Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Organics to You (Me)

As with most things in life, I take my cues from Paul Toohey. When he tells me to play with my camera more, I do it. When I need something to fill in the void between the end and beginning of baseball seasons, he has a hockey team chosen for me to root for (which team is it again, Paul?). His only bad idea is rooting for that Yankees. So when he started getting organic produce delivered to his house, I paid attention (I'm even stealing his idea for a post) Clearly, he was on to something.

With a child on the way, this could be a game-changer. We only have one car, so trips to the grocery store have to be planned. Plus, going with a baby is just a pain. They always pick out the worst stuff. Having the stuff delivered by Organics to You (me) ensures that it's (mostly) locally produced (since it's a year-round service, obviously certain things won't be in season, which is OK because we'd run into that problem at the grocery store anyway) and offers a variety of produce that we'd never think about getting, such as beets (seriously, I have no idea what to do with beets. All I know is that beet salad will make your poop red).

We got our first delivery today and I'm stoked. It's kind of beautiful. There are still odds and ends that need to be picked up from the store, but this will more than do for now.

Here's a list of what's in the box:
3-4 Gold Nugget Tangerines-Cali'
3 Fuji Apples-Local, farm direct*
4 Bosc Pears-Local, farm direct*
2 Grapefruit-Cali'
2 Avocado-Mexico
1/3lb-1/2lb. Crimini Mushrooms-Local, farm direct*
1 bunch Carrots-Cali'
1 Yellow Onion-Local, farm direct*
1lb. Beets-Local*
1 bunch Broccoli-Cali'
1 bunch Hardy Greens-Local, farm direct*
2lbs. Potatoes-Local, farm direct*
1 bunch Cilantro-Cali'

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Very Specific Monsters, Inc Appreciation

A few months ago, I was studying up for Pixar Trivia night presented by Shanrock's Trivia and, for the first time, I noticed the brilliance of the Monsters, Inc logo.
It's got the "M" and "I" for the name of the company, they eye evokes being watched by a monster in your room, and it actually forms the face of a monster with the pointed, white cut-outs in the "M" forming teeth! It's simple and incredible. And all for a fictional company. With how many bad logos are out there, it's a wonder that Pixar hasn't opened a side business to design logos for everyone. When I finally noticed the many facets of the logo, it blew my mind nearly as much as the time I realized that The Beatles are named such because the word "beat" is contained within (a realization that occurred embarrassingly late in life).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yorkie Bar

I'm pretty sure I've shared this with people before, but I a friend's Tumblr post reminded me of it. It just blows my mind that a company would be OK with this slogan* (and it's been the slogan since 2001!).

Of course, there's this:

And this:

So... nevermind.

The military rations of the candy say "It's not for civvies!" which I am amused by (though it does still feature the "no women" image).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More Nostalgia

I've already featured a few posts dealing with nostalgia after I returned from Pennsylvania earlier this month. I'd imagine this has something to do with having a child and getting married in the next two and six months, respectively. Age and responsibility lead one to look back the path leading to the present, I guess.

Anyway, I just want to share something that I threw away while I was sorting through all of my junk over the holidays, but rescued when I remembered I needed a calculator with a big screen at work.

Yes, I was willing to throw out this amazing and still functional calculator (albeit, with two pieces missing) while I was at home. It has since stopped working (that dot on the screen is all it displays now) and I'm having trouble letting go. Maybe it's because the calculator is one of my oldest possessions or maybe I'm just too excited for baseball to start up again, but I just can't throw it out. It's too awesome!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Awful Songs by Good Bands

I was going to make a numbered list on this subject, but realized that it'll work better as an ongoing project. Every band has at least one song that is awful, so why not give myself to explore the subject at my leisure? Just because I'm only including one song from a band, don't believe that I don't recognize there may be more. The songs I'm selecting are just the worst. Feel free to add your own in the comments and I'll feel free to agree or to remind you that that band was never any good.

Neil Young -- Sample and Hold
Neil Young is known for shaking things up musically. His catalogue is littered with experiments, not all of which panned out. Here, he discovered computers! Upon re-listening to Sample and Hold, I almost reconsidered its position. It's oddly hypnotic. Then I remember it's eight minutes long and immediately want to bail. The song also sounds more like Electric Light Orchestra than Neil Young to me.

