Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Peggy Wants You to NOT Blow Your Ass Up This Fourth of July Weekend

Hello Again!
Next week is the 4th of July and you’ve probably already taken the quiz Brian linked to yesterday to help get you in the mood to celebrate America.

This is where I come in and rain on everyone’s parade (sorry!).

According to PREVENT BLINDNESS AMERICA, nearly 13,000 fireworks victims keep hospitals busy every year. More than half of those injured are children. Fireworks not only injure users, but also 40 percent of fireworks mishaps injure bystanders.

The three types of fireworks that keep hospital emergency rooms busy during this holiday period are bottle rockets, firecrackers, and sparklers. Bottle rockets and firecrackers can fly in any direction prior to exploding and sparklers burn at temperatures hot enough to melt gold.

If fireworks are legal where you live and you decide to set them off on your own, be sure to follow these important safety tips (From the US Consumer Product Safety Commission):

-- Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks

-- Read and follow all warnings and instructions

-- Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.

-- Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves, and flammable materials.

-- Never try to relight fireworks that have not fully functioned.

-- Keep a bucket of water in case of a malfunction or fire.

-- Know where the closest phone is located-or carry a cell phone-in case a fire occurs and the fire department is needed.

If an injury does occur:

  • Stay calm, and keep your child as calm as possible.
  • If your clothes catch on fire, lie on the ground, cover your face with your hands, and roll. Make sure your child knows how to do this. Seek medical help for burns.
  • If an eye injury occurs from a fireworks explosion, do not rub, rinse or self-medicate the eye. Seek medical help immediately, even if the injury seems mild.

Have a spectacular July 4, and remember to play it safe!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Take The Citizenship Test

Came across an interesting quiz online today. Over at MSNBC, you can see how you'd fare on the US citizenship test. It's pretty simple stuff. Who's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, how many stripes on the flag, stuff like that. So check it out and see the absolute baseline knowledge you need to call yourself an American. I don't know. Maybe it's still easier to just walk over the border like everyone else.

Anyway. Feel free to post your scores. I missed #8.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Still More Movie Reviews: "Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift", and "Mission Impossible 3: Xenu Boogaloo"

We went to the drive-in again this weekend. Same place, too. The Starlight 6 Drive-In (not Star-Lite as I'd originally written -- I'd only assumed that because they were a drive-in theater they'd use cutesy spelling, but they did not). This time, though, the films themselves shared screentime with a night of electrical storms. The dark clouds started to roll up about half an hour before the first feature started. The clouds went from a pinkish hue to a deep, rusty orange color from the city lights, and during that transition, those clouds were periodically shot through with sudden bursts of white heat lightning. It was all cloud to cloud to begin with, so there were just flashes without any of those waterfall-like streaks. But those, and the big single-line bolts came later. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Behind us, a bunch of white middle-aged Miata drivers had all gathered together in their convertibles to watch Cars. There must have been about 14 of those little cars all lined up next to one another on the back row. It's nice to see that as our society gets more fragmented, and people get more isolated from one another, people still find some commonality that can draw them together. In this case: Miata ownership. Contrast that with the sad cases who come to the drive-in alone. To me, this is more than a little different than going to the regular theater alone -- if somebody wants to see a movie that no one else wants to see, going by one's self to the local AMC is a fine option. But it seems to me that going to the drive-in in 2006 is as much about the experience of going to the drive-in with someone you like spending time with as it is about the movies themselves. Going by yourself to the drive-in seems a little self-flagellating -- like maybe you want to feel bad, wallow a little. The guy who drove up next to us for the second feature (during which it was pouring down rain) in his Volvo was one of these sad "by himself at the drive-in'" cases. We spent the first part of the movie pitying the poor creature, and then the second half watching his clumsy ass like a hawk after he smacked his car door into the side of my Crown Vick while fumbling with an umbrella to make sure he didn't do it again.

And even with the wipers going at varying speeds through most of the first movie and all of the second, and having the screen blank white periodically when a particularly bright burst of lightning flashed, we had a great time. And the movies weren't so bad either.

The first one was Tokyo Drift: The Fast and Furious 3. Overall, I liked it. Compared to the first sequel, which was most famous for having its witless characters say "Bra" over and over again to each other, this movie's The French Connection. It starts out in a SoCal high-school and the first sequence is one that never gets old. Captain of the football team (or any meathead jock will do), picks a fight with the cool outsider kid. In Footloose, the combatants resort to playing chicken with tractors. In Tokyo Drift, they resort to a race through a still-under-contruction housing development with a muscle car and a Dodge Viper. And though the actual racing footage isn't particularly inventive here, they make up for it by using "Batwitdaba" by Kid Rock over the end of it.

Lucas Black of Sling Blade fame, plays Sean Boswell, a screw-up kid (and Black is 23, by the way, proving yet again that Hollywood doesn't want high-school age kids to play high-schoolers in their movies) who's had to move from school district to school district on account of his penchant for drag racing. So when he smashes up his hot rod at the close of the aforementioned race, he gets sent packing across the ocean to his father's craptacular place in Tokyo, or risk jailtime in the States. What's different about this movie, and what makes it so superior to Fast and Furious 2, is how interested the filmmakers are in the little telling details that make daily life lived in Japan so different from the US. It's not meant to be a travelogue, so they don't dwell too much on the differences, but they don't have to because they shot on location -- the differences are suffused throughout the movie. The camera lingers on the vending machines that spits out lobster dinners. We see the parking garages that hold the cars in suspended metal trays that hang from an elaborate system of wheels and spokes. We see the Pachinko parlors and the unfamiliar table games. When feasible they have the Japanese characters speak subtitled Japanese. This movie doesn't take itself too seriously, but it never dumbs itself down so much you feel like your intelligence is being insulted. (Like the last Fast and Furious).

