Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Strangers on a Train; or, Smokers in the Night

I’ve been on trains before (the airport line at O’Hare Int’l, connections from Baltimore to D.C., Wye to London, the London Underground, Amsterdam Transit, etc.), but I am now on my first cross-country rail trip. By ‘cross-country,’ I mean roughly from the Mexican border to the Canadian one.

The seats are about as roomy as first-class on a small- to mid-size jet, but less hygienic. Somehow, they just don’t fit my measurements, and even trying to sleep here gives me extreme muscle knots in the most unlikely places.

One does meet many interesting people on a train, however. ‘Interesting,’ as in the dregs of society.
For instance, the lounge car has been entirely commandeered for a foul-mouthed caucus of countless hours on the evils non-smokers invariably inflict upon smokers. Apparently, the oppression bestowed on nicotine enthusiasts is as bad as or worse than the practice of slavery.
This gaggle of 20-somethings couldn’t leave the topic of cigarettes for even a moment, excepting brief intermissions devoted to the wonders of Spidey’s girlfriend (and it’s supposedly libelous treatment at the hands of the Ad Council).

Apparently, some of my fellow travelers chose train-ride over flight because airplanes do not make five-minute stops to appease smoke-inhalation cravings. An educated opinion as to their said choice: BAD idea. There has been at least one three-hour stretch (about the length of the foregone plane ride) in which no such stop was made. At this point, several of the loudest complainers began urgently seeking ways of escaping the enforcement of federal law.

And I won’t soon forget the young lady (and three companions) who have spent the entire night pacing the car. Finally, at 0:25hr in Little Rock, she elatedly cried (loud enough to wake the car behind us) “Are we stopping? We’re STOPPING!!
So sad.

This same woman, while not an active part in the lounge’s “smoker’s rights” convention, has been consistently the loudest individual on the train. (I am including even the little girl who has twice yelled “Dang, dang, dang, dang, dang!” for ten minute stretches just to annoy her tight-lipped parents.)
She (the Little Rock pacer, that is) bombastically proclaims for all to hear her disinclination with the train staff and, more importantly, her intentions to star in “Disney on Ice” for the next nine years before retiring to a life of locksmithing.
Locksmithing being the easiest job in the world, in which one randomly collects forty-dollar fees from people based only on one’s ability to carry around “special keys” (her words).
And not only will her monetary needs be met with no effort whatsoever, she intends to get entertainment value (to keep her young even at the age of 32 years) by randomly breaking into houses and, if caught, impersonating a police officer.

Can you honestly believe nobody’s asked her marry him yet?? She is noisily objecting to that fact as well.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

BeWere the Rabbit

Last year, I was disappointed to miss the “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” theater run. I did not, however, miss the DVD release. On the Tuesday it came out I picked it up in the evening and watched it in the night (in lieu of sleeping).

Some fantastic stuff. Nowhere near as good as “The Wrong Trousers,” but I’d say a deal better than the rest of W&G’s pleasant filmography.

“Were-Rabbit” does a fine job setting up with the horror genre, and an even better job with the sub-genre of ‘creature’ flicks. Simply smashing in the realm of spoof.
Personally, though, my favorite bits are of Gromit as an Indiana Jones -esque pest-controller, complete with perfectly sync-ed soundtrack. Not to be missed.

But despite all its strengths, it just didn’t feel as cohesive as the true greats (such as “Wrong Trousers” or big-screen rival “Chicken Run”).
Certain components are as refined as high-carbon steel, but these seem to be cobbled together with other pieces for a less stable project overall.
Having watched most of the bonus features, this heterogeneous texture makes sense—for if there was ever a film that came out of disjointed brainstorming, this is it. Not that that is a bad thing in itself.
But to most of the cuts and alterations made during pre- through post- production (as admitted to on the disc) this viewer can say ‘good-bye’ with a touch of relief.

