more random and chaotic than the first.

And, it must be admitted, quite a bit more leaden. Somewhat ironically, The Boy and I enjoyed it more than The Flower did, who had higher expectations and found it predictable. I suspect this spells trouble for the movie, if the eight-year-old girl demo is finding it predictable.

And it's not that they didn't try. There are a few twists and wrinkles, and a few new bits, but a lot of these flat flat. Meanwhile, a lot of the best stuff is recycled stuff from the previous movie that still works. (A lot of humor based on the diminutive cowboy Jedediah, played by Owen Wilson, and Roman Centurion Octavius, played by Steve Coogan, e.g.) Also, this movie suffers from 70% less Robin Williams, so it's got that going for it.

Actually, the level of talent oozing from this film makes you really want it to be better. Hank Azaria plays Ahkmenrah's (from the first movie) evil brother with a lispy Boris Karloff accent. Bill Hader shows up as General Custer. Christopher Guest is Ivan the Terrible. And they're all good, as they always are. Ben Stiller gives his all, like he always does. He has a bit with Jonah Hill that's very Apatow-ish (clean, but goofy).

Basically, though, the funny's just not there. Things that should've been funny weren't. The lightness from the original movie is mostly gone. Not content-wise. This pretty much could be "G"-rated; Im' hard pressed to remember what might have pushed it over the line to "PG". But delivery-wise. There's too much self-awareness, too much "look at this, isn't this hilarious!" going on.

The original walked that line mostly successfully. This one not so much.

Buoying the movie impossibly is perennial Maelstrom crush, Amy Adams. She plays a delightfully heterosexual Amelia Earhart, as a sort of mix of Katharine Hepburn and Betty Hutton. Carla Gugino and her tight sweaters are gone without notice from this movie, to be replaced by Amy Adams in her tight pants (and remarkably fitted aviator jacket).

But more than eye-candy, Adams brings a much-needed unselfconscious lightness to the proceedings. At the same time, I did find myself thinking "They must have spent a freakin' fortune on this movie." In other words, where the first movie seemed like a shallow "high concept" ultra-slick Stiller vehicle, but managed to hide the gears pretty well, this movie ends up feeling a lot more transparent and cynical.

I didn't actually dislike it. It's not overlong. It doesn't try to be important or relevant. It's not vulgar or crass. It just doesn't have the finesse of the first one, which underscores the fundamentally unclever nature of both movies.

Again, The Flower was disappointed, finding it not at all surprising. Part of that, of course, may be that she was five-and-a-half when the last movie came out and is eight now. I would say that if you're interested in seeing it, and don't have high expectations, see it in the theater. Because I suspect that the movies' problems are going to be magnified on the small screen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Manic Monday Apocalypso on Friday!: Terminator Salvation

We were going to see the new Michael Keaton movie (he directs) called The Merry Gentleman, but it had cleared out to make room for the new Terminator movie, so we saw that instead.

I would save this review for Manic Monday Apocalypso but I figured some of you might consider seeing this this weekend.

I'd skipped the third movie in the Terminator series, feeling that it was really James Cameron that was the heart-and-soul of those flicks, that raised them above standard B-movie fare. (I'm dubious of Harlan Ellison's claim on the property. Not that Cameron didn't steal the ideas, only that the ideas are both fairly generic and not at all the point.)

A chilling factor for me is that this movie is directed by the infamous McG, who helmed the two Charlie's Angels movies. There was much to dislike about those strangely uneven films but they at least weren't boring. And that's not a bad way to describe the new movie, though it's not nearly as uneven as those earlier films. Unfocused might be a better term.

So, let's talk about the good things. Fine acting, as you would expect from Christian Bale. In smaller roles are Jane Alexander (who could be her own MMA feature for her 1983 role in Testament), Helena Bonham Carter and the great Michael Ironside. The primary supporting roles are played by Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood, who I thought were fine, but seem a little callow in comparison. (Partly and maybe mostly, this is their characters, and by the end I think the actors have fleshed them out more than the writers did.) Anton Yelchin, fresh of his Checkov role in Star Trek manages to come off pretty dang tough, and evocative of Michael Biehn in the original movie. They even have a little girl in the Newt role.

Elfman does the music, and does a fine job, though there's not enough of it. This may sound strange, but there's not an over-reliance on CGI. The T-800--the classic Terminator--has been slightly redesigned. It was a skinny, skeletal thing in the original, stop-motion animated. But we're sort of jaded to that now, I think, and the redesign has a more muscular build--like it's a guy in a Terminator suit. This is a good choice.

Also, the CGI is really good. That helps a lot. It might not be a guy in a Terminator suit, but if not, it's smooth. This helps the action feel a lot more credible, and to McG's credit, there are some good old-fashioned fights and vehicle stunts, instead of the CGI spectaculars that get so numbing.

There are a lot of other really nice touches, too, which I won't spoil by enumerating here.

This movie falls well short of greatness, though. First, we have the time-travel problem. The story requires John Connor (Bale) be the savior of the human resistance, but he mostly seems like a pain in the ass. In fact, I went through 2/3rds of the movie wondering what the hell he was doing that was even necessary, given the way the war was going. That was nicely resolved, though, and ultimately made sense. So I didn't count that against it.

No, the real problem is with the characters of Marcus and Blair. We see Marcus put to death in the first scene of the movie (in 2009, presumably), and yet he's walking around in 2018, and Connor and Reese (Yelchin) are secondary characters to him, and--to a degree--his relationship with Blair.

