Saturday, November 29, 2003

Movieblogging: Stupid Comedy
What's the point of having movie channels if you don't use them to fill in gaps in your cinematic literacy? And so it came to pass that the Buddha found himself watching Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, which will probably be the longest title involved in a Rum Smuggler review for quite some time. I've never seen it, though so far it looks a lot like I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. It's a parody of films like Menace II Society, though it's not as funny on its own as some of the movies like Hot Shots. Don't get me wrong, there are many great moments, but the timing is a little weird. Maybe it worked better in the theaters.

I have to confess that I had to look up the actor playing the main character, Shawn Wayans. I knew he was one of the Wayans kids, but I couldn't remember which one. I knew he wasn't Marlon, Damon, or Keenen Ivory, and I was reasonably sure that he wasn't sister Kim, but I forgot Shawn's name. And I loved Scary Movie. Anyway, Marlon is in the movie in a prominent role, and he's hilarious. Shawn mostly plays the straight man to everyone else in the picture (much like Keenen Ivory in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka).

Friday and the various comedic and dramatic movies similarly set in Los Angeles and dealing with such subject matter are obviously an important genre of 90s movies, but I'm not sure that this movie works as a successful parody of them. Obviously many references and spoofs are featured, but it just doesn't seem to work all that well...
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
Installed a new stereo in the car today. It's a miracle it's survived this long--it's the original stereo from 1987. Lately, it had been cutting out on me. I took it apart, but discovered that enough solid state pieces of it were deteriorating that it wasn't worth repairing. And I didn't want to get a matching one from the dealer, so I went to Wal-Mart and bought their second cheapest car stereo.

Why the second cheapest? Well, I'm not looking for a glorious auditory experience here, nor do I want to bounce through the 'hood blasting Ben Folds piano riffs at the neighbors. And I work in a part of town where having a nice stereo is just asking for trouble. Mainly I just want to be able to listen to the news and weather to and from work. The cheapest, at $29, was truly no-frills, with an analog tuning dial and that's it. I went for the next model up at $49, since it was digital, had a detachable faceplate, and most important for me, a line-in jack for me to hook up the iPod. (It also features a tape deck, but I don't see using that anytime soon.)

I figured it would be a simple job to replace the stereo, because it appears to be within the realm of your average crackhead (especially removing the old one). However, I discovered that the plugs were completely different. I was a bit nervous about rewiring it, as the colors didn't match up at all, and I didn't want to route the power through one of the speakers by mistake. But I wasn't doing anything else this afternoon...

Three hours, two trips to the auto parts store, a wiring diagram, a new wiring harness, some crimp connectors, and a few feet of black electricians tape later, I had tunes. Worked like a charm, and no fires or explosions (yet). It's got some amazing features--I'm always delighted to see what improvements have been made in cars since the Reagan administration.

Update: I failed to mention this in my original posting, but I braved Wal-Mart on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Though I was able to check out in the automotive section, it was still a nightmare in there. God only knows what it would have been like had I been pushing a shopping cart around. Even on my own, I had to duck and weave through the various departments like "pre-teen bras" and "old woman bric-a-brac" in order to get my damned radio. My region of the River City has a Super Wal-Mart (replete with a McDonalds) right next to a Super Target. I like the Target better, as it's a much more enjoyable experience, but alas, they do not have an automotive section. My only other reason for going to Wal-Mart is that they use Fuji machines for their photo processing, and since I have a Fuji digital camera, I'm convinced that there's an optimization algorithm somewhere that makes my prints come out better. (Note that this belief is not based on any actual evidence, but I still hold on to it.)
Great Moments in Rum Smuggling
Nosing around a bit, I just learned that John Hancock (of Constitution signing fame) was a notorious smuggler of wine and rum in order to avoid British taxes. In 1768, the Brits seized his sloop, Liberty. Shortly thereafter, a group of private citizens freed the ship, beat the customs officials, and burned the government boat. Huzzah!
Election 2004
The Atlantic Monthly asks "Who Can Beat George W. Bush?" and cautiously picks Dick Gephardt as the least unappealing choice, after Howard Dean. I disagree with his assessment that it's going to be a fight between the two of them in the primaries--I think the Dean/Clark battle is a more likely scenario. Let's look at the nine contenders for the Democratic nomination:

Kucinich, Sharpton, Braun: Nobody's taking them seriously, and Democrats who want to get Bush out of office aren't even paying attention to them.

Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards: I think any of them might make for a decent VP, but they're all Senators and none are really popular enough on a nationwide scale to win. Kennedy was the last Senator to successfully become president back in 1960, and since then a lot of Senators have run and lost, on both sides of the aisle.

Gephardt: Statistics don't favor him at all, as the last Congressman to be elected President directly from the House was James Garfield in 1880 (but Garfield was simultaneously running for Senate). Technically Gerald Ford went straight from the House to the Oval Office, but his appointment was unusual, and when he ran in 1976, he picked a Senator (Bob Dole) as his running mate, and they lost to Carter. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the statistics have held up pretty well over the years. Kucinich is also a member of the House, but he's got enough other stuff keeping him out of office.

