Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dude, if they need you, they'll shine the bat signal, okay?


Monday, 4:00 P.M.:
Man dressed as Batman attempting to direct traffic at 3rd Avenue East and Main Street. Update: Preliminary breath test registered .217. Subject arrested for probation violation.


Twiggy not included.


I've been having a hard time coming up with something silly to do on my birthday this year. I mean, I've had ideas, but then I realized it's happening over Easter weekend, and that ties us closer to home than usual. It's harder to sneak out for a day trip with Easter food to prepare and relatives coming into town.

And let's be honest: it's gonna be really hard to top sharing my 30th birthday with a giant ball of twine and meeting a water-skiing squirrel.

So...I'm taking the lazy way out, and I'm settling for pizza & a movie.

Birthday 2010.

But at least it'll be a silly movie. That's something, right?


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Things I haven't done this weekend:


1. I haven't finished birthday presents for two friends who have birthdays next weekend. Tick-tock.

2. I haven't plopped down in the basement and held my own little Bad Movie Festival, even though I planned ahead last week and picked up Wild Wild West, Glitter and Gigli at the rental place. They're due back today, so I guess I can scratch that off my list.

3. I haven't even started going through my winter clothes and swapping them out for the spring clothes hiding out in the garage.

4. I haven't finished crocheting that @#$%&*! baby blanket I started a month ago yet, either.

5. I haven't made any plans for my birthday next weekend. I'm torn; should I attempt to top last year's birthday excursion (if it's even possible to top that - it set the crazy bar pretty high), or give myself a year off and settle for something more thrown-together?

6. Crap, I haven't even gotten dressed yet today. I should really get cracking, shouldn't I?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Police blotter.


Saturday, 4:33 A.M.:
Report of naked and highly-intoxicated male in parking lot of the high-rise.

Saturday, 4:19 P.M.: Caller reported two vehicles in front of her house each with 3 teens, appear to have rifles with scopes. Update: Officer determined the kids were filming something for school and the guns were squirt guns.

Saturday, 4:55 P.M.: Report of two small children tossing a glove at cars.

Tuesday, 3:37 P.M.: Suspicious activity: report of a man sitting in a ditch in Washburn drinking what looks like beer.

Tuesday, 5:30 P.M.: Report of a fire in Washburn. Update: No fire, just burnt pizza.

Friday, 12:51 P.M.: Report of notice of lottery win received by mail along with $100,000 check - a possible scam.

Friday, 8:57 P.M.: Report of woman feeling harassed by female known to her over both having a garage sale on the same day.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Too hot for page 7B.


I've never seen this movie, but whenever I pass it at the rental place, I'm reminded of when it was released and being advertised on the "now playing" page of the Duluth News-Tribune. The DNT ran movie ads alongside the movie listings (our paper in Ashland didn't, probably because it's small & we only have one theater), and all the requisite posters and critics' blurbs were splashed around the page. After catechism on Sunday mornings, it was family tradition to stop at the Piggly Wiggly a block away from the church for the Sunday paper (and for comic books, if we'd been good and/or if my mother wanted to shut us up for a while), and once we got home, me & my brothers would fight over who got to read the funnies first while my parents pored over the rest of the paper at the kitchen table.

A few weeks after White Palace came out, my mom was reading the Sunday paper when she burst out laughing. "Look at this ad!" She pointed at the ad for White Palace - one she'd been tsk-tsking over a few weeks before - and yes indeed, it seemed there was something there that wasn't there before:

Modesty.

Even funnier: after she noticed that, she went into our pile of unrecycled papers and found some Sunday papers from a few weeks back...and it turned out that Susan Sarandon's chastity sweater hadn't appeared overnight. Whoever was editing the layout of that page at the DNT had added it incrementally - first, it was colored-in just high enough to cover her boobs, then the next week it came up to her necklace, until finally it became something akin to a turtleneck.


Monday, March 22, 2010

My favorite movies of 2009.


I know, I know, it's almost April. We're nearly four months into 2010. But what can I say - I don't like to rush into things, and there were a lot of things I was waiting to see on DVD. Here goes...


10. Star Trek
I was skeptical when I first heard about the
Star Trek franchise getting a re-boot, because re-boots in general are kind of hit-or-miss as far as I'm concerned...but I was really pleasantly surprised with this. The casting was great, the story was engaging and well-paced, and I love the way they opened up a whole new universe of possibilities for the franchise by finding a plausible, clever way to wipe away the previously-established history of Kirk & crew.

9. 9
For whatever reason, this didn't seem to make much of a blip on the moviegoing public's radar...maybe because it came out in late summer, when the theaters were already overloaded with options? Or maybe people saw it on the theater marquees and mistook it for the musical
Nine (which looked like it roundly sucked)? Anyway, I really liked this: the visuals are interesting and the character design was very thoughtful, and I found the story really captivating. It's too bad more people didn't see it. I think it merited a Best Animated Feature nod from the Academy, at least.

