Looking at America

Great editorial in today's New York Times:

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

Bloomberg for President?

According to this article in The New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City is starting to seriously think about throwing his hat into the ring as an independent candidate for president.

I would vote for him in a heartbeat.

1) He's a billionaire. Special interest groups couldn't touch him. He doesn't need their money.

2) He's an independent. None of this stupid partisan bickering for him. Fuck the Democrats and fuck the Republicans. He would be above all their petty shit.

3) He's a progressive. He's all about making a better future. Not just for rich people or for white people, but for all people. He realizes that we, humanity, we're all in this boat together and we need to start acting like it.

4) C'mon, how could I not vote for him? He's Jewish.

This could turn into an interesting election season after all.


Charlie Wilson's War

Boy, do I miss Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President). I'll freely admit that Studio 60 could have been better, but man, when he was running The West Wing its first four years, there was nothin' better on TV, and watching Charlie Wilson's War brought back a little bit of the magic.

Directed by the inestimable Mike Nichols from a script by the aforementioned Sorkin, adapted from the novel by George Crile, Charlie Wilson's War is the story of a seemingly small-time Democratic congressman from Texas, the hard-drinking, cocaine using Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), and his pivotal role in aiding the Mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the early 1980s. Working with a CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman is hysterical; he steals every scene he's in), Wilson, who was on the Congressional Defense Appropriations subcommittee, used his political connections to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons, most notably shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, to the Afghani freedom fighters. Wilson was instrumental in the Afghani defeat of the Soviet Union in 1988 and its eventual collapse in 1991.

Watching these master craftsmen ply their trades is truly something to behold and enjoy. Everyone, from Sorkin and Nichols to Hanks and Hoffman are at the tops of their games. The movie is both humerous and deadly sober. It's as much a chastisement of American foreign policy over the past 30 years as it is a celebration of American ingenuity. We sure as hell beat down the Soviet Union, but in the process, did we sell our collective soul to a greater threat? Our actions in Afghanistan, training, funding and arming what would become the Taliban was a victory in the short term only. America, Charlie Wilson tells us, is wonderful at securing short-term gains, but it's the lack of long-term foresight that could bring the empire crumbling down around us.

This is most notably evident in a telling scene toward the end of the film, when, after the Mujahideen have defeated the great Soviet army, America, after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the war, refuses to pony up even a million dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure. We gave them weapons of various degrees of destruction, but we wouldn't help them rebuild their schools. And that is American foreign policy in a nutshell.

Charlie Wilson's War is a very good film, maybe even a great one. It's entertaining, no question, but the deeper, more pertinent cautionary tale is what I would hope most people walk away from the theatre thinking about.


If you were to quickly take a peek at my "Favorite Films of 2007" post, you'll notice that I added Juno to the list. Go ahead, peek. I can wait ...


Directed by Jason Reitman (his follow-up to the hilarious Thank You for Smoking), Juno is the story of a 16-year-old named Juno (Ellen Page is absolutely amazing) who becomes pregnant after having sex (duh!) with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, who is rapidly becoming the new poster boy for geek chic). After getting freaked out at the abortion clinic, she decides to go through with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. Juno and her friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) find who they think are suitable parents in the want ads, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, both of whom are wonderful), who may not be the picture-perfect prospective parents we initially see them as.

Page is beyond superb as the cynical, sarcastic titular character. She can go from making hilariously wry wisecracks one minute to nearly breaking your heart the next. The movie is much more than the comedy most of the trailers paint it as. Sure, it's really funny, but its ability to turn on a dime and become something heartachingly poignant is what really makes it stand out. Phrases like "instant classic" are bandied about too frequently these days, but not by me, so when I put that stamp on something, you better believe it's something special.

I last saw Page in the independent film, Hard Candy (okay, I might have last seen her as Kitty Pryde in the accursed third X-Men film, but I try not to think about that one), in which she played a young girl who meets an older guy online, invites him over, accuses him of being a pedophile and proceeds to psychologically torture him for the next hour or so. And she was brilliant. She's got an incredibly bright future, this one.

The script by first-time screenwriter (and one-time stripper) Diablo Cody is filled with side-splitting pop culture references and some of the best, most realistic dialogue I've heard in a long time, from both the adults and the teenagers. Most kids Juno's age probably aren't quite so hip as to dig the Stooges and Italian director Dario Argento's horror flicks (or are they?), but hey, it's a movie, right? I particularly enjoyed the shout out to the enigmatic Tino, from TV's tragically short-lived My So-Called Life.

Rounding out the cast, as Juno's parents, are J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films - I try not to think about that third one either) and Allison Janney (probably best known as C.J. Cregg on The West Wing), who are both such masters of their craft, every time they're on screen is a breath of fresh air. They both have these incredible deadpan deliveries and marvelous comedic timing.

The soundtrack for this movie was especially enjoyable. Lots of fun, quirky, sad, happy, indie kinds of songs. I need to get the soundtrack. And the screenplay. And Diablo Cody's book about her time as a stripper.

If you can't tell, I really loved this movie. It's just the right kind of quirky and cynical to complement its heartwarming core. Everyone should go see it. You can thank me later.

Final grades of '07

Incidentally, my final grades for the semester were two A's (Critical Writing and History of Mass Communication) and two B+'s (News Editing and Fiction Studio). My GPA now stands at a robust 3.306, which is quite a far cry from the 1.9-something it was when I first came back to school in the winter of 2005.


Favorite Films of 2007

Everyone loves lists, right? Of course they do. Why else would so many publications print year-end best-of lists in the first place? And why should I be any different?

Movies first, then I'll toss up a post about books next week.

And so, in no particular order, except for, perhaps, chronological:

Children of Men (my review)
Pan's Labyrinth (my review)
The Lives of Others (my review)
The Lookout (my review)
The Bourne Ultimatum
Eastern Promises (my review)
Gone Baby Gone (my review)
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men (my review)
American Gangster
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (my review)
Juno (my review)
Charlie Wilson's War (my review)

Odds are I missed something, forgot something. I didn't count movies I watched on DVD, just those seen in the theatre throughout the year. I still need to see Charlie Wilson's War, Atonement, I Am Legend and Juno this year, hopefully during the coming week, so the list might have to be amended before New Year's.

::Edited to add Juno and Charlie Wilson's War to the list - 12/25/07::


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This latest collaboration between goth-auteur Tim Burton and his longtime muse Johnny Depp is a magnificent, malicious, morbid, and sometimes mirthful, meditation on that all-consuming, unquenchable flame called vengeance. With a little bit of singing and cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Originally performed on Broadway 28 years ago, Stephen Sondheim's deliciously wicked Grand Guignol has been masterfully moved from the bright lights to the big screen. Burton, who obviously has a thing for musicals (see The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride), definitely knows how to put on a show.

Sweeney Todd is the story of a happily married English barber whose wife, in fact his entire life, is stolen out from underneath by a loathsome, lecherous judge who takes a liking to the barber's wife. After being wrongfully arrested and sentenced with imprisonment in Australia, the barber returns home 15 years later a changed man. He discovers his wife poisoned, his daughter now the ward of the vile Judge Turpin (a sinister - as if he does any other role - Alan Rickman), and, razor sharp blades in hand, he vows his revenge.

Aiding and abetting Sweeney Todd (the delightfully murderous Mr. Depp) in his quest for vengeance is the proprietress of a filthy bakery, Mrs. Lovett (the lovely, wicked, albeit quite dirty, Helena Bonham Carter), whose meat pies are, without a doubt, the absolute worst in all of London. Together, they hatch a plot to do away with those who have wronged Mr. Todd, and turn a tidy profit on the side.

Burton is an absolute maestro of the macabre. From the grimly-lit grime of London's streets to the wild, demonic, blood-spattered visage of Sweeney Todd after he's seen to one of his "customers," Burton's aesthetic is impossible to miss. Indeed, I cannot fathom another film director bringing this musical to all its glorious, gory life the way Tim Burton has.

The film's supporting cast is highlighted by a hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen as rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli, who has much too little screen time, and Timothy Spall as Judge Turpin's weaselly errand boy, Beadle Bamford. Also, blink and you might miss a welcome, though incredibly brief, appearance by Giles himself. (They really need to make that "Ripper" spin-off show.)

Not for the faint of heart, Sweeney Todd surely ranks amongst Burton's finest films. Murder and mayhem has rarely been this much fun.


One and done

I finished my final assignment of 2007 a few hours ago, a short story that I'm not especially pleased with, but it gets the job done. It took a couple twists and turns that I wasn't expecting while I was writing it and it really does deserve to be longer than what I'm turning in. I might go back to it next semester (my last semester!) if my writing instructor doesn't mind us working on previously-written stories.

