Archive for November, 2008

DULL THINGS I HAVE PURCHASED AND DONE

Posted in Mundane Events on November 30, 2008 by butthorn

The four-day weekend has come and gone, and I am once again required to get up early and negotiate an undependable contraption through a sea of other undependable contraptions manned by sleepy malcontents in an effort to reach a building that holds nothing of interest for me, where I will be forced to squander the majority of my day engaged in tiresome activities that benefit a faceless corporation.  

That being said, I did buy some stuff:

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So first of all, sorry that’s such a crappy picture of two uninteresting objects.  I need a new camera badly.  Buy me one this instant.  Also, now that I think about it, I did not purchase most of the following items during this past Thanksgiving break.  What I DID do this past Thanksgiving break is figure out how to get pictures from our ancient, dying digital camera directly onto our relatively newish laptop as opposed to having to schlep them over from our ancient, dying PC.  Thus, I will be able to include more pictures than I’ve been able to over the past couple months, since I broke my other computer by downloading a virus cleverly hidden on an mp3 of “This is the Time to Remember” by Billy Joel.  That’s what you get for stealing from the captain of the Downeaster Alexa.  

Anyway, I bought those two cassettes up there from a thrift store in Bangor called Hands of Hope about a week or so ago, maybe two, I forget.  All the money Hands of Hope makes from purchases goes to help fight breast cancer, which is good of them.  They have way too many bridal gowns for my taste, and I get itchy a lot quicker there than I do in most secondhand shops, but they have a pretty good selection of old tapes, both audio and video, and as such I can usually find something I want.  “Goin’ Quackers”, starring “that waddlin’ crazy guy Donald Duck”, was one of my first tapes as a child, back in second or third grade I think, and I used to listen to it constantly.  It was the closest thing to rock music I had, containing such blistering rock classics as “Turkey in the Straw” and “On Top of Spaghetti”.  I generally enjoyed such traditional standards (as a point of reference, while my classmates at the time voiced preference for such bands as Twisted Sister and Motley Crue, my favorite song at the time was “Mammy’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread”, something my brother teases me about to this day.  Seriously, even today the very phrase “put on the skillet” propels me to the real or imagined dance floor), but the high point of the album for me was a guitar-heavy tune called “Vacuum Cleaner Hoses”, which details the narrator’s trip to a distant planet, where the otherworldly denizens “had vacuum cleaner hoses coming out of their noses/and nothin’ where there mouths should be”.  I was very pleased to be able to hear this song again, and doubly so to discover that it still completely rocks the party that rocks the body.  

As for the tape on the right, well, who couldn’t use an extra copy of “The Muppet Movie” soundtrack?  With our new 1997 Subaru Legacy so well-equipped with a state-of-the-art tape deck, it would be foolhardy of us not to have immediate and reliable access to “Movin’ Right Along”.  I’ve always liked “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” as well, and have been waiting in vain for Tom Waits and Randy Newman to perform it as a duet.  It would undoubtedly sound like two elderly drunkards vomiting in the vicinity of a crappy piano, if all went according to plan.  

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One of the earliest images I remember being sexually stimulated by was a videocassette box of “Empire of the Ants” starring Joan Collins that I looked at in a Wellby Super Drug Store.  Something about this haggard, middle-aged brunette being dominated by a giant ant apparently really did it for me when I was five.  Never did see the movie, and I’m sure it sucks turds through a straw made out of even grosser hardened turds, but the long-dormant young insect-BDSM enthusiast in me was pleased to come across this reissue of the H.G. Wells story, released in tandem with the 1977 box office disaster and featuring what looks to be more or less the very artwork that so excited my young mind back in 1983 or so.    Below is the movie poster, which should come in a lot clearer than my terrible picture above provided the link actually works:

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Now come on, that’s perfectly acceptable titillation for a five-year-old boy, right?  Completely normal.  In conclusion, if the world is ever overrun by giant horny insects, I’d love to be able to help but I’ll probably be too busy masturbating while screaming “FINALLY!” to do anything about it.  

Although maybe not.  Non-illustrated images from the film itself prove to be somehow less thrilling:

Well, I dunno, I guess it’s still moderately sexy, but still.  Nothing about the box art would indicate that this is a film about a loving, mutually beneficial relationship between a woman and a giant ant.  Deceiving, to say the least. 

