Saturday, December 27, 2003

Well, sort of... Today I braved the post-Christmas throngs of hectic shoppers at Best Buy to procure a copy of Tenacious D: The Complete Masterworks (IMDB link here). Hello, my name is Rum S., and I am a fan of Tenacious D, The Greatest Band on Earth.

I first heard of them back in the heady pre Y2K days of 1999, when their show was on HBO around the same time as Mr. Show. (In fact the show was produced by Bob and David!) A few people from work recommended it, I was already a fan of Mr. Show, and thus I was hooked. Tenacious D songs were among the first that I grabbed from Napster. Those were mostly audio rips from the TV show or bootlegs from the coffeehouse live performances... But in 2001, we got the self-titled Tenacious D, giving us the first taste of studio-produced D music. And what a great album it was.

A girl I worked with at the time was an even bigger fan than I, and went to a concert in St. Louis where they opened for Weezer. (In retrospect, I would give my left little toe to attend that concert. But at the time, I hadn't gotten into Weezer yet.) Anyway, at a meeting, she just randomly said, "Florna is an angel in disguise..." and I responded with "She'll bring a teardrop to your eye--eyeyyeyyessss." it was a moment.

Back to the DVD... For $10 and change, it was a steal. The packaging is incredible. The cover depicts Jack Black and Kyle Gass as early 18th century composers, complete with period costumes and, in the case of K.G., a big-ass J.S. Bach wig. Nice use of the Shelley-Allegro font, by the way. This design carries over to the first disc, which includes an hour long live concert in London and all of the HBO short episodes (1½ hours total). Right now I'm watching the concert, and while I've seen all of the HBO episodes several times, I'm ecstatic to have all of them in a nice format. Three cheers for the menu introduction, which features Satan giving birth to two babies that turn into mostly-naked adult versions of Jack and K.G. (basically the cover of their 2001 album). The added voice of Satan and the amusing animation are hilarious.

The second disc is the one that has me really excited. The disc cover appears to have been drawn by a seventh grade proto-goth, and is labeled in bad handwriting, "for psycho fans only". This disc contains a few of their music videos, a few documentaries, and some extra HBO shorts that haven't been replayed often. (Of course, when you have bootlegs that feature audience members answering their cell phones in the middle of a song, the concept of "psycho fan" is a little unnerving.)

It should be noted that The Roommate is out of town, and while I'm rockin' out to The D, singing along as I feel like it, the dogs are looking at me like I'm batshit insane. Which may not be far from the truth.
Up tonight on HBO is 2003's National Security, a buddy-cop movie starring Martin Lawrence (good as a comic, bad as an actor) and Steven Zahn (who's been a great actor in a dozen other films). It was directed by Dennis Dugan, the director of the Rum Smuggler Classic Happy Gilmore as well as another, not as well-liked Adam Sandler vehicle, Big Daddy. He also directed the work of staggering genius Brain Donors (one of the best movies that no one has ever seen) and Saving Silverman (one of the few modern movies to address the perfidy of women). However, he's also directed a lot of crap.

As for character actors and other gems, there's the great SCTV alumnus Joe Flaherty. Timothy Busfield (of Thirtysomething fame) gets killed in the first five minutes. Margaret Travolta (sister of John) played the judge for about a minute, though I do have to make a note of her having played Rob's mom in High Fidelity. Stephen Tobolowsky is in it (I linked him because he's been in everything, but you wouldn't recognize him from a specific role or description). Martin Klebba ("the world's fastest little person") plays a fellow security guard, and he also had a role in Run Ronnie Run! and in Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Action/Comedy hybrid is difficult to pull off. Eddie Murphy did it pretty well with several movies in the 80s. Martin Lawrence's earlier buddy pic with Will Smith (Bad Boys) wasn't bad, though I haven't seen the sequel. Likewise, the white/black buddy pic reached its best in the first few Lethal Weapon movies, which were basically straight action flicks with some good comic elements. National Security suffers from a lack of focus--it can't decide whether to be an action or a comedy. It was marketed as a madcap comedy, but it's execution is much more a bad action movie.

Don't get me wrong, the movie has it's moments, but unless you're a huge fan of Lawrence or Zahn, I can't recommend it.
You Are Getting Very Sleepy...
Slate carries an amusing series of articles written by Emily Yoffe called "Human Guinea Pig", in which she tries various jobs or therapies for the benefit of readers. Sounds like a fun assignment, though not suited for someone with a regular day job. The most recent piece concerns hypnosis, in which our heroine was hypnotized to help treat her problem of staying up late at night.

Now, I've got mixed feelings on hypnosis, but so does just about everyone who takes a scientific view of such things. Just look at the Skeptic's Dictionary definition. And arch-skeptic Michael Shermer has been hypnotized, though I assume the details are in one of his books. Here's what he had to say in an interview for Salon:
Q: That brings to mind the passage about hypnosis. That seems pretty hard to pin down as science, yet you have been hypnotized.

A: Yes, hypnosis is one of those great examples because there's much dispute about what it is. In my mind, there's clearly something going on. Enough experiments lead me to believe that there are different levels of consciousness or layers of subconscious. That will remain a borderlands science until we understand how the brain works. We just don't know. I was with a bunch of neuroscientists this weekend at this scientific conference in Seattle. These were the big experts, and I was pumping them for information. They only know, just to pick a figure, something like 10 percent of how the brain works. There are a lot of gaps to fill in about the brain.
The Slate article is suprisingly heartwarming, but I found this early passage about Freud hilarious:
Freud began hypnotizing his patients; his method was to put his hands on their foreheads and bark orders to go into a trance. This met with mixed success, and he soon abandoned hypnosis for free association.

