Saturday, May 08, 2004
Continuing with the theme of watching movies outside of my demographic--maybe for the rest of the evening?--I'm now watching Blue Crush (2002). I've never surfed. Frankly I'm not built for it, and I'm far to distant from any coast to even contemplate engaging in the activity on a regular basis. The closest I've ever come was in 1989 at Virginia Beach. I rented a boogie board and spent the next eight hours riding the waves. I loved every moment--even when I came cruising in at high speed and got nailed in the forehead by the knobby knee of a rather large old woman. (Few people can lay claim to that particular injury, outside of those degenerate freaks employed in certain sectors of the German porn industry.) Unfortunately, my sunscreen crapped out after about two hours, and for the remainder of the trip I was a boiled lobster who could feel every fiber of every thread of my clothing... as well as the occasional "feisty slap of pain" from one of my band of brothers who decided to take advantage of my condition. Yea verily, this son of Eire was not made for such climes as these...
Sweet Jesus, I'm watching a movie about surfing. Focus, man! I'm going to assume that this was filmed in Hawai'i. it could have been filmed in California, but it probably would have been cheaper to shoot it on location. And most of the actors and actresses appear to be high whilst mumbling through their lines, so I can only figure that a bountiful supply of "Maui Wowie" aided in the production.
Oh, I'm being unnecessarily cruel... It's not a bad movie, no worse than any sports-themed movie. If anything it takes the standard ski movie plot and reworks it for the surfing aesthetic. Such an approach mostly works, and looks far prettier than the usual bright white snow landscapes of ski flicks. I do take objection to the multiple "day for night" shots. For some reason people always do this at the beach, and it always pisses me off. The look is all wrong, and I'm certain that it is possible (given current technology) to take decent seaside shots at night. But it's so much easier to swap in the filters and film and shoot day for night and have it look like UTTER CRAP.
I reckon I ought to admit here that technically, I've been to Hawai'i, but I don't have any recollection of it. When Mom was six or seven months pregnant with me, she and Dad won a trip over there. They couldn't pass it up, and thus ensconced in amniotic fluid I made a grand trip across the Pacific. Pregnancy + jet lag + odd food made for all sorts of exciting gastrointestinal distress, but Mom soldiered on, and they had a great time. They've even gone back two or three times in celebration.
I'll go there at some point--I probably ought to knock that state off the list--but only en route to some more remote and less popular destination. And I'm taking a friggin' telescope with me. Forget the bronzed babes and their angry yet affectionate 300 lb. grandmothers. I'm can't even begin to fathom the excitement of having a nearly unobstructed horizon in all directions, little or no light pollution, and being situated so near the equator that the stars of both hemispheres are visible. And the Polynesians are unacknowledged masters of celestial navigation--one author referred to them as the "Vikings of the Pacific". Last night I gazed upon three moons of Jupiter through my low-powered telescope, but I don't think my life will be complete until I look at Alpha Centauri with my own eyes...
Postscript: The movie's OK. Not the best or worst thing I've ever seen, though the cinematography left a lot to be desired in many places. So much potential wasted. Mainly I decided to take this opportunity to rant about mostly unrelated topics. Hopefully in the future I can look back and laugh at the various ADD-like diversions that my movie reviews took.
Slothfest 2004 is succeeding as a film festival of mostly bad movies, but there's not a lot of sloth happening here at Casa de Rum Smuggler. In the past 24 hours I've cleaned the house, had to change the tire on a friend's car and help a neighbor mow the lawn of the vacant house that sits between us. (I was personally letting the lawn grow up until my yard looked a little better, but the neighbor shamed me into it. Poor bastard was using an old-style push mower, a drum of blades and two wheels.) I also have the rotating bladder schedules of three dogs, two of whom are depressed at the absence of their owners. Still running strong on four hours of sleep, though. Just when I say I'm tired of blogging, I can't get enough of it. Oh yeah, the manic swing is definitely here. I'm not bipolar (neither am I), but everyone goes through cycles. I think I've finally emerged from the winter hibernation mode.
So as long as I'm straying out of my demographic today, why not watch Brown Sugar (2002). This is a movie that the marketing gurus would call "urban": the love story between two buppies, set against the New York hip hop industry. (I'm not a big rap fan, and really can't stand gangsta rap, but I have a fondness for old school hip hop. Yes, there is a difference.)
