Friday, December 25, 2009

Season's Greetings From Fiona


Fiona's first day on Earth.



In her favorite place, the newborn napper.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Festivus

A colleague at work pointed me in the direction of this great great wiki entry. Check it out if you get a chance.

Apparently, this holiday was created long before it became popularized by its infamous appearance on Seinfeld. There are some potentially great traditions associated with it, especially the Airing of Grievances, which, if done right, could be therapeutic and constructive for all parties concerned.

______

Sort of off-topic, but in college one of my friends nicknamed me "Jerry," as it was his opinion I strongly resembled Mr. Seinfeld. I didn't see much of a resemblance back then and still don't, but my buddy was not alone in his view. As recently as last winter, while at a restaurant with my wife, a party waiting for their table approached me just to say I looked like Jerry Seinfeld. This is not the first time this has happened, though I hope it is the last. And several years ago, at a holiday party, a friend of the family pulled me aside and suggested I try to earn some money being a celebrity look-alike. Thinking she was joking, I broke into laughter, only to discover too late her advice had been given in earnest.

This picture of me was taken a few years back. I don't see a resemblance at all, though I'll let you decide for yourselves.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Good Review of The Unearthed

Bitten by Books, a paranormal book review site, recently gave The Unearthed a good review. If you're on the fence about buying it, check out the review. It doesn't spoil the story, and it gives you a good feel for what it's about.

I can't believe it's been nine months since the book came out. As far as unmarketed e-books written by first-time authors go, it has done well. Looking back now, I wish I had marketed it more, but in all fairness to me I didn't (and still don't) have the time, resources, or bank account for it.

It also doesn't help that I can't stomach shameless self-promotion.

That being said, I'll take this opportunity to once again thank everyone kind enough to buy, read, recommend, and/or review it! I see The Unearthed as a stepping stone really, something I'm proud of and can use as a marketing tool in query letters for future manuscripts. And, as far as first books go, I think it's pretty good. Even the agents and other publishers who passed it up had nice things to say about the story. Sure, when I look back at it now, I can think of a few things I'd like to change, but I'm certain all authors feel that way about most of the books they write. As the saying goes, you don't really ever finish a book; at some point you just have to abandon it.

____

People have asked if there will be a sequel, and I'll answer by saying, yes, at some point there probably will be. But it will definitely be a very different story - I'm not interested in re-hashing the haunted house tale again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Me? A Dad?

Apropos of my last post, about people using the internet to share all manner of personal information, I'm thrilled to say that Fiona Helen O'Rourke arrived last week, on December 9, 2009.

She and Jenna are doing well, as am I. Fiona came in weighing 8 pounds 13 ounces, and unfortunately for her, it looks like she may have gotten her feet from her father (I wear a size 15).

In my estimation, Jenna and I have averaged about four hours of sleep a night for the past week. I'm fairly delirious at this point, so I hope this post makes the least bit of sense.

Now I know what it feels like to be a Muslim detainee at Gitmo, being woken up every couple of hours.

In terms of this blog, well, I won't be posting with much frequency for the foreseeable future, for obvious reasons. I hope you all can forgive me, and by "all," I mean: Seana Graham, Nate Green, Marco, Adrian McKinty, Nicklas Hughes, Rita Vetere, and any lurkers (?) that might be out there, including dear old Dad. But I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read my otherwise inane ramblings and comment on same.

A bientot.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Information Overload

It's time we brought an end to this so-called Information Age.

I was reading this article this morning, about a groom who stopped his marital proceedings mid-ceremony so he could update his Facebook and Twitter pages.

Are you effing kidding me?

Why do so many human beings feel the need to alert hundreds, if not thousands, of mere acquaintances of the most personal, intimate details of their lives, in real-time nonetheless?

And conversely, why do so many human beings soak this sort of thing up?

In this day and age, we are bombarded with information, from blogs (yes, including this one), yahoo groups, tweets, facebook pages, myspace pages, text messages, and so many other different emerging "news" sources, most of it inconsequential at the end of the day. I don't think we were meant, as a species, to be barraged by all this stuff. But for whatever reason, people are spending inordinate amounts of time transmitting the most random (and often) meaningless information to one another.

The pervasive nature of this information overload - both the giving and the receiving of it - seems to be an addiction of sorts. My uneducated guess is that the ability to tell hundreds of people something about oneself makes one feel important.

But far be it from me to shake my finger at everyone else. Despite the fact I think Tiger Woods's "transgressions" (to use his word) should remain a private affair - for the sake of his family - I'll admit I've checked up on the developing story every day since it broke.

Shame on me for perpetuating this gossipy nonsense that passes for news.

Inane status updates on social networking sites bug me the most. Oh, you're having your third coffee of the morning? Good for you, as Christian Bale would say.

Oh, you don't know what to do with your day, so you decided to tweet about not knowing what to do with your day? That's awesome, thanks for the update.

Oh, you have a hangover because you were out partying last night? Actually, that's pretty cool, which bar did you go to...

I don't know what we can do to reshape the cultural zeitgeist, but I'd like to see us enter a new Age, whatever it is. Like, let's say, a Second Space Age.

Hell, I'd even take another Bronze Age over what we have right now. Okay, just kidding. But seriously, I'd love to see us enter the Think Before You Speak/Text/Tweet/Blog Age.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rex Quondam Rex Futurus

I'm an admitted King Arthur nut. I've read Mary Stewart's books, T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King (including its oft-forgot final chapter, The Book of Merlin), and yes, even slogged my way through some of Malory's Morte D'Arthur. I own Boorman's Excalibur, which is a mostly excellent film, and even "borrowed permanently" Dad's copy of the 2004 film King Arthur.

I still have to read Marion Zimmer Bradley's stories, but Mists of Avalon is near the top of the To Read List.

Having hopefully established my bona fides, I can say without reservation that the best Arthur stories I have ever read or seen remain Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles, three books consisting of: The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur.

Cornwell is a consistently fantastic writer. His stories are vividly descriptive without being flowery; poignant without ever dipping into sentimentality; and sheer, visceral, rollicking good fun without ever turning campy.

I have read many of his other books, which are all good, but the Arthur books in my humble opinion are a cut above the rest. In these tales, Arthur is the king in all but name; Mordred is not his son but rather his half-brother; Lancelot is a gutless, manipulative, vain, back-stabbing, power-hungry cad; and the narrator and unabashed hero of the saga is a Saxon-born man named Derfel, raised by Merlin.

