Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Final Halloween Post: Horror Wrap-Up

Even as the stores break out their Christmas decorations, I can't let go of Halloween. I assure you this will be the last post related to said subject. Next year, I hope to have a little more structure and information to this concept, which I thought of too late to have an actually tally of other, more interesting, information such as body count, murder weapons, nudity. Fun stuff like that. Still... here's what I've thrown together for you. Thanks for reading!

Total Number of Movies Watched: 36. This is counting Garfield and Great Pumpkin, but I'm still impressed with myself.

Notable Subgenres:
Haunted House -- 6
Zombie -- 2
Vampire -- 2
Werewolf -- 1
Killer Animal -- 5
Mad Scientist -- 4
Witchcraft -- 3
Cannibals -- 1
Aliens -- 1

Most Common Year: 1943 (all produced by Val Lewton) and 1980.
Most Common Decade: 1980s
Silent Films: 2
Number of Countries Represented: 7
Most Common Director: James Whale (3)
Most Common Producer: Val Lewton (3)
Most Common Actor: Boris Karloff (4), with special recognition to Melvyn Douglas who came on strong with three appearances in the last week and a half

Most Recommended: Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Best in Show: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (sorry, when you watch mostly heretofore unseen movies, it's hard to topple a classic)
Biggest Surprise: Elevator
Biggest Turd: Nightmare City

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The (Belated) Halloween Horror Homestretch

This is the final homestretch that took me through Halloween (and due to a double feature disc, the day after). It's tough to get a post up on Halloween when one is watching movies past midnight. No excuses for being three days late (oh wait, my son wouldn't let me write, there we go). So here's to the end of the horror!

Nightmare City (1980) -- Umberto Lenzi
Who like their zombies running around, using weapons and altogether fully dextrous? Because I don't. They're basically immortal terrorists Nightmare City, a movie whose title is far more literal that I'd hoped. There's very little to recommend about this movie and maybe nothing unless you count some nudity and blood as recommendable. It did teach me that Zombieland isn't the first zombie movie to head to an amusement park.

The Terror (1963) -- Roger Corman
The Terror is one of those thrown-together movies Corman is known for where he has actors and a set and wants to get as much use of them as possible. Allegedly, the dialogue is improvised and Corman shot footage of every actor coming down the castle stairs figuring he'd be able to use it at some point. I love Corman. The Terror was a lot better and more coherent than I was expecting (not to say it was entirely coherent). It's got Dick Miller, Boris Karloff, and Jack Nicholson and includes credits for Francis Ford Coppola and Monte Hellman. That's quite a lot of interesting names for a cheap little movie.

The Skin I Live In (2011) -- Pedro Almodovar
Even when we showed this at the theater, I couldn't help but think of it as "The Skin In Which I Live." Something about the correct English makes me laugh. I could actually write a whole post about this movie, but time isn't on my side. I'm not sure the flashback structure of the film is entirely necessary and  just as much drama could have come from a linear telling. I'm not a fan of flashbacks, especially in this case where all new characters are introduced an hour or so into the movie. It didn't take long to figure out what was happening, thus removing the intended suspense.

Still, it's a beautiful looking picture and I'm not sure I've ever seen Antonio Banderas better. He doesn't say much, but his presence is very strong. By the time the ending rolled around, I was totally invested in how it would play out that I was disappointed that the movie cuts before it happens even though it's already two hours long. Despite my reservations, it's a fantastic film and though I've enjoyed most of Almodovar's films, I don't know why I haven't pursued more of them. Consider that rectified (at least on my Netflix queue).

The Changeling (1980) -- Peter Medak
Andrea brought up an interesting point about The Changeling: it's a haunted house movie where the protagonist isn't afraid at all. The movie plays out more like a detective story than a tale of horror. George C. Scott's family is killed in a freak accident and that looms over him the rest of the film. Perhaps because of this, when weird things start happening at his rented home in/near Seattle, he's more open to figure out why it's happening. The Changeling is creepy but not too scary, but is definitely a quality movie that more people should see. Bonus points for featuring Melvin Douglas who has made a late charge for most October movie appearances even though I wasn't knowingly familiar with him at all until now.

The Leopard Man (1943) -- Jacques Tourneur
Tourneur definitely makes the best Val Lewton produced movies. The Leopard Man isn't at all what the title suggests, but a film about a man who happens to know a lot about leopards. A woman enters a club with a leopard (previously given to her to make an impression), the leopard is scared off and remains on the loose. The first kill of the film is terrifying and amazing and sets a great tone for the rest of the picture. This is pretty terrific.

The Ghost Ship (1943) -- Mark Robson
Not to be confused with Ghost Ship (whatever happened to Dark Castle?), The Ghost Ship is about a new third officer who suspects his captain is going crazy, though the rest of the crew doesn't believe him. It's a surprisingly satisfying film though it generally feels (and looks) like a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to (barely) feature length. But I like The Twilight Zone, so why wouldn't I like this? The paranoia is fun and the captain is an interesting character because he seems so nice. The only problem is the mute character who has some absurd inner-monologue that is not representative of how people actually think at all. Were he featured more, or an actual narrator, it would drag the film down to the realm of absolute misery. Fortunately, it's a sideshow attraction. This is also produced by Val Lewton.

There will be one more post that's a kind of round-up of everything. Then we'll be done with this Halloween business until next year. Thanks for watching!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #7

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983) -- Tommy Lee Wallace
Andrea was not a fan of this, but I think it's a lot of fun. Sure, there are things I wish had been different.  I wish that Tom Atkins ran through the streets yelling at everyone to take off the masks, even forcibly removing them from kid's heads instead of being a remote protagonist (so that it was more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or any "one man's paranoia" movie). I wish the ending wasn't so half-hearted and that the main threat was a national issue that will go off at 9 PM in each time zone. What? News can't travel across the country in 1982 even without Twitter? The minute the east coast went down, the rest of the country should know what happened. I wish that Joe Dante had directed this, as was originally planned. Sure, it might have meant no Police Squad! episodes or his short in Twilight Zone: The Movie (which is the best short), but he would have brought a lot more style (and Dick Miller) to the show. I wish that the Halloween series had continued making a different movie based around the holiday instead of diving back into the Michael Myers well (I'm pretty sure he ends up in a well at the end of one of the sequels).

Still, you gotta love a plot line that involves the occult and a conspiracy to kill the nation's children. Plus, the more people who see it, the more people will undertand when you start singing this:

Wilderness (2006) -- Michael J. Bassett
Wilderness started an unofficial "isolated group" triple feature while I was making my Halloween costume. Since I was going to be distracted, I tried to pick movies I didn't think I'd have to pay much attention to, so no silent/foreign movies and nothing with apparent goals other than cheap thrills.

Sean Pertwee is cornering the market on movies where groups of people are hunted down in the woods. He's got Dog Soldiers and this under his belt and he is awesome in both. The man can act. The story here is that a group of kids in juvenile detention are sent to a remote island for team building and punishment. As it turns out, someone else is there to hunt them. There's some interesting things done with characterization and I feel like it's saying something about the natures of bullying and blame, but really, it's just a pretty cool movie. The characters are pretty intelligent and no one is doing anything for the sake of plot. Quite a pleasant surprises.

Elevator (2011) -- Stig Svendsen
Speaking of surprises... wow. If you've seen Devil and are put off by the "people trapped in elevators" genre, well this one puts that one to shame. The characters start out painted with broad strokes and speak lines of dialogue that sound contrived to give the viewer more information than would normally be expected from this situation, but they soon develop distinct personalities. Much like in Wilderness, these people are reasonably intelligent about their situation (even if those outside the elevator are not). My personal favorite is Martin who is a suck-up, but subtly funny and decent (and is mind-blowingly played by the guy who played Buzz in Home Alone! I can barely believe it and yes, he has gained a few pounds), but you come to appreciate all of the characters for what they bring to the table (except for the little girl... how I hate her).

I am not lying. This is a damn fun movie. This (and Wilderness) are on Netflix Instant View.

Rogue (2007) -- Greg Mclean
I am a sucker for movies about angry animals. Especially giant, angry animals. Even the SyFy variety. They are absolutely ridiculous in most cases, but who doesn't love seeing people get torn apart by ravenous beasties? Rogue takes the giant croc/alligator pretty seriously, as opposed to Lake Placid, but we won't hold that against the movie. First off, it's directed by the guy who directed Wolf Creek, so he gets the benefit of the doubt out of the gate (seriously, Mclean doesn't get enough work. This was his last movie). Secondly, Radha Mitchell is allowed to use her native accent which automatically means she's a better actress. Thirdly, the characters make very few uncalculated risks (seriously, I must have been a good boy today and rewarded with good genre movie-watching). And lastly, PEOPLE GET EATEN BY A GIANT CROCODILE!