Really, there’s a good look at the screwball mania that goes on in the offices of this set of ‘film-making’ chaps.
The DVD’s ‘features’ section could be considered a pleasant window into that madcap process by which genius is mined from insanity.

But, as with any such process, there were a few of the finest gems left sadly untouched.
The saddest of all being probably a lack of genesis on the brain-washing-machine.
The thought of seeing it arrive in a crate of surplus covertly relocated at the reduction of the USSR… But how did it keep the snow on top from melting? Must be one of those state secrets.

Friday, February 24, 2006

the Pasta Confrontation

I have made here a couple of posts extolling the virtues of Bill Watterson’s magnificent “Calvin and Hobbes” series of comic strips. I have since been linked to many times on related searches from Google, MSN, et cetera. The conclusion? The search engines aren’t coughing up enough Calvin and Hobbes sites.

Really, someone should fix that. What is the internet without a place for plenty of Calvin and Hobbes?

In with the simple searches for C&H material (such as “Calvin and Hobbes” or “tiger Hobbes”) are the more interesting ones. “Calvin grumpy face” (not be confused with “grumpy face tiger,” an earlier search that made it onto my sidebar) was a good one, and one well suited to my initial piece.

Well, today the “Spaghetti Incident calvin and hobbes” search is explained. (It actually came in more than once, with slightly different wording.) In volume two of my COMPLETE Calvin and Hobbes” I see the strip from 12 December, 1990.
Calvin has just boxed and mailed his wish list to the Christmas bouncer (known politely as “Santa,” a very different entity from the Easter bouncer), and is complaining that his order “had better” be filled in full.

“I’ve been extremely good all year!”

And then an overly innocent tiger submits this:
What about the noodle incident?


Thursday, February 23, 2006


It’s been a full ten days since I last posted here. Ouch.
And prior to that post is a gap of nine days.

Where’ve I been??

Lots of places, doing lots of things. Projects for me, projects for others, lying sick in bed…
Yeah, that ‘sick in bed’ part was a fun week.

I am now back in health, but hardly in the same shape I had been before. So I’m building myself back up. Over the past three days (four, if today is included) I’ve been running a mile a day. The state that results in me after each mile only proves that being sick took a lot out of me.

But I do have the excuse of running over very uneven terrain… largely uphill. It’s a lot easier to push yourself on a sidewalk. And I have learned a secret…

Running is much better physically if one looks straight ahead. Watching as objects in the distance come flying at you gives you a bit of a boost. A large boost, actually.
On the rocky, rising, brush-filled and log-strewn path that I’m taking, it’s only natural to keep a watch over what one may be about to trip over (not to mention a natural woodcraft tendency to run silently by avoiding dry twigs), but it does slow one down.

When I can run three miles a day over rough ground, with no adverse effects or slowing of pace, I’ll be satisfied. Maybe.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Live and Let

Advertising life insurance is a tricky business.

The basic idea is to appeal to the viewer’s greed. Get your ancient relatives on a guilt trip to buy our policy and you’ll be stinking rich!
So they have to make their plan seem to have a bigger payoff than the other guy’s, while skirting the issue of just how much they intend to take everybody involved for a ride.
But trickier than the above is winking at the would-be-beneficiary’s pitiless covetousness without offending that same individual. Or the will-be-corpse who has to actually sign off on the plan.
So instead of the blunted “We’ll give you big bucks if old Harry falls off a train,” they have to hand you something slightly more aesthetic.

One commercial now runs something like this:
[Housewife enters, wraps arms around smiling hubby]

Housewife: I love my darling Bernie-Boy so much. But we have to face that some day, that final toll may separate us. And when that happens, some people don’t get enough money from the big-bad men in government to deal with life alone.

[Husband and wife smile gleefully into one another’s eyes, allowing foreheads to touch]

Housewife (cont’d): That’s why we got the Dollar Demise [not actual name] insurance policy for Bernard’s seventieth birthday! And now he has the satisfaction of knowing that he will always be taking care of me.