The male lead is played by Taye Diggs. He played the love interest in How Stella Got Her Groove Back (I haven't seen it), as well as the practitioner of the tantric arts in Go. Mos Def also has a large role--he's an interesting guy. Good lyrics, smooth delivery, great jazz influences. He's appeared on Chapelle's Show a few times, and it looks like he'll be playing Ford Prefect in the upcoming movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He seems a little too laid back and, er, not British*, but I'm willing to wait and see. They cast Arthur Dent perfectly, though.
Here at the halfway point, this is a better movie than I expected. I had thought it was going to be a goofy comedy with a touch of romance. Instead, it's more serious and focused on the love of the music, with just a little romance and comedy on the side. (There's a little bit of the Jerry Maguire idealism at work, too.) Unless you just hate, er, urban music in all of its forms, it's a highly accessible and enjoyable film.
*OK, so technically Ford Prefect wasn't British either. Hell, he wasn't even human. I just always got the impression that he was supposed to be as dull and boring and familiar as his automotive namesake.
As it's still morning and I fear that watching a good bloodthirsty movie would imbalance the humours, I've shifted my attention to more pleasant fare. Thus I'm watching a kids' movie, Little Secrets (2001). It's sometimes useful to keep an eye on what the kids are watching these days, but a lot of times these movies can be oddly enjoyable. Light, gentle plots, and the conflicts are generally mild.
This movie, for instance, concerns a 14-year old girl who runs a little Lucy Van Pelt-style advice booth, with a bit of a twist: she keeps secrets for the younger children in the neighborhood. A kid breaks a saucer, comes to her and confesses, drops off the pieces and pays 50 cents for the storage. It's great to just watch kids being kids, even if it is a sanitized and idealized view of modern life. And it doesn't star the Olsen Twins, which is a decided plus. The kids' secrets tend to be pretty tame and frequently humorous. None of them say "the clown touched me in my special place" or anything like that. Just good, innocent fun, with just enough minor drama to keep it from being overly sweet.
I don't recognize most of the actors, in fact, only two are well known in other areas: Vivaca A. Fox (the stripper from Independence Day and one of the ladies from Booty Call) and Michael Angarano. You won't recognize the name, but Angarano played the younger version of William Miller in Almost Famous. Nosing through the extra info, it appears as though he was one of three finalists to play the role of Anakin in The Phantom Menace. I'm glad he didn't, because then I'd have to hate the child.
Nothing like some of that early morning insomnia, and not a damned thing worth watching on the movie channels. But as part of the commitment to Slothfest, I'll watch something... (I am doing tons of stuff around the house, playing with the dogs, working on the computer, and being somewhat productive. I'd hate for this blog to give anyone the impression that I lay motionless for an entire weekend in front of the idiot box.) So it comes to pass that I'm watching For Keeps (1988). Aghghghhghhh...
This is a damned chick flick. Granted, last night's final feature had almost an entirely female cast, but had lots werewolf-fu and psychological terror. This one is pure afterschool special/Lifetime Channel material. Though made in '88, it looks far more antiquated. One of the opening shots shows our heroine, Molly Ringwald, banging out some of her homework on a typewriter. And of course, the whole premise of the movie is about two high school seniors in love, the girl gets knocked up, and they decide to get married and keep the kid. Their parents hate the idea, so they have to move out and get jobs, all before graduating from high school. The only hint to modernity is that the girl was on the pill, and at first her mother is strongly advocating an abortion. But that kind of stuff was covered in the 70s, probably in the 60s in a few films.
Weirdest moment: at one point, she dials 911 on a rotary phone. I occasionally have sadistic thoughts of putting a kid born in the past ten years in a room with a record player and a rotary phone, and the kid has to get the password from the record and place a call on the phone within an hour in order to win $100 or something.
There are some recognizable character actors in this, but probably the most surprising is Conchata Ferrell, who plays the boy's mom. She recently starred as the tough bartender in Mr. Deeds. Also, in case it ever shows up in a trivia game somewhere, this movie marks the film debut of Pauly Shore. So it's got that going for it.
