Monday, February 28, 2005

Skippy of the Day: Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)

After Dubya specified his position regarding Iran, promising there's no plan to attack but he's keeping all his cards on the table (Thanks for clearing that up, George), we're now getting some expert (cough) foreign policy advice from a Representative in Dubya's old stomping grounds:
"Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on 'em and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore."
Alright, let's not even get into the whole "I know where the WMD's are" malarkey this guy is peddling. Since the entire federal government couldn't find WMD's with mounds of intelligence, hi-tech equipment and several years of searching, forgive me if I consider Johnson's claim as spurious. The way he phrases it in the quote, it sounds like his claim is far less based on actual, you know, evidence and more on the paranoid instinct that drives other people to believe all black men who wear hip hop clothing are packing heat.

Let's turn our attention, instead, to Johnson's final solution to the problem. That phrasing is intentional, and is not one I use lightly. Since the whole Threaten/Invade/Occupy plan in Iraq has turned out far less than perfect, Johnson is advocating wholesale destruction of an entire country and it's populace the next time we suspect WMD's. The advantages of this being that we can say afterwards that all the evidence of WMD's were destroyed in the attacks and we can just trust the Government that they were indeed there. The disadvantages to this being...what, do I have to type you a list?!?!

This kind of apocalyptic rhetoric is nothing new to the right wing, but it's not normally so blatant and from the mouths of elected representatives. Furthermore, Johnson reveals before he says this that he gave this advice to Bush himself on a visit to the White House. There's a large part of me that refuses to believe that Dubya and his cohorts would ever go into the direction that Johnson advocates, but it still gives me pause.

If Iraq's stab at democracy goes awry due to the efforts of insurgents, and even die hard Bush fans have to acknowledge this possibility, then Bush will need to rethink his entire Middle East strategy that he's been preaching to the public for years. There is a small part of me that considers entirely feasible the sight of Dubya coming onto the airwaves, making a "Desperate times call for desperate measures" speech, and then revealing his unfathomable actions.

Nonsense, you say? Then let's hear it from the boy, shall we? Let's hear some Republicans renounce this Slim Whitman-wannabe. If Trent Lott deserves a slap on the wrist for his little verbal nostalgia trip to the days of segregation, then this little genocidal call to action certainly warrants the attention of the GOP.

There's a quote I remember from "Needful Things", which is spoken by Max Von Sydow as the Devil. He's certainly not the first one to say it, but it was the first time I had ever heard it and so it sticks: "Kill them all and let God sort them out". If Bush decides on such a philosophy change, then it will add a whole new catastrophic level to the administration's tendency to pass the buck.

Oscars Recap

I find myself making less of a big deal of the Oscars compared to years past. I still watch them, though, and here are some thoughts on the morning after.

Beginning at the beginning, Chris Rock did just fine as host. His "If you can't get So-And-So, Wait" bit was great and really cut into "popular people" such as Colin Farrell and Jude Law. Both of these actors were notably absent from the audience, but Law received a defense from Sean Penn later in the evening. As much as I like Sean, he should lighten up and realize that Rock was making fun of their ubiquitousness in films lately and not any lack of talent.

I don't normally go into the whole clothing and hair thing with the presenters, but let me make one brief observation. To Renee Zellweger: PLEASE go back to being a blonde. That black hair doesn't work in the slightest.

Easily the winner for most entertaining acceptance speech goes to Jorge Drexler, who won the best song Oscar for "Al Otro Lado Del Río" in "The Motorcycle Diaries". He came onstage, sang a brief snippet of a song in Spanish, said thank you and then left the stage. Most viewers couldn't understand what he sang, but it was such beautiful singing that nobody cared.

Speaking of Jorge, there was a definite Hispanic thread to the night as his Oscar was shortly followed by the Best Foreign Film Oscar going to "The Sea Inside" from Spain. For both of these awards, the camera cut to Antonio Banderas in the audience, who seemed ecstatic. Honestly, he looked happier at those two moments than some of the winners.

And speaking of being emotional for others, I am always touched not so much by the emotional award winners, but rather the people in the audience who worked with them. Such was the case with Kate Winslet who, though she didn't win Best Actress, seemed pleased beyond words when "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Finding Neverland" won Best Original Screenplay and Best Score, respectively.

The tribute to those who passed was typically moving, though I preferred the orchestral music that accompanied the clip reel in past years instead of this year's solo done by Yo Yo Ma. It was also nice to see another mention of Jerry Orbach (He also briefly showed up in the Sidney Lumet tribute from his role in "Prince of the City"). However, they only showed a clip from "Dirty Dancing" for his name. I'm willing to bet that "Beauty and the Beast" will be a longer remembered role, but I suppose in the end his in-the-flesh role trumped an animated candlestick for the people who put the tribute together.

To Martin Scorsese: You weren't the only one who thought that this was your year. The only solace I can give you, and this is cold comfort, is that Alfred Hitchcock never won a Best Director Oscar, either. Let's just hope your upcoming remake of the Japanese crime film "Internal Affairs" (renamed "The Departed") will receive just as much love as "The Aviator" did.

And finally, in regards to the telecast as a whole, the proceedings went faster than in previous years and was very enjoyable. However, I have to wonder who made the inexplicable choice of the "Terminator 2" score as the overall musical theme for the Oscars this year. If the softer re-orchestration wasn't odd enough, then the jazzy trumpet solo that accompanied it during the end credits was downright weird. Let's just hope the trend doesn't continue and we won't hear a retooling of the bombastic and overused "Aliens" theme during next year's show.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Child Alonzo to the "Dark Tower" came

Years ago, I read the first three books in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series and liked them very much. The fourth book, "Wizard and Glass", didn't draw me in as quickly as the other three and I eventually dropped it, hoping to one day return to the series.

Last year, King published the seventh and final book called, simply enough, "The Dark Tower". I decided to revisit the series and listen to all seven books back-to-back on CD in my car. For those numbers fans out there, my calculations on the entire series come out to 4,000 printed pages which in turn is about 140 hours of audio CD.

