Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Gotta give'm their props

Hey, imagine that. The Senate decided to stick with tradition and good sense and not allow the wingnuts to change the rules anymore. Yay!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Primer - Movie review.

Boy, what an uber-geek experience.

These two guys, Abe and Aaron, who run a cottage tech industry out of their garage at night, try to invent a levitation device but accidentally invent a time machine instead. They discover this because their test subject, a weeble (which wobble but don't fall down, donchaknow), keeps getting coated in slime, which ends up being a common bacteria that grows really slowly on everything. Thus, to coat the weeble, it would have to have been sitting still for hundreds of years.

What's cool, or overwhelming, is that the movie never slows down to provide a simple explanation as to what's going on. We get no Doc explaining the flux capacitor (well, we do, actually, but it's pretty complex) and we particularly get no clues as to what specific times they travel to - or for what reason. That's for YOU to figure out. And what fun it is!

I'm willing to bet that folks who haven't read a few time travel novels will be utterly lost as to what's occurring. I think the only reason I followed it is because I love the twisty knots of time travel, and the first book I read on it is still one of the best.

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold* is a trip. And it figures in a seminal moment in my childhood. My mother didn't allow me to read any books with any sex in them at all. We had a huge fight because I wanted to read the script of the movie Westworld, but it contained the word "hooker" just once, so she didn't want me to read it. I eventually got to, but you get the idea. So, in The Man Who Folded Himself, the guy discovers that if he goes forward a day, if he's home that day, he bumps into himself. After discovering this, he often picks a day in the future, and travels to it several times and to have an orgy with himself. Which begs the questions, is it homosexuality, masturbation, incest, or all three? Anyway, due to my initial shock at this development, I turned to my mom on the couch and said, "Guess what this guy is doing." And I told her. She reached over, took the book from my hands, ripped it in half and said, "Sorry, but you're not reading that kind of trash." The fight that ensued from that event was one of the biggest I ever had with my mom. I was mostly incensed that I couldn't finish one of the most intriguing books I'd read up to that point, but it fixed in my mind the evils of censorship. To this day, any and all censorship pushes my buttons like few other things. (Which is one of the reasons the intense secrecy of the Bush administration makes me froth.)

        *David Gerrold, btw, also wrote the famous Star Trek episode about the Tribbles.

I eventually went to the library, checked out a copy of the book on the sly, and finished it. It was great, and it really walks you through all the permutations of time travel. So, since I'd read that book, I think I was able to follow the plot of Primer easier than someone who hadn't read anything like it.

Also, in my work, I've had to work on financial systems that bill and process data from previous periods, so discussing those systems is often like discussing time travel.

You can kinda tell Primer was made on the cheap, but that just lends to its credibility, and gives it a quasi-documentary feel. I think if two guys discovered time travel in their garage, the subsequent events would take place in cars, warehouses, living rooms, and look just like this film does.

Shane Carruth, conceived, wrote, directed, edited, and scored the thing. He also plays one of the two main characters. Film buffs should make a point of listening to his commentary as it's a great little film school, points out things easy to miss, like how they used color correction to give subtle hits as to what's going on, and he helps with understanding the plot - so if you missed it during the movie, you can catch up.

The web site is pretty nifty, too. It even offers MP3s of the score. How cool is that?
Just Because I Can

A looooooong time ago, pretty much back in the day when the internet became widely publicly available (can you say "Mosaic"?), I created what came to be known as a vanity web page. It's still out there, mostly to provide a home to my Christianity FAQ, because up until recently, it was one of the top-ranked FAQs on the topic. I don't know what happened, but about two or three months ago it dropped from showing up on the first page of every search engine when you went after "Christianity FAQ" after doing so for many years (though, while just checking, I found that if you include it in quotes like I have here, it still shows up in the first few pages of results). (And, the site that is at the top of nearly every first result page is a rabidly anti-Christian atheist site run by a Grade-A asshole. It's an interesting site if you want to see how nasty and vicious some can get in slamming the faith of believers.)

Anyway, the other thing I created that I'm still kinda proud of is this attempt to make the original intro page look somewhat like an animated Yes album cover. I drew/created everything you see there except the gifs for the twinkling stars.

This was back when the rage was creating the wildest - if not oblique and difficult to use - intro page to your site possible. The idea was that if it were enticing, people would click around just to see what happened. Well, as the web took off, the crabs of the world and the people who knew something about graphical design started complaining and putting up web sites bashing the terrible design of others. (Where I work, we still have a Developer (Computer Programmer for those of you in the cheap seats) who still fears and dreads anything of his showing up on the lists of one of those sites.)

So, I retired the page and put up an intro page that actually explained what the links might take you to.

I still like how my original one looks though. And the reading page (first tree on the left) has a decent collection of the better jokes and articles that circled the web back in those days. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack in Salon, 05/18/05:

And I think Republicans do a better job with language. They've spent a lot of money and a lot of time thinking about these things. Democrats have spent all of their time and energy on policies and programs that impact and affect people's lives. Republicans have spent all of their time on ideas -- how to couch those ideas, frame those ideas, and communicate those ideas.


I think that's the frustration most liberals, like myself, have. For now, the neocons/wingnuts of the Republican party do a great job of sugarcoating dog turds and selling them as tootsie rolls. This drives Democrats crazy because they (we) feel that if the neocons presented their policy goals straight out, they would be much less popular. There would still be a core group that supports them, but the percentages of people who say they identify with those ideas would probably drop noticeably.