Clark, Dean: While both are different and have competing groups of followers, they have a lot of popular support and a lack of negative appeal. This is exactly the opposite of Al Gore, who had a lot of negative appeal and a lack of popular support. (Yes, he won the popular vote, but he lost his home state, and his showing was really bad for a sitting VP in the middle of an economic boom.) Gore was a popular candidate for Republicans to vote against because of the Clinton association, but Clark and Dean don't have that baggage. Clark is nominally seen as a tool of the DNC and the Clintons, but I'm not as sure about that anymore. The Party brass seem to be leaning towards Kerry or Gephardt for the time being. Dean is the only governor running for the nomination, and governors have done very well in the past fifty years. If they can get along together, a Dean/Clark or Clark/Dean ticket would be amazing. I'm not sure that they could win, but they're not afraid to attack Bush/Cheney directly and ask a lot of hard questions. We don't need a replay of 2000 with two easygoing candidates lobbing softballs at each other and refusing to fight.
The IMDB Bottom 100
I think the vast majority of links posted on this blog thus far are to the IMDB. It's a wonderful tool that's fast and easy to use, and makes for convenient research while watching a movie at home. Lately I've said a lot about the Top 250, but today we'll focus on the Bottom 100.

While the top 250 is pretty accurate in terms of how films were liked by regular viewers (as well as how they've been received by critics and film historians), the bottom 100 is pretty off base. This list is mostly made up of the following:There are also many that have been sunk to the bottom by massive popular opinion that "everybody hates that movie!", like the #1 American Idol vehicle From Justin to Kelly and the #3 flop Gigli. A few on there have achieved their position by dint of association with Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

The middle of the hundred thousand movie ranking list is the true dead zone for bad movies--those obscure, unenjoyable movies that provoke neither deep love or deep hatred, and mainly just aren't seen.

While there are no really great movies on here, there are several that are unfairly sent to the bottom, in my opinion:I will say that I remain astonished that Garbage Pail Kids isn't on there. Take a beloved toy line, give yourself free rein to be as gross and stupid as possible, and still manage to screw it up so badly as to render it unwatchable, even to serious fans of the stickers, who are really the only ones that would ever go out of their way to see it. For example, check out this amazingly detailed review from X-Entertainment, complete with screen captures and video clips.

Friday, November 28, 2003

I didn't think I had the energy or patience for another movie tonight, but I got restless and decided to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Widely considered the weakest of the Indiana Jones flicks, I'm inclined to agree--it doesn't break the IMDB Top 250. While not as much fun as the first or as polished as the third, it's still a damned good movie in its own right. We often think of 80s movies as being universally bad (and I review many of those terrible ones here), but look at the top 10 movies of 1984, when this came out:
  1. Ghostbusters
  2. Beverly Hills Cop
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  4. Gremlins
  5. The Karate Kid
  6. Police Academy
  7. Footloose
  8. Star Trek III:The Search for Spock
  9. Romancing the Stone
  10. Splash
That's an impressive list, and every single one of those has stood the test of time in one way or another.

Where on earth did they dig up a functional Ford Trimotor for the airplane sequence early in the film? And for more dumb trivia, aparently the kid who played Short Round, Jonathan Ke Quan, served as a fight choreogrphaer for the first X-Men movie. It should be noted that he's Vietnamese, playing a Chinese kid in the movie. Glancing over the credits, you can see a host of Vietnamese and Japanese playing Chinese characters. One would think with 1/6 of the world's population, you could cast Chinese actors as Chinese characters. (I don't particularly care about such things, but have spent enough time around a lot of different Asians who really got annoyed at that kind of cross-casting, and as a result I can't not notice it.)

I first saw this on video a couple of years after it came out; I was a little young when it came out in the theater, though the banquet scene was the subject of playground gossip for years. A lot of Indians hate this movie because of the weird and wholly inaccurate way in which India is portrayed, and I can sympathize. If anything, the exotic dishes served at the banquet are more suited to China than India.

This installment of the adventures of Indiana Jones was the basis for a really well-done parody in an episode of the Clerks animated series. It didn't survive on ABC for reasons that are obvious, but the six shows created were quite nice and I'm proud to include them in my collection.
Running errands tonight after work, I grabbed a dirt-cheap copy of X2: X-Men United at Costco. I've just settled in to start watching it... Even though I didn't read comics as a kid, I was always aware of them and fascinated by the characters. (My primary objection was that I felt like a single issue was a waste of time; I wanted to read years at a stretch. A comic book never kept me occupied for more than ten or fifteen minutes.) Oddly, this gives me a bit of an advantage in that I don't have any baggage from being a die-hard fan with which to spoil the movies.

