Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World Cup Finals Party Ideas

With the World Cup ready to enter its quarterfinals stage, I'm gearing up for having a celebration for the finals match coming up in a few weeks. The plan is that food and drink and decoration will correspond the two countries in the finals--for example, if Spain and Brazil face off, we'd be drinking sangria and doing Brazilian bbq. If Germany is in it, a nice lager and alpine hats. If Argentina makes it, we will NOT be playing the Evita soundtrack. In fact, I shall preserve my guy cred by pretending I never even heard of Evita or this thing you call "musical theater."

Of course, this plan has its drawbacks--what do we do if Ghana makes it? I don't know what the Ghanese eat! I once had a roommate who was from Ghana but she always cooked Italian food if that tells you anything. And Netherlands--okay, I can drink a Heineken like the best of them, but what food do they eat besides pot brownies? Though on the other side, they did have some Dutch rock songs that made it big in the early '70s ("Venus" by the Shocking Blue and "How do You Do" by Mouth and McNeal. But imagine hearing those two songs on a continuous loop? You'd end up strangling me with my Argentine sombrero!).

If only the Irish and Italians could have been in the final--then I could have sat back with a pizza and a Harps like the best of them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gods, Generals, and Blood

Last night's film was the Civil War epic, "Gods and Generals", featuring Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee. The film was a punishing 3.5 hours long, but featured excellent set piece battle scenes. (I'll admit I don't really understand people who choose to re-enact Civil War battles on weekends, but apparently hundreds of them were used for this film and really did a great deal to add to the realism of the fighting). The action covered three key battles--First Manassas (where "Stonewall" Jackson earned his nickname), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, and drew heavily on the religious and fatalist worldview of the Confederate generals.

The film also drove home this point--we Northerners got screwed when it came to generals! Ambrose Burnside is accurately portrayed as an unimaginative moron, and Joseph Hooker comes across as a worthless tool. The historical record is no better--McClellan, McDowell, Fremont--each Northern general sucked! Meanwhile, the South gets brilliant soldiers like Lee, Jackson, and this guy who I wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley. The two best--or at least most celebrated--Union generals were a war criminal (William T. Sherman) and a nut who fed his men into a meat grinder (Grant--you could say Grant was ahead of his time, as his tactics were about as brilliant as those of the soulless WWI generals on the Western Front). This is exactly why an outnumbered and ill-equipped scrappy band of NASCAR ancestors was able to run circles around the U.S. Army for the better part of five years.

Next time it's only fair if the teams get to pick them.

Monday, June 28, 2010


The past weekend was a busy one, with a lot of moving parts that had to come together just right. My plan was to take my girlfriend Shannon to brunch to celebrate a year of dating, and propose marriage right after. She was not aware of these plans, though she had a good idea something like that was going to happen this summer.

After a delicious brunch, I made some lame excuse about wanting to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in the direction of the Capitol--something about wanting to see what the World Cup games schedule would be as announced at one of the local bars. Once the backdrop of the Capitol was in view, I did it, and the look of joy and surprise on her face was terrific. That wouldn't be the only surprise for her that day though.

My parents were in town, ostensibly to visit, and after the engagement was official Shannon knew that they were here to join us for dinner and celebrate. First though, we had snacks and white sangria on the balcony with them, where we visited and chatted about all the big plans coming up. We then dressed for a nice dinner on Capitol Hill, after which we would step into one of the bars to have a celebratory drink.

In the bar's downstairs area, we'd managed to round up a couple dozen of our close friends--some of whom came down from NYC for it--and again, she was completely floored. A night of visiting and celebrating would of course be hard felt the next day, but it was a joyous occasion and completely right--Shannon and I both value our friends greatly and it was important to have them there for it. And now, it just seems to be the beginning of the festivities, and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Questions About Terminators

Here's my problem with the "Terminator" movies. Time travel is a terrific concept for science fiction, whether it falls into the "you can't change the past, only confirm it" camp or the "you can change the past and it'll have effects you can never anticipate" camp. The Terminator movies went with the latter camp--in the first film, the hero Kyle Reese went back in time to protect the mother of his boss (John Connor) from California's future governor (Gray Davis wasn't available, so they went with Arnold Schwartzenegger). As it turns out, Kyle impregnates Sarah Connor, making him his boss's dad and thus totally changing their workplace dynamic. But it raises a lot more questions, besides "what sort of weirdo pimps out his underling to go back in time to pork his own mother???"