I guess we liberals have got to get over the notion that a good idea will succeed on the strength of being a good idea alone. We've got to get to work on the presentation. And, we have one advantage: We won't have to name things the opposite of what they truly are, as with the "PATRIOT Act", "No Child Left Behind", "Right to Work", and so on.
When I met you at the station, you were standing there with a bootleg in your hand

Via Salon, specifically the Audiophile column which regularly has links to free MP3s, three of which have actually been good songs, recently linked to the Bootleg Browser. The question posed by the Audiophile was whether folks considered bootlegs posted on the web as fair game, or did it infringe upon the artist's copyrights and lose them money?

Well, like I do on a lot of issues, I'm on both sides. If an artist doesn't want you recording their show and putting it for free on the web, well then you shouldn't. But, so many artists are bright enough to realize that allowing fans to tape shows and even trade them achieves a lot of things at once:
- It shows you have live chops, so they'll probably pop for a ticket next time
- The quality of boots is usually pretty bad, so anyone who cares about the sound will end up going out and buying a CD or two - unless they own it already, and then the artist got their money anyway
- The goodwill it sows pays off in spades (whatever that means - whose ever been paid in shovels and was happy about it?)

Anyway, since there weren't band statements on bootlegging to be had (and direct me to them if you know of any), I went and snagged some of my favorite bands, because I know, for instance, Dave Grohl wouldn't care. Besides, I doubt he'll ever release his impromptu version of "Big Me" where he changes the lyrics to a treatise on the Technicolor yawn, renamed "I'm gonna fucking puke." Had I known of this when I wrote
my soliloquy to the accidental personal protein spill
, I would have linked to it then and dubbed it the theme song for the post. Alas.

Also hunt down Elton John's "Rocket Man." It's got that way back in the cheap seats ambience common to bootlegs, but somehow that renders it more poignant.

And, for those of you who want to find MP3s of songs, just to sample, delete, and then go buy legal copies, I've found that Alta-vista - one of the original web search engines until Google eclipsed everyone's sun - has a pretty decent audio search. Check it out, mang.

Oh, and whoever recalls the song referenced in the title gets a cookie!

The Footprints of God by Greg Iles - a review

This was a mildly entertaining expansion on the famous sci fi short story - the author and title of which I forgot to look up but it's anthologized all the time - where scientists construct a giant computer to ask it the one question, "Is there a God?" To which it replies, "There is now." A major plot point of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy centers around such a computer. Another precursor to is the movie (from the books) Colossus: The Forbin Project. Yet another, kinda tangentially, is the movie and book The Demon Seed by Dean Koontz.

Yes, it's been done before. And some of those were better.

Still, The Footprints of God is a diversion that's not a total waste of your time.

I give it this lukewarm review only to put it on the radar of fellow avid readers whose reading lists need a decent thriller/sci fi jaunt, but also to quibble about a development near the end.

So, for those of you who intend to read the book, surf away now. SPOILERS are en route.

Ok, just us?

Here's what cramped my nougat not that much, just a little tiny bit: The author attempts to reconcile ALL religions into one view of God - kinda sorta an attempt at stirring together all of the views of the elephant that the blind men report. The reason this sticks in the craw is that religions are elephants unto themselves, not parts of one elephant. Were you to try and merge several elephants into one larger elephant, chances are you'd encounter resistance from those very elephants.

There is a tendency in America, born by the civil rights movements and other factors, that wants everything that can be used to define a person to be truly equal, no one category of something is inherently better or more true than the other. Since religion is something most people consider part of their identity, some well-meaning folks want some grand unification theory of all religions, so they don't have to pick, or be forced to declare one religion better or truer than the other.

Well, sorry folks, but outside of Unitarianism, all religions - yes, even Buddhism - claim exclusive ownership of the truth. That means if you believe one is true, all of the rest are false. You have to make a choice - including choosing to not choose. Trying to mash them all together as if they were all puzzle parts of some larger truth just ends up making an incoherent mess that no one wants to clean up.

I mean, gosh, thanks for trying, and bless your heart, but just - don't.

Oh, and btw, this is a theme of the novel: Unifying that which is separate to create a greater whole product than the sum of the parts. The plot surrounds an effort to create an artificial intelligence by doing a very detailed CAT scan of a human brain, and recreating that structure (which supposedly contains the knowledge and experience of the person) in a computer. Because thoughts can travel at the speed of light (electricity) in a computer rather than at the speed of electrochemical reactions as in our brains, any brain loaded into these computers can think thousands of times faster, while having the advantage of instantaneous access to any knowledge that can be stored on computer disc, i.e. instant learning. This makes the brain in the box very powerful, "almost like a God" as the novel sets it up.

Well, humans getting fantastic godlike power invariably end up like those in the first true Star Trek with Capt. Kirk, where his buddy and a shrink on the ship both end up with god powers, replete with glowing eyes, zapping powers, and dramatic music queues. This is solved in The Footprints of God not by dropping a really big rock on the supposed god, like Kirk did, but by loading two more brains alongside the original one - one of them female - to create a trinity of minds that will balance each other, in theory. This becomes tied to the merging of religions theme because yin/yang, Hindu views of male/female duality/unity, the Dao - and so on and so forth - is central to those religions, and so this merging of the male and female into one supposedly perfect whole fulfills some of their goals.

Again, gallant effort, but ultimately doomed. It kinda made the book very silly in the end.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

And there you have it...

The national ID card.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Ladies' Room!

