Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I’m not sure I’m ready to write about Almost There, but then I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready, so here goes nothing:

Almost There is a documentary about how filmmakers Aaron Wickenden and Dan Rybicky discovered East Chicago artist Peter Anton and helped him exhibit his works. Anton is an artist of the “outsider” genre, a rough style of painting that appears to be very basic, almost amateurish, but is highly-regarded in some circles.

The filmmakers discover Anton painting portraits at a pierogi festival and take him up on his invitation to visit the artist in his home. What they find is that Anton lives in what was once his parents’ house but has become a hovel that is literally falling down around him. Anton has to fight with the door to open and close it. Mould hangs from the ceiling and walls and grows thick on the plastic cases of shelved video tapes. There are holes in the roof where rain pours in, soaking floor joists that are rotten through and caving into the basement. Anton lives in a far corner of the dank basement, sitting among shapeless heaps of wet, rotting junk and garbage that stink so badly, Wickenden and Rybicky are forced to retreat from it and return only after they’ve strapped surgical masks to their faces.

When they return, they take Anton to a restaurant for a hot meal where they try to convince Anton to move out of the house, but Anton insists that he will not move, adding some crap about how artists gotta suffer for their art and that he’ll be happy to die in that house rather than leave it. So they return him to his fungal infestation of a home and visit him over a period of years, occasionally delivering art supplies and canisters of Pringles, which Anton seems to subsist on.

This was not at all the documentary I thought it was going to be. Judging from the synopsis, I thought it might be about a charming eccentric who lived with maybe one too many cats in a time capsule of a house and painted brilliant works of art that had yet to be discovered. And from some point of view, that is more or less true. Wickenden and Rybicky interviewed many people who counted Anton as their friend and thought that he was, at one time if not now, charming. And he did indeed live with too many cats; I think he said he was up to 29 at one point before almost all of them died.

But also, just the opposite of all that was true: Anton was a lot crankier than he was charming; even people who had known him for years were now distancing themselves from him. The cats appeared to be feral and suffered from neglect as did the house he lived in. I don’t have the experience to judge his art but from what I could see, most of the most interesting collages that Anton collected on the walls of his house were already destroyed by the rot and collapse that had been going on for too many years.

The documentary that I saw was about the heartbreaking lack of some kind of social service that would have helped someone like Anton to improve his physical living conditions and emotional health. It was a very hard film to watch.

Almost There | 8:26 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015 I forgot to include Theeb in yesterday’s roundup of movies, mea culpa. Set in the later days of the first world war, Theeb and his brother Hussein are asked to guide an English officer through the desert to blow up the train tracks. Their mission doesn’t go well and Theeb is captured by a bandit. I’m not sure I got the point of this movie, but it was acted and directed well, and the scenes of the desert, not usually my favorite subject, were beautifully shot, so I gave it four out of five.

Theeb | 7:45 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Everybody I heard talking about In Order of Disappearance kept comparing it to Fargo. I can’t see what the two films have in common, other than they’re both comedies with a lot of snow, and a lot of people get killed. The film’s revenge plot, worthy of a Chuck Norris flick, revolves around Nils, a snowplow driver whose son gets killed by drug dealers. Nils spends the rest of the movie hunting them down and killing them one by one. That’s pretty much the whole movie. Plus jokes.

In Order of Disappearance | 7:42 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015In The Farewell Party, Yehezkel’s friend Max, suffering from terminal illness, asks Yehezkel to help him “get it over with.” Yehezkel, a tinkerer, builds a Kevorkianish euthanasia machine in his workshop, then with the help of Max’s wife and some friends, he slips it into Max’s hospital room on the QT, or so he thinks until other people start to approach him and ask for him to lend them the machine. A surprisingly light-hearted and touching film.

The Farewell Party | 7:29 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Jack is about a German boy, maybe eight or ten years old, who takes care of his younger brother, Manuel, because his mother is too busy partying and having a good time. After Manuel is hurt in an accident, because there’s always an accident, Social Services takes Jack into custody for a while. When Jack decides that’s enough of that, he makes his way home, but his mother’s not there, so he spends the better part of the movie searching for Manuel, then his mother. When he finally finds her, he has to make a decision, both for himself and for Manuel: Does he stay?

Jack | 7:22 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Nobody does films that underline the utter futility of life the way the former Soviet-bloc countries do. The Lesson opens on a scene in a classroom where the teacher, Nade, is trying to expose a thief who she discovers only in the last scene by accident, after trying every principled argument she can think of to expose him all through the film. In the meantime, she struggles to prevent the bank from foreclosing on her house after her shiftless husband blows all their money on a broken-down motor home. In the end, what Nade discovers is that anyone, even she herself, will throw their most dearly-held principles in the gutter when things get desperate.

The Lesson | 9:10 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Last Seder? is director Mark Kornblatt’s documentary of a visit to see his parents to celebrate passover seder for what he fears will be the last time, now that his elderly father is losing mobility and his mother’s memory is lost to Alzheimer’s.

Last Seder? | 7:48 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The first movie we saw yesterday, Off The Menu: Asian America, was a surprisingly heartwarming documentary about Asian-American food. Director Grace Lee starts by asking the question, What is Asian-American food, anyway? and while seeking answers (and eating lots of good-looking food!), she introduces us to the people she put her question to: Glen Gondo, a third-generation Japanese who has achieved such success in marketing Asian-American food that he’s known as the Sushi King of Texas; Jonathan Wu and Wilson Tang, chefs from New York city who have opened the Asian fusion restaurant Fung Tu on the lower east side of Manhattan; the the men and women of the Sikh temple in Milwaukee as they prepare and share langar, a community dinner; and the farmers at the M’ao Organic Farm in Hawaii. The answer Lee found? Asian-American food is whatever Asian chefs make that is inspired by their heritage, and that can be as ordinary as packaged sushi from the grocery store, or as original as the recipes that come out of the kitchen of Wu and Tang. But far from being a one-note documentary that’s trying to answer a riddle, Lee brings a sense of humor to her project, and presents a film about people who build a sense of community through the food they prepare for a meal or produce for a kitchen. Well worth seeing.

Off The Menu: Asian America | 7:35 am CDT
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Monday, April 13th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Wisconsin native Holly L. De Ruyter was living in Chicago when she made Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club by driving into Wisconsin on weekends. Over a period of six years, she collected archival footage, post cards and advertisements, and interviewed the owners of a dozen or so supper clubs across the state, then pieced together a documentary so fresh and fun that I wanted to go visit every supper club myself.

Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club | 9:07 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Tale Of The Spotted Cow is just what it says on the tin: The Great American Success Story of Deb and Dan Carey, founder and brewer of the New Glarus Brewery, one of the most successful craft breweries in Wisconsin and makers of Spotted Cow, a beer so sought-after that people from other states literally cross state lines to get some because New Glarus sells its beer only in Wisconsin.

Worth seeing if only for the scene where Deb tells the story of showing the guys from Anheuser-Busch out the door after they attempted to buy a minority interest in the brewery. (But the rest of the film is awfully good, too.)

Tale of the Spotted Cow | 9:00 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Little America is a fun behind-the-scenes look at Little A-Merrick-A, a kiddie fun park in Marshall, Wisconsin. Only six minutes long, you’re unlikely to see this outside a film festival, but a visit to Little A-Merrick-A to ride the steam train, ferris wheel and roller coaster might be a pretty good substitute.