I'm still not sure that Lucas Black can actually act, but he is an appealing presence in the movie. And some of the drifting sequences (and drifting, from what I understand, is what happens to your RWD car when you engage the emergency brake at the same time you accelerate) are very impressive, especially since almost all of the shots were done by actual stunt drivers driving actual cars. And the surprise cameo at the end made me grin, so, overall, a not bad little movie about racing.

Next up on the double feature was Mission Impossible : III. Peggy and I had made a conscious effort to avoid this one until now because of Tom "Xenu-Hatin'" Cruise. For myself, I stayed out of theaters since it opened as a way of protesting, by way of my movie dollar, Cruise's deft resculpting of Katie Holme's remarkably malleable brain to make her a suitable mother for his Scientologist spawn. She used to be normal, and now she's a Stepford wife. Peggy stayed away from it because she loathes Tom Cruise and always has. I think she agreed to see this because she was just being nice to me, and didn't think seeing it at a drive-in a month after its release would do much for Cruise's bankability. She says all of her $6 admission price went to Tokyo Drift. Anyway, this movie wasn't bad either. I think it would have been vastly improved if Philip Seymour Hoffman's screen time as the villain Owen Davian was increased from 20 minutes to 80 minutes, but then it would have been a different movie. In every scene, Hoffman was awesome. At a party in the Vatican, he picks up a drink off a tray and the way he does even that little thing is brilliant. He makes you believe that the same man who played the unwashed hippie in Twister, ("We're goin' green") is now the most dangerous arms dealer in the world. How many guys can be that kind of chameleon? Gary Oldman's the only other one that comes to mind right now. MI:3 is written and directed by JJ Abrams of Lost and Alias fame, and you can feel it in every frame -- he's got his stamp all over it. There's a serious big-budget TV vibe to the whole thing. It feels at times like an extended episode of Alias, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I did miss some of the sweep and grandeur and orginality of the first one (we won't talk about MI:2). Though there is one thing about MI:3 that was simultaneously the best thing about the movie and also the worst.

The opening scene.

It is very intense and took full advantage of both Hoffman and Cruise's acting talents. Hoffman's got Cruise's girl gagged and tied to a chair with a gun to her head. Cruise is tied to a chair across from them and Hoffman is counting up to ten waiting for Cruise to tell him what he wants to know. As interrogation scenes go, it's pretty wrenching, but its also a ballsy way to start your big-budget summer movie off on such a sadistic note. All around great scene. But of course we have to go to an extended flashback to get back to that point, and then when we get back there, we watch a lot of it all over again, and though it's slightly worse because we know the girl a little better, it's also not as effective, because WE'VE ALREADY SEEN IT. Imagine if other filmmakers started to do that -- just showing the best scene out of their movie right out of the gate to get you enticed, all out of context, and then showing the same scene later when it's actually part of the movie. It seemed like a cheap ploy to me -- maybe movies need that jolt of doing things a different way, but it struck me as a kind of hucksterism.

In one way, Tokyo Drift and MI:3 was a well-paired double feature. Each film helped re-establish a franchise that was marred by a truly awful first sequel, though on slightly different scales. Overall, not too bad -- but like Harry Knowles said, this movie was essentially a retelling of True Lies, except without the comedic element, so it was already working from a strong template. The majority of the film was pretty forgettable. What stands out in my mind is Hoffman's performance, Billy Crudup's subtly creepy turn as Ethan Hunt's IMF supervisor, and the bridge sequence where the film's best shot comes from (the one where the missile strike's concussive blast knocks Cruise into a car, shattering the window). Worth my $3 and a little more.

And Superman Returns this weekend. Hope it's as good as the early reviews say it is. And I'm out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Will the Naysaying End Now? Probably Not, But Here's Still More Evidence That It's Not Your Imagination: It IS Hotter Than It Used To Be

A report came out today from the National Academy of Sciences that says that the planet hasn't been as hot as it is right now for at least 400 years definitely, and for thousands of years probably. It says the recent spikes in global temps over the past few decades have been a result of manmade carbon emissions -- in essence, global warming is very real, and we're causing it. And this report was commissioned by the Republican Congress. This from the CNN article:

"The report was requested in November by the chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-New York, to address naysayers who question whether global warming is a major threat.

Last year, when the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, launched an investigation of three climate scientists, Boehlert said Barton should try to learn from scientists, not intimidate them.

Boehlert said Thursday the report shows the value of having scientists advise Congress."

I'm very interested to hear how the diehard "Pollution Keeps Our Economy Strong" Republicans are going to refute this new study. They'll probably find their way to and repeat the same suspect claims from the same peculiar "climatologists", (one from Finland, one from Australia, and one from Alabama), who think global warming is crap and Gore is a phony. The Republicans will say, "No, forget An Inconvenient Truth and all of those thousand climatologists, some of whom have Nobel prizes. These guys from Finland, Australia and Alabama have the right idea! Global warming's all hooey, I say!" And yes, they will sound like Foghorn Leghorn. All the while heat records keep getting smashed.

