Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Six Things Meme Is Back

And Gilligan done tagged me with it!

The Rules
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Write six random things about yourself.
4) Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5) Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six random things about me:

1. When I was a kid fishing, I caught a bullhead catfish so big that it wouldn't fit into the bucket I kept my caught fish in (I would let them all go before I went home; I was like an alien abducting fish in that way, although I didn't anally probe them). I had to tie it to my bike. It pulled my bike into the water.

2. Speaking of anal probes (and I often am), Carl and I once went to the same Denny's every Wednesday night after class for three weeks in a row. Everytime, we ended up talking about Whitley Streiber's Communion and how it was either a suppression of his childhood abuse memories or a sublimation of his desire to be anally raped. We had the same waiter each week, and every time he came over to the table just as I was saying "anal rape."

3. I once spent 20 minutes telling four college classmates that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was really an allegory about a kid discovering his own penis.

4. For as much as I write about myself, I really think I'm very boring.

5. As much as I hate the social networking sites, I'm on Blip now. I blame Darius Whiteplume. He will pay. He will play.

6. None of my tags are going to be serious because so many bloggers I read have already done this.

Kat Dennings
Demi Moore
Diablo Cody
Stormy Daniels
Mickey Mouse
President Barack Obama

Saturday Playlist

1. Duran Duran: Save a Prayer
2. The Incredible String Band: Nightfall
3. Delta Spirit: Ode to Sunshine
4. Bob Dylan: If You See Her, Say Hello
5. Tori Amos: Girl
6. Leonard Cohen: Famous Blue Raincoat
7. David Bowie: Young Americans
8. Otis Redding: Good to Me
9. Moby: God Moving Over the Face of the Waters
10. The Cars: Just What I Needed

1. Kind of mellow for Duran Duran. One of my babysitters told my mom they were the new Beatles back in '83. That's just silly.
2. From the beautiful album The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. Great stuff.
3. Becca digs Delta Spirit. I think this song was on a commercial.
4. Blood on the Tracks is my favorite Bob Dylan album, even if it is an obvious choice.
5. Second week in a row with a Tori Amos pick. Little Earthquakes is an album I've played many, many times.
6. From Songs of Love and Hate, one of Cohen's masterpieces. A very emotional song.
7. In my top five of Bowie tunes. "It took him minutes, took her nowhere."
8. No one sings soul like Otis Redding.
9. Nice and brooding and sort of epic. I have this on the Heat soundtrack, which is actually the first time I ever heard Moby.
10. Nice closer; always a good closer. Shame this ended up on commercials, too, because the song always makes puts me in a good mood.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Throwdown 3/27

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Recently, I posted those Sky Aliens vs. Predator ads. I should’ve mentioned, actually--and I feel bad not mentioning it now--the excellent webcomic Alien Loves Predator, which these ads kind of, you know, rip off. ALP has been around for long enough now, you know? It’s also linked here at EC as one of my comics links, but to make up for not mentioning it when I should have, here’s another one. It’s awesome reading.

2. Did you hear about the subtitles for Let the Right One In? Apparently the subtitles on the American DVD are significantly dumbed down from the screener copies and the film as it played in theaters and film festivals. There’s a
very compelling comparison at Icons of Fright; the argument is that all of the subtlety and nuance has been lost and turned into Basic English. It’s a shame, honestly; I’ve not seen the film yet, but I don’t think I want to see the “See Jane Run” version of it, either. The company that pulled this dick move, Magnolia, has announced that it will re-release the film with the original subs, but refuses to let fans who have already bought their versions exchange them. Which I’d say is a crock of shit, except this is why a benevolent internet god created BitTorrent.

3. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have announced that, despite writing Transformers and its sequel, they will not be writing the recently-announced third movie because they don’t want to risk getting “stale and comfortable.” Yes, I’d hate the authors of The Legend of Zorro, The Island, Mission: Impossible III and both Transformers movies to suddenly lose all of their astounding creativity.

4. I suppose this is what passes for clever writing when you work for E!: Five Reasons Julia Roberts Is Too Old (or Not). Surprisingly, one of the reasons is not: Because Hollywood Is More Superficial Than a 12 Year-Old Girl. I’m hardly a fan of the woman’s acting, but the idea that she’s too old is as ridiculous as the idea that any actor is.

5. I saw this snarky little bit about how Audrina Patridge was “getting a real job for once.” Turns out that it’s hosting the Movie Awards for Australian MTV. Awards show host is a real job? This is what I don’t get about gossip blogs: constantly being told in minute detail how Audrina Patridge or Kim Kardashian or Lindsay Lohan don’t “contribute anything” and aren’t worth constantly scrutinizing in minute detail. Who gives a shit if Audrina Patridge has a “real” job or not? (Audrina’s “real” job is to make my dick hard, and she does that extremely well.) Doesn’t talking about how unimportant she is sort of validate the idea that she’s important?

6. Well, Jessica Simpson lost all that weight. Thanks for nothing, internet assholes. Happy now? I notice Scarlett Johansson is starting to get real skinny, too. The internet will not be happy until every attractive woman is completely unattractive.

7. I’m not sure if I’m down with this flying car/plane Terrafugia. I mean, it’s a neat idea, but all I can think of is some rich kid flying it into someone’s house. Seriously, people can’t even stay on the road in clear weather, what chance do they have with one that can fly? The nice thing about living in a third-floor apartment is that I don’t have to worry about some drunken rich kid crashing into my house with his new car. Now I have to worry about this?

