Monday, November 16th, 2015

There’s a certain kind of funny that doesn’t seem to register on my funnybone. Maybe I sprained it?

The other night I was listening to a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour. Three people were talking about how much they loved the television show Brooklyn 99. They thought it was one of the funniest shows on television today, funnier than Parks and Recreation, a show that, from what I’ve been able to tell, virtually every person on the planet believes is hilarious.

I’ve watched both, and I am here to confess that I have not so much as cracked a smile at either show. It kinda makes me feel like a grinch. These shows are not hyperpopular for no reason, but I just don’t get the funny, even though I can tell when the characters deliver what is clearly meant to be a joke. They even pause for audience reaction. It couldn’t be more obvious if there was a laugh track. But the jokes just don’t register on me. I don’t get it.

By coincidence, Brooklyn 99 was on TV the night I’d heard the podcast. It had been several months since I’d tried watching it, so I sat through the episode to the end, thinking that maybe this would be the episode that would flip the switch. Maybe that discussion I heard on the podcast gave me the insight I needed to properly experience this show. Maybe, but no. No funnies.

The weirdest example of funny shows that are not funny to me was the very excellent The Last Man On Earth. The first episode had me doubled over laughing until I was in tears. Those were the funniest twenty-two minutes of my life. Naturally, I wanted to binge-watch the whole series after that, so I went on to the next episode. It was … meh. Could’ve been a misfire, I thought, so I went on to the next episode, which was … okay.

How did that happen? How did they go from a first episode that was so funny I was struggling for breath every single minute to a series of episodes so meh that was struggling to find reasons to keep watching? After the fourth or fifth episode I couldn’t think of any, and stopped watching.

I’m not blaming television, or anybody else besides me. I’m completely okay with owning this. It’s clear to me that my sense of humor fossilized in the 1980s and can’t understand what young people these days think is so darned funny.

sprained | 7:00 am CDT
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Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Well I hope you all had a good time at your various pagan celebrations last night, not that I think there’s anything wrong with pagan celebrations. I am, in fact, a supporter of almost any celebrations at all, particularly if drinks and noshies are on hand. And if it’s a party where you dress up in underpants and a cape, or as sexy garbage collector, I have been known to appear at those, too. Sorry, no, there aren’t any photos.

Our Little Red House was visited by sixty or seventy little superheroes and pixies last night, but nobody with bloody axes or knives sticking out of their heads. Thank goodness that particular costume has gone out of fashion in this neck of the woods. And thank goody-goodness they took all the Snickers snack-size candy bars and Reese’s Pieces and left us nothing but Twizzlers, which neither one of us will be tempted to eat today. Tomorrow we’ll take them to work and leave them in the break room, where they’ll disappear before the lunch hour.

pagan | 9:58 am CDT
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Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Last night I finished reading The End Of All Things, the latest science-fiction novel from John Scalzi, and I have to say that I felt he overpromised and underdelivered by several orders of magnitude. All the things did not end. Not even close. There were, to be fair, a number of things that did end, but by far the vast majority of things did not end. In fact, I would have to say that, on a scale of “All Things,” the number of things that ended was statistically insignificant. So the title was a little misleading. Chalk it up to poetic license, I guess.

But other than that teensy-tiny little nitpick, I’d say it was a good read. The book is actually four novelettes (plus a bonus 25-page “deleted and alternate scenes” coda) set in the same storyline where Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War first conjured up what has become known in the mind-bogglingly technical nomenclature of science fiction fandom as “The OMW Universe.” You don’t have to read Old Man’s War to get maximum enjoyment out of The End Of All Things. It works just fine as a stand-alone collection, but I’m going to give you fair warning that The End Of All Things may leave you with an overpowering compulsion to get your hands on a copy of Old Man’s War, and from there you’re gonna want The Ghost Brigades and oh geeze you’re in it for the long haul at that point because, damn, these books are fun to read.

In the OMW Universe, humans colonize far-flung planets with the help of the Colonial Union, a organization that does not have the motto “We come in peace” emblazoned anywhere on its great seal, or a prime directive of non-interference with aliens it discovers on the planets it means to colonize. The CU exists to shove the aliens aside and make sure they stay shoved. This policy results in some hard feelings between humans and non-humans, to say the least. Hard feelings lead to conflict, and if I recall anything useful at all from the English Lit classes I took thirty-some years ago, it is that conflict is the heart and soul of exciting drama.