In the grades department, only two of my four teachers have posted final grades so far: I got a B+ in News Editing (which wasn't so much a class about editing as it was an examination of the editorial practices of American media, newspapers in particular) and an A in History of Mass Communication. I'm fairly certain I'll be getting an A in my Critical Writing class, whenever my teacher decides to post grades. So that leaves my fiction studio, in which I'm expecting to receive at least a B. I probably won't know about that class until sometime next week.

It's a little scary, the thought that I only have one semester (five classes) left before I graduate. There's a deadline for applying for one's degree, the middle of March, I think. After that, it's the home stretch for the final month and a half.

I'm gonna need to get a fuckin' job, aren't I? Start one of them, what do you call 'em? Oh yeah, careers. Anyone know any comic book or production companies that will be hiring in the next six months? (The West Coast is the preferred destination.)

One more semester ... boggles the mind, doesn't it? I know it does mine.


Return of the Ring

I trust everyone has heard the wonderful news:

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on "The Hobbit."


The two "Hobbit" films - "The Hobbit" and its sequel – are scheduled to be shot simultaneously, with pre-production beginning as soon as possible. Principal photography is tentatively set for a 2009 start, with the intention of "The Hobbit" release slated for 2010 and its sequel the following year, in 2011.


Blade Runner @ Film Streams

Who wants to come with me to Film Streams this weekend to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Ridley Scott's end-all, be-all final version of his seminal sci-fi noir?


I'm looking at going Sunday night, to the 7 o'clock showing. Who's in?


Christmas = Yay! Children's health care = Boo!

Last night the House of Representatives voted 372-9 in favor of a resolution affirming the importance of Christmas and Christianity.

Because, you know, they have nothing better to do.

Meanwhile, our asshole president vetoed (for the second time) an insurance bill that would provide health care coverage for millions of children from low-income families. (Because that's the Christian thing to do, right?)

But hey, as long as our priorities are in order.



Responsibility. It's something we try to ingrain into our children. Taking responsibility for one's actions. Little kids (and sometimes big ones), when confronted with something they did, oftentimes they'll say, "I didn't do it" or "I don't know who did it." It's a difficult thing to do, to own up to doing something, either good or bad. I know I used to have a problem with taking responsibility for shit I did when I was younger. I like to think I've grown out of that by this point in my life, though I still have a problem with taking responsibility for something positive I may have done. (I don't like being fussed over, but that's a post for another time.)

The point I'm trying to make is this: people, children, adults, everyone tries to duck taking responsibility for their actions. Bill Clinton didn't inhale. He didn't have sexual relations with "that woman." George W. Bush didn't lie to the American people about invading Iraq. O.J. didn't kill his ex-wife and her friend. We don't believe any of that bullshit, yet people still try to spin it so that they don't have to accept responsibility or blame. And if you're not responsible for something, then you don't have any reason to feel guilty because of it either.

On Sunday, some schmuck who apparently had a hard-on hatred of Christians shot up a missionary school and a megachurch in Colorado, killing four people before being shot himself by a security guard at the church. Here's what the security guard, Jeanne Assam, said about having killed the gunman at a news conference Monday:

"I knew I was given the assignment to end this. I give the credit to God."

See what she did there? She took the responsibility off her own shoulders and placed it squarely in the lap of God, thus absolving her of the nasty things that I imagine come from taking a life, even a jackass like this Matthew Murray. Specifically, guilt.

By giving the credit to God, by saying she was given an "assignment," Ms. Assam is saying that she didn't kill Mr. Murray. God killed him. She just pulled the trigger. You know how people say, Guns don't kill people, people kill people? Or, Guns don't kill people, bullets do? Well, in this case, what Ms. Assam is saying is that she was the bullet and God pulled the trigger. That's like saying, "The Devil made me do it."

I'm absolutely certain that killing someone isn't fun, that it's an awful thing to go through, even if it's something you simply have to do. Jeanne Assam probably had no choice but to kill Mr. Murray (I suppose she could have aimed for a leg, a less lethal wound of some kind, but that's really neither here nor there at this point). The fact of the matter is, she shot him and she killed him. And she needs to come to terms with that. This isn't something you can pawn off on God, as if He made you do it. You can't pass the buck, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it may be.

Ms. Assam is responsible for ending the life of Matthew Murray (whether he deserved his fate is a judgment no one has the right to make), not God. She pulled the trigger, not God. God wasn't working His magic through her, or whatever.

Take responsibility for your actions, people. That's all I ask.


CNN.com is reporting that, according to the coroner's office, Matthew Murray died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Ms. Assam apparently shot Mr. Murray multiple times, putting him down, as the coroner's statement puts it, but he then fired the fatal shot.

None of this changes what I said in the above post. When Ms. Assam said Monday that she "was given the assignment to end this," she didn't know Mr. Murray had killed himself. She thought she had killed him when she "[gave] the credit to God," thus abdicating her responsibility.


Busy, busy, busy

Busy doing what, you might ask. Busy procrastinating, I would answer. It is, after all, one of my oh-so-many infinite talents.

There are three weeks left in the semester. One week of classes, dead week and finals week. I only have one actual final exam, however. Aside from that, I have four papers to write and two presentations to prepare, one each of which is a group project, and we all know how much I just love group projects. Less work for me, I suppose, but still.

Anyway, this is why the blog has been quiet since Thanksgiving. Lots to do. I'll have more to write in a couple weeks, once the semester winds down.


No Country for Old Men / Beowulf

Because it's getting late and I'm full of wine and turkey, I'll be brief:

No Country for Old Men is absolutely amazing. Perhaps the Coen Brothers finest movie ever. For me, It's right up there next to Fargo and Miller's Crossing. Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem deserve Oscar nominations for their performances as Llewelyn Moss and Anton Chigurh, respectively. Moss being the poor dumb schmuck who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad and $2 million in cash and Chigurh being the psychopathic killer loosed upon him.

It's such a minimalistic film. Very dark, very bleak. No music. Just controlled, well-executed filmmaking at its very best. Tommy Lee Jones was great, too, as the sheriff on the trail of both Moss and Chigurh. It wasn't very much of a stretch for Jones, a role that we've seen him in before, but he had some brilliant dialogue and his delivery was oftentimes hilarious. The movie is filled with a lot of dark humor. It's nice to know that people can crack smartass jokes while being hunted like wildlife.

No Country is, quite simply, one of the best movies of the year.


Completely on the opposite side of the filmmaking spectrum, Beowulf was everything No Country wasn't. Loud. Action-packed. Animated.

Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary wrote a really wonderful adaptation of the ancient epic poem. They managed to craft a true narrative out of the original story's three disjointed battles between the titular character and his nemeses, Grendel, Grendel's mother and the dragon, weaving a brilliant thread throughout.

The voice acting was top notch. Ray Winstone, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie (of course, greater emphasis is placed on her character's gold-streaked attributes than Jolie's actual performance).

I have a few minor quibbles with the motion capture CGI that Bob Zemeckis dusted off for this film. The characters all looked great. The backgrounds, the water, the fire effects, everything looked amazing. But sometimes the characters didn't walk so much as float, as if they were standing on one of those moving walkways at the airport. And oftentimes the characters or items they interacted with were lacking any sort of weight and heft, which was somewhat distracting.

Overall, however, this was a marvelous movie that probably couldn't have been told without utilizing the mo-cap animation. They certainly had some skilled animators and programmers. Like any new technology, there are still some bugs to be ironed out, but it was great, great fun nonetheless.

November 22, 1963

So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us. Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations. Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors.


And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what, together, we can do for the freedom of man.


Belated (and Early)

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my father's birthday. He turned 64. It's been kind of a tough year for him. Well, a tough last few months, at any rate. Every since my grandmother moved to town in August it seems like it's been nothing but one stress-filled day after another. Regardless, I hope his birthday was slightly less painful than his recent days have been, and that things start to look a little brighter from here on out.

And hey, speaking of stress, my brother and his family will arrive in town tomorrow, for Thanksgiving. It's really the only time of year when the whole family gets together. Both my house and my sister's will, at alternating times, be filled with running, jumping and screaming children, the smells of food cooking, and the kind of idle chatter families speak to each other with.

But everyone is in relatively good health, even my grandmother, other than that whole losing her mind thing, so there really isn't anything to complain about. It's Thanksgiving after all, the time to cherish those you hold dear.

Unless you're a Native Indian. Then I imagine you curse the day the white man set foot on this continent. But hey, to each his own.