Also, my man Gore is in England right now, talking about global warming with the man widely presumed to succeed Tony Blair in coming months, Gordon Brown. You can read the brief article here. I'll recommend again that people go see An Inconvenient Truth. There's a great moment in the movie when Gore is talking about the climatologists who take the big ice core samples down in Antarctica. When you pull them out of the ice sheet, you have this long cylinder of ice and you can tell things about the earth's climate at any given time by looking at different sections of the core sample. Gore said that one of the guys was doing this and pointed to a very clear line on the core -- on one side was gray and shaded, the other side was much whiter. Clean. "That's the Clean Air Act," the climatologist said. This antecdote bolsters Gore's claim that governmental action can make some difference on global warming. Like, for instance, American ratification of the Kyoto treaty. When asked about global warming, all George "I Agree with Michael Crichton" Bush talks about are job losses if regulations are enacted. I think it's less likely that anything positive is going to happen on this issue until after these Neanderthals are out of office and someone less beholden to business's short-sighted interests goes into the White House.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In Just Minutes a Day, You Too Can Have a Slightly More Organized Place

Does anyone do Spring Cleaning anymore? Besides Martha? Around our home, we like to keep everything tidy most of the time and every once in a while attack certain spots. If we let things build up, it would just give our panther more lethal hiding places. Anyway, sometimes, if you get behind in staying organized, things can start to seem overwhelming.

So, in an attempt to help you de-clutter, bit by bit, I found the following Mini Organizing Projects You Can Complete in 10 Minutes (or less) from If you get started today, you will have less clutter in your life this time next week.

6/21 Weed out 10 file folders. Dedicate 1 minute per folder and recycle any papers you no longer need.

6/22 Pick through a junk drawer. Set a timer for 10 minutes, grab a garbage bag, open the junk drawer, pick through anything no longer needed and toss it in the garbage.

6/23 Make a donation bag. Go through your clothes closet and choose 5 articles of clothing you never wear. Put them in a donation bag, to be given to your favorite charity.

6/24 Delete some email. Spend 10 minutes deleting any email you no longer need from your inbox.

6/25 Clear off a surface. Whether the surface is a table, a dresser, a desk or an ottoman, remove any clutter so you can actually see the surface again. File any papers needing filing, return any stray items to their rightful homes and toss any junk.

6/26 Clean out your medicine cabinet. Toss old makeup you never use, expired prescriptions and anything else you don't need. Save your valued space for the things you actually use.

Take Tuesday 6/27 off as a holiday and then repeat. Do more folders, pick other drawer, add more stuff to the donation bag, etc.

(Note: You should be able to see your apartment floor and vacuum your home BEFORE attempting this level of de-clutter.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More Movie Reviews! This Time It's Altman's "A Prarie Home Companion", and a Remake of "The Omen"

As my "sainted mother" said in the comments (and she is saintly, in her quilt-lady fashion), we saw A Prarie Home Companion at the movies onThursday of last week. Later that same day, I saw the remake of The Omen. But first, A Prarie Home Companion.

The more I think about this movie the less I like it. The film was written by Garrison Keillor, the host of the radio program "A Prarie Home Companion", as well as an infrequent novelist, essayist (he writes for all the time), and a contributor to the New York Times Book Review. He's got a great voice that can do folksy small-town wise man and then quickly switch into a Nicodemus-like (think Secret of Nimh) voice from beyond time. Uncharitable though it may be to say, when they coined the expression "a face for radio", they must have had ole Garrison in mind. He looks a little like someone grabbed him by the jowls and yanked the skin down hard in one big jerk. His charms as a radio host aren't readily apparent, but after a while you get used to hearing his voice every now and again on the radio. The show itself is never offensive, never out-and-out bad, so before long, if you're in your car and the music stations are all playing crap, you might actually seek out "A Prarie Home Companion". Someone once said that no matter where you are in the country, when you hear "A Prarie Home Companion" come on the radio, "you feel like you're at home". I'd say there's something to that, but only if you think not of your literal home, but a metaphorical "home" where everyone was always nice, no one had any dirty thoughts, people sang country songs that weren't actually country songs, and told only clean wholesome jokes (but just a few with a slightly PG edge to them to prove they're not prudes). APHC is the radio equivelent of Cracker Barrel or maybe Frontierland at Disneyland. Not a bad place to be, but not many make the mistake of thinking that mythical, unattainable "home" ever looked anything like Cracker Barrel or Frontierland. Anyway. The film was directed by Robert Altman, he of Short Cuts and Popeye fame (those are the ones of his I've seen that I've liked), and I'd have to say this was not one of his better efforts.

My hope for the film adaptation of APHC was that it would be the quintessential episode of the radio show, the best one ever (especially since, with a film version, they would have the luxury of multiple takes) except that it would be filmed in 35mm, there would be an interesting narrative arc upon which the usually episodic radio show would hang, there would be fascinating glimpses from "behind the scenes", we'd see what sort of actor Garrison Keilor would make, and all of this with the contributions of genuinely good actors like Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, and Lily Tomlin.

This isn't exactly what Keillor or Altman had in mind.

What they came up with is more of a thoughtless mishmash that pretends to be thoughtful and nearly gets away with the act. Keillor gets to talk about death a lot -- a weighty, intellectual subject, for sure -- but whatever universal truths he was trying to get to in the script seem pretty muddled, and never quite resonate. Virginia Madsen was given the worst role in the film: she plays an angel who visits the theater where "A Prarie Home Companion" is being broadcast live, to dispense her otherworldly yet completely insufferable brand of wisdom to pretty much everyone working the show that night. Some see her, some don't. Keillor gets to have a whole conversation with her. Not a word of explanation as to why some people can see her and talk to her and others cannot. And I doubt the costume designer's going to be putting stills from this movie in her portfolio -- Madsen's white trenchcoat costume is about the uglisest thing I've seen a character wear in the movies in a long time, and I don't usually pay attention to that.