I've really enjoyed the recent Marvel adaptations, and proudly own X-Men, Spider-Man, and Daredevil in addition to today's acquisition. (While I enjoyed the two Blade films, I haven't felt like buying them, though I may do so if I catch them on sale. My feelings on this year's Hulk are fodder for a longer, angrier post.)

A prime fascination with this particular movie is Famke Janssen. In addition to being gorgeous, she's a great actress--just look at her dramatic work in films like Love & Sex and Made. However, in this one, she has her hair colored and cut in a way that reminds me fondly of The One That Got Away. Not for lack of trying--she politely declined, and she remains a good friend, but it adds a real personal connection for an already great movie. Note that on IMDB it scored higher than the first one; while the first movie had to set the stage and introduce a lot of characters and their backstories, this one allows for a lot more plot. I'm anxious to watch it again with the director's commentary.

I'll refrain from posting any details of the story; suffice it to say if you like this kind of thing, you've seen it, and if not, you're probably not interested. (I only tend to go into depth with little known movies. This one had a lot of justified popularity.)
Site News
Posting is light and unusual for the following reasons:

Thus, I'm suffering from a bit of koyaanisqatsi right now. Things should be back to normal the middle of next week.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Editorial Policy
As far as these posts are concerned, I tend to edit and tweak them a bit after the first time I post. (Which is why I'll probably never have a tattoo. I'm always fiddling with my own graphic design work, and I can't imagine having to finally decide on something to be printed on my own skin.) Nothing substantial--I'm generally correcting a word or clarifying a sentence. Anything more substantial than that and I use an Update label at the bottom of the post. I will commit to a general principle of not going back and rewriting a post to change my argument, though I may at some point delete a post if I feel that I was completely off base or if I posted something in error before it was ready for publication.
Despite my mood, I'm taking advantage of a late showing of Taxi Driver (#36 in the IMDB Top 250) in order to fill in some of those gaps in my list of Universally Well Favored Movies That I Haven't Seen For Some Stupid Reason. There's more of those films than I'd care to admit, but I'll clear my record eventually. And, for what it's worth, it's from 1976, the year of my birth.

Odd bit of trivia: early in the film, at the XXX movie theater, Robert De Niro's character buys a Clark Bar. Now, I don't know what the things taste like, as I'm not a big fan of sweets and because of a strict Calvinist upbringing, didn't get a chance to partake of all the joys of the candy store as a child. Regardless, I recently had to typeset a fake chocolate bar wrapper in the style of the Clark Bar as part of a local guy's personal push for General Wesley Clark for president. I have nothing against the guy, but despite his military record and Arkansas credentials, I don't think he's quite the "Great White Hope" that some Democrats have made him out to be.

I suppose at this point I should mention that I work in graphic design--print, almost entirely. I'll try to avoid nitpicky job-related stuff here, because it's realy not that interesting to most folks. For example, in my previous post about the Sweet Potato Queens books, I refrained from pointing out that all of the books involve widespread usage of the font Shelley-Volante. There are three fonts in the script family of Shelley, and though all share the same lowercase letters, the uppercase letters are reserved (Andante), lovely (Allegro), and overly swishy (Volante). I tend to stick with Allegro, because I feel that Volante just looks weird on the page. I really dislike Volante, though it's nothing near my visceral hatred for the following fonts: Bellevue, Snell, and (swallowing a bit of presumptive vomit here) Comic Sans. My hatred of Comic Sans isn't just because it looks like handwriting, but because out of all of the many handwriting-style fonts (like the beautiful Tekton), Comic Sans is the ugliest, wouldn't be used by any self-respecting comic strip or comic book artist, and was for some Godforsaken reason included in the default installs of Windows and affiliated Microsoft applications for the past five years.

I'm writing about a movie, right? Grrr... OK, some more stupid trivia. Cybill Shepherd is in this in a major role. She's from my hometown and current residence, Memphis, Tennessee, and while she's not in town often, still maintains a residence here. She's eternally famous in this city for having briefly dated Elvis Presley. I know a few people who went to high school with her... Basically imagine the prettiest, most popular, most cheerleader/teen sorority/etc.-involved girl you went to school with, then imagine her dating the world's biggest rock star right out of high school, and eventually going into a fairly distinguished career in TV and movies. That's the Cbyill Shepherd story in a nutshell. Everyone always hopes that the prom queen ends up in a trailer, weighing 400 pounds and presiding over a brood of degenerate offspring, but she has managed to live the princess dream for several decades now.

As for this movie, it's a Scorcese flick that hasn't been referenced or copied in a dozen other films. (Or if it has, I'm not astute enough to have caught it.) It's main claim to fame and lasting notoriety seems to stem from John Hinckley's fascination with Jodie Foster and his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in order to impress her. That's particularly creepy given that she was only 14 when the movie was made...