All three stories are thrilling, gripping adventures. If you've never read Cornwell before, his bread and butter is his ability to draw realistic battle scenes. Cliche as this is going to sound, you feel like you're standing in the shield wall with Derfel as the barbaric Saxon hordes, outnumbering Arthur's men by the thousands, charge. Life, even outside of the battlefields, can be nasty, brutish, and short, to steal a phrase. His characters are real people, heroic, flawed, often well-intentioned, and fighting to carve out a happy existence.

I can't recommend these three books enough. I consider them one of my two favorite trilogies, the other being Adrian McKinty's kick-ass Dead Trilogy, which I've posted about before.

Monday, November 2, 2009

2012? No Big Deal. We've Got Bigger Problems!

In anticipation of Roland Emmerich's upcoming latest mega-disaster flick, 2012, I give you the most depressing website ever.

Okay, depressing might not be the right word for it, but Exit Mundi is a fairly expansive catalogue of the diabolical ways the world/the Universe might come to an end. Here are some of my favorite theories from the web site:

-The Universe is just a computer program, which at any time, and for whatever reason, could simply be switched off by the programmer.

-We are going to turn into the Borg. (I kid you not! Check this page out.)

-The Earth's magnetic field is flipping over and will someday disappear entirely.

-The fundamental constants will reach their critical values, and everything will just get all screwy.

What say you? How do you all think this will end?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Long And The Short Of It

Last weekend, we surprised the wife with a baby shower. Family and friends were all extremely generous - I've never seen so many presents in my life - and Jenna spent the better part of four hours just opening everything. Thanks again to everyone!

One of the more interesting gifts was a copy of War and Peace. I thought it was a pretty cool gift, being something Baby Girl O'Rourke wouldn't use until she's a bit older.

War and Peace is notorious for its length. Rick Reilly, famous sports writer, once described how far John Daley hit a golf ball by saying, "He's longer than Tolstoy." I have yet to read WaP, but I did enjoy Anna Karenina, which itself is not short by any means.

Anyway, I found a wiki link to the world's longest novels and was amazed to find this. Marienbad My Love, a self-published work, spans over 17 million words. I will never even attempt to read this book, but here's the blurb for it:

Coppell, TX - Texas writer Mark Leach has published an expanded edition of "Marienbad My Love," the world's longest novel, that tops 17 million words and also sets new records for the world's longest word, sentence and book title.

The Coppell, Texas, writer has been making a run at the record books with his still-growing story of a Christ-haunted filmmaker who believes he is called on by God to bring about the end of the world by producing a science fiction-themed pastiche of the 1961 French New Wave classic, “Last Year at Marienbad.”


And here I thought my book, The Unearthed, was a bit long-winded at 80,000 words!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Signs Point To An Invasion!!!! And More On The Legend of Zelda

First, I find out that Captain Lou Albano passed away. Then I read about this strange cloud hovering over Moscow.

Are the two connected? Absolutely. How couldn't they be? What do they mean? Well, I'll tell you: an alien invasion is imminent. Either that or it's just a meaningless coincidence. But one can never be too prepared, right?

For those of us who don't remember or never knew of the Captain, he was a fixture in the WWF in the 80s and also appeared in the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, a strange hybrid of live action and cartoon. The best part of SMBSS was, once a week (usually Fridays), they would air an episode not about the Mario Bros, but about the continuing adventures of Link, our hero from The Legend of Zelda. On The Legend of Zelda TV show, Link divided his time by going toe-to-toe with the evil wizard Ganon and his minions and trying to score with the Princess, who just wouldn't give it up, no matter how great the heroic deeds he performed.

For more on Zelda, check out my previous post, The Greatest Video Game Ever Made.

Anyway, back to this invasion...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I Kept My Appointment With The Wicker Man, But He Wasn't That Cool

Sorry to be so flip about what is considered a cult classic, but I can't help but wonder why this flick is held in such high regard. And no, I'm not talking about the remake with Nicolas Cage, I'm talking about the original movie that so many people love, venerate, and ironically worship with a religious fervor.

This movie falls into "the hero is so stupid that I don't even care what happens to him" camp. Why we're supposed to like the policeman protagonist is beyond me, as every step of the way he's dumb, not the least bit cautious considering the circumstances, and appropriately pig-headed. The defenders of this movie will retort by saying, "Ah, yes, but we're not supposed to like him." To which I respond, "If we're not supposed to like him, then why do I care if (SPOILER) he's burned alive at the end of the movie?"

Huh? Why do I care? That's right. I don't.

In all fairness, this movie may have been overhyped for me. A few people previously told me it was the scariest, most terrifying movie they'd ever seen. But I found very little about it scary. The plot essentially evolves around this policeman trying to locate a young girl who a) is missing, b) doesn't exist, c) is dead, d) may not really be dead, e) who is alive, and f) who may be sacrificed in a pagan ritual. The cop reaches the summit of his stupidity when, in an audience head-smacking moment, he divulges his findings and his plans to Lord Summerisle (played by Christopher Lee), the man who at least the audience is smart enough to know must be at the center of everything.

The score doesn't help. A 70s soft-rock, easy-listening melody plays at various points, which seriously undermines any tension or creepiness, and which calls attention to itself in all the wrong ways.

Like I say, maybe this was a case of a film being overhyped. Though, I think much of the male admiration of this movie has to do with the fact there's a lot of naked women dancing and/or fornicating throughout. Christoper Lee and the lead (as unlikeable as the character is) turn in solid performances, but on the whole this movie is just okay.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Making Fun Of Men Who Drink Cider Is UnAmerican

Hard cider currently enjoys, at best, a so-so reputation in the United States. Ordering cider at the bar will lose you macho points almost as quickly as ordering a Shirley Temple. You might as well ask the guys at the bar around you to kick your ass and then politely thank them for it.

It's a travesty that cider isn't held in the same regard as beer, for cider is delicious, it does not dull the taste buds as many beers do, and it packs quite the alcoholic punch, usually just as much as beer. So where did this beer is better than cider idea come from? It's my belief that cider (along with many other good drinks) actually tastes too good to be taken seriously. After all, real alcoholic beverages are supposed to be difficult to drink, right? Beer is good, and I probably prefer it to cider, but let's be honest, beer's an acquired taste. The first beer you had as an underage youngster didn't taste all that great. Nor did the six-pack of Natural Light you sucked down every night during college.

And liquor is even more of an acquired taste. Downing a shot of whiskey or scotch or tequila, even over ice, is rough going despite however many years you've been drinking the stuff. However, in that strange universe where machoism meets masochism (coincidence those words are so close?), the tougher to drink, the better the liquor.