Little America | 8:52 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015We suffered through twenty excruciating minutes of The Iron Ministry before sneaking out the door. New buzzword to watch for: any movie described as “experiential.”

The hour-long hole in our schedule gave us enough time to slip on down to Vintage Brewing on University Ave and gobble up a pile of nachos with salsa and cheese curds, and wash it all down with some tasty beer. Much better than watching eighty-three minutes of people sleeping on trains.

The Iron Ministry | 8:46 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Justin Peck is a choreographer for the New York City Ballet. Ballet 422 is the story of how he staged a new ballet for the company from start to finish: Selecting the musical score, dreaming up dance steps to express it, collaborating with the rest of the company to refine it through rehearsals, and that’s to say nothing of designing the costumes, figuring out the lighting, and the million other details that go into the finished project.

I’ve never been especially interested in ballet before, but I felt my heart rise into my throat each time the dancers leapt through their steps. How they make it look so effortless is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Ballet 422 | 8:45 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015We had originally chosen to see Crack In The Mirror on Sunday afternoon, another Orson Welles film, but after suffering through Chimes At Midnight the day before, we reconsidered and saw Capturing Grace instead.

So glad we did. This documentary (we watched nothing but documentaries today!) follows a group of people afflicted with Parkinson’s disease who have made an amazing discovery: Dance focuses their attention on movement in such a way that they seem to regain control over their bodies while they’re doing it. Filmed over the course of a year, the group prepares for their first public dance performance with the help of professional choreographers at the Mark Morris Dance Group. This is easily one of the best films of the festival.

Capturing Grace | 8:32 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Director Kara Mulrooney spent An Evening At Angelo’s to record this slice of life about a piano lounge where the regulars and, occasionally, Angelo, the owner, takes the mike to belt out a few tunes.

An Evening At Angelo’s | 8:30 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Our second documentary of the day, In The Shadow of Ebola follows Emmanuel Urey, a UW-Madison student gone home to Liberia to visit his family when the Ebola outbreak reaches Monrovia. He manages to take one of his sons with him when he goes back to the United States, but is forced by the bureaucracy to leave the other behind until he can sort out the paperwork as the outbreak escalates. Scary stuff.

In The Shadow of Ebola | 8:23 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The makers of Blood, a documentary about Russians who are so poor they literally beg to sell their blood to state blood collectors at the bargain-basement price of three and a half dollars, were apparently sitting around wondering: This movie isn’t bleak enough. How could it be even bleaker?

And then the nickel dropped: Of course! We’ll film it in black & white!

Perfectly bleak.

Blood | 8:15 am CDT
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Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Society is riddled with people who take advantage of their position, but sexual predators are dealt with more harshly than any of them. The documentary Pervert Park does an engaging job of telling the stories of sex offenders coming to grips with their crimes and learning to reintegrate themselves with society. Set in the tiny community of Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park founded by the mother of a sex offender, men and women speak honestly about the horrors they’ve perpetrated, and the film frankly shows their struggle to deal with their crimes and get on with their lives. Although I appreciated how the film focused on the stories of the offenders, I would have liked to learn more about the community itself, how members joined it and how they eventually moved on. In spite of that, this is a good, and an important documentary.

Pervert Park | 7:27 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Set during the 70s when heroin was epidemic in Marseille, The Connection is a reboot of The French Connection with Jean Dujardin in the starring role. The police are after a drug kingpin. A new magistrate of police is brought in to get him. He does.

I guess I’m jaded: It’s every police versus drug dealers movie or television show I’ve seen already. Nothing new here.

The Connection | 7:13 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Chimes At Midnight is all the collected scenes from Shakespeare showing what a wit, what a wooer, what a lover of life John Falstaff was. I’ve never understood this. Falstaff has always been a drunken loser as far as I’m concerned who gets what’s coming to him in the end, and no more than Prince Hal promised him. Not even Orson Welles can convince me otherwise, and especially not with this film, which is probably as bad a staging of any Shakespeare as I’ve ever seen. Every time Falstaff speaks, crowds of people gather round him to laugh and applaud his every word. Anyone else who questions or contradicts him only jabbers and jumps like a caged monkey (except John Gielgud; Welles spared him). Now that I think of it, maybe this double-time fever dream was how the world looked to the perpetually drunken Falstaff, and Welles was genius enough to see it and put it on film. Hmmm.

Chimes at Midnight | 7:08 am CDT
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Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015The Keeping Room is a story of survival: Three women are the only people left of what was once a rather grand farm that is standing in the path of Sherman’s army as it marches to the sea.

Two of the women have had to learn to live off the land. They stalk game in the wooded hills, or hoe rows of beans, potatoes and carrots wearing dresses made for entertaining, not work. The third woman was a slave, who has known nothing but work. Now they work and eat and sleep together, because they have nothing else but each other. All the men are gone off to war.

The film opens with a quote from Sherman: “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” As harsh and heartbreaking as this sentiment may be, it is no less true. The first scenes are of a pair of soldiers sent ahead of the army who have taken Sherman’s words as their license to be as cruel as human beings can be.

When the soldiers and the women inevitably cross paths, the women must figure out how to outwit men whose humanity has been demolished by battle. “Why do you come to us as if you want war?” one of the women asks one of the men, who answers, almost helplessly, “Don’t know how to stop.”

There is never a dull moment in this movie, never a scene when I didn’t feel these women were in peril, but also never a moment that I didn’t believe they would figure out how to save themselves from every newly-developing danger. I should’ve given this film a five. You should see it.

The Keeping Room | 11:19 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Geon-soo is having A Hard Day: His mother died, his sister’s mad at him because he’s late for the funeral, and he just hit someone with his car. So, as you do, he shoves the body in the trunk and, while he’s nailing the lid on his mother’s coffin, cooks up a plan to dispose of the body. And he would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling (and apparently indestructible) cop, Park.

I think I may be slowly coming around to liking Korean movies. Maybe I was unlucky enough to start out with the craptastic ones. I was sure I wasn’t going to like this one, going into it, and I was on the verge of walking out at the beginning until the nickel dropped and I realized it was a comedy. A really dark comedy, but a well-played dark comedy. Then I enjoyed it, although I didn’t think it was as laugh-out-loud funny as the rest of the audience did. My Darling B was nearly in tears after a few of the gags. So maybe I only need to warm up to a few more good ones like this and I won’t be so apprehensive going in.

A Hard Day | 10:48 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Love At First Fight started with what I guess was meant to be a meet cute: Amaud’s friends rope him into participating in a demonstration of hand-to-hand combat with Madeleine, a characteristically nutty survivalist who trains herself to join the toughest regiment in the Army by swimming with a backpack full of rocks and drinking smoothies she makes from raw sardines. The story quickly loses steam when they go to a summer Army boot camp, and falls apart after they ditch the Army and go camping in the forest where they do pretty much nothing at all.

