Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween: My First Two Halloweens

I've been doing an autobiographical tumblr for a little while now. It's a sort of chronological pop culture appreciation (it's heavy on the pop culture)/historical context/personal exploration blog that's been giving me the chance to go through old photo albums and scan old pictures that I haven't looked at or thought of in years.

I've gone through the first few years of my life, and here are the pictures of me in my first two Halloween costumes.

This is my first Halloween as a trick-or-treater, in 1978. I had turned 2 in July. According to my Mom, she wanted to wait another year to start taking me out, but I was just too fascinated by all of these kids in costumes coming to the door over and over again. My parents dressed me up in what were then my favorite jacket and cap (I'm one of those cap guys), hiked up the legs of my pants and I was a baseball player. (By the way, I still have this cap. It's in a trunk with a lot of stuff from my childhood. You know, mementos and schoolwork and stuff.)

For some reason, my favorite detail is the beach pail I've got for the candy. It's just such a little kid thing. I used to love pails. I had one of those plastic pumpkin pails forever (they still sell them today). I remember a couple of years with plastic bags, though, and when I was in (I think) sixth grade, I graduated to a pillow case. I think seventh grade was my last year trick or treating. Seventh or eighth. No, eighth. It was eighth grade and I remember instantly feeling like I was just too old.

Here I am on my second year of trick-or-treating. The Scooby-Doo mask appears to be one of those Ben Cooper, Inc. masks. Don't know why I'm not wearing the smock, except they were always pretty lame. Even here, as a 3 year-old, I just didn't like wearing them. Beside me is my sister Jayne, setting a lifelong precedent of being a witch on Halloween. (Though to be fair, at nine months, I'm sure she didn't pick this mask out herself, and she probably only wore it for the picture.)

Both of these Halloweens were in Killeen, Texas, when my Dad was stationed at Fort Hood. I don't remember it very well, but I do remember being Scooby-Doo for Halloween. (Side note: jeez, look at that hoodie. The hoodies I have now are THE SAME COLOR.) I remember that we drove somewhere to go trick-or-treating, too.

I don't remember that couch at all. But I do remember the walls being like that. How strange.

80s Revisited: Pacific Heights

Pacific Heights (1990)
Directed by John Schlesinger; written by Daniel Pyne; produced by Scott Rudin.

"This is a yuppie conceit; this is not interesting to human beings." -- Desson Howe, Washington Post

I remember when I saw this movie the first time. I was about 14, and my Mom rented it from Blockbuster. I remember thinking that this was a creepy thriller, feeling weirdly kind of grown up watching it. So when it was on cable recently, I thought, well, what the hell, I'm in the mood for something trashy.

Seeing it again, for the first time in a few decades, I realize one thing: I have no idea what the hell is going on in this movie. Even having watched it recently, I couldn't tell you what the hell was going on. I mean, Michael Keaton moves into an apartment, trashes the place, fucks with the yuppie couple he's renting from, and then moves on... for what? For what possible purpose? He just sort of cons his way in, wreaks havoc, all because he... what? Why the hell does anything happen in this movie?

I guess it's just a yuppie real estate nightmare. Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith play a couple who invest their money in this beautiful San Francisco home, rent out the apartments inside, and one of their tenants turns out to be a total nightmare. I could understand that if the movie were only about that, but it goes to unnecessary pains to show us Michael Keaton's history as a con artist and these other victims and... who cares? If the movie is supposed to be about terrorizing someone's attempt at landlording, why show us that this guy is a scam artist when his motivations are ultimately incomprehensible? Why not just make him truly an enigma and show only what happens to the couple instead of silly horror cliche scenes of Michael Keaton releasing cockroaches into the building? He should be a force, not a character, which would suit him fine since Keaton seems unable to tone down the comic bug-eyed overreactions.

Matthew Modine is serviceable, Melanie Griffith is very likable, but their conflicts with each other and with Keaton just aren't interesting. There are no interesting characters, so the location and the situation have to fill in the gaps and make us care, and they just don't.

It doesn't even try hard enough to be bad. It's just pointless.

Random Thoughts

:: Boy, it feels like Halloween's already over, doesn't it? Everywhere I go, the focus is on Christmas and Thanksgiving already. It feels like with everything in America, it's all about the marketing push and the build-up and the event is usually an afterthought. (I think, by the way, that that similar attitude is what's going on now with the election; I've been detecting a sudden burst of cynicism, a defeatism that says Romney's going to win... that kind of attitude happens because this election race seems to have lasted for about a year and a half or two years now, and people just want it to be over.)