Happy (belated) birthday, Dad.

And Happy (early, in case I don't have time to blog later this week) Thanksgiving to one and all. What's everyone most thankful for?


Hanukkah in November!

Oh, what a wondrous day of comic book shopping. Not one, but two, two magical comics of happiness and joy:

Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together = giddy awesomeness. Marvel in a stupor of awe as Scott Pilgrim continues his battles against his would-be girlfriend Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends!

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier = c'mon, it's Alan Moore and his superhero team of literary fiction characters - Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray have returned! They must search for the long lost Black Dossier, a document that contains information about the fabled history the League, and could ultimately be used to destroy it!

Could this day be any more awesometastic? I think not.

So that's why ...

So I think I figured out part of the problem I've been having this semester, this slump that I'm in, for lack of a better term.

A week and a half ago the first draft of a 10-page research paper worth 50 points was due in one of my classes. I like this class. I like the material. I like the instructor. I even like the subject I chose to write about. The actual writing, however, well, I just wasn't feelin' it. So the due date came and I had nothing to turn in. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. To that point I had done an infinitesimally small amount of research and had a vague notion of what I was going to write about. That's it. So, naturally, I told the instructor that I had spaced off about printing it out that morning and asked if I could email it to him when I got home that day.

Cut to the following day. I wake up around 9 a.m., putz around reading my email and blogs and whatnot for about an hour and a half, then proceed to write, pretty much uninterrupted, for the next four or five hours. With all the research I did, I ended up with about six pages of a first draft, which I fired off to my instructor at around 4:00 or 5:00 that evening.

One would think, with all the *ahem* preparation I had done, that this would be sort of a half-assed paper, a poor attempt at earning at least a few points for the assignment.

Today the instructor handed back our first drafts. He said he was pretty impressed with a lot of them, the amount of effort that appeared to go into them, so he decided to bump the value of the assignment from 50 points to 100. Needless to say, I was rather dreading getting my paper back. First draft or no, I had written the thing in an afternoon, and while I didn't exactly slap it together, I wouldn't have imagined it being worth even half of the original 50 points it was worth.

So how many points did I receive on this assignment, now valued at a whopping 100 points?


Out of 100.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what procrastination has gotten me this semester. An apathetic attitude equals 97% for a few hours of work.

Just imagine if I actually applied myself.


Why We Fight

I'd like to say I've been busy the past week and a half, and that's why I haven't blogged since the day after Rose & Johnny's wedding, but, if I were being perfectly honest, I simply haven't felt like I've much of anything to say. School is going all right, better than a couple of weeks ago, I think. Or, at the very least, my attitude toward it is better. I registered for my final five classes (ever!) Thursday. Now all I have to do is pass the classes I'm in currently and shoulder on through next semester and I'm done. Graduation is in May. Book your tickets early. They're gonna go fast. Party details to follow.

Rose & Johnny did indeed fly back to San Francisco the day after the wedding, then they were off to Hawaii the following day. They have pictures up. It looks as though they had a good time, inclement weather notwithstanding.

A few remaining wedding stragglers hung out at Hiro last Friday night (not last night, but the week before). Jennie & Her Dave flew back to Baltimore last Sunday, so before they left, they and Becky & Jason and Alissa and I got together for some sushi and drinks. (Not being a fan of raw fish myself, I was most content with the crab rangoon.) It's always nice to be able to sit around and relax with old friends. Feels like ages ago when it wasn't such an event to see friends. But, people have jobs, less time, they move away (as I hope to do next year ... again). Thank Google for the Internet, right? (Yes, I've decided to worship the Google now, wanna make somethin' of it?)

Other than school, not much has happened the last week. While my father and my fantasy football team is in the toilet, the Steelers wailed upon the Baltimore Ravens Monday night, so that was pleasant. Our fantasy basketball team (I know, why, right? Don't ask) is in second place.

I've read a lot of great books this semester. Since I've been so "meh" toward schoolwork, I've had to have something to read, right? Yesterday I finished reading 20th Century Ghosts, a short story collection by Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box (which I've still yet to read) and son of one Stephen King. It's a great collection of stories, some very spooky, others not so much, but all written with a sure and deft hand. Thankfully for us, this apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Before that I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, his Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a man and his son and the end of the world. I read this book for my Critical Writing class, for the book review. It was a difficult book to review, because there was so much I wanted to talk about, but I wasn't entirely sure how. The review ended up being a little disjointed. I might try to rewrite it after I get it back in class.

I'm currently rereading Stardust. I haven't read it for a while, years, probably. After seeing the movie in August, I got the itch to read it again, but I had other things on my plate up 'til now. I do have a couple of new novels sitting on my pile, waiting to be read. I'll get to them in a couple weeks.

So many books, so little time.

I guess I'll have more time after my TV shows run out of new episodes in about a month. I fully support the WGA strike and I hope everyone else does, too. Check out United Hollywood for information and updates. "Why We Fight" is a great short video that explains the writers' position, which is, basically, that they'd like to earn eight cents per DVD sale instead of four cents and that they deserve residuals from Internet viewing and downloading, while the producers and studios would rather keep all the money for themselves. Many members of the Screen Actor's Guild have been picketing alongside the writers, which has been really great to see. Their union deal is up soon, too, and everyone seems to be united on this. It's not about greed (except on the part of the studios). It's about respect and the ability to earn a living. If you have a favorite movie or TV show, you should totally be behind the writers on this.

I have been stockpiling shows on my hard drive that I've never seen and heard good things about, so I'm prepared for a prolonged strike. (Don't worry, all the shows have been illegally downloaded - shhh! - so the studios haven't gotten a dime from me. Hee hee hee.)

Tonight is the Tori Amos concert. I had gotten tickets for Alissa for her birthday, way back when. It's been a few years, I think, since I've seen Amos and I'm looking forward to the show. Plus I have to write a live music review about it for the aforementioned Critical Writing class. Should be a good time. She usually puts on a great performance.

That'll do it for me for now. I'll write about the concert later.


Rose & Johnny's Wedding

Photos are up.

The wedding last night was really a lot of fun. There were lots of great costumes, the ceremony was lovely, albeit slightly different from the norm (Sandman reference!), and Rose made for a very beautiful bride. (And I guess Johnny looked good, too.)

It's always nice to spend time with friends, especially on one's birthday, so I'm especially grateful to Rose and Johnny for getting married on Halloween so that I didn't have to worry about making plans. I'm only sorry that a few friends were either out of town or not invited to the wedding, but I really appreciated the phone calls and text messages, and I'll get back to everyone this weekend.

And thanks a whole lot to Jennie for putting together my last minute costume, such as it was. I'll hopefully have the group shot of all of us Wonderland characters to post soon.

Rose's dad made for an ... interesting James Bond. Certainly one who knows enjoys more than just a martini, shaken, not stirred. He was a very proud papa, and well he should have been. And I just know that Rose's mother would have loved the whole thing, from the costumes to the vows. She would've had a great time.

I guess Rose & Johnny were heading out today, back to San Francisco, I assume, though I'm not sure. I don't know if they have a honeymoon planned right away. It would've been nice to spend some more time with them, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. I'm still hoping to get out to San Francisco soon, either over winter break or after I graduate.

I hope everyone had a great Halloween, and had as much fun as I did.


Happy Halloween!

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes so far. They've all been most welcome and greatly appreciated.

I hope everyone has a fun (and safe) night.

I have the honor and privilege to be attending the wedding ceremony of Rose & Johnny tonight at CornerStone Mansion, a couple miles east of campus. Costumes are mandatory, so I'll be sure to get lots of pictures of everyone and their great costumes.

A few friends put together an Alice in Wonderland theme for their costumes, and as I'm notorious in my procrastination techniques, Jennie came up with a quick and easy costume with which I get to join in the reindeer games, so to speak.

I'll have pictures posted either tomorrow or Friday.

(Gaiman's Death Jack-O-Lantern via Wired)


Oh, the allergies!

Rose and Johnny's wedding is Wednesday night, Halloween. Jennie and her Dave are in town for the big event as well. Saturday night a bunch of us got together for a hayrack ride and bonfire at this farm called Shady Lanes, across the river in Iowa. My allergies have been angry at me since about halfway through the hay ride. My nose and throat have just been all kinds of itchy and scratchy. Feh.

I have pictures up on Flickr. I haven't labeled any yet, so feel free to point out people you recognize. I didn't take my real digital camera, just my phone, so the pictures didn't come out all that great. I found out that the flash on my phone is kinda crappy. It takes great pictures during the day, or indoors with plenty of light, but at night, in the dark, not so much.