I will say that it was movies and TV shows set in New York and filmed like this (grimy, sleazy, mostly at night) that for a long time influenced my personal impression of New York City. I've never been there, but have seen the Big Apple portrayed in much better and more glowing ways. Although Law and Order always centers around murder, the show does give a great look at New York in the daytime, people going from A to B and getting work done. There are a few movies, like Serendipity and Everyone Says I Love You show a beautiful, romanticized, mystical view of New York. I love the latter category--not because I have a burning desire to go there, but I'm always impressed by anyone who can love a city so much that they film it like a woman in a photographer's studio. The lighting's perfect, the flaws and blemishes are safely hidden, and a warm glow pervades all...

I will give Taxi Driver credit for giving a glimpse into the life of those that work late (or all night long). I normally get off work at 10:00 p.m., so I tend to see my city differently than those that work 9-5. It's a good movie, has some truly great actors in it, but if it hadn't been for the Hinckley connection, I really don't think it would have become as well known or well respected.

Side Note: Until Monday, I'm stuck working morning shifts in order to cover for a guy that had to go out of town for the holiday, so my normal schedule and routine are all shifted 180 degrees. Apologies in advance for how this impacts my blogging.

Update: Because I am a moron, I forgot about the whole "You talkin' to me?" scene that has been duplicated in scores of movies. However, I think my point stands, as with movies like The Godfather all sorts of scenes are appropriated for later references, but this one only seems to have the one scene contributing to pop culture repetition.
I'm comitted to writng about every book I read and every movie I watch, no matter how embarassing they may be (the movies I've written about thus far should prove that I have no shame). So bloggeristic integrity commands me to write about the current book on my nightstand: God Save The Sweet Potato Queens by Jill Conner Browne. Though there are three books in the series, this was the second, and the first I read was the third published, The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (And Financial Planner). Sweet tapdancing Mohammad, how do I explain this...

Jill Conner Browne is a woman from Jackson, Mississippi who has built an empire around being a horny, booze-lovin', fun-havin' Southern woman. I'll refrain from using the term lady, as no self-respecting Southern lady would act in such a manner. Despite my geographic proximity to the author, the first I heard of her was on an All Things Considered radio program. It sounded quite funny, and I was obviously curious as to what kind of author would convince grown women to show up at book signings wearing taffeta gowns and tiaras.

It's basically a sort of Southern women empowerment movement, reveling in the crass and boisterous, throwing off tradition and standard roles, etc. Parts of it are side-splittingly hilarious, and it's particulary enjoyable if you live in this particular region of the Mid-South. Yankees and other heathens tend to think that there is one ANSI-standard Southern accent, but in fact, there are dozens of shades and variations. She tosses in plenty of familiar local mannerisms that I've never seen in print, but there's enough other odds and ends that I can figure out that she's from 200 miles south of me.

The rest of the philosophy, though, will leave any red blooded Southern gentleman pissed off. Obviously they have a bunch of justified hostility towards stupid rednecks, wife beaters and other scum, but they extend their bile towards almost all men, and I hate being lumped in with such rapscallions.

For more information, feel free to check out her website, and prepare to be very, very afraid if you have XY chromosomes.
Oh God, It's True...
I'd heard about using White Castles as a stuffing for turkey, but I'd assumed it was a bad joke or an urban legend. Apparently not.

We don't have White Castle around here, but Krystal is virtually identical. While there are many repulsive nicknames for those little square burgers, I've always been partial to "gut grenades". Once you get past the age of ten or so, the only time when you can actually eat the damned things is around three in the morning when you're drunk. I'm not saying you're going to digest them that well, but you need to have your inhibitions lowered and your gag reflex suppressed to get the things down. The exception to this is when you inexplicably get a craving for a sackful, but if you follow through on said craving you don't have to worry about desiring them for another full year.

I just can't imagine using them in a turkey for Thanksgiving, unless you really hate your family or something.
A Soldier's Christmas

Found via Venomous Kate, a poem written by a Marine stationed on Okinawa (which I've modified for proper sentence case):

Twas the night before Christmas,
He lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of
Plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney
With presents to give,
And to see just who
In this home did live.

I looked all about,
A strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents,
Not even a tree.

No stocking by mantle,
Just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures
Of far distant lands.

With medals and badges,
Awards of all kinds,
A sober thought
Came through my mind.

For this house was different,
It was dark and dreary,
I found the home of a soldier,
Once I could see clearly.

The soldier lay sleeping,
Silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor
In this one bedroom home.

The face was so gentle,
The room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured
A United States soldier.

Was this the hero
Of whom I'd just read?
Curled up on a poncho,
The floor for a bed?

I realized the families
That I saw this night,
Owed their lives to these soldiers
Who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world,
The children would play,
And grownups would celebrate
A bright Christmas Day.

They all enjoyed freedom
Each month of the year,
Because of the soldiers,
Like the one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder
How many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve
In a land far from home.

The very thought
Brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees
And started to cry.

The soldier awakened
And I heard a rough voice,
"Santa don't cry,
This life is my choice;

I fight for freedom,
I don't ask for more,
My life is my God,
My country, my Corps."