The first question is, once the evil robots realized that their scheme didn't work--the Terminator did not kill Sarah Connor--then why, when they had an improved version of the Terminator for the sequel, did they not simply send it farther back in time to kill Sarah Connor when she was a child in the '60s? And again when she was snorting coke in a disco in the '70s? Or even ten minutes earlier than they tried in the '80s? The point is, with time travel you can keep it up infinitely. For that matter, when the humans sent their own Terminator to protect Sarah and a young John Connor from the new and improved Terminator in the sequel--in fact, they sent one that conveniently looked like Schwartzenegger as well! You'd think they could have made one that looked like Chuck Norris if salary negotiations broke down--why could they not send their protecting Terminator back to the time of the first film? We could have witnessed an infinite number of Terminators battling it out for eternity!

For that matter, why didn't the bad guys just send a Terminator back in time to kill a young Kyle Reese? Or the parents of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese? Or the guy who invented poofy pants?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Judge Judy for Supreme Court

One activity I always enjoyed with my father whenever I was home on vacation on a weekday was watching episodes of "Judge Judy". You could always count on her exploding with rage at some poor sap who is (a) an idiot (b) a sneaky but not sneaky enough liar and (c) someone who had never seen the show before and didn't know what they were in for. I have now been watching a lot of the show's cases on Youtube and it's a guilty pleasure.

One thing my dad and I agreed on despite our political differences was that Judge Judy should be on the U.S. Supreme Court if not for the fact that she wouldn't want to take the pay cut. (Note--Judy's bailiff makes more each year than our Supreme Court justices. And he should, since he has done far less to make a mockery of the legal profession than they have). Consider the possibilities of Justice Sheindlin:

1) Senators at her confirmation hearing being told that on their best day, they're not as smart as her on her worst day.

2) Top litigators from firms like Cravath or Skadden being told not to pee on her leg and tell her it's raining.

3) Opinions being written in ALL CAPS.

The more you think about it the more you realize it's not a bad idea. Judge Judy doesn't have any obvious political biases (at least none that show up in her "court" cases); she has plenty of experience as an actual court judge prior to having her TV show; she is basically free from scandal. Hell, FDR put a Klansman on the court (Hugo Black), and Eisenhower made a Chief Justice out of the guy who as California Governor happily rounded up Americans of Japanese ancestry to put into camps without trial during WWII (Earl Warren--which explains why he tried to repent as a bleeding heart afterwards. But screw that guy, he's still a bastard for that).

Let's hope the President reads this when the next vacancy comes up!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our Entertainment Industry Should Be Scrapped and Replaced With Whatever They Use in Uganda

Television in the 1980s generally sucked, with the exception of a handful of decent sitcoms (e.g., Cheers). This was partly because the '80s were suffering a polyester-based-disco-bland hangover from the previous decade, and we were still trying to get our heads together, man! Also, the people running the major networks had the brains of a pot of dirt. On the list of people who destroyed culture, with the inventor of poofy pants ranking a "1" and the practitioners of the "Electric Slide" ranking a "10", the big network execs of the '80s rank about a 43.

They brought us dreck like "Knight Rider" (mulletted Hoff bringing justice to people across the country with his talking Trans Am). The "A-Team" (a group of 'Nam vets including a man looking like Mr. T who was able somehow to elude the authorities, while pitying many fools). "Manimal" (a show that brought shame to both man and animal). And of course the wave of nostalgia has already brought a TV reboot of "Knight Rider" and an "A-Team" movie (no word yet on developments for "Manimal").

News flash--some things are better left to the dead! We don't need a "Mr. Belvedere" movie, or a 2010 version of "Dallas". Are we that far out of fresh ideas? (Scanning the TV listings--yes, yes we are.)

But, as an enterprising entrepreneur, I say think ahead. Two decades from now the nostalgia for the 2010s will kick in, and I plan to cash in on the wave of film versions of "Dancing With the Stars" and "Jersey Shore".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cleopatra Casting

File this under "find something more important to complain about". (Yes, I note the irony of me complaining about something as petty as a complaint that I consider petty). The gist of the opinion piece is that there's something wrong with casting Angelina Jolie to play the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra because Jolie is white. Let's begin with the obvious.

CLEOPATRA WAS GREEK. And I don't mean modern Greek, with the financial collapsing and hatred of Turks who never did anything to them except perfect the kabob. I mean ancient Greek, with the plays and the gods and battles that were inaccurately described but man you weren't there so you wouldn't understand. She was descended from the Greek generals who served under Alexander (literally, ha ha get it, Alexander was totally Brokeback Macedonia if you get my drift). There was likely some interbreeding in her genetic tree, but as the author of the article concedes, there's really no more evidence that she was black than white Mediterranean.