Coldplay -- In My Place
This song is the reason I say "Good Bands" in the title of the post and not "Great Bands." I haven't listened to the last two Coldplay albums at all and have barely listened to X&Y, but I believe that A Rush of Blood to the Head is legitimately great. Except for In My Place. How it became the lead single from the record blows my mind and is an exemplar of why I don't purchase greatest hits albums. You miss a world of great music for what the record company wants you to hear. On the other hand, it's been in my head ever since I decided to include it, so what do I know?

The Beatles -- The Long and Winding Road
Before including this, I listened to the Let It Be... Naked version of The Long and Winding Road just to make sure it belonged. The Phil Spector-(over-)produced original version drips with emotional manipulation (it feels like a really bad film score from the 40's).While the Naked version is indeed better, it still comes off as cloying and, ultimately, dull.

Bon Iver -- Woods
Woods is from the Blood Bank EP and while Justin Vernon has done amazing, non-irritating things with the vocoder, this isn't one of them. There's an ethereal beauty to some of it, but it winds up feeling like an experiment that got too complicated and went on for too long in the end.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- Death Is Not the End
I was going to put Green Eyes in this place (accidentally name dropped two Coldplay songs in one sentence fragment), but remembered how much of a drag Death Is Not the End is. Murder Ballads is one of my favorite albums of all time (and damn the person who borrowed it and never gave it back!). It's full of energy and sadism and great imagery. Just a masterclass on how to be badass (seriously, Stagger Lee sounds like it belongs in Deadwood) yet maintain one's soft side. Then it ends on the dreadfully dull Death Is Not the End. I don't know how a song that features multiple vocalists and actual verses, a chorus, and a bridge can feel more repetitive and longer than a 14-minute ramble on the same album. It's an awful way to go out on an amazing album. While the original doesn't feel quite so bad, it's not very good, either. But we'll get to Bob Dylan some other time...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Surprises and the Sheen/Estevez Family

I had to hold off on writing the Roundup because I use Wikipedia quite a bit for it and, even though there were some simple workarounds, the blackout would have made things at least slightly annoying. I spent a lot of time with the Sheen/Estevez clan in the past week or so. One of the films (which won't be spoken of here since it wasn't a Netflix rental), Young Guns, actually features TWO members of the family. What fun I have!

Cobb -- Ron Shelton
Cobb is a piece of shit. The title should really be "Tuesdays with Cobb-y" or "Stumpy: The Story of Ty Cobb's Biographer While He Spent Time with the Man before Cobb's Death," but that's a bit unwieldy. I guess I can see why they went with the most recognizable name. Basically, we get a brief, barebones history of Ty Cobb's playing days and the rest of the time we spend with Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) and Al Stump (Robert Wuhl). Cobb is ancient and insane and Stump's having marital woes. Maybe my disappointment in the film is that I was expecting an actual biopic about Cobb and this isn't it. However, who the hell cares about Al Stump? And, you know what? I might. But not in a movie called COBB!

Another You -- Maurice Phillips
The last of the Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor movies and, though I have yet to see Stir Crazy, I feel comfortable saying this is the worst. It's not that it's bad, it's just bland. Pryor was already diagnosed with MS when he made this film and it's evident. He doesn't have the physicalness and the dynamic way with words that made him such a great performer. As a result, he comes off as pretty wooden. Another You is almost oppressively silly at times and I felt a little embarrassed for both Pryor and Wilder, but it actually picks up some steam as everything comes together. Definitely not essential viewing, but if you like Wilder and Pryor and don't mind extremely dated movies, there are worse ways to spend your time.

Elephant -- Gus Van Sant
Things would be so much easier if directors I don't care for would just make movies I don't like so that I can write them off completely and get on with watching the other movies on my queue. But since going from disliking Brian de Palma to his placement in my top ten filmmakers of all-time, I don't know what to believe anymore. I've seen a number of Van Sant's movies (and even served him coffee!) and, as of Elephant, have like exactly three. But two of them were the last to Van Sant movies I watched (the other was My Own Private Idaho). Elephant should be everything I hate about a movie. There's no plot or story, no real characters (meaning no character arcs), and it's all hand-held. What the movie lacks in the elements that enhance my enjoyment of a movie, it makes up for in craftsmanship and structure. Elephant takes place on a school day that ends in a massacre. It creates a normal, realistic world where no one could ever see it coming (and if the viewer didn't know the gist already, it would be a shock for them, too). There's loads of long steadicam shots through the halls and grounds of the school with scenes overlapping at different points to orient the viewer on the timing of the various diversions. It's almost like a stream-of-consciousness form of storytelling and becomes hypnotic. The shear amount of coordination with extras kind of blows my mind. I fully expected have a miserable time watching Elephant and I was shocked to discover it's easily my favorite film of Van Sant's.