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I have a bond with VHS tapes that is by turns useless and unbreakable.  I love the look and feel of videocassettes.  I love that both the sound and picture quality are terrible.  I love the many bad horror and action films native to the format, forever unadapted to newer technology.  I love how they look on a shelf.  I love that if dropped, they will shatter, and if thrown, they will potentially hospitalize.  I love that their innards can become entangled in the simple yet unforgiving machinery of a VCR.  I love the wide variety of casings, from the standard cardboard slipcase to the sturdy plastic snapcase.  I love that you can go to any old thrift store and find hundreds of unlabeled tapes, containing static-strewn wonders available only, and nowhere else, on that one clunky tape.  I will always have a bunch of them lying around my house.  

I haven’t watched “The Witness” yet.  It appears to be a recording of a crucifixion play that someone taped at a church.  If the back of the box is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?), it has better production values than most locally orchestrated church plays.  I recall a couple of these types of plays from my own boyhood church days, in which Earl the youth pastor was crucified to a big old cross in front of the baptismal tank, so I’m anxious in more ways than one to check this one out.  Not many kids get to witness live simulated murder, so I consider myself fortunate in that regard.  

I did, sorry to say, view the tape on the right.  The box states that “Mr. Tibbs and the Great Pet Search” stars one Christopher John Coleman, but it would be fairer to say that the film stars an inanimate photograph of Christopher John Coleman’s smiling head, which is superimposed on a variety of drawings of situations involving the animal kingdom.  This appears to have been a deal where CJC’s parents sent a picture of their cherubic child to a budget-deprived company that in turn crudely inserted the child’s face into rudimentary drawings of a giant dog introducing a headless youth to lions and rhinos and the like, servicing a narrative in which “Mr. Tibbs” (no perceived relation to Sidney Poiter’s character from “In the Heat of the Night”, though that would undoubtedly have been more interesting) attempts to help young Christopher find a suitable pet.  It’s longer than I thought it would be (112 minutes) but never knowing what ridiculously inadvisable situation Christopher’s ever-beaming head would be awkwardly shoehorned into next added a good deal of suspense, and the program was viewed in its entirety.  Incidentally, if you know or are Christopher John Coleman, well, name your price and we’ll talk.

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Finally, I bought myself a tee-shirt with raccoons on it, having found myself in the unenviable position of being fresh out of tee-shirts with raccoons on them.  Annie unwisely elected to buy a tee-shirt devoid of raccoons.  To each their own.  

We bought some other stuff too but it was all cleaning products and not-terribly-noteworthy (though comfy) pajama pants.  When we weren’t purchasing unessential castoffs, we were visiting family and eating their food.  At Annie’s family’s place we ate many, many things.  I took no pictures but wish I had.  There was a lot of food, and the ability to look at it all later in photographic format would have been nice.  To list what I can remember, there was turkey, cranberry sauce, applesauce, cinnamon rolls, potato, waldorf salad, turnip, squash, “hashua” (no idea how to spell it, but it’s like a Lebanese version of stuffing), “salata” (again, can’t spell it, but it’s a delicious zesty salad with 800 vegetables in it), gravy, pickles, corn, and seven pies: blueberry, Auntie Mary’s famous chocolate cream pie which is so delicious you want to smash your own face to gory fragments with a brick, lemon cream, apple, pumpkin, and butterscotch.  I guess that’s six pies.  Or maybe there was another one I’m forgetting.  Anyway, lotsa pies.  

The next day at my folks’ place we had lobster for Thanksgiving, as currently it’s cheaper than turkey, and despite living in Maine I don’t think I’d eaten it for nigh on a decade.  Typically ones proximity to the lobster’s natural habitat is inversely proportional to their ability to afford it.  I’m glad Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are enjoying it, though, not to mention the rest of the old people who enjoy smiling vapidly at lighthouses when they’re not too busy shitting million dollar bills.  I intend to retract the previous sentence if I ever make any money doing anything, but for now, good gracious, am I indignant!

After fervently suckling the unborn children out of the decimated hulls of several unlucky crustaceans, we engaged in a Wii bowling tournament:

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My father exhibited the best form by far, but unfortunately this did not translate to a stellar performance pinwise.  

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He came in last, but won a bag of almond M&Ms all the same.  Yes, there were prizes.  We don’t mess around.  Events that don’t result in prizes are not worth participating in.  The joy of competition is a myth, but almond M&Ms are tangible and delicious.  