That said, are there better reasons to not cast Angelina Jolie? I'll start with the most obvious--she has not appeared in a film that did not bomb in quite some time (you'd have to go back to Tomb Raider, a hundred years ago). In fact, her career has hit the "Oscar Curse" (also known as Halle Berry Syndrome) which has bedevilled so many actresses in the past--winning and Oscar and seeing your career disappear. The last major film about Cleopatra was the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor epic, "Cleopatra", that wrecked its studio financially and in adjusted dollars was the biggest bomb of all time. Shouldn't the studio be a bit wary of this perfect storm of box office poison?

Soccer's World Popularity

Why is soccer so popular around the world except in America? (By which I mean "United States of", not "South America" or "Central America" or "Latin, sombreros not togas, America", or the dreaded Canadia. No one really knows what is popular in Canadia, since there's too much snow on the ground for them to play any sport not involving a puck) It seems this question comes up every four years during the World Cup, when everyone from Koreans to Africans to Danes are glued to their televisions and wearing their national team's colors, while Americans wonder what the fuss is all about.

The popularity of soccer is in its simplicity--it is the easiest game to explain to someone. Consider this:

Baseball--one team's in the field, the other team is at bat. The team in the field needs three "outs", each of which can be gained by the pitcher throwing three "strikes" into the strike zone without any hits, and a foul counts as a strike except not the third strike, or an out can be had if the batter hits the ball into the air and the field team catches it before it hits the ground, or gets it to the base before the runner or tags the runner. After three outs, the field team gets to bat, and this happens a total of nine times unless a tie in which case extra innings.

Football--the team with the ball has to advance the ball by running with it, or throwing it to an eligible receiver without dropping it, but the passer cannot throw it after he crosses the line of scrimmage which is the line on the field where his team started the play. The team on offense has four tries (downs) to get the ball at least ten yards, after which they get another four tries, eventually hoping to reach the defense's end of the field for six points. If they don't make it in four tries, the other team gets the ball, but usually after three tries you can punt the ball to the other team to give them worse field position, or try and kick the ball through the uprights for three points. You can tackle or beat the hell out of anyone carrying the ball, but don't get too aggressive because the referees are a bunch of Nazis about that.

Soccer--each side tries to kick the ball into the other side's goal.

See? Simple. And remarkably easy to play. If a bunch of kids want to play baseball, they need to get a bat, ball (maybe several because these get lost easily) and enough gloves for all the fielders. Then they need bases, and probably protective equipment for the catcher, and the name of a good glazier for all the windows that are going to get destroyed. For soccer? Just one ball.

So that explains why soccer is the most popular sport outside of the United States--but why isn't it more popular here in the U.S.? That's because we like to be different. It also explains why we haven't adopted the metric system either.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chocolate Factory Madness

Everyone who was ever a kid (this excludes certain test-tube adults) remembers the joy of Roald Dahl's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and the 1971 screen adaptation, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" starring Gene Wilder. This was the film that had it all:

1) Pushing sugary calories on young children;

2) Child poverty--apparently despite the film's contemporary setting, there was no welfare or food stamps or child services agencies and a healthy boy could be raised on cabbage water;

3) Slave labor--notice that the Oompa Loompas were provided "protection" by Mr. Wonka in exchange for unpaid labor;

4) Child murder;

5) A psychadelic boat trip that screwed up a generation of kids.

Wonka, as it turns out, is a viciously insane man who concocted a clever contest to select an heir for his candy factory, using the best screening technique possible--putting a "golden ticket" in five candy bars that were distributed among the billions of candy bars sold around the world. The golden tickets give the bearers the right to take a tour of the deathtrap that his candy factory was, and apparently the kid who survives various accidents would be the one to take over the factory when Wonka retires. Now, what if all five tickets went to rotten kids, instead of humble, well adjusted Charlie Bucket? Well I suppose Wonka would need another contest to murder another group of kids, until a good one finally came along!

The lesser known sequel to this film was "Willy Wonka and the Board of Health".

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soccer is Now a Leftist Plot?

And all this time I wasn't aware that soccer was a left-wing plot! Apparently, Glenn Beck--who is the answer to the question "why can't I find right-wing pundits who don't have all that sanity getting in the way?"--is pushing this idea that the sport is being rammed down Americans' throats by a leftist media and their willing helpers in schools and little league organizations. Why would the liberal media take valuable time away from things like spreading lies about good conservatives and otherwise destroying America just to push this sport?

Quite simple, friends! Soccer is a sport that Americans don't dominate, unlike baseball and hockey and competitive eating . . . wait a minute! That last one! The Japanese must have been pushing competitive eating down our throats, pun intended, in order to make us sorry for Hiroshima! (And to be sure, I do feel some guilt about that--we easily could have nuked some less worthy country instead, like Greece, just to put the scare into the rest of the world. The Japanese, we now know, would have surrendered as long as we promised them fetish videos and car sales) And hockey? More like hokey! Hosers! Damn Canadian plot to destroy us and make us eat poutine (which is quite delicious, though fattening). And baseball is dominated by Dominicans.