8. Save the environment with the eviLightTruck. It’s electric. From Electric Vehicles International. However unwittingly, did they have to put the word “evil” right there in the name of the thing? It’s hard enough convincing people to give electric vehicles a chance as it is.

9. Romania is considering decriminalizing incest between consenting adults. (It’s not a crime in Spain, Portugal or France.) It’s created quite a swell of controversy in Europe, with lots of arguments moral, religious, and biological being put forth. I think there are lots of arguments against incest that make sense (duh), but I don’t see the need to make it a crime when it happens between two consenting adults. I get irritated when every aspect of someone’s personal, private life is regulated by laws. It’s the sign of a government that doesn’t trust the judgment or sense of the people who live under it. Sure, not everyone has common sense, but does that mean you need to turn more people into criminals as a result? We’re talking about consenting adults here, right?

10. I don’t know, I just thought this story was too hilarious not to share. Michelle Owen, a woman in jail for intoxication, was trying to influence a custody dispute with her boyfriend. She asked the police to search her laptop for evidence that her boyfriend was looking up underage porn. Here’s the twist: she’d forgotten that there were two bestiality videos on the computer featuring her and her beagle. She’d drunkenly made them with her boyfriend. Crime may pay, but spite sure doesn’t.

11. Trouble brewing: the Sunni Awakening agents are the insurgents we paid off to become our allies in Iraq. They were promised permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces back when Iraq was flush with cash, but they’re having economic problems, too. The Shiite-led government doesn’t trust the Awakening, and only about 5 percent of Awakening members have been given jobs. The integration isn’t really happening the way we’d hoped. I’m just filling you in so that, when the next Iraqi civil war breaks out, you’ll know what the problem was.

12. Benjamin Netanyahu has made a secret deal to expand settlements in the E1 area of the West Bank, further encroaching on the Palestinian sector. This is a program that was supposed to be stopped in 2005 as part of a peace settlement. This is going to cut the West Bank in half. And the Israeli government sets the peace process back to zero, yet again. I wonder if anyone in Israel is familiar with the term lebensraum. Man, we really need to defund this.

13. It’s finally happened that companies are using more sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and using it as a selling point. Of course, both are bad in excess, but I’d still go with sugar any day over HFCS. I don’t give a shit that the FDA—the same FDA that doesn’t care about the mercury content in HFCS or the animal feces content in peanuts or the conditions of meat processing plants—considers both sugar and HFCS (with its chemical processing) to be natural. I mean, you still have to be careful with your sugar intake. But I still think it’s safer. I know, I know, no proven link between HFCS and obesity/ADHD/immune system problems/the incredible rise in childhood diabetes/a plethora of other problems I see constantly when I work at schools. Just like cigarettes don’t give you cancer, right?

14. There’s a class action lawsuit in New York that’s been brought against Best Buy. Apparently they’re turning down people who try to use their price matching “guarantee” left and right. The price matching is written policy, but internal documents actively tell employees that they don’t have to honor it. And it also turns out that Best Buy managers are being rewarded with bonuses for denying such requests. At every turn, Best Buy demonstrates why no one should ever want to do business with them.

15. Obama’s Online Town Hall is getting a number of questions about decriminalizing marijuana as part of the health care reform or part of the economic recovery. As to the huge number of questions, Obama laughed dismissively and said “I don’t know what that says about the online audience” before adding “The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.” First off, Mr. President, the online audience had a huge hand in your campaign and voted for you. Mock your constituents at your own risk. Secondly, this is not a joke issue. It’s not trivial. This is a serious issue about freedom, and you need to really answer this question instead of coolly dismissing it. Not everyone who is for the decriminalization of pot is a stoner. The anti-marijuana laws are going to continue to be ignored. You might as well make it work for the country instead of growing the criminal class.

16. This week’s AIG outrage: they’re using our tax money to sue the government for $306 million in tax breaks that were “improperly denied.” Those tax breaks AIG is crying into their pillows over? Cayman banks. Yes, AIG is suing the government that constantly bails it out with our money because the IRS wouldn’t allow them to claim credit for their Cayman tax shelters. And that’s pretty much why the economy is going to completely fail in a nutshell. Just keep holding their hands, Treasury.

17. Meanwhile, in my state of Illinois, we’re being told over and over about how many different taxes have to go up and how many different jobs we’re going to have to cut to make up for an $11 billion budget shortfall. So how is our new governor dealing with this? By including in the budget a cost-of-living increase for himself and lawmakers. It’s about $1 million in the total $53 billion budget, but it’s pretty asinine and high-handed to ask Illinoisans to pay a higher income tax and then raise your own salary. I mean, economic times are tough, but making them tougher on everyone else while you try and make it easier on yourself is exceedingly shitty. And in Chicago, they’ve privatized the parking meters, which is just another way to bilk people of all the money they have. 28 quarters to park for 2 hours in the Loop? How hungry for money is this state? It seems like people are actively boycotting the meters now, and there are a lot of cases of vandalism; the company that owns the meters (and keeps planting new ones in low-traffic areas, seemingly to head off drivers looking to avoid the meters) can’t even keep up with all of the vandalism. (Lots more here for anyone interested.)