Badlands -- Terrence Malick
Speaking of surprises, The Tree of Life is easily in my top five films of the 2011 list (accompanied by Drive, I Saw the Devil, Trollhunter, and Hobo with a Shotgun [thus far, still plenty to see]). I started watching it a midnight after work and fully expected to doze on and off throughout. It utterly mesmerized me (I think I have a weakness for steadicams). It was also the only Terrence Malick film I'd ever seen. Going in to Badlands, I didn't know what my expectations should be other than looking beautiful, which it is. Badlands is the story of two fugitives on the run from the law, but there's never really a sense that the outside world cares about them until the end. It's almost like we live in the Kit's (Martin Sheen) delusions of grandeur. Except, it turns out they're not. What I wasn't expecting at all was how funny the film is. I don't know if I'd call it a comedy (I guess that would depend on one's mindset), but there's almost never a moment where I wasn't chuckling to myself whether it was something Kit was rambling on about or the nonchalance he and Holly (Sissy Spacek) have about their crime spree. Badlands is terrific and I can't believe Criterion hasn't been able to get the rights to it for a release.

Mission: Impossible -- Brian de Palma
And hey! Here's de Palma. Even though I've admitted to loving de Palma, I'm wary of his work in the 90's and 00's. I do like Femme Fatale, though, so who knows? However, I also can't stand Tom Cruise (let's lump Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts in there, too). It didn't take Mission: Impossible to win me over, though (I've never seen the show, so I didn't have that hurdle to, well, hurdle). First, Emilio Estevez! I never thought I'd be so excited to see him. Then I see the Rob Bottin (The Thing) did the make-up effects and Robert Towne (Chinatown) co-wrote the script. A pretty impressive pedigree. The ultimate bonus is that Tom Cruise actually seems like he has believable human emotions in this film. Like a sense of humor. The pre-credit scene is pretty good, but the opening scene for the main plot is what really hooked me. I was afraid Cruise' influence would overwhelm de Palma's style, but those fears were unfounded. Particularly neat is the elevator sequence where the wall is cutaway so we can see the action in the hall and the elevator shaft. I remembered people talking about how confusing the film is when it came out, but it was pretty predictable to me. Maybe I'm just used to the conventions at this point. That didn't diminish the ridiculous (and it gets pretty ridiculous) fun. The only reason I watched Mission: Impossible is because I want to see the Brad Bird directed fourth film, but feel obligated to do my homework. I'm glad I did, though I'm not so excited about John Woo's second installment...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Is Everything I Hate About Statistics

Or maybe everything I hate about the way these statistical studies are reported. An article about how the number of pedestrians killed while wearing headphones has tripled popped up on a number of the websites I follow. Usually, I'm happy just reading the comments from those sites because, after all, I go there because I like the writers, but no one was answering the questions I had about the article. So I went to the main cited source, which was equally devoid of the information I desired. I can only assume that the  AFP reporter is lazy and only got the gist of the study or that the researchers have no idea what they are doing.

I don't really care one way or another about the results of the study. I go running with headphones on, but I hate seeing cyclists and drivers using them (their inattentiveness tends to have greater ramifications, especially drivers). As for pedestrians, I feel no ill will, though I choose not to wear them while walking. What irks me about the article and maybe the study is that, given the information we have, it's meaningless. Let's see what's missing...

-- Since we have no data on how many pedestrians listen to headphones while walking around in 2004 versus 2011 (the dates cited in the article), we have no idea if there is a real increase in deaths. It could easily be exactly what's expected if the pedestrian-killed-while-listening-to-headphones:total-pedestrians-that-listen-to-headphones ratio is the same.

-- Similarly, the article claims that from 2004 to 2011 there were 116 deaths in this group, with sixteen in 2004 and forty-seven last year. That leaves fifty-three deaths from 2005 to 2010. We aren't given the dispersal of those deaths, but I'm fairly certain the numbers over that time period do not constitute a rising trend. Maybe we aren't given a chart tracking this data because 2011 looks like an anomaly (just speculating...).

-- Maybe the reason there are more accidents of this nature is not because more pedestrians started picking up there headphones along with their keys and wallet, but because there are more pedestrians period. The article states that in more than half of the incidents, the pedestrian was run down by a train. Perhaps, said pedestrian was running to catch the very train that caught him (the article makes it known that 2/3 of the victims were male and under thirty, so I'm comfortable saying "him"). And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony in citing statistics in a write-up decrying just that.