The good news is, this anti-ciderism seems localized to the United States; across the pond, cider is an acceptable, often preferable, alternative to beer. Why is that the case? I don't know, but it's time cider got the recognition it deserves. It's time we returned to our roots. Today, I came across this great article on Slate.com. For you Yanks out there that scoff at the notion of cider being an acceptable drink for a man, scoff no more, ye bastards, and the next time you're at one of the few bars in the States that offers a cider on tap, drink up, admit to the error of your ways, and repent.

As it turns out, cider was the "favored beverage among America's founding generation." Yes, men like George Washington and John Adams enjoyed this great drink, and apparently, in great quantities. Revolutionary war soldiers drank it to fortify themselves between battles. Children enjoyed a diluted version called "ciderkin." The Slate article does a great job at exploring the history of cider in America, so I won't rehash it all here. Instead, I'm going to issue this call to arms. I'm going to be so bold as to declare this America's first War On Anti-Ciderists. It's time we resurrected our forgotten American tradition of drinking lots of cider and imbibe this fabulous concoction the way the founding fathers did. And as it was the drink of the original patriots, I think it appropriate here to propose this amendment to the US Patriot Act:

"To enhance patriotism and bolster the sense of community in these United States. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that,

TITLE XI - The Consumption of Hard Cider

Sec. 101

Henceforth all Americans, males included, shall be lauded for drinking hard cider and encouraged to do so on a daily basis.

Sec. 102

Any individual who maliciously and wantonly ridicules any individual for drinking hard cider shall be subject to criminal and civil penalties, including five (5) years in prison and up to $1000 in fines for each offense."

Please impress upon your friends and family the importance of this proposed legislation. We will need all the help we can get to have this enacted. And make sure to drink cider whenever you get the chance.

Friday, September 25, 2009

FOIA!

Every now and then something work-related leads to something humorous and shareable with non-work colleagues and friends...

One of my job duties is to serve as Privacy Officer. You might think that means keeping the company's secrets secret, but in fact it means safe-guarding sensitive and protected information about individuals that comes into the company's possession. Though that might sound glamorous, it's really not and amounts to little more than "reviewing voluminous documents" (a favorite catchphrase among lawyers regardless of specialization or practice) and redacting, where necessary. I recently had to do some research on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and, on a lark, I "wikipediaed" FOIA.

It's a fairly long, fairly dry entry about this otherwise important legislation. But if you scroll down to the subsection on Barbara Schwarz, you're in for a real treat.

Apparently, Ms. Schwarz maintains the dubious distinction of having filed more FOIA requests than any other person on this Earth. Why? Ms. Schwarz claims that, instead of being born in Germany in 1966, she was actually born in 1956 in a "secret government submarine" base under the Great Salt Lake. If you didn't think the story could get any weirder, it does, as Ms. Schwarz also claims she is the daughter of L. Ron Hubbard.

Ms. Schwarz has managed to tie up the docket of a U.S. District Court or Court of Appeals since 1993 with her requests for information, and much to no avail. I could go on and recount every single fact mentioned in the wiki article, but that would make for lazy writing. (And let's just ignore the fact that's all I've really done here.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Memo to JJ Abrams

To: JJ Abrams
From: Brian O'Rourke, A Moviegoer Of Little To No Importance
Date: 9/20/09
RE: Mission: Impossible IV
______________________________________________________________

There's been a lot of buzz recently about two sequels: Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible IV. Mr. Abrams, you are no doubt receiving more advice, ideas, and feedback than you know what to do with regarding Star Trek 2, so I won't burden you with more of the same. I was wondering, however, if you'd care to listen to some advice on how to make the next installment of the bumpy and uneven series that is Mission: Impossible into a really good movie.

To begin with, let's recap the series thus far. 1996's Mission: Impossible turned the concept of the TV series on its head. In the first twenty minutes of the movie, Ethan Hunt, our hero, watches helplessly as each member of his team dies pretty a horrific death while on a very important mission. To make matters worse, after Hunt has seen all this happen, the brass accuse him of the murders and of being a double agent, selling secrets on the side. I say this movie turned the series on its head because Mission: Impossible the TV series had always been more of a team show. The better episodes employed intricate plotting, where each character had an important role in the mission, and thus the stories had many moving parts. This really amped up the suspense and the fun of the show. By virtue of killing off Hunt's team in the beginning of the 1996 film, the movie necessarily became more of a one-man show. On the whole, the first film is well-shot (of course it is, because the underrated Brian DePalma directed it) and well-acted, and the opening thirty minutes of the movie create a real sense of paranoia in the spy world of smoke and mirrors. There is a great set piece in the middle of the film, too, where Hunt manages to break into the CIA, which has been parodied time and time again in the ensuing thirteen years. It's a decent film that comes off the rails toward the end because of hopelessly convoluted plotting and the ridiculous final action set piece.

Without exaggeration, MI: II is one of the worst movies I've ever seen in the theater. The sequel essentially turns Hunt into an American James Bond, a somewhat roguish agent who bickers with his handler, and who of course manages to find the time while on a mission to meet and fall in love with a beautiful woman. John Woo sticks to his own rule of having at least three chase scenes in every movie he makes, and really does little else. The mask trick is overused in this movie and that unfortunately carries through to the next film. And gone again is the team aspect that made the series so cool: Hunt, a larger-than-life super spy, braves it mostly alone throughout. and the usually cool Ving Rhames is along for the ride only to remind us of how dangerous and cool Hunt is.

MI: III is the best of the series. Its plot is more plausible than the first film; the action, while over-the-top, isn't overblown like in the second film; and Abrams allows most of his characters to develop into people with real interpersonal relationships. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne make the most of relatively small parts, and the plot has some really good turns. Still, though, Cruise dominates the story, and much of the plot is devoted to Hunt balancing the demands of his career with a normal married existence. The film could have been called Family Life: Impossible, and the title would have been just as appropriate.

So, what do I have by way of advice for MI: IV? If you haven't already guessed it, here it is: go back to the concept of the TV show. Make the mission the most important thing going on in the plot and allow it to dominate the second act. Make this next film into more of a team effort, where every character has an important job to do, as opposed to just waiting around for Hunt to work his magic and scrambling to keep up with him while he's working. Put all of the characters in danger. Make us think the mission could go wrong at any juncture, not just when Hunt is involved. Make it so the mission really does seem impossible.

Each movie so far has shown Hunt at odds with his administration. Let's not go there again. Let the focus be on the enemies from without, as opposed to the enemies from within. A good old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys scenario will actually be a breath of fresh air in this series.

Finally, you transformed super spy Hunt into a seemingly real person in MI: III. Bravo, well done. That was a nice counterpoint to the cartoonery of MI: II. But we don't need any more of that. If you want to continue the spy managing a real home life thread, by all means do so, but don't make it the point of the movie. If you want, turn Hunt into the next Jim Phelps, a character the series has been sorely missing, a true leader, not a maverick agent who occasionally needs help from other spies.

