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.