Interestingly, Mia Wasikowska (who plays the teenage girl) probably has the most active and highest profile career right now. Who would've guessed?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #6

Theatre of Blood (1973) -- Douglas Hickox
This is worth seeing just for the chance to watch Vincent Price play dress-up. He has more costume changes than a Lady Gaga concert (reference!). I not-so-long-ago learned that Price is a far better actor than those parodying him give him credit for. This isn't Shakespeare, except it is. Just more fun for the actor. Kevin Smith should just point people to Theatre of Blood so he can finally shut up about how much he hates critics.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) -- Bill Melendez
Classic. Plain and simple. It's easy to forget that the Peanuts specials are insanely clever and witty in ways children can't understand. I was carving pumpkins while watching this and the disc continued on to a special called It's Magic, Charlie Brown from 1981. My impulse was to stop watching and put something else on, but I'm very happy I didn't. Once you get passed the off-model voices, the story is quite amusing. Snoopy turns Charlie Brown invisible at a magic show and he spends much of the special that way. It's The Invisible Man by way of Peanuts. Charlie Brown is even feistier than usual. Plus, he finally gets to kick the football! (I'm still not sure why Lucy was holding it for no one)

Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985) -- Phil Roman
The Garfield of my youth had teeth. There are these infamous string of comics from 1989 and Garfield: His Nine Lives, which aside from having a variety of drawing/animation styles also features some stories that creeped me the hell out. Even Garfield's Scary Tales from 1990 had some pictures that made me afraid of certain pages. So don't be surprised when I tell you that Garfield's Halloween Adventure haunted my nightmares for a long time. The voice of the Old Man, the sense of dread, the ghosts (which are awesomely drawn), basically, everything after the songs stopped was terrifying. I love this special. And the songs still play on repeat in my brain.

Reflecting on my experiences watching this really make me appreciate being scared as a kid. You grow out of it and it becomes a fun memory that you can share with anyone of your age group and they will have had similar if no the exact same experience. Does anyone remember these? I don't know if I ever opened one up, the covers were so intimidating. (Sorry, I'm feeling particularly nostalgic about childhood scares after reading this... mostly the comments).

Ghost Story (1981) -- John Irvin
This started out with such promise: a frightened, naked man crashing through a window and falling to a pool side death. Awesome. Things go along swimmingly until the brother of the aforementioned man starts telling his scary story to get into this old man's club (simplified, but I really don't want to go into the intricacies of this plot). This story is a dead end and if the viewer is to believe everything is being told the the group of men as we are seeing it, then this particular storyteller must get off on telling old men how much crazy sex he's having with his girlfriend. We come back to present day and the movie gets good again until ANOTHER story is told, this time giving us critical backstory. This flashback is way too long and boring, too, and features a lot less nudity. I'm fairly certain that a decent movie could be constructed if you simply cut out the flashbacks. Conversely, had more, but shorter/tighter stories being told.

Honestly, the most notable aspect of this movie is that Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, and John Houseman are the four old men (the last film for all but Houseman). Most of the time I found myself asking what these men thought about the full-frontal male nudity and boobage on display when (if) they ever watched the entire thing. I imagine lots of "harrumph"-ing, indeed.

There's a lot about Ghost Story I want to talk about, but not here. Not now. This is a pretty effective trailer, though.

The Old Dark House (1932) -- James Whale
MELVYN DOUGLAS?! Again? What are the odds? I'm ridiculously and inexplicably happy about this coincidence (I post in the order I watch). It should be no surprise, but The Old Dark House is much better than Ghost Story, though sadly not as good as I'd hoped. It's still loads of fun with some great performances from Douglas, Charles Laughton, and Raymond Massey (who would eventually assume the role Boris Karloff, his co-star in this film, created the film Arsenic and Old Lace). Douglas is especially applealing.

This is quite different than the William Castle remake, which I'm glad about, but the house wasn't as much of a character as I was expecting. Most of the action takes place in one room and a staircase. There isn't much sense of a creeping dread and the actual threat is somewhat benign compared to my expectation. I could convince myself that that's all part of the comedy (much like Whale's Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, there is a lot of comedy featured), but I'm not sure that satisfies me.

Aside from not meetin my plot expectations, The Old Dark House is a lot of fun and totally worth checking out. At 72 minutes, there's not much of an argument against it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #5

Burke and Hare (2010) -- John Landis
The Hole is Joe Dante's first feature film in eleven years. Burke and Hare is John Landis' first film in twelve. It makes me sad that men who have made movies this good aren't finding the work/funding for their cinematic projects (these men both shot segments for Twilight Zone: The Movie, notoriously for Landis, unfortunately).

Burke and Hare comes out a bit ahead of The Hole in terms of entertainment. Plain and simple, Landis has the better cast. Simon Pegg, Jennifer Hynes (together again!), Andy Serkis, Bill Bailey, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Jenny Agutter (the female lead of An American Werewolf in London), Christopher Lee, Ray Harryhausen(!), Stephen Merchant, Hugh Bonneville, and a host of others that I'm certain if you watch enough British television, that you'd be right familiar with. It's the tale of two men who resort to murder to get a physician bodies for his research. Unfortunately, it doesn't get the balance of comedy to horror right and I'm not even sure it tried. There's potential for a terrific dark comedy here, and while Burke and Hare is fun as the dickens, it feels like a missed opportunity and a trifle.

Still, if you dig Landis or the cast, it's totally worth checking out.

I don't know why they used the voiceover guy who does all the wacky kids movie trailers, but whatever...

The Invisible Man (1933) -- James Whale
Somehow, I'd been operating under the delusion that I'd seen this movie before. I even rated it on Netflix (a sacred task held in the utmost esteem by myself. Much self-flagellation followed this discovery. A penance for my sins). I have distinct memories of watching a (non-John Carpenter directed) invisible man movie with Claude Rains, though now I wonder if I'm combining his appearance in The Wolf Man with watching Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, though it's just as likely that I watched The Invisible Man Returns without knowing.

Be that as it may, The Invisible Man is terrific. I need to re-watch Bride of Frankenstein, but right now it's my favorite of the Universal horror classics. There's lots of action and humor (though Una O'Connor is WAY too much for me. Her wailing and screeching is enough to put me off hearing. She does the same in Whale's Bride of Frankenstein, too), but my favorite aspect is how intelligently people approach the invisible issue. First, Claude Rains has an amazing speech about all of his limitations that actually answers a lot of the silly questions people ask about the idea of an invisible person (what happens when it eats? and such). Then we have the inherent absurdity of what it would be like to pursue an invisible man. Lots of fun (and somewhat intelligent) ideas are tossed out on how to catch him and the police have to sweep across the room with a net to make sure that it's clear. It's all very silly, but stuff that has to be done. That it's done with the utmost sincerity is what makes it great.

This movie is awesome.

Dracula (1931) -- Tod Browning
Where the silliness of The Invisible Man is inherent in the story and not an accidental product of the production, a good 40% of Dracula is ridiculous. Yes, Bela Lugosi is an icon, but dear lord, there are some odd choices. The most glaring is the repeated cuts to spot lights on his eyes. If only done once or twice, it would be effective. Instead, they go to it five or six times, most within a short span of each other. Lugosi's line deliveries are often quite stilted, too. He's so much better in The Wolf Man or even Island of Lost Souls (where he's virtually indistinguishable). He has less to do, but everything feels so much more natural. Van Helsing is another character who I can't take seriously. Interstingly, Edward Van Sloan (who plays Van Helsing) and Lugosi reprised their stage roles. Maybe they didn't adjust their performances quite right for the different medium.

Fortunately, Dracula gets legitimately creepy once in England and the stalkings begin. I found it odd that much of Lucy's role is missing. I don't recall her death and they don't deal with her re-death at the hands of Van Helsing, though they mention that she's been dealt with. There's a disjointed feel to the movie. Allegedly, Browning tore pages out of the script that he felt were unnecessary and was emotionally unfit during production, so that may explain it. Whatever the reason, It's my firm belief that Dracula is the weakest of the Universal movies, even if it massively outsold our Frankenstein screenings. What does the public know?