Love At First Fight | 8:52 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Spartans is a documentary about Yvan, a mixed-martial arts champion who grew up in the projects of Marseilles, France, coaches boys and girls from his neighborhood with the hope of teaching them enough discipline to keep them in school and out of trouble. It starts out promising, but by the middle of the film I’d already had enough of Yvan’s lectures and tough-guy talk. I guess I have to accept that “If you don’t stay in school and respect your mother, I’ll tear your head off!” can be effectively motivating to somebody, because it seemed to be working on these kids, but it got old pretty fast. Way too much of Yvan talking, not enough of Yvan getting results.

Spartans | 8:11 am CDT
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Friday, April 10th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel pretty lucky that My Darling B talked me into going to see Uncle John, the second film we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year. Uncle John is a heartwarming story about death and murder and the grim determination to hide your dark secrets no matter how many people you have to kill. And family. Togetherness. New love.

Really a well-made movie, it was shot mostly in farm country just north of Madison and looked it. The cinematography was top-notch, the casting was superb, the story was intriguing and suspenseful and the writing was engaging. Rarely does a movie as dark as this one hold my attention any more.

Uncle John | 7:49 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015I feel really awkward about not liking Results, the first film of the Wisconsin Film Festival. I was so bored with it that I came close to walking out on it two or three times. Then the audience would laugh at something they thought was pretty funny but went right by me, and I’d sit there wondering, Now why didn’t I get that?

And they did that a lot. It didn’t all go over my head. There were a few moments where somebody did something that made me smile. For the most part, though, it was like watching a crowd. People came in, they did stuff, some of it was interesting, occasionally it was funny, and then they left. I like people watching. I do it all the time. And I have to say that it’s more interesting than this movie was. I think that’s because people-watching is supposed to be random, but I think this movie was trying to tell a story. Or maybe not. I could be wrong about that.

Whatever. Not my cup of tea.

Results | 7:40 am CDT
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Thursday, April 9th, 2015

image of Kevin SpaceyI had just finished re-reading Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and was four chapters into The Lady In The Lake when the answer to a long-standing problem finally hit me. For years, I’ve wondered who could believably play Phillip Marlowe. So far, just about everybody who has played him in movies and television, with maybe one exception*, has fallen short. But then the other night I was reading a passage and saw it: Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey would make a great Phillip Marlowe.

Bogart is usually the guy everybody pictures as the greatest detective. And he wasn’t bad at all in The Big Sleep, but as good as Bogart looks wearing a trench coat and a fedora, he’ll always be Bogart first, and whoever he’s playing will be just some guy he played. That’s not his fault. He was a fine actor, but at this point he’s ascended to the level of a Hollywood legend so grand that he is and always will be Bogart, no matter whose name he’s using on screen.

Which is not to say that Kevin Spacey is not a Hollywood legend, far from it. Marlowe is such an icon of detective novels that he would have to be played by an actor with Spacey’s celebrity as well as ability. Maybe that’s why they went with Bogey, back in the day.

Read through a few paragraphs of Lady in the Lake and tell me you wouldn’t watch the hell out of a movie with Spacey gumshoeing his way through those scenes.

*The one exception I found was a guy named Phil Carey, who played Marlowe in a television series that ran from 1959 to 1960. I’ve never seen it, or seen Carey play Marlowe, but take a look at his face and tell me he doesn’t look like a hard-boiled Los Angeles detective.

marlowe | 3:59 pm CDT
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Sunday, February 8th, 2015

We watched Snowpiercer last night. It got good reviews – a lot of good reviews – and it features a lot of good actors. Turned out to be a muddled mess of a movie, though.

Set in the not-too-distant future after an attempt to control global warming goes wrong and plunges the planet into a deep-freeze, Snowpiercer zooms in on what are presumably the only survivors of the climatic catastrophe, a couple hundred people locked inside a train that’s been careening along unmaintained tracks at hundreds of miles per hour for eighteen years.

Still interested?

The most pure-hearted of the survivors live in the cars at the back of the train. You can tell they’re the nicest people because they wear raggedy clothes, live in squalor and eat greasy-looking “protein bars” that the evil people in the front of the train, who wear fine clothes and lock the door as they go, deliver to the ruffians every so often under armed guard. Pretty subtle imagery, eh?

The people at the back of the train naturally resent being kept out of the front, being fed slimy goo, and having jackbooted thugs wave guns at them, so they revolt. They’ve done this before and they’ve been cut down in their tracks before, but this time they’ve apparently got a fool-proof plan that will get them all the way to the front of the train so they can take over and make everything better.

I’m guessing that the people up front, as evil as they may be, know how to keep the lights lit, the heat on and the train moving, and I’m also guessing that nobody in the back end knows how to do that, so taking over the front of the train really doesn’t do the rebels much good, but never mind. Minor plot hole. Pay it no heed.

Tangential thought: Why is the train moving at all? Seems to me that if you’ve got one of the few shelters on earth that’s impervious to the cold and has an apparently limitless source of energy, you’d just park that thing so you won’t have to fret about running off the tracks or getting buried in a snowdrift. But that’s probably a stupid idea. For some reason. Minor plot hole. Pay it no heed.

The rest of the movie is a video game: In each new scene, the rebels open the door to the next car where they have to solve a mystery or meet and overcome a foe that’s seemingly impossible to beat. One car is a single open room where row after row of six-foot-tall axe-wielding jackbooted thugs wearing kevlar vests wait for the ruffians. Hmmm. Wonder who wins, the evil thugs or the pure-hearted ruffians? Tough call.

I experienced a brief flash of hope in the first ten or fifteen minutes, about midway through a stern talking-to Tilda Swinton gave that I couldn’t help smirking over, that maybe, instead of a gloomily serious movie about a dystopian future, this was going to be a whacky comedy. The scene continued with comedic touches but, alas, the movie soon slipped back into gloom and dystopia, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a comedy. Everybody in the movie, with the exception of Alison Pill and maybe Ed Harris, was pretty damned earnest, especially Chris Evans. Wow, can that man furrow his brow. So I’m going to have to go with gloomily serious movie about a dystopian future, and I’m going to have to stay with muddled mess. See it at your peril.

Snowpiercer | 1:21 pm CDT
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Monday, January 19th, 2015

When rating movies on a scale of one to five, I figure that a three is an average movie that doesn’t feel like a waste of my time, and a four would be a movie that I would recommend.

A five, though, is a rare movie that I would not only recommend to you, I would urge you to see it. No, I would argue that you should see it. I would happily pay for your ticket, and I would show up at your doorstep to chauffeur you to the theater if you couldn’t get there any other way.

Selma is a five. There’s nothing about this movie I didn’t like.

selma | 10:50 am CDT
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It’s been ten years since Battlestar Galactica was rebooted by the SyFy Network.

Everybody else’s take: Greatest Television Show Ever Broadcast.

My take, staying in the five-word format: Looks great, stupid as hell.

Looks great: Really great, if you get off on space ships, and who doesn’t? Stupid people, that’s who. And also, killer robots! What’s not to like?

Stupid as hell: The killer robots lurch and shamble like old-school zombies which nonetheless manage to sneak up on the humans even though they go whirrr-whirrr, whirrr-whirrr and CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! with every step.

Looks great: I like watching Edward James Olmos do just about anything, and I especially liked the way he growled through his role as Adama.