Where oh where can I find a safe, Glenn Beck-approved sport that isn't part of some worldwide leftist plot to weaken our American resolve? How about Jell-O wrestling?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Picking Soccer Winners

In watching the World Cup, it is often difficult to choose a side between two teams that you have absolutely no connection to. Uganda versus Pakistan? Who to root for there? A lot of fans will root for their home country, when that country is in the game, or otherwise perhaps the country that their ancestors hail from. Other times, you might root for a country that you always wanted to visit, or a country that has always been a good ally to the United States (which is why I'll often root for Australia when they play a team I have no connection to).

Sometimes I'll try to root against the country that has the most deadly animals (Brazil is home to the Goliath Spider, so they'll often get rooted against unless they play against Burma, which is home to the saltwater crocodile). Then there's the "which country has a cooler looking flag" in which case Nepal gets an automatic advantage, as does Kenya (spears and a shield on their flag) and Mozambique (a freaking AK-47 on their flag--the flag alone could invade several countries).

But watching North Korea play against Brazil yesterday I found myself a new reason to root for a country. I actually found myself feeling pity for the North Korean players, knowing that the longer they stayed in the tournament the longer it would be before they'd have to return to the living hell they call a country. Go North Korea!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Inglorious Basterds

Last night I finally got around to watching Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds", his WWII epic (though is 2 and a half hours an epic?) which features an alternate universe where SPOILER ALERT Hitler and his top goons get killed in the end. There were some noticeable Tarantino trademarks--circular panning shots, Mexican standoffs, countless references by characters to obscure films--and some were missing for obvious reasons (such as '70s references and shots of womens' bare feet). A few observations:

1) It was hard to take two of the accents in the film--Brad Pitt's overdone Southern accent and Eli Roth's overdone Boston accent--and the accents weren't really necessary for their characters.

2) The main villain--Colonel Landa--was excellent, sort of making you wonder if his character was a reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes or Columbo, with his disarming conversation and ominous terror lurking beneath the surface.

3) Mike Meyers? Really???

4) Interesting also that the theater plot at the end was carried out by two completely uncoordinated plots--the Basterds with their bombs and guns, and Mlle Dreyfus with her plot to burn the theater with the film stock. The intersection of the two plots worked very well.

5) The concept of Nazis in constant fear of Jews was a good one--and sort of reflective of the postwar hunting of Nazis by the Israelis. However, the Basterds in this film, unlike the real life Nazi hunters, used terror and brutality, repaying in kind what the Nazis themselves delivered.

6) It was very hard for me as a fan of "The Office" to take seriously the actor who plays Ryan the Temp as one of the Basterds. Same goes for one of the Geeks on "Freaks and Geeks". Oh, the horrors of typecasting!

7) I do like that Tarantino made a point that the Nazis' criticism of how Americans treated blacks--even as late as the 1940s--was exploitative. Not that the Nazis were kind to blacks, of course, but we weren't exactly saints ourselves.

8) Damn subtitles!

On the whole though, the movie was quite entertaining. It got me thinking though--over 60 years since the fall of Nazism--will we ever have such movie villains to take their place? A vile ideology, ruthlessly efficient and powerful, bent on world domination, snappy dressers--perfect foil in the movies.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Room

One of my guilty pleasures is watching films that are gloriously terrible. There's something about a film that fails on an epic scale--we're talking Xanadu or Roller Boogie here--that makes you drawn to it. And then there are the unintentional comedies that get more laughs from you than the best Mel Brooks farce. Friends, the 2003 film "The Room" is one of those films.

To get an idea of what I mean, check out this clip or this clip.

Basically, this film is the brainchild of actor/director/writer/producer/sociopath Tommy Wisseau (he's the guy with the rock star hair in those clips). He plays Johnny, a banker (despite having hair that belongs in an '80s hair metal band) who is "madly in love" with Lisa, who apparently has no redeeming qualities. She has fallen out of love with him and is cheating on him with his best friend Mark. How does the viewer know this? Because she basically tells everyone in the film, from her friends to her mother to the trolley car operator.

What makes the film miss on all cylinders is that nothing is put together right. At one point early in the film, Lisa's mother tells her that she just found out she has breast cancer. Despite the mother appearing in several more scenes, this issue is never brought up again. Same goes for one of the peripheral characters having a drug problem and owing money to a dangerous thug. For some odd reason the male characters are always tossing around a football, including in one scene where they're all wearing tuxedos. Why are they wearing tuxedos, you ask? Well the film certainly isn't going to tell you!