I'm currently near the end of "Wizard and Glass", which I found was much easier to get into in audio form. I plan on posting some comments when I'm done with the series, which I project will be sometime this summer.

Denis on DVD

One of the reasons I like The Digital Bits is their feature "Upcoming DVD Art". So instead of a site with a big glob of titles in text that tends to run together, you have a neat an orderly progression of cover art that conveys the information much more clearly.

The latest discovery from their gallery is the arrival of "The Job - The Complete Series" on DVD. Before Denis Leary starred as a NYC firefighter in "Rescue Me", he played a similarly conflicted NYC cop in this comedy that only lasted two seasons. One great thing about great TV shows that get cancelled early on is that, when they get released on DVD, it's usually in a single complete set (See "Sports Night").

I've curbed my DVD purchases significantly lately, but this one is shooting to the top of my "to get" list.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A pair of Yahoo headlines

Golf carts of old give way to flashy golf cars

Pretty much the definition of a slow news day, huh folks?

Oh, wait. I spoke to soon. Here's a real headline:

Canada opts out of U.S. missile shield

"So, like, if you go in half with me on this used Dodge Dart I'm looking at, then I can totally drive you around and stuff. What? No, I've never gotten the thing to actually start. Huh? Yeah, all the mechanics I talked to told me that the engine block is frozen solid and the drive shaft is missing. Listen, I don't like your attitude, man. What kind of friend are you, anyway? Maple syrup loving freak!"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Reviews: "Roger & Me" (1989) and "Super Size Me" (2004)

"Documentary" was once a term that, for most people, translated into "dry", "educational" and "boring". Then along came Michael Moore. He wasn't the first person to make documentaries entertaining as well as informative, but he was the most important. Fifteen years after Moore broke ground with "Roger & Me", filmmaker Morgan Spurlock followed in this tradition with his own documentary, "Super Size Me". Both films make for an interesting compare and contrast.

"Roger & Me" begins as the story of Michael Moore himself, a kid who was born and raised in the town of Flint, Michigan. He describes his Halcyon days in the 1950's where Flint was the model of the growing American town, and he has an entire family of General Motors employees to prove it. Flash forward to the 1980's, when massive layoffs by GM have transformed the once bustling Flint into a shell of its former self. Moore decides to take up his beef with the president of GM, Roger Smith. Getting in to see him is not as easy as he would hope, so he ends up filling us in on life in Flint and how things have changed since the layoffs began.

I first saw "Roger & Me" back in 1993 and thought it was simultaneously the most depressing and hysterical thing I had ever seen. It presented a sobering view of a town, once the ideal of 1950's prosperity, seeing its vitality bled away by a corporation who sought lower-paid workers in Mexico. Moore's attempts to get an interview with Smith, which even he must have known was never going to happen, is a punchline that takes a back seat to such Flint denizens as Deputy Ross, Bob Eubanks and, most notoriously, Rhonda "Pets or Meat" Britton.

Back then, Moore was not the lightning rod of controversy he is today, but his first film sewed the seeds of the resentment some people would eventually hold for him. During the film's second half, he details efforts by Flint to revitalize its economy with a new Hyatt Hotel, a convention center named Waterstreet Pavilion, and an auto-themed amusement park called "Autoworld". Though the inferred timeline suggests all this happened after the layoffs, they in truth occurred several years before. This bears examination.

There are basically two kinds of Moore critics. The first kind are whiplash conservatives who refuse to listen to his case no matter how much evidence he presents. These kind of people cannot be engaged in a rational discussion, so I'm not addressing them. The second group are earnest and non-partisan critics who question Moore's occasional efforts at misdirection and omission of pertinent facts. In the specific case of the altered Flint timeline, the difference is negligible. The city fathers end up looking slightly less silly for their efforts (Autoworld's animatronic autoworker singing a duet with the robotic arm replacing him on the line remains incredibly misguided). The overall message of the film remains intact and valid.

Moore's strategic editing is used to create a better object of entertainment. And he is in the entertainment industry, like it or not. His films aim for a wide audience and he continually gets it through his ridicule of the rich and powerful. All of this does not excuse his lapses, but provisions must be made for the storytelling process. The key question one must ask when discussing these lapses is this: Is the overall objective/premise still a sound one? Ever since "Bowling for Columbine", Moore has been on the defensive. And Moore has been up to the task, backing up every niggling detail in discussions on his website as well as others. In a sense, all of this serves to further the documentary's overall goal: Get people talking about the subject at hand. More on this in a moment.

"Super Size Me" is the story of a culinary experiment conducted by Morgan Spurlock. One Thanksgiving, Spurlock heard a TV report on a lawsuit filed in New York City by the parents of several overweight children. They claimed that McDonald's' food endangered their children's health. McDonald's disputed the lawsuit by claiming, among other things, that their menu can be a part of a healthy diet. Spurlock decides to take McDonald's up on their claim by eating nothing but McDonald's food for thirty days straight. As we track his progress, or rather descent, we are filled in on many aspects of fast food and American dietary habits.

Though Moore went for an emotional pull in his film, showcasing his dilapidated downtown with boarded-up storefronts, Spurlock goes for a clinical stance. This happens right off the bat as we are presented with the numbers concerning his health before the experiment. To be sure, there is an emotional aspect as we listen to his girlfriend's genuine concern for his health as he gains more weight. Overall, however, Spurlock goes for the rational arguments, bolstering his case with eye-catching graphics and a truckload of statistics.

Whereas some might say that Moore's passionate zeal make him blind to other sides of the issue, Spurlock is willing to poke fun anywhere that it's pokable. Sixteen years younger than Moore, he's a bit of a smart aleck, yet not so sarcastic or cynical as to be unlikable. At the same time he's taking issue with McDonald's marketing tactics and such, he's also showing how the lawyers handling the lawsuits against McDonald's are in it far more for the money than any moral or health crusade. He points out stupidity and crassness wherever he finds it.