Stupid as hell: Baltar is crazy. Raves, talks, jumps and squirms because an invisible Cylon is constantly harassing him. I get it that nobody can see the Cylon, but everybody can clearly see that Baltar constantly, relentlessly acts like he’s out of his goddamn mind. The only crazy thing he doesn’t do is foam at the mouth, and yet the other key people in the show listen to him as if he behaved like a wizened sage. Wait, maybe they’re all batshit crazy. I just thought of that.

Looks great: The new fighters look cool!

Stupid as hell: Why are there one-man fighter planes on the Galactica, a ship that must be at least a mile long with enough room inside to carry destroyers, dreadnaughts, cruisers, torpedo boats, anything with more firepower than fighters that carry just two guns!

looks great but | 10:42 am CDT
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Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Best Songs Of The Seventies, Part One
(because I’m pretty sure I’m going to think of lots more for a Part Two right after I hit the “post” button)

Bee Gees: crickets. These guys dominated the seventies and eighties. I’ve never been able to figure out why. No one’s ever explained it to me in a way that made sense, either.

Boston: That One Song. You know it. It was on the radio all the time. You can air jam to it so hard! What the hell was it called?

Elton John: Bennie and the Jets. Did you know this song had words to it? Besides “Bennie and the Jets” I mean. No, really! It did! I looked them up a few weeks ago and discovered it’s got two whole verses! I wish we’d had the internet in the seventies so I’d been able to sing more than the chorus. Still, best Elton John song ever.

Hall & Oates: nothing. I have literally no love for any of the songs that Hall & Oats cranked out. I know y’all think they’re the greatest pop duo of the seventies, but everything they did irritates me. And it’s a totally irrational irritation; I can’t explain why I don’t like them, just that they rub me the wrong way. Sorry, Hall & Oates.

Jackson 5: I Want You Back. It’s not as hard as you think to declare this the best of all the music recorded by the Jackson 5. It’s got a great beat, not the least of all because of the heart-pounding bass line, and the melody is catchy as hell. Sometimes I get hung up on the message in the lyrics; after all, “those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd” isn’t exactly the most endearing thing you could say to a woman you were trying to woo back into your arms. Still, boss song.

Journey: Any Way You Want It. THAT’S the way you need it. ANY way you want it. DAH duh dah de dum dum dum dum DUM DUM DUM DAHHMMM!

REO Speedwagon: Roll With The Changes. Nothing better. Nope. Not gonna hear it. This is their best tune ever. Don’t care how big a fan you are or what you say about any of their other stuff. This is it. Talk to the hand.

Rod Stewart: Maggie Mae. Duh. I mean, did the guy even record anything else? It’s all Maggie Mae. Be honest. You can do it.

Queen: Somebody To Love. You thought it was going to be We Are The Champions, didn’t you? That song is the most overrated Queen song. Literally anything else they recorded was better than We Are The Champions. Actually, it was a tough call between this and Don’t Stop Me Now, but memories of me singing this at the tops of my lungs in the car tipped the balance. Best Ever.

Simon & Garfunkle: Trying To Keep The Customer Satisfied. Everybody who grew up in the seventies had a copy of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Everybody. And this was not only the best song off the album, it was their best song ever. I like everything they ever recorded, except – it has to be said, sorry – El Condor Pasa, and I sing along whenever their tunes are on the radio, because if you don’t show everybody that you know all the words to every Simon & Garfunkle tune, just go home, but this is the song that I crank all the way up to eleven. Try it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Steve Miller: Jungle Love. I remember Steve Miller was on the radio all through the seventies. The man could crank out the pop tunes. This one, though – this one’s got a beat that leaves all the others behind. And it’s got that whistling thing. Whatever that is, it was so much fun to do in the car.

Tony Orlando and Dawn: Who’s In The Strawberry Patch With Sally? I just have to mention this one because it’s so goddamn much fun to sing at parties. Not that I go to a lot of parties these days. Probably because I sing this song. Please invite me to your party so I can sing this song.

favorites | 5:04 pm CDT
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Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise-Emily Blunt team-up movie in which Cruise time-travels back to the same day over and over again a la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day to kill invading aliens, was a lot more fun than I ever suspected it would be. I don’t like time-travel movies much any more; they’ve pretty much been done to death. Edge of Tomorrow is an enjoyably surprising exception.

Unlike Bill Murray, who wakes up every morning on Groundhog Day, Tom Cruise jumps back in time only when he gets killed. This happens to him a lot, the first time after an alien bleeds acid on him, and after that by being shot, immolated, exploded, crashed upon by a transport aircraft and run over by a truck, which, by the way, is something you don’t want to miss even if you’re the half of the world who thinks you can’t stand Tom Cruise in big or small doses.

Each time Cruise dies, he wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport where Bill Paxton flashes his smarmiest grin at Cruise and gives him a lecture about the virtues of battle that would make R. Lee Ermey weep with joy. Paxton gets blown out the sky the next morning but, thanks to the wonder of time travel, we get to see him over and over and over (repeatedly tormenting Cruise, by the way. Really, Cruise-haters, it wouldn’t kill you to watch this!).

Shanghaied by the general commanding the last-ditch invasion to crush the advancing alien scourge, Cruise realizes that he can not only remember what killed him last time, he can avoid it. Of course, then he gets killed by something else, but he remembers that, too, and avoids the first two things, then gets killed by the third thing. And the fourth thing. And so on, and on, and on.

This would all be too much if, in the middle of the invasion, he hadn’t met Emily Blunt, a woman so badass that she doesn’t shoot aliens with the ray guns everyone else is using because she’s got a machete. A BIG machete. She agrees to show Cruise how to kill aliens with the help of her killer robot alien droids that can, and often do kick Cruise’s ass, or at the very least break his arms and legs, forcing Blunt to shoot him in the head so they can start over. Yeah. She knows he can time travel. She used to do it, too.

Together, Blunt and Cruise set out to redo the invasion as many times as it takes to figure out how to defeat them, and I’ve got to say that Blunt is every bit the kick-ass action star that Cruise is. I can’t think of a single movie off the top of my head that I’ve seen her in outside this one, but I hope she can find more movies where she gets to match the strong male lead the way she did here, because she’s terrific at it.

And of course they beat the aliens. No spoiler there, I think. It’s only a matter of figuring out how, right?

Edge of Tomorrow | 3:49 pm CDT
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Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Sean gave me a copy of The Martian for my birthday. I’d already read it, but it’s the thought that counts.

“You’ve already read it too, right?” I asked Sean, who always reads the books he gives to me.

“Of course,” he answered with a smile.

Tim hadn’t read it yet, so I gave it to him and he took it home.

The Martian is about an astronaut stranded on Mars who has to figure out how to survive for more than a year until the next scheduled crew arrives. This is my very favorite kind of story: The guy’s got unlimited electric power and can recycle air and water virtually forever, but he’s got much less than a year’s worth of food. And once he figures out how to do that, he’s got to work out how to get to the site where the next crew will land, quite a long ways from where he is. To survive, he has to use his wits. If he panics, or loses hope, he’s shit out of luck. These are the best stories there are.

The Martian is written as if it were a journal recorded by the astronaut, but only until you get about halfway through the book. From there, the novel began to follow the action when the people back on Earth discovered the astronaut they thought was dead actually wasn’t. The transition from journal to story frankly didn’t work for me. I felt like I’d been kicked out of the astronaut’s head and had to suddenly reorient myself in the world. The rest of the book jumped back and forth from the journal to the story, but after being kicked out I wasn’t much interested any more. I kept on reading just to get it over with.