As you can also see from the clips above, the actors generally are off cue, as though they aren't really in the scene together. A typical line of dialogue is as follows:

"Did you get the promotion?"


"You didn't get the promotion, did you?"

In another scene, Mark asks Lisa why she has the candles and sexy music, even though there is no music or candles. And at some points, actors call each other by their real names rather than their character's name.

The film has actually developed a bit of a cult following, with people attending midnight screenings and Tommy Wiseau even stopping by for some of them--it has, ironically become a bit of a hit as it's quite hilarious to see the film miss so gloriously. I would highly recommend viewing it and trying not to laugh out loud at least once.

Friday, June 11, 2010


The news of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is depressing in that "oh crap we're going to be feeling this for a while" sort of way. Everyone deserves to take a chunk of blame for this one. BP, for obvious reasons--drilling in waters that deep without an adequate contingency plan for something going wrong with the equipment. The federal government, for being so lax with its regulations and so sluggish in its response. And the rest of us, for our insatiable desire for sweet, sweet oil.

When it's all said and done, this will probably end on its own, with all the oil from that particular oil mine (or whatever you call that reserve of oil that they were drilling) running out because no one will have figured out how to plug the leak. BP and the feds--essentially the Beavis and Butthead of this ordeal--will both try and take credit for stopping the oil flow, which is sort of like a farmer taking credit for a rainstorm ending. The escaped oil will take a decade to clean up, while the ecosystem in the Gulf will be wrecked for much longer than that. Tourism and fisheries will be destroyed there, harming an already weak economy. And the oil slicks will warm up the waters in that area enough to make for some punishing hurricanes. At least the federal government has been good at responding to major hurricanes in that area!

The problem is, at this stage there's not much that can be done. Perhaps sinking some large vessels over the leak could stem the flow, or building sand berms along the coast (at the beginning of the crisis) might have done something. But now, trying to clean up the mess is sort of like drying off patio furniture in middle of a rainstorm. Everyone's frustration over this isn't going to do any good--the cow is out of the barn.

With that unhappy thought, let me divert you with this amusing spoof of the BP spill.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Primer

With soccer's World Cup about to begin, it would be helpful to answer some common questions about the sport and this competition, as to many Americans this is considered a foreign sport.

Q: Why do they call it "football" overseas when we Americans know that football is really supposed to involve tackling and cheerleaders and beer commercials?

A: Europeans know very well that their sport is called "soccer" and they call it "football" just to piss us off. Apparently they forget that we saved their asses in two world wars.

Q: How come it seems to always be some Latin-based country that wins the Cup, such as Italy, Brazil, or Puerto Rico?

A: Brazil isn't actually a country.

Q: Why is soccer not as popular in the United States as it is overseas?

A: Soccer is usually pushed on American kids at young ages, by fathers who are trying to re-live their own childhood glory through them. The trauma of having screaming fathers holler at their kids and coaches alike has made an unpleasant association with the sport as we grew older. We watch other sports on TV and drink beer to escape.

Q: How come you're not allowed to touch the ball with your hands?

A: The sport was obviously invented way back in the day before humans evolved hands. The first humans to develop hands were considered to have an unfair advantage, so no one was allowed to use them in the game. The rest is tradition.

Q: Is it true that some Central American countries riot and even start wars over soccer game results?

A: Yes, but in the sport's defense those countries didn't have any religious or ethnic or political differences--they had to come up with something to go to war over.

Q: Does the United States have a chance at winning this year's World Cup?

A: Sure! And the L.A. Clippers have a chance at winning next year's NBA Finals.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Only in Film

Only in Hollywood films...

1) Do people's grocery bags always have a long loaf of French bread in them, so that you can tell the bag is filled with groceries. No one ever goes shopping without getting a loaf of French bread.

2) Do people get shot in the arm and still retain use of the arm later. No one ever suffers severe enough nerve or muscle damage to render the arm completely immobile.

3) Do people get into bar fights, with chairs and bottles broken over them, without suffering the sort of damage that requires a trip to the hospital.

4) Do average people in fights land perfect punches, rather than the sloppy slappy hits that you usually see in real life.

5) Do people who not look at or react to the explosions that they set, because they knew the exact second the explosion would go off and even a loud bang or rush of heat isn't enough to break their cool stride.

6) Do people regularly repeat what is being said to them over the telephone, just so anyone overhearing the call can figure out the conversation on the other end.

7) Do dogs and cats always sense unnatural and paranormal presences. Because of course a heightened sense of smell means you can tell if there's a ghost in the house.

8) Do couples laying naked in bed have the sheet manage to cover the woman's entire upper body, and only the lower half of the man's body.