So, jazzed as I am that so many TV shows have been doing Halloween episodes this year--and they're of varying quality, but they're almost always fun in some way--it's annoying as usual to see Christmas commercials in the middle of the broadcast. And though I'm looking forward to Christmas music and lights, I once again say futilely (again) that it's just too darn early.

And yet, even my own Halloween countdown is starting to feel perfunctory. Tumblr was so alive with Halloween imagery last year, and this year even the blogs specifically dedicated to Halloween are barely even phoning it in. I don't find myself in the mood to watch horror movies. It makes me... not sad, I guess, but wistful. Oh, well. Another year where it petered out early. I'm still going to watch the Great Pumpkin on Halloween.

I think next year I might not do the Halloween countdown. It's not like an official obligation or anything because I never join up with those awesome geek sites that promote it, etc. I always want to be part of that group, or groups of nerdy blogs, but then someone's going to come here and see a tit and then kick me out, because that's what always happens and I'm not the type to really tailor my blog to someone's specific guidelines because, you know, fuck off, it's my way of wasting time and expressing myself, and people either read it or don't. But anyway, my point was that next year I might just put up something here and there, as I have in the past (many years in the past) rather than doing it every day. But I am going to finish this year's.

I believe in Halloween. But I keep seeing pictures of snow in Wyoming and Nebraska and thinking, ugh, it's already winter.

:: Forgot to link these last time, although most of you have probably seen them by now: Ken Levine's hilarious takes on Superman's adoption and adolescence.

:: The AV Club put together a list of the 50 Best Films of the 1990s (part one here), so of course I'm probably going to end up doing the same thing or something similar. I also still have it in the back of my mind to companion my 100 Favorite Films of the Decade with Most Hated Films of the Decade list.

:: The Film Locations of Rosemary's Baby. (Thanks, Sam.)

:: Think I'm about to give up reading the columnists on Cracked. I used to follow some of them on Tumblr, but I'm mightily sick of them babying out like 7 year-olds every time someone thinks they aren't funny. For guys who make their livings ripping on other people, they have paper-thin skins when it comes to criticism, and then it becomes this big debacle of "How dare you lecture us?" or "How dare you be so rude?" or "Go eat a dick." Like... what? You know, not everyone is going to dig what a bunch of white dudes giggle about when they get together, that's life, and you don't seriously expect it to be any other way. I don't know, I feel like I've grown out of that kind of stupid anger and preciousness. I hate it when people are precious about shit. You know you can go through life not being petty and immature, right? You can even be funny without it. I've seen just about every columnist I respected who writes for that site have a little hissy fit on Tumblr because someone made some crack about them not being funny, and I'm just sick of it. Grow up. I can go to 4chan for that shit.

:: The X-Factor is going to have a big delay on its live shows? What other reason is there to watch this show than to see Britney Spears act crazy and do something spacey? I mean, honestly?

:: When I was a kid, I almost killed myself in 6th grade. And then I almost killed myself a bunch of other times, but 6th grade was the first time. And it was because of bullying. It seems today that I can't turn around without reading another story about a teenager who has been bullied into killing themselves. I just read another one today. I don't understand what's wrong with kids today that their bullying is so unrelenting and angry. I've seen it happen on Tumblr. I've had people try to pull it on me on Tumblr; it's infuriating, but it's also really hilarious, because I'm way too old to give a shit if some teenager is pissed off about something I said. But having dealt with depression all of my life, I understand how that kind of relentless bullying can be awful. And kids today have to see it online, which should be an escape; when I was a kid and I went to that prison called high school, at least I'd have a few hours at home of being left alone. The internet is such a curse. Now kids can get it 24 hours a day, and they can internalize it, and they can take their own lives because they think they'll never escape the cruel, blunt stupidity of teenagers.

You couldn't pay me enough money to be a teenager again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Becca!

Happy Birthday to my beautiful, wonderful, awesome, loving, forgiving wife!