Wonder how Tim likes it?

The Martian | 6:03 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Thank you, Dave Addey, and your Typeset in the Future blog! I haven’t been served up so delicious a serving of Alien minutia in a long time!

I swear, I thought all that crap about the “Weyland-Yutani” corporation was just jibber-jabber made up to fill the pages of tech-spec books, that it wasn’t even thought of until the third or fourth movie in the series, but there it is, plain as day on one of the ship displays in the Act One, Scene One of Alien:

(Credit for all images to David Addey, TypesetInTheFuture.com)

If you ever wondered why Ripley wasn’t able to shut off the self-destruct mechanism in the first Alien movie:

Ripley follows the French instructions with her finger, not the English ones from before … And this is where it all goes horribly wrong.

Let’s take a look at those French instructions in more detail:

Poussez le NUCLEAR BOLT CODE No 1
Vérifier CRAMPON de L’ACHEMENT
Exécutez INSERTION/BOULON No 1 a la cale No 1
Vérifier SÉCURITÉ du SOMMET NUCLEAR
Vérifier SÉCURITÉ du SOMMET NUCLEAR
Vérifier la DETONATION ACTIVE

Hmm … something something “NUCLEAR BOLT” … something something “SÉCURITÉ” … it certainly sounds plausible. But how do these compare to the English instructions we verified the efficacy of earlier?

For the first three steps, all is bon. But from instruction four onwards, things take a definite turn for the worse.

Thanks to this truly awful piece of translation, Ripley fails to abort the detonation process in time, and the five-minute countdown to total detonation continues …


all is bon | 7:48 pm CDT
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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CDT
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
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Sunday, November 9th, 2014

I’ve spent the past two-three, maybe four – okay, it might be five weeks now that I’ve been reading Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War At Sea In The Pacific, 1941-1942. In my defense, it’s a thick book. Also, I can’t stop myself from paging back to re-read parts of it. It’s possibly the most engaging history of the Pacific war ever put to paper.

I got it as a birthday gift from my Mom several years ago and I read it in a mad rush almost right after she gave it to me. Then it went into a bookcase with all my other books about the Pacific war and stayed there until about two months ago, when I was browsing the shelves of Paul’s Book Store on State Street and found a copy of Edwin Hoyt’s How They Won The War In The Pacific: Nimitz And His Admirals, a book thick enough to hold up a corner of a three-legged sofa, and to tell the truth I still haven’t finished it. I got as far as page 490, just 14 pages short of the end, and maybe next week I’ll knock out the last of it one night before bedtime.

Hoyt’s book was excellent and goes a long way in describing the character of people like Nimitz, King, Halsey, and Spruance, people who have become icons in the decades since the war, but for me, Toll describes the same people in ways that makes them feel more human. I couldn’t stop myself from going back to Toll and reading whole chapters that described the same action that Hoyt had gone over in clinical detail. I’m not sure how he would take to being called sentimental, but Toll often seems to write as if he were recalling a memory of a relative who had been in the war. I don’t know exactly how he did it; I wish I did, so I could write characters as vividly as he does. Hoyt wrote an excellent chronicle of some of the most prominent players of the war, but Toll brought them to life as personalities.

reading frenzy | 5:19 pm CDT
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Monday, November 3rd, 2014

I checked out Gravity from the library while we were visiting yesterday morning. When My Darling B saw what I had in my hands, she said something like, “Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you,” or she sing-songed, “You’ll be sorr-eee!” or something like that. She thought it was a stinker after the first teaser.

And oh my, was she right. This movie had exactly one thing going for it, and that was the pretty pictures of my home planet. Except for that, it was one long snoozefest. I didn’t see one moment of the nerve-wracking tension that the critics raved about. (I can’t believe this got a 97% on the Tomatometer! I think I may never believe Rotten Tomatoes again!) Every scene was entirely predictable. Good example: There’s a third crewman in the background of the very first scene with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Third Crewman speaks with what sounds to me like an Asian accent. As soon as I heard that, I thought, Well, he’s a dead man. They didn’t even bother to show his face until after it got bashed in by space junk.

Also, the dialogue was idiotic. Not awkward, not “could’ve been better,” just flat-out stupid. After Bullock drifts away from the space shuttle, Clooney calls to her on the radio: “Where are you? What’s your location?” Duh. She’s in orbit over the planet. There aren’t any reference points up there! What the hell’s she supposed to say to that? “I’m over North America! Right over Ohio! Cincinnati, to be exact! Wait, no, now I’m over Columbus. Hurry it up, will ya? I’m gonna be in Philadelphia soon.”

There was a whole bunch of stuff wrong with the way people and spaceships moved in orbit, and what the hell is it with movie astronauts that they can’t keep their helmets on? I may be wrong, but don’t you think Lesson One in Astronaut School is, When the spaceship is getting hit by space junk, keep your goddamn helmet on! (Amended for movie astronaut school: …unless you’re in a movie, then take it off so the audience can see your terrified expression.)

Finally, and I know this is a minor thing and I’m just piling on now, but goddammit, the 3-D gimmicks, like making the actors jump at the camera in every scene, just look like gimmicks when the movie’s not in 3-D.

Should’ve listened to B. One star, but only for the pretty pictures of my home planet.

Gravity | 5:54 am CDT
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Sunday, September 21st, 2014

I had tickets to see Pomplamoose last week at the High Noon Saloon. Too bad I didn’t get to see them.

Oh, I was there. I got there early. Tickets said the show started at eight, so I was there with my hot date at seven-thirty hoping to score a couple of seats close to the stage. Turns out the High Noon doesn’t do seats close to the stage. They don’t do seats anywhere near the stage. You can stand on the open floor around the stage, or you can try to wrangle a seat in the balcony. We managed to wrangle a seat in the balcony behind some motormouthed dude who apparently paid the fifteen-dollar cover charge so he could spend the whole time yammering to the other people at his table what a great show it was. Or something. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, only that he was making a lot of noise.

To be fair to the motormouth, everybody was making a lot of noise. Here’s a tip: If you want to hear what one of your favorite bands would sound like as background music, go see them at the High Noon Saloon, where the customers pay for tickets to see a band and then stand around jabbering while the band plays. Made my head explode. Twice, because there were two opening acts: John Schroeder, a blues singer who might’ve been pretty good if only I could have heard him over the crowd noise, and Danielle Ate The Sandwich, a kind of folksy singer who might’ve been pretty good if only I could have … oh, you know.

I bugged out before Pomplamoose came on stage, for two good reasons: I didn’t want to get arrested for jumping up on the pool table and yelling, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE WILL YOU DUMBSHITS SHUT THE HELL UP?! And also because it was late. I’m old. I go to bed at ten o’clock. To see my favorite band I’ll make an exception, but not after they keep me waiting for two hours, and not when the crowd is going to keep on gossiping about the dumb shit that happened at work that day. So I didn’t get to see Pomplamoose. Sad face.