Jewish Boxers
No, I'm not talking about kosher underpants... The New York Times has an article on Jewish boxers in New York City. I found this passage fascinating:
In that era, Jewish fighters were often casually referred to by sportswriters as the "ghosts of Mendoza," a tip of the cap of sorts to Daniel Mendoza. Born in 18th century England, Mendoza was a Spanish Jew who won the bare-knuckle heavyweight championship in 1791 at the airy weight of 160 pounds, which would make him a middleweight today. He was a showman and trash talker credited (often by himself) as the father of the Sweet Science.

Among Mendoza's said accomplishments: inventing the jab, finishing Richard (The Gentleman) Humphries in no less than 65 rounds, outrunning thoroughbred horses on foot, and clobbering pirates who attacked a ship he was sailing to Ireland, en route to teach the secrets revealed in his first book, "The Art of Boxing," in 1789.

Friday, December 26, 2003

I probably ought to do this more often, but haven't gotten around to it... Maybe I'll start this weekend. Anyway, on the digital cable alternative station, I just heard "Out of Time" by Blur. I love this song. The chorus just gets me:
And you've been so busy lately
that you haven't found the time
To open up your mind
And watch the world spinning gently out of time.
Don't I know it.
Now for the second movie... 2002's Run Ronnie Run!

I feel a little guilty watching this. I was a huge fan of Mr. Show on HBO, and have the first two seasons on DVD. This was supposed to be a big deal, the first Mr. Show movie and a reunion of sorts for all of the alternative actors who appeared on the show. But the two main forces behind the show and the movie, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, weren't allowed to be involved in editing the film and thus weren't happy with the results. New Line Cinema put the movie out anyway, though it went straight to video and almost no one saw it. You can read Bob and David's dire warning at their website (scroll down to the bottom of the far right column). Let's face it; there are very few people working in Hollywood who will say "don't go see my movie because I'm not happy with the way it turned out". Thus I am torn between my respect for the creators and my own unbridled curiosity. (Curiosity killed the cat, my ass. Cultures that don't value experimentation stagnate and remain stuck in the Stone Age.)

While I'd obviously like to see how they would have done it, it's not as bad as I expected. I mean it's a "bad movie", but definitely of the enjoyable bad subset. So even though it's not exactly what they wanted, I think it's close enough to make fans of Mr. Show happy.

There's little point in elucidating on the various non-famous actors in this... If you're a fan of the TV show, then you'll recognize everyone; if you're not a fan, then you're likely pissed off and wondering why you're wasting your time with such a weird movie.

In closing, I can only kneel in a dark alley and scream "RONWELLLLLLLL!"
Site Note
The more anal-retentive readers might notice that the past two posts were very close together, yet contained lots of information and links. Obviously, I didn't write them that quickly. I've gotten into the habit of composing in a separate text editor application (at home, in Text Edit on OSX, at work, in Notepad on Windows 2000). It allows me to write more freely--while the Blogger software has its charms, I get screwed up by hitting "Tab" by mistake or unconsciously closing out the window or some similiarly stupid thing. When I'm movieblogging, I tend to put the post together throughout the film, and typically post about halfway through. Sometimes, like tonight, I can toss together another post in the process. (For movies I like, I'll pause to blog for a bit, then resume watching. For bad movies, or pretty much anything on cable, I just keep writing.)
I picked up a bottle of molasses during the grand experiments with the different varieties of squash. (Squash bread aside, I found that it was possible to make an easy and wholesome side dish of roasted squash mixed with butter and molasses.) Anyway, I decided to nose around for some good molasses recipes, and found this one for glazed pork tenderloin that looks quite good, and this one for lamb chops with a Dijon-molasses sauce.

Speaking of recipes, I heard this one on NPR the other morning, and it sounded pretty good. The folks who put this cookbook together (a book based on recipes from soup labels and other "company" recipes) tried thousands of these recipes, and this was considered one of the best. It's a recipe for Chinese-style ribs using the microwave.
After a long crappy day at work (I'm not even supposed to be here today!), I thought it would be a good idea to stop by Blockbuster on the way home and grab a few movies. I'm too exhausted to go out and do anything interesting, and really just need to vegetate. But what did I grab? Two flicks, but I'll start with the one that's bound to piss me off. 2003's Alex and Emma. There are few things worse than combining the following elements: a bitter bachelor, alcohol, and a romantic comedy. Typically what happens with me in this situation is that I end up screaming obscenities at the screen, or even toying with the idea of stopping the movie before the inevitable happy ending, so I can savor it as a tragedy. So why am I watching it?

Lots of reasons. I think Kate Hudson is a great actress, and a true joy to watch on screen. Frankly after Almost Famous, a Rum Smuggler Classic, she could make crap for the next fifty years and I would still consider her wonderful. The male lead is played by Luke Wilson, who had excellent roles in all of the Wes Anderson movies, not to mention his work in Old School. And I've enjoyed the rest of his movies as well. Sophie Marceau is another lovely, intelligent actress. David Paymer is a vastly underrated character actor. I've generally been happy with the films of Rob Reiner. The amazing Cloris Leachmann as the grandmother! And much of it is set in an idealized New England of the 1920s.

