Saturday, January 24, 2004

Movieblogging: The 'burbs
Well, it's late on a Saturday evening, I'm deep into the cups, and no in the mood for heavy thought. Thus it should come to pass that I'm watching The 'Burbs (1989). I'm surprised at the date on this--I had assumed that it came out a few years earlier. Obviously this is the favorite of no-one, though it contains a lot of great actors.

Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher play the main characters. Bruce Dern plays one of the neighbors. And Cory Feldman plays one of the annoying kids in the neighborhood (an automatic Rum Smuggler +1).

The premise and plot of the movie are pretty stupid--I tend to get annoyed at movies that choose to show the "dark side" of suburbia. You have a ton of directors and authors pointing out everything that's evil about the suburbs, yet a year's worth of crime in the suburbs can take place within a month in the inner city. Having spent the majority of my life living (but not necessarily working) in the suburbs, I can say that they're frequently dull, but not as boring as a rural small town nor as exciting as a big city. There is something to be said for a stable middle ground, which is why so many people move there in the first place.
Movieblogging: Teen Wolf
My tolerance for bad 80s movies knows no bounds. I look back on Teen Wolf (1985) with some pleasant nostalgia. Again, it's one of those movies that could only be made in the 80s. OK, so the 1950s had I Was a Teenage Werewolf (starring Michael Landon in the lead role), but that was more of a traditional horror movie. Only in the 80s could the dorky teenager who becomes a werewolf go public with his lycanthropy and become more popular than ever. (Of course, by the end of the movie he must return to normal, come to terms with his powers, and keep all of his old and new friends.)

For Michael J. Fox, this movie came after the incredible Back to the Future and during the run of Family Ties. He's great for this role, but I think that it might have been more fun if someone else had played the part. As it is, the movie is too well-known and expectations are too high, preventing it from becoming a cult classic. Aside from Fox, the only recognizable actor in it is Mark Holton, who played the nemesis Francis in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
Movieblogging: Johnny English & Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The tradition of viewing two movies accompanied by alcohol and good cheer continued this evening over at the abode of The Ring Bearer. First up was Johnny English (2003). This one got horrible reviews, judging from the IMDB ratings, and I'm surprised that more people didn't like it. I was laughing the entire time. I think that many people viewed it as an Austin Powers ripoff, when in many regards it's far superior. Rowan Atkinson is a comic genius, and this movie provides many opportunities for him to engage in his great physical comedy. Natalie Imbruglia is surprisingly good in her somewhat predictable role, and John Malkovich is just perfect as the bad guy. I also found myself thinking of Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther movies quite a bit. If you have a cultured appreciation for British humor humour as well as a healthy knowledge for the James Bond films, you'll love this movie.

The second feature was the classic 80s flick Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). This was the first time I'd ever seen it in widescreen, unedited, and without the interruption of commercials. The transfer looks great, and there is a commentary track by John Hughes that I'm looking forward to hearing. Everyone has seen this, so I won't say too much except that it was a lot of fun to watch and quote along with the more famous lines. I'm really surprised this isn't on the IMDB Top 250.

Friday, January 23, 2004

It Could Be Worse...
Anyone bored or annoyed with the movieblogging & bookblogging project should take comfort in the fact that I'm not photographing every bowl of pasta I eat.
I love wine, but I don't consider myself a wine snob. I can tell some of the major grapes apart, and can recognize some of the obscure native American varietals like Muscadine and Niagara in a heartbeat. I've had glasses that came from $200 bottles, and I've drunk cheap plonk from a ceramic jug while visiting Italy. My philosphy tends to be: if it tastes good, it is good. However, some beverages give wine a bad name...

Hence we have a formal review of Bum Wines. I can honestly say--and I've drunk a lot of cheap booze in my day--that I've never even laid eyes on these products. I know them only through their foul reputations and the urban legend-esque stories surrounding them. With names like Night Train, Thunderbird, and Mad Dog, are you really expecting a genteel drinking experience? Unfortunately, I know a dozen shops within ten minutes of my workplace where I could likely find these beverages, yet I have no desire to sample them. For one thing, I have a modicum of self respect left, and for another, I'm sure these vile elixirs are loaded with sugar (most likely in the form of corn syrup) in order to mask the raw alcohol and other harsh flavors. I passed my "sweet liquor" phase a long time ago, and have no desire to ever return.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Camera Post
Posting has been light recently (and I haven't seen any movies) because of the new camera. It's a lot more complicated than my previous digital camera, so I've got a lot to learn. I've also been spending a lot of time in Photoshop fiddling with curves and levels and whatnot...