(The title of this post is of course the audience supplied punchline to the original Star Trek opening speech, which my daughter screeches out with unalloyed joy when we have mini-trekfests. She doesn't allow us to skip past the opening credits for that reason, and because she digs the song - the version with the woman warbling the melody, particularly. That's our topic, the TV show that died but wouldn't lie down. (Lay down? I can never remember.))

Today, Mr. Lileks kinda mourns the demise of Star Trek (and, y'know, a little blog like mine linking to the LILEKS is kinda like the bacterium on a flea linking to the dog upon which the flea rests). He does a great takedown of what was wrong - and get this fanboys and girls - what was done right. And there's only one gratuitous toupee joke.

I agree with the whole post. I often felt alone in my intense dislike of the holodeck episodes in tv Trek II/TNG (and the resulting spread of the virus to the other latter shows). About the only thing I liked were the Data and the Borg episodes. Oh, and I loved the episode where Troi is impregnated with Starman for so many reasons: 1) the shameless ripoff of the movie, 2) the Starman Tinkerbell light going under Troi's covers and popping into the correct place to be to start a fetus - the audacity alone of showing that on TV - and her reaction to the same, and 3) all the resulting hilarity from Troi flunking the pee test. In the bright, shiny future when you don't have to buy whole season sets, or ridiculously expensive 2 episode DVDs of TV shows, and can pick and choose individual ones to buy for say $3, I'll prolly get those eppies.

I saw only one tv Trek III/DS9, which was a retread of the Tribble episode from the original series. It was fun watching them recreate the old sets and digitally fold the new story into the old. That'll be on the list, too.

I dug tv Trek IV/Voyager, but mostly because I had a thing for Capt. Janeway (I thought she was the only Capt. outside of Kirk with any guts), and of course Seven of Nine was just fun to watch. Neelix was amusing in a wonderfully grating way. But, after his wife died and joined that bald chick from the first movie as some sort of cosmic entity, the series got old for me.

I tried tv Trek V/Enterprise, but it was the same old same old, politically correct shite that the Trek team since tv Trek II had been spewing at us. Even though Trek characters had sex in the later episodes, it always smacked of Human Resources approved courting and was about as believable as "professional" wrestling. I dunno, when Capt. Kirk was pulling his boots back on, and his latest conquest was at the mirror putting her hair back in place, it just seemed like a good time was had by all.

Oh, and tv Trek V/Enterprise had a cute little beagle. Which meant that they would snuff about a bazillion redshirts, but the damn dog would never be in greater peril than missing a mealtime when the Capt. was held hostage on an alien ship. Wouldn't it have been bold to have an alien hoist the puppy on a pike to taunt the Capt. and crew? But then we'd have to have a very special episode where they went back through time to rescue the dog - so maybe it's a good thing the doggie was protected by the Hollywood double-standard of wiping humans out left and right, but the doggie is always OK. (And forgive the brief segue into a very serious topic, but this is kinda reminiscent of the Muslim world flipping out over the supposed defacing of copies of the Koran, but not being so concerned about all the loss of human life - including their own people - through the incessant suicide and car bombings. Tell you what, if I were given the choice in some fiery cataclysm where I could either rescue an original copy of the Bible or Karl Rove (our current governmental Darth Vader, for those of you in the cheap seats), I'd save Rove's fat ass without even pausing to think about it.)

Mocking the themesong of tv Trek V/Enterprise is about as effortless and icky as pushing a little old lady off the curb into the path of an oncoming bus. We won't pick on the totally helpless here.

The fambly and I tried tuning in a few episodes ago to try and pick up the thread to watch the finalies, but after the first 15 minutes of a show (no one does boring quite like latter day Star Trek), we took a quick spontaneous vote that our time was better spent in other activities.

I still think the originals were the best. Try one on if you haven't lately. They were snappy, funny, and compelling. Three words I would never apply to hardly any of the retread series(es).

Here's a thought, though. The last Star Wars is this year. Trek is finally probably really over. Even the Matrix series, which never lived up to the first, is complete. We have reached the end of an era.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I thought so!

My family was discussing movie stars the other day because we were trying to explain to our daughter who Renee Zellweger is, because she married a favorite country star of ours, Kenny Chesney - whom we were a little worried about because he never seemed to be able to get a date. It came to our attention that - outside of voicing an animated fish - Renee hasn't really been in a single movie that is kid friendly (see for yourself).

Stuff like this gives me teeny tiny little thrill because I've just discovered a little factoid that is evasive unless you look directly at it. I feel like I'm viewing tiny stitches in the weave and pattern of the universe when I put something like this together. Is it important? No. Is it a waste of brainspace? Prolly. Do I still dig it? Sock it to me, baby!

One of my daughter's recent favorite movies is I, Robot. This love/love/(fear!) (as opposed to love/hate) thing with robots appears to be genetic, because they captured a lot of my imagination when I was a kid, too - and just a little dread. Asimov was correct in that the primary reaction humans would first have to humanoid robots of sufficient sophistication would be fear. Because of I, Robot (and Shark Tale), my daughter definitely knows who Will Smith is.

While flipping through the channels the other night, we passed the opening song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. (Hey Hommes! Smell ya later!) Our daughter perked up and said, "What's he doing there?" And we explained that's how Will started out as an actor, and that he'd made it as a rapper first (which didn't impress her since we as a family abhor rap (even though I do like some of Will's stuff)), and that he became a big star over time.