-- Hell, and where are the statistics on public transportation usage? Most of us don't live right off of a bus/subway line. We've got to get there somehow. Does the study differentiate between pedestrians and commuters?

-- Why does the study exclude cell phones when so many of them are used as mp3 players now, not to mention have any number of other distractions attached? Isn't distraction distraction regardless of device? Why not shift some blame to buses that feature adds on the side of them? Surely that's a distraction. The researchers are claiming one form of distraction is worse than another, whether they intend to or not.

-- And what are the numbers on non-headphoned pedestrians? Are they going up as well? Surely pedestrians in headphones aren't the only people getting run down out there.

This is the exact type of report designed to try to scare people into doing something. It's vague and on shaky ground. Whether that's the researcher's fault or the reporter's, I'll never know because I haven't been able to find a link to the study. I get the sense that Dr. Richard Lichenstein has a child to whom he's trying to prove a point.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Public Service Announcement: Turn Signals

The lack of turn signal use makes me apoplectic. Aside from pressing down on the gas pedal, it might be the easiest thing to use in a car and there is no excuse not to use it. As such, this post is a bit of a surprise for me.

For the love of god, people... when you are faced with an off-set intersection such as this one:

and you want to go straight, DO NOT USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! It's confusing and creates all sorts of traffic related confusion, be it cars, bikes, or pedestrians. As you can see from the picture, you don't even change street numbers. Plus, there's only only three options: left, right, and "straight." Ideally, we can figure out that if you don't signal, you're continuing on 52nd (in this scenario and provided you aren't one of those assholes who doesn't signal at all). 

This intersection happens to be on my bike route to work, so I've had time to build up a lot of rage about this subject.

Conversely, when faced with an intersection life this:

please, do use a turn signal, even if you're making that slight right. It's the nice thing to do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Redheads as Villains

A few months ago, it felt like everywhere I turned, someone was talking about redheads*. Redheads were being bullied:

Sperm banks were shutting us out and redheads kept popping up in movies I was watching as villains. So, with all of this negative redhead content in my mind, I thought it'd be fun to make a list of movies that feature a redhead as the villain (or a villain). I'm sure I've missed a bunch, so feel free to add to the list in the comments. In no particular order:

The Incredibles

Children of the Corn

The Iron Giant
Ferris Bueller
       -- Honestly, I could probably just load this list up with Jeffrey Jones appearances, but I'll leave it at one. Same goes for William Atherton in Ghostbusters.
A Christmas Story

House II: The Second Story
Batman Forever

*I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge how weird it is that we call them "redheads." We don't call people "blond heads" or "brunette heads" and "black heads**" has an entirely different meaning. Red heads are already set aside as other just by the way we refer them.

**Honestly, I'm not really sure what you call someone with black hair. I'm going to call them "noirs" from now on.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monster Rugs

The following rugs were given to me by my cousin who has a friend with an ability to print on carpet and rug. It's pretty sweet, as you can see. Luckily for me, he made a bunch and gave some to my cousin who was kind enough to pass them on to me. If you've ever wanted to know the inner workings of a monster, boy have you come to the right place. I just can't decide if I should hang them on the wall of the baby's room or put them on the floor.


The Smog Monster (I had to look this one up):

Double bonus from all of this... upon showing my nieces, their interest was piqued and we spend the next 10 minutes or so watching clips of Godzilla and learning about the various monsters from the series. Yes, I introduced them to Godzilla (and luckily, it was one of their birthday's the next day and I was able to get them a Godzilla toy. Happy days, indeed).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Odd Combo

A while ago, I bought the Alien soundtrack on vinyl. I haven't listened to it nearly as much as I should because I thought my fiancee might be annoyed by it, which is crazy because it's Jerry Goldsmith and he rules. I listened to it yesterday and I don't know what I was thinking. However, because it's been sitting on my shelf for a while, I either forgot or didn't know that there was an old receipt trapped inside the album cover:

Maybe I'm just prejudiced and can't believe that someone would by the amazing soundtrack to one of my favorite movies AND whatever Hot Rod Hootenanny is, but that seems like an odd combination to me.

