Archive for April, 2010

You may not know this (you do if you follow me on Twitter, since you’ve been reading a lot of it lately), but I am a hockey fan.

Like all crazy sports fans, there is always one team I can’t stand.   In this case, it is the Detroit Red Wings, who I am convinced made some sort of pact with Satan and who I am so tired of seeing hoist the Stanley Cup.  Therefore, they cannot win this year.  It’s unacceptable.   I’ll take anyone but the Wings!  Anyone!   And that dude up top, Evgeni Nabokov, holds all my anti-Wings hopes and dreams right now.  The San Jose Sharks must stop the Wings for me this year.

Game starts at 8:00 p.m. my time; if you’re a hockey fan who visits, feel free to muck around in the comments and chit-chat about the game while it’s going on or afterwards.

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District 9 opens with an overview of the situation at hand.  Years prior, a spaceship full of half-starved, desperate aliens coasted to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa.   Presented with over a million aliens to care for, the South African government contracts with a corporation called MNU to set up facilities for the aliens.   Before long, the refugee camp becomes a permanent slum.   Human/alien tensions rise, crime soars, and anti-alien laws are enacted.

Given the awful nickname of “prawn”, the aliens are corralled into District 9, where gangsters prey on their poverty and desperation and MNU schemes to harness the aliens’ weaponry for their own ends.

District 9 utilizes the style of a documentary and introduces us to Wikus van der Merwe, an affable kind of guy with a great wife and a father-in-law in charge at MNU.   Wikus is the sort of guy who is the perpetually cheery, socially stunted sort of coworker you don’t like to get stuck in an elevator with.   He’s charged with getting eviction papers signed by all aliens before they are moved to District 10, a new “settlement” for the aliens.  While investigating an alien dwelling, Wikus is sprayed with some sort of black substance, which causes him to begin changing into a prawn.   He is taken into MNU custody, escapes, and runs to District 9 where he begins to seek answers about his condition.   Christopher, an alien with a small child, tells him the black substance will power the ship hovering over Johannesburg and they must get it back.   If they get it back, Wikus can be cured.

My main concern with District 9 was that the CGI would be distracting, as is so often the case, but the prawns are beautifully rendered and look as realistic as it gets, to be quite honest.   Wikus’ transformation from man to prawn is equally realistic, as if he’s Brundlefly without the exuberance at his transformation.

In fact, District 9 is one hell of a finely crafted sci-fi movie.  Wikus van der Merwe is horrifically, realistically human; Wikus condescends to the prawns even when he needs their help, constantly is looking out for his own interests and is only willing to make a change (albeit a slow, agonizing change) after witnessing the horrors that MNU, and by proxy, he has participated in.   Wikus is an incredibly flawed, at times unsympathetic character, but Neil Blomkamp boosts the character with the portrayal that all Wikus really wants is to get home to his wife, who he loves beyond measure.

District 9 is an unlikely Hollywood film.  Made in South Africa, featuring unknown actors and featuring a cast of humans who are the very worst kind of human and aliens that are probably the most human, it’s the kind of movie that got legs somewhere and it’s good that it did.   Sharlto Copley does a hell of a job breathing life into Wikus and Neil Blomkamp shoots the whole thing beautifully.   It may be weird to say, but my favorite character in the whole shebang is Christopher’s young son, who may be the most adorable alien ever put to film.

A very solid entry into the science fiction genre, I would imagine you’ll see District 9 on many “top sci-fi movies” lists in the future.  If we were running on the star rating here, I’d give it 4/5.

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People seem to really like Michael Moore or loathe him with fiery, passionate intensity.   Therefore, if you hate Michael Moore and you don’t agree with his politics, Capitalism:  A Love Story is not going to be the movie for you.   Quoth Cher Horowitz, “Duh”.

Moore examines the financial bailout of Wall Street and the ensuing consequences for everyday Americans while decrying the evil natures of capitalism.

Capitalism:  A Love Story begins with an old educational reel about the fall of the Roman Empire.   From there, Moore launches into an attack on Ronald Reagan, vilifying Reagan’s moves to help destabilize the unions and take care of his corporate buddies.   The overall theme here is the exploitation and suffering of the working classes at the hands of the uber-rich.   Moore makes an appeal for change, but I’m afraid that the message will only go unheeded.   Moore also posits that capitalism is an evil system that can never stop growing, eating, and consuming at the expense of the everyday folks that help the capitalist machine run.   He has a pretty solid argument.

The problem is that rich folks abusing the lower classes and profiting off their suffering is nothing new.  Perhaps we Americans thought it was impossible in the Land of the American Dream.    It’s not a unique or new event in human history, and we humans do have an uncanny ability to fail to learn from our mistakes.