Here’s one of my favorite Pomplamoose songs, just so you know why I’m kinda bummed that I didn’t get to see them:

Pomplamoose | 5:06 pm CDT
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Friday, August 29th, 2014

One of my coworkers takes great delight in singing less-than-likeable pop songs from the 70’s. The asshole. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but I could cheerfully curb-stomp anyone who thinks it’s hilarious to resurrect pop songs that should have remained dead and buried. That’s one breach of etiquette that ought to be punishable with at least a bit of ad hoc facial reconstruction.

And by ‘etiquette,’ I’m being purely rhetorical. I certainly don’t mean that my coworker should be asking permission to drag these musical abominations from the grave. If you’re going to politely ask, “Say, do you mind if I sing the chorus to Seasons In The Sun?” you might as well just sing the fucking song, because either way it’s going to play on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

And I’m not talking about mildly annoying songs, or songs that I like in spite of themselves. The kind of songs I’m talking about are vile in their construction, repugnant in their performance, and malicious in the way they infect you. They are musical disease. I’m not kidding. Do you seriously believe Playground In My Mind was recorded for any reason other than to painfully torment you for the rest of your days?

These are the kind of songs that were so long gone that not only had I dared to believe they would never be heard again, I had reached a kind of pop-song Nirvana: I had not thought about them for decades. If only every song by Hall & Oates would vanish so completely. But now there’s this coworker who has to go and dredge them up, one by one, by singing just one or two lines of a chorus, off-key. One pass, and I spend the rest of the afternoon listening to every goddamned saccharine-sweet line, because of course my memory, which can’t be depended on to remember a grocery list with three items on it, can remember every word of every song I heard in the 70s.

dead and buried … and undead | 6:08 am CDT
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Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

As I was saying, the biggest thrill of the weekend was the mouse that came up the stairs into the kitchen on Sunday night. I’m not kidding. Don’t judge us. We don’t get out much.

The little booger literally came up the stairs. I’m almost one-hundred percent certain of this because when I turned on the lights to go downstairs Friday night, there on the second-to-the-top step was a mouse, frozen in mid-step. Hm? Where was I going? Me? I was, ah, just going to the bathroom! Yeah! That’s the ticket! The toilet downstairs is backed up, so I was going to use the one upstairs, if you don’t mind! Yeah! What? You do mind? Well, then, heh-heh-heh, I guess I’ll just go back downstairs and piss in the corner again. See yah!

When I spot a mouse in the house, my reaction is just a little manic. I hope nobody ever records it, because I don’t want it to be immortalized on YouTube for the rest of recorded human history. But here’s what it sounds like in print: “I SEE YOU! I SEE YOU, YOU LITTLE BASTARD! I’M GONNA STOMP YOU! YOU CAN RUN, BUT I’M GONNA GET YOU!” It goes on like that for pages as I scramble around, huffing and puffing until I have to stop to catch my breath. I’ve never caught a mouse this way. Really, there’s probably nobody who spends more energy on not catching mice than I do.

But if I have a cat as my wing man, then I can get things done. Boo spotted the little invader Sunday night after it tried to sneak under the stairway door into the dining room. She happened to be ambling by, headed for a bite of kibble from her bowl, which was probably what the mouse was thinking of doing, too. Boo let us know what she’d found by leaping into the air, scrambling back and forth across the floor, and finally sticking her face in the crack between the base of the oven and the linoleum, snorfling up more air than a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Subtlety is not Boo’s way.

When we went looking for the mouse to see if it was, indeed, trapped, My Darling B spotted it between the oven and the fridge before it scurried to relative safety behind the oven. So we worked out a way to catch the little vermin: I would sweep under the oven with a stick while B made sure that Boo wouldn’t wander away. Her attention span can be a little short sometimes.

But it didn’t take long to flush out the mouse. One or two quick sweeps with the stick and the mouse popped out from under the oven like it was shot, straight past Boo and through B’s feet. That’s when she squealed like a girl and jumped back three feet. I thought that was something that happened only in cartoons. Her reaction wouldn’t have surprised me more if she’d lifted the hem of her petticoat, jumped up on a chair and squeaked, Eeeek! A mouse!

The mouse made a hairpin turn to the right and I thought at first that it headed for the stairway door and the safety of the basement, but for some reason it went instead into the living room where Boo chased it back and forth across the floor like two of the Three Stooges. Whoo-woo-woo-woo! and Why I Oughta! would’ve been the perfect caption to the photo I didn’t get a chance to take, because I chased after them, making sure that the mouse couldn’t find another hiding spot. I had to move one piece of furniture away from the wall so Boo could get behind it, and twice I had to play goalie, slapping the mouse back into play with my foot when it tried to run for the hallway, but Boo did most of the work, finally pinning it down by the front door, the perfect place for me to slap a plastic tub over it. It was late and I didn’t want to keep it overnight, so I suspended our usual no-kill policy and that particular mouse went on permanent sabbatical.

Boo can move pretty fast for such a tubby cat. She’s usually the epitome of a princess-like cat, mincing across the floor in carefully measured steps, but when she saw that mouse, she went batshit crazy, and she scrambled across the living room like a maniac. It was hard not to be impressed.

yelp 2 | 6:07 am CDT
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Sunday, August 17th, 2014

If you don’t see any other movie this summer, you’ve got to see Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Why? Talking raccoon, that’s why. Talking tree, that’s why. Soundtrack that includes Hooked On A Feeling, the oogah-chagah version by Blue Swede. That’s why.

Full disclosure: The soundtrack also includes Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes, so you’ve got to weigh any revulsion you feel toward that one song, and I can only hope you are as nauseated by it as you should be, against your desire to see a fun summer movie. I can offer the consolation that a prick of a prison guard gets cold-cocked while he’s listening to the song I cannot mention a second time. So there’s that.

Okay. Back to Guardians Of The Galaxy. I don’t know where this came from. I used to read comic books (well duh) and back in the 80s there was a special edition comic book called Star-Lord, featuring a guy named Peter Quill, same as in this movie, but this movie and that comic book look nothing alike. I asked the Google if it could explain, but it could not; it could only show me comic book panels of a guy who was called Star Lord but didn’t look like the Star-Lord that I knew, or like the Star Lord in the movie.

I’m happy to forget about trying to figure it out. The movie, as it exists on its own, is a lot of fun. Star Lord is some kind of Han Solo/Indiana Jones hybrid who gets a bunch of space pirates (the talking raccoon, the talking tree, a walking five-hundred pound tattoo and a green-painted Zoe Saldana) to help him steal an orb from Ronin, a guy who can hit you so hard your unborn children will say “ouch.”  That’s all you need to know. You don’t need to know why the space pirates would help Star Lord, you don’t need to know what the orb is — it’s all just  background. Watching these guys chase Ronin across the galaxy for the fun of it is all you need. That, and you need to buy the soundtrack. They really want you to. I did. It’s good.

Guardians Of The Galaxy | 6:04 pm CDT
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Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Word Crimes | 4:26 pm CDT
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We watched four episodes of Under The Dome before we lost interest. It’s not a terrible show, but it’s not a good one.

I admit I was predisposed to hate it. I thought the idea was dumb when I read the review of the Stephen King book it’s based on: A dome appears over a small town. It wasn’t built there, it just appeared. It’s transparent to light, it stops sound completely, and when cars drive into it or airplanes try to fly through it, they’re smashed as if they hit an indestructible wall. Everyone in the town is trapped there, with no idea how long this will go on. If that seems to you like something that could happen, then you might like this story. It sounds dumb to me, so I figured I probably wouldn’t.