The Hand (1981) -- Oliver Stone
The first twenty minutes of The Hand are pretty awesome, then it turns into some cliche-ridden story of a marriage falling apart. Michael Caine plays a comic writer/artist who loses his hand while arguing with his wife in the car (an amazing scene). Eventually, she finds an excuse to be away from him for a while and his anger increases and the people at whom he is angry start to die.

It's no great spoiler to tell you that Caine is doing the killing. At no point does The Hand entertain the idea that some supernatural element has caused his severed hand to rise up and kill, an uncontrollable manifestation of his Id. The pattern goes, he likes someone, gets mad at them, they die. There's some fun stylish things going on, but it's really a waste of a cool premise.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) -- Benjamin Christensen
This is an interesting movie. Haxan plays like a documentary at times and like a fiction film about witchcraft at others. There are a LOT of intertitles and a lot of information is given to the audience through them, which makes it feel like a classroom lecture at times. However, and it's hard for me to know for sure if it's intentional, Haxan is subtly hilarious. Part of my struggle is that, while I know snark, irony, and satire existed before the rise of the internet, the use of it here feels very modern. It's almost like the teacher is undercutting his own lecture by design.

Take, for instance, the appearance of the devil. Rarely, possibly never, do we see him without his tongue sticking out and waggling at some woman. There are several times that this devil is scene churning some kind of hellish butter while looking at women. The monks featured in the film use methods to determine witches equally as mystical and absurd as anything a witch might practice and are portrayed in a distinctly more heinous light than anyone practicing witchcraft and a woman they've tortured for information gives the names of people with whom she has petty grievances.

Haxan takes place in distinct but continuing parts. The final part takes place in modern day and should be excised entirely. It's an attempt to bring some modern context into the film, but the audience is intelligent enough that they could do this on their own if they choose. Also, the score is terribly inappropriate which isn't unexpected from a silent film that probably had local piano accompanists trying to fit the mood with their normal cache of songs and probably never had a real score.

Those complaints aside, Haxan is pretty cool. There are several instances of great special effects, but I'll leave you with this description. If it doesn't make you interested, nothing will:

To achieve the scene in which the witches are flying over the roofs of the town,Benjamin Christensen and his cameraman Johan Ankerstjerne photographed a miniature town (with each house about 2 meters in height) on an enormous turntable, which operated manually and took the strength of 20 men to operate. Then, several costumed actors were photographed on broomsticks against a black background. To make the heavy costumes ripple in the "wind" Christiansen brought in an airplane motor. A total of 75 witches were photographed, each individually, and a special optical printer was built by Ankerstjerne to put them together (only about three of four appear on the screen at one time). The construction of a model town was decided upon after test footage proved the original idea of shooting from a movie train was a bad one, as too many modern structures, not to mention telephone poles and wires, were unavoidable. The test footage survives and is superimposed with Christiansen seated in a chair, acting out the part of a witch. 

Yes, Another Weird Al Post

There are some dreams you want to hang on to. You fight waking up, ignoring all the demands of the day just to live a little longer in whatever magical world your subconscious has conjured. For many, these dreams involve sex. Lots of it. With beautiful people. Not me. This morning, I tried to ignore my fatherly duties to hang out with Weird Al Yankovic.

I was in a house with loads of other people (for some reason, I think it was a Yelp get together, though my only affiliation with them is some of my volunteers are heavily involved with the organization). Weird Al was there and we were all competing in a scavenger hunt-type thing where if you wandered over the right area, awesome Al-related memorabilia or a "sorry, try again" icon appeared. I really wanted to find all the best stuff and fought waking up to the best of my ability. Of course, I failed. I crying baby is a hard thing to fight.

Normally, I'd be content just to tell a few friends about this in person and if I think they'd be interested. But Twitter (specifically, Pixar's Lee Unkrich) informed me of something very interesting, indeed. Today, October 23, is Weird Al Yankovic's birthday. Had you asked me, I wouldn't have been able to tell you this fact. But, perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious, I knew. So happy birthday, Mr. Yankovic. You're the tops.

It's OK to wish someone a happy birthday with his own song, right?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #4

Monster House (2006) -- Gil Kenan
I saw Monster House in the theaters upon its release and I still stand by my assessment I made then: were I a child watching this movie, it would scare the crap out of me. First off, it's got a crazy old man. Second, there's a house that not only eats people, but it lures them in. Third, it goes on a rampage after the kids. And fourth, it was made with a less-creepy-than-Polar-Express-but-still-kind-of-creepy motion capture technology. But since I'm an adult, I wasn't remotely scared. In fact, the movie is quite fun even if some of the celebrity voice acting is a little glaring (I'm looking at you Jon Heder). It's no accident the kids come out best.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this viewing (my third or fourth) is that it's my first since the show Community came out and thus my first chance to note that Dan Harmon wrote the damn thing! Crazy. I feel like there's a whole world of people out there who will discover/have discovered Monster House based on that alone.

Frankenstein (1931) -- James Whale
My theater showed a 35mm print of this over the weekend and I wasn't about to miss out. The stand-out observation of this viewing was how terrific Boris Karloff is as the Monster. Much has been made about the pathos he brings to the table, but there is a wealth of subtlety in the physical performance as well (tiny movements of the hands, posture, etc). I was blown away.

I'd also forgotten how intimate a story this telling is and how invested in the character's desires one gets. No small feat for a 70 minute monster movie. This print was edited to have a thunder crash over the line "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" which made me nervous the girl murder would be excised, too. Fortunately, I fretted for nothing. And Ollie lasted almost the entire film without making a noise. We all earned a nice glass of the Baron's mother's wine that day.

The Hole (2009) -- Joe Dante
I'd been waiting for The Hole to get a release for years. Everywhere else around the world got it before we did. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it in the theater. I would have even paid up for 3-D for Joe Dante, one of my top-5 favorite filmmakers.

The Hole plays around with one of Dante's favorite scenarios, the suburbs run amok, but lacks most of the humor of his other movies. He also shies away from referencing his influences, which takes away the Dante stamp. Only at the very end with the German Expressionistic set does it start to feel like old school Dante.

Still, The Hole is pretty creepy for a movie aimed at younger folk and it has some cool effects (I was glad to see there was minimal CG until the very end and a few 3-D gimmicks. The resolution is pretty lame, but the ride there is enjoyable. Plus, Dante stalwarts Dick Miller and Bruce Dern pop up, so it's all good. Sadly, Jerry Goldsmith (a favorite film composer of mine) is no longer with us and was unable to supply the score. It's the first Joe Dante movie without his touch since The Howling (in 1981!)

Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956) -- Fred F. Sears
It's not a bad movie. In fact, it's perfectly fine. But I'd already seen all of the fun stuff so my memory of Earth vs The Flying Saucers is that there's a lot of talking. This is a problem with lots of science fiction (particularly from this era), but most of those movies don't have the reputation of this one (even if that reputation is mostly due to Ray Harryhausen). That said, I do enjoy that the first response the U.S. military has in the movie is to fire at the space ship without trying to learn anything. It's always best to shoot first and ask questions later. It's not like it might lead to the destruction of most of earth's major cities...

The Seventh Victim (1943) -- Mark Robson
I'll be honest with you. I was trying to sneak The Seventh Victim in while Ollie was napping (it's a scant 71 minutes), but about 3/4 of the way through, my eyes decided to fight my desire to watch the movie. On the plus side, it was like I was back in film school fighting to stay awake during movies and having my dreams take tremendous leaps from the last images my eyes and brain registered. On the down side, I can't really say much about the movie.

The Seventh Victim is a noir-ish tale about a woman trying to find her sister and a Satanic cult is involved somehow and they are trying to keep people from looking for the sister. It's good, but it doesn't feel as moody as other Val Lewton productions, like his collaborations with Jacques Tourneur. perhaps this is why my body started to drift away.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October Halloween Movie Watch #3

The Private Eyes (1980) -- Lang Elliott
There's something unsettling seeing an aged Don Knotts. Forget that he lived another 26 years after The Private Eyes was shot, he just seems like he lost his vitality in the 15-odd years since The Andy Griffith Show (this is based on watching The Apple Dumpling Gang recently, too). Still, there's something about his presence I find soothing.