For a while now, I've been pondering just how big a star he is, because he really is ubiquitous. As I write this, he has another CD on the charts, I, Robot is still selling well on DVD and cycling on the movie channels, "Fresh Prince" is in syndication, this early movie season's romantic comedy Hitch is still in the bargain theaters and is due on DVD. Will Smith once claimed he owned the 4th of July weekend ever since Independence Day, and the first time I heard it, for a brief moment, I thought it was kinda arrogant, until I realized he was merely stating fact.

So when I would see lists of "who are the big stars" kinda things in the tawdry entertainment mags I consume like a diabetic committing suicide via cotton candy, I would wonder why he wasn't grinning back at me more than he was. It just felt like he was bigger than his press.

So, today, in Roger Ebert's review of Kicking & Screaming, this interesting little tidbit was dropped:

Will Ferrell is now a major movie star, with nine more new movies in the pipeline. I learn of his status from the industry analyst David Poland, who has crunched the numbers and come up with the "real" list of box office heavyweights. He says top 10 stars in terms of actual ticket sales are, in order: Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Denzel Washington. The highest-ranking woman on the list is Reese Witherspoon, at No. 12. [Emphasis added.]

AHA! I knew it!

I also thought Denzel would be in this kind of a list, though I don't often see him in those entertainment strokefests, either. I must say I'm kinda surprised that Ben Stiller's on the list, but it makes sense. I'm very sad to see Tom Cruise is. I am also shocked that there aren't any women, and the first one on the larger list (which I would love to see) is at number 12. Other than that, this looks about right.

Note that 7 out of the 10 come from comedy or sitcom backgrounds. Hmmmm. More fabric of the universe?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Making Room for Baby

The last few weekends have just been sheer hell of a sort for me. Mother's Day was the first day I'd finally stopped having coughing, sniffles, and other indignities of the disease I complained of a long time ago. It's our daughter's soccer season which automatically brings a busy schedule, but then we've had something else scheduled on both days of every weekend for a while - all of this with a 3 1/2 month old. To boot, spring has done sprung, bringing with it all of the chores outdoors to get the lawn and landscaping accessories to the proper state to avoid the housing association nastygrams (though I am allergic - way allergic - to grass, so my wife is the primary lawn warrior, thus I am the odd-job guy, such as clearing sprinkler heads).

Man, I'm tired.

Thus, the most common activity of my current existence is especially taxing: Walking the baby around to quiet her, which includes doing little bounces, dances, and hops to keep up the all-important jiggle action. The theory (blatant guessing, really) is it reminds babies of being safe in the womb with the accompanying motion of mom walking around. Thing is, pregnant women like to sit, too, so why doesn't sitting still relax them as well? It's one of those mysteries only God can solve, to be sure, so it's on my list for Him right after the truth behind the Kennedy assassination, how hardcore right wing fundie Republicans think they're following Jesus' directives on behavior towards those in need by wrecking every program intended to help the poor, what really happened in Memento, and why are breasts so damn fascinating (to men at least - women are often surprised when they find out it's a mystery to us, too).

Part of the hell lately, then, has been trying to do this in a cramped and crowded restaurant, or a windy and blindingly sunny field, or anywhere women are gathered together in any great number, so they can cast disparaging glances at the dad who can't magically make the baby stop crying and where is the mother who would know how to anyway? (I've actually had women - complete strangers - walk up and ask if they can take the baby so she'll stop crying, as if handing her to a complete stranger would aid the situation - for either of us. Trust me, a baby's "who the hell are you?!" cry is much more piercing and shrill than the "I can't get to sleep" cry. More factoids for my presumably compassionate sisters: Mom isn't holding her because then the baby would want to nurse, which she's already done, pushing the inevitable nap back probably half an hour, and heck, mom's tired dammit, so I have her for a darn good reason, k?)

I don't mind this walking the baby so much, I love her dearly and want her to be happy (plus it burns calories), but doing it in the environment of tables placed 1 foot apart, with little old ladies and childless earlytwentysomethings scowling at me - or out in a wind storm with nary a cloud in sight so I have the extra challenging of keeping a hat on the sweet little bald head, the owner of which detests anything of the hat variety and all its cousins too - can feel like the challenge of standing up in a hammock to screw.

Especially challenging are the young, impatient, childless earlytwentysomethings of the world. Being fresh from childhood themselves (or not truly out of it yet), some of these pups openly resent parents and our small children. They frown directly at us as though the impertinence of a baby crying is something they feel they have a God given right to not have to deal with, <Napoleon Dynamite Impersonation>Gosh!</Napoleon Dynamite Impersonation>. No doubt they're of the crowd that's been taught every new baby is a drain on our resources, so as a parent I've committed a grievous sin by brining about one more mouth to feed and someone who will consume more energy than the third world, and so on. Or, they feel put upon because parents get to leave work to go home to the unique joy of a projectile vomiting child when they have to stay at work. Check out some of the moister complaints in this post on Slashdot that was supposed to be about skipping work to see Star Wars, but immediately degenerated into one of these resentment fests against "breeders." (For the record, I have found that - to a person - anyone who ever uses the word "breeders" in any non-ironic fashion is a festering pustule on the butt-crack of humanity.)

Having once been a non-parent, I can easily extend my sympathies and understanding to anyone's annoyance at a noisy child, or a child that is trying to interact with them when all they want to do is read, eat their dinner, or pick their nose, etc. Even now as a parent, if I see some gummy-handed, oreo-smeared little face rapt, approaching me, I sometimes cringe inside and mentally race through friendly ways to quickly deflect the child. So I understand.

But, darnit, babies cry and sometimes there's nothing that can be done. They're just gonna have to wind down. And babies have a right to be here just as much as you do. Who's gonna serve you your fries if we don't have babies?