I'll be taking my real camera to the wedding Wednesday, because it's a costume party and I want to be sure that I'll get good pictures of everyone. (No, I still have no idea what I'm going as. Suggestions are welcome.)

I still find myself to be somewhat lost, as far as my mental state goes. Just still stuck in this general malaise. I wish I knew how to pull myself out of it, but I don't, so I just go through the motions every day, but I feel sort of disconnected from everything and everyone. Like I'm here in body, but my mind is just ... somewhere else. Untethered. Drifting aimlessly, just out of reach of my outstretched, grasping fingers.

The fuck all of it is, I met with my adviser last week, to figure out my schedule for next semester. My last semester, assuming I can get my act together this semester before it's too late. We put together a schedule of the five classes I need, and it's doable, one would think, but I look at it and all I see is more ways for me to fuck myself over, more classes to drift through, uncaring and uncommitted.

Anyway. It's probably bedtime. Work in the morning, and I have a couple reviews to write. Restaurant and book. And I suppose I should start working on either the five to 15 page short story due Wednesday or the first draft of the 10 page research paper that's due Thursday.

Or not.


Gone Baby Gone

Everyone knows that Ben Affleck is not the world's greatest actor, right? This does not come as a surprise to anyone, I hope. Academy Award-winning screenwriter, sure. And he certainly looks like a leading man, no one's denying that, but c'mon, can you name one memorable performance the man has given? Chasing Amy, maybe. His recent turn as doomed Superman actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland was indeed impressive. But other than that? Well, I'll tell ya, other than that doesn't matter anymore. Affleck doesn't have to stand in front of a camera ever again to have a career in Hollywood. Not after his incredible directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone.

Adapted from Dennis Lehane (Mystic River)'s novel, Gone is a grim, harsh slice of blue-collar Boston life, filled with moral characters who make very wrong decisions for what they believe are the very best of reasons.

My father and I were discussing the movie afterward, and he began to talk about right and wrong choices that the characters make, and I had to stop him there. This movie is so grey and ambiguous, I don't think it can be quantified into categories of Right and Wrong. There's Choice A and Choice B, neither of which can be called Right or Wrong, Good or Evil, Black or White. They're simply choices. The movie is filled with good people who are forced to make difficult, gut-wrenching choices, and, if given the same choices, it's hard to know on which side you'd come down.

The movie begins with the abduction of an adorable angel of a little girl, Amanda McCready and the media circus that always accompany such cases. What follows is a dark, grim story filled with the requisite twists and turns every good crime noir has. Private investigators Patrick Kenzie, played with a quiet toughness by Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother, and his live-in girlfriend Angie Gennaro, played by Michelle Monaghan, are hired by the grief-stricken girl's aunt and uncle to "augment" the police investigation. The younger Affleck, long thought to be the better actor of the two, more than proves his mettle in this film. Kenzie is a local boy, Southie born and raised, and he knows people who will talk to him before they'd talk to the police.

Affleck's slight build and boyish face could have hindered the movie, but Affleck the actor and Affleck the co-writer (Aaron Stockard is the other credited writer) and director make it work. There's a scene early in their investigation at a local dive that Helene, Amanda's coke addict mother, frequents. The patrons, played by Boston-area local actors, aren't too thrilled with Kenzie's line of questioning. After a number of insults and threats, notably toward Angie, Kenzie has had enough. Bristling with rage, he brandishes a gun, pistol whips one guy upside the head with it and he and Angie make their way out of the bar unharmed. The look on Affleck's face during the scene, the way his eyes burned, more than made up for his lack of size. Kenzie was a guy who grew up on the streets of Boston. He knows how to kick your ass, regardless of whether you're half a foot taller and more than 100 pounds heavier.

Amy Ryan is a shoe in for a supporting actress Oscar nomination as Helene McCready, a negligent junkie of a woman whose life consists of booze, coke and occasionally caring for her daughter. There's nothing very likable about this woman, but Ryan portrays her so amazingly, it's hard not to eventually feel at least a twinge of sympathy. Mother of the Year she's not, but that's another aspect of this film, that nobody's perfect. Everyone is flawed. Everyone screws up, which leads back to the idea of choices and living with the consequences.

As Kenzie delves deeper into the muck and mire of South Boston, all the while searching for this missing child, he teams up with the detectives assigned to Amanda's case, Remy Bressant and Nick Poole, played by the ever-impressive Ed Harris and the 2007 Where-has-he-been? award winner, John Ashton (best known for his role as Det. Taggart in the Beverly Hills Cop movies), respectively. Their search quickly leads them to a local drug dealer from whom Helene and her boyfriend apparently stole a large amount of cash. An exchange is brokered, a meeting place arranged, and that's when all hell breaks loose.

Life goes on, after the botched exchange, and time passes. Kenzie moves on to other cases (in particular, the kidnapping of another young child that forces Kenzie into a choice that was really no choice at all, the consequences of which he'll never be free of), but the disappearance of Amanda McCready continues to gnaw at him. He can't shake the feeling that he's missed something. He eventually uncovers a plot not concocted by shadowy, evil men intent on doing harm, but by decent men whose only goal was far from malicious, and maybe even understandable.

Gone Baby Gone is the kind of morally ambiguous movie that garners critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, which it certainly deserves, while floundering at the box office (it took in a mere $6 million over the weekend, while the weaker, sloppily made 30 Days of Night - see review here - led with $16 million). Ben Affleck chose a difficult story to tell with his first film, and he did it with meticulous craftsmanship and a filmmaker's eye. He made a haunting piece of crime noir pulp, infused with an emotional punch to the gut that will leave you reeling. I can't wait to see what he does for an encore.


Had dinner at my sister's Friday night with the family, minus my grandmother, who wasn't feeling up to it. The Sabbath and all that, y'know? And hey, who am I to pass up free food? Plus I hadn't actually seen my sister and her family for more than a week, so there was that, too.

When we pulled up to the house, there was a Lexus SUV parked in the street out front. My sister apparently had company. A friend of hers, or, well, more like a fellow mother who has a daughter the same age as my nephew. By that I mean, I don't know if my sister would be friends with this girl, would even know her, if their children weren't in the same class.

I guess this girl went to Millard North, though my sister said she's a few years younger than I am, and in a school of 3,000 students, well, it's easy not to know everyone. I scanned my senior yearbook anyway, to see if I could find her in it. Her first name is somewhat unique (ha ... didn't mean to make that pun there), but I didn't see her listed with the underclassmen. She graduated from Millard West, anyway. We talked a bit during dinner. Turns out we knew a few people in common, no one I'd call a good friend, just people I knew around school.

It's still difficult sometimes to believe that some of my friends are married and have kids, though most just have one. This girl, she's got three. Just had the latest bundle of joy two months ago. Her husband walked out on them five months before that.

I've been thinking about her off and on since I got home from my sister's. That's got to be so hard, to have three kids, ages two months to six years, and a husband who just up and leaves. She's fortunate that her family is pretty well off. From what my father's told me, it sounds like she doesn't really have to worry about money at all, which is good for her, great for the kids. Hard enough raising a family these days with two parents, let alone one who doesn't have a job. One less thing to worry about, then, the money thing. But other than that, completely separate from it ... think about it. Twenty-six years old, three young children, one of them practically a newborn. How lonely must that feel?

I'm sure she's got a good support system around her, her parents, my sister, I guess. Maybe there are some other moms out there. The furthest thing from her thoughts is probably her own well-being, you think? I mean, she's got these kids to worry about, to be there for and take care of. Do you think about yourself in that situation? Do you allow yourself that one selfish thought? No husband. Three kids. Not that she needs some guy in her life, but does the thought cross her mind? Who's gonna want to be with a girl with three kids?

She's a nice girl, very pretty. I dunno if she ever went to college, if she ever wanted to be anything more than a wife and mother. Now just a mother. Do single girls with kids still scare guys off? Probably depends on the guy, right? And the girl, for that matter. Who would that be more difficult for? The guy who crashes the family, so to speak, I would imagine. That can't be easy, inserting yourself in the middle of a situation like that. How do you go from single to family man just like that (snap fingers here)?

Whatever. It's late. I seem to be nothing more than a babbling brook tonight. This morning. Whenever. Just thinkin', is all. And we all know how dangerous that can be. Thinkin' does nothing but cause trouble ...


30 Days of Night

For a film called 30 Days of Night, this movie sure was brightly lit. I think director David Slade might want to have a little word about natural lighting with his director of photography next time. Of course, had they used nothing but natural light sources, we probably would've been unable to see the actors' pretty faces, which, after all, is why we go to the movies in the first place, right?