Another problem character for me was Guy Noir, played in the film by Kevin Kline. Noir's a favorite character for fans of the radio show. He's a character straight out of Raymond Chandler -- a hard-boiled P.I. who gets mixed up with dames while solving mysteries -- but the sketch is a comedy, so Noir gets into goofy circumstances and tries to keep up his hard-boiled facade. He's actually the first character we meet in the film, and though the audience is primed for some Guy Noir hijinx, hijinx are nowhere to be found. Keillor writes Noir as a fairly straight-forward security guard/assistant theater manager. There isn't really anything particularly noir-ey about him. Just one of many tone-deaf missteps.

I did like a few things about the movie. I liked the scenes backstage before the radio show was set to go live. It felt authentic and I got a plesant feeling of anticipation, back when I thought there was something anticipate. I liked John C. Reilly's and Woody Harrellson's characters, the cowboy minstrels Dusty and Lefty. They told some funny jokes which helped relieve the dullness that settled over the rest of the thing. And Meryl Streep was good. It was interesting to see her play a flighty, good-natured ditz. You never get to see her play dumb.

Taken as a whole, the movie was a failure for me. Altman's penchant for actorly improv is in full effect here, and it looks forced and awkward. Storylines appear and disappear arbitrarily, flaming up as they're introduced and then fizzling out meaninglessly as the movie gets close to the end. For example, a half hour into the film we discover that Streep's character and Keillor's character (he plays himself) used to have a romantic relationship, and she's still upset about it because she still has feelings for him. Though this is laughable on its face, the fact that Keillor's had 5 wives or so in his life maybe gives this C-story a little more credence. But the subplot is without use: it seems like an afterthought that either Altman added in because the on-stage interplay was too dull and needed some subtext to add some sense of conflict (ham-handed though it may be), or an afterthought tossed in by Keillor when he found out Streep would be in the movie. The whole movie felt to me like one big lazy, slapdash effort from two people who probably could have done better. Oh well.

Enough of that. Onto The Omen. Not to sound like a 12-year old horror buff with no taste or anything, but of the two, this was the better movie. I know: a remake of a goofy horror movie was better than the Altman film. Go figure. Anyway, I'd only seen a few scenes from the original Omen, and as I remember, the original was extremely cheesy. For example, the scene in the snow-covered graveyard when Gregory Peck and his friend are attacked by Satan-smacked attack dogs looks like it had been filmed in between sound stages on the Warner lot. But this '06 remake was a serious-minded effort, I thought -- serious-minded in that the filmmakers were intent on a) improving on the original, and b) making the world of the Antichrist as plausible as they could make it; making the implications of the plot frightening, in addition to all of the dopey, sound-effect scares they throw in there because isn't a whole lot of room for them in a movie like this. The Omen isn't about making you jump out of your seat, (though it did do that a few times, and not all of them were cheap scares), it's more interested in making you feel a kind of rising dread. It's an interesting journey to take with the hero of the film -- by the end of it, you want to murder a child, too. Man, did I want Damien dead at the end. For those who haven't seen either the original or the remake but plan to, I won't give the ending away, but by the time it came down to whether the dad would murder his son, I was riveted.

Great acting all around. David Thewlis is good as the photographer who helps the Ambassador get to the bottom of Damien's origins, Pete Postlewaithe is very convincing (and excellent as always) as a fanatical priest trying to warn Damien's father about his son's true nature. And Mia Farrow is really persuasive as the harridan nanny, and because I always like those clever, slightly "in" nods to actors' past roles by casting them in something that plays off that former role (Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State was another great example), this was a great bookend to her role as the hapless mother in the classic, Rosemary's Baby. Also: the kills in this film are excellent. Richard Roeper compared the gruesome deaths of The Omen to those in the Final Destination movies, in that most of the fun of Final Destination was watching the creative ways the characters were going to be killed off. There are similarities between the two, but in a good way. One of more effective horror movie decapitations I've seen. Anyway, this was a fun movie, and maybe even worth a visit to the theater.

And I'm spent. More tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2006

This Monday, the Inanities Gives You Movie Reviews: Nacho Libre and Over the Hedge.

The wife and I went to the drive-in on Saturday night. A place called the Star-Lite Drive-In. We'd been there once before for a business school event last year, and it was pretty fun, even if the movie sucked (Corpse Bride). So we came back for a double feature. Haven't seen one of those in a long time, and since it's only $6 per person to get into the drive-in, $3 a movie for first-run feature films seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. So we went and saw the Nacho Libre and Over the Hedge double feature.

Nacho Libre, directed by Jarod Hess of Napoleon Dynamite fame, is a weak follow-up to Hess's first movie. Napoleon Dynamite was funny, in part, because the characters were recognizable. If you weren't like Napoleon coming up through school, than you at least knew someone like him, or were even, perhaps, friends with someone like that. Not to mention the fact that the characters in the movie seemed fresh and inventive, and the filmmakers' treatment of these loveable losers was more empathetic than mocking. And though Nacho Libre manages the same gentle treatment of its characters, they aren't quite as recognizeable to the hip 14-35-year old demographic Nacho's shooting for. The story takes place in the very third world part of Mexico, and it's a slightly taller order to make desperate poverty funny than it is to make a bunch of goofy looking Idaho-ians funny. Jack Black plays the eponymous Nacho, a portly friar who works as a cook at a poor Catholic Church/orphanage. He has only the worst ingredients from which to make meals for the children and the clergy, but he soldiers on and makes the best of it. There are a few Dickensian scenes early on in the movie where the orphans have the vilest green gruel set in front of them for dinner. In one scene, Nacho has to fight with a shirtless emaciated man for a bag of tortilla chips meant for the orphanage. Like I said, desperate poverty -- and Jack Black's hairless gut isn't funny enough to make that sort of thing hilarious. Anyway, all Nacho wants to do is become a luchadore, a mask-wearing Mexican wrestler. He and the shirtless emaciated man team up and become tag-team luchadores and essentially find new ways to lose against actual wrestlers -- sometimes spectacularly, sometimes ignominiously. But they always lose. There aren't too many bright spots to point to in this film, either narratively or comedically. (The feral midgets are one of them, however. They are creepy and hilarious). There are long boring stretches, which is death for a comedy. Twice Hess has Jack Black sing some songs in his distinctive Tenacious D-style ("Rega-goong, rega-gee-guh" -- you know) and suddenly my paper thin suspension of disbelief, namely that Jack Black was a Mexican named Nacho, vanished. For me, Nacho Libre never traveled far into the realm of Bad Movie, but it never really set its wagon wheels over onto Good Movie territory either. For $3 at a cool drive-in movie, yeah, why not? But not worth seeing in theaters.