The soldier rolled over
And drifted to sleep,
I couldn't control it,
I continued to weep.

I kept watch for hours,
So silent and still
And we both shivered
From the cold night's chill.

I didn't want to leave
On that cold, dark, night,
This guardian of honor
So willing to fight.

Then the soldier rolled over,
With a voice soft and pure,
Whispered, "Carry on Santa,
It's Christmas Day, all is secure."

One look at my watch,
And I knew he was right.
"Merry Christmas my friend,
And to all a good night."

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Opus Followup
For anyone curious, here's the Opus strip from last Sunday. See what I mean about the effect gray newsprint has on colors? The rough part is that he put a lot of work into that strip, but the medium he's chosen defeats the purpose. For an example of what his artwork looks like, grab one of his children's books, or just take a look at his website.
I'm apparently the number one result for the search "rum smuggler". I'm flattered, but there's not that many results from that term anyway, though I seem to be getting some odd traffic via Joi Ito's site. At some point I'll try to start tracking the traffic of this thing...

I should note at this point that I consciously avoided the term Rum Runner, though that was the common name of the guys who smuggled rum from Cuba and other Caribbean islands to the US (mainly through Florida) during the Prohibition years. However, that one is pretty common, and is also the name of a fruity "girl drink". It doesn't taste bad, but I prefer my rum straight or mixed with a bit of Coca-Cola. The only rum cocktail I'll defer to nowadays is the mojito, but when you realize that it's just a mint julep made with rum (and Hemingway drank enough of them to float a battleship), it retains its manliness.

The name "Rum Smuggler" also implies a bit of piracy, a hint of the 17th and 18th centuries and the sailing ships of yore. I don't advocate criminal activity, but smuggling rum tends to imply a crime that doesn't hurt anyone and merely provides a market-driven supply in defiance of government regulation, which is ethical in its own way.
I'm watching Myth Busters on the Discovery Channel. It's like Snopes.com on steroids--two special effects artists use science and engineering to prove or disprove various urban legends. Great stuff here.

Hopefully shows like this will encourage kids to take shop. I know that sounds odd, but I think a lot of the more popular shows on the Discovery Channel could encourage this, like Monster Garage and American Chopper, not to mention the various home renovation shows like Trading Spaces. These shows actually show people using tools, machines, and raw materials to build things, rather than just going to Wal-Mart to buy something. Particularly with the automotive examples listed, they're building kick-ass vehicles, and that always gets the kids interested.

I didn't take shop in high school, but I had keys to the shop class, man. I took drafting/mechanical drawing my freshman year, but later I ended up in the theatre department, and we had to build a lot of sets and manufacture various odds and ends. That was far more useful than the actual shop class--we were building stuff because we needed it, and because it had to actually be used, not just because it was an assignment. Because we had to work odd hours, a select few of us film and video guys had keys to various buildings and classrooms, including the shop. Despite all of the work, I never received a grade for anything I built.

My grandfather was a carpenter in his retirement years, building beautiful furniture. He still has all of his old equipment, and it's all in working order. Every now and then I have to go over there to work on something, and there's nothing like that smell of atomized pine. I hope that the shows mentioned above inspire some kids to actively seek out such work, because they sure as shit aren't going to get it from their pansy-ass fathers who are going to therapy sessions three times a week and whose tool collection only consists of an old butter knife kept in the junk drawer to be used in place of a screwdriver.

Back in my day... OK, I'm only 27, but I've been cursed with the mind of a grouchy 55 year old. Now I'm so riled up I'm just going to break something so I can fix it. I think that printer I rebuilt this afternoon needs some modifications to kick it up a notch...

Monday, November 24, 2003

I've got a beard and moustache. Neither are particularly impressive, but the beard at least arrived in a bright copper color and I've been loathe to get rid of it. I do try to keep both trimmed properly, avoiding the "full Osama" look. However, for the past few weeks, I've been dying to get rid of both. I don't know why, but I want a clean shave for the first time in six years.

It's sort of like having flower beds; at some point, you really want to rip everything out and start all over. I went through this over the summer, having pulled out all the weeds, trimmed back the good plants, and put in a few cheap flowers. They managed to survive a few weeks, but I couldn't get The Roommate to water the damned flower beds while I was gone at work.

Anyway, I've got this burning desire to shave it all off. Three weeks ago I went to the drugstore and bought new razor blades, shaving cream, and aftershave. I went home and shaved my cheeks, my lower lip, and then stood and stared at the mirror for ten minutes, the razor dripping with warm water, a sort of Mexican standoff between my brain and my beard. The beard won, but it was a rough decision.