18. It seems like we’re starting to hear more and more talk that we’re just seconds away from turning the corner and the worst will be over. That’s the kind of thing Hoover was saying in late 1929. I can’t avoid worrying that Geithner is just making everything worse, and that Obama’s reluctance to really step in where the government can isn’t helping. Geithner’s plan pretty much amounts to federal subsidizing of hedge funds; they buy the overvalued securities so that they don’t have to ask Congress for more money. But with the government subsidizing this, doesn’t that mean that when the securities lose their value, the government’s on the hook for the losses? That means the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, so that means more taxpayer money. Which smacks of taxation without representation to me. Plus the damage it’ll do to the housing industry—decreases in prices due to more mortgage defaults, but with the added securities on top, decreases in demand, and the whole thing spirals into the drain. And if the Fed is buying its own treasuries, how are we going to finance the expansion without just printing more money? Does that mean the value of the dollar is just going to start falling even faster than it already has? I keep hearing that the dollar’s probably peaked. So, that means deflation; except that the recovery bill doesn’t seem to be far-reaching enough to insure job recovery or a wage increase, which means that demand isn’t going to go up, which probably means inflation. So, deflation in the dollar’s value, inflation in prices… things are going to get very bad, indeed. I don’t think we’ve even come close to the worst of it. With summer coming, expect those tent-filled Bushvilles to get even bigger. As I’ve said before, the government has made a huge mistake in trying to deal with this economic collapse: they are protecting debt and making the problem worse. Rather than letting companies get crushed under the weight of their toxic securities (which is the free market, after all), the government is trying to make sure that those companies get paid back everything they lent out, and they’re putting the losses onto the American taxpayer. It’s going to destroy government and private spending for years. And as time keeps moving forward, the government isn’t going to be able to compete in the international marketplace, because we import so much more than we export. We’re not going to be able to pay, so the government is going to default on all that debt (or keep inflating the debts, like they’re doing now). We desperately need a regulatory reform, but we also need to stop acting like America’s massive wealth exists. I’ve said this for over a decade: America’s wealth is mostly theoretical. It exists on paper. And now we’re realizing that a lot of that money doesn’t actually exist and isn’t going to come from anywhere. These companies have to fail, and if that means that some people suddenly see their debts wiped out and have to go elsewhere for securities, so be it. That’s the gamble that financial institutions make. I hear people saying all the time that they don’t want their tax money going to help deadbeats who can’t pay their own way. Well, with bailout after bailout going to failed financial institutions, your taxes are already helping deadbeats. You just don’t get anything out of it. And the government seems to have a hard on for avoiding all of that transparency and accountability we were promised, so where does that leave us?

Must Have

Mythos Buddies by John Kovalic

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My 10 Favorite G.I. Joe Characters

Honestly, for no other reason than I already did Transformers. And where else but G.I. Joe could a curious kid in the eighties learn all about terrorism, genetic engineering, and urban warfare?

10. Major Bludd
Just because he's such a naff villain to have. The earliest days of G.I. Joe (before Serpentor, and even before the Crimson Twins) had a lot of villains that seemed a little more old school science villain-like. Big grapplers like Big Boa and shady mysterios like Firefly (who I always thought was way cooler than Storm Shadow, honestly) and weird characters like Zartan were just this side of creepy, sadistic crypto-fascists, and as a result they seemed like real villains to me. Major Bludd had a silly British accent, an eyepatch, a hunter's mentality and a frickin' cyborg arm. Too awesome.

9. Alpine
Even as a kid, I thought it was pretty lame that his real name (according to his file card) was Albert M. Pine. But he had a cool grappling gun and was a mountain climbing ranger. Plus he was a cool black guy with a mustache; he was like the Lando Calrissian of G.I. Joe.

8. Roadblock
He was like the Mr. T of G.I. Joe. Does anyone know if he was consciously based on Jim Brown or Fred "The Hammer" Williamson? Because he really seems like that guy, doesn't he? The cool black guy who is so cool that he can punch his way through anything. I always love those guys. Shit, I don't care how old he is, why isn't Fred Williamson playing Roadblock in the G.I. Joe movie right now?

7. Destro
How could you not love a shady, arms-dealing villain with a metal mask? How, I ask you?

6. Bazooka
Bazooka had obvious kid appeal, what with always chewing bubblegum and barely speaking (like a kid). He even wore a sports jersey and had a big pornstar 'stache. He kind of looks like a Village Person come to think of it... Moving on. Anyway, I always thought he was funny and neat; he always seemed to barely know what was going on. He was just waiting for something to come along that needed a rocket fired at it, is all.

5. Scarlett
I know, I know, Lady Jaye, blah blah blah. I always liked Scarlett much better. She was less showy and needy about kicking ass. Lady Jaye always needed someone to check out her cleavage. Scarlett was just a tough chick and a crack shot with a crossbow.

4. The Baroness
Hmm, a leather-jumpsuit-clad woman with pale white skin, long black hair, and glasses. I wonder if this had any effect on me as a kid? Looking over at my video game-playing wife, with her pale white skin, long black hair and glasses, I can't quite tell...

3. Snake Eyes
I know he's supposed to be cool because he's the silent, mysterious, ninja badass. But when I was a kid, I mostly thought he was cool because he had a wolf that followed him around. I still have the action figure with the wolf, Timber. Obviously the most purely awesome character on G.I. Joe.

2. Cobra Commander
Has anyone else seen the movie action figure of Cobra Commander? Are you as intensely disappointed as I am? TV's Cobra Commander was incredibly cool, even though he went pretty quickly from being scary to being a goon. Destro and the others kept trying to replace his ass at every turn, first with Serpentor, and then all of that Cobra-La weirdness, and even the Iron Grenadiers (remember the gold-masked Destro?). But Cobra Commander remains one of the coolest villains ever, despite being nearly incompetent.

