Friday, October 26, 2007

b movies

As previously chronicled here, last night was the B movie double feature, with 1964's The Last Man on Earth and 1954's Devil Girl from Mars at one of the local chains. How was it?

When I stepped up to the concessions to pick up my popcorn and drink (I've never trusted those who can watch a film without popcorn), the worker asked me what I was seeing. when I told him, he went on a mini-rant about seeing ads for a new Will Smith adaptation of I Am Legend, the book which The Last Man on Earth is based. He then bemoaned the fact that most films are either "remaking some old film or ripping off some Japanese film. Why can't Hollywood try to do anything original?"

Why indeed. While many people would be put off by hearing a clerk moan and complain, it kinda made me feel good, because it was obvious that this guy liked movies and cared about them. When we went into the theater, there was another worker who was asking the audience trivia questions about the night's films, and it was also clear that he was excited about being able to be part of something different.

It must be a real mixed blessing for a film buff to have to work at a theater. On the plus side, you get to see all those cool movies...but on the down side, most of them will suck. Do we, for instance, really need Saw 4? Furthermore, do we need it on three screens? Were there really that many unanswered questions from the previous three films? It seems that there are many film directors who just love recycling mediocre ideas more than trying something new (case in point: 2 Shanghai Nights films, 3 Rush Hours)...and I bet that no one knows that more than the movie theater workers.

The crowd was also into the films. Honestly, it was like living in MST3K...really fun. The films themselves? Last Man was kind of slow...30 minutes of setup is entirely too much. Devil Girl from Mars, though, was a perfect bad film. I won't spoil the plot for you, but in order to demonstrate the awesomeness of this movie, I'll leave you with one quote: "I'm a scientist...that means I believe what my brain tells me to believe."


Follow the Lights

When I first moved to Ohio, I was ready for a musical change, because I was losing faith in most of the things I used to listen to. What passed for heavy metal in the nineties was boring, predictable, and monotone. The grunge movement left me cold, and I got tired of having bad musicianship, nonsense lyrics, and moaning/whining singers being passed off as "cutting edge." Pop music was the same incomprehensible and unredeeming waste land it ever always sounded like music for those who don't really like music...or at least don't want to think about it.

Luckily, though, a friend of mine had a slight evangelical streak, and he took pity on me by lending me a massive stack of alt country disks. I tore through Uncle Tupelo, sailed through the Jayhawks, and listened to a bunch of others. One listen in particular sticks out in my memory, however.

It was a bleak midwestern winter's night, snow everywhere, in the middle of a stretch of days where I'd seen nothing but dirty snow and gray skies. I was coming home from Toledo, and I grabbed one of my friend's cds...the only real reason why was that I liked their name. So, into the cd player went Whiskeytown's Stranger's Almanac.

I'd never heard music like this before. It didn't sound like any country I've ever heard...which had been mostly New Country/cheesy Poison-esque pop with fiddles. It had rock tendencies, but it didn't fall into any of the typical rock cliches. The lyrics were intelligent, poetic, and magical...I think I replayed "Houses on the Hill" three times on that ride home alone. The music didn't just sit there and repeat built, to great heights, to wonderful conclusions, as when "Waiting to Derail" left me zoney and drained, wondering if I just listened to a tune or instead fought a heavyweight fight.

I became an instant fan, of the genre more generally, but specifically of Whiskeytown. When I next saw my friend, I cornered him and would not let him go until he gave me everything Whiskeytown had ever done. At the time, though, it wasn't earlier album, one solo album from the singer...but I got copies of each, and I particularly wore out the solo album: Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker.

I became a big Ryan fan. When he released his second album (the week of 9/11, in fact), I got it immediately. I dragged my spousal unit to a Ryan show all the way in Cleveland, and she became a convert as well. We've seen him several times, and while I know others who've had bad Ryan experiences which seem to drive them to an illogical level of disdain and hatred for someone who is, after all, a mere musician, every show we've ever seen has been golden.