The second feature was Over the Hedge, a CGI-animation feature from the Shrek people at Dreamworks Animation. Peggy and I were both fully prepared to drive home the second we sensed the movie was either a) too directed at the kiddy demo, or b) just a plain ole' bad movie, but surprisingly it held our interest throughout. It's about a bunch of woodland creatures who hibernate together in the winter and forage together during the warm months -- just like real woodland animals don't. During the winter, a massive residential development goes up around them. Their little patch of woods is separated from the homes by a big hedge, thus the title. So there's some room for social commentary, and the writers and animators use the space to do so. The average American's preoccupation with food was satirized quite a bit, but even though I enjoyed the new perspective, I started to feel a little picked on after a while. I like to eat, what of it? My other complaint with these grade-A animated features is that the studios seem to think that big name actors lending their voices to these animated creatures is universally a better idea than to hire voice actors who are nothing more than excellent voice actors. Garry Shandling is a funny comedian (in his way), but a voice actor he is not. When he's called on to scream in fear as his turtle character's being tossed this way and that, his meager shouts and enthusiasm-free shrieks really made me think of him in the recording booth looking embarrassed, maybe contemplating an angry call to his agent, but his voice work did not have me thinking about his turtle character. On the other hand, Steve Carrell was a standout as the hyperactive squirrel, Hammy. Overall, I thought Over the Hedge worked. There are two really inventive action sequences (one involving propane, the other involving small animals travelling faster than the speed of light), and a few laugh-out-loud (LOL, if you will) moments which puts the movie well above most of the kid movies the studios are cramming the multiplexes with these days. Well worth my $3.

Anyway. Before the drive-in we went to see a Braves game with my in-laws for Father's Day. The Braves lost yet again, but this time to the Red Sox. There were nearly 50,000 people in attendance at Turner Field, and I'd say that at least 20,000 of them were Red Sox fans (including my traitorous father-in-law). When the Kilin guy hit a homerun, I could have swore I was in Boston the way the crowd erupted in cheering. Thoroughly depressing. My question is this: if there are so few native southerners living in Georgia these days, why the hell are we still so thoroughly a red state? It can't be the transplants all happen to be arch conservatives, can it? Like I said: depressing. Especially now that our beloved Braves are currently placed last in their division. These days, in a city that expects their baseball team to make the playoffs every year (and they have since 1991), most of us are hoping they can just find a way back to playing .500 ball again before the season's over.

Anyway, this long post must end now. Hope everyone had a good weekend. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

This Week, Peggy Directs Your Attention to a Guy Named Kieran Who's Taking Orders From America Starting Today

Naturally, my first task today is to remind you that Father’s Day is THIS WEEKEND! Don’t forget to pick up a card or the phone or something to say, “Hey Dad, Have a Great Day!”

Now that that’s done, check out, the latest in reality/website “crap”. Starting today, this guy will not be leaving his house or making any decisions for himself. Most of the readers of this site either do not have children, or do not have children living at home. So, if you feel like bossing someone around for the next six months, you have Kieran. You decide what time he gets up and how, what to wear, what to eat, what to workout in, what type of haircut he should get, and various people he should meet with or have lunch with. He will have therapy sessions live online with his therapist. He and the others running the site are anticipating a “dating” section for the site, but let’s not get our hopes up too high.

It’s an interesting scenario. On one hand this guy has decided to give up his freedom, on the other hand, he doesn’t feel as though he can be trusted to make decisions for himself. It’s like that episode of Seinfeld where George decides to start doing the opposite of what he would do. Keiran says he still lives at home and has never made more than $6000/year in his life. How much damage can the world do?

You can start voting now for the next couple of days. Remember, he is hoping that people will help him improve his situation. What will you do?

This starts at 10am EST TODAY.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

No Longer Preoccupied With the Threat of Indictments, Rove Can Concentrate on Riling Up Homophobic Voters For the Mid-Term Elections

Turd Blossom won't be indicted. (Deep sigh). This stinks. If he didn't leak Valerie Plame's name to the press, fine, but for all the other reprehensible things he's done in politics, like telling South Carolina voters during the 2000 primary campaign that McCain had fathered an illegitimate mixed-race child, or the "phone-slamming" thing in New Hampshire on election day 2004, or worst of all, the Swift Boat campaign staged against Kerry in 2004, Rove deserves some jail time. A disappointment.

I wonder: with Bush's poll numbers so low, is Bush still calling Rove "the architect", or has he gone back to calling Rove by his "turd blossom" moniker? A worthy question.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Movie Reviews: An Inconvenient Truth, Prime, and Desperation

Saw some movies over the weekend.