But because the story really should be about Connor and Reese fulfilling the prophecy of the first movie, we get a lot of cuts from Marcus to Connor or Reese, sometimes disrupting the flow of the action. Also evoking Star Trek, in the sense that the baggage the movie is required to carry is both its strength and its weakness.

This forces some awkward scenes, such as Connor having to decide what to do with Marcus. He actually makes up his mind and then yells, inexplicably, "Who are you?!" Bale does a good job, but the whole scene--a dramatic focal point--flops.

The next big dramatic moment, where Connor delivers a speech about how humans are different from machines, also flops out of sheer silliness and inappropriateness.

And without giving too much away, the story hinges on this bit of information which allows the main Skynet base--and silly me, I thought the Skynet base would be, you know, in the sky--to be attacked. Things don't come off as expected (do they ever?), yet the Skynet base ends up seeming ridiculously easy to get in and out of.

And there's the other thing, the big thing, which is that the view of the future doesn't quite hold up. The original concept had humans as a ragtag underground resistance. This movie carries that idea forward, but at the same time, features humans with subs and jets--neither of which would really be sustainable in that context--and says there are areas the robots haven't ventured. (And, queerly, at the same time, those areas are not where the humans are strongly based.)

To top this all off, there's a strongly hierarchical command structure and traditional military at the begining of the movie, with a suddenly completely casual rebel feel at the end. And they communicate via radio. Like, regular radio.

But I suppose I'm just overthinking it. One of the nice thing about those old WWII movies, though, was that were enough people around who had been there, that movies had a certain verisimilitude I'd like to see more strongly applied to post-apocalyptic stuff. (As you know if you've read this blog for long.)

Anyway, The Boy liked it very much, though he was a bit taken aback by the PG-13ness of it. And it's true, this is a much gentler movie than the first two. There were certain things that didn't hold together for him, but it didn't keep him from enjoying it.

So, once again, a good summer popcorn movie, like Star Trek, but rife with flaws, like Star Trek.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Water, Minerals, and Incredible Things

Well, The Boy has been on this new diet for two months. So far, everything that the nutritionist has suggested would happen has happened. He's had a few crashes that slowly came back up, but now we're at the point where his body needs less fake insulin, or so the theory goes.

In practice, he's reduced his per-meal insulin by half, while maintaining excellent blood sugar levels. He's less thrown off by dietary lapses, as well. Too many carbs raise his blood sugar less dramatically and for less long. (It used to take him days to get it back under control sometimes.)

As for me, well, I'm losing weight. Sort of funny: I think the walking for 20, 30 plus hours a week built up muscle as much as it reduced fat, so no weight change. Not losing weight drinking the water is a little harder to explain, except that I was very dehydrated.

I'm not supposed to be exercising right now and meat is out, to say nothing of the various junk foods, and it's difficult to impossible to maintain my weight without those things. (No tragedy; I can stand to lose a few pounds.) I am missing exercising, though.

Encouragement to be as good as I can so as to get my body in good enough shape to actually use it, I guess.

Automatic For The People

World peace, unlimited cheap energy, and higher MPGs in our cars: These are things we can all agree upon would be good to have. And it's a characteristic of the juvenile mind to think that they can be accomplished by fiat, as unalloyed goods. If only, the child thinks, everyone thought like me, the world would be a better place.

But, of course, most things either can't be accomplished by fiat, or have unforeseen consequences, which is why the founders of the American Republic sought to limit the power any individual or group of individuals can have through politics.

Since those limits are gone, now, we'll get to learn (again) why they were such a good idea. First item:

1. Proposed mileage standards would kill more Americans than the Iraq War.

It's no mean engineering feat to increase mileage in automobiles. My first new car was a Dodge Colt, and I got 43 miles to the gallon from it. (Modern hybrids seem to be hovering around 50.) But I could single-handedly push that Colt up a hill. I religiously drove the speed limit (55 mph at the time) in that car until I started doing deliveries around the Southland, and found 16-wheelers bearing down on me going 80.

Because, as my buds and I used to joke, the right of way goes to the car with the greatest momentum.

So we'll get cars that have better mileage. We'll pay for it, in blood and treasure. And this massive, Constitutionally unjustifiable exertion of power will be viewed as a nobler pursuit than overthrowing a tyrant.

And just in case you thought something more sophisticated than "fiat lux" was going on, we have item #2, a quote from an anonymous Obama administration official:

2. You don't need banks and bondholders to build cars.

No, apparently, you only need to wish them to be, and voila! Also, an unlimited supply of tax money helps.

We live in interesting times.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Management: Boy Meets Girl, Feels Butt

The tried-and-true love story formula (boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl) has actually held up even in this post-modern, deconstructive age, when you think about it. Really, the main variation is in the final part (boy fails to regain girl), and that was old when Shakespeare wrote "Romeo and Juilet".

It's a broad outline.

Storytellers, then, are forced to be creative within those parameters. A lot of fun can be had with the "boy meets girl" and "boy gets girl" parts, and a lot of dramatic tension can be had with the losing and regaining (or not) part.

Jennifer Aniston's new romantic-comedy (she exec. produces as well as stars) has a lot of fun with the meeting, getting and regaining process, and a nice bit of drama with the losing. It's really a very solid, good romcom in a world where that's actually pretty rare. Yet the buzz is already highly negative.

I sort-of think that a lot of negativity surrounding Aniston--and there always seems to be a ton of it--must either come from her success on "Friends" or her relationship with Brad Pitt. Because I don't see how it could come from her performances. Not that you might not dislike them, but there seems to be positive glee everytime she's in a low-budget movie.

I'm not intimate with her work and admittedly--like most actresses--she's often a prop. I think she's found a way to remedy that by producing her own movies and giving herself meatier roles. Smart and, at least in this case, a very good showcase for her talents.