And finally, ladies... Please do not go up to strange men with a crying baby and offer to take them, because neither possible outcome is desirable. Chances are he'll be pissed at you for your presumption as to his parenting skills, feel dubious about your motives, or at worst fear you're going to try to run away with his child. But in the odd chance that he does take you up on your offer, keep in mind the fact that he is willing to HAND HIS CHILD TO A STRANGER! Do you really want to help this kind of a person? I didn't think so.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

How to tell if research scientists don't have kids:

They discover something that's completely obvious to anyone who does.

Sometimes I purposely watch a movie that everyone has agreed is a stinker just to see to what degree it doth stinketh, and precisely how it doth stinketh (the cause thereof, therefore). Also, if everyone talks about a particular scandalous scene, I have to see it for myself. Now, I won't lay down money for this experience, no. It has to come from the library or Netflix (since I pay a flat fee, and turn these stinkers around quickly, it's free in my mind).

Thus, I got Birth because this kid was supposed to climb into a bathtub with a nekkid Nicole Kidman (who I consider a first degree skank, so I didn't tune in see HER*), and Hollywood has always skated the edge on what they make children do to get a shot. (For instance, everyone on the shoot knew Drew Barrymore was secretly convinced that ET was real, even though she knew he was a puppet and could see the puppeteers - who would often fire up ET and play with her between takes, further fostering her innocent delusion - so in the scene where he dies, her tears are real and it reportedly took a long time to console her after that scene. She claims she was sad for weeks afterward.)

*TLD: I've noticed that most straight men are either ambivalent about Nicole Kidman, or they think she's a skank. (Note the "most" there.) Almost universally, women and gay men think she's pretty and/or hot. How's that for an interesting demarcation line? My favorite one though is "Ginger or MaryAnn?" - with most straight guys answering without hesitation "MaryAnn."

Weeehelllll, Birth turned out to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen, in almost every aspect there is, perhaps save the cinematography. (Before I go on, let me explain the premise so you know what I'm referring to later: This 10 year old boy shows up one day and announces he's Nicole's reincarnated husband and he wants her back; hilarity ensues.)

The direction is thunderously pretentious, and it's clearly the product of a film school weenie with mediocre talent. I detected a good two filmic cliches (or "homages") for every five minutes of screen time. The simplest and avoidable amateuristic errors are abundant; for instance: When someone has to go somewhere, we see the whole voyage. In one scene, Nicole has to walk to the bridge where her husband died (during the first 5 minutes of the film, which would have been the first 30 seconds of the film under a good director), but we begin the scene with her standing blocks from there. Just standing there for a minute. Staring. Then she starts walking and we follow her the whole time - once even cutting to a posterior view, and watch her back for a while before we cut back to her front.

All patches of dialogue contain gargantuan pauses between query and response. My wife and I were concocting a drinking game (for future use at a party) around the pauses between dialogue - the intent being to get a good buzz on, but not bring about alcohol poisoning or choking on one's own vomit. We arrived at having to take a drink (one swallow) when there was over 8 second gap between dialogue lines. And there are two built-in chug-a-whole-drink events (crucial to any entertainment-based drinking game**). These are: 1) an amazingly graphic and completely gratuitous sex scene between Nicole and her fiance - you chug when you can see his butt (for women) or when you see Nicole's other nipple (for men - hint: you see one when the scene begins), and 2) at 49 minutes into the movie, Nicole's character sums up every single event that has occurred in the movie thus far to another character - so the gratuitous and redundant deja vu, plus the irony (the Alanis Morissette kind) that the movie is about reincarnation and here we are reliving it - is a splendid reason for a chug.

**TLD: A good example of an entertainment-based drinking game is "Chugboat," which is played while watching "Loveboat." Everyone picks one of the main characters, like Julie, the Doc, the bartender, or the captain (you can pick the boat, too, but only a full shot of it counts, not parts of it in the background), and you all have to pick a different one. Whenever your character appears on the screen, you take a drink. If a girl walks by in a bikini, everyone must lift their drinks as if to toast, scream "Balloon Smuggler!" and chug the remainder of whatever they're holding. Another example is a game associated to the first Bob Neuhart show. Every time someone says "Bob," which they say a LOT for some reason, you take a drink. I don't recall the chug trigger for that game. I do recall you got plenty wasted in a half hour with just the "Bob" thing, though. Bob was a boot factor of 3, and Chugboat was a boot factor of 2, unless you picked a character that was central to that week's show, and then it rocketed to boot factor 4. If I recall the boot factors, 1 was only lightweights would get a buzz, 2 was you'd get drunk, 3 was you'd get very drunk with lightweights possibly "booting" (barfing), 4 was over half the people might boot and definitely everyone would get sloppy drunk, and 5 was the boot was simply "when" and not "if."

The casting is amusing because the character description of every single character (except the kid) must've been: "Perpetually smug-looking New York type." You get to the point where you want to build a time machine and miraculously appear in the middle of a scene in hopes the actors will find another facial expression.