1. Shipwreck
I know: kind of a lame choice for the top spot. But he was my favorite character just because he was so cool and such a wiseass and hung out with Snake Eyes and had a parrot. I was a weird kid, I guess. I even went as him for Halloween one year, which was a pretty cheap costume; just borrowed a friend's dad's sailor hat, got a blue shirt, and already had the bell-bottomed pants. I painted on a fake beard (I was in sixth grade) and was ready to go. I remember that was the year I got to be in the wax museum at school. My elementary school was grades K-6, and every Halloween the kids would parade through the gym. This was back in the day when everyone would dress up. The sixth graders always got to go back to a dimly-lit gym and put themselves in poses and be the wax museum. Then different grades would be led through, one at a time. We all looked forward to that because the wax museum was so creepy, thanks to the lighting.

Anyway, Shipwreck. My favorite Joe.

Another Great Geek Shirt

Perhaps the Greatest Watchmen Story Ever

Click to make bigger. [via]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Attention Gorehounds

Nora O'Sullivan wants to be this year's Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors Spooksmodel. If you're lucky, you may know Nora as Bubs' Eldest, and I know no one digs horror more than she does. So, you know, maybe you should do what I'm doing and go to the contest page to vote for Nora O'Sullivan. Vote as often as you can and help a young lady out. Check out her semifinalist interview, too. But please make sure to scroll down this page and vote for Nora O'Sullivan!

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

For (I believe) only the fifth time since I started this blog in 2005, I'm going to have to refrain from giving something a star rating. This is a very rich, layered movie that needs to be seen more than once to be fully grasped, I think. I've said before that I am not a fellow traveler of Charlie Kaufman's, but this movie hit me too deeply to be dismissed. It made me feel incredibly sad at times; it moved me in ways I don't fully understand just yet. So, I'm going to refrain from rating this or recommending it (it is a difficult work) until I've thought about it some more and seen it once again.

This MTV documentary at least tried to get Britney Spears to talk about the past couple of years and put into perspective what's happened to her. The filmmakers had a lot of access to Britney, and mostly they use it well. I like that she refuses to see herself as a victim; she has problems with the intrusions into her personal life, but loves what she does and appreciates fully that she is one of the people who have put her where she is. She doesn't blame other people, and that's pretty well-adjusted. I think that on some level she's mystified by how polarizing and fascinating the media want us to believe every aspect of her life is, and she's still uncomfortable with the balance of fame and privacy: she admits that she enjoys what fame and success bring, but is still angry and sad about the price she has to pay in privacy and personal attachments. Like all lives, hers is a work in progress. She's smarter than people give her credit for; her real problem is being sheltered from the outside world. Whose fault that is can be debated endlessly. *** stars.

Oh, the price of boredom. It was okay. I got no problem with Ashton Kutcher. Cameron Diaz, on the other hand... fuck's sake, I'm tired of her. That relentlessly upbeat tomboy she's always playing is providing a thinner and thinner veil for the hostile bitch she generally comes across as. She's helped in this instance because Lake Bell--even more unpleasant, bitchy, unfunny, and unattractive than Diaz--plays her best friend, so the brunt of Diaz's evil is lessened. Kutcher and Diaz play two strangers who go to Las Vegas to recover from bad experiences and drunkenly marry, then get into a disagreement over who's entitled to some money won at the casino and blah blah blah it goes as predictably as you would imagine. Rob Corrdry plays Kutch's best friend--he seriously needs to stop playing this same role over and over, because it is grating. More likable than you'd think, but who really cares? **1/2 stars.

I LOVE YOU, MAN (2009)
I have to admit, this movie kind of blew me away. Not because it's particularly good or savagely funny--it's a nice enough, amiable movie with a predictable plot--but because it's so surprisingly honest about male relationships. At least in my experience. The plot deals with Paul Rudd, a real estate agent who gets engaged (to yummy Rashida Jones) and realizes he has no real male friends. Who's going to be his best man? He ends up meeting Jason Segel, an investment broker who is friendly and honest, and they become very good friends very quickly. Where the movie is surprisingly thoughtful is when it comes to modern male friendships. I realize that most of the movies I've seen about male friends (at least ones not forged in the heat of war or some kind of physical hardship) are already rooted in a friendship that's second nature: friends since childhood, friends since college, etc. You don't see a lot of movies about guys making friends and the awkwardness and uncertainty that sometimes comes with it. I keep hearing this movie called a bromantic comedy, and that really actually describes it perfectly. It's got most of the story beats and devices you find in a romantic comedy, except it's about two guys. I know it always comes across as whining when white guys talk about how hard something is, but it is very hard to find quality male friendships as an adult. I know, because I have very few. (I'm not really a good friend to have, anyway.) Oh, and another refreshing change from too many modern movies: the connection between Rudd's and Segel's characters (and Rudd's and Jones's) was solid and realistic. The relationship challenges weren't the superficial, miscommunication-based, overdramatic overreactions. They felt emotionally realistic. Doesn't it ever feel to anyone else as though characters in relationship movies never really trust each other anymore? It's a sort of shorthand for the romantic comedy genre now and stops a lot of those films from really being engaging or honest. I Love You, Man was different, and for that alone, it deserves praise. Characters aren't defined by mistakes; the movie isn't defined by a cynicism for relationships. And, I have to add, Jason Segel is just beyond cool. He's the perfect guy friend. I adored his character in this and, even though my wife would leave me for him in a heartbeat, he's got a fan for life. ***1/2 stars.