Moore never clearly outlines an alternative to capitalism.   The entire documentary is spent ruminating on how capitalism has ruined our society, but offering no sort of salient point on anything else.    On one outing to Washington, DC, Moore stops by to see the Constitution to verify that there is no law declaring America to be a capitalist society.   He’s correct; there’s not, but there’s no further ideas offered up.

If Moore captures anything the best on film, it’s the pain and suffering of those steamrolled by the current economic crisis.  A family losing their farm must suffer the indignity of cleaning out their own foreclosed house to receive a $1,000.00 check they desperately need.   Another family lives in the back of a truck and others sob about life insurance policies taken out on deceased family members, because those workers were worth more to their employers dead than alive.   Catholic priests are interviewed who slam capitalism as “evil” and Moore discusses the concept and prevailing idea that capitalism and Christianity can go hand-in-hand.    Most of the free-market propaganda Moore finds he attempts to dissect and for the most part, it’s a well-reasoned critique.

Capitalism:  A Love Story is not a bad documentary at all.  Moore points out some very genuine flaws in our political and economic system.   The film is a warning and a sign post to change, and in typical fashion, experts are interviewed espousing this particular mindset.   It is a deeply saddening film, one that I think really is important to watch, given the current economic climate and important in the sense that it has given a voice to some people who had none before.

But long after the DVD was over, after I had watched this twice, and after I had time to really think about it, it does seem strange that someone so reticent to find capitalism anything but morally reprehensible would essentially use the capitalist system to make a profit off this particular movie.

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You Tell Me!

I believe I promised you some food-related things, but I’ve hit a stumbling block on what to make.  Think of this as Reader’s Choice but for food – what recipes do you want me to make and tell ya about?

Let me know in the comments!

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I got tagged by the ever awesome Whitney over at Dear Jesus for this one.  The premise is to list ten movie facts about yourself and then tag some people.

(The Count is my favorite.)

1.   My sisters and I tormented our parents as kids with approximately 10,987,134 viewings of E.T., Dirty Dancing and Follow That Bird.  My father cannot stand any more of Follow That Bird anymore, ever.  I believe if he is ever forced to see it again, he may have a complete psychotic break.  It remains one of my favorite movies from my childhood.   I have since come to understand how my father felt after an estimated 974 viewings of Finding Nemo with my nephew.

2.   Speaking of my parents, if you were a movie loving kid, my parents were great to have.  They pushed movies on us that we bitched endlessly about (read:  black and white) or movies that weren’t necessarily popular at the time.  I think I have a broader appreciation for movies because of that.  Also, they let me watch The Blues Brothers when I was really young, something that I think qualifies them for the Cool Parents Hall of Fame or something.

3.  I do not like very many romantic comedies.   There are exceptions, but I have problems with the way women are portrayed in a lot of them.  The prime offender in this category is stuff like Pretty Woman, which has so many problems, if I had to list them all we’d be here all day.  I find it slightly odd that shoes!dresses!makeup!mentroubles! end up being shorthand for what it means to be an (usually) American woman.

4.   I hate 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  THERE. I said it.  I CANNOT HELP IT.  May I never have to watch it ever ever ever EVER again.

5.   The older I get, the less I like John Wayne.

6.   I have cheerfully deranged reactions to people who have similar movie tastes to mine when I meet them in real life.  I can get a little over-enthusiastic.    If I ever meet you, reader, in person, I’m sorry in advance for the fact that I might appear to have snorted Pop Rocks in the bathroom.

7.  I worked for Blockbuster for two years.   After spending days listening to the same five minute trailer reel on loop eight hours a day, the following movies can go die in a fire:  Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Grizzly Man, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Closer.   God, the worst was that Diary of a Mad Black Woman trailer.  I listened to it every work day hundreds of times a day for months.

8.   For a movie buff, I rarely go to theaters.  This is because I hate going by myself, and usually no one I know wants to/has time to go see a movie.  So I catch everything on DVD.

9.  Number of times I saw Titanic in the theater:  5.    At least I got more awesome the older I got, what can I say?   And looking back, why in the holy hell did I find Leonardo DiCaprio attractive?   He looks like a squished ferret.

1o.   The movie I have gotten the most mileage out of quoting?   Zoolander.

Tag, you’re it:

Allison @ NerdVampire’s film blog

JD @ Valley Dreamin’

And you, YES, you!, if you feel so inclined.

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So… I lost my job yesterday.

I think the accurate term in the situation is “laid off”.   The particulars aren’t fascinating, but basically I am now without employment.

I’ve discovered job hunting only takes up so much of your day, so I’ll have a bit more time to blog while I’m searching for some place that would like to trade me some money in exchange for my hard work and general awesomeness.