Inability to portray more than one facial expression is an epidemic in this film. I've never thought Nicole was much of an actress - unless she was cast as a devious bitch, which seems to be her forte - but this movie finally completely confirms my suspicions. In one scene she is (I'm guessing) supposed to be awash in emotion while she accepts the fact that this kid is in fact her reincarnated husband. We stay locked on her face for a 5-minute closeup. In the entire time, not a single muscle moves, neither eye wanders (though they redden impressively), nor is there nary a twitch of the lip. You have NO IDEA what she's supposed to be thinking or what the script called for (unless the screenwriter honestly indicated she should remain completely still and expressionless for 5 minutes, and if it did, may the ghost of Bette Davis haunt his hairy ass). Were Cate Blanchett or Kate Winslet (or, hell, Renee Zellweger or Angela Bassett if we fear being too much of an anglophile) wasted in this movie, she would've killed, and you would've known every thought crossing her mind - down to the color of the wallpaper if she were pondering the renovation of her bathroom.

Even the boy playing the reincarnated husband remains neutral in voice and carriage, which, in terms of how it sinks this movie, is the equivalent of when the Titanic broke in half and hastened its gurgly rush to the bottom of the ocean. See, he's playing someone who's so in love and so driven to get back with this woman, that he's hounding her to take him back even though he's a different person and only 10, but he does this as though he's the shrunken zombie of the dead husband, not the lovesick reincarnation. If any part should be played for the cheap seats, it's this one. But no - it's as undisturbed and clear as newly blown glass.

The soundtrack veers between this over-the-top screeching of violins as if Hitchcock's birds were attacking, and this low thrumming noise that reminds me of the odious drum solo that accompanied Grateful Dead concerts, which is in the frequency range that makes most people feel like they have to move their bowels. (Well, at least it's an appropriate sensation.)

And then we get to the big controversial scene where the kid climbs into the tub with Nicole. It's as shocking as they say. The filmmakers claim they used special effects to achieve it, but in the scene where you see the kid actually climb into the tub, it looks live, because the ripples in the water show up on Nicole's bod. Given what they can do with digital effects now, it's not outside the realm of possibility that it was faked, but realistic water ripples on someone's skin is quite the feat. But, even if it was faked, the dialogue that the boy has to say is pretty explicit in that he's acknowledging that he's in the tub, nude, with her, and for all the reasons you'd crawl into someone else's tub. In a later scene, they blatantly discuss having sex, too. Folks, the boy had to know what he was talking about, and I dunno ... I think, as a parent, it's pretty icky to put a kid into that kind of a situation. How, organically, does that differ from a molester engaging a child in sex talk? (Maybe doing all those same kinds of scenes with her diminutive, glassy-eyed ex-husband has left Nicole a little confused as to when she's talking to a grownup or not.)

Update: I've watched that scene again before I sent it winging back to Netflix, and when you see them both in the tub together, it conceivably could have been special effects, because there's a clear line presented by Nicole's body. But, given the other things they had that kid do and say, I doubt they much hesitated to really have him plop himself into the tub with her for real. And - here's the interesting thing - since special effects are so good anymore, the producers have the room to lie about whether it was a live shot or not - it's not provable either way.

Well, offended morals aside, this movie is an absolute turkey, festooned with rotten tomatoes, good for nothing but carving up and serving on a tray with some lumpy mashed potatoes, like I've done here.

Unless you're planning on playing the drinking game we invented. In that case, please be sure to sleep on your stomach, and have a garbage can nearby. Bottoms up!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beautiful Fugly

"He's so ugly, he hurt my feelings" - Moms Mabley

The other day someone waxed rhapsodic on how ugly someone was (a guitarist in a band, to be specific), and it brought to mind my past ruminations on those who are aesthetically challenged. (For the record, I consider myself dead average in appearance, though at my age I have to be up in the morning about an hour before I get back to average anymore.)

Science has tried to examine and measure exactly what constitutes or is the basis for our judgments of beautiful and ugly, and the short version is most people judge a symmetrical face as pretty and one not as ugly. Since I read that a long time ago, I've kinda done an informal survey, and have seen plenty of people I think are pretty who would not fit that criteria and ugly folks whose faces seem pretty symmetrical - which is sad in a way because both sides are equally ugly, removing all chance for a possible "get my good side" photographic reprieve.

Now bear with me here, this is not a bash the fuglies of the world post at all. In fact, it's the opposite.

I've come to the conclusion that many ugly people are just as interesting looking as pretty people are.

But, in coming to that conclusion, I noticed there are many different kinds of ugly, and sadly, there's a kind of ugly that only rewards close examination with seemingly infinitely recessing levels of ugly, sorta reminiscent of that cosmological view that asserts: "It's turtles all the way down."

Here's what I mean: Some people are ugly because of a single, but significant flaw. Some because individual features are nice, but they don't fit together well (I knew a girl in high school like this - gorgeous brown eyes, aquiline nose, cupid lips, but together they made her look like Alice the Goon from Popeye cartoons). Some because a feature or two is bad, but still doesn't gel with the good ones, and so on. Most of those people, however, typically fit into the category I'm suggesting here of people who are so interestingly ugly that they're almost pretty again.

So, there are a few poor souls out there that are hyper-dimensionally ugly - that is, ugly any way you look at it. For instance, I once saw this guy whose eyes were so deep set that it always felt like he was looking at you from under a rock. Worse yet, he had perpetual dark circles around them - sorta like a Terry Gilliam/Monty Python cartoon character - exacerbating the deeply recessed eyes appearance. But to top it all off, when he smiled, they shockingly pulled deeper into his head! The orbits of his eyes had this bizarre dimpled area just off the temple, and those dimples pinched and his eyes literally went deeper into his head - which I verified when I got a side view as he smiled. Then, he had a nose that - well I can't really describe what was wrong with it because I spent enough time on the weird eye thing and didn't want to give the impression I was staring, so let's just throw out the descriptive "porcine" call it good. He had one of those lipless mouths that just reduces to a slit when closed. All of these swam in a roundish, jowly face, that was alternately ruddy and then yellowish in complexion. He made me think of the Moms Mabley quote at the top of this post.