Ryan quickly went on some weird recording/cd releasing trance/spree, flooding the market with disk after disk after disk. Some, such as Jacksonville City Nights, I instantly liked very much. Some I had to learn to like, such as Love is Hell. Some, like 29, I had to scan for good tracks and throw out the rest...but nothing ever hit me quite the way that Whiskeytown disk did.

Today, on my drive to work, I popped in his new ep, Follow the Lights. It was like I was transported to that first Stranger's Almanac experience. It's only seven songs, but every one of them is magnificent. Two songs are completely new to me, and they did sound wonderful, but it's the rest of the disk that blew me away. Ryan finally recorded one song ("My Love For You Is Real") which has popped in and out of his live shows for years, and this recording makes you wonder why the wait was necessary. There's an Alice in Chains cover that works surprisingly well as an alt-country's one of those covers that make you think this is the way the song should've been recorded, not how it was originally done. The other three tracks are all covers of previously released Ryan Adams songs, but they're all surprising and new. "This is It" sounds like it was written as an alt-country song rather than the alt rock recording original. "If I Am A Stranger" is done in a slow Heartbreaker-esque style. "Dear John" becomes a piano gospel song. None of it, however, sounds forced. Actually, every song on here sounds like the ultimate version, like how the song was ultimately meant to be.

EPs are usually throwaways, but this might be my favorite cd of the year so far. At the very least, it's reminded me of why music is such a large part of my life. After listening to it on the drive into work, I walked from my car into my office with every track stuck in my head at once, and although I have tons of other cds, this one might have to just stay in the car cd player for a few months.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

attack of the "B"s

I like Halloween, but my wife is a Halloween geek, though...she gets all excited, does her happy dance, and generally acts like a four year old. It's cute.

I feel the same way about bad movies. I love cheesy acting, cheesy writing. I love seeing people take themselves way too seriously.

Tonight, our two loves come together. A local multiplex cinema has been playing B-movie double features on Thursdays, and we finally get to go. Our films? 1964's The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price being pursued by alien zombies. The second film is Devil Girl from Mars! One of the taglines is "Invasion from Outer Space!...Sights too weird to imagine! Destruction too monstrous to escape!"

This will be good. Details to follow.

Friday, October 19, 2007

selling bad actors

In doing research for my Van Damme post, I ran across the Steven Seagal homepage. It's amazing in that not only does Seagal push his "acting" ability, he also calls himself an "accomplished musician," in addition to also selling his own energy drink (which is lie...Stephen's Lightning Bolt). There are brief music clips, and it's much better than you'd expect...but then again, I had no expectations at all.

Compare this to the very amatureish Van Damme homepage. The best thing about this is that it has a Van Damme can test your knowledge on the celebrity! Of course, the best thing about JCVD is the fan page, which has a hilarious selection of Van Damme wallpaper.

I know you're just dying to get the image of him doing karate splits...

Van Damme-it

Slate has a rather remarkable article which is paying homage to Jean-Claude Van Damme. If you have never seen a Van Damme movie, you don't know what you're missing...

Van Damme has a lot in common with Stephen Seagal...except Seagal is a much better actor. Van Damme can't show any emotion, growth, skills other than kicking people. And yet this man has been in 36 movies.

I should hate the man, but in spite of my sometimes elitism about popular culture, I kind of like really bad movies...and Van Damme has made a lot of them. However, he's never really sunk to the true level of dreck that makes a classic bad film.

Van Damme still has a ways to sink yet. He hasn't done the marvelously self-aware commercials that Seagal has. He hasn't made anything as classically hideous as Over the Top, Commando, or Road House.

When he really begins to bottom out, I might have to start liking him.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Halo 3 for God

The New York Times has an article on church groups using Halo 3 at their meetings. Personally, I find this fascinating. I wonder if their game play is any different, or it's just used as "kill aliens while I talk to you about God."