First and foremost, I saw An Inconvenient Truth last night. I think it's an important movie. What the director, Davis Guggenheim, did was film one of Al Gore's global warming Power Point presentations. And though a Power Presentation sounds boring, when the cameras are fixed on Gore doing the presentation, the film's riveting. It's like the real-life, non-suck version of The Day After Tomorrow. Gore lays out the facts in this movie, and they are compelling. Out of 892 peer-reviewed scientific articles about global warming, exactly 0 of their authors suggest global warming isn't real, and is not being caused by human activity. Zero. In the mainstream press, however, 52% of articles about global warming suggest there is doubt about the reality of global warming. Like cigarette makers before them, who put out crap science to confuse the public about whether cigarette smoke was harmful or not, the oil companies are now dissemenating crap science about global warming. Again, to confuse the public, which is why you see so much apparent controversy in the media, even though none should exist. A lot of head-shaking kind of stuff like that in there. Anyway, it's worth seeing and I whole-heartedly reccomend this movie (even with the awful Melissa Etheridge song at the end.)

[By the way, did you know the hole in the ozone layer is fixed? I just found that out. Gore says so in the movie when he's talking about how government and industry can work together to fix environmental problems. I was happy to hear about that. Global warming is similarly fixable.]

On DVD, I watched the Meryl Streep/Uma Thurman movie, Prime. It's the one you probably saw a trailer for but missed in the theaters about the therapist whose patient (Uma) is dating her son. It seemed kind of charming in the trailers, and a med student we talked to recently said it was really good (I don't know why I was taking film reccomendations from a med-student either, so don't ask.) Anyway, it was terrible. It seemed to me like some studio chief got tired of saying no to his spoiled, born with a silver spoon in his mouth hack writer/director son, and said, "Fine. Go make a movie, just leave me the hell alone." And so the hack writer/director son made that movie, and Prime is the result. The strangest thing about the movie, (besides the fact that Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman agreed to be in it) is that it feels like the director, Ben Younger, had a complete, uncontrollable man crush on his lead, Brian Greenberg. It shows in every frame of this movie. I think he might have written Prime as a vehicle for this guy, which is inexplicable because Greenberg's so bland as an actor, so charisma-less, he makes uber-vanilla Paul Walker seem like this generation's Christopher Walken. Every woman he meets falls in love with him, the gay men he meets are in love with him, and everyone he comes in contact with thinks he's the second coming of Dave Chapelle. Greenberg's character's supposed to be hilarious, but his sense of humor's so tepid, his witticisms so mild, that when the other characters laugh uproariously at his jokes, I feel like I'm watching science fiction. Like a Twilight Zone episode that supposed an alternate reality where not funny was funny. If, instead, everyone smiled wanly at him when he was "joking" around, I'd MAYBE buy it, but laughing like they're in serious danger of slapping their knee unironically? Stretches the bounds of credulity to the frickin' breaking point. This Ben Younger fellow is one tone-deaf film director, and I hope he never mars another frame of celluloid with his "vision". I know that sounds harsh, considering the fact that Prime is merely a bad movie, and not a colossally bad movie, but this kind of bad that borders on the merely mediocre just kind of gets to me. I'm sure I need to tell exactly none of you to stay away from this movie, but here it is anyway: stay away from this movie.

I also watched the last half of The Rock. Still holds up.

And finally, I watched Stephen King's Desperation. Wow. Next time I hear a promo on ABC for some new King adaptation of one of his novels and I hear the words, "Adapted by Stephen King", I am running for the hills. No joke. I know exactly where I'm going to hide and it's going to be for a long time. This was some bad bad stuff. Here's a quick example of how bad: at the end, when the Tom Skerrit character is falling down a hole lined with jagged, crystal-like rocks, you can actually see the styrofoam rocks bounce as he brushes past them. It's Ed Wood stuff. I think the only reason good films based on Stephen King novels exist, is because there are writers and directors (Frank Darabont, William Goldman sometimes) who love King's stuff as I do, but know how to fix his narrative weaknesses (uber-goofy dialogue, otherworldly group dynamics), and play up his strengths (fantastic premises, brilliant villains). When it's King adapting King, however, he just writes for the movies the same way he writes for his books, because that's what he knows. Except in his books, some of the ludicrous things that happen don't have to bear the scrutiny of a film camera. The reader's imagination makes allowances. The 35mm Panavision camera doesn't. In the movie the imagination conjures during the act of reading, every character's giving an Oscar-worthy performance. Not so in Desperation. Not even People's Choice good. And man was that movie God-crazy. I didn't remember the novel being so obsessed with God, but I read back through some of it today, and it really is. I guess it must work better in the book, because the character's mention God so many times in the movie, it seems like it should have been playing on PAX with Pat Robertson breaking in during the commercial breaks to talk about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As with any bad horror movie, you have to cull out moments that not only don't suck, but are actually pretty good. It was hard in this one, but they were there. Specifically, the day-for-night aerial shots of the open-pit mine that the film centers around. Those were some very effective shots, giving the book's fans a glimpse of what, perhaps, could have been.

Anyway. Going to see The Omen and A Prarie Home Companion later this week. I'll let you know how those came out, too.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Year and a Month Out, the Transformers Ad Blitz Begins, and an Islamofascist Decepticon Dies in Iraq

This is the one-sheet for a movie that's a year and a month away from release: Tranformers. I don't believe they've actually shot anything yet, but they've already got a one-sheet. Good for them. Paramount and Dreamworks obviously have their priorities straight.

Even though Michael Bay is directing, I'm actually feeling a little psyched about this movie. I've seen some Transformer-type animation done by talented computer-animators with no money, so I'm excited to see what a full-blown effects house will be able to pull off with unlimited amounts of cash. What will be most interesting to see is how Bay & Co. manage to take $200 million dollars and make a movie based on a line of toy robots that transform into trucks and cars seem even remotely plausible. I suppose then that maybe Bay is the exact right guy for the project -- About 70% of Armegeddon doesn't make a lick of sense, why should we expect this to? I guess I don't care about that. If all goes well, it will be for the 30-year old me what The Transformers: The Movie should have been to the 9-year old me: mindless kickassery.