Maybe after the first of the year... When I do the final deed, I intend to document it in stages with the digital camera. A before picture with full beard and moustache, a picture with a goatee, a picture with only a moustache, then the full horror of my face will be unleashed upon the public. Women will weep, children will scream, and war veterans will be forced to down a bottle of whiskey in order to sleep at night. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

On a more serious note, I can understand the terror that some Muslim women must experience when they decide to go in public sans veil. I'm slightly scared and embarassed to venture out in public without my chin, neck, upper lip, and affiliated jowls covered. I do own a few wool scarves...
Call Me MacGyver
I don't print much stuff at home, because I can usually take care of that at work on much better equipment. However, I do have a beloved old Apple LaserWriter 12/640 for occasional black and white printing. I've also got two broken versions of the same printer (all stuff I rescued from the garbage at work).

The Roommate was needing to print out a paper for one of her grad school classes, and lo and behold, the printer crapped out. Now, I could have taken the file to a dozen different places to print it out, so there was no real pressure involved. But I can't allow a geek moment like that to pass by. First I took apart the printer--a jam had occurred, but removing the paper ripped it apart, and some pieces of paper remained buried within the depths of the machine. After cleaning it out, I became convinced that I'd somehow damaged a sensor. Crap crap crap. Further inspection revealed some more problems...

The machines are easy enough to take apart, but curiously, getting to the paper path to dig out a tiny scrap of paper is very difficult. To make a long, 90-minute story short (involving bloody knuckles and much swearing), I cannibalized all three laser printers to produce a single functional unit. I think I'll call the new printer Frankenstein. This isn't as hard as it sounds, but does require a bit of know-how to figure out what parts are bad and good on each unit. One side benefit of the whole enterprise was discovering the removable RAM for the printers (I'd assumed it was hardwired), and taking enough good chips to max out the final completed printer.

If I get bored enough, I'll take the two remaining heaps and see if I can make a functional unit out of them, but I'm not too hopeful about that. The best thing about having all of the spares, though, is that they all have mostly-full toner cartridges, and I also have one pristine cartridge sealed in its original packaging. The cartridges are expensive, but are wayyyyy more cost effective per page than ink jet cartridges. I don't anticipate running out for a very long time.

To conclude the story, I got the paper printed out in glorious hi-resolution. Rum Smuggler saves the day, again. :)
Catching up on the commentary track and extras for A Mighty Wind. The deleted scenes were great, but understandably left out of the final product. The pacing and length of the finished movie are just right, but I appreciate the option through the wizardry of DVD to see the rest.

Christopher Guest is a damned baron with a seat in the House of Lords in Parliament. I'm not joking. He's the Fifth Baron Haden-Guest of Saling in the County of Essex in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. This isn't mentioned in the extras, but I found it out while looking up more information on the cast. He's a Baron, a respected filmmaker, actor, and writer, and he's married to Jamie Lee Curtis. I don't know what deal he made with Satan, but I want in.

Anyway, the commentary track is performed by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who are the co-writers. I'm glad to learn that all of the singing and playing of instruments are actually done by the actors--folk music gives you a bit of latitude in how you sound, as no one expects Pro Tools flawlessness. But it's still a great accomplishment, given that many prominent Top 40 musicians today can't play an instrument at all. I'm no musical genius myself, but played the trumpet and piano as a child as well as singing in the Memphis Symphony Boys Choir. (As I joke to everyone, I left the choir before the operation.) I wasn't particularly great at any of those, but if I were going into the business I'd make a point of working at it.

I'll stop now before I give anything away (I like to think of Rum Smuggler as a "No Spoiler Zone"), but suffice it to say, this movie is well worth seeing, and the extras are definitely worth the time.
I've been experimenting with squash for the past month. While the rest of the country is on this weird anti-carb kick thanks to Dr. Atkins, I've been gleefully partaking of the great starches of the world. However, I recently realized that while I've eaten and cooked a bunch of weird stuff in my life, I'd somehow managed to avoid the good old American, oft-overlooked squash.

First up was the acorn squash. This was by far the easiest to use after roasting, as the skin was thick and firm, and the flesh was easy to remove. The taste wasn't spectacular, but servicable for a wide variety of applications. Seriously, just subsitute baked squash for potatoes in any recipe and you'll be OK. Mix with some basil, chopped garlic and a smidgen of olive oil for a great Italian side dish. With each squash, I tried some of the roasted flesh straight, then with butter or some other additive, and then made quickbread (like banana bread, meaning no yeast and generally sweet) using the squash. The acorn squash bread was delicious, but not particularly memorable.

The butternut squash was next. This was probably the best tasting, though since the skin is so thin, it's a little hard to scoop out. By far the best choice on volume/mass ratio. (The hollow section with seeds is very small, and the entire neck is solid flesh. A pumpkin, by contrast, has a terrible volume/mass ratio, as its mostly empty space.) Butternut squash has a taste somewhere between a sweet potato and pumpkin, and I think I'll be using it for more recipes in the future.