8. In the Loop
I'll admit it: I watched it with the closed captioning on. The dialogue in this flies so fast I could hardly keep up without it, but oh my god, it's hilarious. It takes profanity to a whole new level. Great casting, too, and even though the end result of the international wrangling is kind of a foregone conclusion from the get-go, it sure was fun to watch it all unravel.

7. Inglourious Basterds
It's a shame that Quentin Tarantino was up against such tough competition at the Oscars this year, particularly in the screenwriting category; any other year, he probably would've won for
Inglourious Basterds. This was suspenseful (even though I knew how it was going to end before I saw it), and the casting was terrific. And the cinematography, especially in the opening scene at the French farmhouse, and the long uncut shots in the theater toward the end, was beautiful. I can't wait to see what Tarantino does next - he's maturing, but without losing his voice.

6. Up in the Air
Up in the Air is all about uncertainty, and yearning for connection in a society inundated with new ways to communicate. Before I saw it, I thought it was lazy that so many critics were remarking that it's very much a movie of the moment - but after I saw it, I understood why they were saying it.

5. The Hurt Locker
A very good, tightly-wound war movie. It tied my stomach up in knots while I watched it. It doesn't lay things out in black and white; the characters, their circumstances, and the locale aren't presented as simply "good" or "bad," and it doesn't give any easy answers.

4. Moon
So excellent. The story twists and curves just enough to keep you guessing, and Sam Rockwell's performance is brilliant - I can't believe he didn't get an Oscar nomination for this. The set design is beautiful (the moon exteriors, especially) and made me feel fully immersed in Sam's world -- it was obvious that a huge amount of thought had gone into every detail of the production.

3. District 9
I think this movie bested
Avatar in every way. Avatar is touted for its visual effects (even though about half of the movie looks like a blacklight poster on the back wall of a Spencer Gifts); but the problem is, it's virtually nothing but its special effects. Its story is weak, its acting is average, and without the visual gimmicks, it's a paint-by-numbers action movie. District 9 has the look of a blockbuster, but it has the heart of an indie, and when it comes to heart, Avatar's beat hollow for me. Avatar's ending was a foregone conclusion from the moment the movie started; everyone knew the good guys would win, and the hero would get the girl. District 9 was an unknown quantity, and it trusted its audience to be clever enough not to need every little thing spelled out for them. A sci-fi parable about apartheid probably sounded totally nuts on paper, but District 9 was absolutely brilliant in its execution.

2. Precious
It's like a kick to the gut. It really is. Gabourey Sidibe should have won the Oscar she was nominated for; Sandra Bullock's performance in The Blind Side was fine (even if I wasn't a huge fan of the movie itself), but Gabby was absolutely amazing in this. And Mo'Nique was like a force of nature. Really heartbreaking and yet, somehow hopeful.

1. Up
Simply beautiful. Thank goodness for Pixar; in a world where ideas as stale as Alvin & the Chipmunks, Garfield, and Marmaduke (really) are trotted out & tarted-up as children's entertainment, its so glorious to have Pixar producing original ideas that don't talk down to kids, and who put the story first. They wear their heart on their sleeves and they don't try to mask everything in snark (cough, cough,
Shrek sequels), and that's why they're the gold standard. Of all their movies, this might be the weirdest, and that's probably why I love it best.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Attack of the woodpeckers!


Woodpecker invasion!


Our birdfeeders are crawling with woodpeckers right now! They're ranging from little chickadee-sized ones, some roughly the same size as robins, on up to big guys like this pileated woodpecker (about the size of a crow).

I've seen the big pileated ones a few times over the last few years, but never this many at once.

Swarm!

They're up to something, I know it. I've got my eye on you, woodpeckers!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On rednecks.


The mating season of the Northern-Midwestern Redneck [
homo sanguineus collum] kicks into gear sometime between Easter and the last day of school, but it really hits its peak in mid-summer. The courtship rituals of the Ashland redneck are most visible in the evening hours around the area of downtown loosely classified as "Main Street," but there are many other hubs of activity where the budding anthropologist can observe them in their natural habitat (i.e., county fairs, carnivals, outlying taverns, the Walmart parking lot).

Much as a peacock unfurls his magnificent plumage to catch the eye of the lady peacocks, the young male rednecks have adopted a sort of unofficial summer uniform designed to signal to the females that they are, as Alfalfa liked to croon, "in the mood for love." (Little known redneck fact: Alfalfa was an asshole.) While there's generally little variation in their shoe, hat and pant options (Nikes; baseball caps with NASCAR/sport/beer company logos on them; and denim-based, respectively), the redneck male maximizes his creativity when selecting what will cover his pasty-white midsection:

1. The wifebeater. Valued for its girdle-like qualities over the tummy area, while simultaneously allowing him to show off his "guns," it's the male redneck's go-to garment for the summer months.