What really bugs me is that this is exactly the kind of sad, depressing shit that some women will watch hundreds of times so they can cry and be depressed and take out the frustration on the men in their lives. I wouldn't really consider myself a Molly Ringwald completist, but at least I can knock this off the list of 80s movies I haven't seen yet. I feel like taking a slug of bourbon and watching a Stallone flick now. Need to clear the palate.
Friday, May 07, 2004
And now for a rental... I grabbed a few movies from the video store this afternoon in anticipation of my slothfulness.... And since it's dark outside and I'm surrounded by three dogs, I think it's only appropriate that I watch a werewolf movie: Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004). This is the sequel to the excellent Ginger Snaps. I blogged about the first movie in a prior post. There's also a prequel out there (also made this year), though it won't be out on DVD until November. The prequel looks pretty cool--it stars the same actresses as the two sisters, but it's set in the 19th century and covers the beginning of the legend.
I thought the first movie was quite creative, and managed to cover a couple of genres (horror, teen, romance, drama) quite well. Unfortunately, I can say almost nothing about the sequel without giving away important plot elements about the first one. It won't hurt for me to say that this movie opens with the Terminator 2 plot device of having our heroine stuck in a mental hospital. We know she's sane, but everyone else thinks she's crazy...
I'm sure I've posted this somewhere before, but I knew a guy who, when applying for jobs that he wasn't actually concerned about getting, would list "lycanthropy" under the medical information section. Nobody in middle management or human resources has the slightest clue what it is, so he never worried about it. Only one prospective employer asked him if it caused any problems that might relate to the workplace, and he said, "It only bothers me once a month, and then, only at night." I don't quite have the savoir faire for that, though I have been known to attribute a bad temper to neuralgia or dropsy, and a hacking cough to catarrh. (I'm a firm believer in keeping certain terms alive in the English language.)
Finally, a good movie! I've always wanted to see this great baseball drama, but never got around to it... Eight Men Out (1988). It's unusual among baseball films in that you know it's going to have an unhappy ending. It's about the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919, in which the team threw the World Series. (The team members felt they were underpaid, and took buyoffs from a group of bookies.) In many ways it's an allegory of the labor struggles of the era. Baseball players and other sports figures certainly weren't the highly overpaid superstars they are now, and even through the fifties most professional athletes had to hold real jobs in the off season to make ends meet.
The first two decades of the twentieth century occupy a sort of memory hole for Americans. The only defining moments come at the end, with World War I and Prohibition occurring in the last few years of the 1910s. So we have the Victorian era before 1900, and the stylish and exciting 20s afterwards, but what of the interim? There was a lot of technological and scientific advancement in this era, and a lot of it (developed in the 1890s) finally made its way into the hands of the general public. It was an era when straw boaters and bow ties were giving way to fedoras and zoot suits, ragtime was giving way to jazz, and that joyous celebration of prosperity between the strict Victorian mores and the Depression.
It's an outstanding movie, and I can highly recommend it. If nothing else draws you in, look at the amazing cast:
- John Cusack - That should be reason enough. He's a loyal Chicago native, and hey, I get to knock another Cusack film off the list.
- John Mahoney - Best known today as the dad from Frasier, he plays the coach here. He and Cusack starred together again the following year in Say Anything.
- Charlie Sheen - He's starring in a baseball movie a year before Major League.
- David Strathairn - Veteran character actor, best known to geeks as the blind hacker from Sneakers.
- Michael Rooker - Another character actor, think of his role as the evil dad/producer from Mallrats, though he usually sports curly hair.
- D.B. Sweeney - You probably won't recognize him at first, but he's been in some good movies. More significant here because he plays "Shoeless" Joe Jackson of Field of Dreams fame.
- Studs Terkel - A small role, and he's not an actor, but is yet another famous Chicagoan. He's most famous for his writing and oral history work.
- Christopher Lloyd - He plays a bad guy in this movie... Yet still somewhat likable.
I never said Slothfest 2004 was going to be dignified... Up next is Excess Baggage (1997). This is a movie that I've been steadfastly passing over at the video store and on cable since its release. I didn't have any ethical or aesthetic reason to avoid it, but I was apparently never bored enough to work up the requisite curiosity.