The premise of Management is a strange one: Steve Zahn--also often under-rated--plays Mike, who works in his parents' motel in Kingman, Arizona. They're kind of dull, and he's kind of dull, too. One day, in walks Sue (Jennifer Aniston)--and her great ass. It's love at first sight, from behind.

Mike is immediately taken with her, and likes what he sees from the front, too, and contrives an excuse to visit her in her room. As an actor, Zahn's really to be commended here, because--for all Mike's listlessness in life--he comes across as genuinely taken by Aniston's character, and sweet rather than stalker-like. He's a guy who's never felt inspired enough to do anything, and as we quickly see, Sue becomes that inspiration.

Sue is a tougher nut to crack. She's cold, a little prickly, even bad with people, but seeing through Mike's ruse, she asks what would make him feel like his gambit was successful. She agrees at that point to let him lay a hand on her butt.

Strange, right? Yet, by the end of the movie, we see that it's perfectly in character for Sue, who manages her dysfunction at one level with a kind of over-the-top altruism. We also see that Mike's somewhat over-the-top, Quixotic pursuit of her is in line with his previously dormant passionate nature.

So, wow. Here we have a romantic-comedy with carefully drawn characters conflicting over expectations of each other and life, without anyone seeming like a victim. That's pretty rare these days and I'd like to see a lot more of this.

Occasionally, the move delves deeply into quirkiness. Woody Harrelson plays Jango, a former punk/yogurt mogul/vicious dog trainer, who offers Sue a security--and an opportunity--Mike can't. "Prison Break"'s James Hiroyuki Liao plays Al, the fast-talking son of Chinese Restaurant owners who immediately befriends Mike in his time of need.

These two offer more quirkiness than, say, Mike's parents. His father Jerry (Fred Ward) is a semi-shell-shocked war vet, while his mother Trish (Margo Martindale) is terminally ill. This movie alternates between almost wacky stunts, like skydiving into a swimming pool, and dramatic scenes, like deathbed conversations.

Screenplay author and first time director Steven Belber makes it all work by never letting the quirkiness get cartoonish.

It won't get much of a run, and Aniston won't get much praise for her restrained, subtle performance as a cold woman who slowly begins to melt, to say nothing of Steve Zahn, who didn't even get much praise for his excellent work in the under-rated Rescue Dawn. But if they were smart about it, this was a no more than $15-20M work that will easily clear that and more when international box office and video/cable rights are figured.

The Boy declared it "good" and was quite pleased with the story. I declare it "good", too. Since both Aniston and Zahn have three movies coming out this year, I imagine this will get swept under the rug--but it shouldn't be.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Anderson Tapes

TCM aired a rare Sean Connery movie called The Anderson Tapes on Friday. (I think it's sort of become "rare" recently; it may have been a TV staple in pre-cable days.) I tuned in late, so I didn't watch it much, but I had to stop because I saw Christoper Walken as "the Kid".

He really did look like a kid, too, though he was in is late 20s. And then I saw Dyan Cannon, who was one of my earliest movie crushes. There's only seven years between them but Sean was letting his baldiness come through--which actually just makes him cooler, in my opinion.

As clinical matter, keeping with the theme of this blog, I feel obliged to point out that Ms. Cannon has not ever had the pointy breasts.

By the way, Dyan Cannon was married for a short time to Cary Grant. If you're a Cary Grant fan (as I am), you probably don't want to know about this, since it reveals a much less glamorous Grant than his impossibly suave persona.

But they had a kid, his only and her only, I think. She is, as you might imagine, quite good looking, and has her mother's smile:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next NEXT Generation

I've never been a Trekkie or a Trekker. In fact, my mom was a big fan of "Star Trek" and because I hated certain episodes ("Miri", "And The Children Shall Lead") but had to watch them anyway, it took me a couple of decades to where I could like the show.

I got into "The Next Generation" for a while but it got more and more ponderous as the series wore on. It seemed that every alien just needed a sympathetic ear and all technology was environmentally destructive. (I've heard that Roddenberry had to remind the writers that technophobia was not an appropriate attitude for the show.)

I loved "Deep Space Nine". Which, it must be confessed, is barely Star Trek at all. Dark, with religion and spirituality woven in, reveling in the dark parts of society that Roddenberry would have us believe didn't exist (yet which all turned up in the third season of the original series).

The less said about "Voyager" and "Enterprise" the better. (Well, okay, "Voyager" was "Star Trek meets The Lifetime Channel". "Enterprise" should have worked. And yet, didn't. Well, I heard it got better after I--and practically everyone else--stopped watching.)

So, was I excited about the new "reboot"? Nah, not really. "Curious" is a better word. The only JJ Abrams stuff I'm familiar with is Cloverfield, which is a good movie made of a pretty thin gruel. All good directors can do that. See The Birds or, hell, look at what Gore Verbinski did with the Pirates of the Caribbean or even Mouse Hunt.

This is kind of the reverse scenario. There's too much in the "Star Trek" universe--much of it contradictory--to capture in a movie. And if "Enterprise" proved anything, it was that retconning is incredibly dull, except perhaps to die-hard fans.

Now that I've seen it, my reaction is a kind of generally positive "Meh". Read on.

Dropping the canon was an excellent choice: They actually manage to do some pretty surprising things by untethering themselves from the bloated beast that is the Trek universe, while still making plenty of references. And you can savor the irony of fans being upset by this by noting that the device used to justify the changes is a Trek cliché that formed the basis for half the movies and TV series.