A Disney Channel movie about a girl making a documentary about her relationship with her developmentally disabled twin brother. The brother is played by Shia LaBeouf, and it reminded me of just how good he can be when he really wants to. What happened, man? He was comedy genius on Even Stevens, and in The Greatest Game Ever Played and even Disturbia it almost felt like he could do anything. His performance here is really great, too. It's not over-the-top or cartoonish. Since I started teaching, I've met a dozen kids like the one he plays in this movie: unsure of himself, unable to understand things about the world or even about his immediate surroundings that we take for granted. I know at least three kids who go through the same self-doubt, the same sort of impotent anger and depression and frustration, because they can't understand why they aren't like everyone else and why they can't accomplish simple tasks or why they're so forgetful. I'm not saying every disabled kid is that way--there are some who are very happy and have adjusted, and there are some who take the extra attention to mean that everything they do is wonderful. But in this movie, Shia's character was someone I recognize from daily life and am very sympathetic to. And his performance--and the fact that this very-typical teenager drama didn't shortchange every member of the family by turning them into stereotypes (and didn't expect them to be unrealistically capable of instant change)--elevated this movie from its trappings. *** stars.

(On that note, I want to mention that I TiVo'ed this on Disney Channel. It was airing on a Monday at 2 in the morning. For some reason, Disney has been airing some of its more serious TV movies--such as Searching for David's Heart, which is about dealing with a death in the family, and Tiger Cruise, which is about dealing with the confusion surrounding 9/11--at 2 in the morning. This is coupled with Disney's decision not to air an episode of Hannah Montana because it dealt with a character developing diabetes, which is far more prominent now in childhood than it's ever been before--I've seen the episode, and I don't know what's so offensive about it. These things really bother me, because I think Disney is doing its young viewers a disservice by second-guessing what they should be capable of thinking about. They should be doing more than just selling records to kids. They're infantilizing their audience by keeping movies about difficult subjects from them.)

A powerful movie about black soldiers in the 1940s. When the sergeant of an African-American company is murdered on the outskirts of the Louisiana town where he's based, racism and personal issues cloud the investigation. Howard E. Rollins Jr plays the captain assigned to investigate the murder; Adolph Caesar, in an excellent performance, plays the sergeant in flashbacks. He's tough and mean, but also very layered and fascinating. The movie is filled to the brim with excellent character actors as the company--Denzel Washington (back when he was trying), David Alan Grier, Art Evans, Robert Townsend--and is just incredibly rich and compelling. I can't believe it took me this long to see it. It's a true--and in some unfortunate way, somewhat forgotten--classic of the 1980s. **** stars.

You know, just once I'd like to see something about Jones that doesn't shortchange his non-Warner Bros work (like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Dot and the Line, and his excellent Kipling specials like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi). That out of the way, this short documentary/interview/fantasia is a wonderful snapshot of a master animator at the end of his life, talking about the experiences that informed his understanding of the world and how he would use that understanding in some of the greatest art ever made. Chuck Jones was always an engaging interview subject, and just listening to him tell him stories and setting it to John Canemaker's animation is a treat. **** stars. Not to be missed.

49TH PARALLEL (1941)
A German U-Boat is sunk in a Canadian harbor; six Nazi soldiers escape and try to make their way through Canada to the United States. It's a propaganda film, heavy-handed in places, but there is also a surprising amount of depth and subtlety. In some ways, the Nazi characters are sympathetic and played for their humanity. I'd say they were being played as characters who were essentially human beings who were purposely pushing their humanity aside. What's surprising about the movie is the ways in which that humanity keeps trying to poke through. The movie is an episodic series of encounters with Canadian citizens who cannot comprehend the idea of Nazism or the way they live; they might as well be aliens dropped on a strange planet. The film smartly doesn't portray the Canadians as heroes but as human beings with human failings who need to be shown how the conflict in Europe affects their own lives and cannot be escaped (I assume this was a direct challenge to America, which had yet to enter the war). Overall, it's a very effective film with humanist values rather than patriotic ones. It's not a typical flag-waver (and with Michael Powell as director, I wouldn't have expected one), but an artful argument for involvement. Like I said, there are some places where the film is heavy-handed, and some bad miscasting (Laurence Olivier, overacting as a French Canadian fur trapper, for example), but it really has a power to it. **** stars. (Performance wise, Leslie Howard is wonderful and charming as a writer trying to sit out the war in the Canadian Rockies by studying native lifestyles; it adds some unexpected power to his role that Howard really was devoted to the war effort--not to mention a World War I veteran--and died two years later when his plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe.) (And a couple of other neat mentions--Peter Cushing was a propmaker for the movie; Ralph Vaughan Williams did the sweeping score, David Lean served as film editor, and the great Freddie Young photographed.)

A Note Regarding Vegetarian Hygiene

Look, I don't want to get into a discussion of ideology here. I just want to say this: just because you're a vegetarian doesn't mean you don't have to bathe.

I'm not accusing every vegetarian of this. And, based on the vegetarians I know, I'm not even accusing most vegetarians of this. But there are some of you, and you know who you are.

Oh, no, wait, you don't know who you are. I can tell, because you go outside of your own house reeking like low tide. Seriously, being a vegetarian doesn't automatically make your body stop making stink. It's still a human body, and it needs to be washed. Oh my God, take a shower.