On a totally unrelated subject, that Zarqawi bastard finally got a face full of "precision munitions" earlier today in Iraq. While I think this is excellent news, I think the fact that some other vile, sadistic SOB's going to show up and take his place mitigates this victory. I hope we go on a roll and get to Osama, too, but because most of our forces are in Iraq, the possibility of that happening seems worse than remote.

I don't mean to seem overly thrilled by the prospect of another human being's death, and I don't revel in it, but when I heard about it this morning, I was glad. There is something satisfying about knowing a person has died who was, as the world saw in the Nick Berg beheading video, a genuinely disgusting person. I hesitate to use the word "evil" because it simplifies human nature too much and also because it makes it too easy to dismiss a person who's been slapped with that label, but I think the word might be apt in this case. It's all fine and good to subscribe to Islamofascism, as Zarqawi did, but when that Islamofascist philosophy becomes so dominant in your mind that the beheading of an unarmed non-combatant hostage is acceptable to you, you've crossed beyond the pale of what is tolerable human behavior in any society. Optimally, in a civilized setting, you're taken out of that society and put in prison for the remainder of your life. In a war setting, you may be taken out of this life. Though I disagree with our going to war in the first place, I think Zarqawi's death can't be anything but good for that country.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

This Week, Peggy Harkens Back to a Time Before Cell Phones

“I was going to call you, but I didn’t have my cell phone, and I just don’t know anyone’s phone numbers anymore.”

Have you heard or said this lately? Remember the early 90s, when you could recite the phone numbers of at least 20 of your friends? Well, I find this to be a real pain in the tushy. There are some people’s numbers I dial at least half the time, just to make sure I know them. I’m quite certain that if I’m ever in a car accident, my cell phone will probably be destroyed, and I’ll want to be able to call Brian or my parents for help.

Anyway, you have probably already seen this website, like 5 years ago. But, I was thinking of it recently, because of this phone number knowledge issue. The website is Phone Spell ( and will help you see if there are words in your phone number. Surely, you could find these words yourself, but this will save you time and headaches. Giving out your phone number in word form can make it easier for others to remember. Or, if there are a few number you need to remember, this may help, too.

For example, my cell phone has the words "My Gal" in it (plus an easy-to-remember number at the end). My parents number has the word "Tart" right in the middle of it. Easy to remember, and kind of funny.

Anyway, I can’t really claim that this will help you save time or memory or anything, but it gives you something to do at work for 15 minutes!

[Ed. note: Just for the record, Peggy had this in at 10AM, but by the time I got around to posting it, Blogger was down for about 4-5 hours.]

The MPAA Doesn't Want You to Watch the Trailer for "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" Until 10PM. Why? Read on.

[This is not the official Wednesday blog entry. I still leave that open for Peggy. This is more like one from yesterday, or perhaps even the day before yesterday. I fully expect a Peggy blog to go up sometime today. You'll see.]

I went to this morning, catching up on movie trailers as I do, and I clicked on Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. I went to the page where I would select the image size of the trailer, and discovered that I couldn't watch it. Not because I was incapable, or because my computer was messing up, but because of something else. I wasn't allowed. Click the link -- you'll see what I'm talking about.

A post on explained the whole thing. The trailer forTexas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was rated by the MPAA with a green band -- meaning the MPAA deemed the trailer suitable for all audiences. That's expected. Red-band trailers don't show up too often. But the MPAA added a caveat to this green-band trailer: New Line cannot offer it for viewing on the internet, ostensibly because children might see it.

New Line went back to the MPAA and asked if the MPAA would please please let them play it on the internet. The MPAA said, ok, but only between the hours of 10PM and 4AM. So. the end result is this: you can't watch the trailer on New Line's site because the MPAA is worried you might not be old enough. When I first saw the restriction, I thought it was a bit of clever marketing from New Line: as if they wanted the trailer to be enjoyed only after the sun had gone down, perhaps to ratchet up the scary. But the fact that the MPAA is the culprit says a lot about the power of that organization, and what I think is overreaching in this case. Aintitcool says the MPAA describes itself as an "advisory board", but it seems like something a whole lot worse than that. Is there a way to get rid of the MPAA?

Anyway, even after all this fuss, you can view the trailer here on WWTDD, and I'm sure at other places, too. It's a decent enough horror movie trailer, and it makes me almost want to see it which makes me suspect that, perhaps, New Line and the MPAA are working together to create buzz for the movie. I'm sure I wouldn't have written anything if they hadn't told me I couldn't watch their trailer until 10PM tonight. I'll let you know how it develops, if it does.

In other news, some cool new blog entries from Craig Moorhead, Mike Moran, and, for those a new topic is up for this month's Smackdown. I'm out.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Half-Assed Courtroom Sketches From My Time as a Juror in Los Angeles County

I came across these drawings while looking for old art I could post up on the blog. This is what I found. These 4 pages represent, in their entirety, all of my notes from the trial I was a juror on back in July and August of 2003. The case involved the band Chicago: their old producer was suing them over the proceeds of their entire backlist to Rhino Records. A lot of deadly dull contractual litigation was pored over by both sets of lawyers during the 3 weeks of trial, so when I was bored, I drew some of the participants of the trial. Seeing these drawings again now helps refresh my memory of these people almost the way a photograph would -- that's not to say these drawings are in any way photo-realistic, only that the act of drawing these people seemed to help me store clearer memories of them. Anyway, they were fun to look at again.