The basic plot is that Wilson has to write a novel in 30 days to be able to pay off loan sharks, and Hudson is the plucky, opinionated stenographer whom he hires to type up the first draft. Now, I know they're going to fall in love by the end. In fact, I suspect that this was a script that Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn turned down years ago. The action cuts back and forth from the writer and stenographer in the present day to a dramatized view of the events in the novel. Adaptation also showed a novel in progress, though in a more artistic way, and that horrid Keillor book I read recently, Love Me, dealt heavily with writer's block. Am I seeking out these themes? Not really.

Hudson's character in this book is sort of anachronistic--she wears glasses on a chain around her neck, for God's sake. And a stenographer? That's a word that's destined for the likes of polymath and pantechnicon. Though I still tend to think of a note pad as a "steno pad", and I can touch-type while taking dictation, I still think the idea of hiring a stenographer as pretty old fashioned. (Of course, in a roundabout way, that's what I do for a living...)

I get preemptively annoyed at this movie because Hudson's character, despite being a smart and attractive woman who works for a living, is going to fall head over heels for a poor author with a gambling problem who is deeply in debt to murderous Cuban loan sharks. We'll see if this pans out.

God, the 1920s scenes are so beautifully filmed. It's heavily idealized, but gorgeous nonetheless. Yeah, it has a happy ending (did you ever think it wouldn't?), but all bitterness and cynicism aside, it was a great movie. Lots of Norah Jones music helped tremendously.
Christmas Truce
Snopes digs in and confirms the story of the German and Allied troops who engaged in a spontaneous truce during the Christmas of 1914. The soldiers put down their rifles and engaged in friendly festivities. (The first time I heard about this, one poignant moment involved the Brits singing "Silent Night" at the same time as the Germans sang "Stille Nacht", but I don't know if that actually happened or not.)

World War I was a brutal war, and one of the last real "imperial wars" based off old 19th century and earlier tactics. The soldiers on all sides were often unwilling conscripts with little understanding or regard for the political forces that sent them there. I recall hearing about similar truces amongst Australian and Turkish troops. While the two opposing forces brutally slaughtered each others, during breaks in the action they would meet in No Man's Land and play cricket or soccer, shake hands, and resume killing each other the next day.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

With this final movie of the evening, I'm not filling in gaps or watching the greats, I'm justifying why I have cable. 2002's Bad Company, the buddy action movie starring Anthony Hopkins and... Chris Rock. Now, I'm a huge fan of both, but for entirely different reasons. The plot is pretty trite--several of the elements go back to Shakespeare and beyond--and I can't help but think that the writers envisioned this as an Eddie Murphy flick back in the 80s.

It's filmed beautifully, but the movie doesn't surprise you at any turn. Yes, it has Peter Stormare in it, the guy who plays the hulking Scandinavian or generic Eastern European in a lot of movies, but he can't save the film on his own. Hey, Anthony Hopkins is an uptight establishment guy, and Chris Rock is a wacky, impetuous young black man. Ya think they might bond and find common ground and respect by the end of the movie?

Still, I've satisfied my curiosity about this movie, and in retrospect, today has been a pretty good day all around, so I can't complain too much. Cheers, and Merry Christmas one more time.
One more movie, and I'm still going strong. The third John Hughes/Anthony Michael Hall flick for tonight is Weird Science. This movie has a really cheesy theme song, the kind that was common amongst bad comedies of the 80s. However, it was performed by indie/college band Oingo Boingo, and produced by Danny Elfman. Cheese aside, this is a pretty decent movie. Good actors, fairly good special effects, and excellent writing. And lots of hot Kelly LeBrock with that delicious accent.

I just picked up on something from watching these back to back: In both this movie and The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall is known for having a fake girlfriend in Canada with whom he's "gone all the way". By this point it's a geek stereotype to have a girlfriend in another state, country, pretty much anywhere that you're not going to be called to prove it.

Ilan-Mitchell Smith, who plays sidekick Wyatt in this movie, is now a history professor at Texas A&M, and has apparently decided to leave his Hollywood experience behind him. More power to him for managing to lead a normal life. The cast in this is pretty large, but there's few characters with extensive speaking roles, and several of them are still well known: Robert Downey, Jr. and Bill Paxton

The scene in which the information is fed into the computer to create the perfect woman probably did much to give the nation a completely ridiculous notion of what computers were capable of. Don't get me wrong, I love the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but for a lot of people in the mid 80s, this was their only exposure to computers. Or movies like Wargames--which I also love, but I think they helped to make people intensely afraid of computers, as if touching a single key could wreak havoc on the entire nation. But what can I say? I even enjoyed the 1994 low-budget, basic cable sitcom based on the movie, starring the lovely Vanessa Angel as Lisa (the character in both the movie and the TV show was named after the Apple Lisa, a precursor to the Macintosh).