Oh, and you guys who are into the whole "earthy" thing, where you think stinking is perfectly natural and beautiful. Yeah, we started civilization and society to get away from you guys. It's not "beautiful." It's impolite.

I don't want to have to tell you again, guy at the co-op.

Just a note from your friendly neighborhood SamuraiFrog.

Speeding Up the Whole "Being Alive" Process

Yahoo has released their own thoroughly-predictable list of "100 Movies to See Before You Die." I thought about commenting on it, but I comment on a lot of lists here and, frankly, there weren't any real surprises on this one. Everyone has more or less the same lists of 100 great movies, and since they appear on a monthly basis on the internet, they're getting routine and unexciting. Lists like this no longer have any chance of convincing anyone to see anything because, you know, after the 407th straight month of being told you MUST SEE The Searchers or The Godfather or Citizen Kane, well, it gets a little old and easy to ignore.

When is someone going to give us an interesting alternate list? I'm not against the classics in any way--though I still have a hard time being convinced that some of these movies are really classics and not just well-regarded--and I don't think a list is lame because it favors old movies over new ones. It's just, you know, routine.

The only movies I haven't seen on the list are 8 ½, Blow Up (which is actually on my TiVo right now), In the Mood for Love, Wings of Desire and The World of Apu. If I do, does that mean I've seen all of the movies I need to see and am ready to pass from this world into nothingness? If so, I could probably avoid seeing all five. Unless, you know, I get bored.

Anyway, needless to say, it's as subjective as any list. I don't think anyone could make a list of 100 movies everyone needs to see and have everyone agree on it, regardless of personal taste. I think anyone could go their entire lives without having to see The Matrix, frankly. Or even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is an extremely good movie, but hardly essential viewing in the way that, say, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Plague or Moby Dick or Lord of the Flies is essential reading.

And really, is that the aim of these movie lists? To come up with a list of beloved, well-thought-of movies, or an attempt to create a canon of cinematic importance in the way we all (used to) have a sense of literary importance? Because if it's the latter, there's probably a lot of movies on that list that we'd never hear very much of again.

101 Years of David Lean

One of my favorite directors, born today in 1908.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Watch Turner Classic Movies Tonight

Tonight on Turner Classic Movies, they're going to be showing four and a half hours of Chuck Jones programming, beginning with the new documentary Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood. After that, they've got a number of classic short cartoons up, and then Jones' feature, The Phantom Tollbooth. It's going to be great.

It starts tonight at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 15

I have been an absolute prick in the late evenings lately. Just really unhinged and angry, unless I'm distracted by television or something. It's pretty recent behavior, and I just figured out why it's happening. It's the meds.

Since Dr. Tara Atta, DeKalb Clinic, refuses to treat me anymore because my shitty financial/insurance situation is something I've obviously done on purpose to hurt her feelings of Godlike power and not something I'm trying desperately to overcome, I've got to wait until I can see an actual doctor who does their job to get a refill on the beta blocking medication I'm on. I'm supposed to take one pill twice a day, but I'm only taking it once a day. If I take it once a day, I'll have enough to last until exactly the day of my doctor's appointment, 6 April. And then I can talk to him about it. Until then, I've basically got to put up with being Mr. Hyde at night. I'm trying like hell to control my anger, but it's a real problem for me and I get frustrated way, way too easily.

So, Dr. Atta was apparently lying when she told me that if I at least made an appointment she'd give me refills for a year? Awesome. Because, you know, why should your doctor care about treating you when she can just rub your face in her hurt feelings instead? Makes a ton of sense to me.

If I end up in the hospital in the next two weeks because I'm not taking the proper dosage of medication because my doctor refused to treat me, I am going to sue her out of the medical industry, I swear to Christ.

Happy 35th Birthday, Alyson Hannigan!

First Thought After Last Night's Heroes

Rule Number One: Bryan Fuller is never again allowed to leave Heroes. That was the best episode all season long.

Now There's a Birthday Smile

Robert Carradine turns 55 today. The Big Red One has always been one of my mom's favorite movies, and that was the first thing I ever saw him in, back when I was about 8 or 9. I've always been a fan. Happy Birthday, Robert Carradine!

Monday, March 23, 2009

25 Influential Albums (On Me)

I took this meme from Roger, who got it here. The idea is to list the 25 most influential albums in your own life. Introduced thusly: "The title is self-evident, and I'm taking it to mean 25 albums that were most influential in shaping my music-listening tastes for all time. This is, as many have noted, VERY DIFFICULT- mostly because I'm trying to list albums that were truly influential, rather than just being a favorite."

I've tried to list these in the order I first heard them and explain how they influenced my music appreciation.

1. Unnamed Beach Boys Compilation -- My earliest memories of music are really good. I remember my dad used to make pancakes on the weekend (must've been Saturdays, because we went to church on Sundays). My dad and I are both early risers--I almost never get up past 7 at the latest--and my sister used to be when she was very, very young. My dad would make pancakes and bacon and while he was cooking we'd listen to his 8-tracks. The one we listened to most often was a Beach Boys compilation that he made; his handwriting was all faded, I remember. He used a fine point pen to write the label--he's always hated ball point pens (me, too). We liked the bounciest songs: "Help Me, Rhonda," "409," "Surfin' Safari," etc. My sister loved loved loved "Little Deuce Coupe." She and I both still love the oldies, and I'm sure this is why. It also led me, when I was in high school and first heard "Heroes and Villains" on, I think, 20 Greatest Hits, to dig deeper into the Beach Boys and find more than just surfing and car songs.