On this first page, the big face that takes up most of the page is not based on any particular person -- the smaller head is of an analyst, possibly a writer, for Billboard Magazine. He was interesting for about 3 minutes, so he got drawn. (As for that list on the left side of the page, I have no idea.)

On this second page, I've drawn the two attorneys for the plaintiff. They were pitiable characters. There was the ferret-faced lawyer (top right -- and he looked just like that), and then the aging lead attorney (two versions of the same guy on the top and bottom left). You kind of felt bad for them. So when the slick, LA Law-looking lawyers for Chicago leveled the charge that the plaintiff, Guercio, had pitched his case to every law firm in town and Mr. Aged and Mr. Ferret were the best he could find, I think it carried a lot of weight. They really looked like desperate lawyers, hoping for some kind of break.

This third page is mostly notes, but the drawing is of a lawyer named Emily Simon. She got $130,000 for looking over the contracts. I couldn't get over that. Thusly, I drew her holding fistfuls of cash and looking both greedy and insane, or, as I wrote next to the drawing, "money crazy". She seemed like a nice enough person when I met her after the trial, however.

At the bottom of this last page is a pretty good likeness of the only member of Chicago to show up for the trial. Walter Parazaider. I think he was the saxophonist. After the trial was over, I talked to Walter and found him to be just as nice a guy as we all thought he was from his time on the witness stand. He came across as very down-to-earth. When his attorney asked Parazaider what the record label thought of Chicago's final effort, and album called Stone of Sisyphus, Parazaider said, with no hesitation or apparent angst, "Oh, they hated it." It was almost as though he secretly knew, as we all did, that anything produced by the remnants of the band Chicago called Stone of Sisyphus could only inspire hate.

Anyway, thought I'd post up some of the odd stuff I've got hidden in my filing cabinet. Have a great weekend, er'rybody.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Johnny Cash's Song About the End of the World, The Fountain Gets a Release Date, and Turns Out Bush Stole Another One After All

A few things this Thursday. First off, how awesome is the Johnny Cash song, "When The Man Comes Around"? Very awesome, I say. Director Zach Snyder used it in the brilliant opening credit sequence to his remake of Dawn of the Dead, and I've been listening to it over and over all day. Admittedly, I'm no expert in poetry through the ages, but in my limited experience with stories in lyric form, I'd say this song is, along with Yeats's poem "The Second Coming", the most evocative depiction of the end of the world I've encountered. A creepy blending of Christian Millenialist, end-of-times imagery, with a bunch of other unsettling stuff I don't yet recognize, which make it all the creepier. So now, along with his cover of Reznor's "Hurt", I really like 2 Johnny Cash songs now. Any one know any other awesome songs or poems about the end of the world? I have an unhealthy fascination, I think, but that doesn't mean I have to suppress it.

According to, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain has a release date now. October 16th. On the strength of the teaser, I'm still looking forward to this movie.

And, most importantly, here's a link to a story in this month's Rolling Stone by Robert F. Kennedy Jr about the 2004 election, and the apparent likelihood that the election was, in fact, stolen. Harper's ran a story some months ago about possible fraud in the 2004 election, but the scope of their piece was relegated solely to misdeeds in Ohio. In the Rolling Stone article, a great deal of statistical analysis was done and the case RFK Jr. lays out is pretty persuasive, not to mention deeply disturbing. I remember election night in 2004 very well. I remember how the exit polls favored Kerry to win by a healthy margin (even Tucker Carlson was telling his Crossfire crew that he thought Kerry was going to win), and then, for no apparent reason, the actual vote tallies came out in favor of Bush. From the RS article:

"As the last polling stations closed on the West Coast, exit polls showed Kerry ahead in ten of eleven battleground states -- including commanding leads in Ohio and Florida -- and winning by a million and a half votes nationally. The exit polls even showed Kerry breathing down Bush's neck in supposed GOP strongholds Virginia and North Carolina.(30) Against these numbers, the statistical likelihood of Bush winning was less than one in 450,000.(31) ''Either the exit polls, by and large, are completely wrong,'' a Fox News analyst declared, ''or George Bush loses.''(32)

But as the evening progressed, official tallies began to show implausible disparities -- as much as 9.5 percent -- with the exit polls. In ten of the eleven battleground states, the tallied margins departed from what the polls had predicted. In every case, the shift favored Bush. Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent. Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida.(33)"

This same EXACT thing happened in the Ukraine that same year. The Russian-backed incumbent President of Ukraine stole the election from the popular challenger Yuschenko -- you remember -- the guy the Russians tried to assassinate with poison that didn't kill him, but did disfigure his face. The citizenry camped out in the square until the rightful winner, Yuschenko, was installed into the presidency. No such luck here. I think we may suffer too much from a "it can't happen here" mentality, so that the very idea that a nationwide Presidential election can't be stolen in this country. Not in America. One of the reasons we were so unprepared for September 11th, I think, was because we couldn't seriously envision something so terrible happening in our country. What's almost as troubling as the idea we've had an illegitimate president in the White House for 6 years now (with the inevitablity of 2 more years), is how the mainstream press, so often willing to maul a story to death and then worry the bones for months after, completely ignored this story at every opportunity. Kerry knew bad things had happened, but with no one anywhere willing to say his concern about the election's validity was legitimate, he had no alternative but to concede.

Anyway, it's an alarming article and worth reading. It makes you wonder if an election that we can confidently say expresses the true will of the people is even possible here, with 13,000 separate voting districts all holding, essentially, their own little elections, some of them populated with partisans who'll see their man inaugurated even if it subverts the will of the electorate.

On that happy note, I bid you adieu. Enjoy your Friday.