I'll pause for a moment to say that all three movies look wonderful in wide screen, from a good print, and cleaned of almost all scratches, lint, and other imperfections. It's really nice to see these films like this. Unfortunately, there are no extras or special features, but for movies this old, deleted scenes are hard to come by, and unless it's a critically recognized classic, commentary tracks are rare. So even if special editions come out later, I'll probably just hang on to these instead.
So I suppose I ought to give an update on the Mexican Pot Roast. That describes well how I'm making it, but I'll be using it as shredded beef filling for soft tacos. Here's the recipe as I made it (feel free to adjust as you wish, I wasn't working from a strict recipe in the first place):Take a pot large enough to hold the roast and all of the liquid (4-5 quart size). Put it on the stove and heat it up to medium. Sear the roast on all sides, then start pouring in the cans of Ro-Tel (with the liquid) and the V-8. The V-8's not mandatory, but if you have it on hand, it's a good way to add liquid without sacrificing flavor. I suppose a cheap red wine would work well, but I haven't tried it. Cover the roast with the tomatoes and peppers, bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot, and allow to simmer on low heat for about five hours. Feel free to turn the roast occasionally if you get bored, but it's good to check on it once in a while. (If making in a crock pot, don't worry about checking on it.) Once it's done, carefully lift the roast (you may have to do it in pieces) and place it in a bowl. This is where I normally stop, maybe adding in a bit of the leftover juices, but tonight I tried something different.

The tomatoes and peppers are pretty much worthless at this point, all of the flavor has been cooked out of them. Strain what's left in the pot into a bowl large enough to hold all of it. Throw out the tomatoes and peppers. Pour the remaining liquid back into the pot, turn it on high, and cook until half of the volume is gone. (This is called a reduction.) Stir frequently, and if you smell any burning or caramelization, turn the heat down to medium-high. Mainly you're just trying to force water out of the sauce. Once reduced, let cool, and put a couple of paper towels in the strainer. Pour the liquid back through the strainer into the bowl. At this stage, you may have to let it sit for a while--though you've got all of the large vegetable solids out, there's still a lot of particles in the liquid.

What you're left with is a pure, clear broth. And it's delicious. (The second straining should prevent most of the fat from getting in the broth.) Take this, and pour it over the meat. Now, you can leave the meat alone at this point, or if you want to use it shredded, go ahead and tear it apart using two forks. This is simpler than it sounds; it will come apart easily, and you really can't screw it up. Now you've got some great beef that will be a great filler for any Mexican dish that calls for beef. It also makes good sandwich meat with some BBQ sauce.

For a side dish, I've gotten in the habit of making this stuff I'll call demi-salsa. It's not real salsa, but it's close and I like it. Chop up two tomatoes and a loosely packed cup of fresh cilantro. Put into a tupperware container with a splash of vinegar, the juice of half a lime, and a dash of olive oil. Cover, shake vigorously, and pop in the refrigerator for a while (say, the length of time it takes to cook the roast!). For my soft tacos tonight, I plan to use the shredded beef, my demi-salsa, and some shredded cheese on flour tortillas. Simple and delicious. I'd add in some nice greenleaf lettuce, but I forgot to get any yesterday and all the stores are closed on Christmas.
Now it's time for 1985's The Breakfast Club. I remember when I first saw this (circa 1992), I thought, "Man, this would be an awesome stage play for high school theatre. Small cast, static set, easily recognizable subject matter, and props would be cheap. And the movie is already written, performed, and staged like a play." Apparently everyone else who saw this had the same idea, and by 1992 it was already a bad cliche for high school theatre groups to perform the play.

The principal just uttered one of the classic lines of 80s cinema: "Don't mess with the bull, young man. You'll get the horns."

This one is the only drama out of the bunch. I've got to say that this trio of movies, when viewed in chronological order, is much like the Italian style of Torelli's concertos: three movements, allegro, andante, and allegro. One quick and upbeat, one slow and serious, and one final quick and upbeat movement to leave everyone feeling good. Ah yes, the great folly that is humanity: to recognize patterns in random chance.

This movie has been parodied many times, most completely in Not Another Teen Movie, one of my favorites. I think most original parody was in Family Guy, in which the characters in the movie were replaced by breakfast cereal icons, and Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes) played the Judd Nelson role and delivered the speech about getting cigarettes at Christmas.

The John Hughes movies played an important role in the Kevin Smith film Dogma, another Rum Smuggler Classic and treasured part of my collection. Here's Jay explaining why they're in Illinois:
See, all these movies take place in a small town called Shermer, in Illinois, where all the honies are top-shelf, but all the dudes are whiny pussies--except for Judd Nelson, he was fuckin' harsh--but best of all, there was no one dealin', man; then, it hits me: we could live like phat rats if we were the blunt connection in Shermer, Illinois. So we collected some money we were owed, and we caught a bus. You know what the fuck we found out when we got there? There is no Shermer in Illinois! Movies are fuckin' bullshit.
Interesting note: the guy who plays Carl the Janitor in this played the sister's groom in Sixteen Candles. It appears that he also has a role in Weird Science as some guy named Dino. I'll be looking out for him.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I spent a few hours doing the family thing this morning, came home, threw a Mexican pot roast in on the stove to slow cook until late tonight, and then cleaned up the joint. The dogs are fed and walked, and having thus achieved a happy level of domestic bliss, I'm sitting back for what promises to be an interesting evening.

Last week, I picked up "The High School Reunion Collection", a boxed set containing Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science. Frankly, I think it should have been called "The John Hughes Collection" since these are the three best movies that he wrote and directed, or even "The Anthony Michael Hall Collection", since these are the three movies that everyone thinks of when they think of Hall. With luck, endurance, and perhaps a drop or two of rum, I intend to watch all three in a row, in chronological order (the order that I've listed them above).