This isn't a well known film--it stands as one of the many lackluster Alicia Silverstone projects that followed Clueless. For the record, I thought Clueless was a brilliant movie. It was a modern day retelling of Jane Austen's Emma, and had some great writing. And she's gorgeous--we all knew that starting with the Aerosmith videos. I just don't think that she's a great actress. Unfortunately, she was hyped up too much, too soon, and wasn't able to work her way up in minor roles. Is it better to be a character actor in a good film or the star of a bad film?
Basic plot: girl fakes kidnapping, boy steals car and foils fake kidnapping, boy and girl go on wacky misadventures, fall in love, yadda yadda yadda.
The car thief is played by Benicio del Toro. He looks surprisingly trim and fit in this movie. I say that because his next project was the Rum Smuggler Classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which he appeared bloated and diseased. He's a good actor that usually picks his roles fairly carefully. His boss in the movie is played by Harry Connick Jr. Jack Thompson plays Silverstone's father. You probably won't recognize the name, but he's a fairly well-known movie star in Australia. My favorite performance is his role as Russell Crowe's father in The Sum of Us. He played the congenial lawyer in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And Silverstone's uncle is played by the great Christopher Walken.
So we've got a ton of great talent dragged down by Alicia Silverstone and a formulaic, uninspired script. I didn't miss anything for the past seven years, but if I can save just one person by writing this review...
As I'm going to do everything in my power not to leave the house this weekend, I should be able to knock out a dozen or so movies and blog merrily along the way. The Roommate is out of the house, I'm exhausted, and I'm going to do naught but eat, sleep, drink, and watch movies this weekend. Huzzah!
The first film for Slothfest 2004 is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985). This would make an awesome double feature alongside Big Trouble in Little China. This is a bad, yet great 80s action/adventure flick, with just enough kung fu and humor to keep things interesting. I don't think I've watched the whole movie since the late 80s, but I've seen bits and pieces of it over the years.
Fred Ward is great here--he's a fun character actor, but he's had a few great leading roles over the years. Kate Mulgrew looks stunning and dignified (much better in an Air Force uniform than a Starfleet one), and Wilford Brimley is his usual curmudgeonly self. I don't know if I could ever stand to see a photo of Brimley as a young man. I'm sure he was young once, but he doesn't seem to have changed a bit from 1980 to the present day.
It's funny to see HAARP used as part of a scheme by the evil government officials. I didn't realize that the pop culture fear/confusion over the program went back that far. It's unfortunate that so much of the information available online is so twisted.
Back to the movie... Lots of fun here. It's always neat to see the kind of entertainment produced during the Cold War era. Half of it was written in fear of the Soviets, the other half was written in fear of our own government. This one falls into the second category, though there's still enough raw action and goofy dialogue to keep it accessible to a wide audience (cf. Real Genius).
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
In the middle of a crappy day, nothing brightens the mood quite like a pictorial involving incredibly detailed action figures from A Christmas Story and Hellraiser.
Posting has been light recently, and may continue in that vein for some time. This is due to a number of factors:
- Work has been killing me. It's great to have a job that keeps me busy, but tends to drain a lot of my enthusiasm for posting. I'm still reading tons of news, but the urge to post or note some interesting fact just hasn't been there. Though who knows? Maybe a manic phase is right around the corner...
- The presidential campaign is going to be largely boring and ugly this summer, and I don't expect things to get interesting again until October, which should be a doozy of a month. Barring any surge of violence at the Republican convention, Bush picking a new Vice President, or Kerry bringing Hillary Clinton in as his VP, I think it's going to be incredibly dull. Oh, there will be all kinds of nasty ads from both sides, and both sides will periodically feel insulted and victorious, but Kerry's just a boring candidate, and my opinion of Bush keeps falling below neutral. (Side note: Many libertarians and independents are urging undecideds to vote for Bush purely because of the war, and state that civilization hangs on our victory. That may be the case, but isn't it clear that Bush gets easily distracted? Let's go to Mars... or not. Let's ban gay marriage... or not. Let's cut taxes and increase non-defense spending and hope nobody cares...)
- I have little or no free time these days. Not sure where it all went. Perhaps sleeping six hours a night has been an unecessary luxury these past few weeks.