Rumors have circulated that this same commercial was originally slated for filming with the same stage instructions, but different dialogue:
Housewife: I love my darling Bernie-Boy so much. It would be such a terrible blow when he finally croaks, but that’s all different since the nice men at Dollar Demise Insurance [still not actual name] will be sending me hundreds of thousands of dollars to comfort me!

I think you can see the difference. With only minimal alterations in writing, the company has gone from making it’s customers feel as though they are shallow moneygrubbers, to making them feel they are making their “loved” ones’ lives more carefree.

Probably the most common form of life insurance advert is this same “say one thing, hear another” ploy. For instance, when they say:
In today’s world, a funeral can cost as much as $500,000! Being prepared is the key.
the viewer is intended to assume that the figure quoted is their payout, when in fact no such promise has been made. More importantly, the viewer is intended to hear tacked on at the end a sentence not actually spoken:
But of course, you can get your old man stuffed quietly in the ground for a single percent of that, and keep the rest for yourself!

So as you can plainly see, it’s all about careful wording. Subtlety may be dead to the rest of the modern advertising world, but in the world of advertising death it is still alive, well, and appreciated.

Though there are a few rare exceptions, such as the occasional resort into blackmail toward the soon-to-be-deceased:
Bills can really pile up when you cork off. Do you REALLY want that to be your family’s last memory of you?

And that last one I didn’t even make up.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Second Impressions

Third perhaps. Never mind...

Well, I have now seen “Pride & Prejudice, the latest incarnation.

Not at all bad, really. That said, I have a lot of nit-picks which I am very tempted to partially list. Oh, what the hey:

Miss Eliza Bennet giggles too much early on. In that face-morphing way males find easily annoying and, worse, at virtually random times.
Mr. Darcy is presented far too early as being merely socially uneasy, ruining certain aspects of interaction and motivation for all except incompetent teenage girls.
The time of two hours made necessary painful cuts in the story, but this was to be expected. (Though Miss Emma Thompson did marvelously with similar constraints in her “Sense and Sensibility” of ten years ago.)
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are given a warmth to their marriage that cheaply takes away a painful (and crucial) part of the story.
Magnificent subtleties to the story and especially dialogue are almost universally stripped away.
As I was warned by a British viewer some months ago, before its end the film does become more Brontë than Austen.
Concepts from the period are laboriously altered and worked into dumbed-down dialogue and emotions to more readily communicate to a modern audience assumed to be witless.
Some characters seemed to be based more on their representations in the mini-series than in the book.

And if you want a real nit-pick, in three separate scenes in two different contexts I saw a breed of chicken that wouldn’t exist for another hundred years.

O.K, so this must sound like I’m knocking the film pretty badly. Not at all. It is a very good movie, and I enjoyed it a lot. I would readily rank it among last year's finest. But yes, it has been done better in the past.

Not all discrepancies between adaptations were poorer in this one, however. Mr. Collins was perhaps not quite so overdone (though his treatment is… uneven), and Miss Mary was given a much fairer shake in the 2005 version.
Actually, with Elizabeth and Jane being so less interesting here than in previous translations, the actress Miss Talulah Riley’s portrayal of Mary Bennet was certainly the most attractive female in the film.

My viewing experience itself was also quite entertaining. Sitting just in front of me, two sixty-something women discussed their desire to be cremated, along with the local rates on cremation and the legalities of having one’s ashes scattered. I am absurdly tempted to quote their discussion at length. But I shall resist.

And behind me a mother instructed her young daughter in all things Austen. Judging by her response to the best parts of the film (which many older females I know would have found merely boring), that kid is gonna grow up to be O.K.
My complements to her parents.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhog Day

This is Stovepipe. Will he see his shadow for the shades?

O.K, so he’s not technically a groundhog, just the closest thing I could find.
Very closely related, however, as the groundhog (or woodchuck) is a marmot and Stovepipe is a wolverine-marmot hybrid equipped with cybernetic intelligence.