I will take this opportunity to point out that I've seen all of these movies a dozen times, but I've never seen them in widescreen or in their unedited glory. (Two of these, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, are finally being released with their original theatrical soundtracks. Even more great 80s music!)

First up, we have 1984's Sixteen Candles. This is the second movie made starring both John and Joan Cusack (they starred together in another Brat Pack movie that I haven't seen, Class in 1983). And speaking of siblings, Molly Ringwald's sister Beth has a role here as well. It was the first film for Gedde Watanabe (a guy of Japanese heritage, born in Utah, playing a Chinese guy with a Korean name who speaks bad stereotyped Engrish). I forgot to point this out, but he was one of the many great character actors in Slackers last night. Paul Dooley, who played the father, has been in a bunch of great movies, the most recently blogged being A Mighty Wind. Lots of other wonderful actors great and small...

John Hughes was really in the zone for these movies, but his recent output hasn't been as strong.

The proper music does seem to make a difference--the songs fit the shifting moods of the film much better now.

Aside from these observations, this is a movie that everyone has seen many times, so I'll refrain from posting much more. In fact, the next two posts will be of a similar nature.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I have a nigh-masochistic tolerance for bad movies. That, and insomnia are the reasons why I'm watching 2002's Slackers. Again. I saw this when it came out on DVD, but it's worth a second viewing. It's an admittedly bad movie--and it doesn't pretend to be otherwise--but it has some great actors in it.The weak plot of this movie bears a great deal of resemblence to another movie from 2002, Cheats, which I blogged about in a previous post.

This movie features an unusual and somewhat unpleasant cameo from Mamie Van Doren. Other happier cameos come from Cameron Diaz, Gina Gershon, Joe Flaherty, and a bunch of assorted well-known character actors.
I posted some stuff earlier today as regards the great masterpiece from 1983, A Christmas Story. But I've decided to go ahead and watch it, and instead of just adding to the previous post, I'll take care of it here.

A quick note on Jean Shepherd, the author of the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash that was part of the basis for this movie. Shepherd was a folksy radio announcer who was telling heartwarming stories of Midwestern America long before Garrison Keillor made it popular. Shepherd serves as the narrator for this movie, as well as having a cameo in the "visiting Santa at the store" scene. But did you know that there have been other adaptations of the story of Ralphie? I haven't seen any of the TV specials, but I have seen the other two movies, both of which featured Shepherd as narrator, but which didn't feature any of the same actors. It Runs in the Family wasn't that great, suffering from the Charles Grodin curse upon movies, but I remain a big fan of Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss, even though almost nobody has seen it. A teenaged Ralphie is played by Jerry O'Connell, which was his first big role after Stand By Me. The Dad in OHHOB was played by James Sikking, who is perhaps best known for his role in Hill Street Blues (jeez, how old am I?), or to a later generation as Doogie Howser's dad.

Back to the movie... Kudos to Peter Billingsly for avoiding the jail/drugs avenue of most child stars. And instead of seeking big roles based on his part in A Christmas Story, he has chosen a promising career behind the camera.

Halfway through this movie, it's suddenly beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas. I tried to jumpstart the Christmas spirit earlier this evening--I walked both dogs for about three miles, listening to Christmas music on the iPod and looking at the various lighted displays around the neighborhood. To be honest, the one-degree-below-freezing temperature meant more to me than all of the fancy lights and plastic Santas. Did I leave my bedroom windows open all day? Yes. Are my dogs current curled in contented balls of fur upon my bed? Damned straight. It rarely gets cold enough for my tastes here in Memphis, but I try to make the best of our anemic winter by closing off the air ducts to my room so that I don't get any of the central heating (a necessary evil to keep the pipes from freezing, and to keep The Roommate from killing me with a salad fork) and opening my windows to keep things frosty.
I posted some stuff earlier today as regards the great masterpiece from 1983, A Christmas Story. But I've decided to go ahead and watch it, and instead of just adding to the previous post, I'll take care of it here.

A quick note on Jean Shepherd, the author of the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash that was part of the basis for this movie. Shepherd was a folksy radio announcer who was telling heartwarming stories of Midwestern America long before Garrison Keillor made it popular. Shepherd serves as the narrator for this movie, as well as having a cameo in the "visiting Santa at the store" scene. But did you know that there have been other adaptations of the story of Ralphie? I haven't seen any of the TV specials, but I have seen the other two movies, both of which featured Shepherd as narrator, but which didn't feature any of the same actors. It Runs in the Family wasn't that great, suffering from the Charles Grodin curse upon movies, but I remain a big fan of Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss, even though almost nobody has seen it. A teenaged Ralphie is played by Jerry O'Connell, which was his first big role after Stand By Me. The Dad in OHHOB was played by James Sikking, who is perhaps best known for his role in Hill Street Blues (jeez, how old am I?), or to a later generation as Doogie Howser's dad.

Back to the movie... Kudos to Peter Billingsly for avoiding the jail/drugs avenue of most child stars. And instead of seeking big roles based on his part in A Christmas Story, he has chosen a promising career behind the camera.