Financially, I feel okay.   I’ll make it without wondering if carpet or that old pair of shoes is edible, or if I should switch my address to “third cardboard box on the right under the overpass”.  But after the past four years in my chosen profession of constant stress and long-ish hours, I am determined to at least enjoy the time I’m not spending in a pressure cooker.

So, you know…yeah.   Full steam ahead and all that.

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Food For Thought

I’m not the first one to imagine this, but I really do wonder what Edward Murrow would have to say today.

I deeply miss Edward Murrow, and I wasn’t even alive during his lifetime.

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This was not the best introduction to the Pang Brothers.

I really felt at a loss to describe Bangkok Dangerous.   The plot and ending are so loaded with cliches, it’s almost as though the screenwriters constructed a movie solely out of tired, over-used devices.   The directing is adequate, although the blue filter applied to some of the scenes gets old fast.   The primary problem with Bangkok Dangerous is Nicolas Cage.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have a bit of a soft-spot for Cage.   My theory is that Cage got his Academy Award and then set about purposefully destroying all critical acclaim he had.   I think Cage makes bad movies on purpose.   This, however, doesn’t explain the horrible performance he turns in.

Normally, Cage likes to overact.  I can appreciate this.  It’s broad, it’s bold and it takes guts to act like that, even if it turns out to be ridiculous.

This one, however, Cage doesn’t act like much of anything.   He stares at fixed points, his face unmoving and mask-like, while he monotonously narrates unnecessary voice-overs.   Since he plays an assassin, you’d think he’d want to blend into his surroundings, but his hair is so bad you wonder when Nic Cage stopped bathing and stopped cutting his hair.   Said frightening hairdo is the most interesting thing about his entire character.  Considering this is Nicolas Cage, he of the “why is it burned?  WHY IS IT BURNED?!” fame, I am not quite sure what was going on.  Did someone give Nic elephant tranquilizers?  Was he under constant hypnosis?   Did he forget he was filming a movie?

I don’t know.   It does feel depressing that Cage is so not there that creating facial expressions seems to cause him real pain.  What sort of crazy mixed up world is this?

I watched this movie twice.  It felt like an eternity.   I’d take a pleasant, friendly visit from some Cenobites over a rewatch.

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The Hurt Locker opens with Specialist Eldridge, Sergeant Sanborn and Staff Sergeant Thompson out on a daily task.  As members of an EOD unit, they are assigned to defuse bombs in Iraq.    Thompson is the guy who puts on the suit and defuses the bomb.  Sanborn and Eldredge hang back and provide cover against any threat.   The assignment goes tragically wrong.  Thompson dies and Bravo Company is assigned a new leader, Sergeant James.

Sanborn is appalled by James’ behavior.   James seems reckless, refusing to stay in communication with the two guys covering his back, going against standard operating policy and putting the unit in what Sanborn feels is unnecessary danger.   Eldridge worries obsessively over his own fate and safety.   The constant thought of death occupies Eldridge’s mind, leading an Army psychiatrist to set up regular sessions with him.

The only other person has any emotional connection with is a young Iraqi boy who calls himself Beckham.   As Bravo Company’s time in Iraq dwindles to a close, what the three men want out of life and how they intend to live it is thrown into sharper focus.

The Hurt Locker moves fast and goes long.   Most of the shots are close and tight; Bigelow directs with a sense of urgency and tension that grows as the film progresses.   There are a few beautiful moments in the film that are atypical, to be sure.  When Thompson is killed by an IED, Bigelow shoots in slow-motion the ground rumbling and the dust moving off a rusty, bombed out car.

The message of the film is right in the title cards:  war is a drug.  Some like it, some don’t.   Eldridge desperately wants to go home alive and nothing more.  Sanborn comes to realize no one would care much if he died.   It eats at him.  He professes a deep hatred of Iraq.

It is James, the “reckless”, “unstable” guy who can’t get enough of war.   He enjoys his job, taking souvenirs of bombs not only as tokens of times he nearly got killed but out of genuine interest in how bombs are assembled.   He struggles to do what he believes is the right thing even if he forgets to weigh the cost in human lives at times.

The Hurt Locker is well executed and smartly crafted, but it also examines the stress of this war in particular.   Disarming bombs is dangerous enough, but the EOD unit must contend with snipers, remote bombers, and realizes everyone on the street may be against them.   And how do people react to war?   Some think it’s hell, some hate it and some really and truly appreciate their jobs no matter how dangerous.   It’s a frightening thought, but Jeremy Renner does a masterful job of portraying Sergeant James as a guy initially perhaps unable to cope with his need to do the job he does who manages to reconcile it in the end.  The tension and differences between Sanborn and James against the war-torn city they work in is part of The Hurt Locker‘s strength.   Bigelow’s sensitivity toward James is compelling, given that it’s easy to take that character and simplify him in such a crude fashion, but James is given depth.   Jeremy Renner creates a guy who can be unsympathetic and at times obnoxious, but you understand why he does what he does.