Lastly, we have the turban squash. This was the one that terrified the checkout woman at the grocery store. It looks like a squat pumpkin with hideous tumors growing underneath. They're quite beautiful in their own way, but definitely odd looking. Unfortunately, they don't taste all that great and are an absolute nightmare to cut up. The cleavage lines make for a beautiful geometry problem, but I was seriously concerned about losing a finger in the process of cutting the damned thing into quarters. (If I had to do it again, I'd use a hacksaw or bowsaw. Seriously.) The resulting bread was great, but I think that had more to do with me adding molasses to the mix. This gave the bread a lovely dark color, as well as a deeper, richer flavor. Oddly, I think it would be overkill for the butternut squash, though the perfect balance may come with the acorn squash.

I don't think I'm going to try any of the other varieties... These three are the only ones commonly carried in the local grocery stores, though many small varieties are carried for primarily decorative purposes. My recommendation: for sweeter dishes, use butternut, for savory dishes, use acorn. Either way, your guests will be hard pressed to identify the ingredient, but will love it regardless.

Update: I realized I probably ought to provide a few recipes here... First off, it should be explained that there are two types of cooks, procedural and intuitive. The former follows recipes to a T, and dares not deviate. The second largely avoids recipes, or at best, uses them as general guidelines. Alton Brown versus Emeril Lagasse, if that helps. I'm one of the latter, though I know tons of the former and understand their mindset. I'm not saying one is better, I just developed a jazz musician's approach to cooking rather than a classical pianist's. So for both parties, here goes:

First off, to roast squash, cut it into quarters (whatever variety you're using), scoop out the strings and seeds, place the quarters on a cookie sheet, and bake at 375° for an hour. After baking, you can do whatever--eat it as is, puree for a soup, mix with herbs and butter or olive oil, whatever. If you're going to use it for baking, though, mash it up thoroughly and then set aside to cool.

Mix the following ingredients in one bowl:
1½ cup all-purpose (not self-rising) flour
1 cup sugar*
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspon nutmeg
(feel free to add more of the spices if you desire, or add ginger, allspice, etc.)

*You can substitute ¾ cup sugar and ¼ cup molasses, honey, or maple syrup, but mix the sugar with the dry ingredients and the wet sweet stuff with the wet ingredients.

Mix the following ingredients in a separate bowl:
2 eggs
¼ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup of cooked, cooled squash* (or canned pumpkin, if you wish)

*If the squash tastes kind of bland on its own, add a tablespoon of butter and ¼ cup of drained crushed pineapple, or even some vanilla extract or whiskey to help richen the flavor.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing just enough so that you no longer see any dry flour. Pour into a greased 9x4 loaf pan and bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean (meaning that you might see a crumb or two, but no wet batter).

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Tonight's silent movie selection on Turner Classic Movies is the first feature length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance from 1914. It was the sixteenth film starring Charlie Chaplin, though that was only his first year making movies. He hadn't quite developed the Little Tramp character, though you can see parts of it coming together. It's not the greatest story ever told, but interesting to watch for the backgrounds, shot composition, etc. (Speaking of composition, nearly every character wears a hat, and in nearly every shot, the hats are cut off at the top of the frame.) Silent movies were produced at a rate that would make the modern porn industry blush, and for obvious reasons the scripts weren't that important.

Unlike last week's selection, this one has a period score, straight piano music appropriate for the time period as well as for the action on screen.

One interesting scene shows Chaplin and his female co-star attending a showing of a movie--we see these scenes a lot in later movies, but I don't know how common it was back then. It's also one of the first appearances of Milton Berle, playing a newsboy. Don't believe me? Here's a short bio page with a screen capture, though you can't recognize him.
Well, made-for-TV with lots of commercials on TBS movieblogging. But with a title like National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Family Reunion, it was hard to pass up.

Bryan Cranston is in it, and he plays the father on Malcolm in the Middle. He also played the joking dentist on Seinfeld years ago. Cranston is hilarious, basically playing the Randy Quaid role. This movie is a bit of a step up for him; however, it's a sad step down for Judge Reinhold and Penelope Ann Miller. Reinhold looks particularly desperate. Again, Cranston is funny, but the rest of the cast isn't enough to keep things going.

The National Lampoon movies have been hit or miss. Vacation and Animal House are two of The Greatest Movies Ever Made. Van Wilder, European Vacation, and Christmas Vacation were good fun. Vegas Vacation, Class Reunion, and a host of others are best forgotten.

This one isn't a chapter in the life of the Griswolds, but the general setup, plot structure, and writing are taken directly from the Vacation movies. Sadly, I find myself longing for the relative hilarity of Vegas Vacation. This one is going to die a quiet death, though the carcass will be flogged on TBS and TNT for years to come every Thanksgiving.

Stupid trivia: Hallie Todd, who plays Judge Reinhold's wife in the movie, had a small role with him in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Always happy to give better recommendations, a far superior Thanksgiving movie is Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, directed by Jodie Foster.
Followup: Berkeley Breathed's New Comic Strip "Opus"
Today was the premiere of Breathed's new strip Opus... Since one of his intractable demands was that he be given a full half page of the newspaper, not many papers are carrying the strip. Personally, I'm glad to see this, as it allows you to actually see and read all of the details of the strip. But even the papers carrying it are running into problems...