Halfway through this movie, it's suddenly beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas. I tried to jumpstart the Christmas spirit earlier this evening--I walked both dogs for about three miles, listening to Christmas music on the iPod and looking at the various lighted displays around the neighborhood. To be honest, the one-degree-below-freezing temperature meant more to me than all of the fancy lights and plastic Santas. Did I leave my bedroom windows open all day? Yes. Are my dogs current curled in contented balls of fur upon my bed? Damned straight. It rarely gets cold enough for my tastes here in Memphis, but I try to make the best of our anemic winter by closing off the air ducts to my room so that I don't get any of the central heating (a necessary evil to keep the pipes from freezing, and to keep The Roommate from killing me with a salad fork) and opening my windows to keep things frosty.
Filling in gaps... Tonight I'm watching 2000's Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Since it's a three year old Jim Carrey movie, I might enjoy it. I had no desire to see this in the theater, and I seem to recall that it came out on DVD in the summer, when I didn't feel like seeing it. But I was always curious.

Within the first ten minutes, I learn that it's yet another Clint Howard movie! And kudos to director Ron Howard for casting his unattractive brother... Including this one and a movie called The Missing from this year, the director/actor combo have made fourteen films and one TV show together.

Speaking of character actors, let's give a shout out for Molly Shannon. I always enjoyed her on Saturday Night Live, and what can I say, big-boned Irish women touch a nerve with this son of Eire. Also, Jeffrey Tambor plays the mayor, and he also plays the imprisoned patriarch on the new Fox TV series Arrested Development, which is directed and narrated by Ron Howard. And Christine Baranski is just wonderful in everything she does.

In the charitable spirit of Christmas, I'm trying not to compare this movie to the original book or the 1960s animated show (though Boris Karloff was the perfect narrator for the story--Anthony Hopkins is good, but it's not the same). Theodore Geisel was a master of the simple line art. His editorial cartoons up to and during the beginning of WWII are outstanding, but that style doesn't translate as well to full 3-D live action. I will give them credit for having a consistent design idea, as well as putting more effort into making the Whos and the Grinch looking slightly alien than has been achieved in the collective entirety of the Star Trek TV shows and movies. (Note to Star Trek costume/makeup personnel: these aliens can emote through their makeup!)

Most people don't know this, but during WWII, Geisel made movies for the War Department. He won documentary Oscars for Hitler Lives and Design for Death. Later, he won an Oscar for the animated short Gerald McBoing-Boing, about a boy who speaks only in sound effects. (This was later adapted into an animated TV series, and I'm guessing the name was the inspiration for the great group blog BoingBoing, co-blogged by Cory Doctorow.)

(Let me interrupt for a moment to say that the baby Grinch is one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen, and I've seen actual deformed fetuses preserved in glass jars.)

(Another interruption, half an hour later: the scene of the Grinch wearing lederhosen is disturbing as well, but in an entirely different way.)

I know a lot of people hate this movie, but I find myself enjoying it. And Jim Carrey does an amazing job acting from underneath all that makeup and fur. (Let's not forget the eyeball-covering contacts or the fake teeth or the gloves that don't allow you to grasp things normally.) I'm also more inclined to see this season's Cat in the Hat movie starring Mike Myers, though I'll definitely wait for DVD.

Upon watching the closing credits, I heard not only "Lonely Christmas Eve" by the great Ben Folds, but also "Green Christmas" by Barenaked Ladies! My Christmas Eve has been made much happier by this simple action.
Grand Bull Moose of Bad Ideas
The OSDN Dating Service. Obviously what the online dating world needs are more male computer geeks between the ages of 18 and 35.
Mad Cow Joke
Obviously this current scare--and I doubt it's a serious outbreak--is going to have a bad impact on the American beef industry, but I'm content that the legions of domestic Atkins fans will help keep things going until foreign countries lift their bans. That being said, I had to laugh at this joke, via Andrew Sullivan:
So this cow says to another cow: "I'm really freaked out about this whole mad cow disease." "I'm not worried in the slightest," says the other cow. "But it's breaking out all over and they're slaughtering hundreds and thousands in Europe. How can you not be worried?" the first cow protests. "Well, it's not going to affect me." says the second cow. "I'm a duck."

Christmas Memories
I see that TBS will be showing its 24-hour marathon broadcast of A Christmas Story, starting tonight. Truly one of The Best Movies Of All Time, and #140 on the IMDB Top 250. I'll probably watch it--or part of it--tonight if I get around to it. If so, I'll jot down some thoughts as an update to this post.

Christmas Eve, 1997. I had multiple Christmas gatherings to attend to, and at the time I was pretty heavy into the hobby of bread baking. I pulled an all-nighter, baking bread, drinking beer, and watching A Christmas Story over and over. The bread baking took up most of the time--I made 17 loaves, no duplicates. Everything from banana bread to a baguette to various traditional European Christmas breads. The planning stage involved a detailed spreadsheet of the times that everything had to be prepared by, to allow for rising time and baking. I was constantly making dough, shaping loaves, and moving loaves in and out of the oven. All of them turned out beautifully. And the apartment smelled wonderful for a week afterward.

By the way, if you want your own "Major Award", you can buy a Leg Lamp online. However, if you want to make your own, it's not hard to build one yourself--find a mannequin supplier and see if they'll sell you a single female leg. If you cant find one in your town, you can order one. From there, it's a pretty simple project, requiring only one trip to the hardware store and a side trip to the lingerie shop to get a cheap pair of fishnet stockings.
History of Cocktails
I really never drink cocktails, though I have nothing against them--I simply never have the ingredients on hand at home, and the better ones are a bit too much work for one person to enjoy. I love mojitos, martinis, and properly made margaritas (i.e., no bright green sweet & sour mix). A cosmopolitan is quite good, though I'd never order one in public. That leads us to the second problem, which is that I frequently dine alone or with non-drinkers, so I tend to limit myself to a beer. Few things are more ridiculous looking than one poor bastard enjoying a martini amongst a group of befuddled teetotalers.