Each novelette in The End Of All Things is about a hundred pages long, give or take ten or twenty pages, so you could treat this book as four yummy afternoon snacks, but if you got it into your head to binge-read the whole thing from cover to cover, you could probably gobble it up in a weekend. Scalzi’s previous OMW book, The Human Division, was a similar collection of novelettes, and also one hell of a fun read. Again, you don’t have to read The Human Division to know what’s going on in The End Of All Things but, again, you’ll probably want to afterwards. Just sayin’.

Scalzi’s been compared favorably to Heinlein for his storytelling abilities; I would say that’s about right if you’re comparing Scalzi’s work to Heinlein’s earlier adventure novels, like Tunnel In The Sky or The Puppet Masters, not so much if you’re into Heinlein’s later works. For what it’s worth, when I read Scalzi’s stories, I get a vibe that’s a lot like the one coming from my favorite Joe Haldeman books, like The Hemingway Hoax or The Forever War, but I also feel as though I can detect a witty harmonic wave that’s a lot like the one running through Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker books. The characters in Scalzi’s stories talk like people I know and would be friends with; they take the time to intelligently think a situation all the way through, but they never take themselves so ridiculously seriously that I have to roll my eyes and moan, “Oh, come on, now.”

To sum up, an entertaining sci-fi adventure for a weekend, or to string out over several days, and don’t let the title put you off. All the things, relatively speaking, are pretty safe.

The End Of All Things | 5:19 pm CDT
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Monday, June 15th, 2015

In a scene from an episode of True Detective that we were watching the other night, the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey passed a pint bottle of Jim Beam between them, each taking a generous swig at the end of each line of dialogue before passing it back.

This was not the first television show or movie where we’d seen people knock back the hard stuff like it was water. And no, I’m not stupid, I know it was water, like I know it’s a television show. But I have to wonder, are there people who really drink like this? Or even close to like this? If I drank like that, I would be unable to speak by the time we got to the fourth swig. I like a drinking buzz as much as most people, but one beer and I’m already there. There is no way on earth I can drink a half-pint of whiskey and keep on talking so it makes any kind of sense. I have my doubts that anybody can. Not only that, but in the show we watched the other night, Matthew McConaughey’s guy kept not only drinking but snorting coke and remained lucid. I’m pretty sure nobody can do that. But what the hell, it’s television.

booze | 6:46 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

walking on the moon | 9:04 am CDT
Category: beer, books, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery
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Monday, May 4th, 2015

It was the first weekend of Madison Craft Beer Week, so brace yourself! This is going to be mostly about beer.

Both B and I had some flex time to burn on Friday, so we got out of work a couple hours early, drove straight home and had a nice nap for an hour or so. Hey, we’re middle-aged. It seemed like a great idea to us.

After getting a really good, restful nap, we changed clothes and went to The Malt House, where the Central Waters Brewery was doing a tap takeover, pouring I don’t know how many different beers – looked like at least a dozen. We got a flight of their darkest, maltiest high-gravity beers: an imperial cherry stout, a coffee stout known as Peruvian Morning, and their anniversary ale, 17. We grabbed a couple of chairs and settled in on the patio where we could enjoy sipping them in the evening light.

And sipping was about all we could do with these very strong brews. These are beers to be savored, not guzzled. We both thought that 17 was the very best. I had to give it 5 out of five marks. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but this was such a yummy beer that I just had to. I thought the cherry stout was a bit too tart, but B liked it fine. The coffee stout had just enough coffee aroma to make it as close to perfect as coffee stout gets, if I may say so.

After enjoying the beers on offer at The Malt House, we strolled down to Dexter’s Pub because we heard there was a tap takeover there, too. We sampled a few chocolate stouts from Southern Tier Brewing and a porter from Great Lakes before the noise and the crowds were too much for us and we began to miss the peace and quiet of our little red house.

Saturday we went to breakfast at Lazy Jane’s. Biscuits and gravy, baby!