It was also smart of Chris Pine, who plays Kirk, not to study Shatner. While I've long maintained that Shatner's performance--his utter conviction in selling some truly awful storylines in front of papier mache backdrops--is a big part of the reason the original show is watchable at all, his performance style is too iconic to be imitated without creating an entirely surreal atmosphere. Pine--apparently drawing on Indiana Jones and Han Solo--still manages to evoke a famliar feeling Kirk.

Using relatively little known actors was also a good choice. The first person I recognized was Bruce Greenwood, playing Captain Christopher Pike, the captain that young Kirk is supposed to serve under. (OK, I "recognized" Eric Bana as the villain, but only because I knew it was him. Bana for some reason never makes enough of an impression on me where I could actually identify him.) I didn't really recognize Winona Ryder (in Jane Wyatt's old role as Spock's mother), though, so maybe I should just give up that battle right there.

The acting is, overall, very solid. Casa Maelstrom favorite Simon Pegg does a nice job as Scotty and Karl Urban steals the show as "Bones" McCoy, channeling the late DeForest Kelley without seeming like a parody. Zoe Saldana plays the Uhura role Nichelle Nichols wishes Uhura had been wrttten for her. John Cho (Harold, of "Harold and Kumar") plays a tough guy Sulu, while Anton Yelchin (Bird from "!huff") does a super-young Chekov (with heavier accent than Walter Koneig) to round out the core crew.

The action is pretty good. Kirk is drawn as a rash, arrogant, cocky SOB, and this often results in him getting the crap beaten out of him. (He gets beaten up by redshirts! Who are actually portrayed as pretty tough in this, in contrast to the original series.) They resist the urge to make him a superhero, good at everything, which gives the rest of the crew a chance to do their things.

So, if I consider it a decent homage to the past and a good, fresh summer action flick, why am I sort of "meh"? I think because it's not really great at either. One thing that Star Trek is known for is absurd plot resolutions, the sci-fi equivalent of deus ex machina. "The Next Generation" was so awful in this regard, that it probably put "reversing the polarity" into the cultural lexicon.

There are plenty of absurd situations which might be suspenseful if one didn't know how things sort of had to turn out. And even if you don't watch the show, there are certain things you know. So when Kirk is stranded on a remote planet with no way (in the story's own terms) to catch up to the plot, you know that some sort of technological magic is going to have to arise.

This ultimately diminishes the movie. I would've liked to see a reboot like the Bond reboot that eschewed the dumber aspects of the franchise.

The other thing that really diminishes it is Leonard Nimoy. Not that I don't love the guy, or that he does a bad job. It's nice to see him don the ears again after 15 years. But he's a crutch, the deus ex the machina. He acts as both fan service and plot device, and I thank God they didn't resurrect Shatner for Kirk, despite the pressure. (Kirk pretty definitively died in the first TNG movie.)

The whole thing feels a little stale to me, even with the new angle and approach. Now I'm not sure a (much) better outcome was actually possible here--certainly much worse outcomes were--so I'm disinclined to cast any stones. The kids should like it, the fans (who are a shrinking base, I think) maybe less so, depending on how invested they are in the original history.

The Boy liked it quite a bit, saying it was a lot more than he expected. The two Trek fans I know (including the one I saw it with) also liked it. My mom's convinced, well-trained as she is, that they'll move the new franchise in to merge with the old history. I'm trying to explain that the whole point of the movie was to reimagine a lot of this stuff. We have a bet that a certain minor character that died is (or isn't, I say) going to come back in a later movie as a result.

There's a lot about this movie that is really well done, too. The production values are quite good. They eschewed the trend of making things darker, both with the physical setting and attitude, and kept it light, even when things were, plot-wise, dire.

Strangely, the music is sort of disappointing. Michael Giacchino, who did the marvelous scores for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, never really delivers the goods with a iconic, hummable tune a la Alexander Courage (who wrote the theme to the original) or Jerry Goldsmith (who wrote the movie theme which became the theme for "The Next Generation").

Maybe I'm just a grouch, here, or still burnt out from past disappointments, not feeling energized (no pun intended) by the new stuff, and not excited enough by the old stuff to really have that carry me through.

It's not that I thought it was bad, it's just that it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Haunting In Conneck-ticut

It's a trope of horror stories that the (typically doomed) protagonists are not happy-go-lucky types with the world at their command. Unhappiness, disease or other disturbance is usually the lot of characters about to be visited by some supernatural evil.

Which, you know, kind of sucks for them, quite apart from all the horror they're about to go through.

There's a difficult line to tread here. At it's best, horror is often (but far from always) an analysis of real life problems, but for movie horror in particular, you don't necessarily want to create a grim story where beleaguered people suffer increasingly horrible fantastic events, while continuing to suffer realistically horrible events.

Which is the line that The Haunting of Connecticut treads very carefully, and maybe not always successfully. This is the "true" story of the Campbells, a financially stressed couple with three kids whose oldest has cancer. The father (played by stalwart character actor Martin Donovan) is a recovering alcoholic whose fledgling contracting business drains the family bank account, while the mother (by longtime Maelstrom favorite Virginia Madsen) shuttles the sick kid (Kyle Gallner) back and forth from Connecticut, where he receives treatment, to their home in...some place eight hours from Connecticut.

OK, this didn't bug The Boy (and wouldn't have bugged me at that age, either), but I confess to finding it uncomfortable enough seeing a child (Gallner is in his 20s but he's playing a teen) racked with cancer and suffering from chemo and radiation to where I tend to demand more out of a movie that uses those things as somewhat incidental story elements.