The Private Eyes was written by and co-stars Tim Conway and I feel like I want to be easier on it because I like Conway so much (and Knotts for that matter). It's not hugely funny, though it has its moments. The movie largely feels like it plays things safe in the name of appealing to mass audiences. It's very silly, but not in a Monty Python way and it parodies Agatha Christie stories, but not in a very clever way.

Still, I look back fondly on The Private Eyes. It's the little things. It's fun to see Deputy Fife and Malcolm Merriweather reunited and there's a recurring joke dealing with death notes that never made me laugh but somehow makes me smile every time I think back on it. The Private Eyes is the definition of a breezy, light, mildly forgettable comedy that I would recommend if you like the actors.

As a side note, The Private Eyes features the worst animated credit sequence I've ever seen.

Night of the Living Dead (1990) -- Tom Savini
What surprised me most about this remake of Night of the Living Dead is that even though Tom Savini directed it, there's still a lot of cutaway violence. Don't get me wrong, there's some good gore and makeup effects, but rarely do we get a view of a zombie bludgeoning. This might lie more in the ratings board's hands than Savini's

I get the sense that there are many horror fans believe this to be a vastly underrated movie, and while it's better than I expected, it lacks the tension and atmosphere of the original. Unfortunately, they stick pretty close to the original script (with some minor tweaks, mostly at the end), so if you've seen Night of the Living Dead '68, you've seen this and little is added by the color, which leaves us with the special effects.

I'm not sure if this is true, but I read that the original crew was used and the movie was basically remade so they could make money on it since the first one wasn't copyrighted properly. At least they didn't half-ass things. The cast is pretty good (love Tony Todd) and my only qualm in that area is the angry husband who is almost a cartoon.

Personal anecdote: Before I'd ever seen the original, I caught the opening scene of the remake on TV late one night while alone in my room. It scared the shit out of me and I turned the channel the moment Barbara's brother's head hit the grave stone.

The Wolf Man (1941) -- George Waggner
Lon Chaney is a beast of a man. I don't know why I never noticed how tall he is or maybe it was accentuated by his standing next to the diminutive Claude Rains, but damn, he's big!

It's amazing how quickly these old monster movies fly by. Larry Talbot arrives in town, acts like a lecherous creep, talks about wolves, and is bitten all within ten minutes. It's a remarkable pace. I particularly enjoy the way The Wolf Man messes with Larry's mind and one of the strongest traits of werewolves in the genre is that they don't know/can't control/genuinely hate being a werewolf. There's a lot of sympathy to be had for these creatures.

There are some weird inconsistencies, like why did Bela turn into an actual wolf, but Larry becomes a man-wolf hybrid or why does he strangle his victims, but those are minor complaints about an effective movie. When I think about these old horror movies, I don't actually think of them as scary, but I can totally see someone getting creeped out by this, especially if his or her age is right (look out, Ollie!).

Lastly, I want to play in the foggy forest set. That rules.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Response to a Facebook Conversation

I don't know how to put multiple functional link in a Facebook post, so I'm responding here. I promise it won't be too long.

I'll cede the point on Kimberly's comment since it is a brought generalization about close to half the population. That said, there is certainly a push from the (Christian) conservative side for abstinence-only education. After a quick internet search for sources to back this claim, I could only find websites that are inherently biased one way or another for each side of the story. I don't think it's any surprise that, ultimately, education is the best way to delay sex or practice in it a safe way (the abstinence-only class in this study apparently did not tell people to wait until marriage and did not have an anti-condom/birth control bias). Even more than the availability of birth control, I believe that the biggest step is making sure people get a solid sexual education foundation from a younger age so that they can make educated decisions about sex.

Certainly, I agree with you that the government has limited rights as what they can force people to do (and I suspect that you might say they have no right), but I doubt it would go so far as to forcing people to take birth control. True, Oregon was sterilizing people 30-years ago, but the practice was halted and I have serious doubts that any American state could get away with something like that even if they wanted to. It's pretty rare that changes in civil rights move backwards.

In addition to what the linked article says about there being fewer births and fewer abortions, the subject of what happens to the children once they are born isn't brought up. You mention the tax payers subsidizing free birth control, but what about the cost of raising these kids? Especially the children of poor families? Certainly that is a tax concern.

Education and access are going to be the two determining factors in this discussion. If what this study is showing is factual (because, as we know, there is always more to be learned from studies and the results must be repeatable), then it seems like a great compromise. Hopefully, abortions go down (they will never go away, even if made illegal) and birth control usage goes up (including IUDs, which are more reliable). And I'm more than happy to carry my share of the tax burden for something that might help society. In fact, the government can just shift some of the taxes I pay to the military to this and I'd be quite satisfied.

Thanks for responding, John. I appreciate your well-reasoned ideas and don't even entirely disagree with your conclusions.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Horror Watch #2

Howling (2012)-- Ha Yoo
I hadn't heard of this until recently and only added it to my Netflix queue because Kang-ho Song, perhaps my favorite actor, stars. I could watch him in just about anything. Just last night, I Song-ed up my queue. He's amazing.

Going in, I was expecting a werewolf movie based on the title and the description. But no. There's a part-dog, part-wolf going around systematically killing people. Howling is OK and for a while it seems like it's going to have some big comment on male culture and a woman's place on the job in South Korea, but those themes drift away as the plot picks up. For the first hour, I was way more interested in the new female detective's experience than the actual plot of the movie. This was a good thing. Check it out if you like Korean cinema or Kang-ho Song (if you watch on Instant View, you have to use your computer so you can activate the subtitles).

V/H/S (2012) -- various
This is an anthology film most notable for Ti West and Joe Swanberg's involvement. It's a piece of shit. I made it through about an hour until I bailed because it wasn't worth getting motion sick watching a bunch of unlikeable people do unlikeable things then get killed. Plus, I correctly guessed the ending of the overarching story before the first short began, so I feel vindicated in not wasting my time.

A group of douchebags break into a home looking for a specific VHS that someone will pay good money for. In the search for it, they watch a series of tapes. These are our shorts. Oh, the douchebags tape everything they do, so the screen is constantly erratically moving and the shorts are similarly shot. It really bugs me that most of the shorts are shown to be shot on some type of digital device, yet someone took the time to transfer them to VHS. This is a stupid movie and I waste of Ti West's skills as a director (his main strengths are his control of the camera and his patience with storytelling, elements completely absent from movie). Lastly, it's not scary.

Die, Monster, Die! (1965) -- Daniel Haller
It's German for "The, Monster, The!" Daniel Haller was a set designer for loads of American International films and this was his first as director. It's based on the Lovecraft story, "The Colour Out of Space," though it only loosely follows it. As with many AI movies, it's good, but the advertising and aesthetics are the best parts. I love seeing Boris Karloff* in anything and it's been great discovering him in non-Frankenstein's monster/Mummy parts. I wonder if Bela Lugosi was ever jealous that Karloff's career continued with moderate success after the Universal monster movies. At least the film offered Suzan Farmer to crush on for an hour and twenty minutes.

*Apparently, he was 5'11". I'm taller than Frankenstein's monster!

Friday, October 5, 2012

October Horror Movie Watch

A year ago, I watched 31+ horror movies and wrote reviews of each and everyone. It was a lot of fun and I felt like the reviews trended upwards in quality. Unfortunately, I don't have the same amount of time to dedicate to watching and writing about movies this October (something about working more and having a son). Still, reading various friends Twitter and blog posts about what they're watching made me feel left out, so I'll updating this (neglected) space with the titles I'm digesting and a few words about them. This post is to get us all up to speed.

The Innocents (1961) -- Jack Clayton
An adaptation of Henry James' Turn of the Screw, The Innocents combines three of my favorite horror genres: haunted house, creepy kids, and decent into madness. The film is quite slow and Andrea couldn't make it to the end (the Sandman punched her in the face), but it's got beautiful photography by Freddie Francis and a foreboding atmosphere throughout. Horror the classy way.

This trailer is deeply misleading:

Fright Night (1985) -- Tom Holland
I watched this a few years ago, rated it two stars (out of five) yet somehow wound up owning it and not selling it in any of my various DVD purges. Boy, am I glad I kept it. On second viewing, I found Fright Night to be immensely entertaining. It's kind of weird to classify because it's not very scary and it's not very funny (though it has its moments). What Fright Night does well is create a believable and interesting situation with some decent characters and runs with it. Also, the ending is spectacular, featuring lots of great practical effects. I'd love a double feature of this with The 'Burbs.