But, enough about those at the far end of that particular bell curve. Let's just leave them alone and hope that their denial skills are top-notch and take comfort that everyone can find someone who loves them, if they so choose.

The foremost interesting ugly person I can think of is this girl I had a pretty bad crush on in college. When I first spotted her, whatever it was that was wrong with her was visible from a distance. She looked as though at some point in her life, she'd been left out in the sun too long, and like a wax figurine, had just melted and flowed a bit slightly everywhere, but was rescued before collapsing into a puddle, and rehardened in this melted state. She carried herself oddly, too, giving the impression she was a marionette on strings; it was graceful, but disconcerting just the same. To the point: She looked like a melted Catherine Hepburn, and had a force to her personality that furthered the comparison. Close up, the illusion of having melted was even stronger. She didn't have burn scars, but every single plane of her face was somehow off. Every one. I don't recall why I had the opportunity to study her long enough to complete such a survey without her becoming uncomfortable, but I did somehow, and recall that after reaching that conclusion, I double-checked a couple more times later to be sure. Her eyes were green with asymmetrical brown flecks in them, so no feature was without the inclusion of some slight flaw. She's the only person I've met whose appearance came so close to repulsive without actually crossing that thin scar of a border. I never got the courage to ask her out, partially because, like a lot of guys, I was a wienie in the sense that I preferred loneliness to potential rejection, but also because there was a hint in her personality that what was underneath the hard candy shell of her public personality was something that would take some managing. Like the song says, it appeared whoever did crack that shell would discover that "to love me you have to climb some fences." At that point in my life, I'd had enough fence climbing (see other posts on my dating experiences). It would be interesting to see how she aged, though. Maybe she melted back into place over the years.

A buddy of mine from college was another one of these beautiful ugly people. I remember slight shock first time I encountered him because of his smashed face, but the second he said anything his overwhelming charisma wiped out any impression triggered by his physical appearance. He had reportedly endured nearly daily beatings as a kid walking to and from school, which left his nose almost completely flattened and odd cysts on his lips caused from being punctured by his own teeth. However, even though he's striking upon first view, he's one of those whose features actually gel into something almost handsome, in a latter day Hemingway sort of fashion. This guy has always had girls literally throw themselves at him, which is a testament to his charisma and the odd way his looks work(ed) for him (though he's happily married now, not that the female self-flinging has ceased).

To give you a clearer idea of the kind of strangely attractive fugly people I'm talking about, let me chuck some celebrity examples atcha:
- John Malkovich - This guy can pull off attractive enough to be cast as Michelle Feifer's love interest, but a close look really gives one pause - and maybe a fantod or two. This guy is the classic example of someone whose features on their own are all kinda nasty, but they work together to make something greater than the sum of the parts. ...with soft focus in dim lighting, and after a couple strong drinks, after returning from half a year marooned at the South Pole...
- John Turturro - What a mess. But he's one of those who can clean up well, or be made to look so bad you expect someone to show up with a retarded guy playing a banjo announcing ya'll've got a purty mouth.
- Barbra Streisand - OK, some would say she's obviously pretty - like buttah, even. I would agree, but take a close look. We won't go within sniffing distance of the obvious, so let's look at that mouth. It can do this weird thing where it can be sensuous, but then fall apart into a Frankenstein mouth that might be constructed from the lips of deceased collagen injection victims. (Please, no hate mail from the Babs-lovers of the world; I am one of you.)
- Cynthia Nixon - From Sex in the City. At times, I wondered if they'd put her on the series just to do the terrible old coyote ugly and/or double-bag (one over her face and one over yours in case hers came off) ugly jokes. But, ain't she striking somehow?
- Sandra Bernhard - The perfect example of what I'm talking about. She's just got this thing where a casual glance lights up the ugly column on your mental list, but take a while longer to look, and somehow her looks just work for her. Were I single and she decided she dug guys - me in particular - I'd board her yacht, baby.
- Steve Buscemi - Here we have the poster child for this post. Dear lord, what a strange looking man. But, I've read that he has quite the devoted female following who think he's just the dreamiest thing since Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream (perhaps since they're both very pale with incongruous doughy chunks throughout).
- Whoopi Goldberg - I have had a thing for Whoopi since I saw her original one-woman Broadway show (on tape). I almost didn't put her here because I think she's just cool looking, but her face fits my premise: Odd enough to be strikingly interesting. She's another one were she and I available and she gave me the nod, I'd fall.
- Lyle Lovett - The alternate poster child for this post. Clearly Julia Roberts sees some things the way I do (or at least did). I think God made Lyle like this because if he looked like Mel Gibson with his talent, he'd have been clusterfucked to death by female fans by now. It was just a safety measure, I'm sure.

But see? These are all people that more or less are kinda sorta ugly, but they're all fascinating looking at the same time, right?

Hence, I launch the meme (with apologies to the Poor Man) "Beautiful Fugly."

My lovely wife and I really enjoyed Spanglish, though much of what I had read set us up to think it would be very average. Even Tea Leoni's infamous role was enjoyable in an excruciating way, being one of those brave, thankless, no one with vanity need apply kinda parts that so few actors can play, and don't get any credit when they do - usually because the character is so unlikeable it's hard not to transfer those feelings to the person portraying them.