Anyway, the family makes the logical conclusion that they should relocate, at least temporarily to Conneck-ticut. (Pronunciation courtesy of recent birthday girl Katharine Hepburn in, I think, Philadelphia Story.) But the only suitable place they can afford has some history, so they pass--until the trip gets to be so long, Madsen can't bear to put her son through it any more and so settles on the house with the history.

The movie gets off to a slow start this way. Unlike many horrors where we have a hard time seeing why the characters don't extract themselves sooner, this one puts us pretty squarely in reasonable shoes. We see how they got there, and the initial signs of hauntings are experienced almost exclusively by the sick kid--who is undergoing treatment that apparently might cause hallucinations--we see why they stay.

In fact, it's not until relatively late that anything indisputably supernatural occurs. There was a point where it looked like it might all be in the kid's head, which would've been an interesting twist, though not the marketing boost that a supernatural "based on a true" story is presumed to be.

Rounding out the fine cast is Amanda Crew as the niece-who's-handy-for-the-shower-scene and another stalwart character actor, Elias Koteas, as the priest with all the answers.

So, good acting. Pacing that starts slow but picks up about half-way in and stays pretty solid.

The Boy liked it a lot, and more than I did, but we both appreciated the change in tempo and character, as the movie got more supernatural, and the ending, which wasn't the sort of knee-jerk nihlism that plagued the After Dark horror festival.

Maybe due to the Amityville connection--the couple that pimped the story when it "happened" back in the '90s, were the same couple that pimped the Amityville Horror--it felt a little bit like a throwback, but overall this is a decent movie.

True story? Not so much.

Government: Is there nothing it can't do?

No, that's not a rhetorical question.

I'm just wondering, with all the things the government is doing, like stealing from unfavored groups to give to favored groups--which, when the government breaks a contract to do, is theft, after all--if there is anything that supporters of the current administration would say, "No, nu-uh, they can't do that."

After all, Obama's doing everything Bush did. Gitmo, interrogations, rendition, eavesdropping, increasing executive power, etc., etc., etc. And he seems to have claimed authority over private business--finances, automobiles, health care, and salaries--so, really, answer me that.

What can't the government do?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All Clear

OK, so tests came back and everything's fine.

Phew.

Everyone's happy with the results. No need for further tests. And my dietary numbers look good, too. Well, not good, but better.

I'm still not allowed to exercise. Exercise may have contributed to the situation, actually. (Though my money's still on the antibiotics.)

In any event, I'm good to go. I live...again.

UPDATE: And pardon my manners. Thank you all for being so supportive here. Means a lot, even though I wasn't all that communicative about it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Victoria's Faces

Haven't seen Victoria from Sundries around in too long. She had a run-in with a Dell on March 1st, and never seems to have recovered. Sadly.

In memoriam, here's a linke to one of her old posts, "Faces" which, from what I've read of it, is a nice piece of writing and history. It's a look at faces of the silver screen.

Enjoy!

More Trooper York Fan Service

TCM and I have a Twitter relationship now. (It was inevitable.)

So when I followed this tweet, I thought of Trooper York: TCM's five favorite bathtub scenes! Er, no, five favorite movies with bathtub scenes. (There's a difference, I'm sure.)


  1. SPARTACUS (1960)

  2. PILLOW TALK (1959)

  3. PRETTY WOMAN (1990)

  1. THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932)

  2. THE WOMEN (1939)
Not bad. I think I would've picked--er, excluding the late night Cinemax movies which often have some stirring bathtub scenes--some Westerns. When I think of baths in movies (before considering actual titles), I think of Westerns, movies set in Ancient Greece or Rome, or maybe Japan.

I've having trouble thinking of specific titles right at the moment. The Cheyenne Social Club? I think Fonda and/or Stewart bathe in that one. Clint Eastwood was always taking a bath, it seemed like. Even in Gran Torino! Caligula had a lot of scenes in and around a bath....

OK, here's one: My Neighbor Totoro. Great kids/family movie. Bathing is significant in that one. Though not as significant as in Spirited Away, which takes place in a bath house that services "demons". Both Hayao Miyazaki.

Nightmare on Elm Street. Great horror bath scene. David Cronenberg's Shivers (aka They Came From Within) had a horrifying bathtub scene used in some of the movie posters.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more horror bathtub scenes I can think of: The Shining, the absolutely horrifying drowning scene in The Changeling, Final Destination. Geeze, between Psycho for showers and these movies, it's amazing anyone ever gets clean.

Friday, May 8, 2009

This Guy...

...is so gettin' some:

“Apparently the guy was getting ready to rape his girlfriend. So he told the girls to get down and he started shooting. The guy jumped out of the window,” said Bailey.


Hell, the guys should be queuing up.

Seriously, though, he missed the second guy. More time at the range. The would-be rapist has been picked up, allegedly.

No word on whether College Park is a gun-free zone or if the student who saved the lives of his ten friends would be prosecuted.

Lists You Should Not Take Seriously

Actually, most of them should not be taken seriously. But this one here is called "14 Bizarre Movies Everyone Should See".

Do.

Not.

Believe.

It's not that these aren't good movies, nor that a serious student of film should have many of these on their list, but they are not at all "everyone should see" people-pleasing films. The whole premise is flawed. A great many people do not like bizarre movies. They should not be subjected to them. As a cinephile, I do enjoy many of these movies, and yet feel equally confident knowing that some people just would not enjoy them or find viewing them enriching experiences.