A fantastic film.   It earned its Best Picture nom.   I can’t say the award, since I haven’t seen all of the ’09 nominees, but damn, it’s a great film.

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Just Like You Like It

Fabulous fantastical readers, I know Texas gets a bad rap.   There’s that whole Dubya thing.   Well, man, I don’t know what to tell you.   I’ll tell you what I tell everyone else:  no, I didn’t vote for him.  Ever.

We are the home of Chuck Norris; I used to leave my high school to see crews setting up to film Walker, Texas Ranger.   Norris thinks it’s a great idea to secede from the United States.  Texas’ governor thinks it’s a good idea too.  Perhaps Governor Goodhair and Mr. Norris, master of the roundhouse kick, both missed the U.S. History lesson that covered what exactly happened the last time this state attempted to secede from the Union.

Then there’s that embarrassing school book debacle.   In fact, I’m not sure ‘debacle’ is even the best word for it, but I know, I know, we look like a bunch of nuts.   It’s crazy-pants, I know.♦

So begins my entreaty to every person who is not a Texas resident:   we are not all like this.  I promise.   There are lots of good, sane people here and there’s lots of lovely things about my state.    Dr. Pepper!  Shiner Bock!   The television show Dallas, in a totally ironic way!   Austin’s full of damn hippie liberals, I tell you!   The Alamo’s not … lovely, but it’s historic!   Bluebonnets!  Longhorns!  Great food!   Awesome music!  Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Tommy Lee Jones!  For the love of God, there’s good things about this place, I swears it.

Forgive us for Matthew McConaughey.   We love him, but it’s like Julia Sugarbaker said on Designing Women: In the South, we don’t hide our crazy people in the attic, we put ’em on display in the living room.   Sorry ’bout that one.

Yeah, I don’t know either.   He’s a kook.  A lovable kook, but had we known he’d keep making shit like Failure to Launch…

As a concession and a peace offering, I give you something that all Texans – liberal and conservative alike – can agree on and celebrate.   It is, truly, something we all love.

Roger Ebert has Steak n Shake.   Tommy has diners and burger places in Jersey.   I have Whataburger.

Forget McDonald’s; Californians, I’m sorry, but I have no interest in In ‘n’ Out.  Whatever to Wendy’s.   Arby’s, blech.   A few Texans will swear by Sonic, but really, Whataburger is where it’s at for most of us.  It is not the best burger ever, but it is really pretty good.   It’s comforting.   Whataburgers are everywhere here.   They’re not hard to spot; look for the A-frame building with orange and white stripes.  When you’ve been driving from, say, Austin to Dallas at 2:00 a.m. there is probably no better sight along a stretch of highway than Whataburger.

I am not sure what Whataburger does to the hamburger buns but whatever it is – cocaine, butter, something unknown to the common folks – it’s addictive.  All their buns are toasted.   The bacon is crispy.   The lettuce isn’t all wilty and gross.  The food’s made when you order it.

In all my time ordering food at Whataburger, I’ve never had an order screwed up.   Ever!  No kidding.   You’d think a plain and dry hamburger wouldn’t be a hard order to fill, but everyone else routinely screws it up.  Not Whataburger.

If you ever spend time here in this lovely state, I can guarantee you’ll probably see the following commercials:  Truck ads (bonus points if it’s “Texas Truck Month!” or some variation thereof), conservative attack ads and Whataburger ads.

I promise, the fries are good, too!

Whataburger’s spread out of Texas into most of the South, but if you’re ever here in Texas and the conservative, NRA type stuff overwhelms you, give peace a chance and stop in at  Whataburger, order a bacon cheeseburger meal with a Dr. Pepper (that’s another post).   After you’re done, go to a bar and have a Shiner Bock.  (That’s another post, too.)   It’ll zen you out, I promise.  Hell, us folks that pride ourselves on normalcy, civility and not being completely insane – well, that’s how we do it.


It should be noted that there are a lot of sane, normal conservatives that live in Texas.   My beef (pardon the pun) is usually with the extremely far-right conservatives that employ an eliminationist style rhetoric and fear-monger.   I would wager most Texas conservatives do not buy into these shenanigans (I can’t attest, since I’m an ultra-liberal hippie), but these guys do every conservative in this state a disservice when they’re profiled on television and in print.    Unfortunately, they get the most face-time it seems.  So Republicans and/or conservatives, I’m not hating on you – just acknowledging that the far-right, extremist points of view exist in the state, are tiresome and baffling to most people with common sense.  FYI.

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