The central story of film is the mutual culture shock when a wealthy Californian family hires a Mexican single mom as their nanny/maid. Mom (Tea) is, well, a psycho because she's sorta naturally built that way, but also because she's a high-powered business woman who's recently been laid off, and she's trying to deal with the mess of that while integrating with a family that she's never been around on a daily basis. Dad (Adam Sandler, who's a good actor dammit) is an all-around nice guy who tries to do his best by his family, his restaurant (he's a top chef who would prefer less adulation), and the hired help. Eldest daughter is a sweetheart who knows who she is, and is OK with being a little overweight, but is not OK with her mom making her feel like crap about it. The new nanny/maid is a good-hearted woman who wants the best for her daughter, and is faced with the nutball Mom sorta adopting her daughter because her own daughter takes after her Dad and not her.

Or, to put it simply, it's the story of how profoundly parents are influenced by their love for - or lack of love for - their children.

In further defense of Tea's role, I think she nails the particular psychosis that ensues when you've been laid off and are used to dealing with corporate sharks and not family members (it's like shifting gears from swinging a machete in the corporate jungle to making sandwiches with a butter knife). Or, to be more accurate, the script nails the condition, and Tea portrays it perfectly. Many reviewers were unsympathetic to her character because they dismissed her as just a psychobetty, which to some extent is true, but it's really exacerbated by her situation. She's like an alcoholic who finds herself holed up in a liquor store in a zombie movie; or Yosemite Sam who lights a match only to discover Bugs has locked him in the dynamite shed. Shite's just gonna happen.

I enjoyed this movie in the same way I enjoyed Terms of Endearment because both are beautifully crafted ensemble movies that are filled with real details on how most of us live our lives. Spanglish has the advantage, though, because no one dies of cancer, thus forcing us to watch a little boy trying to be brave when saying goodbye to his mother (a wonderful scene, but just a little too painful, if you ask me).

For the record, Adam Sandler is the new Steve Martin

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I love it when a movie just bitch-slaps me with its wonderfulness. Especially when I'm not expecting it at all.

Remakes, as a rule, are a lazy endeavor to essentially update the cultural references in a dated classic movie - or a foreign movie - and to lace it with the current trends in American film style and storytelling - essentially so younger audiences who wouldn't attempt to watch the original will slap down the cash to see this new version. After all, the story is tried and true and redoing it with the hot new stars with the hot new styles is almost always a win-win - even if the movie is a bit of a flop, because remakes tend to make their money back, at the very least.

And let me qualify what I mean by "remakes." I mean movies like The Haunting, The Thomas Crown Affair, Cape Fear, The Manchurian Candidate and Alfie, where the original concept is pretty much intact, but just redone with modern flourishes. I do not mean complete re-imaginings or attempts to hew closer to the source material, like The Thing, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Blowout (inspired by Blowup).

The best comparison I can come up with for Alfie is it's kind of a grown-up Lady and the Tramp (yes, the Disney cartoon with the famous spaghetti kiss). A lovable cad cats around to a spiffy soundtrack (I recommend it, btw), but in the end his freedom-loving ways end up being more of a vice than a virtue. Even given that, though, the plot contains a surprise or two.

However, the movie's good primarily because it stars Jude Law. Here is one of those rare actors who can rescue practically any role and make the movie transcend its original potentiality. Alfie is good primarily because Jude Law is the star. I think one of his gifts is that he plays to both men's and women's sensibilities simultaneously. Guys can imagine having a beer with him while women can imagine... Well, I'll let you finish that thought yourself.

Check it out; it's a good evening's entertainment.
Blade: Trinity (aka Blade III)

My wife loves vampire movies, so we eventually watch them all. (It dawned on me when thinking about this post that a lot of my girlfriends had a thing about vampires. I don't know if that says anything about me or not, but I think that's one avenue I'll leave unexplored.)

I settled in for Blade: Trinity expecting some stylistic hyper-gore and some good snipes from Wesley, uh, Snipes. (I hadn't put that together until just now. No kidding.) As a non-fan of swat-fu, I had also fired up the computer to rip (convert to MP3) a bunch of recent CD purchases (including the Alfie soundtrack), planning to dart away and start a new one when fists and ancient Japanese swords whose blades had been folded over 10,000 times during the smelting started flying. But, that's before I discovered that we were actually being treated to Blade: The Comedy.

I guess the presence of Parker Posey might have been a clue, but then she seems like the kind of girl that's always wanted to be in a vampire movie, regardless of what it was like. I didn't know Ryan Reynolds - the current king of wiseass asides, taking the crown from Bruce Willis - was in it, or that might have cinched it.

The reviews on Amazon fall cleanly on the two sides of the fence, dismay that it was funny and not an over-serious gore fest, and delight that it was funny and not an over-serious gore fest. (And they give out some major spoilers, so beware.) Obviously, I'm delighted.

The plot has the vampires resurrecting The Original Vampire (kinda borrowing a plot line from Anne Rice) in order to finally destroy Blade and his vampire-killer army. And ... that's about it.

The one surprise was how little Wesley, the series' star and producer, was actually on screen. Ryan Reynolds, playing Hannibal King (who's loosely patterned after Kurt Russell's great Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China), is actually the de facto star of the movie, along with the supporting roles, like Posey's and the guy who plays The Original Vampire, getting a lot of face time. This is almost unheard of in a major franchise with a major star. I don't know if this speaks to Wesley Snipes' lack of vanity or to his intelligence to get out of the way when they got a good thing going on, or both. Let's be generous and say both.

Those of you interested in a fang and a chuckle should pencil in Blade: The Comedy sometime soon.