Parents (1989) -- Bob Balaban
I was drawn to Parents primarily because I love Bob Balaban, but I'd never (knowingly) seen anything he'd directed nor do I associate him with horror. This movie falls into the Fright Night category of being neither scary nor particularly funny, but adept at holding one's attention. In some ways, Parents feels like a Tim Burton movie without the flights of fancy. Randy Quaid is great and it legitimately makes me sad to think of his late career and recent woes. The man was nominated for an Oscar, for christ's sake! I blame the National Lampoon Vacation movies. Definitely worth checking out.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) -- Don Coscarelli
I'm a big fan of the Phantasm series and Don Coscarelli (stoked for John Dies in the End!), but this was a piece of shit. It doesn't feel like anyone's hearts were in it. There are bizarre attempts at humor that fall flat, generally coming from the typically solid Reggie Bannister (who supplies a awful end credits song). There's little suspense or horror because the movie feels entirely confused. If I didn't know any better (and I do), they only made this in order to highlight the "iv" in "Oblivion" to make the Roman Numeral "IV." Not even completists should waste their time.

The Orb boobs were pretty fun, though.

The Lost World (1925) -- Harry Hoyt
Basically, King Kong before King Kong. An expedition to a mysterious land. Encounters with prehistoric creatures. Bring one home. It gets loose and kills a lot of people. That doesn't make it any less fun than it's more famous imitator. The stop motion effects are pretty awesome and I love that it's a brontosaurus (which, hey!, doesn't exist) on a rampage. The effects are all the more impressive when you realize that this was released eight years before King Kong. If there's one fault with the movie, it's that the characters a basically vessels to get to the spectacle and have little resonance (and in their effort to create interest in the characters, they have our engaged hero become engaged to another woman when it doesn't look like they'll make it off the plateau [which Paradise Falls from Up is modeled after], yet when they do return, it seems like our hero is going to shaft his initial fiancee after all).

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Message to My Football Loving Friends

It's becoming increasingly popular to hate on the NFL replacement refs. Do a quick Deadspin search for "replacement refs" and you'll see the current state of public opinion (for some reason, it won't let me link to my search, so you'll have to actually do some typing. Sorry). I don't care about football of any kind, so I feel completely comfortable and unbiased in proclaiming a solution to this problem. If you want the regular refs to come back, you need to stop watching professional football.

There is absolutely no reason for the owners to give in if people keep watching the game, no matter how much people complain. It's just like NBC's coverage of the Olympics. What incentive did they have to show things live when they were scoring huge ratings anyway? So if people stop watching football games, it takes the power out of the owner's hands. Just think how long it took baseball to recover after the '94 player's strike. I'm not trying to suggest that this is the same, but I do think the owner's will be afraid of fan dissatisfaction if they actually start to see the numbers drop. It's not like there isn't another football alternative on TV every week, anyway.

Being a fan is bittersweet most of the time. It sucks not watching your team and sometimes it sucks more watching them. But if you want to do away with the anger (and, let's face it, excuses) at the replacement refs, stop watching. Think of it as your team getting rid of the old expensive stars for some young talent. Sure, things look bad now, but they're working towards a better future. Plus, by avoiding football, you'll actually have an impact on the game at the field level.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Shop Smart, Shop Pet Smart: A Tale of Evil Dead Ownage

This post is for Paul. It will probably be of minimal interest to most of you, but he requested it and I've got a cheesecake in the oven, so here we are...

I finally had time to run some errands this week and one of said errands was to hit up the grocery store. Within this errand, one of the items on my grocery list was dog food since as of the most recent dinner time, Shasta was plum out of it. Conveniently, Pet Smart shares the parking lot with my grocery store so I hopped on over before the real shopping began so that I could have more food options for my pup. This is where the ownage takes place.

On this particular day, I was wearing my Evil Dead: The Musical shirt, which I procured at a preview performance in New York (at the New World Stages, I believe). Of all of my awesome t-shirts, this one probably gets the most comment, generally along the lines of, "there's an Evil Dead musical?" When I where it at work, I have the same conversation about fifteen times.

After wandering the many aisles of dog food (I should have just stuck with the grocery store. There are simply too many options at Pet Smart, none of which were Shasta's brand*). Having something adequate for Shasta's needs, I met my soon-to-be sparring partner/pile of bones left in my wake: the cash register guy (I didn't catch his name on his tag, but I'm going to imagine it was Chet. He didn't look like a Chet, but after our encounter, he sure seems like a Chet).
The design of my oh-so-popular shirt (without the Time/Life icon or "Cast Recording" text).
"There's an Evil Dead: The Musical?"

"Yeah. Though I don't recommend seeing the touring show because it kind of sucks. I got to see it in New York, and it was awesome." -- I'm not going to act like I don't come off as a pretentious know-it-all during this interaction.

"I don't really see how they could make it into a musical. I mean, it's got the clock scene and the dancing corpse, but that's about it." -- I pretended I knew what he was talking about. Only reflecting upon it now do I think he was trying to pinpoint scenes in the movie that had music. I have no idea what he meant about the clock, though.

"Well, it lovingly pokes fun at the series."

"Yeah, the first one is cool because you can take it seriously or laugh at it. One of my buddies new those guys when they were shooting at Michigan State."

"Well, they may have shot some of it there, but most of the film was shot in a cabin in Tennessee." -- I'm pretty sure that none of it was actually shot at MSU and that the member(s) of the crew who had gone there had already dropped out, but I wouldn't bet money on it. I also refrained from mentioning that the basement scenes were shot in one of the crew's parents' garage in Michigan (I think Raimi's).

"Really? I'll have to ask him. I've never heard that. Are you sure?"

"I'm certain. I've got the Evil Dead Companion to back me up. They shot in Tennessee because they thought it'd be warmer there at that time of year than Michigan. Tennessee ended up having one of it's coldest winters while Michigan had one or its warmest." -- I'm surprised I didn't mention having watched the commentaries for all the movies, plus all related DVD bonus features, plus reading Bruce Campbell's book, plus reading Josh Becker's Evil Dead journal.

With that, there wasn't much else to say. "Chet" mentioned that he loved Army of Darkness and I told him the musical only dealt with the first to since getting into the Army of Darkness stuff would make it a bit too expansive for the stage. I left, knowing that "Chet's" "friend" was an unreliable source and that I had won that day's socialization challenge. Immediately, I tweeted my victory.**

*The neighborhood pet store we usually go to was closed by 6:30 PM, which is when I was out.
**I have a very real fear that someone (say... Keith) is going to read this and correct some tiny or glaring inaccuracy in my assertions. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Thoughts on Regrets in the Shadow of My Popper

I've managed to live my life with very few regrets. Until recently, they've boiled down to not taking my piano lessons seriously and putting the minimal effort into learning French in high school (we could stretch it out into not putting more effort into high school, but I did pretty well for myself and I don't yearn to have a better understanding of Moby Dick or the ins and outs of cellular biology the way I wish I could speak another language). In the past few years (probably shortly after I moved to Portland), I realized that I there is another glaring missed opportunity from my youth: I wish that I had learned how to woodwork from my grandfather (henceforth known as Popper).

Obviously, hindsight plays a lot in this desire. I was a pretty active student. I played sports year round and dabbled in jazz band, pit orchestra, and stage crew (my mom stressed that I be well-rounded). There wasn't a ton of free time during the school year and even the summers could get pretty busy. Plus, all one wants to do during those school years is hang out with friends. It's only now when I look at myself and see that I don't have that many tangible skills and I'm surrounded by people who have a craft that they not only love, but are good at (seriously, Portland is a terrible town to be in if you don't have tangible skills).

I don't know if Popper was still making stuff by the time I hit high school. I know he built a lot of badass doll houses for my little sister and his house features a grandfather clock that he built (very literally a grandfather clock, for me). It's not as if I lack the time or access to pick it up now (my wife's dad just picked up the hobby in the past year or so), but there's a good fifteen years of practice that I've missed out on. Plus, even if he was passed handling the tools, certainly his mind was sharp enough to guide me as I gave things a go.

He also made this badass rocking/toilet training seat.
Popper passed away on August 5, 2012 and it's gotten me thinking about this missed opportunity a little more than normal. I learned he was ailing about a week before my wedding and he died a week after the last time I spoke with him. The last time I saw Popper was at Christmas and we generally spoke during events (birthdays, anniversaries, and the like). Even in my adult years, I was just hitting the bullet points.