9) Do people in shootouts throw away their gun once it's empty. Because of course they'll likely never have another use for that gun, or find more bullets later.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Keeping with the theme of classics, last night's film was the 1931 version of Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff playing the monster. As it happens, the whole thing went wrong for the doctor because his assistant brought him an "abnormal brain"--which was inexcusable, since the jar the brain was sitting in literally said "abnormal brain" on the label. People! This is what warning labels are for! Needless to say, the monster ends up going on a rampage, mostly because he's a dumb brute.

But what if they'd put in a normal brain? Then we'd have been treated to 71 minutes of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster playing cribbage and bitching about taxes. (That's what I'd do with my non-murderous monster). Which means box office poison!

So of course the monster goes nuts, accidentally murders a little girl and the film culminates in a torch-wielding mob. I'd like to think that if in that situation I would, like Homer Simpson, lead the mob in wise and positive directions--maybe point out that the real monster is within ourselves and we'd be better off getting some iced cream. Alas, the mob surrounds and burns to death the poor dumb monster. You actually feel some sympathy for the abused brute, as he was never really evil but only trying to defend himself and his killing of the little girl was more an accident and frankly she was old enough to have learned to swim, especially since she lived next door to a lake. But one lesson that wasn't learned? That we shouldn't re-animate life. After all, if Thomas Edison quit inventing the first time he electrocuted to death one of his assistants, we'd never have the lightbulb. To think, Frankenstein might have gone on to create a whole society of calm, rational monsters that would by now be well ingrained into society, like the Irish.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nosferatu--A German Classic

When friends tell me why they don't want to become a vampire (and this conversation happens with disturbing frequency) their argument is usually based on the idea that becoming a vampire isn't really "living" and they wouldn't want to trade regular living for being undead. To that I say, bah, flimshaw! What about when you're at your deathbed, with only days to live? Wouldn't you be happy to make the trade then?

I think of this as I saw last night's film, the 1922 silent German classic "Nosferatu", which was based off of the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula. The story had to be changed slightly, as well as the names, because the Stoker family wouldn't release the rights at the time. Little did the Stokers know, they're story would eventually be bastardized by 1995's "Dracula--Dead and Loving It!" bomb. But the 1922 film--starring the very creepy Max Schenk (who apparently needed very little makeup)--was excellent, worthy of the source material it sort of ripped off.

Being a silent film, you'd think it wouldn't convey the horror of the vampire, but you'd be wrong. You'd also be wrong to think that after this film was released the Germans could never come up with anything quite so creepy again! (10 years later the Nazis would take power. Eek!). Without the benefit of sound, the director has to put a lot more effort into imagery and setting, and it definitely shows. These aren't the sparkly vampires that today's tweens (and the future stewards of this country, which is why I'll be in El Salvador when everything goes to pot). This is full out, monstrous, long fingernail-claws, haunt your dreams vampire. This is the thing that if you ever saw it in your backyard at night you'd lose your lunch.

The theory goes that the vampire legend originated in medieval Europe ("medieval" being Latin for "partly evil") based on the characteristics of rabies victims. Since they didn't know what rabies were at the time, anyone bitten by a rabid bat would exhibit symptoms of avoiding light, causing paleness, and a feral quality of biting others. Plus, an aversion to deliciously pungent garlic. Plus, have you ever tried holding a mirror in front of a person with rabies? They have no reflection at all.

That said, it's a pretty solid legend, and has spawned some decent literature and film. Just keep those sparkly emo freaks away, we don't need that crap.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Last night I also saw the 1954 movie, "Them!" (not to be confused with 2006's "Them", a French suspense-horror film reviewed below) which answers the question nobody asked--namely, what would we do if nuclear testing created a race of giant ants that attacked us?

Folks, here is why no one asks that question. Nuclear testing is more likely to kill living things than it is to turn them into giant, unstoppable monsters. This is why after Hiroshima was bombed we weren't suddenly overrun by thousands of giant, man-eating Japanese people. (Though that would have really been something). And even if ants were made gigantic, they wouldn't be able to support themselves on their thin legs. And even if physics were defied and the ants could support themselves on their thin legs, they wouldn't suddenly develop a taste for humans.

The film opens in the New Mexico desert, where cops find a trailer that was bashed in and sugar cubes laying around. Since this was 1954, they didn't jump to the logical conclusion that Roseanne Barr needed a sugar fix. (Yes, 1991 called and asked for its joke back). They find a catatonic little girl who survived the attack, and later she screams "Them! Them! Them!" because apparently going "Giant F***ing Ants!" would have upset the censors. Sure enough, they find a scientist who suspects giant ants all along, because he's a nutjob. Fortunately for him, they see some of these big ants so no one tosses him in a rubber room where he can no longer be a threat to himself and others.