Some of these are slam dunks. Like Scanners. In some ways, David Cronenberg's break-through movie, and a surprisingly deep and thoughtful horror film, for a movie which is most notorious for having a guy's head explode. But the funny thing about it is that while the gore early on in the film is enough to rule out a good portion of the potential audience, the sedate, '70s hippie vibe that permeates the rest of the movie is enough to turn off a lot of those who like exploding heads. (The great Howard Shore scored the movie, but it's hard on the ears.)

Clockwork Orange is in some ways very similar. Higher production values, obviously. But very much a combination of brutal violence and high art that is really not something that everyone has to, or wants to, see. And some folks just plain don't like Kubrick.

Which brings us to Mullholland Drive and Eraserhead? Look, you probably know if you like David Lynch by now. There isn't something magical about these movies that's going to change your mind.

Same for Brazil (Terry Gilliam) and The Wall (Pink Floyd).

And so on. It's not a bad list for someone looking for some interesting cinematic experiences, though it's certainly not the list I would make. But everyone? Not even close.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Things That Make You Go WTF?

Or at least me, anyway. I don't normally read Atlas Shrugged, but Pamela Geller has had some interesting stuff up lately, like this chilling pointer to an essay on how Obama is changing the country from one ruled by law to one ruled by men.

He's not the first, of course. This has been ongoing for longer than we've been alive. But the brazenness is noteworthy. Just as disease acts as a stressor to a body's systems, attacks like those noted--dismissing contract law to favor a political ally--are a stressor to the country's systems. The effects will be bad; the only question is how bad.

But that's not what made me go WTF. This did. It's a poll showing what percentage of Democrats and Republicans blame the Jews for the financial crisis.

Wait, what? Blame the Jews? Yeah, it's awful that such a large percentage (32%) of Dems do, but it's no great shakes that 18.4% of Reps do, either. And those are just the moderate-to-great blamers! 38.4% of non-Jews blame the Jews at least a little!

Why, in this most PC time, is this even imaginable? Do people blame The Blacks for crime? The Whites for slavery? The Men for domestic abuse? Wait--some of those are okay to do, I guess.

Maybe that's the clue.

The problem with having protected classes and unprotected ones--saints and villains--is that it's easy to move a class from the saintly to the villanous as circumstances arise.

Still, you'd think the Jews would get a little long respite, what with the Holocaust and all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Medicine and Technology

The Boy and I watched an interesting demo today on a device that monitors blood sugar continuously for 72 hours. I was a little disappointed by it, because I thought it was going to be something like a watch you could look at to see your blood sugar at any time. Instead, it doesn't transmit the information at all. After the 72 hours you remove it and a computer reads the data.

How positively medieval.

This is all a come-on for an insulin pump. If I had known that, I probably wouldn't have bothered. Two extra trips downtown (one for the demo and sensor insertion, one to drop off the sensor later) for something I don't think we'll be using, but it was kind of interesting. The basic premise is simple enough: You wear an external device that acts sort of as a pancreas.

The pancreas does more than produce insulin but, hey, it's a start.

Anyway, the boy raked the rep--who was, of course, cute and hot, as all such reps seem to be--and the doctors over the coals: What were the bugs? What could go wrong with the system? His syringes sometimes leak, what if that happened? What if his blood sugar dropped too low at night? How would he know what his blood sugar was at any given moment?

The technology is pretty good, though, and delivers small amounts of insulin over time rather than big loads, and apparently can actually do so based on blood sugar readings from the sensor. (Via wireless bluetooth! Now we're talking! The rep said one guy had the readings hooked to his car GPS.)

Part of the appeal of this is that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want.

But, you know, what if that's how you got into the mess you're in in the first place?

The Boy's numbers are looking good anyway. In the two months since we started the diet his scores have dropped 20% (lower is better), and he's started lowering his insulin again. (This time, theoretically, he should be able to keep the insulin lowered.)

The outlook for me is not so rosy, unfortunately. My numbers are rather dire and getting worse, and despite a checkout from a doctor, I'll be having X-rays and bloodwork done tomorrow. So wish me luck. (Again.)

I Found A Million Dollar Baby (In A Five-and-Ten Cent Store)

I can't remember when I first heard the title of this song. I think it was a running gag in the B.C. comic strip, though I might've first heard it in an old Warner Bros. cartoon. I thought it was a joke. I think the first time I actually heard it sung was in a short-lived action TV series called "Tales of the Gold Monkey".

It's not a joke, of course, just a whimsical relic of a bygone era when life wasn't nearly as good--yet you'd never know that from the popular culture. Not that they didn't have their sad songs, stories and movies, only that they didn't wallow in it.

There's an optimism and sweetness to it that is common in the music of the time. Listening to it now, in the way it was listened to then--say, for example, this recording by Bing Crosby--we have a certain distance from it. Horror movies like Jeepers Creepers and The Shining have used this distance to create alienation, the jauntiness seeming weirdly misplaced. Sometimes--say in the Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters Pennies from Heaven--there's a manic quality.

Very often, though, it's simply given a melancholy cast. Think of The Green Mile, as Coffey watches and listens to "Cheek to Cheek", that zephyr-lightness moving him to tears as those around him contemplate his grim fate.

You can listen to that tune and impose your own emotion on it, as you see fit.

It was a lucky April shower
It was the most convenient door
I found a million dollar baby
In a five and ten cent store.
The rain continued for an hour.
I hung around for three or four.
Around a million dollar baby
In a five and ten cent store.


Most of the brilliance of the song is wrapped up in that one contrast. Today, it would probably have to be a trillion dollar baby in a 99 cent store.

She was selling china
And when she made those eyes,
I kept buying china
Until the crowd got wise.