There are untold hours I could have spent learning things from him and about him just by sharing an interest in his hobby. I don't feel guilty about it, because from a teenager's perspective, everyone has loads of life to live and I had loads of stuff that needed to be attended to immediately. As an adult, it's just as easy to take for granted that there's always time even though, rationally, you know that's not true. And I don't have any regrets about moving to Boston then to Portland. I met the wife and mother of my son in the latter. But I can't help but feel a little sad knowing that had Popper remained healthy, he and my grandma wouldn't have been able to make the trip to my wedding. And it's disappointing that Popper never got to meet Ollie. Lord knows they told me enough how they wished I hadn't moved. But that was all because they wanted to be able to share in those moments even though they weren't necessarily inevitable and I know how happy and excited they were/are for me.

I'm fortunate to have had someone who supported me so much throughout my life. It's just a shame I didn't realize that I could have learned some valuable skills from him until I'd long-since moved. I know Popper would have enjoyed that time, too.

There's a strong possibility this doesn't entirely make sense. There are lots of thoughts running through my head and everything fits together in there just fine, but it may read a bit scattershot. I apologize if that's the case.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Empathy and Movies

I just returned from seeing Possession at my movie theater. It's an incredibly intense (and angry) movie that I've described as Cassevetes meets Lynch and a hyper-melodrama with supernatural elements as well as comparing it to Cronenberg's The Brood (for the anger) and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (for the dream/nightmare-like atmosphere)*. As you can imagine, Possession is very hard to describe and is vastly different than what the title suggests. Here's the trailer:

This is one of those movies that I can't say I enjoy, but I would recommend to any adventurous moviegoer. I've had a number of interesting conversations and it's the type of material that stays with you for a few days. The acting is pitched at near screeching levels and the entire world exists in a heightened reality that pushes the boundary of what the viewer expects from a night at the movie. It's these last elements that bring me to my discussion.

My theater is known for monthly kung fu features and monthly grindhouse shows. Possession was not shown under the heading of either of those yet the audience appears to have approached it this way. Much to my chagrin, many people come to those screenings looking to laugh at the movies and not enjoy them for what they are. At some point in movie history, people decided that bad movies could be fun if you watched them for the purpose of making fun of them (I would think Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the starting place, but I could be wrong). As someone who only seeks out movies that I think I might like (or seeks them out to have an educated opinion on something, say Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino), I think this concept is a waste of time. There's are literally thousands of good to great movies to still be seen. Why waste time on the shitty ones?

Alas, this is the culture in which we live. What started out as mocking obviously bad movies developed into audiences thinking that public spaces were a fine place to practice their wit (note to movie theater wise-asses: you're not funny). Sadly, even though we show many terrific grindhouse films (I'm not much into kung fu, but I'm told they're good), the reputation for these types of films precedes them. Audiences enter the theater with no intention of taking the movie seriously. Not only are they doing the filmmaker a disservice, but themselves because they are putting a wall up that prevents them from having an actual experience. They have no capacity to empathize.

Which brings me back to Possession. I'll be the first to admit that there are bizarre and funny touches, intentional and unintentional, but every seen between Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani is erupting with tension. I don't know how anyone could bring themselves to laugh while these character's lives are spiraling out of control along with their minds. Yet, the audience does, even during a scene in which Neill's character is beating Adjani's character. My mind was blown that people could find that funny**.

The great thing about Possession, though, which is unlike almost any other film, is that it punishes you for laughing. I don't mean to suggest it's doing this intentionally because I don't think the director, Andrzej Zulawski, expected people to laugh, but his film is so visceral and ratcheted up that he takes the viewer into uncomfortable territory. There are several scenes, including the beating, in which the audience initially saw humor but quickly became piped down. That was pleasing to see.

This experience made me realize that many of today's audiences come to watch movies with a chip on their shoulder. They go to movies on their terms, not the filmmaker's and the filmmakers have to work hard to get past the coating of snark and irony. It's disappointing that people can't let their guard down for new experiences and it's even more upsetting that their inability to keep it in the living room might ruin the experience for others. For many, unless there are massive explosions, the days of losing oneself in a movie are over.

*A coworker also posited that it's an alien invasion film, which is totally arguable.
**A friend suggested the laughter was nervous laughter, but much of it seemed more like belly laughs and not awkward titters to me. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Digging for Gold in Boxes of Baseball Cards

I was digging through my baseball cards the other day and it was quite an experience. There's the wave of nostalgia, the thrill of looking up how much certain cards are worth (almost uniformly "not much"), the discovery of a few golden nuggets (as much as it pains me, I have a Derek Jeter rookie card that is apparently worth $12 already), and the endless amount of entertainment that comes from goofy pictures, names, and trivial tidbits found on the cards. I wish I had the kind of time to go through all of my cards and dig out the highlights, but that is a daunting task and one that risks getting my complete sets out of order. The biggest thing I learned from the experience is that collecting baseball cards in the late '80s and early '90s was a terrible time to practice that hobby (apparently having a Pedro Martinez Upper Deck rookie card doesn't mean much, though I kind of want to pay the subscription fee for to get some real numbers). There is one thing I want to single out, though:
I don't know why all of my valuable collectibles are of people I can't stand*.

That's right, friends, an autographed Barry Bonds card. I remember going down to The Hitting Machine in Lemoyne to wait for his autograph. It may be a faulty memory, but I seem to remember there being some pretty strict and prickly rules on how to conduct your interaction with him (maybe my dad can help me remember). 

The would-be librarian in me really wants to go through and catalogue my collection in a spreadsheet citing the card maker, the card number, the player, the copyright year, and how much it's worth. That sounds like a great activity to do while sitting in front of the TV watching, say, The Andy Griffith Show (which is amazing!). 

Now, if I can hold on to these cards for just another twenty to thirty years, they should really be worth something.

*The Chipper Jones Rookie card is worth over $3.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rated "R" for Smoking

Let's not mince words: smoking is stupid. It makes people smell, gives them bad breath, stained teeth, the inability to sit still for an hour, costs a ton, not even to mention the health consequences for the smoker and those around said person. I'm of the mindset that if you are a smoker in this day and age, you have a defective mind. And no, addiction isn't an excuse.

With that viewpoint out in the open, this is even stupider than smoking. First of all, I'm highly dubious of the researcher's ability to control the experiment.
But they did zero in on movies by controlling for a wide range of extenuating factors, including race, household income, school performance, parenting styles, smoking among friends and family members, and even personality traits such as rebelliousness.
How does one even begin to control the above factors? How can the researchers trust the teenager's ability to factor out those influences? I know it's an article on and designed to get readers, but it drives me crazy when really pertinent information, such as how the study was conducted, is left out.

Secondly, the only reason I ever tried smoking was because of my friends and my friends only. I know it wasn't from my dad because I always tried to stick my head discreetly out the window to the fresh air when he smoked in the care (he has since quit). While there may be some who try smoking because they see a celebrity smoke, they will continue to smoke because their peers and/or parents do the same (most likely peers). After all, how will underage kids get cigarettes if they can't legally purchase them? Perhaps through some older friends or sharing or stealing from their parents? Seems reasonable.

But what really makes this article stupid is suggesting that we rate movies "R" because people are smoking*. Should we retroactively make Casablanca "R" or Ghostbusters, which has almost non-stop smoking? It's ludicrous. As a kid, I never even noticed people smoking (seriously, go back and watch Ghostbusters. It's crazy how often people light up). It's ridiculous to think that some day under the reasons for the rating it will say "extreme gore and violence, nudity, sex, smoking." Are we going to start having kids walk around with blinders on just in case someone is lurking on the sidewalk smoking? Maybe we shouldn't even let kids outside anymore. Of course, what kids have trouble seeing "R"-rated movies these days? 

Perhaps the most shortsighted aspect of this whole thing is that by making smoking a forbidden topic, it's making it that much more enticing. "Smoking is so adult, I'm not even allowed to see it!" "If I smoke, I'll be just like the grown-ups!"

The best part is that the article contradicts itself. In one instance, we're told:
Kids under the age of 18 are particularly vulnerable to images of high-wattage stars smoking cigarettes on the big screen, partly because adolescents, similar to very young children, are prone to mimic behaviors they see others trying, Sargent says.
While just three paragraphs later, we get:
A second study in the same issue of Pediatrics reached a similar conclusion. That study, which looked at 8- to 10-year-old children in the Netherlands and was also coauthored by Sargent, found that 20-minute clips from a cartoon and family film depicting smoking had no measurable impact on the kids' beliefs about smoking. 
Compare your high school experience to when you were 8-10. I'd imagine there was a lot more pressure to try to be cool and I'd also bet a lot of the "cool" kids smoked. You know what? That's crazy. It wasn't other kids. It was movies that pressured everyone to try smoking. The movies are the bullies. Boycott the movies!