You can imagine the rest--they locate the ants' nest in the desert, and dump plenty of cyanide gas in there. But because the movie has only gone for a half hour at this point, you know that that's not the end of it--one of the queens had escaped and made it to Los Angeles, where it was hiding in the sewer system. In real life, this means the end of the ant queen, because it would have been mugged and spray painted by some of the Crips and Bloods that run that joint, or at least it would have been stuck in traffic for quite some time. But now, the military has arrived!

But before they can poison the L.A. sewers, it turns out there are two young boys who somehow got stuck in the sewers with the ants. One military guy makes a valid point:

Insensitive Military Guy: "I say we poison the sewers right now."

Hero Who We're Supposed to Think is Smarter: "But there are two kids down there!"

Insensitive Military Guy: "So you want to risk the lives of thousands of citizens for the sake of two boys who are most likely already dead?"

Hero Who We're Supposed to Think is Smarter: "The kids' mother is right over there. Do you want to be the one to tell her that???"

Insensitive Military Guy (looking at the sorrowful mother): "Ah, hell you're right...."

Uh, WHAT??? Military and government operations are all about probabilities--we take actions all the time that are likely to cause some deaths if it drastically improves the chances of saving more lives in the long run. The Military Guy had made a valid point--two people who are very likely already dead should outweigh the entire city? All because it's too hard to face a grieving mother??? I like Insensitive Brando Guy's answer:

"Okay I'll tell her. Lady, your kids are dead. Here's a phone number of someone to console you. Bring out the poison!"


Last night's film was "Them" (not to be confused with "Them!", the '50s giant ant movie), a french film about a young couple staying in the Romanian countryside who are being terrorized by a gang of masked intruders. The film is very similar to (and perhaps inspired) the American film "The Strangers" and it of course gave me the same gun-happy reaction. After all, a lot of problems could be solved with a 12-gauge. Think you're tough now, Mister Home Invader? Not so tough without all those internal organs, are you? Weep, freaktard! Weep over your missing organs!

On the whole, the film was well done--for most of it you don't see the tormenters, which is key with horror-suspense, as it gives you a sense of wonder and despair. The couple's reactions to what was happening to them were reasonable, and it is easy to care about them and hope they make it in the end. But I couldn't help but feel that so very many of their problems could be solved by putting on a lead convention, with VIP passes for the intruders. You know what they say--in a land without guns, the knife-owner is king. I don't want to live in that world!

If this movie were a documentary made in the future, covering a country weekend with my fambly where some intruders decided to attack us, the movie would be about six minutes long.

Intruders: Knock, knock! We're coming in to torment you!

Brando: Hey guys! Look what I picked up at the Charlton Heston Expo.

Intruders: Oh, crap!

[Scenes of almost cartoonish violence]

Brando: I hope my dogs don't mind extra lead in their intruders, because we're out of Alpo.

Yes I should totally be a screenwriter.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Big Chill Made Me Ill!

I've long blamed the Baby Boomer generation for most of society's ills. And last night's film didn't endear me to them any more! It was 1983's "The Big Chill", starring a number of "soon to be famous" faces, like Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum. (Kevin Costner apparently played the corpse, but you don't see his face. He should have fired his agent!)

Basically, a bunch of rich thirtysomethings who were buddies at college in the '60s get together for a friend's funeral--the friend had committed suicide--and they start to reminisce and whine and moan and OH GOD WHY ISN'T THERE A SERIAL KILLER STALKING THIS HOUSE? IT'S FAR ENOUGH IN THE COUNTRY THEY COULDN'T GET ANY HELP PLEASE PLEASE KILL THESE ANNOYING PEOPLE. By and large, they've each become financially successful, if somewhat "unfulfilled" because their jobs aren't the idealistic ones they'd hoped for back in their hippie days. One is an actor on a cheesy Magnum--P.I. type show; one is a writer for trash mags; one is a corporate lawyer; you get the idea. It would have been a great time for a Matt Foley motivational speech, where he could point out to them that there are people who can't make their ends meet and perhaps even LIVE IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER so maybe these rich jerkwads can SHUT THEIR PIE HOLES and be glad that they're able to feed themselves. It might have also been a good time to point out that maybe their hippie commune ideals from twenty years ago were idiotic, and perhaps exactly what one would expect from college kids who have more emotions than brains.

Yes, we got out of a lousy war in Vietnam, but things are more complicated than the hippies would believe--right after we left the North invaded full scale, and millions of South Vietnamese were either butchered or forced to flee in leaky boats. Any moron who actually tried living on a commune quickly saw that subsistence farming is no idyllic paradise, which is why we don't all live on communes today. The Chicago Seven were just a bunch of rich spoiled violent idiots who needed a good clonk on the head more than anything. And all that hippie crap only created a reaction among the rest of the country that resulted in five and a half years of Nixon.