Both filmmakers, and both films, have a wicked sense of humor. Much of this comes from the interviewed subjects themselves. Then there are other instances such as when Spurlock shows a series of picture cards to children to see if Ronald McDonald is more recognizable than famous historic faces. He shows one picture to a child and they guess that it's President Bush, only for Spurlock to turn the card to the camera and show us a picture of Jesus Christ. Both films also use "Animal House"-style epilogues for the people we've come to know (including an instance in both films of an executive getting canned shortly after the film was made, possibly for statements made to the interviewer).

The key similarity connecting the films is also the most obvious: Both titles end with the word "Me". This significant detail is not an indicator of ego. Rather, in the case of the subject matter in both films, the filmmaker's bias is a result of being themselves involved. These are personal stories that they are telling us. Some might say that for this very reason they shouldn't be the ones telling them. To that objection, I would say that it's quite possible these stories would never be told were it not for their efforts.

In this sense, Randall Adams was very fortunate when filmmaker Errol Morris made the excellent documentary "The Thin Blue Line". Morris did not know the people involved nor was he himself involved in the murder case. In fact, the Long Island native was about as far from Texas as you can get. He had no personal role in the story itself, so it's style could be viewed as Moore's polar opposite. However, what Moore and Morris share is a passion for telling a story in order to move, inform and stimulate interest in the subject. In the case of "Blue Line", Morris succeeded. The release and success of the film resulted in Randall Adams' case to be reopened whereupon he was later exonerated. That is the power of the medium, and Moore understands this more than anyone.

One final note on Moore. Above all the insults that are thrown at him (and liberals in general for that matter), the most ludicrous is that he hates America. Now, you may say his methods are unethical. You may say he's biased. You may say he's an egotistical blowhard. You can argue all of these points. But the one thing he has proven time and again through his documentaries is, like Flint itself, he loves America. That's why he does what he does. Saying the opposite is just indulging in the simplistic name-calling that is meant solely to push people's buttons. The fact that such tactics succeed in stirring up some groups of people doesn't make the slur any less hollow and baseless.

Some people have expressed sorrow at what they perceive as the death of documentaries. This is nonsense. Non-Michael Moore documentaries do exist and even thrive. "Spellbound", a moving film about eight young contestants at the 1999 National Spelling Bee, actually got a theatrical release that came to Jacksonville back in 2002. It's a superior example of the documentary form, and there remains plenty of room for films like it alongside its flashier cousins. And make no mistake that documentaries such as "Super Size Me" are not going away, and that's a good thing. We would have a poorer cinema without them.

"Roger & Me" and "Super Size Me": Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"House" of Laurie

It's Tuesday! And that means, in the Mosley household, that it's time for a new episode of "House". I've been a fan of this show since it first premiered late last year and it has become, along with "Lost", something to look forward to each week.

It stars Hugh Laurie, who is a very familiar face to anyone who's a fan of British comedy. He plays a brilliant but ornery American doctor named Gregory House. He works at a walk-in clinic that is a part of Princeton University and solves incredibly complicated cases. It would appear that Laurie learned a thing or two from Rowan Atkinson during his years on "Black Adder", because House is a master of the rejoinder. The dialogue is half the fun of the show, so I've posted a few below.

Dr. Cameron: You want me to tell a man whose wife is about to die that she may have cheated on him?
Dr. House: No, I want you to be polite and let her die.

Dan's Father: How can you just sit there?
Dr. House: Well, if I eat standing up, I spill.

Dr. Cameron: Men should grow up.
Dr. House: Yeah. And dogs should stop licking themselves. It's not gonna happen.

Dr. Foreman: I think your argument is specious.
Dr. House: I think your tie is ugly.

Dr. Chase: You must be joking.
Dr. House: Well, hard not to. Nothing's funnier than cancer.

Dr. Wilson: Did your pager really just go off or are you ditching the conversation?
Dr. House: Why can't both be true?
And finally, in an address to people sitting in the waiting room of the clinic, House offers his services:

Dr. House: But not to worry, because for most of you, this job could be done by a monkey with a bottle of Motrin. Speaking of which, if you're particularly annoying, you may see me reach for this: this is Vicodin. It's mine! You can't have any! And no, I do not have a pain management problem, I have a pain problem... but who knows? Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm too stoned to tell. So, who wants me?

Friday, February 18, 2005

"The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time"

One last post and link before I hang it up for my three day weekend. I'll just leave you with this question: Do you think the Tamagotchi should have placed higher than the Rubik's Cube?

Skippy of the Day: Blockbuster

Blockbuster can't win for losing, these days. At any rate, I was afraid this was going to happen when they unveiled their new policy. Here's their statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The fact is there are no longer late fees at Blockbuster," the company said. "We're disappointed he (Harvey) took this action, because we believe our end-of-late fees program is a terrific program and we've received tremendous feedback from both our customers and employees."
Guys, I'm not saying that the new policy is a bad one, although I personally didn't go into orgasmic fits like in the commercial. I'm also not saying that the new policy isn't more than fair. But allow me to quote Penn & Teller when I respond to your "restocking fee": Bullsh*t!

Yes, rational people are not going to actually believe that once they rent a video, they can keep it for months on end and not incur some kind of fine. Yet the simplicity of your great new slogan was not reflected in the details of the policy itself. The fact is that, contrary to your direct statement, there are still late fees, just not as stringent as before. A "restocking fee" and the 30 day retail price tactic are late fees by any other name.

Imagine if George Bush held a news conference tomorrow and loudly proclaimed that the income tax was abolished and that no one ever again would have to pay an income tax, ever. Then imagine Scott McClellan announcing in a press briefing the next day that a new "percentage-of-the-money-you-make" tax would be going into effect starting immediately.

I'm still somewhat baffled that the PR people at Blockbuster let this thing go through. Would it have killed them to create a slogan around the concept of a week's grace period. Not only is the time period easy to grasp, but it also tells the actual truth of the policy. There's no wiggle room.