The New York Times brings us a review of a new history of cocktails written by Gary Regan called The Joy of Mixology. I loved this excerpt at the end of the article:
The best silly fact in "The Joy of Mixology" concerns a drink, if it can be called a drink, for which I have expressed nothing but contempt. It's the jelly (or Jell-O) shot, a quivering alcohol-spiked blob of gelatin, usually in a gaudy color and usually headed for the gaping maw of a barely legal customer. I stand corrected. The jelly shot dates to the mid-19th century, and it has a genteel pedigree. Our ancestors enjoyed turning flavorful punches into a chilled jelly, to be served in slices on a warm evening. Jerry Thomas included several recipes in "How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant's Companion," the first cocktail book, published in 1862. He also appended a warning. "Many persons," he wrote, "have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper."
I've never had a Jell-O shot, though as I've all but lost my taste for sugary sweet drinks and foods, I don't think I'll be sampling one any time soon.
Filling in gaps... so to speak. I'm finally getting around to watching 1998's Black Dog, a truck driving movie starring Patrick Swayze. I've actually been wanting to see this since it came out, for some bizarre reason. Perhaps because the recent Saddam-nabbing operation in Iraq was called "Red Dawn" (with ancillary operations called Wolverine 1 & 2), I've felt it necessary to watch this flick. I'm sure that Operations Ghost, Dirty Dancing, and Road House are right around the corner, and I don't want to be behind the curve when Operation Black Dog hits the middle east.

Joking aside, I've got a lot of respect and admiration towards truckers. The profession has a bad rap--some of it justified--but for the most part, the drivers are good guys trying to make a living. And the truckers are truly the red blood cells of American capitalism. I've got truckers in my family, and I knew a lot of them as a child. Salt of the earth, most of them. I suppose it comes with the territory when you live at the intersection of I-40, I-55, several major railroad lines, and the world headquarters of FedEx. Back in the 80s, Memphis billed itself as "America's Distribution Center", which is still a reasonable title.

Further information in defense of truckers: The internet has revolutionized the business. From a money-making standpoint, the biggest advantage is to independent drivers who can stroll into town, find loads online, bid for the job, and move on to the next city. More importantly for all drivers, cheap internet access at truck stops across the nation has allowed truckers to keep in touch with their families, churches, and friends, which goes a long way towards preventing the worst case scenarios of the trucking life.

This movie also stars Meat Loaf, who aside from being a Rock God, has starred in an amazing thirty-six movies. And Randy Travis is in it. I'm not a fan of country music, but I've heard nothing but good about him from my relatives in Nashville. The movie was produced by Raffaella de Laurentiis, daughter of Dino and co-producer of the recently blogged Red Sonja.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Right now on Tech TV's Unscrewed, there's a segment featuring two alternative internet icons: Drew Curtis of FARK and Wil Wheaton of WWDN. I read both sites daily. I was indifferent towards Wheaton back in the Star Trek: The Next Generation days, though I always felt he was great in Stand By Me. His blog is fascinating, as it shows that by being a geek who doesn't take oneself seriously, one can avoid screwing up ones life like other child stars (reference Cory Feldman and the late River Phoenix). He's a frequent poster on both FARK and Slashdot. Let me note here that I have "excellent" karma on Slashdot. (Doing the geek pride dance as I write this.)

FARK is one of the greatest websites ever created. It's a weblog in the purest sense of the term--not exactly a blog, but a good old fashioned weblog, meaning a site that focuses on linking to other websites. Back in the day, such sites were the bread and butter of web surfers, because search engines were in their infancy, and there weren't that many sites. Remember Mirsky's Worst of the Web? No? It folded in 1996? Wha' happened? Anyway, FARK is quite like that, but updated on a daily basis and with an active comments section that is often more entertaining than the weird sites linked.

More information about the great meeting of the minds can be found here.
Eric Scott Raymond relates one of my favorite Southern euphemisms in a recent post. Say it aloud with your best deep Southern accent, and if you can hold a drink in one hand and use the other to gesture with a cigar, you've got it made:
As Edwin Edwards (four-term governor of Lousiana) might put it, "Bush couldn't lose the election now unless he got caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."

Site Note
Once again, I'm stuck with weird shifts and a bunch of stuff to do from now through New Year's, so blogging may be erratic.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Filling in gaps, though I'm not 100% in the mood for it... #244 on the IMDB Top 250, JFK. I don't think that the nation has ever recovered from this movie. While I find conspiracy theories entertaining and amusing, they're not to be taken seriously, and the debunking of said theories is often the most enjoyable part. I remember having to sit through a special lecture in high school on the JFK assassination in '92, given by a baseball coach who also taught a few lower-level history classes. Nice guy, but even at that point I could tell that most of what he was teaching was complete bullshit. Don't get me wrong, there is some legitimate mystery and a set of enduring questions about the assassination, but every serious look at the subject has revealed that the truth is far more boring than the theories.