My mom did better than Dad, and actually scored a personal and not-at-all-bad best of 178:

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She won peppermint tea.  I would submit that this marked the first time in the history of life that anyone has won peppermint tea in a bowling tournament.  By the way, a good way to arrange a reward system for events such as this is to purchase items specifically geared to each particular contestant.  That way, everyone wins something they like, and nobody even has to try very hard.  Remember: there are a lot of horrible things on this godforsaken planet, but none are less enjoyable than challenge.  

I came in second:

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That kettlecorn is pretty delicious, by the way.  You have to go to the hippie section of the supermarket, but it’s well worth the possibility of overhearing an account of a recent jam band concert or smelling sandalwood to acquire this delicious snack.  God, I love butter and sugar.

And finally, as usual, my wife squarely kicked our asses.  She has some kind of naturally ingrained bowling ability that confuses all concerned, especially her.  

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She won the very exciting prize of a windshield scraper/brush-thing.  Unglamorous, but sorely needed.  As I understand it, it will likely be sorely needed as early as tomorrow.  How smelly.

Anyway, that was our Thanksgiving.  Would that it could have been twice as long, or four times, or infinite for that matter.  I hope you all found fun/restful things to do with your time off, and I will talk to you later, assuming the mood strikes and we aren’t all killed by something or other.

By the way, that “Mr. Tibbs” tape wasn’t really 112 minutes.  It was more like 20.  I just like lying is all.

MY NEW BEST FRIEND ROGER EBERT

Posted in Mundane Events on November 10, 2008 by butthorn

All right, this is embarrassing, but I’m really excited lately because I made a stupid comment on Roger Ebert’s blog, and he actually replied.  Since losing the ability to speak, Ebert devotes much of his spare time to writing, quite often in the form of his blog, which is not always about movies.  The blog entry I felt compelled to comment on was actually about Lee Greenwood, though that topic led to a general discussion of country music, which it turns out is a favorite genre of Ebert’s.  At that point he mentioned that his favorite singer/songwriter was John Prine, which I of course couldn’t allow to go uncommented upon.  I made a couple dumb comments, kissed his ass a little since I like the guy so much, and named a couple John Prine songs that I really like.  All he does is make extremely brief comments about the songs I referenced, but I confess it completely made my day last Friday.  Click here if you should like to witness the highest degree of fame I will likely ever achieve.  

It’s the fourteenth comment down at the bottom.  I put my last name on it and everything, just in case Roger Ebert wants to look me up in the phone book, and I made sure to link to this blog, so he can check it regularly whenever he’s feeling a little blue. 

Maybe next week Roger Ebert and I can go out for Chinese then visit the children’s science museum!

SECOND BANANA CITY!

Posted in Marvy Movies on November 2, 2008 by butthorn

For me it’s the supporting cast that makes a movie.  Often in my favorite movies, there’ll be a guy or gal whom I’m immediately drawn to, and I’ll perk up whenever they’re onscreen, which in most cases isn’t all that often.  Supporting performances are almost always the best parts of a movie, because those performers are naturally going to be more relaxed and devil-may-care about the job they do, and as a result they tend to deliver a likable, believable performance, whereas the star is most cases IS the movie, and they’re going to “act” their asses off, and will likely enjoy their performance far more than any viewer possibly could.  

I was thinking about it tonight and I decided I should do an ongoing thing about my all-time favorite supporting performances, if for no reason other than the opportunity to write about movies and actors I love.  Off the bat, I’ll tell you that there are way more men on this list than women.  I’m sorry, I guess I just don’t like women that much.  The more I tried to think of more chicks in movies I’ve liked, the blanker my mind became.  I feel like a real asshole, but what are you gonna do?  Black and foreign people outnumber women on the list, but not by much.  I swear I’m a real nice guy.  The filmgoer in me, however, is apparently a raging sexist neo-Nazi.  Hopefully more non-white non-males will come to mind as we go along, to both spice up my list and make me seem like a good person.