Oh well, they can take solace in the fact that I still rent from them once a week or so. Unfortunately for them and their soon to increase lawyer fees, I'll be turning in mine on time.

Review: "Alien 3" (1992)

Reviewing great films is often more difficult because you find yourself piling on monotonous praise. You fall into such fawning that you keep stealing glances at the keyboard to look for traces of drool. I have no desire to write a review of "Alien" or "Aliens" because they both get Ten out of Tens, hands down (If you'd like a thorough dissection of the first film, then I heartily recommend this review). Much more satisfying, for me anyway, is the chance to defend films that have always been treated like red headed stepchildren. Such is the case for the film that followed those first two titles I mentioned above.

Most people who loved "Aliens" were immediate pissed off by the opening of "Alien 3", which instructs in short order that after Ripley's narrowly escape, her ship crashes into a penal colony planet and her two companions, Newt and Hicks, have died. Like the beginning of the second film, Ripley finds herself all alone in the world. This is exacerbated by a group of people that either don't want her there or want her there only for possible molesting purposes. She soon discovers that an alien rode piggyback on the ship and she has to get the prison population organized in order to fight it off and survive.

I'll mention it once again because it bears repeating: fans were really pissed off that those two characters, who went through so much and had therefore endeared themselves to the audience, were simply bumped off with little fanfare in the first five minutes. I myself was a little ticked off when I saw this in the theater, but I have in years since understood the motivation for this.

The "Alien" franchise is unique in that it has had the benefit of a different visionary director in the pilot's seat each time out. The first, directed by Ridley Scott, was a template for horror films for years to come and has been ripped off more times than anyone can count. The second film, directed by James Cameron, was more of an action film. However, it was an incredibly good action film and fans of the first didn't mind the thematic departure because they were too busy having such a damn good time.

Such a one-two punch of excellent films is extremely rare. It's damn near impossible to create a third film that at the very least earns the respect of fans. Even Coppola himself couldn't do it with "Godfather 3". So you can imagine what it was like to be in David Fincher's shoes when he was given the Directing gig for "Alien 3". Yet I imagine that the script's decision to kill off the two characters may have been a relief to Fincher. The writer had essentially broken off this film from the other two and Fincher could go ahead and say, "I'm not Scott. I'm not Cameron. I'm me, and this is what I am going to do."

The result is a much darker film the the first two (this is the director of "Fight Club", after all) that echoes more of the horror in the first film than the gung-ho action in the second. Like the first film, we're only dealing with one alien and not hordes of them. This is fortunate, because the cast of characters are ill equipped to deal with the threat having no weapons except what they can fashion out of tools. It's interesting to note that the alien gestates inside a dog instead of a human. The result is an alien that looks different from the ones we're used to seeing and serves as a mirror of the film itself: Leaner, shorter, faster and a whole different animal altogether.

Most of the characters, aside from the leads, tend to blend together. We're talking about a bunch of bald British males in the same grubby gray clothing. For all their life expectancy, they might as well be wearing red shirts. Much was made at the time of Weaver's head shave for the film. A similar coif removal was done by Demi Moore for "G.I. Jane" (directed by...Ridley Scott!), and that was also a film in which a woman is forced to spend a lot of time proving herself to a bunch of brutish males. Weaver shines in the role that made her a star, hair or no hair. Charles S. Dutton provides solid support, as always, as the religious convict Dillon. And finally, there is a cameo from one of the cast members in "Aliens". Without giving it away, I will reveal that their appearance makes logical sense and is, therefore, a nice addition.

The ending is a nice capper to the series. Well, it would be, if "Alien: Resurrection" hadn't been made (That film I have no compunction over treating like a red headed stepchild). Anyway, the ending of "Alien 3" brings closure to Ripley's journey. It also echoes, whether intentionally or not, James Cameron's "Terminator 2", released one year before this one. Even after I first saw it in the theater, I realized I had watched a very well made and satisfying science fiction film. If you give the film a chance, then I'm sure you'll come to the same conclusion.

One final note: "Alien 3" contains, in my opinion, the best use of the expletive "F*ck" that I've heard in a film. In an early scene, Warden Andrews (Brian Glover) goes to the mess hall to explain to the inmates their current situation while, Queeg-like, rolling a pair of rubber balls in his hand. Ripley runs panting into the room to tell them that the creature is here and that they are all in danger. When Andrews begins to reprimand her, the alien descends from a hole in the ceiling and draws him up with it. The inmates scramble in a panic over metal chairs and watch this in horror. When they see the balls fall back down, the room goes quiet and inmate Morse, played by Daniel Webb, breaks the silence with an empathic "F*ck!". I know that doesn't sound special, but you have to see it for yourself to see what I mean. That one word simultaneously expresses shock, fear and, "Oh MAN, are we screwed!".

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Where's my towel?!

Glory be! The trailer for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is now online and looks good!

And a special thanks to Amazon for providing the trailer on their website so I don't have to fiddle with any Quicktime or RealPlayer crap.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lyrically speaking: Tom Waits

I recently checked out a copy of "Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits" CD from the library. The album proves two things. One, the musician fans of Waits are numerous, disparate and sincere. Two, no matter how sincere they are, most of them can't cover a Tom Waits tune to save their lives.

Particularly, the Violent Femmes' version of "Step Right Up" is awful. They end up butchering the charm and rhythms of the original and I couldn't make myself listen past the first 30 seconds of it. This is a shame, because the song is a true original from Waits and is something that everyone should give a listen to. Apropo of nothing, I'm posting the lyrics. And, again, the lyrics are only half the song and only really comes alive through Waits' delivery.