The possibilities are, of course, endless. You could specifically interpret the game as some gargantuo metaphor...are the aliens demons? (hey, they actually are demons in Doom) Is the game a great recreation of the crusades?

Are there any actual explicitly Christian video games out there? Any that incorporate the level of action as the average 1st person shooter? I smell a market niche...

(incidentally, you might've seen this story if you've been reading interwub postcards, my other blog...hint, hint)

worst product idea ever?

There is a company in Delaware which sells a product called The Back-Up. It is a rack that fits under your bed's mattress and holds either a shotgun or a rifle...the theory being that you might need to shoot someone without getting out of bed.

I can't begin to count the ways that this is a bad idea. The temptation is very strong to make a redneck joke, but I'm going to refrain. At any rate, it is this kind of product which is going to make the gun lobby look like a continuing joke in this country.

The best part of this? When the bedspread is down, it hides your weaponry! Be deadly and still have good decorating taste!

I've posted the demonstration video on Interwub Postcards.

Monday, October 08, 2007

a view of life after the collapse

Last Sunday, I was taking a shower, and I slipped (and no, this is not one of those "I've fallen and I can't get up" stories). Nothing serious, but I fell against one of the walls to regain my balance. And although I didn't hit the wall particularly hard (I expended about as much force as when someone falls into a couch after a busy day), the wall collapsed around me.

This was pretty shocking, although it was not as shocking as it could be. Like most rental properties, my house isn't the best maintained place in the world. The bathroom has a tremendous moisture problem, and this has led to a never-ending battle against mold, rotting walls, and places in the (old) shower where the tile grout had worn away. The wall I hit had tremendous water damage, and the backing material was very damp...and this is why my bathroom fell around me...not just because I need to lose weight.

So, I called the landlord, and they quickly dispatched one of their handymen, who came out and plastic-coated the wall in question. He was a nice guy, nicer than I would've been they had called me away from my house on a Sunday afternoon when football was on to help some moron who broke his shower, and he told us that him and his boss, when out to our place for an earlier service call, had noticed the water damage. This made me feel good...because I had vague fears of the landlords trying to take the expenses out of our deposit when we moved.

Anyway, he also told us that they would decide if they were going to re-tile or replace the whole unit, and someone would be over on Monday to start working. Monday came and went. Tuesday came and went. Finally, on Wednesday, they called me up to tell me that a contractor would be over on Thursday.

I got off work and pulled into my place around five on Thursday, and there was a construction van still there. When I talked to the workers, they told me that not only did they have to replace the tub and install a new surround, when they ripped out the old tub, they found puddles of water in the crawlspace. Also, they had to re-frame half of the bathroom because all of the wood under the tub was rotting. So, although they had been working all day, there were still gaps around the new surround where we could see the studs and insulation.

Friday morning, we were not able to use the shower because of the exposed stuff, so I had to settle for spot-cleaning: pits, feet, crotch, and stumbling into the kitchen so I could shampoo in the kitchen sink. It sucked beyond belief, and I couldn't help but think of the Monty Python sketch "The Golden Age of Ballooning":

Moreover, I felt an awful lot like a frontiersman...and in the spirit, I thought about going out and brushing my teeth with a sassafras twig or something.

They came the next day to do the drywall...well, at least start it. It is a process, they tell me, that will probably take most of this upcoming week, because they have to do several shots at the wall joints, and they plan to replace the flooring as well.

The new shower? I hate it like hot death. It's about 3 inches more narrow, which means I have to stand sideways. Worse, however, is the new "low flow" shower head they've installed, which makes me realize that my life is everyday becoming more and more an episode of Seinfeld:

In the end, however, the main effect of all of this is to make me reevaluate my life. I have friends who've moved onto tenure-track jobs. I have friends who are buying their own house (while I, on the other hand, can't imagine even being able to finance a used Kia). I have friends who have children, families, who are true and bona-fide adults.

Where am I? Standing amongst broken tiles, collapsed walls, breathing grout dust, wondering what I did to deserve a rotting bathroom.