Anyway, without further inane ado, here is my list of FAVORITE SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES IN MOVIES.  As far as I know, none of these people won Oscars for any of these performances, and in more than a few cases the movie I happening to be singling them out for may not even be very good (although I probably think it is).  They’re just people who made me happy in movies I watched.  Here there are, in no particular order:

SASHA JENSON as DON in DAZED AND CONFUSED

   

Here we have a movie, and a fantastic one, entirely made up of supporting performances.  They vary in quality, but all are memorable in some way.  It is Rory Cochrane’s quintessential stoner and Matthew McConaguey’s (probably not how you spell it but I in no way feel like looking it up) genial sexual predator who get the most attention, and while they’re both great, I liked the guy on the left in that picture up there best.  Played by Sasha Jenson, who was hardly ever in anything again, Don is a hulking obnoxious badger of a guy, one of those always-on kind of high-schoolers who seems to be everywhere at once at all times.  Chief among his interests are getting drunk, destroying property, sleazily accosting women, and in one great early throwaway moment threatening freshmen in the hallway by faking punches at them.  But he’s just so darn energetic, always with this big dumb smile on his face, bouncing around in overalls.  My favorite scene in this movie, arguably, is a quick one between Jenson and the equally likable and rarely-seen-anymore (and awesomely named) Wiley Wiggins, as squirrelly-but-learning pending freshman Mitch.  Don takes Mitch aside in a pool hall and gives him a little advice that is as thoughtful and well-meaning as it is crude and unoriginal:

“You know that Julie chick?  Loves you. Oh yeah.  You want her? Gotta play it cool, you know. You can’t let her know how much you like her, cause if she knows, she’ll dump you like that. Be-LIEVE me. Like, if she asks you if you want a ride, you say, “No, I’ve got my own ride, but maybe I’ll see you later.” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? It works. ”

Sure, earlier in the parking lot he was joining fellow seniors in paddling the kid with a bat he made in wood shop, but that’s just business.  He remembers what it was like to be Mitch, and what a big deal it is the first time you encounter a girl who responds positively to you and your bullshit, and he gets a kick out of seeing that happening to this wide-eyed kid.  I literally can’t help but smile when this scene shows up.  For a moment, the popular kid drops the act and lets the new fish feel like one of the guys.  In fifth grade I did well in a spelling bee, and when eighth-grade soccer superstar Craig Dube took a moment in the hallway to tell me I did a good job without turning it into a joke or insult, I felt like a million bucks, despite the fact that I don’t think we ever exchanged words again. Maybe I remember that when I see this scene.  Jenson comes off a bit like Robert Downey Jr in “The Pick-Up Artist” as a redneck Texan.  It’s interesting, and it works.  I don’t think I’ve ever once read anything much, positive or otherwise, even mentioning his performance, so I feel good being able to do it here, where very few people will ever get to see it.  

Man, I wrote way too much about that guy!  The rest of these are gonna have to be shorter or my fingers and brain are going to revolt.  

VICTOR WONG as THE FUNNY OLD CHINESE GUY WITH THE CRAZY EYES in THE GOLDEN CHILD, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and TREMORS

As a rule, whenever I see Victor Wong’s name appear in the credits, I’m guaranteed to enjoy the film.  No face or voice in Hollywood puts me at such immediate and calming ease.  The wacky Asian guy was an unfortunate but popular character in ’80s movies, but Wong brought dignity to the role.  He was clearly having fun making these ridiculous movies, and it was infectious.  These are three movies that I can always throw on, no matter the occasion or mood, and experience 100% satisfaction.  I refer to them daily in conversation.  When browsing DVDs in the store, I pick them up and look at their cases, despite the fact that I already own copies of all three films.  I make light of my fondness for these goofy, effects-heavy intelligence-light live-action cartoons, but fact is I love all three like old friends, and will drop everything if any of them happen to be on.  Victor Wong died in 2001, and I’m not happy about it.  

BRUCE DERN as RUMSFIELD in THE ‘BURBS

Geez, I could look at that picture all day.

Bruce Dern never really plays anyone you’d want to approach in real life.  He’s always squinting and frowning at things, and tends to overreact to everything in a whiny voice.  Before “The ‘burbs”, I don’t know that Dern was ever considered as a worthwhile candidate for a comedic performance, but his off-putting manner is perfect for this morbid, arrhythmic, slapstick-heavy, understatedly over-the-top horror-comedy.  His Rumsfield is a former military man who has carried his gung-ho Patton routine unaltered into his listless retirement in the suburbs.  Despite his impressive arsenal (which includes nightvision goggles and sniper rifles) and willingness to invade any and all supposed enemy territories, he’s also oddly prissy.  While waiting atop a roof to spy on and possibly assassinate his next-door neighbor, he daintily eats a box of animal crackers, and at another point he declines to climb a telephone pole because “it’s very high”.  I have never not laughed at ” ‘Bout a nine on the tension scale there, Rube” or “HEY!  PINOCCHIO!  Where YOU goin’?”  Dern’s the man, never moreso than here, but I also love him in “Silent Running” (where he plays a guy who loves plants and robots but hates everything else) and “The Trip” (where he unsuccessfully babysits Peter Fonda during an acid trip).  