Also, it's very clearly the Alien Soundtrack, not Aliens. Get it right, Multnomah Antique Gallery salesperson!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dustin Pedroia: Short and Hard-Working

My grandma and I have a playful relationship when it comes to baseball. She's been a Tampa Bay Rays fan since the beginning (back when they were bad and called the Devil Rays). You can see Tropicana Field from their apartment in St. Petersburg, and, if you really wanted to, you could walk to and from the games. She also has season tickets. I, as you may know, am a Red Sox fan. Watching the games is a bit less convenient and attending games is nearly out of the question since I moved from Boston to Portland. The nearest American League stadium is Safeco Field in Seattle. Hell, we don't even have a Minor League team anymore. I bought MLB TV just to keep up with the Sox this past year, something I have to do because I know my grandma is going to be talking smack to me throughout the year (and, to be fair, just as much smack about her own team who I frequently have to defend against her attacks).

Last year she sent me Dustin Pedroia's autobiography because she really likes the guy she thought I might be interested. Of course, she couldn't resist sending a few items along with it:


To be honest, I probably never would have read Born to Play if someone hadn't bought it for me (as I previously mentioned, I can't ignore things loved ones gave me). I love autobiographies/biographies, but I have little interest in reading about someone's life who is my age. It feels like the only thing I'm going to get out of it is yet another "struggled against adversity to become successful" story, the idea of which bores me to dry heaves. Somehow, though, Pedroia's book is much worse than that.

Before I go on, I should make it clear that I love Pedroia as a ballplayer and am very happy he's playing for the Red Sox. He's fun to watch and is solid all around. I don't think I've ever been annoyed, exasperated, or angry watching him play. But dear god, he sounds like an insufferable person to be around in his book! The overall impression of him from the book is a relaxed, considerate, and friendly person, reading about how competitive he's been his whole life and how much he hates losing strikes me as a total lack of perspective on life in general. Thinking about being around that type of attitude puts me on edge.

But all that only points to a larger issue: the man has a MASSIVE Napoleon complex. Seriously, this seems to be the only reason the book was written. The adversity in Pedroia's life is that he's short and that feeds into everything in his life. At every stage, someone tells him "you're too short to be a ballplayer" (except, for some reason, his high school football coach put him in at starting quarterback). I get that he doesn't fit the mold for a professional baseball player, but about half of the pro ball players don't fit that mold. I love baseball to death, but there aren't many sports that have more variance in body types. So, Pedroia literally makes a list of all the people who doubted him so that he can rub his success in their faces. That's not really healthy behavior or a very good lesson to inspire with. He spends much of the book discussing how he trash talks to everyone (even coaches when he first meets them) like we're supposed to view that as an admirable trait. 

Pedroia says in the Acknowledgments that "I want to share my story because I know a lot of fans will be able to relate to it in a positive way," but really, his story boils down to "I'm short and I worked hard." Sure, I guess there's a good message in there, but it's boring and totally unnecessary. Do you know how many pro-athletes worked hard to get there that didn't write books? Me either, but I do know it's lots. The short angle is really the hook for the whole book. His family was loving and supportive (which is awesome, for real) and his only struggles were broken bones that he obtained playing sports. Even his wife's battle with cancer seems artificial (I may got to hell for this). She spent her life baking in the sun and in tanning beds without proper protection. In a time when we know very well the danger of that, it feels like she knowingly brought on her struggles herself. Also, it just pushes forward the fallacy that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. That's the sort of mindset you can have when you're already successful (whatever your definition of success is). Many people work their asses off just to stay afloat.

Finally, because it's an autobiography, it has to detail his life to the point of writing except that the story was the same each step of the way so the book is incredibly redundant. I can't believe his co-writer, Edward J. Delaney didn't edit the text accordingly. Things will be repeated three times on the same page, even. Born to Play is a chore to read and kind of makes Pedroia seem a little insufferable. Fortunately, I only have to watch him play.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ringing in the New Year

The first week of the new year brings the first Netflix Roundup. I know you've all missed it. There's not denying that. If this column feels more rockin' than usual, it's because I'm listening to Black Mountain. If it doesn't... well, that's on you.