Or, just go ahead and do what you want because you seem to know exactly what you're doing, if Star Trek's box office is any indication.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wikipedia's 16th Biggest Blunder


Contrary to what the Brian O'Rourke wikipedia page may claim, I am not an Irish lord from the mid to late 16th century. I have never offended Queen Elizabeth (and it's a good thing too), and I have also never been extradited within Great Britain for treason "over the seas"...

Okay, obviously the wiki page is not about me but about someone much cooler, Lord Brian na Múrtha Ó Ruairc, an Irish dude who apparently did all these things. According to the article, he was a fairly learned Irish chieftain, though also addled by the sin of pride and brazen enough to assist the Spanish friggen Armada after one of its battles with the Royal Navy.

The O'Rourkes were the historic rulers of Breifne, and I've heard the old castle is still over there, somewhere in County Leitrim. On our sole trip to Ireland, the wife and I did not make it to Country Leitrim unfortunately. But, according to a very drunken Irish fella who once stood at the urinal next to the one I was using one night in Union Jack's Pub in Glenside, PA, "Leitrim? There's f----ng nothing up there." So apparently I wasn't missing much. The merry fella had a good laugh at his quip, and by the time I figured out exactly what he said (the accent coupled with the alcohol made his speech nearly incomprehensible to me), he had already exited the bog.

But now I'm rambling. Anyway, the title of this post refers to this article, which lists wikipedia's greatest blunders of all time. It's pretty funny. I especially enjoyed the eighth entry, which claimed that "The University of Cincinnati's former president is a whore." Wow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bill Gates Owes Me Money

And with the baby girl on the way, it couldn't come at a better time!

As part of some marketing tool, Microsoft and AOL are running an email beta test. I received the email in question today and discovered that for every person I forwarded it to, I would receive $245.00. For every person I forwarded the email to who later forwarded it to someone else, I would receive $243.00. Etc, etc.

So what did I do, you ask? Promptly, I forwarded the subject email to 20 friends. Yes, that means I have at the least $4900 coming to me. Pay up, Mr. Gates, I want my money. Baby Girl O'Rourke will be here soon...

__________


Yes, this isn't real. Nate Green, one of the unfortunate souls I sent this to on a lark, was quick to send me this link explaining the origin of the hoax.

Am I dupe? Yes. Did it give me something to blog about? Yes. Fair trade. Matter of fact, I think that puts me ahead.

Thank you, Bill Gates and all you Internet pranksters out there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

1 Equals 0.999....

This post concerns the weirdest, and possibly the coolest, thing I ever learned when studying math in high school and briefly in college.

Did you all know that the number 1 equals the repeating decimal 0.999...? Or, another way of saying it, did you know that the repeating decimal 0.999.... denotes a real number equal to 1?

I'm not making this up. For a more detailed (and better) explanation, check out the wiki article.

If you haven't clicked through to the link yet, here's the short-hand explanation.

1/3 = 0.333...
3 x 1/3 = 3 x 0.333...
Thus,
1 = 0.999...

Yikes.

You may be asking why I'm writing about this. Truth be told, I've always been fascinated by this "problem," and I encountered it recently during some research I was doing for a sci-fi novel. I won't begin to try and explain the real-world ramifications of this wonderful puzzle. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure there are any. What could it mean? Is this a problem inherent in our base-10 system of mathematics, or would this appear in all mathematical systems?

It's always cool to reexamine things taken for granted in a new light. Good fiction does this in many ways, one of them being the plot twist. A good plot twist is a plausible turn of events that forces us to reevaluate everything we've seen.

Still though, it's just crazy to think of the number 1, one of the very first things we learn, as being the same as 0.999...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Promote Whatever You Want On My Blog

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and cats, it's that time again! Promote yourself, your best friend, your favorite Olympic ping-pong star who isn't Asian, your business, your local public-access TV station, your crazy new-fangled religion that worships Gore Vidal, your old BetaMax machine, your comic bo--er, graphic novel I mean--your favorite pair of underwear...you get the idea.

We've had some interesting comments in the past. Famed NI crime writer Adrian McKinty once left a comment promoting his brother in the armed services - I'm not sure it has happened yet, but I hear the paperwork is going through. Just kidding. On another occasion, Darkin Inc promoted a full cast audio drama podcast. Last but not least, Don Luis once stopped by to pimp his tattoo inspired clothing line.

Thanks for stopping by.

____

The wife and I will be on vacation for a week starting tomorrow. Not sure I'll get online that much while we're away, so apologies if I don't respond to every single promotion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I had a rough night, and I hate the (Philadelphia) Eagles, man."

Those of you familiar with the quote above will recognize the slightly altered words of none other than Jeffrey Lebowski, a.k.a. The Dude, from the Coens' masterpiece, The Big Lebowski. It's a great movie that I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen recently. I've talked about this movie at length (or, ad nauseam) on this blog and on other blogs before, so I'm not here to talk about it more (unless any commenters want to).

What I would like to discuss is how I now hate the Philadelphia Eagles. I've never been much of a football fan - no dig here, it's just not my thing - but, I never minded the Eagles. Matter of fact, I always supported them as my home team and wanted to see them succeed. Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb seem like good guys all in all.

But I will not watch them play a game this season.

As most of you have probably heard, in a move that surprised a lot of people, the Eagles picked up Michael Vick.

Yes, they hired the same guy that operated an illegal dogfighting operation for SIX YEARS. It wasn't much of a prediction, but as I previously said, "someone is going to pick him up eventually and he'll make more than enough money to forget about his time spent inside." As it turns out, the Eagles of all teams decided to hire him.

I hear a lot of people say, "Everyone needs a second chance." And yes, that's true. Throughout my relatively short life, I myself have needed a lot of second chances. But Vick got off way too easily. If I had been caught running a dogfighting operation, I would have been disbarred and never allowed to practice law again. But not Vick. No. After all, he's an professional athlete. He's somehow not subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Sure, he had to endure a lot of bad press and a two-year stretch inside, but at the end of the day, he's right back to playing in the NFL and earning more money in a couple of seasons than most will see in a lifetime. And besides, he has an agent, a PR rep, and probably countless other handlers who will help him restore as much of his image as they can.

If you still feel bad for Vick, consider this: he was caught doing this. This didn't come to an end because he turned himself in. Oh no. We can be almost certain that, if he hadn't been found out, the dogfighting would still be going on.