RIP TORN as BOB DIAMOND in DEFENDING YOUR LIFE

That’s a pretty crappy picture of Rip Torn right there, but believe me when I tell you there are worse ones to choose from.  Footage of celebrities being drunk and disorderly will always retain a certain schadenfreude, but there’s nothing funny to me about seeing this excellent actor lurching groggily around a police station, gurgling curses at cops, hair askew.  It’s the kind of cruel crap I admit to having enjoyed in the past, but when I came across such a video online, it just made me feel awful and sad, and I hope he can get it together one of these days if he hasn’t already.  Nobody does gruff, borderline-insane optimism like Torn.  He’ll never be better than he was as Artie on “The Larry Sanders Show”.  That’s legendary work, and if you’re one of the many who still hasn’t seen much of that show, try to work it into your Netflix queue.  The first few episodes are a little shaky, but once it hits its stride, it’s so good, a pioneer in awkward comedy long before “The Office” came along.  

“Defending Your Life” is a funny little Albert Brooks comedy about a guy who gets hits by a bus and then ends up in an afterlife waystation where he must explain himself in a celestial court of law, aided (or hindered, depending) by actual screened footage of pivotal events in his life.  His otherworldly attorney is Torn, an intimidatingly enthusiastic old codger who won’t take no for an answer or tolerate a moment of self-pity, a condition lesser talents have failed to extinguish in Brooks.  He also, he’ll happily inform you, uses 48% of his brain, in comparison to our 3%.  Tirelessly putting positive spins on each of his client’s often hilarious foibles, Bob Diamond is a lawyer I’d be proud and relieved to hire.  

“Don’t worry, and don’t kick yourself forever.  Just take the opportunities when they come.” is how he sums up his counsel to Brooks.  In the end, what better advice than that?  Let’s keep the TMZ cameras on Mel Gibson and Andy Dick from now on, and let this guy live his life.  

MARTHA PLIMPTON as STEF in THE GOONIES

It’s funny.  Back in the eighties, when I used to watch “The Goonies” on tape every day, Martha Plimpton was my least favorite character in the movie.  Now I think she might be my favorite.  She’s really the only one of the bunch with any sense at all (“Oh, come on!  Where are you?  YOU are in the clouds, and WE are in a basement!”).  Certainly the closest thing the Goonies had to an adult, which pretty well explains why I didn’t like her then but do now.  The rest of the Goonies are having fun sliding down makeshift waterslides and eluding counterfeiters, but Stef would rather be almost anywhere else (“I feel like I’m babysitting but I’m not getting paid”).  

I think she brings out the best in Corey Feldman here, too.  Mouth is prime Corey Feldman, back when he was just a funny little kid.  Say what you will about him now, but he’s confident as hell in “The Goonies”, the king of 80’s grade-school wiseasses.  In fifth grade I wanted to be him, and so completely wasn’t.  It isn’t dwelt on much (Kerri Green’s inane flirtations with a young and sweatpanted Josh Brolin are given much more attention), but Feldman and Plimpton indulge in a love-hate, bickery crush throughout the film, and during the final coastline reunion it culminates in a stammery exchange that I’ve always thought the two handled really well.  

MOUTH: I just wanted to say thank you…for offering to save my life and everything…

STEF: What?  What, what, what?  

MOUTH: I just wanted to say thank you.

STEF: Wow, “thank you”.  Real moment.  Your voice is kinda nice when you’re mouth isn’t screwing it up.

MOUTH:  Yeah, well, thanks.  And you know, your looks are kinda pretty…when your face doesn’t screw it up.

It’s funny and sweet, and Plimpton hits on something real and adorable with the way she bombards Feldman with dizzy, disbelieving little “what what what”s when he finally starts being nice to her.  She can’t fully let him off the hook, but despite the intended sarcasm it is a “real moment”, especially in comparison to the rest of the film.  A shot of reality in a beloved thrill ride sorely lacking in it, Plimpton is a talented actress we don’t see nearly enough of.  

There’s five to get us started.  More later.  The next time I talk to you, we will have a new president.  Weird.