2. The sleeveless t-shirt. When he can't find a clean (or semi-clean) wifebeater in his dresser/laundry basket/clothes heap, this is the next best thing. Advantages: all the comfort of a t-shirt, but without the pesky sleeves. (Plus, they're easy to make in a pinch). Disadvantage: the sleeve holes hang down and can create unsightly peepholes into the redneck's pasty-white midsection and armpits. Additional disadvantage: portlier gentlemen may accidentally flash their man-boobs through said sleeve holes.

3. The sleeved t-shirt. Not as popular as the previous two options, but suitable for chilly evenings and to ward off mosquito bites. Besides, if you save enough Camel Cash, you can get a lot of them for free (and save your money for beer and trips to Walmart to get more wifebeaters).

4. The no-shirt. There's nothing that the ladies love more than a pasty white slab of man-chest flanked by two arms with a case of farmer's tan. This option is most popular amongst the younger redneck set, and particularly among those who enjoy driving their muffler-less pickup trucks on Main Street for hours on end.

Some other things to watch out for when identifying rednecks in the field:

1. Is he driving something loud? Rednecks like their transportation loud and fast...and if they can't get something fast, they'll settle for loud. If it'll make an ungodly roar when he peels out from one of the two stoplights downtown and make everyone stare in his direction, he wants it.

2. The redneck wants beer, and a lot of it. Quality takes a backseat to quantity. Does the subject find it hard to get through a conversation without mentioning (A) a desire to get drunk, (B) recent drunken shenanigans, or (C) the ankle bracelet the police department makes him wear since his latest DUI conviction?

Of course, when in doubt about whether or not you've spotted an authentic redneck, look for a Calvin-peeing-on-a-rival-sports-team-or-automaker's-logo decal on their back window. If they've got one of those, grab your binoculars and get ready, because you never know what kind of crazy shenanigans that redneck is about to get into. Will it be like something from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, or more like an episode of Cops? Only time will tell.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reading/Watching/Etc.


READING:


Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner
I just cracked this open last night, but it's already entertaining me, and that's all I ask.

Wall Street's Bailout Hustle (Rolling Stone, February 2010)
This was intensely depressing. Eye-opening, but depressing. I mean, I already knew the whole Wall Street bailout stunk, but between Matt Taibbi's coverage in Rolling Stone and This American Life/NPR's Planet Money's podcasts on the subject, I've become painfully aware of just how much it stunk. Why aren't we all out rioting in the streets over this bullshit?

Weekly World News (archived on Google Books)
In a world gone mad, sometimes theirs truly was the voice of reason. Or, well, at least a really awesome variation on reason.

One-Yard Wonders: 101 Sewing Projects
I haven't sat behind a sewing machine since...uh, home economics class in the 8th grade? No, it can't be that long, can it? Hmm...I guess it can. Anyway, this caught my eye when I was browsing at the book store down the street last week, and I decided to pick it up on a whim, hoping it inspires me to try sewing again. It's something I keep meaning to do, but never get around to it...there's lots of simple but cute/functional projects in this book that look like they won't tax my dormant sewing skills too heavily, and it includes some pattern pieces and I really liked that it's bound in a spiral binder, too. It makes the whole enterprise appear very user-friendly, which may be just the confidence booster I need to get started.

And Baby Makes Four - 100 Mile Challenge
Starting on Easter weekend, my friend Regina is undertaking a year-long mission to only eat food grown within a 100-mile radius of her home in Brooklyn. She's been keeping a weekly diary on her blog about her plans, talking about her efforts to connect with farmers/vendors, trips to the local farmer's markets, her husband's concerns ("There is bacon within 100 miles, right?"), and the foods she'll miss once she gets started.


WATCHING:


The Hurt Locker
A very good, tightly-wound war movie. It tied my stomach up in knots while I watched it. It doesn't lay things out in black and white; the characters, their circumstances, and the locale aren't presented as simply "good" or "bad," and it doesn't give any easy answers.

(500) Days of Summer
Overrated. I liked some of the ways they played around with the story structure, but I found a few of the characters completely unbelievable (the little sister who talked like a psychotherapist, for starters) and all the band name-dropping was lame. It was trying too hard to be cool, and isn't that the very antithesis of cool?

Defending Your Life
I saw this on VHS back when it came out in the early 1990s, and it's held up surprisingly well. Funny, thoughtful, and honest -- it's definitely got a little schmaltz mixed in there, too, but the "trial" scenes give it some real emotional heft and its depiction of the afterlife is clever and fun.