To my surprise, the first episode was not all that bad. It was mostly about introducing the main characters and hinting at the intrigues they were involved with. The dome descended and most of them reacted in ways that seemed believable, so we kept on watching. Over the next couple of episodes, though, it pretty much fell apart. Why did they spend so much time on screaming girl? One or two scenes were all we needed to establish that she was trapped by psycho boy and that she could scream like a Wagnerian diva, but they kept coming back to her every five minutes. See, she’s still trapped down there, and she’s still screaming. Man, that girl can scream, can’t she? Let’s listen to her scream for a few more minutes before we cut away. Surprised they didn’t have some crystal wine goblets on hand for her to shatter with her piercing voice.

Weirdest to me is that, after four episodes, which works out to about three or four days, nobody has set up a way to communicate with the people in radiation suits waving Geiger counters at the dome and the soldiers standing guard around it. Although they can see each other, only one person has thought to write a note and press it up against the dome for someone outside to read. That was in the first few minutes after the dome fell on the town; after that, the people inside spend hardly any time at all trying to get the attention of the people outside, and the people outside literally act as if the people they can easily see inside the dome aren’t there.

All those grunts standing guard is a bit of a mystery, too. If they were there to prevent people on the outside from getting too close, that would make some kind of sense, but most of them are facing the dome, as if they were trying to keep people in. What the hell is that? And even though they’re standing at port arms all day long facing the dome, they don’t taunt or tease the people inside, never flip them off, don’t leer at the pretty girls. “You could strip naked and they probably wouldn’t react,” the rugged-looking ex-Army guy tells the gorgeous young journalist. Oh, please. She could strip naked and the soldiers wouldn’t bat an eye? Which army were you in?

So we’ve had enough of Under The Dome. Time to move on to something more believable, like maybe an Adam Sandler movie.

Under The Dome | 11:07 am CDT
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Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

We checked out the Superman reboot Man Of Steel and watched it the other day.

What can I say about Superman that hasn’t been said a million times already?

For starters, I peed more than I’ve ever peed during a movie before, so thank goodness I waited to see it on DVD because I would have missed at least thirty minutes of it if I’d seen it in the movie theater. Not that I’m implying that the movie made me pee. It didn’t. At least, I don’t think it did. No, I’m pretty sure it was the beer. That stuff usually makes me pee and I’ve heard it affects just about everybody else that way, too.

It was a very dark movie, literally dark. Every scene seemed to be shot through a lens that made everybody and everything look like cold steel. Cold, green steel.  Maybe copper would be a better simile here. Cold, green copper doesn’t quite have the same punch as steel, though, does it? I think I’m gonna stick with steel.

Henry Cavill, the guy who played Supes (he lets me call him Supes), was just dark and brooding enough to fit in with the rest of the cold, dark rebootedness, but he was not so brooding as to be unwatchably emo. Also, I could easily believe he could hold up falling oil rigs with his bare hands. That man is ripped. I’m pretty sure he has muscles in his turds.

And thank you, Kevin Costner, for a wonderful Jonathan Kent. I still think that Glen Ford’s performance is the one to beat, but you made a great showing. Bravo.

Well, that’s about it. I didn’t get all torqued off about Supes killing General Zod in the finale, the way the fanboys did, because I figure after their big fight knocked down half the buildings in Metropolis the two of them must have killed, easy, five thousand innocent bystanders. So he killed Zod. It’s a movie. An action movie. This isn’t an Ingmar Bergman flick. Get over it.

Man Of Steel | 9:38 pm CDT
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Monday, July 7th, 2014

I’ve been reading a story called Wool, a hugely popular sci-fi novel set in a distopian future when the surface of the planet is so toxic that people have to live underground in hermetically sealed silos because one deep breath of the outside air makes people double over in stomach-cramping pain and die.

The story opens with a pretty good hook: “The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death.” Holston has been the sheriff of the silo for years, but this morning, the third anniversary of his wife’s death, he has decided that he wants to go outside. Three years ago, his wife told him something about the outside world that he has wondered about ever since. He wants to go see if it’s true.

Any one of the silo’s citizens can ask to go outside at any time. Technicians will even provide a specially-developed suit that will protect them from the toxins for a short time, and in exchange they are expected to clean the cameras that give the rest of the silo’s citizens a view of the outside world. Coming back in is not part of the bargain, however. The outside world is much too toxic for that, so “being sent to clean” has become a euphemism for capital punishment. Only people who have committed the gravest crimes are sent to cleaning. Asking to go outside is the gravest crime of all.

That’s why Holston was facing his death in the opening hook of the story. He was climbing because the silo is a subterranean bunker that goes deep into the earth, one-hundred and forty-some separate floors that shelter thousands of people. And they have just one smallish spiral staircase running up the middle of it. Everybody’s always climbing or descending those stairs. Whole pages are devoted to describing how they trudge, trudge, trudge up and down those stairs.

Funny thing  about that: For a society of stair-climbers, born and bred, they’re woefully bad at it. It takes them days to climb from the bottom to the top. They shoulder backpacks stuffed with provisions and make arrangements to stay overnight after climbing thirty or forty floors. I’m in lousy shape, but I walk down the stairs of the ten-story office building where I work, then climb back up to the top, all in fifteen minutes. About fifty pages in I was expecting a Twilight Zone-like reveal: The people of the silo are all legless! They climb the stairs on their hands! But no. That’s not it. They’re just kinda pokey.

The Zoneish reveal about the silo is, unfortunately, the answer to the question: Why do people even bother to clean the cameras after being sent outside where they will die as certainly as every other person who was sent out and not allowed back in? The answer, when I got to it after two-hundred pages, was just about good enough to keep me interested in reading half of the next two-hundred: the half that told the story of the last person to be sent outside. The other half was the story of an armed uprising that I just couldn’t make myself believe. In the end, I couldn’t make myself believe the other half, either.

There are other reasons I didn’t like Wool very much: I thought the dialog was as dull and cliched as a lot of the description was. People who lived forty stories apart spoke different dialects; that seemed more than a little farfetched. And the Evil Villain of the story wasn’t scary. He was amoral and kind of a pig, but he didn’t once scare me. But I seem to be in the minority; Wool was on the New York Times bestseller list. There are internet wikis and fan pages devoted to it. Everyone’s eagerly awaiting the film version by Ridley Scott. I hope it’s better than Prometheus.

Wool | 9:39 pm CDT
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Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I have the pop song Afternoon Delight stuck in my head. It ought to be Muskrat Love, the song I was reading about when one of the commenters to the online article noted that it was one of those schmaltzy pop songs they couldn’t help but love, like Afternoon Delight. For some reason, my brain decided to obsess on the latter instead of the former.

I, too, am one of those people who have to shamefacedly admit I love schmaltzy pop songs like Muskrat Love and Afternoon Delight. Even though earworms like these will eventually drive me to sing The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island in self-defense, I am right now tapping my toes and humming along as Afternoon Delight is echoing over and over deep within my cortex.