(That was sarcasm, by the way.)

Speaking of actors' pretty faces, Melissa George, who plays Stella Olemaun, the estranged fire marshal(?) wife of Josh Hartnett's town sheriff Eben, is absolutely stunning. On the run from vampires for a month and she still looks like she just stepped out of a makeup trailer. She's so gorgeous, it almost made me forget about her accent, which seemed to keep slipping from her native Australian to your basic American Midwestern, with a slight twinge of Canadian, eh? While she wasn't given much to work with on the page, George made the most of the role. Hers was perhaps the strongest acting in the film. Had the film been written with any depth, one might have actually felt Stella's pain and anguish at the end.

Hartnett, sadly, is still not a great actor, but when you're fighting for your life against hordes of the undead, perhaps you only need a select few expressions rather than the full range that a more accomplished actor could possibly feel burdened with. I enjoyed Hartnett immensely in Lucky Number Sleven, and he was far from the worst actor in The Black Dahlia (hello, Hilary Swank!), but he seems to have peaked as an actor. He'll continue to get roles because of his pearly whites, and I hope something comes along that forces him to evolve his skills, but I'm certainly not going to hold my breath.

Slade made an interesting choice for his follow-up to the disturbing, and very good, Hard Candy. He's gone from the monstrousness of pedophilia to plain ol' monsters. Oh, but what monsters they are. Seemingly ripped from the pages of the 30 Days graphic novels illustrated by the uber-talented Ben Templesmith, these vampires are sickly pale, ferocious creatures. Filthy, razor sharp teeth, dead, obsidian eyes and sticky, blood-spattered faces, they couldn't have looked any better or more faithful to Templesmith's stylized artwork.

Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost U.S. town, where, once a year, the sun sets and doesn't rise again for 30 days. That's when the infamous creatures of the night descend on the town, but not before somehow stealing, and then burning, all the cell and satellite phones they could find, effective cutting the townspeople off from the outside world. Next they take out the power station, because vampires are always scarier in the dark. Then the feasting begins.

That about sums up the plot of the film. What follows are more requisite horror/vampire film cliches than you can shake a stake at. I went into the theatre wanting to love this movie, and while it had some entertaining moments, other than Templesmith's vampires come to life (ha! Get it? Vampires, come to life ... get it?) and the beautiful Melissa George, there wasn't a whole lot to like, let alone love. The film simply wasn't as original and engrossing, story- or character-wise, as it could have been.

I think I'll just go reread the comics and wait for the inevitable sequel.


Long day

We got out of Critical Writing early tonight. The instructor has to be on a plane at some ungodly hour, like, between 4 and 5 a.m. So I got home a little before 8:30 and my father is sitting in the living room watching Grey's Anatomy (I can't sit in there with him, because I missed a half hour of the show and have to download it later tonight so I can watch the whole thing from beginning to end).

And I'm sitting here in front of my computer, checking on today's downloads (the entire season of Mad Men!), and what sound do I hear coming from the other room? Riotous laughter from my father, which is something I don't think I've heard for a while. Or paid attention to, at least.

I had forgotten how nice a sound it can be.


Et cetera

There was an awesome Frontline on PBS tonight, detailing Dick Cheney's surreptitious (and mostly successful) attempts to hijack the American government, neuter Congress and give the president previously unheard of power to rule without answering to anyone. You can now watch Cheney's Law online.

The Colorado Rockies have won 21 of their last 22 games, sweeping both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Arizona Diamondbacks in the playoffs, to reach the World Series for the first time in the club's 15 year existence. Good for them. They play hard every night, refuse to make errors and, as they say, hit the ball where they ain't. The Cleveland Indians have gone up 3-1 on the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, and I'm pulling for Cleveland to close the Sox out in Game 5, but that'll be tough, going against 20-game-winner Josh Beckett again. So maybe in Game 6. But then I'm pulling for Colorado in the Series. Best story in baseball since Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's streak.

I woke up early Sunday morning, like 4 a.m. early, with awful pain in both my back and my stomach. I didn't think it was another kidney stone, though the thought crossed my mind. The pain felt higher up in my back than the kidney stone was, and I couldn't figure out why my stomach was hurting. After 20 minutes or so of writhing around in bed, I got up and popped one of the Vicodin I have left over from the wisdom teeth extractions. The pain gradually subsided and hasn't returned since. Not the back pain anyway. Still had some stomach aches yesterday, so I went to the doctor. He couldn't find anything definitively wrong with me, and believe me, he was quite thorough. (Note to everyone: rectal exams are fun for neither you nor your doctor - and if your doctor does enjoy it, you might need to look into getting a new doctor.)

I guess I'm feeling better today. Still trying to figure out what's wrong with me, regarding my general apathy towards, well, everything, seeing as how it's a "general" apathy. Being in this house doesn't help matters. Every day it's the same arguing and yelling about nothing in particular. My grandmother moving to town hasn't helped much either. She's just added a whole new level of stress to the situation, which makes it even more difficult to concentrate on, well, anything. The only peace and quiet around here is at night, when I'm too tired to even think about school. Like now. I can bang out this blog post in 30 minutes, no problem. But something that actually requires real thought and effort, it's too late for that.

I need to get to bed anyway. Going to work in the morning, then class in the afternoon. I'll probably be able to get some work done on campus. If only I could live in the library...


Perils of wisdom

I had all four wisdom teeth removed yesterday morning. They were slightly cavity-riddled, since I wasn't really using them for anything anyway, out they came. I was supposed to have them out after classes got out in the spring, but I was all kinds of busy making my way to L.A. for the summer, so it had to wait. And all I can say is, thank god for Vicodin.

First, the dentist jabbed me inside my mouth with really big needles about three or four times, to make sure I was good and numb for the extraction. My tongue, my entire lower jaw, I couldn't feel a thing. Very strange experience. I apologized in advance to the cute assistant for my eventual drooling problem.

After waiting about 10 or 15 minutes to make sure I was completely numb, my dentist pulled up a chair beside me, told me to open wide and went to work with the pliers. I'd heard from other people about how they were knocked out while getting their wisdom teeth removed. That sounded blissful enough, but it was not to be for me. Although, aside from my jaw hurting from all the unnatural positions I was told to hold it in, it was really quite painless. Three of the teeth came out with little fuss. Just a few quick jerks of the pliers and out they came. There was a strange grinding sensation, before the teeth popped free. And let me tell you, I've tasted enough blood the last couple days to last the rest of my life, thank you very much.

The fourth tooth was still impacted, so that took a little more doing. Something involving slicing into my gums to get to it. I don't know. I couldn't really see what the dentist was doing. All I know is, it took more than a few quick yanks with the pliers. There was some digging going on in there. I have the sutures to prove it.

I spent the first few hours after the teeth came out yesterday with a mouth full of gauze, to soak up all the blood. Soon, the Novocaine began to wear off, so I popped the first of what would be many Vicodins and laid down in bed for a couple hours. I couldn't really fall asleep properly, because of the numbed throbbing in my jaw, but I think I drifted in and out of some kind of pseudo-sleep, weird waking dreams about, well, I can't quite remember now.

I finally had something to eat around 6 last night. Mac & cheese and some salad. Today I'll try for some actual real food. I think my father and I are taking my grandmother to lunch.

And speaking of my grandmother, it turns out that, while she was in Pittsburgh, she suffered from a number of small strokes that neither she nor her doctors ever noticed. She had a brain scan last week and the results came back. She's got a few dead areas in her brain, which would account for the memory problems and insane paranoia she's exhibited since she got here. I guess her brain mass has shrunk, too.

How does that happen? How can a person have a stroke and just go about their daily lives as if nothing had happened? I mean, obviously they're weren't debilitating. She was still going to work and driving to the grocery store before she moved here. But still. That's a little scary. This is why we'd wanted her to move to Omaha for the past few years. Though, I guess, she's done okay by herself after however many smallish strokes. But how long can that last, right? She still isn't sure who we are half the time. Yesterday, she was wondering which of us, if any, lived in her apartment building.

It's weird. It's feels like we're basically biding our time until she dies. When she was in Pittsburgh, it wasn't something I ever gave a whole lot of thought to, but now that she's here and I'm seeing her a few times a week, it's become this dark cloud of inevitability hanging over her. But hey, she's got a bum heart valve and survived some strokes. She might still outlive us all. She's a stubborn old gal, that's for sure. Must be where my father and I get it from.



I haven't felt this level of absolute apathy for a long time. Years, I imagine. Maybe since before I came back to Omaha from CA the first time. Or maybe I felt it those first few months after I got here. I don't remember. I don't much like it, feeling this way, that much I'm sure of, but I can say with the utmost certainty that I have no idea how to get myself out of this, whatever "this" is.