Big Fan
Parts of this made me laugh, and parts just made me cringe because I felt so bad for the main character. It really walks the fine line between black comedy and drama...depending on your frame of mind when you watch it, some scenes might strike you as hilarious, or they might come off as more tragic (or maybe a little bit of both). That being said, the final act was really well-done.

Synecdoche, New York
I f&*%#@g hated it. This is the most misguidedly self-indulgent movie I've seen since Battlefield Earth, and I think it's even WORSE than Battlefield Earth because hey -- at least I could laugh at that! This made me want to go stick my head in the oven & crank up the gas. And slit my wrists & take a handful of pills for good measure, just in case the gas took too long to off me. Joyless, plotless, pretentious. I watched one of the extras on the DVD about the making of the film, and not even the damn script supervisor could keep track of who was who and where they were! What a bunch of wankery.

The Invention of Lying
The premise of this movie is fantastic food for thought -- and there are so many ways you could approach it, it must have been difficult to narrow it down to just a handful of key plot points. But ultimately, maybe it's an idea that's too big & unwieldy for a movie to tackle; it's not for lack of trying, as the script's funny and the cast is great. I think it was just too much to execute in less than two hours. (Maybe it would work better as a novel, where there'd be more space to play around with the concept?)

Moon
Excellent. The story twists and curves just enough to keep you guessing, and Sam Rockwell's performance is brilliant -- I can't believe he didn't get an Oscar nomination for this. The set design is beautiful (the moon exteriors, especially) and made me feel fully immersed in Sam's world -- it was obvious that a huge amount of thought had gone into every detail of the production. One of the best of '09.

The Late Shift
Okay, it's a TV movie, so it's not great. But after reading the book, I was curious to see it...and I think it's a pretty decent adaptation. The guy who plays Leno is a little wooden (and his face, a little plastic), but John Michael Higgins, despite Letterman's many years of protestations that "that guy doesn't look anything like me!", gets his imitation pretty spot-on if you ask me. And Kathy Bates is freakin' awesome. (If you read the book, yes, the person she played really was that psycho.)

The Business of Being Born
This was informative in the sense that I feel it opened up a good dialogue about why home births and midwifery fell out of practice in the U.S., and I enjoyed following the stories of the women featured in it and their home birthing experiences. However, I felt it was a little light on facts & stats in some parts; I would have liked a little more detail about midwifery in other countries, for instance, and maybe it would have been interesting to broaden their scope beyond the NYC area and interview midwifes in other parts of the country?

In the Loop
I'll admit it: I watched it with the closed captioning on. The dialogue in this flies so fast I could hardly keep up without it, but oh my god, it's hilarious. It takes profanity to a whole new level. Great casting (nice to see Anna Chlumsky again!), and even though the end result of the international wrangling is kind of a foregone conclusion from the get-go, it sure was fun to watch it all unravel.

Avatar
Watching this was a chore. The story was weak (Pocahontas in space), the special effects were alright but kind of distracting at times (too many scenes looked like cheap black light posters from Spencer Gifts in the mall), and most of the actors were pretty mediocre (then again, the dialogue wasn't all that great, so that probably didn't give them much to work with). Maybe it deserved some technical/cinematography Oscars, but it definitely didn't deserve Best Picture (nor Best Director) so I was glad to see The Hurt Locker take those trophies home.

Valentine's Day
This is the schlockiest piece of schlock ever schlocked. It's like they mated Love Actually with the hokiest Hallmark card imaginable and figured, "Hey, it sucks, but let's cast a bunch of famous people so maybe no one notices how wretched the dialogue is." Hands-down the blandest, most witless romantic comedy I've ever seen. And what gives with the creepy little Ken-doll-faced boy spending the entire movie in deep swoon? Have the screenwriters never met a little boy? NO CHILD TALKS LIKE THAT. When a little boy likes a little girl, he throws stuff at her, he doesn't spend the day running around town trying to buy her flowers. "She's the only other girl in school with Frank Zappa on her iPod"? I call bullshit.

Sidenote: Taylor Swift's "acting" is even more grating than her singing, and that's saying something.


Andy Richter on Regis & Kelly
Andy dishes some dirt. Good for him.



Late Night with Conan O'Brien - a compendium of Walker, Texas Ranger clips


ETC.:

- I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll finish the baby blanket I'm making for my friend Erica's baby shower on Saturday...it's a little dicey, but I'm making good headway and not kicking myself too hard yet over the fact that I waited so long to start it. This time I'm trying something a little different, so we'll see how that all comes together. If it's not done by party time on Saturday, would it be gauche to just slip an I.O.U. into an envelope?

- Speaking of projects I've procrastinated on for far too long: I need to clean up my heap of craft crap in the basement. Good lord, it's threatening to swallow the computer desk whole! Maybe that'll move to the top of my list post-baby blanket...unless something else catches my eye first.