Forgetting for a moment the moral objections to allowing such a person to play for your team, I still wonder why the Eagles did this. Before this move, they were projected to make a run at the Super Bowl. But bringing Vick on board is going to alienate a lot of die-hard fans. Maybe some teammates. And wherever they go, whatever town they play in, this controversy is going to rear its ugly-head. It will follow them everywhere this season. Why would they willingly choose to face such distractions when their team was arguably good enough to make it to the Super Bowl in the first place?

I don't know the answer to that question, but obviously Andy Reid thinks this was a good idea. I have always supported Philadelphia sports, but I will no longer continue to do so with the Eagles. It's really a shame for the other players on the team, who will be forced to deal with this all season long.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Eyes In The Sky

The National Academy of Sciences released a report on Wednesday that was troubling: apparently, NASA was never given enough money to build the telescopes it needs to complete its absolutely vital mission of locating 90 percent of the potentially deadly rocks traveling through space.

There will come a day when the human race no longer walks the earth, though we should strive to ensure that day remains in the very distant future. This is exactly the sort of mission, despite being very costly, that we shouldn't underbudget. According to the Academy's report, the US government's effort has been "relatively little;" however, what's more startling is the fact that the US is "practically the only government doing anything at all." Our existence is balanced on a knife's edge, as they say, but this mission is one way we can increase our chances of staying on that edge. We need more eyes in the sky.

___

It's a good thing Earth isn't the biggest planet in the solar system. That distinction, thankfully, remains Jupiter's, and with significantly more gravity, the gas giant attracts a lot of these dangerous rocks flying through space. Just last month, a comet or an asteroid collided with Jupiter, and scientists estimate the object was the size of several football fields. Because of the collision, there is a new, expanding spot on Jupiter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Horror Films of the Last 20 Years Have Been Pretty Ho-Hum..

...if you agree with EW's 20 Top Horror Films of the Past 20 Years.

As if you cared in the least, here's my take on EW's list from start to finish.

20. Dead Alive. Never saw it.

19. Darkman. As much as Liam Neeson is the man, I have to say, this is a so-so revenge flick that has faded into utter obscurity. A decent movie, worth a watch, but it won't stay with you and you won't feel the need to see it again when you're done.

18. Event Horizon. Okay, this film is admittedly one of those "love it or hate it" flicks. I happen to love it. It did poorly at the box office, and the critics bashed it upon its release, but it has since grown a cult following. Now, we all know that cults are bad, but when it comes to movies, sometimes they're right. Don't believe me? If it weren't for cults, chances are you would have never heard of The Big Lebowski or Office Space, two incredible movies.

17. The Kingdom. Never saw it.

16. The Descent. This is an excellent, excellent, excellent movie. Neil Marshall, who also directed the great horror flick Dog Soldiers (which should be on this list too), wrote and directed this movie about a team of female spelunkers exploring caves in the Appalachians. Yes, it's a very scary movie, but it's so much more than that, as (oh my god) there is character development and a very interesting exploration of insanity. Make sure to check out the UK ending and compare it to the US ending. See which you like better.

15. Shaun of the Dead. Thank God for this movie, which brought some respectability back to the zombie genre (as did the remake of Dawn of the Dead). This one is both a spoof and an homage to the zombie movie, and it's also a clever rom-com, so it has something for everybody. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright teamed up again to make Hot Fuzz, the same concept applied to action movies, and it worked beautifully. I hear they're going to make a third movie in the sci-fi genre, to complete what could be one of the best trilogies ever made.

14. Hostel 2. Didn't see it. Hostel was basically just torture porn, and I heard this was more of the same.

13. Misery. Good flick.

12. From Hell. Didn't see it.

11. Planet Terror. To say this was the better film of the Grindhouse experience really isn't saying much. There were a couple of laughs, one or two okay scares, but overall, this one was disappointing.

10. Ringu. I only saw the American remake - which I loved - of this flick starring Naomi Watts, so I can only assume its source material was just as good and probably better.

9. Alien 3. Okay. It pains me to say this, because David Fincher is one of my favorite directors working today (Seven, Zodiac, Fight Club, Benjamin Button), but Alien 3 was a huge letdown after the terrifying brilliance of Alien and the sheer visceral awesomeness that was Aliens. Alien 3 was basically a rehash of the first movie, and way, way, WAY too dark. If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil you with the particulars, but I will metaphorize the first ten minutes of the movie - Imagine you've just been through another chemotherapy treatment. On your way to your car, leaving the hospital, you trip on a crack in the sidewalk, breaking your leg. As you look up, you see a random stranger hovering over you. You think this stranger is going to help you up, but no, HE'S JUST THERE TO KICK YOU IN THE NARDS and steal your money. Yes, my friends, that is what the first ten minutes of Alien 3 feel like. The universe is a terrible, terrible place that will kick you every way it can while you're down. (In all fairness to Fincher, I've heard there was a lot of studio interference, so I don't know who's to blame.)

8. Drag Me To Hell. I've heard good things but haven't seen it.

7. The Sixth Sense. Great movie with great acting and a great twist. It's a shame Shyamalan hasn't gotten better than this, but that's like complaining that Orson Welles's first movie was Citizen Kane. Cinema is better with these movies than without them.

6. What Lies Beneath. Ehhhh. An okay movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame.

5. 28 Weeks Later. Really? This movie made the list, but 28 Days Later, which is vastly superior in just about every way, didn't? There were some major internal logic problems with this film that I couldn't get over, the biggest one being that the zombies were suddenly both intelligent and could hold grudges against certain individuals. No such thing existed in the universe of 28 Days Later.

4. Scream. Okay, this is another great movie. It works on so many different levels: as meta horror, as horror, as comedy, and as a mystery. Very clever, very funny, and very scary.

3. The Blair Witch Project. I fell prey to this movie's clever viral marketing strategy and went in thinking it had been edited from real footage. Yes, I was actually that stupid, but it worked.

2. The Silence of the Lambs. A dark horse that won big at the Oscars. Good flick, but having seen it a couple of times, I don't think I'll ever need to see it again.

1. Audition. Haven't seen it.

So there you have it. Aside from The Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense, none of these movies were nominated by the Academy in any major categories. Now, the Academy doesn't always get it right, and usually doesn't (Gran Torino, anyone?), but the lack of nominations is pretty telling.

Oh, and time for a shameless plug. My better half wrote a post about how Bill & Ted should have visited libraries on their excellent adventure.

Come back in a few days for my Top 5 Sodas of All Time List. You think I'm kidding...

Friday, August 7, 2009

RIP John Hughes


Writer/director John Hughes passed away this morning at the young age of 59. Over the years, Hughes brought us many great films and had the golden touch between the years of 1984 and 1990. During that time, he wrote and/or directed the following: Sixteen Candles; The Breakfast Club; European Vacation; Pretty in Pink; Weird Science; Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Uncle Buck; Christmas Vacation; and Home Alone.