- As I state at least once a week, I'm desperately in need of a vacation. While a full week away from everything would be great, right now I'd settle for two days just so I could kick back and do nothing for a while.
- There's a lot going on in the news, but I'm fairly pessimistic about most of it, and writing about that just puts me in a worse mood. However, we're about to enter the summer here, in which the news reports will focus mostly on fluff pieces. Look for around the clock coverage of the Michael Jackson trial. Remember the summer before 9/11? The big story all summer long was "SHARK ATTACK 2001!". I'm hoping that nothing bad happens this fall, but the (American) news media is going to be looking for similar stories until the election really picks up in August and September.
The second style is something I've most often seen with female bloggers, and often comes at the height of popularity. And the problem is almost always due to an open comments system. It doesn't matter if it's political, personal, pop culture, whatever. Trolls or mere dissenting opinions will appear, anger the blogger, which leads to IP banning and deleting comments, even entire posts. Various schemes are tried, the dissenters merely start posting their contrary opinions on their own blogs, she gets hurt and pissed off, and either quits entirely or goes to a password-based system so that only trusted members can read and post on her blog. An example would be Tampa Tantrum. (This almost happened with A Small Victory, and I'm very glad it didn't.) I'm sure this has happened with a male blogger, though I haven't seen it yet. The guys seem a little better at taking criticism, or at least responding in a creative manner. Hey, maybe it's from being yelled at by women all the time! Wakka wakka wakka...
There's another variant of the second, but with happier reasons behind it. Typically this involves the blogger getting a new job, moving to a foreign country, having a kid, or engaging in some other positive life-changing event, and deciding to close the blog to better focus on this new direction. Examples would include the late, lamented Easterblogg and the weird, yet hysterical True Porn Clerk Stories.
There are several other ways that I've seen blogs end, but those two and a half are the most common. If I ever do put the final bullet in the head of this thing, I'll try to remember to make the title of the post Eschatology.
I've used a lot of unlikely inspirations in my culinary pursuits, but this one takes the cake. Via a New York Times article on modern Basque cooking comes this little nugget of joy:
Mr. Aduriz, the nonpareil culinary high-wire artist of his generation, is famous for having studied the human liver at the liver-transplant clinic of the University of Granada and applying the lessons he learned to a seven-step process of cooking foie gras. "Our cooking is austere, with a few ingredients and simple procedures," said Mr. Aduriz, a calm, confident man whose own complex procedures belie that maxim.I've never had foie gras that I felt was worth the expense and relentless force feeding of the geese. It's not bad, I just don't see what all the fuss is about.
My sole foray into Basque cooking was making a traditional oxtail stew. It sounded exotic and interesting, and oxtails were surprisingly cheap. I later learned that this is because they're mostly bone and fat, with a little bit of hard-to-reach and stringy meat. (I don't think they'd work for stock, because there's little marrow and the fat content would prove problematic.) They look pretty bizarre in cross sections, and the taste is just a little off. The stew was edible, but the dense layer of oil on top was not terribly appetizing.
Monday, May 03, 2004
And finally, because it came on at midnight, I couldn't sleep, and felt it would be appropriate to bring things full circle with another Farrelly Brothers movie, I watched Dumb & Dumber (1994). This was the third big hit for Jim Carrey in a single year--the first two were Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.
I didn't see any of them when they first came out--it was that summer between high school and college. I was busy, and more importantly, I was being a pretentious prick about pop culture at the time. I didn't own a TV, I read a lot, listened only to classical music and jazz, and just to keep things interesting, I was vegetarian as well. But I'm pretty sure I saw all three by 1996 or so, and Dumb & Dumber is probably my favorite of the three.
It's a buddy flick, so Carrey and Daniels play off each other. Most of the zany Carrey movies really just focus on him, but it was nice to see him paired with someone. It's so stupid, and the plot so ridiculous, that you can stop while flipping through the channels and just watch ten minutes, and you're sure to see a classic scene.
Not much else to say about it, as everyone's seen it a hundred times. But it was an fun way to cap off a weekend.
I don't want to say too much about Big Fish (2003). It's perhaps the best movie I've seen in recent memory. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes close, but I think Big Fish is even better, and for entirely different reasons.