Yup, that’s right.
And it is only appropriate that he be featured here today as he is also, by the road, the original zoological refugee of this blog’s subtitle and address. Mm-hmm, on 13 August, 2004 (a Friday) my friend Stovepipe here brilliantly escaped from the local zoo, beginning a journey of self-discovery and inspiring a great url.

Investigative journalist, keen observer of these simple organisms known as “humans,” one-time freedom-fighter for canines imprisoned in “pounds” (until they proved to be, if possible, less intelligent than people), and (ultimately) the product of a clandestine government engineering project (kinda like that Spielberg-rip-off on NBC), Stovepipe is an all-around fantastic dude who resides in the apartment complex of the local state university.

And he has long been a good friend of mine, so let us on this his (sort of) day, remember his immutable contributions to our world.

It should also be noted that some of Stovepipe’s pursuits were inspired by a suggestion made to Stupid Penguin, a legless flamingo of mysterious origin who resides at a different campus, that of LeTourneau U.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Overshadowing Uncle Ozzie

O.K, maybe not. But here it is anyway—the Best Movies of 2005! (Sort of… see below)

1. Batman Begins
2. Walk the Line
3. Cinderella Man

[1] This one I was waiting for years on end. Then, at last, Batman was given the justice he gives to others. He was given a good silver screen portrayal. Almost perfect in itself, let’s not forget the amazing cast. Michael Caine as Pennyworth? Gary Oldman as the young Gordon? Morgan Freeman? Rutger Hauer? It’s as though I was consulted to make this movie.

[2] Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon both received here their best roles yet and gave their best performances to date. Not to mention a finely-crafted time-jumping script with a good understanding of the actual people being portrayed. But perhaps even more important than any of this is Line’s introduction to a new generation the cool of Cash.

[3] A well-done true story, occasionally too drippy, combined with good acting and bone-pummeling boxing sequences. Talk about award-bait. Except for that darn telephone and the shifting role of bad behavior in the public’s view of pop culture.

‘05 may not have been such a bad year for film, but it was a very bad year for my interaction with film. My schedule was just so… crowded throughout the year that I saw fewer than twenty films, whose titles were determined less by how much I wanted to see them as my ability to visit a theater at that time.

So, here is what may be more significant than the itsy-bitsy list above. The top films of 2005 I wanted to see, but didn’t:

A. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
B. Serenity
C. Good Night, and Good Luck
D. Lord of War
E. The Great Raid
F. Pride & Prejudice

[A] Wallace & Gromit are works (a work?) of genius. Simple as that. 1993’s “Wrong Trousers” proved it beyond the tiniest argument.

[B] I’m not a geek. That is, I’m not worthy of the distinction. But geeks are, as a rule of thumb, totally awesome. I am regularly accepted by them almost as one of them. And this is one movie my geek sensibilities won’t let me miss without a little pain.

[C] I’ve almost exclusively heard that this one is just trying to make heavy-handed parallels from an ancient evil (1950’s, that is) to current events by careful vocabulary. If this is the case, it is a cheap waste of film void of actual merit. But if it has been misjudged—if it is a good film that studies historical events in some sort of context—I will be the first to praise it. But I have to see it first. [Edit: Have now seen it. Love it.]

[D] The premise intrigues me, the trailer hints at superb characters, and talent oozes from everything I’ve seen of it. (Except, of course, reviews. But I don’t care about them, as reviewers so often miss the point.)

[E] The WWII rescue mission is the stuff that war films should be made of more often. I just hope the movie manages to reflect some part of this true story’s brilliance.

[F] As no one will allow the world to forget, it has indeed been done before. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you’ve really missed out on the ‘95 mini-series.) But nothing receiving big-screen (or little screen) funding these days hasn’t. So, even though it’s a rehash of a (great) mini-series that was a rehash of a (perfect) book, I don’t want to give this one the full cold shoulder.