After 1991's Curly Sue, Hughes altogether stopped directing pictures, though he continued to write and produce films that did not ever reach the same level of quality as those listed above.

I think the gross-out comedies with a heart of the last ten years (American Pie, Superbad,etc.) really owe something to Hughes. He created the formula with Sixteen Candles, and for my money, the prototype remains the best example of this subgenre. I have fond memories of this movie, due in no small part to the fact that I was able to see it at a young age because back then the MPAA didn't have a stick up its a-- and gave it a rating of PG, despite the fact there was full front nudity, lots of innuendo, curse words, and adult humor. Ah the good old days.

Sixteen Candles is my favorite Hughes's movie, but Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a very close second. Yes, his comedies are sometimes goofy, but they were always bolstered by a good story with a real plot. They didn't simply move from one comedic set piece to the next. And though I wouldn't attend St. Joe's Prep until 1993, I grew up on these high school 80s flicks and they really informed my teenage years.

____

Hughes became something of a recluse which only added to his mystique and intrigued his loyal fanbase. According to wiki, he "retired from the public eye and moved to Wisconsin" in 1994, in his later years becoming a farmer. Interestingly, he began penning screenplays under the pseudonym "Edmond Dantes," which we all know was the Count of Monte Cristo's real name. Dumas's best story has a lot going for it, including its exploration of the theme of masks we wear as human beings, both literal and metaphorical. It's quite telling that Hughes would select the name Edmond Dantes to serve as his mask when writing.

RIP John Hughes. You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Time Capsule Circa June 1997

Recently, I took a trip down memory lane when I flipped through my high school yearbook from the year of my graduation, 1997. I won't bore you with all the after school special-like tales of my years in high school, i.e. how I was a nerd who was decent at sports and thus didn't fit in with either crowd, how shy I was around the fairer sex, how I was usually the sober guy at all the parties, etc.

What I will do is share with you some of the better messages my classmates inscribed for all of posterity in the yearbook. As discretion is the better part of valor, I have decided to keep these anonymous. All I can say is this: my friends, though often offensive, were pretty damned funny:

-Pass the salt someday. You, Waldo, and me are going to open that Hotel in California...(Note: I was a huge fan of The Eagles, the band, in high school.)

-O'Dork, I really don't like you. Kiss my a--.

-I didn't really see you that much that summer but I wouldn't have been much fun any way because that's when I found out that those AIDS ribbons people wore just were not working.

-But we gotta keep in touch, cause I really wanna see XXXX turn into a crazy alcoholic who doesn't care about grades.

-Yo. What's up. You are a piece of s---. But a good piece of s---.

-P.S. I can kick your a--, always remember that.

-Remember the basement, the undeniable power of Sprite to make everything better, and my infinite number of one week romances.

-Alright dude, here it is...you are the man, plain and simple.

-I'll miss you and your sexy ways. (Note: St. Joseph's Prep was an all-boys school.)

-Always remember, it's okay to play with dolls.

-Thank you for supplying me with gas money throughout the year. Anyway, the Eagles suck, except for Hotel California.

-Copying Latin homework from you was always a highlight in my lunch period.

-I am a slob and no one is going to want to room with me in college.

Thanks for the memories and the laughs, fellas.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blogs I Follow: Law Librarian To Be

Jenna, my long-suffering wife, has started her own blog, Law Librarian To Be. Over the past two years, Jenna has been working toward earning her Masters of Library Science (MLS). I don't know how she manages a graduate program in addition to the many, many hours she puts in at the office, but somehow she does and she does it very well. (I won't embarrass her by telling you her GPA.)

But on to her blog. She's required to maintain it for one of her classes, which isn't surprising, especially considering the subject of that class and her first post, which I won't spoil for you here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Van Damme Can Act!!!

I caught one of the most original films I've seen in a long while last week on Netflix: JCVD. Directed by French-Algerian Mabrouk El Mechri, this flick is a hybrid of French New Wave cinema, American action flicks, and Dog Day Afternoon. No really, it is. I'm not making this up.

JCVD is about the "Muscles from Brussels," Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the film gets very meta. Van Damme plays himself, and throughout the story his "character" is forced to confront a lot of personal issues that just so happen to reflect real life issues he's faced over the years. Along the way, he becomes ensnared in a hostage situation in a post office and through an unfortunate confluence of events, the police come to believe he is the hostage-taker. The film is alternatively funny, suspenseful, and surprisingly moving at times.

I'll be the first to admit that I always ridiculed Van Damme for his acting, going all the way back to Bloodsport. But he absolutely shines in this. Many will complain that he's just playing himself, but I don't think that's an easy thing to do. In a way, it requires you still to get into character, but it's a character you have a very subjective, and therefore skewed, view of.

Anyways back to Van Damme's acting. No spoilers here, but there is a five minute sequence in the film where he's speaking in French directly to the camera, laying his soul bare, and it really blew me away. With the omniscience of hindsight, I wish they'd just done all his films in French. It frees him up to truly emote, and it gives him a chance to show off his acting chops, which are startlingly good.

The film currently enjoys an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (no small feat), and an article in TIME Magazine went as far to say that "He (Van Damme) deserves not a black belt, but an Oscar."

It's a good flick that manages to succeed on many levels. I especially loved the opening scene, one long continuous take of an action sequence that leaves our hero breathless and complaining to the director about his age and not being able to do that kind of thing anymore.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

They Make People Get A License To Drive A Car...


...but they can't make you get a license to become a parent.

No, this picture isn't a still capture from Ridley Scott's Alien. (Besides, we all know if I was going to post a picture from that franchise, it'd be from Cameron's Aliens, which is the better film.)

This is, in fact, a picture from an ultrasound performed on the wife last month. Jenna, I'm proud and happy to say, is currently in the eye of the storm, her second trimester, and her expected due date is none other than New Year's Eve.

December 31st might sound like a great birthday, but I feel bad for the kid. Why? Well, my birthday is January 3rd, and every year I was constantly barraged by the "double-gift," i.e. a gift that doubled as my Christmas and birthday presents.

But seriously, we're both ecstatic, and I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around the sheer life-changing enormity of this event.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Promote Whatever You Want On My Blog


Ladies and gents, it's that time of the month again. The blog has been getting a decent amount of traffic, especially considering I do next to nothing to actually promote it. So, by leaving a comment below, you have a good shot at reaching a new audience.

A brief reminder about the rules:

1) Promote anything you want so long as you
2) Don't promote anything about or for me.