*I'm going to avoid the discussion of how pointless the rating system is because it's infuriating to think about.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Peanuts Death Trip of 2012

Loyal readers may recall that while I was home for Christmas this past year, I spent hours digging through all of my junk to prioritize what I wanted to keep, throw out, and donate. It turns out that Andrea and I were able to buy a house before July even with the new baby in tow, but my parents would not be driving my stuff to me. Since they are incredible people (and probably just as excited to get the stuff out of the house I was to get it), they shipped the boxes to me, labeled "A" to "AA" (that's right, the number of boxes went past "Z." If only the letter "peeb" was officially recognized [see image below for example], then they could have stayed in the alphabet proper).
Special thanks to Rob Ribera for the image!
It's taken a few weeks, but the house is finally in a state where I feel comfortable introducing new clutter (I swear, there will be pictures coming!) to the space. I'd already dug out all of my books because the first priority in any home is displaying everything that shows what great taste you have (so books, movies, and records and to do this, I had to build shelves). The excitement of rediscovery was amazing. Baseball cards! NES and all of my games! Old stuffed animals! Nearly everything made the cross-country journey without incident. Except...

My mom is big on gifting collectibles. I have a ton of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Young Frankenstein figures from Sideshow Toys (still in the box!), loads of Simpsons miscellany, and almost as much Peanuts-related paraphernalia. Well, formerly almost as much. Like I said, not much broke on the trip, but if something did break, it was Peanuts. The first thing I noticed was Franklin's head rolling around at the top of a box. I knew this to belonged to the "Heroes" scene (which can be seen here. I have no idea if the seller will get the asking price.) Upon further exploration of the box, which also featured a tiny broken Linus snow globe (there were sparkles everywhere!), I found, wrapped in newspaper, the shattered remains of the rest of the gang.
Even in death, the celebrate.
In another box, I found a picture frame that featured figures Charlie Brown and Snoopy on either side, except only their feet were still attached. Of course, all of the broken stuff was glass or ceramic and probably got knocked around a bit even with the careful packing (though why none of my other glass possessions broke is anyone's guess). I held out hope for my foot tall sculpture of Charlie Brown pitching. My dad has a similar sculpture in his home of Linus waiting in a pumpkin patch for, who else, The Great Pumpkin. These sculptures are large and heavy and seemingly sturdy. Sadly, even though he was packed amongst stuffed animals, Charlie Brown didn't make it unscathed:
Charlie is doing his best Jim Abbott.
All the rest went into the trash, but I think I can mostly salvage the big sculpture. Given that I'm immensely attached to stuff, I'm pretty broken up about this (see what I did there?), but I guess it's more space for some other trinkets.

And that, friends, is the story of the Peanuts Death Trip of 2012.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Innocent Walk Nearly Turns to Cat Murder

I almost killed the cat today and would have, without remorse, if not for the inevitable glares of disapproval and Andrea's likely emotional wreckage. I present to you a completely biased tale after which you can decide if my emotions were just.

There are few perfect moments during my day that allow an activity other than holding, changing, or feeding Oliver. Generally, those occasions are used to address my needs, such as eating and pooping* (probably too much info, but this is destroying my poop schedule). However, at around 10 AM, one of those moments arose. Swiftly, I took action. We're going on a walk! Ollie, myself, and Shasta** (who was outside at the time).

I went to the garage to put Ollie in the stroller and hit the garage door button and up it went (as it does) and in came Roxy, the cat that almost died. She scurried past as I was strapping Ollie into the stroller. My instinct were right: no signs of a struggle or fussing. I got his "Wubbanub" from the car (a pacifier with a stuffed elephant attached), for added peace security and grabbed the portable garage door device I keep with my bike. All this time, Roxy is inspecting the newly installed cat door that goes into the house. Standing just outside of the garage, I hit the appropriate button and Roxy bolts, spooked by the sound (which is ridiculous because the who mechanism is surprisingly quiet). In no time she is standing outside with myself, the boy, and Shasta. This is a problem because she will follow us on the entire walk. Not only would this limit where we could go (no crossing the busy street), but she has been known to take detours into unknown territory and lose site of the walkers leading to a game of Hide and Seek I wasn't prepared to play with a ticking time-bomb of tears and wailing in the stroller.

Collecting her was easier than expected and I raised the garage door about three feet, tossed her inside, and closed it right away only to have her scamper out Indiana Jones-style (though she lost her hat). This annoyed me because now she knew my intentions and planned on making catching her far more difficult. I went after her, Shasta in tow, but Ollie in the driveway, but she kept running away. I figured that if I scared her away far enough, she might now follow. But she did. I was going to have to catch her.

Fortunately, she became bold when she thought she was going on a walk with us and she passed right by me. Moving faster than than Roxy ever dreamed possible, I swooped down and grabbed her. My only option was to put her in the house through the front door which was locked. With Shasta's leash in one hand, Roxy in the other, and the boy in his stroller on the sidewalk, I tried to make my way back to the house and get my keys from my pocket. Simultaneously, Shasta and Roxy rebelled. Shasta didn't want to return to the house and planted, an action the led to her collar pulling off over her head. Roxy did he version of the death roll that alligators are so famous for and squirmed her way out of my grasp. Now both of my pets were loose.

At least dogs listen. Wrangling Roxy was even worse. Not only had I tried to get her inside, but I'd added stress to her life. She wasn't about to trust me. I put Shasta's leash on the around the fence and followed Roxy into the neighbors yard while in the back of my mind I pictured someone sneaking up and taking off with Ollie (who I moved from the sidewalk back to the driveway). For some reason, Roxy though she could hide beside a bush and not INside and once again, with ungodly speed, I caught her. Two hands wrapped around Roxy. No amount of struggling or clawing would keep me from getting her in the house. Or so I thought.

Turns out, cats are insane. She didn't swipe at me much, but her freakout was enough that I couldn't get my keys from my pockets and unlock the door without dropping her. In an instant, though, I had her pinned to the ground... You know how in horror movies when people can't seem to remember how to use keys during times of great stress? How absurd it all seems? Well, it's true. For the life of me, I could not contend with opening a door and holding a pissed off cat down at the same time. I can only hope no one walked by or was watching from their window to see this bizarre seen unfolding.

At last, success! I literally bowled Roxy across the floor as far from the door as possible so she had no chance of getting back out. By this point, I was hot, sweaty, and pissed. It was ten minutes from when I put Ollie in the stroller and wouldn't you know it, three houses into the walk and he starts to cry. I try to power through it, but no Wubbanub would sate him. Shasta stopped for what I assumed was to sniff some garbage and I pulled her past leaving her no recourse but to walk and poop (sorry Shasta!) and for the first time since I was about 13, I didn't clean up the dog poop because Ollie was in tantrum mode. Instead, I picked him up and walked him back to the house, all the while thinking about how I want to kill Roxy for ruining my perfect moment.

We returned home and I wanted Roxy OUT of the house. I didn't want to see her because who knows what I'd do if I did. She was understandably freaked out and propped the door open so he exit would be as simple as possible. But instead of heading out the door, she retreated into the house. This action infuriated me and no amount of herding led her to the door. In fact, she hid amongst our mixing bowls in a cupboard to foolishly made too much noise. She ran to Ollie's room and I followed her in and shut the door. Trapped. She tried hiding behind the Pack 'n' Play, but I moved it. She tried leaping past me, but the door was shut. I grabbed her, squeezed her hard (seriously, I can't believe he ribs are intact after all the struggling) and I threw her into the yard (again, hope the neighbors weren't watching this crazy new guy toss his cat).

Roxy didn't come inside the rest of the day until Andrea and I returned from her parents', but I saw her around the yard, so I knew she didn't run away. After all of that, the first thing she did when we both got inside was sit on my lap. There's literally nothing I can do to make her leave me alone. I hate cats.