2. The Best of Blondie -- Dad again. The first time I ever heard Debbie Harry sing "Heart of Glass," I started to feel... something. Something oddly exciting that made me kind of nervous and anxious. I was about 6 years old, so I couldn't explain it then. But I never quite forgot that one of my dad's 8-tracks made me feel... something. It wasn't until I was in high school that I heard the song again and realized what it was and just how much Debbie Harry had influenced me. But she set the tone for things that made me feel something when I was too young to know what that something was.

3. Elvis' Golden Records -- Well, Dad really influenced my musical tastes, what can I say? I'm actually old enough to remember when he bought the first car he ever owned with a cassette player. We had a tiny beige Ford Fiesta, but when my dad bought a station wagon (also some kind of Ford) with a cassette player, the age of playing tapes in the car was born. That was really something else. This was the first tape he bought--though I think he may have had an Elvis 8-track, too, possibly even this album--and we listened to it over and over. More oldies love at an early age.

4. Roger Whittaker, Folk Songs of Our Time -- My mom and my grandparents loved this record, and it was pretty much a staple for a long time. When we got the fabled station wagon, my mom put this record on a tape and we listened to it in the car quite a lot. It was my first experience with folk music, though without the rough quality I would later love in folk.

5. Michael Jackson, Thriller -- The first album we had of new music. Actually, that's not true: my dad had Stevie Nicks' Bella Donna, and "Leather and Lace" kind of affected me, but otherwise I don't remember listening to it much. We listened to Thriller for what seemed like a long, long time. Part of the reason I love music from the early eighties so much is that my mom used to play the radio when we would go to the mall or the Brookfield Zoo. For a while, we played Thriller instead. I still love this album, for the most part (I could never hear "The Girl Is Mine" again and not care).

6. Then and Now: The Best of the Monkees -- This was the first cassette I ever had that was completely mine. They used to show reruns of The Monkees on our local WFLD Chicago station (a childhood spent watching reruns of I Love Lucy, Three's Company, Gilligan's Island, Batman, Green Acres, etc.), and it used to be one of my favorite shows. I used to listen to this tape over and over again on my Fisher-Price cassette player, late into the night, singing along with "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" and "Daydream Believer" and "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and...

7. "Weird Al" Yankovic, Dare to Be Stupid -- In high school I used to say, paraphrasing Judge Harry Stone on Night Court, "I own every album Weird Al ever made. I'm going to marry the woman that's impressed by that." Weird Al has always been one of my biggest comedy influences, especially because of this album (and the song "Yoda"). I could probably do a list of comedy influences, starting with the Monkees and this album, continuing on to first seeing The Best of Saturday Night Live, SCTV, and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on Nick at Nite when I was in junior high, and then discovering George Carlin and Monty Python (albums way before I saw the TV show) in high school.

8. Genesis, Invisible Touch -- I know this is sort of seen now as just a big, cheesy, synth-laden album from the eighties, but it was an album I listened to a lot when I was a kid. My mom bought the tape, but I basically just took it and listened to it forever. In fact, I think my dad had to buy his own copy for the car. There's a great instrumental track on there called "The Brazilian" that, in its way, is my introduction to prog rock. So that's a big influence for me.

9. Transformers: The Movie Original Soundtrack -- Oddly enough, this was my introduction to heavy metal music. I listened to this tape for about seven years until it broke. Now I have the CD. And I don't love it ironically. I just love it.

10. Labyrinth Original Soundtrack -- Besides the fine score (and even as a kid I loved film scores; I used to make John Williams compilation tapes and stuff), this was my real introduction to David Bowie's music. Bowie and Brian Wilson are my favorite musicians in history, so there's a big debt I owe to this album. Thanks to it, I ended up searching for more Bowie at the library when I was in high school and found an amazing wealth of material.

11. Cat Stevens, Greatest Hits -- My mom had about four Cat Stevens records, including Tea for the Tillerman, so I used to hear the music every so often. (My dad also had Buddha and the Chocolate Box on 8-track.) But when she bought this tape and started playing it in the car, another of my favorites was born. The music was just so emotional and spoke to me so directly that I basically fell in love with the singer-songwriter style.

12. Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell -- Another tape I basically stole from my dad. I'd never heard anything quite like it before. It was just so awesome. Building on "The Brazilian" from the Genesis album, it really opened up in me the idea that music could do more than what I was hearing in the stripped folk music and the New Wave on the radio. I didn't know what an arpeggio was before I heard this. And it also awakened my burgeoning love of musicals, too.

13. Billy Joel, Songs in the Attic -- Billy Joel was the first singer I ever heard who really seemed to get what I was going through when I entered junior high. It was after I'd suddenly gained a lot of weight and lost every friend I had as a result. Add to that my parents getting divorced. For three years from sixth through eighth grade, I felt so incredibly lonely. I really felt lonelier than ever before or since--a kind of life-changing loneliness that, quite frankly, I still expect to be the norm in my life, which is probably why I stay in a lot and don't really make friends. Billy Joel's music was especially comforting to me--he just got the anger and the self-dissatisfaction, but put it into music that wasn't whiny or depressing. Listen to some of his lyrics some time: he's putting a lot of abject anger into the language of upbeat pop. This album was the one I especially clung to, with songs like "Everybody Loves You Now" (a kiss-off to a friend that's changed, something I knew something about) and "Captain Jack" (essentially, hating oneself). Still a favorite of mine.