Have at it. I'll leave this post up for a few days, and as always, thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Please, No More New Vampire Stories For At Least Two Days


What is it with our cultural obsession with vampires? For real. Every other book, movie, or TV show I come across is offering us a new take on the story of the vampire.

Please stop. It's been done to death, no pun intended. It's even risen from the dead several times, pun intended. It's even...you get the idea.

As one of my favorite professors, Dr. Daniel Robinson of Widener University, pointed out in class, there is something undeniably sexual about the vampire story. Bram Stoker's seminal work Dracula was written in an age where sex was not openly discussed, thus many writers tackled the subject indirectly, i.e. a vampire wantonly sticks its fangs in damsels in distress, penetrating them, and thus infecting them. Dracula is also interesting for its social commentary - the Old World of Europe is being destroyed by one of its own nobles, the eponymous count, and can't save itself (via Van Helsing) without the assistance of the New World/America (represented by the character Quincy Morris).

But aside from Stoker's novel, as a creature of fantasy, the vampire has enjoyed a great run. Anne Rice has apparently sold over 100 million books (yes, I know not all of them are about vampires). Some argue that the vampire even gave birth to the zombie, via Richard Matheson's excellent story, I Am Legend, which in turn informed George A. Romero when he was making Night of the Living Dead.

According to wiki, "Dracula is a major character in more movies than any other but Sherlock Holmes." Maybe one day someone will wise up and reveal that Holmes is actually a vampire. That would explain the pale complexion, odd hours he keeps, and strange mannerisms.

I'm not saying all this vampire material is bad, just that after awhile it gets to be too much. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel...Blades 1, 2, and 3...Underworld...then the TV shows Blood Ties, and True Blood...not to mention any one of numerous fiction titles that have gone on sale in the last few years, including the wildly popular Twilight series.

As the wiki page postulates, the vampire intrigues us because we are fascinated by sex and our own mortality.

Seriously, it's time to think up a new creature, people. After all, writers are supposed to be creative - surely it can't be that hard to concoct something. Anything other than just another blood sucking creature that sleeps by day and preys at night.

____

As an aside, Dr. Robinson is the front man/lead singer for the great indie rock band Milton and the Devils Party out of Philadelphia. MATDP combines pop riffs with literary lyrics. Check them out if you get a chance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Loss and A Victory


Yesterday, Tom Watson broke a lot of hearts when he couldn't get up and down on the 72nd hole at the Open Championship and thereafter went on to lose a four-hole playoff to fellow Yank, Stewart Cink. If Watson had won a major at age 59, it would have been the single greatest victory in the history of the sport. But alas, as Tom himself said in the press room after the tournament, "It would have been a helluva story. But it was not meant to be."

____

But let's not dwell on that loss; rather, let's focus on a glorious victory that occurred this weekend instead: a good friend (who we'll call "Kevin") and I took on and defeated another good friend (who we'll call "Mark") and another friend who I'll call "Nate" in a rousing game of Baseball.

No, not the actual sport of baseball that involves bats, gloves, balls, uniforms that look suspiciously like tights, and lots of tobacco chew.

I'm talking about the drinking game. Baseball is a combination of the more popular beer pong and flip cup. It's a brutal game that rarely advances beyond a few innings because of the sheer amount of alcohol that can be consumed rather quickly. Here's the skinny:

-Four cups are set up in a straight line on both sides of the table. They each represent a base, so if you make it into the nearest cup, you've hit a single. The opposing team would then be required to drink that first cup and refill it. If you make it into the third cup, you've hit a triple, and the opposing team must drink and refill the first, second, and third cups. So if you have a good inning at bat, the other team has to drink a lot.

-If you throw and miss the cups on the other side entirely, that's an out. If you throw and hit the rim of a cup but don't actually make a shot, that's just a strike.

-If you have a man on first or second base, you can attempt to steal. This is where the flip cup part of the game comes into play. To steal, you play a game of one cup flip cup against your opposing team. If you win, you have stolen a base. If you do not win, the other team has picked you off/thrown you out. You cannot steal home base.

-Other than that, it's just like baseball. You get three outs an inning, and you're technically supposed to play nine innings, though that rarely happens.

As the wiki page notes, baseball requires the following skills: aiming, taunting, and alcohol tolerance. Our game unbelievably made it through nine innings, and I'm still not sure how we managed it. "Mark" and "Nate" got off to an early lead, and "Kevin" and myself weren't sure we could continue after the fourth inning. But "Kevin" turned it around for us, at one point hitting six triples in a row over the course of two innings. For my part, I batted so-so but really shined when it came to flip cup.

Dad would be proud.

If you are considering giving this game a try, I'd recommend the following. Use a light beer. Don't be afraid to have more than two players on a team. And, for the love of god, don't shortchange the seventh inning stretch.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How Dare You Ian Poulter!!!

English golfer Ian Poulter, when interviewed this week about the upcoming Open Championship at Turnberry, referred to the tournament as the "British Open," which is a big no-no.

A bit of background for you non-golfers. The Open Championship, a.k.a. the British Open, is the oldest major tournament in golf, having first been played in 1860. In other words, it was well-established as an important "open" tournament long before the US Open came into existence.

In the UK, and basically everywhere except the United States, for this very reason the tournament is known and referred to as the Open Championship. In the US, golfers tend to call it the British Open, which started off as a harmless way to differentiate it from the US Open.

It seems acceptable for US golfers to do this, though in the past it was frowned upon. But Poulter, born in Hitchin, a town in Hertfordshire, England, ruffled a lot of feathers for referring to the tournament as the British Open, not just once, but five times during an interview. He was later called out on it by another reporter, and he apologized and said it wouldn't happen again.

I'm not sure exactly where I stand on this. Usually, I tend to respect tradition, and I know I'd be annoyed if I held a tournament and people didn't call it by its proper name. But on the other hand, some of this smacks of elitism, i.e. the Open Championship has been around longer, is a more important tournament, and should be held in higher regard than the US Open.

Either way, I'll be tuning in this week to see if Paddy Harrington can do the unthinkable and win his third straight Brit--er, Open Championship.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Optimus Prime Said, "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings."


If you're very easily bothered by animal cruelty (like I am), STOP reading this post right now. Seek respite from your workday elsewhere...

David Santuomo is a no good son-of-a-bitch that's getting off way too easily. The man and his wife were about to go on vacation and apparently didn't want to spend the money boarding their two mixed breed dogs, Sloopy and Skeeter. So what did he do?

No, he didn't leave them with a friend or family member. No, he couldn't even ask a friend or family member to come over, feed them, and let them out. Oh no, that would have been too much to ask.