*Interestingly, the very same needs Ollie needs me to address. So basically my day consists of finding a way to put food in one end and dealing with it coming out the other.
** I can't stress enough how badly I feel about the lack of walks Shasta gets to go on these days. She was used to one a day at the old place. Now she's lucky for two a week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Daddy Day Care Begins

Andrea went back to work today meaning my tour as house-fiance officially began (I'll be getting promoted to house-husband in a little over a month). There are no plans to turn this space into The Wonderful, Fantabulous Tales of Ollie and Nate, but I figure I at least have to write about day one, which actually starts the night before...

I stayed up until after 1 AM painting shelves (admittedly, not the night before, but they were started then) believing that if I waited until the morning, I'd either have time to paint them or install them, but not both, due to my upgrade in responsibility. I rolled into bed, promptly fell asleep and was soon gently awaken by Andrea stirring. I don't know what time it was, but it was early. She fed the boy, fixed herself some food and came back in to feed the boy a little more when she heard him get a little fussy. I laid still in bed hoping she would do just that because lord knows I didn't want to get up and prepare a bottle for him. Andrea finished getting ready for work when he fell back asleep and before she left, she came back in and topped him off with food from the source. Another desire that had played out in my mind achieved!

Finally, Andrea left and the boy dozed for about ten minutes and started doing a little cranky bed dance which entails him flailing his arms and legs around willy-nilly. Realizing my efforts for more sleep were being dashed, I got up and checked the time. 8 AM. Christ. Not only did the boy make it impossibly for me to get more sleep, but the little so-and-so went back to sleep for another hour! He just wanted the bed for himself.

At least if gave me time to make breakfast and do the dishes. I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday and during our talk, Ollie awoke. Took him to the changing table, put my mom on speaker phone, and Ollie promptly peed all over the changing surface the minute I got his diaper off. Annoyed and unable to find another waterproof pad, I sopped up the urine with a towel, cleaned him off, and prepared his diaper. He peed again. Wash, rinse, repeat. This time, I get his diaper nearly on and somehow, he lets loose with more pee. What's he think he is, a dog? Holding it in to dispense at strategic intervals? Lucky mom, she gets to listen to all of this happen.

My greatest fear about having Ollie all day is if he'll take the bottle. I've had varying degrees of success in the past and I do feel it's far more stressful for me when he doesn't want to eat than it is for him. My mom and I end our phone call just as I'm about to feed him, which was for the best since no matter how hungry the boy may have been, he did not want to be fed from the bottle. Truly, save for one brief, shining moment where he drank almost a whole bottle without objection late in the day, Ollie would have rather sucked on anything that the nipple of that bottle. My finger, a blanket, his toys. And not one of those things even tried to give him what he actually wanted. Being stuck in a room with a being that has three needs (eating, sleeping, and diaper changes) and two of those are met and the third is occurring but that being wants it to happen in a different way is highly unpleasant. Basically the only thing to do is stop and try to console the being no matter how much you want to bite it.

Fortunately, Ollie did sleep a good deal of the time and occasionally, I slept too. In the moments I didn't sleep, I watched a movie and tried to put him down to get to work on those shelves, but damned if the boy totally rejected the idea of being detached from me, so I was stuck on the couch most of the day. At least it was quiet and if you count watching a few episodes of a TV show you've been slowly working through (The Larry Sanders Show) as productive, then it was mildly eventful. At least there was a Red Sox game today to leave on in the background, even if it started after 4 PM.

There was some joy in Mudville, too. Shockingly, his happiest moments were on the changing table which is the site of some of Andrea's and mine most heinous crimes against the boy (at least as he perceives being changed). And he had a pretty good time practicing his standing. I'm sure these days will get easier and more fun. Ollie will get used to the bottle and I'll send Andrea pictures to make her jealous of our good times. But right now, my main consolation is that one day, I'll get to tell him what a pain he was on mom's first day back at work.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Turn a Mediocre Biography into a Terrible Biography -- Stan: The Life of Stan Laurel

Even the cover sucks.

I'm a huge fan of biographies and autobiographies. One of the best books I've read in the past ten years is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (seriously, that man was a champ!). Until recently, I don't recall ever being unsatisfied by one*. Obviously, I choose the books based on an interest in the subject, but after reading Stan: The Life of Stan Laurel, it's apparent that an interest in the subject is not all you need.

Stan (the book, as opposed to Stan, the man, who will be referred to as Laurel) is certainly an easy enough read and mildly informative, but the author, Fred Lawrence Guiles writes from the perspective of an uninformed fan. He assures the reader that he has done research, yet there are no foot/endnotes and it isn't apparent he interviewed anyone for the biography (or even culled past interviews if he couldn't get in contact with key characters). Guiles continually asserts that Laurel was nearly as great, if not equal to, Charlie Chaplin** in writing gags, yet gives no insight into how. The reader is told that Laurel was a driving force in his career, yet there is no one there to confirm the claim. Guiles' authority is undermined by his vagueness. Basically, all I got out of Stan was that Laurel had a trouble with women and alcohol. Pretty bland.

If the above represented the worst of the book, that would be fine. I'd put it back on the shelf to be forgotten. An easy, mildly interesting, ultimately fleeting read. Then, the reader begins to get insights into what kind of person Guiles is, culminating with (and this will be a long quote):

Jean Arthur is important to this chronicle of the fortunes of Stan Laurel because she as much as anyone was a transitional figure. She was in some ways as innocent as Stan and Babe. She was daft in ways that were akin to those small madnesses that set Stan apart from Lloyd and even Chaplin. If she had ever appeared as Mrs. Laurel in one of their comedies, she would have seemed almost too much at home. There would have been nothing for Stan to play against, since she was as much not-of-this-world as he. But Jean was attractive, warm and in every way enchanting. Beginning with her role opposite Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), she was the first -- albeit quite innocently -- to bring down the curtain on slapstick as a favourite movie mode. Shortly after word, Irene Dunne joined her with Theodora Goes Wild (1936), and Carold Lombard, whose My Man Godfrey (1936) had come out at about the same time as Theodora.
Laurel and Hardy would survive this female revolution for another two years, but after 1938 it would be downhill for the rest of their careers. Some writers remarked that the movies had "grown up." Actually, as we survey the devastation and loss, the movies suffered a grievous wound that would never heal and audiences a deprivation of incalculable dimensions (emphasis mine).
There's a lot to unpack here, and I'm not sure I'm up to the task, so I'll start with the obvious: how can one possibly claim that women gaining prominence as comedians ruined Laurel and Hardy and CINEMA AS A WHOLE? Guiles leaps to the most extreme conclusion possible ignoring the fact that Laurel and Hardy had been making films as a team ten years by that point and that Laurel had been making movies since 1917. Perhaps they were just running their course and it's meer coincidence that women were making popular, funny movies at the same time. Additionally, Guiles book was published initially in 1980 and released again (with some additional commentary from the author) in 1991. Is the author suggesting that the 1970's, often held up as the greatest decade of filmmaking alongside the 1930's, would have been EVEN BETTER if funny women hadn't become so damn popular? And these lists are by no means comprehensive or even authoritative (as it's all subjective), but is he suggesting that it would be filled with movies of an incomprehensible greatness if only Laurel and Hardy had remained on top?

I've got news for Fred Lawrence Guiles (whose works include not one but TWO biographies of Marilyn Monroe alongside Jane Fonda, Tyrone Power, Marion Davies and Andy Warhol), movies were just fine. Simply because your preferred funny people stopped*** making the funny as funny as you liked and other people's funny was preferred, that doesn't mean cinema broke. And it certainly doesn't mean you get to write stupid things for other people to read in your mediocre book.

Some joy to cleanse the palate:

*As a side discussion, I find that I'm generally satisfied with all the books I read. At least to the extent that I have no qualms finishing them, thought there are some I struggled through ( On the Road and other that I finished simply to claim I finished them (Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, which, of its 1000+ pages, I remember dirigibles and the Chicago World's Fair. But I finished it!). I chalk it up to knowing that a book can be  a significant time investment so I try to stick with things somewhat in my taste wheelhouse.

**From my perspective, this could easily be true. I find most of Chaplin's work to be fairly dull, overly saccharine, and immensely on-the-nose. The man wasn't subtle. His most interesting film (to me), Monsieur Verdoux, offers many good ideas and he kills them all with a terribly obvious and awkward speech at the end. Give me Buster Keaton any and every day, followed by Laurel and Hardy, then the Marx Brothers, Harold Lloyd, Abbott and Costello...

***Did you know stoppled is a word? It means plugged or clogged. Do with that what you will.