I don't know when this current funk, for lack of a better word, began. I don't recall feeling this way while I was in L.A. this summer. Perhaps I was simply too busy, too exhausted every day, to feel much of anything. It's safe to say that this probably began after the current semester started, but I'd be hard-pressed to point to a specific cause. Calling it "senioritis" is too simplistic.

It's not only classes that I've grown disinterested in, but the mundaneness of life in general, here. I suppose this could be because I don't do anything besides drive to and from campus five days a week, while on the weekends I sit around not doing school work. I spend the majority of my time reading and watching TV. Some news, so that I don't feel completely out of touch with the world. In fact, I would hazard a guess and say that I'm one of the most well-informed people I know. Of course, I don't know very many people these days, do I?

The majority of my time is spent escaping into fiction. Novels, comics, TV shows and movies. Part of me rationalizes this by claiming that I'm studying, doing research on the fields in which I'm most interested in working. This is not entirely untrue. In order to learn how to tell stories, one must read and watch stories. I like to think that every show I watch, every novel or comic I read, I'm doing so actively, rather than passively. I'm absorbing the tricks of those who have come before, so that I may add them to my repertoire.

This is, almost assuredly, bullshit.

What good is studying an art form that one wishes to emulate without actually attempting to emulate it? In truth, I seem to have devolved to my pre-CA mindset, in which I simply don't care. About anything. Which is most definitely not a good sign.

Anyway, I see that it's time for Torchwood, on the BBC. I'll be back later.



The aforementioned are distractions, of course, to which I easily allow myself to succumb. Distractions from what, I suppose, is the question. From school, I guess, though, truth be told, I never needed much of a distraction to keep me from doing homework. That always came naturally, the procrastination.

There are other distractions as well, aside from the stories into which I escape. There is a distinct lack of quiet around the house, which is certainly no one's fault. It's a home. People live here, visit here. Nieces and nephews sleep over. Grandmothers fall asleep on couches. There's arguing and yelling, a constant background din, from which there truly is no escape. Not within the walls of the house, that is. But where else am I to go? A library, perhaps, or a coffee house. But surely I can find myself as easily distracted there as here, so why not stay here and be distracted in familiarity and comfort.

Maybe the stories, be they books or television, distract me from the greater distractions of the household. While I cannot concentrate enough to research a paper or write a story, it takes far less effort to read a novel or watch a DVD.

I find myself wondering what the point of it all is, especially when I see my grandmother lose her mind as she seems to be doing, forgetting people, family, her own son. Life is a journey, however, not a destination. Just because we may reach a point where we cannot remember who we are or what we've done is no reason not to live.

There's a line from Star Trek: The Next Generation, from the cybernetic species, the Borg, that goes, "Resistance is futile," referring to the notion that conformity leads to a better world for everyone. Lately I've come to think of it as, "Existence is futile," meaning that existing in the world is not the same thing as living in it, experiencing it. To merely exist without the experience is not truly living. Yet that seems to be what I'm doing, existing. Taking up space, wasting oxygen, wasting time.

I need to get back to living my life instead of being an innocent bystander in it. I'm afraid, however, that I can't remember how, if I ever knew...


Promises Kept

On its surface, Eastern Promises, the latest film from Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, could appear to be nothing more than a bit of postmodern crime noir fluff - stylishly filmed, but devoid of the deeper meaning Cronenberg devotees have come to expect. As that initial superficial layer is peeled back, however, this story about identity, family and loyalty reveals its true, beautiful, brutal nature.

After a 14-year-old Russian prostitute dies during childbirth, Anna, a midwife at a London hospital, becomes determined to reunite the orphaned baby girl with her family. Anna (a beautifully haunted Naomi Watts) discovers a diary amidst the dead mother’s personal effects, but she needs someone who speaks Russian to translate it. Her path quickly leads her to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl is terrifyingly brilliant), who, as the monstrous head of the Vory V Zakone crime syndicate, specializes in sex trafficking while masquerading as the grandfatherly owner of an upscale Russian restaurant.

It is at Semyon’s restaurant where Anna first meets Nikolai, played with ice-cold precision by Viggo Mortensen. If you’re only familiar with Mortensen as the returned king Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, he is virtually unrecognizable behind a military-grade buzz cut and masterful Russian accent. Nikolai is the chauffer for Semyon’s wild, psychotic son, Kirill, played with wonderful intensity by French actor Vincent Cassel.

Cronenberg wields the tight, well-paced script from Steve Knight, whose credits include the disturbing 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things, which delved into the seedy underbelly of London’s human organ black market, like a true master. Every scene is filmed with an intimate intensity rarely seen these days, particularly the violence that seems to permeate every one of his films, from early ‘80s cult classics Scanners and Videodrome to 2005’s Oscar-nominated A History of Violence (also starring Mortensen). Rather than shy away from the harsh nature of his characters, Cronenberg lingers, like when Nikolai is charged with disposing of a body, frozen inside a large freezer.

After thawing the corpse with a hair dryer, Nikolai grasps a pair of pliers and goes to work on the dead man’s fingers, clipping them with a practiced restraint, to render the body unidentifiable. Where another director might cut the scene, Cronenberg urges us to watch, to feel not only the brutality of the violence, but the consequences as well.

The infamous bathhouse scene, in which a pair of thugs attacks a nude Nikolai, underscores Cronenberg’s fascination with violence and human behavior. Instead of glorifying his protagonist in battle, Cronenberg creates a messy, uncoordinated, intense scramble for survival. Nikolai is beaten and stabbed repeatedly, viciously, and we feel every visceral blow.

Between the short, angry spurts of bloodshed, Promises questions an even more fundamental principle: who are we?

In her quest to find the baby’s family, Anna struggles to understand the Russian heritage that courses through her veins. She is thrust into a world she does not understand and can only begin to fathom, endangering not only her life, but also that of her racist Russian-born uncle, Stepan (the marvelously cast Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski). We don’t begin to understand Anna’s absolute need to find the baby’s family until Stepan, after turning down his niece’s request to translate the diary, believing the dead girl’s secrets should die with her, tells Anna that the reason her own baby died inside her was that the father was a black man.

Nikolai has an even greater crisis of self. As he stands before a mafia tribunal, we see, per Russian mob custom, the entire history of his life tattooed across his body, from the gangs he’s been a member of to what prisons he’s been incarcerated within. After all he’s been through, is he still a man? Does he have a soul? Or is he simply an accumulation of experiences and skills, a tool, to be brandished by his mafia masters?

In Eastern Promises, the horror of who we are is splayed out in front of us and it’s up to us to interpret it on our own. Cronenberg sees his job as posing difficult questions, not comforting us with cookie-cutter answers, which is something he’s been doing masterfully for over 30 years.



Y'all need to watch this BBC show called Jekyll. It's one of the best shows I've ever seen. It's a modern day version, a sequel, if you will, to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The six episode series is about a research scientist, Tom Jackman, and his slow, terrifying realization that the body he inhabits is not his alone, but something he must share with his dark alter ego.

The lead actor, James Nesbitt, plays both Dr. Jackman and the creature who comes to be known as Mr. Hyde, and he's just so amazing. In the blink of an eye he goes from somewhat nerdy, mild-mannered nebbish to horrific, rabid monster. He straightens his posture, slicks back his hair, changes his vocal inflections, and suddenly he's this whole other person. He's utterly brilliant in the role.

I honestly can't recommend this show highly enough. Buy it, rent it, download it, do whatever you gotta do to see this show.

In other news, I'm sick. Again. Second time this year? Maybe third. Throat's getting a bit sore, nose is equally stuffed up and runny, and my head is all fuzzy. Got a doctor's appointment tomorrow afternoon. It's probably just a cold, but better safe than sorry. Maybe I'll feel better in the morning and be able to go in to work, but right now I know that I'd much rather stay in bed all morning.



Does anyone outside the media actually give a shit about O.J. Simpson and his latest run-in with police? I sure as hell don't. No one I've asked in person about this gives a shit, yet every channel, whether it's a sports channel or a regular news channel, is covering this like he killed someone. And we all know that's sooooo 12 years ago.

My grandmother's memory issues seem a bit more pronounced upon her return from visiting my brother's family with my parents and sister this past weekend. I'm not quite sure where to begin, with her wondering who my mother was or with her worrying about my nephew, asking who he belongs to and fretting over him like he's some Dickensian waif with no home or family to take care of him. It's starting to get pretty ridiculous. She doesn't eat when she's by herself. When she walks, it's like she's drunk, staggering this way and that, clinging to the wall for support.