At eleven, they had the official Madison Craft Beer Week kickoff party at the East Side Club with a collection of brewers and their firkins in a tent in the parking lot. Last year, the party was out back on the lawn, but a wedding party had taken over on Saturday. Too bad. Would’ve been a perfect day to be out on the lawn.

No biggie. We found a seat in a small garden by the door and took turns getting refills so we wouldn’t lose it. This was a classic beer tasting: They gave us four-ounce tumblers at the gate that we could get refilled as many times as we liked. I tried one of each of the beers on tap, even the sour beers that are all the rage now. I don’t like them, no matter how often I try them. They’re all just a little too tart for my palate, or I’ve got a faulty palate.

Tim swung by the fest at three to pick us up and take us home, where we grilled bratwurst and watched a movie after dinner. The movie was Locke. The whole movie was Tom Hardy in a car calling people on the phone. It was not boring, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe more about that later.

Sunday, out of bed at five. B had a quick shower, but I’m not as civilized, so I just threw on some dirty clothes. Besides, I knew we were going to be standing in line outside all morning, waiting to buy tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest; who would be able to get a whiff of me? Nobody that I knew, that’s who.

There were 300 tickets available. Each person in line could buy two. At eight thirty, they started passing out wrist bands numbered one to one-fifty. I got number 148. B got 149. Just before they handed out the last numbered band to the guy behind us, he took a deep breath and said, “I think I’m about to cry.”

Once you have your numbered wrist band, you can step out of line and come back at eleven thirty to buy tickets. B and I went to breakfast at Stalzy’s. Probably didn’t need to, because we’d both just eaten the Lazy Jane’s scones we bought the day before, but it’s a tradition, born just last year, that we stop in for breakfast sammies after they hand out the numbers, so off we went.

After breakfast, we still had enough time to go home, where My Darling B had a nap. My tummy was too full, so I mowed the lawn. There, now I won’t have to think about it for a week!

Back in line at eleven-thirty; everybody started to bunch up at about eleven-fifty; ticket sales started at twelve and we got our tickets at twelve forty-five. Home again, home again, jiggidy-jog.

The last beer event for the weekend was the benefit for the pet rescue at One Barrel Brewing. Because nothing motivates people to save the doggies like beer. Well, nothing motivates me like beer, anyway.

Madison Craft Beer Week | 9:26 pm CDT
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Friday, April 17th, 2015

My Darling B snorted at me when I ventured the opinion that Where The Sidewalk Ends was a pretty good movie. She thought it was “too corny.”

“It wasn’t any cornier than Casablanca,” I replied.

“Hey hey hey, don’t be dissing on Casablanca,” she warned me, wagging a finger.

“I’m not dissing,” I said, “but c’mon. You don’t think Sydney Greenstreet was every bit as corny in Casablanca as Dana Andrews was in Sidewalk?” But she wouldn’t bite. I’d already gone where I shouldn’t have.

Where The Sidewalk Ends | 3:07 pm CDT
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Meru was the last film we saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival, which made thirty-two films in all, if you count the six-minute short film Little America and the two films we walked out of. I’m counting them, but My Darling B thinks it’s cheating.

The best dramatic narrative that we was was, no question, The Keeping Room.

The best documentary was a lot harder to pick. After counting out all the ones that we didn’t think were best, we were still left with a list of five, and couldn’t pare it down much further than that: Ballet 422, Capturing Grace, Clarence, Meru, Off the Menu, and Old Fashioned.

In years past, we’d be looking forward to three more days of films, but the film fest was shortened this year. Not sure if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not, but it worked out well for us this year: We’re just about all movied out.

Wisconsin Film Festival | 10:27 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Meru is the most technically challenging mountain climb in the Himalayas, and although many teams had tried to reach the summit, all had failed when Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk teamed up to climb it. Not only is this a hair-raising story, it’s got some of the most amazing eye candy ever, not least of which is at the top of the mountain, a blade of granite known to climbers as The Shark’s Fin that is so narrow, they had to straddle it with their legs to climb to the summit.