14. The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 -- This was actually the first time I ever heard Bob Dylan. It was also my first experience with Jeff Lynne as a producer. I find that a great deal of the music I've loved has been produced by Jeff Lynne. This album really got to me, too, and never let me go. And there was a lot of lonely stuff on it, too.

15. The Beatles, Rubber Soul -- I didn't get into the Beatles until high school. I knew their music from my early childhood--my dad had 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 on 8-track, but he must've never played them as much as the Beach Boys collection, because it never made a huge impression on me until I was in high school. Talk about an awakening! I used to listen to Oldies 104.3 on the radio every night, but back then, they didn't play a ton of Beatles music. I really got into the Beatles because my library suddenly started carrying the albums. This was just the one that really affected me the most. "Norwegian Wood" and "I'm Looking Through You" were songs that just cut right into me and made me feel like other people understood. It was Billy Joel all over again.

16. Bob Dylan, The Man, the Myth, the Legend -- I'm not 100% sure there was ever an album with that title. But it was the title of a tape given to me by one of my high school English teachers (Mr. Crandus was the first great teacher I ever had). He was getting rid of his tapes, having just gotten into CDs, and I took the Bob Dylan tape. It was all live stuff, but it led me to quickly buy one of my first CDs, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits. The thing I most liked about Dylan right away was how angry and edgy his lyrics were. So many songs just sounded like angry kiss-offs, and it really showed me how creatively you could kick against the pricks.

17. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- There was something about the vastness of this album that really clicked with me. My dad gave me this tape, and my mom popped it in the car stereo and told me to just listen to "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." It was astounding. And the sadness inherent in "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Candle in the Wind" really fit into what was major mode at the time: lonely and angry.

18. Conan the Barbarian Original Score -- Again, I was into a lot of film scores, but this was the biggest one. Listening to the score alone is like listening to a symphony, and the deep, Russian bass power of composer Basil Poledouris is what showed me that what my music professor in college would later call art music was capable of so much more than just being pretty. My only major experience with Classical music as a child had been the Amadeus soundtrack and the usual stuff you hear in the Lutheran church. And, of course Pachelbel. Everyone hears Pachelbel growing up. Poledouris led me to Wagner and Richard Strauss and Smetana and so much more.

19. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes -- Well, it's the same story as Billy Joel, honestly. She took pain and made it into something beautiful and transcendent.

20. The Rolling Stones, Hot Rocks 1964-1971 -- When I was in high school, I picked up a book from Blockbuster Video called The Greatest Movies of All Time. I decided I was going to see every film in the book, thus beginning my life as a film buff (and when I started keeping a list of every movie I've ever seen, which I still keep adding to). One of the movies was The Big Chill, which had an incredible soundtrack that I immediately got at the library. (That soundtrack and the American Graffiti soundtrack, another of my dad's 8-tracks, fed my lifelong oldies love. Or at least added to it.) However, the soundtrack didn't have the Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which was one of my favorites in the movie. So I actually bought this on CD and immediately made a tape. It was on my Walkman for a month. To this day, "Street Fighting Man" is my anthem.

21. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds -- I actually got this because I had been reading collections of old Doonesbury comics in high school. There was a storyline where one character was dying of AIDS, and his one wish was to just hear Pet Sounds again. He dies just as the album is ending and the sound effects of the train passing and the dogs barking goes by. I was stunned by the storyline and went out to get Pet Sounds. I had loved the Beach Boys so much as a kid, and I had recently heard "Heroes and Villains" and was interested in the Beach Boys that I didn't know. And this was a revelation. It was another album that just seemed to get me, to speak right to me. "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" really wrapped me up in its sweeping strings and Theremin and made me feel like a person.

22. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars -- When I started really checking out Bowie, I fell in love hard and fast, buying all of his existing albums within a month. It was amazing, but this is the one that convinced me I had found an integral cornerstone of the ever-growing soundtrack of my life. When I hit track four, "Starman," and heard those strings fly up behind the refrain, it was nearly a religious moment.

23. Leonard Cohen, The Songs of Leonard Cohen -- Listening to Cohen's voice come up out of the dark in a sort of echo... This and Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours became the two perfect albums to listen to very late at night, the volume low, the still sounds of the night coming in the window.

24. Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dave Digs Disney -- Of course, Disney music has always been a big part of my life. I'd never been much into jazz as a kid, but hearing this album of jazz versions of Disney--and we're talking real jazz, not that saxophone-heavy, New Age-style jazz that infected the radio at the time, which sounds like stuff to play in elevators and dentists' offices--was exciting. It reminded me of the stuff Vince Guaraldi did for the Charlie Brown cartoons, which is the kind of jazz I dig much more than any other. This album introduced a whole new spectrum into my musical rotation.

25. The Who, Tommy -- A cliche, perhaps, but it really was one of the biggest influences on me. And it's still a great album to just turn off all the lights and listen to. If you haven't noticed by now, I really do connect to music that's about alienation. Well, here you go.

Just a Helpful Driving Tip

Dear Guys Who Think They Can Drive Like Normal Even Though They're Totally Stoned,

You can't. You're going 20 miles under the speed limit. We all know.

Fair warning: the next time you gradually drift into my lane and cut me off so you can crawl your way to Taco Bell, I'm going to follow you in, drag you from your car, and beat you to death with your own hand.

Your friendly neighborhood SamuraiFrog

More Wild Things


Kristen Bell Mondays