Step right up.
Step right up.
Step right up.
Everyone's a winner, bargains galore.
That's right, you too can be the proud owner of the quality goes in before the name goes on.
One-tenth of a dollar.
One-tenth of a dollar.
We got service after sale.
You need perfume? We got perfume. How 'bout an engagement ring?
Something for the little lady something for the little lady something for the little lady.
Hmm, Three for a dollar.
We got a year-end clearance.
We got a white sale and a smoke-damaged furniture you can drive it away today.
Act now, act now and receive as our gift, our gift to you.
They come in all colors, one size fits all.
No muss, no fuss, no spills you're tired of kitchen drudgery everything must go.
Going out of business going out of business going out of business sale.
Fifty percent off original retail price skip the middle man.
Don't settle for less.
How do we do it? How do we do it? Volume, volume, turn up the volume.
Now you've heard it advertised, don't hesitate.
Don't be caught with your drawers down. Don't be caught with your drawers down.
You can step right up, step right up.
That's right, it filets, it chops It dices, slices, never stops lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn.
And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school it gets rid of unwanted facial hair it gets rid of embarrassing age spots.
It delivers a pizza.
And it lengthens, and it strengthens.
And it finds that slipper that's been at large under the chaise longe for several weeks.
And it plays a mean Rhythm Master.
It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar.
And it's only a dollar, step right up it's only a dollar, step right up.
'Cause it forges your signature.
If not completely satisfied, mail back unused portion of product for complete refund of price of purchase.
Step right up.
Please allow thirty days for delivery don't be fooled by cheap imitations.
You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it, swim in it, sleep in it, live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it.
Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right.
And it entertains visiting relatives
It turns a sandwich into a banquet.
Tired of being the life of the party? Change your shorts. Change your life. Change your life.
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife.
And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax.
Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack see you later alligator see you later alligator and it steals your car.
It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking.
It's a friend, and it's a companion and it's the only product you will ever need.
Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing.
Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff, gives you dandruff.
And it finds you a job.
It is a job.
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange.
And it gives you denture breath.
And you know it's a friend, and it's a companion.
And it gets rid of your traveler's checks.
It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned.
Well it takes care of business, never needs winding never needs winding never needs winding.
Gets rid of blackheads, the heartbreak of psoriasis, Christ, you don't know the meaning of heartbreak, buddy!
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
'Cause it's effective, it's defective.
It creates household odors, it disinfects, it sanitizes for your protection.
It gives you an erection, it wins the election.
Why put up with painful corns any longer?
It's a redeemable coupon, no obligation, no salesman will visit your home.
We got a jackpot, jackpot, jackpot.
Prizes, prizes, prizes.
All work guaranteed.
How do we do it how do we do it how do we do it how do we do it?
We need your business.
We're going out of business.
We'll give you the business.
Get on the business end of our going-out-of-business sale.
Receive our free brochure, free brochure.
Read the easy-to-follow assembly instructions, batteries not included.
Send before midnight tomorrow, terms available.
Step right up, step right up, step right up.
You got it buddy: the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.
Step right up, you can step right up, you can step right up, C'mon step right up.
(Get away from me kid, you bother me...)
Step right up, step right up, step right up.
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
Step right up, you can step right up.
C'mon and step right up, c'mon and step right up.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Tit for Tat

My long time reader and fellow Librarian, who now goes by the name of "John the Methodist", has gone and made himself his own darn blog, thank you very much. Seeing as John was nice enough to link to mine, I am returning the favor with a link to Locusts and Honey on the right. Congrats, John.

(Fun Factoid: Approximately 63% of the web monitoring & content filters on the market will now block my blog just for the title of this entry. Go figure.)


Ugh. Work-wise, this is going to be a very busy week. Posts will be light. I'll see you when I see you.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Movie Quotes: "Glengarry Glen Ross"

I've written about David Mamet before. The man knows how to write interesting dialogue. So it's not surprising that actors line up for the opportunity to speak it. In my experience, "Glengarry Glen Ross" remains his best film not just because of the great dialogue, but also for the great actors that get to speak it. This includes Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino. It's one of Al's first speeches that I am presenting here. Not only is it a great little diatribe that he uses to put a possible client at ease, but it also ends in one of the greatest non sequiturs that I've ever heard (One could argue that the entire thing is non sequiturs, but that's neither here nor there).

Ricky Roma: "All train compartments smell vaguely of s**t. It gets so you don't mind it. That's the worst thing that I can confess. You know how long it took me to get there? A long time. When you die you're going to regret the things you don't do. You think you're queer? I'm going to tell you something: we're all queer. You think you're a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Get shut of it. Shut it out. You cheated on your wife? You did it, live with it. You f**k little girls, so be it. There's an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, then be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don't think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won't live in it. That's me. You ever take a dump made you feel like you'd just slept for twelve hours?"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Skippy of the Day: Condoleeza Rice

So. North Korea comes right out and says they have nuclear missiles. They give as their reason that they need to defend themselves from a possible United States attack. The newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice responds:

Rice also refuted North Korea's contention that it needs nuclear weapons for "self-defense." "The North Koreans have no reason to believe that anyone wants to attack them," said Rice. "The president of the United States said in South Korea that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea. They've been told they can have multilateral security assurances if they will make the important decision to give up their nuclear weapons program."
The reason that Dubya's image as a "Cowboy" has caught on so well both here and abroad is that he fosters that image. Aside from the whole Texan thing, Dubya fancies himself a wild card. He shoots from the hip. He's a loose cannon. I believe one of the reasons that we lost back in November is that after we yelled all these reasons to voters, many of them responded in smug unison with, "Yeah? So?" and all the rest of us were left speechless.

There are a number of people who like Bush and voted for him because he seems a little nuts. Their view is that since terrorists and some world leaders are unreasonable, why shouldn't he be. Maybe things would get done with an unreasonable man in office. Maybe a combination of veiled threats, saber rattling, and outright warfare would get some people's attention and bring them into line. Problem is, it doesn't always work that way.

Rice's attempt to tell North Korea to settle down and take it easy would be laughable if it wasn't so pathetic. Ever since Bush's "Axis of Evil" declaration (boy, he loves rhetorically linking his war with that of the Greatest Generation, doesn't he), North Korea has been on his sh*t list. He named three countries as part of the Axis. The first we invaded and occupied. The second we (specifically, Rice herself) have made major threats towards in the past several weeks. The third is North Korea. Now tell me again why they have no reason to be paranoid?