Footnote: I did not know that Muskrat Love, specifically the version I know by the Captain and Tennille, was a cover of a song called Muskrat Candlelight by Willis Alan Ramsey.

skyrockets in flight | 8:36 am CDT
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Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Orange Is The New Black has a rockin’ theme song by Regina Spektor with lyrics that start, “The animals, the animals, trapped, trapped, trapped til the cage is full …” But I wasn’t listening at all to the words the first two or three times I heard it, so it only half-registered on my consciousness as “The Alamo, the Alamo, trapped, trapped, trapped in the Alamo.”

B thinks this is about the goofiest thing I have ever said.

Round about the second time I heard it, the thought half-registered on my brain that it didn’t make much sense for her to be singing about the Alamo, so I wondered what else it could be and actually thought of “the animals” but then I thought, c’mon, why would she be saying that? And I moved on to much more credible possibilities, such as “pie a la mode” and “Los Alamos.”

Then I remembered I had the internet on my phone and I just looked it up.

The Alamo | 6:08 pm CDT
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After a dinner conversation that revolved around movies featuring Robert Downey Jr., we shifted to the living room to scan the movies with Downey in them that were available for streaming and settled on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang because we were in the mood for a comedy.

I think My Darling B was the first to say, “Well, that was weird,” after we finished watching it. We all said it, but she was the first out of the gate. I think I just agreed with her. Tim’s version was a little more specific: “The weirdest thing about it was how much I liked Val Kilmer’s part.”

Val Kilmer played the detective; Robert Downey Jr. was Kilmer’s bumbling sidekick. Sort of. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Downey’s part in the film was. He started off narrating the film, which always forces me to wonder about every narrated scene: Would this scene be okay without the narration? Ninety-nine percent of the time, the answer’s yes, and that held true here, I think. There were a couple of throwaway visual jokes that depended on the narration, but I got the impression that they had Downey narrate mostly because Kilmer was a detective and Downey pretended to be a detective.

So, narration, because detectives. But a snarky kind of narration, so not a run of the mill detective film. And the film ended with Downey doing a quick recap of events from his desk in the style of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that I really can’t explain.

In summary, a couple of fairly good chuckles, Val Kilmer was surprisingly good but mostly it was confusing. If you can come up with a more coherent summary of the film than that, please let me know, thanks.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang | 3:16 pm CDT
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Monday, June 9th, 2014

I was listening to tunes while doing some mindless, repetitive paperwork the other day when “Don’t Walk Away” came up as a random pick. My phone’s shuffle option tends to favor modern pop tunes and the Dave Brubeck best-of album I bought a year ago. It almost never plays the one-off tunes in my collection even though it’s supposed to be random, so I practically never hear older songs like “I Want You Back” or “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” unless I flip through the list and poke it by hand.

That’s one reason I was startled enough to stop what I was doing and sit up in my chair when “Don’t Walk Away” came around on shuffle. Another reason is, the song opens with the raw, ragged voice of Toni Childs all but shouting the title of the song, followed by a brace of trumpets blasting out two quick bars before Childs repeats her demand. It’s an introduction that grabs you by the lapels and holds on.

But the most personal reason I had to stop and listen to “Don’t Walk Away” is that it’s my breakup song, the song that perfectly captured my utter wretchedness at the moment my heart had broken. Those three words and those blaring horns were a top ten hit when I was dumped by the one and only person I couldn’t live without.

After I heard this song on VH1 or MTV or whatever I went straight out to the store, was strangely relieved to find they had a copy of “Reunion” on cassette tape, paid whatever they asked for it, popped it into my player as soon as I got back to my dorm and replayed it so many times I’m surprised to this day that my roomie didn’t strangle me in my sleep. He gave me a pass only because he and everybody else in the whole world could see what a wreck I was.

That summer, Toni Childs barked out the words I needed to hear. I still get the chills listening to this song, same way I get all warm and gooshy inside when I hear Basia Trzetrzelewska, another singer you’ve never heard of, croon “Time and Tide.” What a year that was. What a song.

Don’t Walk Away | 8:42 pm CDT
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Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Last night’s movie here at Our Humble O’Bode was the romantic comedy-slash-not quite time travel movie About Time (I know there aren’t enough dashes. I ran out. Sue me).

It was quite definitely a romantic comedy. It was not quite a time travel movie because, although Tim Lake, the guy narrating the story in the manner of Hugh Grant, could travel back in time, the way he did at one or two crucial moments of the film did not make sense to me – and before you make the very salient point that just about every time travel movie ever made did not, upon further reflection, make any sense at all, I have to point out that other time travelers did not move through time by climbing into a wardrobe (or, in a pinch, any dark, closet-like cubbyhole), clenching their fists and making the face other people make when they’re about to get slapped by a woman they’ve just made a drunken pass at. This is not, in other words, time travel as we have seen it in other movies. There is no flashing, whirlygig of a time machine and nothing especially remarkable happens except that Tim finds himself wearing the clothes he wore on the day he imagined himself going back to, and then he tries to act nonchalant as he climbs out of the wardrobe.

Tim uses his awesome time-traveling powers to do what any teenaged boy would do: Go after the girls. If he muffs the New Year’s Eve Party Kiss, or if he sploots a bottle of suntan lotion all over a pretty girl, no problem – he just clenches his fists, makes the funny face, and gets a do-over. It doesn’t help him get any girls, by the way. Oops, spoiler alert. But he does get a lot of practice.

When Mary finally enters the picture, they have one of the most charming first dates ever filmed (and possibly one of the oddest, because you can’t see it) and Tim doesn’t resort to time travel even when he does muff his lines or stick a spoon full of chocolate mousse in her eye. They have a delightfully lovely first date, she gives him her phone number and he wanders back to his apartment in a haze while an acoustic guitar plays an appropriately romantic number.

Back home, he learns that his landlord, a playwright, has just endured one of the most terrible opening nights of his career. This is the part of the movie where Tim learns the consequences of changing one thing with his awesome powers. He goes back to the beginning of the evening, goes to the play with his landlord and fixes everything that went wrong so the play is a huge success. BUT – if he spent the evening at the play, he couldn’t have met Mary, so her phone number vanishes from his possession and she has no memory of him.

For some reason, and this is the part that doesn’t work for me, Tim doesn’t ditch the playright, run off to the first dark closet he can find and do the clenchy-fist thing so he can have the most romantic first date ever filmed instead of helping his landlord. He just lives with the heartache of having to grope around the city blindly trying to find Mary again. And against all odds they meet again, but in the clumsiest, most contrived way conceivable, and again a third time (clench, grimace) in a not so clumsy way, but it still wasn’t the most romantic first date ever filmed.

And it doubly didn’t work for me when later he figures out how to use time travel to fix his sister’s awful relationship with her dirtbag boyfriend, then returns to his own time to find that his year-old daughter is not the daughter he had before. It’s still his daughter, but now she’s a brunette instead of a blonde. Rather than just accept that this is the consequence of using his awesome powers for good, as he did with his landlord, a guy he barely knows, he rewinds his life, effectively killing off the brunette daughter he just created, and lets her sister have her ruinous relationship with her dirtbag boyfriend so he can have his blonde girl back. Kind of a douche move, if you ask me.

But it’s not an awful movie. It’s actually kind of cute, if you don’t think about it too much and just enjoy the bits where Bill Nighy does what Bill Nighy does.

About Time | 6:02 am CDT
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