Of course, it's just a nicely rhyming cliché about "making eyes", but don't most human relationships begin with eye contact? Case in point, Freeman Hunt's intimidating baby. Or, a look across a bar, if you like. Even just a picture, if done right, can make you feel like you have a window into someone.

The inevitable confirmation comes next:

Incidently
If you should run into a shower,
Just step inside my cottage door,
And meet the million dollar baby
From the five and ten cent store.

Now, they didn't dwell on these things much--we're already 1:20 into the song, let's wrap up what we're trying to say.

Love comes along like a popular song
Any time or anywhere at all.
Rain or sunshine
Spring or fall.
Say, you'll never know when it may say hello
In a very unexpected place.
For example, take my case.


Well, we gotta fill out the 78, so we'll have Bing do some scatting and repeat the opening versus, but this'll fit nicely on one of those folded single sheets, with a nice picture on the front and the remaining three sides holding the music. We'll sell it for four bits.

Can you imagine? That's how they used to make their money: Writing songs and selling the sheet music. My first piano teacher got one of her songs published that way right about the time she retired. (I was maybe four or five.)

This, like the music itself, is what it is. And whether we cast a dismissive or nostalgic eye on it is up to us.

Just remember: You'll never know when it may say hello.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Links You May Have Missed, But Probably Would Like To See, If Only You Knew About Them

These are for me as much as you. I'll thank me later. Mostly from Twitter.

Via Freeman Hunt : The blog of Milton Friedman's "Free To Choose" PBS series. Funny that for all the PBS crap I got shown in school, this wasn't among the viewing options.

Via Andy Levy via Allahpundit: Face transplant story with pictures. Amazing.

More on the voucher situation from the WSJ: "If, however, you are a pol who piously tells inner-city families that public schools are the answer -- and you do this while safely ensconcing your own kids in some private haven -- the press corps mostly winks."

Also, today is not the day where I wish I sent my kids to public school.

27% of all marketers suck? Sounds a little low to me.

Funny and short: Why copywriters should be native speakers.

Cringely talks about the future of television on the Internet. It's interesting.

Hot: Bill Whittle schools John Stewart on the history behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The beauty of being a useful idiot is that you never have to research and you never have to say you're sorry. Because, damn the facts, you're right, and Harry Truman was a war criminal.

Lastly, Tabitha Hale aka Pink Elephant Pundit has started doing a radio show/podcast/audio blog/whatever the hell the kids these days are calling it. Episode One is here. I was going to listen to it, but there's, like, the entirety of "Walk This Way" at the front and that used up any time I had, plus confused me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fan Service

I asked, Trooper York answered. What this blog needs, apparently, is more pointy breasts. For those who don't know, by sheer whimsy, the Bit Maelstrom ended up #3 on a search for "pointy breasts" in Google. (Below womenanswers.com and above the urban dictionary.) And for most of 2008, visitors came to this site looking for cheesecake. Since I've not posted any real breasts since November, we've slipped a bit, and are now drooping at #13.

I've nothing against breasts, mind you; I've developed no aversion to the fairer sex. It's just a matter of integrity. Or something. I just haven't been watching the right sorts of '50s movies to provide examples. And now that Troop has his own blog, I feel a little like a pretender before his cheesecake-posting grandeur.

Nonetheless, since he made the request, I submit for your approval, one Kim Novak.

More perky than pointy, really.

I love Novak because at 21, she played opposite a 36-year-old William Holden (Picnic), and a 25 she played opposite a 50-year-old Jimmy Stewart (twice, once in Vertigo and once in Bell, Book and Candle), and did it with a gravitas that made it all seem plausible and not creepy.

Scarlett? Natalie? Either Jessica? Lovely and fine though they are, could they carry a Vertigo? Even with broad-shouldered help from a Stewart or Holden? I don't think so.

Organic?

Freeman Hunt tweeted an article on organic being unsafe relative to other foods. This is probably true, if you take the entire category of foods that slap the word "organic" on their box/package/can, whatever.

The usual attack on "organic" begins with "organic doesn't mean anything" or "it means 'containing carbon'". But, of course, since the '40s at least, it's meant "raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals", presumably going back to the earlier meaning of derived from or pertaining to living organisms. Then, of course, there's a larger, vaguer meaning which has to do with adherence to a particular set of dogma as varied and splintered as Christianity.

The premise of "organic" is that modern agricultural techniques result in less nutritious food, or food that otherwise has unwanted side-effects. If only, the argument goes, we had the nutritious food of the 19th century, we might all live into our 50s.

Actually, it's easy to snark, and harder to make truly substantive points here. Many factors led to the earlier deaths of our ancestors, including (perhaps) a lack of food, but perhaps not the general quality of food when you could get it.

My suspicion is that many modern agricultural techniques are truly harmful, but only in the slow, ticking time-bomb way that is rather preferable to the less slow, horrible approach of starvation. The organic market is one that places a premium on long-term health (they presume) over short-term economic gain.

The yin to the synthetic pesticide yang is mineral depletion of the soil. It's really not debatable that the foods we get in the market are not optimal, nutrient-wise. All you have to do is stop by a roadside vegetable stand or pick an apple off a tree to know that something is lost in transit.

Whether that's due to the soil we can debate, and I'll take that up at a later time. The point is, if mineral depletion of the soil is the key element, a product can be certified organic, be produced with the greatest attention to health imaginable, and still be as bad or worse than non-organic food. (For simplicity's sake, I'm ignoring the myriad shams.) As bad, because just like their conventional counterparts, they lack the nutrients. Worse, because without conventional treatments, they're susceptible to all the same diseases with none of the protections.