Perhaps a realization that there's more to life than patchouli and not shaving--now, that might have been a thoughful movie! Instead, we're presented with a sort of longing look as though it was a bad thing that the hippies grew up and sold out. And then of course it got stupid.

One of the women--the unmarried, corporate lawyer who now only works for companies that "rape the land" as if the land could consent to sexual relations, but let's not nitpick--wanted to have a baby so she threw herself at no fewer than three of the guys at the reunion. I note that this isn't a "can you donate sperm for artificial insemination" type thing--rather it's a "let's shake some bedrpings" sort of thing. Wonderful mother she'd make! Maybe she should have stood on a highway with a sign offering rentals of her ladyparts.

Anyway, here's where it gets even more stupid--one of the guys' wives asks her husband to indulge this friend by sleeping with her so she can have a baby! And at no point does anyone think "hey, we can do this artificially" or "hey maybe you should find someone who is willing to actually be a father to the kid, since single parenting isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world and it might be selfish to do this as a vanity project". The guy actually sleeps with her, and afterward his moron wife is grinning at him stupidly. (Granted, the wife was Glenn Close, and I think most men would prefer to shave with a cheese grater than be with Glenn Close) It just added an extra layer of dumb onto what was already heaping.

Sorority Goes All Genghis Khan on Some Venue

One thing about sororities is that they have struck a great blow for women's rights. That is, women's rights to be as asinine as their male counterparts! Fraternities have long established their reputations as the places where young men can drink for sport, engage in exclusive if questionably homoerotic rituals, and make lifelong friends with a group of people you're lumped in with who also are willing to pay dues and live in a hovel while in college. At some point, the campus ladies said "hey, why can't we also be drunk and catty and exclusive?"

One of the more egregious examples was a sorority event that apparently wrecked the venue this past March. Now, most sorority events I've heard of involved the usual--extreme drinking and rowdy behavior--but no serious damage done. Reading about this case with the Pi Beta Phi Sorority (hailing from the great state of Ohio, which produced two of our Presidential failures, Grant and Harding) it makes you wonder--what on earth is wrong with these people? Breaking sinks by copulating on them, leaving feces in urinals, throwing plates full of food, destroying the floor, walls, and facilities--how proud their parents must be!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Gores Split

The news that Al and Tipper Gore are splitting up came as a surprise, but in retrospect it really shouldn't have. There's something about a couple being so lovey-dovey in public (including the nauseating "get a room!" kiss at the 2000 Democratic Convention) that tips you off that there's something wrong. Contrast that with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who in public seem to be icy cold and downright hostile to one another. Folks, that's the sort of marriage that lasts! If for no other reason than because they want to stay together out of spite.

How can you tell if a marriage will last? Here are the signs of a healthy marriage:

1) Rather than mushy nicknames like "boo boo" and "honey bear" they call each other things like "sport" and "ace".

2) They don't hold hands when they walk down the street, because then what do you do if there's a lamppost between you? You'd be stuck! Don't risk it!

3) They refer to the children they had together as "your kids" or "your little monsters" or "your nightmarish fiends that ruined my hopes and dreams".

4) They shake hands when they meet at airports.

5) They don't pick each other at company picnic softball games, because marriage may be one thing but damned if they have a weak throw.

Too bad for Al and Tipper, but think about this a minute--had they split up before the 2000 election, would that have made any difference as to Al's chances in the presidential race? Should it have? And if so, why?

Memorial Day

While for me, Memorial Day weekend means an extra day off and plenty of beer and grilled meat, the loud rumblings of motorcycle engines by the Mall--part of "Rolling Thunder", a motorcycle rally in honor of America's POWs and MIAs from Vietnam--reminds me that the holiday has a much deeper meaning for those who lost loved ones in our country's wars. The holiday dates back to our bloodiest war, the Civil War, when over a half million soldiers lost their lives.

Cynical as I can often be about this country and what goes on here--from politicians who I wouldn't trust to run a lemonade stand, to random idiots making and supporting terrible movies, to obnoxious bastards who can't seem to drive properly if their lives depended on it--we still have more freedom than anywhere in the world (and before you start mentioning other democracies, keep in mind that France bans a lot of religious symbols, England has "no entry" lists banning famously controversial people, and Canada? They still have someone else's Queen on their money. Freaks!). This country is also responsible for more good in the world than any other nation and our soldiers and sailors and Marines and pilots have risked and often lost their lives in doing this good--most of them a lot younger than I am.