I stopped by the bookstore after work in search of an out-of-town newspaper that carried Opus. I wanted The Washington Post, but they didn't have any copies. I settled on The Tennesseean, but I opened it up first to make sure that the strip was actually there. Since I didn't really care about the rest of the paper, I wasn't going to spend $3.50 for nothing. But I realized that in checking to see if the strip was there, I could just go ahead and read it and avoid the problem altogether. Not entirely ethical, but I didn't mess up the paper and left it more orderly than I found it. The Tennesseean stuck the strip by itself in the "Life" section, sort of defeating the purpose of using it to breathe new life into the comics page.

The strip isn't available online, but here's a brief synopsis: Opus is cavorting on a tropical island with a scantily clad bimbo, and in the final frames, he's awakened in the barren wastelands of Antarctica by another penguin (who's not drawn like Opus), whereupon Opus says something to the effect of, "I bet you're not where you thought you'd be ten years ago!"

It looked nice, but it still wasn't able to overcome two inherent problems with newspaper comics:

  1. The background is a dull gray, washing out the colors and making the white areas look old and worn out.
  2. The plates aren't aligned that precisely for 4-color newspaper printing, so nothing's ever 100% sharp and clear.

I think I'll just wait for the compilations, assuming that Breathed keeps it up for a while. Don't get me wrong, the strip looks nice, but I'd rather see it cleanly printed on bright white stock and with the option to read months of strips at a time.

Speaking of comics, if you want to read other daily strips (no Sunday strips, unfortunately), you can build your own comics page thanks to The Houston Chronicle. I've been doing this for the past two years and it's part of my morning routine.
The Sound You Hear Is The Apocalypse
Watching The Simpsons tonight, this being the episode where the Simpsons go to Canada Japan Brazil Delaware Florida England. So-so thus far, some meaningless cameos and recycled jokes, but one bit managed to shock the hell out of me...

Lisa and Bart were on a candy bender, and while hallucinating from the sugar rush, Maggie crawls on the ceiling and her head spins around. This is a reference to one of the more disturbing moments out of Trainspotting, and I never thought I'd see an allusion to that in any animated form, much less The Simpsons. I don't think I'll sleep well tonight...
Here's one that I've passed over on the schedule many times recently, Plain Clothes from 1988. The story of an adult who has to pose as a high school student (hilarity is bound to ensue), I had it confused with the Jon Cryer flick Hiding Out from 1987.

Interesting cast... Seymour Cassel (the father from Rushmore), Abe Vigoda, George Wendt, Harry Shearer, and several other recognizable actors. Again, I'm always pleased to see a bad 80s movie in which most of the actors are still getting work--most of them tend to be career-ending disasters for everyone involved. Of course, Cassel's been in over a 100 movies, so he never had anything to worry about. Note that this was the first movie for Loren Dean, who played the lead in Mumford as well as the detective in Gattaca, two great films. Reginald VelJohnson, who the next year went on to play the father (a police officer) on the TV show Family Matters, plays the angry police captain in this one.

The lead, Arliss Howard, was 34 years old when this was made, so of course he could pass for a high school student. Gotta love the conventions of the bad 80s movie--he looks older than many of the teachers. Never Been Kissed was a slightly more plausible version of this story, but this has enough bad 80s charm to make it enjoyable on its own. Watching this also makes me think that you could take Not Another Teen Movie and reverse engineer every 80s teen comedy or romance. That was a brilliant spoof, and I'm proud to have seen it about a dozen times.
Harlem Nights. As always, catching up. I remember being interested when this came out in 1989, but I didn't get a chance to see it. So here I am getting around to it 14 years later. Which is probably a good thing, since by this point I've listened to almost all of the recorded comedy of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, and have developed a deeper appreciation of Eddie Murphy. In addition, I've learned more about the Harlem Renaissance period, and I've been to the original Haarlem in the Netherlands, though the latter has absolutely nothing to do with this film or anything else involving New York in the last 200 years.

This film contained all of the elements necessary to be an all-time classic, but for some reason, never fully made it. Arsenio Hall and Jasmine Guy occupy major roles, yet neither managed to develop lasting movie careers. Also notable is Della Reese. Modern day fans of her work on Touched By An Angel might be shocked to see her playing a brothel madam who tells Redd Foxx to "shut the fuck up". Shortly thereafter, she beats the crap out of Eddie Murphy.

But the greats of this movie, particulary Murphy, Pryor, and Foxx--it almost seems criminal to have them in the same room lest some catastrophe happen that would kill all of them. Alas, only Murphy is left to make us laugh. While Pryor is still alive, multiple sclerosis has prevented him from performing. I will say that he looks a lot more comfortable in this role than he did in his various Gene Wilder buddy pics.

The music in this was good, but it could have been spectacular, and it wouldn't have cost them anything. Jazz is cheap when it comes to signing rights, and they could have added in a few good numbers without interrupting the flow of the story.

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