The camera I bought is the Fujifilm S5000 Zoom, a consumer-level SLR-style digital camera. My previous camera was the similar 3800. Here's why I like that style of camera and why I upgraded:I'll also take a moment to point out the S5000 User Group, a passionate forum for owners of the camera. Lots of pictures are posted, and honest discussions of the camera's limitations (no camera is perfect) helped me decide on getting it. My only complaints are that it doesn't have an ISO 100 equivalent setting, meaning that the pictures can appear to be a bit grainy (however, it shoots much better in low light and indoors without a flash). And that it's a little big and complicated. I don't mind, but I can't see myself carrying it to a party or family gathering. So in a month or two I might pick up a nice, compact Canon Powershot A70. It will fit in a pocket, has settings for ISO 50 and 100 equivalents, and most importantly, can be handed to a friend or relative to take a picture. I don't necessarily like having my picture taken, but it's nice to have a few on hand, and the S5000 is just a little much to shove in someone's hand.

Between the two cameras, I'd have all of my needs met. I'll keep my 35mm point and shoot cameras for sentimental reasons, but I don't see myself actually using any of them ever again.
Irish Mandatory Welfare
Thanks to AtlanticBlog, I now know that "Every family in Ireland gets a monthly child allowance, currently €125.60 each for the first two children, and €157.30 for each subsequent child." This was in a post about grocery stores being fined by the government for having sales on baby food.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Election 2004: Media Watch
Though last night's caucus results were completely unexpected, today's reaction is about like I guessed after watching Kerry cinch it. A lot of Democrats are jumping into the Kerry/Edwards camp (and that's a President/VP matchup made in heaven), leaving behind the upstarts like Dean. I'm anxious to see how Clark does in New Hampshire, but I'm starting to think that Kerry and Edwards are going to get 30-odd percent each, leaving Clark and Dean scrabbling for the remains. I don't think Dean's out of the game yet--he's got a lot more money than all of the other candidates, and since he didn't agree to use matching funds, he can keep going indefinitely. (Indeed, many are concerned that Kerry, for instance, would be hurt in the summer by having to spend his $42 million and no more, against Bush's $250 million war chest--and the Republicans don't have to spend a dime on the primary season.)

But on a more general note, it's a little unpleasant to watch the media destruction of Dean. Early on he was pegged as the "angry" candidate, and last night they managed to catch him in an enthusiastic moment, capped off by a primal scream. (Even some conservatives are lamenting the treatment he's getting in the press today.) This isn't part of any kind of big conspiracy, left wing, right wing. Rather it's something that I noticed in the 2000 Election: TV news loves easily definable characters.

In 2000, we got Bush early on portrayed as a stupid yet lovable goof, much like Homer Simpson in the early seasons of The Simpsons. Generally well-meaning, friend to all, and just not that bright. Gore, on the other hand, got drawn up as Margaret Dumont, the stately woman who played the rich uptight socialite in the Marx Brothers movies. So once the character is defined, you start looking for appearances and quotes that back up that character, and so it goes...

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the impact Saturday Night Live had on the way the presidents have been viewed. Ask someone for a quote from George H.W. Bush, and after "Read my lips", they're bound to draw from the Dana Carvey caricature. Likewise, what do we know about Gerald Ford? Because of Chevy Chase, we know that he was a klutz that fell down a lot--all because of one unfortunate accident. (In reality, Ford was in great physical condition and didn't have a lot of injuries from his football days like so many veterans of that sport.)

We've been used to this in our entertainment for decades, but it's only recently that I've started to notice it in the news. And it bothers me, but since it's a unconscious movement, there's not much that can be done to prevent it in the future. In the meantime, put on your Neil Postman hat and watch the coverage of Dean in the next week--see how many times you see him scream. Cameras are going to be on him 24/7, and he'll stub his toe and swear loudly. Within minutes, you'll see the commentary, "There you have a bit more of the fiery temper of Howard Dean. The impression we're getting from his supporters is that he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it any more. Back to you, Steve."
Movieblogging: The Jerky Boys
After an evening watching the returns coming in from the Iowa Primaries and reading the various cheers and jeers from the leftmost corners of Da Intarweb, I'm really not in the mood for some sort of serious drama about deaf schoolchildren in Nigeria. Thus it comes to pass that at midnight on a Tuesday, I'm watching The Jerky Boys (1995).

I've never heard The Jerky Boys' CDs or tapes, and for the most part, I don't go in for crank call humor. I've seen bits and pieces of this movie before, but this will be the first time that I've seen it all the way through. There is an interesting secondary cast in this movie: William Hickey, who played the old guy in a lot of great movies, plays a prominent role here, as does the wonderful Alan Arkin. Not to mention Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore from The Sopranos.