I finished William Gibson's Spook Country over the weekend. Great book. One of his best. I then began Greg Rucka's newest Atticus Kodiak novel, Patriot Acts, which I should be done with by the end of the week. His books are always quick reads.

I suppose I should head to campus. More later...


Happy bin Laden Day

I hate bin Laden, for what he did six years ago this morning, certainly, but mostly for what happened subsequently to the actual attack on September 11, 2001. He won.

The goal of a terrorist is to fuel and spread terror. Fear. And he succeeded, with a not inconsequential helping hand from the leadership of this country. No one has done a better job of spreading fear and terror than President Bush and his minions. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Chertoff, Ashcroft, Gonzales. They all had much more of a hand in crafting this Orwellian nightmare than bin Laden did. All he had to do was sit back and watch.

A month or so ago, Rudy Giuliani, who, up until 9/11 was considered to be a pretty shitty mayor, said in a speech that if you didn't want another terror attack in America, you have to vote Republican. That's what he said. He said that if you don't vote against the Democrats, you will die.

That is exactly the kind of world bin Laden wanted us to live in, and we are. A world where our so-called leaders spend every moment of every day thinking of new ways in which to scare the citizenry of the United States. They want to frighten us in the worst way, because they believe that with unbridled fear comes unwavering support. They believe that they can continually use the bogeyman of 9/11, the spectre of another terrorist attack on America, to cow their opposition, to quash dissent and to stay in power, uncontested, forever.

Bin Laden knocked a couple buildings down and murdered 3,000 people. Bush and his cronies have willingly and willfully killed nearly 4,000 American soldiers by sending them into an impossible, never ending war, and they tell us our soldiers must stay there, dying, because "we have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them at home."


My niece was born six years ago tonight, into a world I barely recognize anymore. A world changed not by Osama bin Laden and some crazy assholes from Saudi Arabia, but by the people we charged with protecting us.

Happy birthday, Charlize. I'm sorry for what we let happen to your future. We're trying to fix it, but it might take a while.


Too much pie

It's been a little while since I posted my little comments reminder:

I welcome any and all comments, positive or negative, regarding absolutely anything I write on this blog; however, if there isn't a name of some kind attached to the comment, be it your real name or your Blogger name, the comment will remain unread and be discarded. If you haven't the courage to stand by your opinion and let us know who you are, your opinion means less than nothing to me.

This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled idiotic ramblings...

My grandmother took my father and I to lunch this afternoon. Well, technically, we took her, but she paid, so that was nice of her. Just had a burger and fries. But then the waitress asked if we wanted any dessert, and Dad got some peach pie, and I hemmed and hawed for a moment before ordering a slice of cherry pie, even though I was kinda full from the burger and didn't really need it.

Didn't stop me from eating most of it, though. So tasty. And now I'm payin' for it.

Today is Aussie's birthday, so Happy Birthday, Aussie! I guess a bunch of us at meeting at a bar downtown tonight, so that'll be fun. I hope I remember to bring the DVDs that I borrowed from him, like, over a year ago, with me to give back to him. He probably forget he even owned them at one point, so he'll just think they're a gift from me.

I need to write a five to 15 page story for my fiction studio by Wednesday. I'm to be "workshopped" in two and a half weeks and the instructor needs the stories two weeks ahead of time so he can get them copied. I can make copies myself and bring them next week, which would give me an extra week to work on the story (i.e. procrastinate), but no. He seemed pretty certain he needed to be the one to make the copies. So, whatever. I can bang out five pages in an evening. I just need to decide what I want to write about.

Football season is upon us once again. The Steelers open their year tomorrow against the Cleveland Browns. My brother-in-law and nephew will surely be here at noon, wearing their Steeler jerseys, for the opening kickoff. I won't bore anyone with some sort NFL season preview. Honestly, I don't care all that much anymore. I'd like the Steelers (and mine and my father's fantasy football team) to do well. That's about the extent of my enthusiasm this year, at least until the playoffs.

Brian K. Vaughan's Buffy: Season Eight arc began this week, with the sixth issue of the Dark Horse comic. We're finding out what Faith has been up to in the year and a half since Sunnydale went poof. While Whedon's initial arc was good, it had the burden of orienting us, the readers, as to what happened between the end of season seven and the beginning of this new comic series. It had some cool beats, some amazing moments that Whedon never could have accomplished on the small screen, but overall it was a little clunky. Vaughan, I think, will have a much more streamlined and organic storyline, as evidenced by his fantastic first issue.

(I'm in the middle of season three of the Angel DVDs. Halfway done with the series.)

For anyone I neglected to email, regarding movie night, my apologies. It's Saturday the 15th, around 6 or 7. Email me for more details if you're interested.


Crooked Little Vein

The debut novel from Warren Ellis is a short, nasty piece of work, filled with all manner of depravity and perversion, and us Ellis acolytes wouldn't have it any other way.

Crooked Little Vein is a detective story, a road trip and a guided tour of the dark, twisted underbelly of American society as seen through the eyes of a seemingly perpetually drunk and surly British writer, all rolled into one.

Mike McGill is a private eye in New York City. He is, as he likes to put it, "a shit magnet." Weird, freaky things and people constantly seem to happen to him, such as, at the beginning of this novel, a creeky, crusty old presidential chief of staff who injects heroin and monkey crap into his veins ("I have a cage of genetically modified green monkies that express anti-cancer pharmaceuticals in their feces. Once a day I have to inject dilute monkey turds. But it's better than dying, yes?") hiring Mike to find the second, secret Constitution of the United States. It seems that the Founding Fathers had a backup plan in case America went all manner of fucked, but it's gone missing.

So, armed with $500,000 of your tax dollars and a pretty, young, tattooed sex fiend ...

Trix was twenty-three, lived in the village, and had three girlfriends and two boyfriends ... "Polyamory doesn't mean I'm a slut. It just means that I have a lot of love to give and I want a lot of people in my life."

... Mike quests across the country in search of a 200+ year old book that can "fix" America. Along the way he meets all manner of colorful characters, like the rich, old Texas oil man who, while naked, strangles cows with a garrote given to him by G. Gordon Liddy and then sucks on their udders, and the group of gay men in Ohio who insist on injecting Mike's testicles with enough saline to expand his nutsack to the size of bowling balls before they'll help him.

And don't even get me started on the Godzilla bukkake.

Vein is pure Ellis from the word go. If you're a fan of Transmetropolitan or any of his other works, you'll enjoy it. And if you're not already a fan, well, I'm sure you're already screaming and running in the opposite direction.


Happy Happys

Not only is today Labor Day, it's also the fourth birthday of one of my nieces, Emma, my sister's daughter, as well as the 40th wedding anniversary of my parents, who are hosting a mishpocha BBQ tonight at the house, because, as my father explains it, "We always go to other people's homes for dinners and parties; we should have them over here." So today, Labor Day, my mother will be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, in a vain attempt to make the house presentable for guests, namely my brother-in-law's family.

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad. As my father likes to put it, they've been happily married for 32 years, which, out of 40, isn't too bad.

And Happy Birthday, Emma, though I'm fairly certain you won't be reading this anytime soon.

Quick update regarding my car: the guy from Triple A who looked at it and decided the problem was the alternator was kind of a schmuck. After two days of putzing around with the damn car, taking it to the service shop, wasting their time, it turns out that the only problem was the dead battery. Fortunately, my battery was still under warranty from when I had it replaced two years ago, so it was free. And the service shop only charged me about $27 for labor. I would like to send that ultimately unnecessary bill to Triple A and let them reimburse me for it since, without their "expertise," I never would have had to pay it in the first place.

I have a few chapters to read for my various classes today. I'm assuming I won't have the time nor the inclination to do so tonight, with all the people here. And I need to start writing the editorial that's due for my Thursday night critical writing class. I think I'm going to write about disgraced, soon-to-be-former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and the hypocrisy of the GOP for throwing him under the bus because of his gay sex scandal, while another Republican congressman, David Vitter, admitted to much the same thing, a sex scandal involving prostitutes and the "DC Madam," only he was allowed to keep his job for no reason other than his scandal was hetero in nature.

This is a major problem in our country that doesn't need to be a problem, that shouldn't be a problem, not anymore. We're in the 21st century, for cryin' out loud, and there's still all this bigotry and prejudice (disguised as "morals" and "values") simply because people are, GASP, different from one another. This country was founded upon the ideal that all men (and eventually women, and, you know, some minorities) are created equal, but we all know that's not the case, at least not in the eyes of the conservative rightwing whackjobs who want to control our lives.