If the world has learned nothing else from the Iraq invasion, it is this: If Dubya wants to invade, he'll find a reason. Let's review: Bush threatened to invade Iraq if they didn't give up their WMD's. Iraq said that all their WMD's were destroyed. Bush called them liars, presented some cruddy evidence and invaded anyway. When no weapons were found, he said the invasion was really all about bringing democracy to an oppressed people. After all, we all know how real interested Bush is in human rights in particular countries where it suits his plans.

Why wouldn't North Korea believe that, after hypothetically giving up their nuclear weapons program, Bush would say either, "You're lying. You have them hidden. We're going in." or "You're people are oppressed. We're going in."? The answer is that there's no reason at all. Bush can't have it both ways. He can't portray himself as having and itchy trigger finger and an on-a-mission-from-God mindset and then say, with a straight face, that he's willing to sit down and talk this through.

So my advice to Condi, who is about to discover how really stressful Colin Powell's old job can be, is this: Although Kim Jong-il is a certifiable nutjob, don't go and insult the man's intelligence.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Review: "Shattered Glass" (2003)

I have nothing against the field of psychology. However, there is a trend with bio-pics to over-explain how characters become the way they are. Flashbacks to traumatic childhoods, ranging from abuse to spoiling to neglect, have become a standard explanatory device. Rare is the modern film, including the subject of this review, where the viewer ends up feeling that not enough of the person's background is revealed. The subject, by the time the credits roll, remains a cypher and we are left wondering what really makes them tick.

"Shattered Glass" is the true life story of Stephen Glass, a young journalist who quickly rises to fame through his work at "The New Republic". We soon discover that his popularity with readers is rivaled by his popularity with his coworkers. This includes editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), who is soon forced to leave after a dispute with the magazine's boss. Kelly is replaced by Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), a writer who is not as easily charmed by Glass, but is also not nearly as well liked by the rest of the staff. When he discovers the possibility that Glass has fabricated details in his latest story, he has both Glass and everyone else to deal with.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The DVD of this film includes the "60 Minutes" story of the whole 1998 incident. If the piece is any indication, then the filmmakers do not indulge in the same flights of fancy that Glass himself did when telling their story. And there is little need to. The fact that Glass was able to go as far as he did and not get caught is truly one of the great mysteries of our time. This is particularly striking when we realize that this was only seven years ago and that the vast researching advantage of the Internet was at anyone's fingertips.

Homer Simpson once literally dug himself into a hole, with several other characters, that he couldn't get out of. When one character asks Homer what they should do, Homer replies triumphantly, "We'll dig our way out!" and then they continue to dig. Now, this "Simpsons" reference is not completely gratuitous. As with Homer, Glass continues to believe throughout his downward spiral that he can lie his way out. But where as Homer's delusion was humorous, Glass's is downright disturbing. It's uncomfortable for the audience to see him sweat and reach for explanations that are beyond probable.

Like the film and Glass himself, Christensen plays his cards close to his chest. His affability with the people he works with is convincing, and he manages to get the viewer enough on his side so that we are emotionally jarred as his world starts collapsing. Peter Sarsgaard has a less showy role, but his submerged (but growing) frustration at this kid who simply does not know when to quit is palpable. The audience's goodwill gradually moves from the earnest kid Glass to the steadfast adult Lane. You can sense when the last of Stephen's life lines are cut when Chuck tells him sternly, "I'm not going anywhere with you". Glass finally knows he's sunk, and the audience feels some relief that his long ride is finally over.

The resolution strikes an odd note. The filmmakers feel some compunction to give Chuck Lane, after all that he's been through, a sort of standing ovation. The moment rings a bit false, and would have been better handled if just Caitlin Avey (Chloe Sevigny), who defended Glass the hardest, would have made her peace with Lane. As for Glass, he receives a far more creepy ending as we see how out of touch with reality he could really be at times. The final epilogue that details his efforts to pass the New York bar exam also makes us wish for dear life we never find ourselves in a courtroom with him.

I've often griped about two-dimensional villains who are given no motivations beyond that of just being bad. Stephen Glass is also given short shrift in the motivation department, but this can be forgiven in this case. Unlike most movie bad guys, Stephen Glass is flesh and blood. If in the course of the film you find his actions and character implausible, then all you have to do is watch the "60 Minutes" piece and see for yourself.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Didn't he ramble. Didn't he raaaaaaam-ble."

Pandagon, among others, has some excerpts from Bush's attempt to explain his plans for Social Security to an audience in Tampa. Chief among them is this tidbit:

"Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised."

"Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red."

"Okay, better? I'll keep working on it."

You know, I would have made this a Skippy post, but where would I begin with a quote so aimless and confusing (or 'muddled', as the President phrased it in his solitary brush with coherence). In terms of eloquence, he makes Paulie Shore look like Oscar Wilde. All I can add is to second the thoughts of Demagogue on this: Would you trust this man with your retirement?

Mapquest is DEAD!

Long live Google Maps!

Criminy, this makes Mapquest look like a broken Etch-A-Sketch in comparison!

Chicken Caesar Review: Applebee's

Well, it's been awhile since I've done one of these, so let's get back to it with yet another Bar & Grill and see how it fares. Applebee's offers it's Grilled Italian Chicken Caesar Salad for $7.99 and it includes grilled Italian chicken (natch) served on romaine lettuce, with Parmesan cheese, garlic croutons and Caesar dressing. It also comes with a slice of garlic toast.

First off, the chicken is top shelf. It is a hot off the grill breast thinly sliced and very juicy. It was also blackened on the tips and edges, but the great taste made up for this. The rest of the salad is composed of chopped lettuce nicely tossed with just enough tangy dressing to be tasty but not too much that its overwhelming. The dressing is accented by the freshly shredded Parmesan. The croutons, though not fresh and a bit tough, had a good garlic and butter flavor. Finally, the slice of garlic toast is a nice tasty addition to the meal.