Chawz -- Jeong-won Shin
On all fronts, this a ridiculous Korean movie. Chawz is nowhere near the caliber of the work of Jee-woon Kim, Chan-woo Park, or Joon-ho Bong. It's more in line with an original SyFy creature feature. And that's OK, because Chawz is a lot of fun. What attracted me to the movie was that I heard it was basically a remake of Jaws except it takes place on land with a giant wild boar. Hell yeah! That's basically what it is. Chawz hits many of the Jawz story beats and takes more beats from some of Steven Spielberg's other films. I kind of wish that I'd done a Jaws/Chawz double feature just so the former was fresh in my mind. Chawz isn't great and it depicts the Korean population (especially the police) as a bunch of bumbling fools who can't remain on their feet for more than five minutes. Even without the Jaws inspiration, I'd recommend Chawz based solely on the depiction of the people. It's an odd and entertaining movie.

The Harold Lloyd Collection -- Hal Roach
I like the Harold Lloyd persona. He's got a sort of dope-ish, nerdy confidence that makes him very appealing. Unfortunately, while I was watching this collection, my iPod crapped out on me just before I was to fly across the country and I was trying to deal with that while watching this. I don't know how many of you have tried to watch silent films while trying to work on other stuff, but it doesn't really work. There was a lot to like, but I feel disingenuous forming a solid opinion. Fear not, though. I jumped volume two of the collection near the top of my queue and shall not be distracted the second go 'round. This is my promise. This is my oath.

The Happiness of the Katakuris -- Takashi Miike
One of the more bizarre movies I've ever seen. It's Miike's take on musical comedies with a little horror thrown in. I was enthralled by the opening stop-motion work (oh yes, there's stop-motion), but the film couldn't really sustain that momentum, nor do I think it could. Katakuris errs a bit too far on the light-hearted side of things which is weird to say about a movie that features a fair number of people dying. It would have worked better with a more sinister, blackly comic streak going through it. That said, there are some really amazing scenes or even pieces of scenes that make it hard to look away from the screen. Additionally, there's a really intense showdown near the end that plays all to real and feels like it's out of another movie. Somehow, in light of everything that's come before, the scene totally works for me. Even though I tend to hate musicals, Happiness of the Katakuris is by far the most satisfying Miike experience I've had. It's playful, bizarre, and very silly. There's not many movie-watching experiences like this one. It'd be fun to pair it with Forbidden Zone or Phantom of the Paradise.

The Ward -- John Carpenter
It's better than Ghosts of Mars... Actually, The Ward isn't terrible or even bad. It simply doesn't offer a lot of new or interesting ideas to the genre. It feels workman-like, hitting all the necessary beats and throwing in some nonsensical scares just to keep the audience engaged. The scares are effective and there is a fairly palpable tension running throughout this story of a group of haunted girls in a mental ward, but by the end of The Ward, it all feels a little pointless and silly (in the bad way). The ending calls to mind a movie from 2003, which if I mention it's title, will give away everything, so everything feels like well-worn territory. Still... it looks nice and it's cool that John Carpenter is making movies again. I just hope he picks some better material to work with next time (notably, he didn't write the screenplay or do the music for The Ward).

11 Harrowhouse -- Aram Avakian
I like Charles Grodin. I really do. He can be very entertaining and engaging. But in 11 Harrowhouse, he may as well be a corpse. I've never seen someone sleepwalk through a movie like this and I've certainly never heard someone sleep-narrate a movie. It's almost as if the producers and director shot the movie without any narration, realized it was a tremendous bore and tried to punch it up and turn it into a comedy by adding snarky Grodin narration which he delivers with a disinterest one reserves for those people who come to your door preaching their particular version of the "gospel." He must have been in the booth watching the movie, waiting for his cues, barely able to keep his eyelids open. Seriously, a movie about a jewel heist should NEVER be this dull. At least James Mason brings his A-game, but then, he just has a sympathetic tenor to his voice that makes it near impossible for him not to bring some gravity to a role.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore -- Martin Scorsese
It totally makes sense that this was turned into a TV series. Most of the time, I felt like all of the various plot lines and vignettes were rushed and wanted to spend a little more time developing them. Of course, the movie would have been four hours long, so like I said: TV show. I wonder if that's just the nature of this style of film. M*A*S*H is also episodic and was turned into a TV show. Maybe that's the secret in successful translations: the source material should be episodic. Anyway, I thought I was really going to like ADLHD a lot at the start, but it kind of drifted in and out of interest for me. The relationship with the son is pretty odd and the relationship with Kris Kristofferson felt like it turned without much prompting. Seriously, where'd this rage come from? But it was affable and Ellen Burstyn was mostly good (though occasionally she seemed like a cartoon version of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence). I kind of wish that Scorsese had stuck with the stylistic aesthetic of the opening scene, though that probably wouldn't have worked out in the end.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Disney Villain Deaths