Meru | 7:32 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Anima is a blogger in Damascus at the time of the Syrian uprising who is reported missing and feared kidnapped by the Assad regime for her outspoken views. When fellow bloggers begin to network together to win Anima’s freedom, they learn that apparently nobody has met her and she was not seen at the meetings and protests she wrote about. The Anima Profile documents the unmasking of the hoaxer behind Anima’s blog posts.

The Anima Profile | 7:22 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Clarence is one of those souls who is seemingly indefatigable, always upbeat, and shares a kind word with everyone he meets. An 87-year-old veteran, Clarence decides to finish college and earn a degree now that his children are grown. He presses on even when medical problems threaten to stop him, and becomes the oldest graduate of UW-Milwaukee. A truly inspiring film.

Clarence | 7:16 am CDT
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Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Not sure exactly what we were supposed to get from the documentary Western about the sister cities of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, in Mexico. I’m always happier when the director steps back out of the frame to let the people and their situations tell the story, but in this film the people and the situations did not complete the story and I was left wondering who they were or what they were doing.

Western | 8:27 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Where the Sidewalk Ends is a film noir classic directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. There. That’s all you need to know. My Darling B thought it was cheeseball to the Nth degree. I thought so, too, but that’s more or less what I was expecting.

Where the Sidewalk Ends | 8:22 am CDT
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2015Best of the British Arrows is always a treat. The British Arrows are awards given out to the most creative television advertisements, and the Best Of reel is a collection of the first, second and third place winners, as well as some of the finalists. I often like the finalists better than the winners, but then I’m grading them more on the basis of how much they make me laugh rather than their creativity.

Best Of The British Arrows | 8:20 am CDT
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It’s confirmed! The awesome superpower of jumping to the front of the line is ours! We were told some days ago by a volunteer at the Wisconsin Film Fest that the all-festival passes we bought instead of individual tickets gave us head-of-the-line privileges, but we were a bit hesitant to try it out because we didn’t want to be torn limb-from-limb by the ticket holders who had been waiting in line for as long as an hour. But a couple days ago there were a couple of movies we wanted to see and there was a break of about fifteen minutes between then, so when we got out of the first one we found there were maybe a hundred people already waiting in line. There was no danger of not getting a seat, but we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row with the screen practically in our laps and our heads cranked all the way back for two hours. “I’m just going to go check,” My Darling B said, stepping out of line to ask the volunteer at the door. She came back empty-handed. The volunteer didn’t know what B was talking about.

Same situation last night: Our last two movies were back-to-back, just fifteen or twenty minutes separated them and we stepped to the tail of a line that was already maybe seventy or eighty people long. This time, though, a volunteer came down the line, handing out ballots, saw our festival passes hanging around our necks and said, “Oh, you two can go to the front of the line.” It was getting cold, so we said thanks and walked up to the door. The couple at the front of the line didn’t seem to be too happy about it, but the volunteer at the door confirmed we could jump to the front of the line, so the ticket holders could only glare at us with expressions that said, “DIE IN A FIRE ASSHOLES!”

This was also the first time that we left our jackets on the backs of our chairs to reserve them, something else that a volunteer told us was absolutely fine but that some of the ticket holders were not very happy about. We knew we were coming right back to the same theater and we’d seen others do the same thing, so after we were seated I went to the volunteer at the door and started to say, “We’re coming right back to this very theater to see another movie after this …” and she jumped in to finish my thought: “So you’d better leave your jacket on your seat to reserve it!” Well, okay then, and thanks! And that very night there was a bit of a dramatic outburst, not directed at us but definitely triggered by the practice of reserving seats, that ironically came from a woman who had left her bag in a front-row seat to reserve it. Apparently she wanted to reserve more than one seat, but had only the bag to do it, and was not happy when other people sat in the seats alongside her bag.

So to recap, jumping to the front of the line is a pretty awesome superpower, but I would want to use it only when absolutely necessary. Same goes with leaving our jackets on chairs to reserve them. Good thing tonight’s the last night and we won’t have to worry about any of that.

superpower | 8:13 am CDT
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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
Category: books, entertainment, play
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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,

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:

Exécutez INSERTION/BOULON No 1 a la cale No 1

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
Category: entertainment, movies, play
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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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