Aside from the chicken, this is a very standard Chicken Caesar Salad that is competently made and fairly satisfying. I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in an Applebee's and is looking for something on the light side.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Super Bowl: The Aftermath

An anecdote: Back in 1995, my folks and I took a bus trip tour through Europe. Our first stop on the continent was Amsterdam. We arrived at the hotel on a Saturday night after a day of riding on the Channel Ferry and riding on the bus. Being exhausted, we all just turned in for the evening. The next morning, after the bus was loaded up, we went to see some landmarks of the city before getting on the road again. We were told by the tour director that there was both a Rolling Stones concert and a big soccer victory celebration last night.

What we saw was a city that seemed to have suffered a nuclear attack. On this quiet Sunday morning, there was trash littered everywhere. The lighter pieces of paper scrap skittered along the ground, propelled by faint breezes. There were no people on the streets. Presumably, the residents of Amsterdam were all in doors suffering a collective hangover. It was quite an image.

This is what I thought I might see coming into downtown this morning.

In actuality, it doesn't look that bad or all that different. There are still a number of tents and temporary structures up, including one of those big, portable grills you haul behind a truck with a sign that says, "SOUTHERN BBQ CHICKEN HERE". But other than that, no big deal.

Of course, my end of downtown is a bit away from the stadium, so it may still appear to be a wasteland on that end. But it'll get cleaned up quickly enough. The excitement is over. The game is over. And the people are leaving in droves. Jacksonville will go back to the sleepy town it has been, with maybe a slight increase in downtown activity. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has already stated we may get the Super Bowl again in another ten years. But, my fellow residents, go ahead and rest up for a couple of years before working yourselves up into a frenzy again. It's time we took a vacation.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Are you ready for some Football?

And so here we are.

The one question that has continued unabated amongst sports columnists and fans since the beginning of our Super Bowl party was this: Why Jacksonville?

The jokes about Jacksonville being a cruddy, backass town have been constant. To show our good humor, one local columnist actually printed a long list of them to help visitors along. But beyond all the jabs at our town is main reason why Jacksonville is a great choice for a Super Bowl:

This is a city that loves football.

It's the one quality of Jacksonville that is of little doubt. Some of the most heated rivalries between some of the greatest College teams meet every year in and around Jacksonville. Some of the most passionate fans of those teams live right here. It was, in part, the passion of these fans that convinced the NFL to put the Jaguars here in the first place. And the passion continues to this day, whether the teams are the Jaguars, the Gators, the Seminoles, or any of the High School teams here in town which have produced their own NFL greats.

As I have said several times in the past week, I'm not a big football fan. However, I can appreciate and enjoy a good game. Most of the rest of Jacksonville's residents go way beyond that in their devotion. So, in the end, the gripes about roads, hotels, and how many friggin skyscrapers we have is irrelevant. When it comes right down to it, this is a Football town.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Super Bowl Countdown: One Day Left

We're hunkerin' down.

I mentioned the 2004 Hurricanes in Thursday's post, and it has struck me that residents such as myself are reacting to the Super Bowl as they did Hurricane Frances: stocking up on supplies and sealing themselves inside their homes. A Florida Times-Union article from today's paper made the same observation.

So much of the negative press have focused on too little hotel rooms there are and too much traffic there is. Well, some of us have made the decision to clear out of your way. After all, this is really your game that will be played tomorrow, no matter where it's located. I'm guessing there aren't a huge amount of Eagles or Patriot fans actually living in Jacksonville. Hell, we're getting a big enough kick at just looking at all the activity on TV.

So enjoy all the restaurants, clubs, theaters and, yes, Waffle Houses and Hooters (thank you,
Tony Kornheiser, you putz). Jacksonville has worked for years to show you a good time. After all, that's what a good party host does.

Mi casa, su casa. We'll be out in the garage if you need us.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Super Bowl Countdown: Two Days Left

Well, so much for the grey suits in Publix.

Yesterday, the rumors started flying in terms of celebrity sightings in town. Now, I can get into this as much as anybody, but when celebrity sightings amount to figures chiefly from the sports world, I'm underwhelmed. I'm sure that having Deion Sanders, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Jerry Rice around is extremely exciting for some, but not me.

But there have been exceptions. I first heard about Robin Williams beings at Sneakers Sports Bar early yesterday via word of mouth. Then I saw the picture at the First Coast News celebrity sightings site (The picture's not a very good one, I'll admit. It could be Robin Williams. It could also be that old guy from the Barber Shop). So it's freaky to think of him here.

John Travolta has also been sighted, but that's less impressive since it's known around town that he owns a house down in Ocala. He's become a bit of a local boy. He shot "Basic" down at Camp Blanding several years ago, and he's going to be making "Lonely Hearts" with James Gandolfini in Jacksonville later this year.

And then there's Brad Pitt. Specifically, this is the statement that has been spread around town: "Brad Pitt was seen buying Orange Juice at a Ponte Vedra Winn Dixie". I suppose that in the case of restaurants, it's easier to accept celebrity sightings, as if they were actually conjured on the premises. But Winn Dixie?! How mundane can you get?!

And the week is still young. We may see more before it's all over. Suffice to say, if I run into Colin Farrell sipping on an Expresso at the Docking Station, you folks will be the first to hear about it. And furthermore, I'll be sure to ask him what was up with "Alexander".

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Horrors of Encyclopedia Britannica

When I was a kid, we had a set of encyclopedias in the house that I loved to thumb through. This image is one that I found in there that has never left my head. Even having since seen hundreds of sci fi, horror and fantasy films, this remains one of the creepiest things I have ever seen.

It's called a star-nosed mole, if you're curious.

Lady and Gentleman...

There are, to my knowledge, a grand total of two regular readers of my blog.

This information is for the one who isn't my wife.

You'll be interested to know that the MST3K Volume 7 DVD being released in April will contain two Hercules movies. The information can be found here.