While I was home over the holidays, my nieces watched Beauty and the Beast. I came into the room right at the climax where Beast and Gaston are fighting on the rooftops/balconies of Beast's castle. My memory of the moment where Gaston plummets to his death was that Beast wheeled around after being stabbed in the side and knocked him off the side of the castle. This was several other's memory, as well (including a Cracked list of the most terrifying Disney deaths). I was surprised and slightly offended to discover that Gaston simply loses his balance after Beast jerks towards him after being stabbed. Can't a Disney hero even kill a bad guy who just stabbed him in the back after to hero showed mercy? This led me to think of all of the other villain deaths in Disney animated films (sticking with the 2-D movies because, while I believe there is a thesis in here, I don't want to spend my life researching it for this blog).

Of course, not every Disney movie has a villain that needs to be killed. In many instances, they receive their just comeuppance. In Cinderella, living well is her greatest revenge on her bitchy step-family. In Robin Hood, the king returns and sentences Prince John and his crew to hard labor. In Aladdin, Jafar's ego compels him to wish to be a genie which traps him in a bottle. You get the point. They don't die, but they are justly punished.

Then there are the films that don't really have a main villain, but several obstacles. The stakes aren't very high individually, but the succession makes life for the protagonist fraught with peril. Think of Pinocchio, which is basically one long morality play, or Bambi, in which man is the "villain," but really he's just one of the many aspects/perils of growing up in the forest.

Finally, there are the movies that don't really have any bad guys of which to speak. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Dumbo come to mind here. That's not to say there isn't any conflict or drama, just that these stories don't really need a threat to work.

In my search, I came up with twenty-four Disney animated features that have a strong antagonist. Of these, fifteen end with said antagonist dying or an implied death* (in the cases of Hercules and The Princess and the Frog, it's hard to say if the villains actually died or were just taken away by evil spirits. Regardless, their punishment is significantly worse than the standard comeuppance).

Before moving on to discuss how Disney (and, of course, I mean Disney the studio and not Disney the man) deals with dispatching it's villains, it should be noted that they have trouble showing their heroes playing an active role in stopping the bad guys. In 101 Dalmatians, Cruella de Vil's bumbling henchmen crash into her car resulting in her arrest. As I mentioned, the king in Robin Hood punishes Prince John. In The Emperor's New Groove, much like in Aladdin, Ezma's turned into a cute kitten and can't get the vile open which results in her jumping off the temple, bouncing off a trampoline, and hitting her head which delivers the correct potions to Kuzco (man, I love that movie). Disney is already peckish when it comes to the heroes exerting too much control. Should it be surprising that they balk at having the heroes kill someone?

Here's how all of the deaths I could find play out. I haven't rewatched these and am using Wikipedia as a resource for the one's I haven't seen, so if I get some of the details wrong, do tell.

Snow White -- lighting strikes cliff as witch is trying to roll a boulder onto the dwarves; she plummets to her death

Sleeping Beauty -- Maleficent turns into a dragon and is killed by a sword to the heart

The Black Cauldron -- the Horned King is devoured by the cauldron

The Great Mouse Detective -- Basil and Ratigan are fighting on Big Ben; they both fall, but Basil manages to save himself

Oliver and Company -- there's a crash into a train during a chase in which our heroes get out of the way just in time, but the pursuers don't

The Little Mermaid -- Ursula grows to gargantuan size and is rammed in the belly by a ship

The Rescuers Down Under -- the bad guy's pet lizard is tricked into knocking said bad guy into croc filled waters; evades crocs, but goes over waterfall

Beauty and the Beast -- discussed above

The Lion King -- Simba throws Scar over a cliff, but Scar survives only to be killed by the hyenas

The Hunchback of Notre Dame -- Quasimoda almost kills bad guy, but Esmerelda wakes and he goes to her; fight ensues with bad guy in which they both topple off of the balcony; Quasimodo saves himself as baddie falls to a fiery death

Hercules -- Hercules punches Hades into River Styx where he is dragged down by vengeful souls

Mulan -- Mulan signals for fireworks to be shot at the bad guy and he explodes quite beautifully

Tarzan -- the bad guy accidentally hangs himself pursuing Tarzan through vines

Atlantis -- hero slides baddie with glass which crystallizes the baddie's body

The Princes and the Frog -- princess destroys charm and angered spirits take the villain to the underworld

Of these fifteen movies, two feature a fight and a fall in which the hero lives which, doubtfully, is how the hero planned it. Five actually feature the hero actively killing the bad guy and two of these feature a monstrous villain which, to me, distances the hero from culpability. The bad guy is no longer human and can therefore acceptably be killed (I know Ursula isn't a human, but we're dealing with fish-people, here...). The three other films where the hero is actually a killer were all made in the last fifteen years. The rest exhibit a kind of passive climax in which the hero takes a back seat to outside forces.