So, it's not at all surprising to find "organic" foods more susceptible to disease or bearing disease: Between the charlatans, the well-meaning-but-ignorant, and maybe some bias in the research, I would be surprised to find anything else. (See the earlier discussion here about raw milk.)

I don't have any kind of magic bullet here. Obviously, the ideal would be to test food items for both the presence of various substances: poisons, pathogens, phytochemicals, minerals, and so on.

Tricorder anyone?

Well, That Sucked!

I basically lost April from that damned ear infection, which now appears to be cleared up. My ears aren't right yet, but that'll take longer.

I started doing the same nutritional program as The Boy, only a bit more severely. I've just finished two weeks without meat, sugar, white flour--you know, all the good stuff.

Perhaps surprisingly, this hasn't been particularly hard. Despite Trooper posting pictures of pastry. (Hey, the best thing is still on the menu.) And I have eaten like this before, even if it was as a strident, organic-lovin', tofu-munchin', birkenstock-wearing post-teen.

Guess I should've kept it up.

Anyway, meat should be okay, at least in small quantities, after a while. And I don't plan to always be saintly. But for now, I'm on the wagon.

Weep for me.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Children Are Our Future: They'll Be Paying All The Bills, After All

There are some things that just make you say, "Really?" Like, when the teamsters union gets all pissy because Mexican trucks are allowed on our roads, and then you find out that there's a whopping 97 Mexican trucks on American highways.

So, because one group was mildly threatened, draconian measures have been taken, resulting in draconian retaliation. I'd wonder who can blame countries that retaliate by hiking up tariffs--and countries around the world apparently are reacting to the various little Smoot-Hawleys the President is building--but I'd hope that someone, somewhere, in charge of some country gets that while one-way free trade isn't fair, by blocking it, you only hurt yourself.

But the one that gets me the most is this beauty: Obama cancelled a successful voucher program in DC, including 200 scholarships already sent out. The most powerful lobby in the state, maybe in the country, controlling the lives of millions upon millions of students, regardless of how poorly they educate them, was threatened by a handful of poor souls who had managed to escape.

So they had to uproot these kids. Give them a taste of the good life, then take it away. And who's taking this opportunity away? People who send their own children to private schools, quite possibly the same ones these kids will not be going to.

Politics is always stupid. It's a shame that it's often mean as well.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 13: Another example of why living with a three-year-old is like living with a drunk.

Scene: The Barbarienne is climbing on top of the laundry hamper, balancing herself somehow on the edge, when suddenly she vanishes behind the couch and a loud THUNK is heard.

"Are you okay?"
. . .
"That was awesome!"

Lymelife: Life's little tics.

Return with me now to the glorious year 1979, when the air was dirty, the only thing uglier than fashion was interior design, and the children were expected to be more mature than the adults.

Lymelife is a new movie from Derick and Steve Martini, who are (amusingly) too young to remember the time they're writing and directing about! But they do a good job, mostly, of capturing the time. If I were to quibble, I'd point out that the fashions are maybe a little too restrained, that there was never a disco song playing on the jukebox, and oddly, I swear that when they showed angry Iranians, they showed them with an effigy of Reagan, which doesn't make any sense.

Also, there was a discussion of the Falklands and how it would result in the older boy being mobilized sooner. That didn't make sense to me. It might be true, but since Falklands was several years later and a British conflict that they resolved easily on their own, I think, I'm not sure how it was likely to be an issue. Also, prior to the conflict, nobody had ever heard of the Falklands.

As long as I haven't actually talked about what it's about, I'd like to say that this movie has an awful tagline. To wit: The American Dream Sucks. This movie isn't really about the American dream. It's really just a coming-of-age story where the flow is interrupted by parents who think they can treat their relationships casually without affecting their children.

The story is focused on 15-year-old Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) who adores his father, Micky (Alec Baldwin, who's so good at playing an asshole, you start to wonder how much an act it is) and can't figure out why his worried, unhappy mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy) is such a drag. He's being tortured by his long-time female friend, Adrianna (Emma Roberts) who clearly likes him but is hanging around older bad boys.

When the story begins, Scott's mother is duct-taping his clothes shut so that the ticks don't get him--there's apparently an outbreak of lyme disease on Long Island--and he gets to listen to his parents fighting about whether he can go hunting, and the girl he longs for is not returning the affection, and he gets beaten up by a bully.

The other family in this drama are the Braggs, Adrianna's parents. Charlie and Melissa (Timothy Hutton and Cynthia Nixon) have their own problems. Charlie has lyme disease, maybe, though it's obviously pretty advanced, and Melissa--who dresses in a '70s porn style (which was not uncommon back then)--sells real estate in Mickey Bartlett's office.

At this point, the story practically writes itself, but the catalyst for the events that unfold over the next 90-odd minutes is Scott's older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin), on leave from the Army. Jimmy knows a lot more about what's going on between mom and dad, and the relatively naive Scott ends up having his worldview radically altered.

The Boy said it was good, but he asked me later if there were any "feel-good" movies out that we could go see.

We do seem to be steeped in movies about dysfunction. And none of the wacky comedies we've seen lately have turned out to be wacky comedies.

Sad thing is, I couldn't point to any! Maybe we'll go see Monsters vs. Aliens.

So, yeah, it's a good movie, but enough of the dysfunction, you know? I know it means you get taken seriously, and the actors like it because they get to act up a storm, but it's low hanging fruit. Especially in this case, where there's not much else going on.

With Is Anybody There? you have the old-folks angle, and with Sunshine Cleaning you have the crime scene cleanup, but here--like The Squid and the Whale--you just have a family coming undone.

Again, good, but it can be a tiring diet.

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