Super Bowl Countdown: Three Days Left

A visitor's first impression of Jacksonville: London's weather without the London.

One guaranteed appeal of Jacksonville for anyone coming down here is that it doesn't snow. At all. We did have snow for several days back in the Christmas of 1989, but that was such a freak occurrence, people here still talk about it as if it was the day the aliens landed.

No, snow is not one of our problems. Rain, however, can be. Despite the relief that football fans must feel to visit a town where snow shovel back strain is non-existent, the weather can still be crummy in its own unique way. As it was yesterday. The first impression for people who arrived yesterday must be worrying city officials as they hear Eagles fans mumble under their breath, "Sunshine State, my ass".

There's nothing to be done about it, of course. But it does bring about an interesting parallel with the last time Jacksonville was big in the news: the 2004 hurricanes. What must people think of this poor, blighted state that appears to have imported it's weather from some barren, Scottish moors.

But things are looking up. Today has a 50% chance of rain, down from the 70% for yesterday. The outlook for the rest of the weekend is looking even better. And this morning was quite pleasant. Foggy and cool, but no rain. I dare say it was mild enough for resilient northerners to call it "shorts weather". Such news must please the Super Bowl organizers, because the last thing they want is bedraggled football fans returning to New England with "I went to the 2005 Jacksonville Super Bowl and all I got was this lousy case of pneumonia" T-shirts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Super Bowl Countdown: Four Days Left

Any publicity is good publicity.

So goes the old Madison Avenue adage. I was asked in the comments section yesterday if I thought all this Super Bowl activity was worth the hullabaloo. Well, I'm guessing that we're looking at this question from the vantage point of the locals and not the visitors. The natives have the most to lose from it and have to put up with the most crap. As a native myself, I see the legitimacy of this argument and have a reasoned response for it:

Oh, puhlease. Like you were doing anything else this week.

Even speaking as a non-football fan, I don't mind the inconvenience. Yes, traffic will be hell for four straight days, but it's just four days, people. As much as we like to bitch about backups on I-95, it seems to me that some of the traffic issues in bigger cities makes our tie-ups look like infrequent duck crossings. As for crowds, most of the visitors will be congregating downtown. On any other weekend, the number of people that have serious weekend social plans in the downtown area would probably fill a city bus, if that.

But there are other issues besides inconvenience. There is also the staggering amount of money being poured into this thing by the city. I don't need to acquaint everyone with the mayor's party line that all this money is an "investment". As I mentioned in the post about the new city slogan, most of the visitors coming here don't so much dislike Jacksonville as much as simply don't know anything about it. Despite a decade of NFL relevance with the Jaguars, we're still very much an anonymous city.

Will the Super Bowl solve all that? Iffy. Unless we commit some spectacular failure during the festivities, I imagine the event can only help us. Time will tell on any long term benefits.

As for anyone with continued gripes about all this money being funneled into something as trivial and inconsequential as a football game, I feel your pain. But in a culture where "Sports" gets its own newspaper section that often receives more attention than the Front Page, griping about the over-importance of football is so much beating your fists against a brick wall.

So, in my estimation, it's best to just sit back and enjoy the show. Not the game, mind you, but the spectacle of a city whipped up into an excited frenzy. Hey, beats Fear Factor any day.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


The subject of POW's in our current Iraqi conflict is no laughing matter. Yet after reading this article and seeing the accompanying picture, I have to say that the soldier in the photo looks suspiciously like an action figure. Has anybody else noticed this?

UPDATE: Yep, thought so.

Super Bowl Countdown: Five Days Left

Don't they have Mahatma in Philly?

Let me explain. The local news is now starting to hype up the celebrities that are popping up around town, though some are less than impressive. Tom Arnold may cohost a popular sports talk show, but his appearance will always be underwhelming since he looks very much like the moron that lives down the street.

But there are important people that aren't celebrities, business people, expected to be walking our streets. I'm sure that the city administrators are hoping that these important people come down here and see the city as a great place to set up shop. We've begun attracting some big businesses in the past five years, and the Super Bowl should only help matters.

Last night, I stopped by Publix for groceries at around 9pm. As I pushed my cart through the back corridor and looked down the aisles one by one, I passed the one with the pastas and such. Near the front of the aisle, a half dozen middle aged men, all dressed nicely in grey suits, stood clustered in the middle of the aisle staring at a shelving area and talking with great interest to eachother.

Now, It's odd enough to see one guy dressed in a suit in Publix, much less six. So, given all the Super Bowl hype right now, I imagined them to be visitors. Fair enough, but what were they looking at and why was it so interesting? I circled around and caught a glimpse of them as they left, almost single file, out the front door. I made my way to the spot they were standing and looked at the spot they were looking at.

It was rice and beans.

And I'm not talking about special Super Bowl limited edition rice and beans, either. They weren't even on sale, for crying out loud. Just long grain, short grain, black eyed, red. Maybe they were planning on a Mardi Gras-themed Super Bowl party. Maybe they were executives for Zatarain's. Hell, I don't know. But it did make me think twice about all the anal-retentive attention to detail the locals have been exhibiting. I know now not to jump to criticize these people. Rather, to them I say good job, and keep up the good work.

And for pete's sake, keep your dry goods orderly.

Keith David Quote of the Month: February 2005

"Platoon" was Keith David's second film role, and it's a prominent one. He plays King, one of the few soldiers that is civil towards the protagonist Chris, played by Charlie Sheen. And for his efforts, he' also one of the few lucky characters to end up unscathed at the end. At one point, he gives his basic view of life in Vietnam after Chris gives his own increasingly cynical view.
Chris Taylor: It's the way the whole thing works, people like Elias get wasted, people like Barnes just go on making up the rules any way they want. So what do we do? Sit in the middle and suck on it. We just don't add up to dry sh*t, King.

King: Whoever said we did, man? All you got to do is make it out of here. It's all gravy, everyday the rest of your life, gravy.