Watching this movie is a little odd for me, because I'm one of the half-dozen people in this country that thinks Kevin Costner is a great actor, yet doesn't like Oliver Stone. I don't really have anything against Stone, but I haven't been impressed by his movies. (I'll hold final judgment until I see Platoon, though his upcoming movie about Alexander the Great looks interesting.)

For a fan of character actors, this movie offers a wealth... Just look at the full cast list. I won't go into detail--even at three hours, I'd still be writing about them by the time it was over--but the movie does feature many of my favorite actors. And it's the second Ed Asner movie that I've seen this week. And it's a rare movie starring both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in which they didn't interact with each other. (They are both sorely missed.) And I just noticed that Oliver Stone's son Sean plays Costner's son in the movie, and in fact, the boy has been in most of Stone's films. I also now realize that Kevin Bacon's presence in this movie makes playing the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game much easier.

Most people aren't familiar with this feature, but with many movies on the IMDB, you can click on the "goofs" link on the left column. Here's the listing for JFK. Mostly these are nitpicky details, but they can be fun. Also note the "alternate versions" and "trivia" links, all under the "Fun Stuff" heading. I'm serious, folks, this is one of the greatest free, publicly-available databases ever created.

I find it interesting that they use the term "White Russian" to refer to residents of the present-day Belarus. That term has been out of use for a long time. I'll always think of the region as Белоруссия. One of my dearest childhood friends was a diehard, good-old Southern boy from Mississippi, and so was his father. I'm talking about accents so slow they dripped molasses, but don't let the voices fool you--they were brilliant. The father had been an engineer on the Saturn V projects under Werner von Braun. The great-grandfather was from Byelorussia, and since they were sympathizers with the czar, the family fled during the 1917 revolution. He always described himself as ethnically "White Russian", which was a dangerous thing to say during the tense years of the 1980s, but his allegiance to the USA was never in question. However, that's the last time I've heard that term used--I'm assuming that it was much more popular back in the 50s and 60s, when ethnic separations amongst Europeans were far more important than they are today.

Two-thirds of the way through the movie, I'm still not impressed by the plot or script, though I love the acting. Wayne Night (Newman from Seinfeld) is a frequently entertaining character actor, and it's been fun to watch him throughout the movie.
It's not often that I post about rum, though it's often a contributing factor in the other posts. Since it's the holidays, and I'm working every day from Christmas to New Year's barring the actual holidays, plus a bunch of other crap, I'm in a foul mood. But I decided to splurge and get a nicer rum for the next few days, something that I'd never had before. I settled on a delightful spirit distilled in Barbados... From a company that's been in the business since 1703... Man, this stuff is great. It's a dark rum, but not too dark, just dark enough to reach that whiskey-stage of mellow brown goodness. The only problem is the name. "Mount Gay". It's great stuff, but do I really want to think "Mount Gay" when I'm ready for a drink at night? If you're a UNIX geek, it's just as bad. I have a lot of gay friends, but I doubt any of them have volumes named "Gay".

What's really scary is that because this rum is so good, I'm tempted to try their premium variant: Mount Gay Extra Old. Weep for the Rum Smuggler.
Turner Classic Movies always shows the silent movie compilation A Christmas Past on the Sunday before Christmas, and it's always enjoyable. (This collection is available on VHS or DVD. Look it up your on own damned time. You can tape it or download it at will, and I'm pretty sure that it's all in the public domain now anyway.) Most of these are Edison films, with the requisite Edison copyright notices before the films. All of these are short films, between five and fifteen minutes. I will give the collection credit for having a great score provided by Al Kryszak. My main interest in it is that it gives a peek into the Christmas traditions of the early 20th century, and you don't see very many films from 1900-1910 anywhere.

Here's the lineup:Oddly, my greatest enjoyment came from the fonts used on the title cards and opening screens. There was even some handwriting in one shot that looked a lot like Linoscript.

Mein Gott in Himmel, that was a long post... To close on an odd note, when it's midnight and you're a little tipsy, some of those silent-era actresses start to look damned fine. And I also wonder, will men's hats ever come back in fashion? I'm not talking about the goddamned baseball caps worn at 180°, 90°, or some awkward angle in between. I'm talking about bowlers, derbies, and fedoras. Sigh. I've heard it noted that gentlemanly behavior died in America at about the same time that men stopped wearing hats--namely the late 1950s/early 1960s before everything went to hell.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Christmas Music
I've managed to avoid most of the Christmas music onslaught this season... I know a lot of people get sick of it because they hear a lot of really bad Christmas music 24/7 during the month before the holiday. Last night I loaded up the iPod with a bunch of good stuff, and have been listening to it today. I tend to gravitate towards the beautiful religious classics with a sprinkling of some tastefully performed modern secular works. (There's some bad modern secular music, but there's lots more really awful modern religious stuff.) And it just isn't Christmas until I've listened to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi about a dozen times.

Handel's Hallelujah Chorus just came on, and I instinctively stood up. I suppose my Presbyterianism really is hardwired into the primitive lizard regions of my brain. I'm sure that I could sustain massive brain damage and still be able to recite the Apostle's Creed. When I was a kid, we attended the full performance of The Messiah every year, and standing for the big chorus was considered proper etiquette, and only those in wheelchairs were allowed to remain standing. I'm sure like most formal etiquette, it's going to die out soon, and it would already appear that there is some debate over the practice.

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