Halloween: Pumpkins, Part II

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween: The Maker

Film Week

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

It's not as pretty a movie, but this Michelangelo Antonioni movie reminded me a lot of his own Blow-Up. It's not as urgent a film, but in its own way it's also about a man who briefly wakes up. In this film, though, he doesn't wake up to the world outside of himself, but instead wakes up to himself. Jack Nicholson plays a reporter on assignment in North Africa who, very suddenly, steals the identity of a British national who has died in his hotel, wanders his way into an illegal arms deal, and then just spends the rest of the picture on the move, trying to see how far he can take it, how far he can escape into... something. It's never really defined what it is, or why this journey is even happening. Antonioni just creates this feeling, occasionally suspenseful, of Jack Nicholson's character desiring something more, something different, and just sort of letting it happen. It's an odd film, but one I won't soon forget. Its laid-back approach is surprisingly absorbing, but occasionally frustrating. ***1/2

After seeing what fates befell first one sister and then the other, with this installment we go back to 1988 and see how their paranormal experiences began. I like these movies; I think they're surprisingly effective, and even though there are some iffy special effects shots in this one that threaten to damage the carefully constructed trick realism that makes these flicks work, it's actually the best one of these so far. ***1/2 (By the way: I've seen all of these movies on Netflix streaming the past few years. I think I enjoy them more that way; the intimacy of the home and the impression of home video recordings works better, I think, than seeing them on a big screen with a loud audience. The scares come from the stillness of the whole thing. That's why I wait for these things to come on Netflix.)

THE MAKER (2011)
Wonderful, absorbing animated short about life and what you make of it. I don't want to give it away, but it's atmospheric and lovely. ****

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween: Peanuts, 1963

Monday, October 22, 2012

Russell Means 1932-2012

Former American Indian Movement leader Russell Means has died today at the age of 79. I primarily knew Means as an actor; I was very affected by his performance in Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans when I was in high school. Reading more about him, I was surprised to learn about his involvement with indigenous rights and the Wounded Knee occupation, which I had actually never heard of. Can you imagine? I was only born three years later and had no idea. I went through all of school and later college without talking very much about modern Native Americans at all. The only thing that came close was reading Sherman Alexie's excellent book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven for a college English class. That's crazy.

So because of a performance in a film, Russell Means got me to learn a lot about parts of not only American history but current American culture that I'm not proud of. It came along just as I was becoming a critical thinker, just before turning 16. Thank you for that, Mr. Means.

Does Anyone Have Strong Feelings Re: Pineapple on Pizza?

This weekend, I had pineapple on my pizza for the first time. Becca came home from work feeling really sick, and told me "just order pizza." I'm a little sick of pizza, so I decided to experiment...

BECCA: Wow, this pizza looks good. What did you put on it?

ME: Well, I'm tired of plain cheese or just pepperoni, so I decided I'd get a pepperoni pizza and then take this deal for five more toppings for free.

BECCA: What are they?

ME: I decided I'd like something hotter and spicier, so I started with buffalo sauce, so there's a peppery spiciness and a tanginess to it, plus the garlic. Then I decided I wanted more smokey flavor, so I added bacon. Jalapenos, of course, for the heat. And the three-cheese blend to add a richness to the cheese.

BECCA: Wow, you're really thinking of flavor combination tonight.

ME: For the last topping, I decided I'd take a chance on pineapple. I know you like it, and I thought the sweetness would balance out the smoke and the heat and the savoriness.

BECCA: So... a Hawaiian pizza, basically.

ME: Really?

BECCA: Well, it's usually ham or Canadian bacon.

ME: But I like neither of those things.

BECCA: But you have bacon and pepperoni for a substitute. So, yeah, basically a Hawaiian pizza.

ME: Well... Shit.

It was actually very, very good. I was surprised. I liked the pineapple; the sweetness was kind of just a hint under the other flavors. It really complemented the whole thing. I loved it. I don't know if I could do it all the time, but I really loved it.

Listen to me, describing toppings as if I actually made the damn thing.

Halloween: Pumpkins, Part I

Quick Aside: My Living Situation

My lease is up on the apartment I've lived in since 2001. It expires on January 1, but they want the intention to renew signed by next week. I know, because I just got an overly-polite phone call from the latest property manager asking me if I thought we were going to sign or not. They love to push deadlines on this property. Probably because they're used to dealing with college kids here.

I really hate being pushed into decisions. Becca's working two (it looks like it might be three) part-time jobs, and I'm a substitute teacher which is no guarantee of work. I'm filling out applications, but right now I've got just that. We're down to one car and no unemployment. So we're not a hundred percent sure we'll be able to stay, though we'd like to.

The property manager explained to me that after October 31 if someone comes in looking to rent a 2-bedroom and ours is the last one that hasn't renewed, they'll "have to" rent the apartment.