The movie has a thin plot, but what else were you expecting? A movie vehicle based off of a popular underground prank call tape that skyrocketed to national fame. The movie is about as good as one could expect. That being said, I'll pass along my sole prank call memory.

As a youth, I considered it a major sin to make a prank call, but during a weekend spent over at a friend's house, the nascent evil regions of my mind pointed out that a prank call made to a pay phone wouldn't really get me in trouble or have lasting repercussions. So with that in mind, we looked up the pay phone numbers in the phone book, picked a poor part of town, and started calling... Eventually someone picked up, and we pretended to be from a radio station. We asked him if he saw a van on the street--he did, a block north. We told him we were in the van, and then told him he'd win a car. We had him jump up and down, wave his hands, shout and scream, etc.

In retrospect, it was a pretty mean and low-down thing to do, and I feel bad for whatever poor bastard owned that van (we just lucked out there), but I think everyone has to go through that phase at some point, and I'm glad we got it out of our systems without any major damage.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Election 2004: Iowa Democratic Primary
At this point in the evening, it appears that Kerry has won Iowa, with Edwards a close second and Dean a distant third. Man, I wasn't expecting that. Supposedly the non-confrontational Kerry and Edwards played well with older Iowans, though I still think that the DNC has been pumping hard for those two behind the scenes. (They don't have much control over Dean and Clark, who rely on more grassroots support, and Clark didn't run in this race.)

At the end of the day, whoever supports the winner will count it as a good omen and supporters of all other candidiates will point to past experience as proving that the Iowa Caucus means jack shit. I'll be honest, I was really expecting (hoping?) Dean to do better. But we'll see what happens after New Hampshire, when Clark and Lieberman are thrown into the mix.

Stepping outside of myself for a moment and taking a look at how I form my opinions, I think that much of my interest and mild enthusiasm for Dean is based off the McCain run for the Republican nomination in 2000. A lot of people hate McCain for the campaign finance bill, but it was one issue that his constituency (mostly retired people in Arizona) continually pushed for, and had he become president, he wouldn't have had the legislative clout to push it throught the Senate. I also think he could have achieved a more solid victory over Al Gore.

Update: I didn't mention this earlier, but there's a lot of Democrats--all over the spectrum--that are pissed off at Terry McAuliffe. Particularly after the midterm elections of 2002 that handed the Senate back to the Republicans. Kerry is the obvious McAuliffe choice, with Clark as a wild card second choice, since he has the backing of the Clintons. But the Deaniacs represent a sizeable bloc that are mad at both Bush and the Democratic establishment. A dangerous combination... I'm still convinced that whoever gets the nomination will get the full backing of all Democrat voters, PLUS a bunch of former Green voters PLUS a bunch of angry college students who are too terrified to vote third party.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I Promise This Isn't a Joke
Joey "Accordion Guy" deVilla posts a story and a screenshot about an upcoming video game based on Fight Club. Now, I enjoyed the movie and the book, but damn... What kind of soulless bastard approved this thing?

If they start selling damned soap like the kind pictured on the movie poster, I'm moving out to the cabin in Montana.
The Iowa Caucus
I knew the Iowa Caucus was a weird affair, but I didn't know how weird until I read the article in Slate explaining it. The author makes the point that if the race is tight, we may never really know who won the damned thing. And since the counting is done by the number of people standing in various corners of the room, there's no solid paper trail to audit later.

Meanwhile, the TAPPED blog over at The American Prospect suggests that the Dean campaign is relying on a common fallacy about their ability to bring in new voters, when the trends show voter participation decreasing each year. The article makes a lot of sense, but oddly for such a left-leaning publication, fails to take into account the number of people angry at Bush, as well as some groups like Nader supporters from 2000 who now regret their decision and will probably vote Democratic as long as the candidate isn't Lieberman or Kerry.

Speaking of which, Kerry's surge in Iowa seems to be due to either big support amongst older voters (which would explain the lack of online enthusiasm) or behind-the-scenes pushes from the DNC/DLC, as he appears to be the establishment heir apparent. This blog endorses Dean for the nomination, but I don't think we'll get a decent look at his chances until after New Hampshire. Unlike Iowa, it's a real primary, and he'll also be competing against Lieberman and Clark, who have chosen to sit out the Iowa Caucus. Lieberman isn't too much to worry about, though Clark will be. I wasn't expecting the Kerry surge, though, and a three-way fight between Clark, Dean, and Kerry would be a tough battle.

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