It's directed by Tim Burton, but it doesn't feel like a Tim Burton movie most of the time. The special effects are appropriate and subtle. There's no stop-motion animation. It's a pretty damned sunny and happy film.
Surprisingly, it provides a glowing, positive, if rather inaccurate view of the South. But it is a fantasy, and it's amazing to see such a major motion picture not stoop to the standard stereotypes and criticisms of the South.
There are lots of outstanding actors, but it's a lot more fun to discover them as you go through the movie. They don't appear in the form of distracting cameos, but rather when you see them you realize that the casting decisions were perfect.
It's appropriate for kids, adults, old folks... Just spectacular in all regards. I'm looking forward to purchasing a copy of it.
Moving up to Saturday, I forced myself to go to an actual movie theater and see Mean Girls (2004). I went with a female friend (who happens to be a girls' high school teacher), thus avoiding that creepy stigma that comes from a single guy pushing 30 watching a movie about teenage girls, surrounded by teenage girls and their concerned parents.
I'll catch kids' movies like this on cable sometimes, mainly to keep an eye on what is influencing the younger generation these days. Some of them are awful, but others are genuinely enjoyable, like 10 Things I Hate About You. Mean Girls falls into the latter category. I saw it for a number of reasons:
- It's loosely based on a book called Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. I haven't read this, but remember when it came out. It sparked a lot of discussion on NPR and in various newspapers, because it took the position that young girls aren't caring nurturers, but are rather quite evil and Machiavellian amongst themselves. (Of course, everyone always knew this, but was terrified to say so.)
- The screenplay was written by Tina Fey, best known as the female anchor on the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Life. Less well known is that she's the first female staff writer on the show, and has been writing material for years now, during some of the best years of SNL in the past decade and a half. Fey stars as our heroine's math teacher, and there are important yet subdued roles played by fellow alumni Ana Gasteyer and Tim Meadows.
- I've been watching the reruns of My So-Called Life, which are being shown on TV for the first time in nearly a decade.
- There's an anthropological approach to the subject matter, which puts it a cut above the latest Olsen Twins-style dreck.
- I was certain that the movie, while destined to have a happy ending, would most likely reinforce some of my worst attitudes towards women, and I wasn't disappointed. Read into that what you will.
So back to the movie, it was interesting, funny, compelling, full of gorgeous yet slightly underage girls, and had decent cinematography, music, and pacing. More so than ever, I'm terrified of the prospect of ever having a teenage daughter. Damn. I can deal with teenage boys--they're basically just like dogs without the careful attention to personal grooming. But having to raise one of those little she-beasts to adulthood, much less two or more of them... Once more I come a step closer to living in a tarpaper shack in the backwoods of Alaska.
The second movie of Friday evening was Following (1998). This was the student film of Christopher Nolan, who went on to write and direct Memento, Insomnia, and the upcoming Batman Begins. Made for $6,000, it was shot on high contrast, high grain black and white film.
It's like Hitchcock in its plot, but with some of the reverse storytelling method used in Memento. So I can't really say anything about it without giving away important plot elements and surprises. It's short--about 70 minutes long--but engrossing. It's also really well written for a student film. Lord knows I've seen some horrible ones. It looks like Following won several film festival awards in 1999, which combined with the popularity of Memento probably led to this being released on DVD. Highly recommended, and pay close attention while watching!
Yet another catchup post as I desperately yearn for a day or two of vacation...
Friday evening with The Ringbearer I saw two movies, the first of which was the Farrelly Brothers' recent opus Stuck on You (2003). I'd been disappointed by Shallow Hal and Outside Providence, as they were marketed as screwball comedies (in the vein of There's Something About Mary) but turned out to be far more serious. So even though this one had been labeled a comedy as well, I went into it prepared for more drama. And since it was more serious than it appears on the surface, I think I enjoyed it a bit more with that mindset.
There's the usual Farrelly trademarks--casting handicapped people or having actors portray the handicapped, casting a bunch of friends from back in Rhode Island, and just enough sureal dialog and events to keep things interesting. Rather than simply a stupid movie with an obvious hook (conjoined twins), it turned out to be a great film about brotherhood. I don't know if I'd recommend it, but I'm glad I saw it.
There's a lot of bit parts and interesting supporting actors, but I was overjoyed to see Seymour Cassel with a fairly large role.