Don't threaten me, chucklefuck. I have until the end of this month. I have a week until you wanted me to even turn in the intent to renew. Don't you call me now and politely make demands of me and imply that you're going to just throw me out. I don't respond well to threats, no matter how poorly made, stupidly handled, or if you smile while doing so.

Yeah, okay. I'll renew. And then if I decide we have to move to a smaller, more affordable place, I'll just break my lease and you can eat it. But you just wait, because I want it to be a surprise.


Random Thoughts

This picture has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was neat and wanted to share it.

:: John Cheese has an interesting column at Cracked this week: the 5 Most Common Errors of First Time Job Applicants. As someone who used to hire people, Becca brought up an interesting point about filling out applications online and on those computer screens that they have at places now to save paper or whatever excuse they use. She pointed out that you get a much more accurate reading of a potential hire's capability when they fill out a paper application, because a computer won't let you forget to fill out sections or misspell things. It also provides lists of possible answers for you, rather than, say, hearing what your interpretation of something is. (And then she went off about those personality tests they make you take, which she says tells a human resources person "virtually nothing" about a potential hire.) I never thought about it like that, but talking to her and reading the column made me think that you do know a lot more about how seriously a person takes a job application by whether they fill it out in textspeak or not.

:: I think the shades are there in Hayden Panettiere's character in Nashville. Seeing the second episode this week, I think she's moving away from the cartoon sexpot cliche and more toward a person who wants to be taken seriously as an artist but isn't sure how to get there. Maybe it's just me. Becca doesn't see it, but Becca doesn't really like or trust women under 30.

:: I like Adele's new James Bond song "Skyfall," but I find it fascinating that the song is basically Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale, just with a slower tempo. Otherwise, the beats and flourishes are all pretty much the same. It gives the impression that Skyfall is stylistically the end of a trilogy. Either way, it's the third installment in the rebooted series, so this will probably be where the formula sets in. But I'm still really looking forward to it, more than any other movie this fall.

:: I find Mitt Romney's attempts to make a campaign issue out of whether or not President Obama called the attack on the consulate in Benghazi an act of terror utterly hilarious. This guy has nothing. Vague attacks for a vague campaign from someone who's barely a person. And it's just a constant reminder that this guy has no foreign policy experience and used the death of Americans to try and score political points on the President.

:: So, if we're to put the blame for violence on bad parenting, as Romney's vague non-answer on gun control suggests, what does that imply about Tagg Romney saying he wanted to punch President Obama during the debate?

Something about that whole incident really, really bothered me. I mean, beyond just the quasi-treasonous nature of it and the sense of entitled self-importance. And then I read this comment on the Atlantic: "Yes because a good whippin’ would teach that Obama boy to mind his place."

Yeah. That's what bothered me about it. Fuck's sake. Can you imagine what the White Right would've said if a black man had made that comment about a white man? But to them the idea that anyone who isn't rich and white is a human being is just a joke.

The latest example that everyone's desire to be "in on the joke" supersedes their ability to tell what's stupid. One day you will be as embarrassed by this unfunny "so-bad-it's-cool" fad as you are now about the Macarena. This can't go away fast enough.

:: Best episode so far this season of The Big Bang Theory. Why? Because there was nothing about Penny and Leonard's relationship. The episode remembered it was a comedy, and a funny one. You can't keep going to the "hee hee, they sound gay" well with Raj and Stuart, though. Either let them just be gay or get Stuart off the show. The behind-the-hand tittering is going to grate and become vaguely insulting.

:: The Rude Pundit on President Obama and the way the Right tries to paint him as radically liberal: "Meanwhile, those of us who are actually, really, truly liberal listen to conservatives talk about Barack Obama and think, 'Huh. Are they talking about the same drone missile-sending, warrantless-wiretapping, Romneycare-embracing, tax-cutting, pot grower-arresting, Wall Street banker-protecting, whistleblower-chasing, oil-drilling president that we are?'"

:: Tom Hanks was hilarious on SNL. Too bad Bruno Mars was hosting. Not that I really blame Bruno Mars; it's not like any of the sketches were catching fire. "Bruno Mars does a bunch of impressions" some writer typed, then leaned back in his chair, satisfied with what he had done. But like I ask every time he cameos, when is Tom Hanks going to just host again?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Halloween: V Day

So far, the final appearance of Principal Skeleton.

Song of the Week: "Please Call Me, Baby"

Wherever you are... it's too cold to be walking in the streets. Another of my favorite very pretty Tom Waits songs, from 1974's The Heart of Saturday Night, his second album.