If they would stop demonizing homosexuality, then perhaps men like Senator Craig wouldn't have to solicit sex in airport bathrooms (which, despite his denials that he's not gay, is what he essentially pled guilty to). If conservatives and so-called Christians would only stop trying to force shame and scorn upon people who don't deserve it, people whose only crime (or sin, if you're into that kinda talk) was to be born a little different from the right's misguided and puritanical ideal of "normal," then people wouldn't feel the need to hide who they really are out of fear of retribution from holier-than-thou bigots.

So...think I can get a decent editorial out of all that?


Oh, what a wonderful day

If you can't tell, the title of this post is meant to be slightly sarcastic.

I walk outside this morning and head to my car, which I unlock and climb inside. I turn the key and what happens? Not what's supposed to happen. Oh no. There's a "click." Followed by ... nothing. The radio turns on. I can slide the windows up and down. But will the engine start? Nope!

I didn't leave the headlights on after I got home last night. Neither the passenger nor driver's side doors were ajar, so the interior lights weren't on. I called Triple A and they sent a guy out to check on the battery, which is under warranty for another year, thankfully. Unfortunately, the alternator does not fit under the battery warranty.

About 20 minutes ago the car was towed to the service shop. I hope to hear from them within a couple hours, when they'll tell me a new alternator will cost about $200 or however much it is.

All I can say is, I'm glad this didn't happen while I was in L.A. or during the drive home. Or when I was up in Minneapolis. But c'mon, this is a shitty run of luck I've got goin' on here. Had to replace the master cylinder a couple weeks ago and now this. But hey, at least I've got my health. ::cough, cough::

This is not exactly the ending to the first week of classes I was anticipating. I was supposed to be working on campus today, for a few hours. Oh well. Before this morning, the week went pretty well. I think I'm going to enjoy these classes: News Editing, History of Mass Communication, Critical Writing and a Fiction Studio.

There's a lot of reading and writing involved in these classes, which is fine, because it seems like it's going to be stuff that I'm actually interested in. News, politics, reviews. This critical writing class, all the assignments are opinion pieces. TV reviews, movie reviews, restaurants, concerts, books, all the crap I write about on this idiot blog. As Alissa said last night, all I gotta do is give the blog URL to my teacher and tell her, "Here, grade this."

The fiction studio should be pretty fun, too. The three graded assignments are each five to 15 page stories. That's the only rule, that the stories be between five and 15 pages. That's it. I can write absolutely anything I want. I have an idea for the first story. I need to do a bit of research first, before I start writing it, but I've had the idea kicking around in my head for a few years now. Maybe it's time to finally start putting it on paper.

What else is goin' on ... my grandmother felt some chest pains last Saturday morning, perhaps coincidentally the same day she was finally going to move into her new apartment. Dad took her to the emergency care place and from there she was admitted to, I believe, Methodist Hospital, where she stayed through Tuesday morning.

They didn't find anything wrong with her. At least, nothing new. She's got a lousy heart valve, which we knew about, about which nothing can be done. She's 89. Open-heart surgery is not really a realistic option. Mom thinks it was low blood sugar.

My grandmother also seems to be losing her mind. It's only a matter of time before she really can't live by herself. Months, really, if not weeks. She couldn't remember who she was Tuesday morning, for a little while. Dad's on the phone right now telling my sister about how, during dinner last night, my grandmother thought my father was her husband. Her memories are starting to get all jumbled. She can't seem to understand or remember recent events. She has problems with her medication, unsure how to follow the directions. It's tough. And it's only gonna get more difficult.

It's good that she's here in Omaha, I think. Better here where people are more readily available to take care of her than in Pittsburgh, where she only had my cousin and his wife, who have a new baby to take care of.

Anyway. That's about all I know. I'm thinking of hosting another movie night in a couple weeks. Lemme know if you're interested. I'll email with details when I have them.



I was starting to get a little anxious. Classes start next week and my financial aid money, which I need to, you know, live on, hadn't shown up. How was I going to buy books? A parking pass? Pay my car insurance? Pay back the $300 my father loaned me so I could go to Minneapolis and get away from the house for a weekend? Buy the three months worth of comic books that Krypton has been holding for me since I went to Los Angeles in the middle of May?

Ah, but salvation was near. The check finally showed up today. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I drove first to the bank, then to campus. And after I bought my parking pass and books, I stopped off in the chem office to fill out some paperwork and figure out my hours for the upcoming semester. I should have about 15 hours a week, split between the office and the computer lab, where I can sit and do homework in peace. And get paid $9/hour.

My father and I went to a sneak peek of The Kingdom tonight. It's about a team of FBI agents who sort of blackmail their way to Saudi Arabia so they can investigate a terrorist attack on the U.S. personnel who are stationed there, which, to me, is a wholly unbelievable premise. I don't believe for a second that a) the Saudi royal family would allow anything resembling terrorist activity to occur within their borders. They're too smart to let shit like that happen under their noses. And b) should an attack like the one depicted in this film actually happen, I find it difficult to believe that the Saudis would allow American FBI agents on the ground, let alone allow them to actively investigate a terrorist attack, regardless of whether the victims were American.

All that being said, it was an extremely enjoyable, fast-paced, well-made film. It kind of reminded me of Syriana, though the plot was less convoluted. They share similar themes, obviously, with both of them dealing with the post-9/11 world in the Middle East.

Some of the main characters weren't especially well-written, but, unfortunately, that's to be expected these days. Really, Jamie Foxx and his Saudi counterpart were the only two with anything resembling a back story. But I guess the politics and differences between American and Saudi culture were more of the point of the film.

Anyway, it was fun and entertaining, even if I didn't believe the plot was realistic. It opens in a month and wouldn't be a complete waste of your time or money. Of course, that's easy for me to say, since I saw it for free.


I drove home for this?

After driving through driving rain throughout all of Minnesota and parts of Iowa, I returned home at around 4 o'clock this afternoon. Within a few hours, a wicked storm was working its way across Nebraska, bringing awesome lightning and crashing thunder, 70 MPH winds and maybe a tornado or two.

I took some pictures from the front porch during the monsoon, and I've got a video on YouTube that I'll link to just as soon as it's "processed."

The storm didn't last very long, and didn't cause any damage around here. We just got wet, accompanied by a fantastic light show.

Minnesota was fun. It rained most of the weekend, so we didn't really do a whole lot outside of the house. Watched a bunch of movies, played Marvel Scene It (guess who won), and went to a really wonderful ballgame at the Metrodome on Sunday. (Click here for a few pictures.)

Twins starter Johan Santana pitched an amazing game, a gem, if you will. After the sixth inning, I wondered aloud about how many strikeouts he had, because it seemed to me that he'd struck out an awful lot of Texas Rangers to that point. Turns out he had 14 through seven innings. He prompted came out in the seventh and struck out the side, giving him 17 through eight, three shy of the major league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

The crowd was going crazy during that eighth inning. Strikeout number 15 was a career best for Santana and number 16 set a new team record. Number 17 was just icing on the cake. The dome was rockin', that's for sure. We were all hoping he'd come back out in the ninth to try to tie the league record, but after a wave of his cap as he walked back to the dugout after his sublime performance in the eighth, I had a feeling he wasn't coming back out, and he didn't. Joe Nathan, the Twins closer, walked toward the mound to a chorus of boos. Not aimed at him, of course. Everyone was simply disappointed that Santana didn't come back out for three more strikeouts.

Did I mention that the Twins were only winning 1-0 thanks to a Mike Redmond home run in the early innings, and that Rangers pitcher Kevin Millwood, while not racking up the gaudy strikeout numbers that Santana was, was matching Johan in everyone other conceivable way, pitch-for-pitch. It was a pitching-lovers dream. Great defense, overpowering fastballs and deer-in-headlights freezing change-ups.

Nathan pitched himself into and out of a jam to finish off the game and preserve that 1-0 score. It was probably the best, most exciting, dramatic ballgame I've ever witnessed in person. I was certainly glad the rain fell that day, otherwise we may not have gone to the game at all.

Ryan & Jami seem to be doing really well. They're heading off to Hawaii Tuesday morning for a short vacation before Jami has to start going into work to get ready for the rapidly approaching school year. It was good to see them, to hang out and talk for an extended period of time. Usually when they come into town we only get to see each other for a few hours, if that. I'm glad I took the opportunity to drive up there for a couple days.

And tonight I finally scanned and uploaded the sketches that were done for me in San Diego. Be sure to check out Kody Chamberlain's awesome zombie samurai. The man is incredibly talented, ladies and gentlemen.

A'ight, I'm out. Be good.