As I said, I think there is a thesis here, both in how Disney shies away from portraying it's hero as active dispatchers of evil and in how content has changed in the past 80 years and how children (or people in general) react to that.

*I find it immensely interesting that thirteen of the 15 features in which the bad guy dies were released in 1985 and after.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Digging Through My Past

Yesterday, I posted an artifact from my archives, which basically means that I found it in a box of my junk still being stored at my parents' house. I doubt that I'm alone in utilizing my former residence as current storage (at least all of my junk is relegated to my old bedroom, unlike someone else I know), but as a approach 30, it's starting to feel pathetic. Also, my parents came up with a plan to drive my junk out to me if I purchase a home before my wedding in July. The fear of filling my potential home, which will be much smaller than my parents' place I can assure you, with my excess garbage (which doesn't even count my fiancee's stuff at her parents' place) was enough to compel me to dig out the non-essentials (surprisingly little. I'm a sentimental man. What can I say?).

I did a modest version of this years ago that apparently got rid of all of my high school memorabilia (oh! the lost love notes!) and some undergrad stuff, but this more thorough pass was kind of enlightening. Firstly, having a child on the way helps to justify keeping all of those toys and stuffed animals that have been sitting around in a closet for 15+ years. I liked them when I was a kid! Plus, nothing quite matches the awkwardness of digging out old, framed pictures of myself with ex-girlfriends while my pregnant fiancee is lying on the bed behind me (that goes doubly for the mug that features a picture of myself and my undergrad girlfriend at Madrigal together). Fortunately, finds that stuff amusing (as well she better since I hang out with some of her exes now and then! Don't worry Ian... you're top-notch!).

A lot of time was spent reading old comments on college papers and, if the paper wasn't too long, re-reading that. Dear lord, I was a bad writer as a freshman (I know, I know... WAS?). I was tasked with writing "journal" entries for an Extended Orientation class on supplied topics and every one reads like Ralphie's Red Rider BB Gun report in A Christmas Story.

I'm scrapping most of those old papers (unless my mom decides to see what kind of student I really was in college), but hopefully there will be some more golden nuggets from my past when I finally have to unpack those boxes. Of course, a friend of mine has the Holy Grail of personal memorabilia: an apology note for knocking her down written on awesome dinosaur paper.

As I already mentioned, I'm very sentimental. I have a difficult time getting rid of inanimate objects (and animate objects, for that matter). It's even more of a struggle if the person who gave me said object is important to me. That's partially why I hate getting cards. They're just pieces of folded paper, but some people take a fair amount of time picking out an appropriate card and they kind of stand as a representation that someone was thinking about you in their spare time even if cards are generally saved for special occasions. I tend to have to blindly grab a pile and throw them out (generally after a few years of piling up and going through each of them first because you never know when you'll find money stashed in one!). This last experience doing this was relatively painless until I found two that made me balk at tossing them. They were cards of condolence from when my dog, Farley (the best dog ever), died. To top it off, one was from an ex-girlfriend. So many emotions. Ultimately, I tossed them with only a slight tinge of remorse, but mostly because it reminded me of how much I miss my puppy (hell, all of my dogs that have died).

Going through my boxed up history was an exciting, surprising, amusing, and emotional experience. It's kind of a shame that we get rid of so much of our history in the process of condensing our lives and joining lives with another. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about posterity (I keep a journal and wonder what future generations will think about it), I feel like each item I throw out throws a shadow on who I am in regards to the future. As someone who tries to be practical, I know it's necessary. I just hope I don't get rid of too much that rediscovering my past is no longer exciting (I hope I don't sound too narcissistic, I'd go through all of your stuff to learn about you in a heartbeat. What do you say? Tomorrow at 3?).

From the Nate Capp Archives

I'll let Mrs. Mayle's letter of reminder explain what this post is about, but I'm kind of curious as to how many people still have this or had to do something similar. Also, I clearly didn't take this project seriously. My letter to my future self couldn't come off as lazier. I'm such a slacker (though Monty Python and the Red Sox both rule!).