Instead, he tied the two dogs to a pipe in his basement, manufactured a homemade silencer using a two-liter plastic bottle, attached said silencer to the end of his rifle, and shot and killed both dogs.

One dog was shot SIX TIMES. Either this guy is a poor marksman, or he was enjoying this.

He then disposed of the remains in a dumpster.

According to this blog post, what's even more outrageous is the fact that two neighbors VOLUNTEERED TO WATCH THE DOGS WHILE THEY WERE AWAY.

As part of a plea deal, this guy was sentenced to 90 days in jail to be served over the course of two years, some fines, and some community service. Bastard got off easy, if you ask me.

____

Speaking of people who got off easy, Michael Vick recently got out of prison. I know, I know, the guy served two years and most think his football career is ruined (it's not, someone is going to pick him up eventually and he'll make more than enough money to forget about his time spent inside), so many believe he's paid his debt to society. I think a more apt sentence would have been for him to serve six years, which is exactly how long he ran the illegal dogfighting operation. Yep, that's right. SIX YEARS.

To think of the pointless suffering all those dogs had to endure, so Vick and co. had something to gamble on is just sickening. Dogs, as we all know, are sentient beings, capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. Any dog owner will tell you they're capable of experiencing sensations more complex than just pleasure and pain too, and anyone capable of purposely putting dogs through that much suffering is morally reprehensible.

As Optimus Prime explained in Transformers, "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." Crap movie, but decent quote.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sometimes, Chain E-Mails Are Funny


I got this one today and had to pass it along. If you're a child of the 80s like me, you'll think this is pretty good:

When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking Twenty-five miles to school every morning....uphill... barefoot...blah, blah, blah...

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!

But now that I'm over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice how easy the youth of today have things--

I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have The Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalogue!

There was no email! We had to actually write somebody a letter, using a pen.

Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox and it would take a week to get there!

Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us. As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our ass! Nowhere was safe!

There were no MP3s or Napsters! If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the damn record store and shoplift it yourself.

Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up! There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car. We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished and the tape would come undone.

We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called they got a busy signal.

And we didn't have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was. It could be your school, your mom, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, a collections agent. You had no idea. You had to pick it up and take your chances.

We didn't have any fancy Sony Playstation video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! We had the Atari 2600. With games like Space Invaders and Asteroids. Your guy was a little square! You actually had to use your imagination. And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen...forever!

And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like life.

You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were screwed when it came to channel surfing. You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel because there were no remotes.

There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little rat-bastards.

And we didn't have microwaves, if we wanted to heat something up we had to use the stove!

You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled. You guys wouldn't have lasted five minutes back in 1980 or before!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Answer, My Friend, Is The Shadow of the Wind


As noted in my previous post, The Shadow of the Wind is one of those books I recommend without reservation, to family, to friends, and yes, even to complete strangers.

It's a rich, multi-layered novel that is totally engrossing. Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon in a lavish, at times extravagant style, and reminiscent of the best of 19th century romanticism (wink, wink Victor Hugo), this is one of those stories that you hate to finish.

Peopled by larger-than-life characters, the tale unfolds over the course of several years, as the narrator attempts to locate a mysterious author whose books are being systematically burned and destroyed, so that only a few copies of his works are left.

The influence of Victor Hugo is obvious, and the author doesn't try to hide it. Quite the opposite, in fact. And while certainly Zafon pays homage to Hugo, he still manages to offer something truly unique.

My hat's off to the translator as well, who no doubt took the extremely poetical language of the original text and was able to offer its "equivalent" in English, without turning the story into a melodrama.

___

Zafon also recently released a prequel, The Angel's Game. I'll be reading that one as soon as the wife finishes, which won't be long, as she's a natural speed reader.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MacGuffin Trivia


The MacGuffin, a phrase coined by Alfred Hitchcock, is a cinematic device that appears most commonly in suspense thrillers or action movies. Basically, its sole purpose is to drive the narrative forward by giving the characters something to care about, kill for, or die for. It can be an object, event, or thing that is of great importance during the first act. Ultimately, however, the MacGuffin itself is often meaningless - it really could be anything.

But you all probably knew that already, so let's have some fun today. Can you name the movies in which the following MacGuffins appear?

-The Sankara Stones
-The Process
-The Rabbit's Foot
-Letters of Transit
-The Holy Grail
-Rosebud
-The Case***(No, I'm not thinking of Pulp Fiction here)

*** My favorite example of a MacGuffin is "The Case." In this particular movie, the screenwriter is being a bit devious by making the MacGuffin ultimately meaningless, not just from the audience's perspective, but also WITHIN the context of the story. As it turns out, The Case may or may not contain anything. The protagonist was never even interested in it. It's a great turn of events and one of the things that elevates this particular movie above the standard action thriller. That, my friends, is the ultimate MacGuffin, and also a pretty cool play on the concept.

Beware of SPOILERS if you read any of the comments to this post.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why Golf Is The Greatest Game Ever Played

I can't take credit for this list, but it was too good not to post. Special thanks to Rongo Jugataris for this one.

1) The PGA doesn't have some of its golfers in jail every week.

2) Golfers don't throw bottles at or kick dirt on other people.

3) Professional golfers are paid in direct proportion to how well they play.

4) Golfers don't get per diem and two seats on a charter flight when they travel between tournaments.

5) Golfers don't hold out for more money, or demand new contracts, because of another player's deal.

6) Professional golfers don't demand that the taxpayers pay for the courses on which they play.

7) When golfers make mistakes, no one is there to cover for them or back them.

8) The PGA raises more money for charity in 1 season than the NFL does in 2 seasons.

9) You can watch the best golfers in the world, up close, at any tournament including the majors, all day every day for $25 or $30. (I'm a bit skeptical about this price, but I'm too lazy to do any research this morning.)

10) Even in the nose bleed sections, a ticket to the Super Bowl will cost you over $300 to $1000 from a scalper.

11) In golf you cannot fail 70% of the time and make 9 million dollars a season, like the best baseball hitters (.300 batting average) do.

12) Golf courses don't ruin the neighborhood.

13) And best of all, here's why golf courses have 18 holes, instead of 10 or 20: During a discussion among the club's membership board at St. Andrews in 1858, a senior member pointed out that it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. By limiting himself to only one shot of Scotch per hole, the Scot figured a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out.

Here's my two cents:

-Golf is the only game where there are no referees, officials, or umpires. Players are expected to, and always do, call penalties on themselves.

-Golf is one of the few remaining sports that demands players be both gracious in defeat and humble in victory.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Promote Whatever You Want On My Blog


I dropped the ball on this last month, but I would like to keep this going. So, a reminder about the rules:

1) Promote whatever you want by leaving a comment.
2) You cannot, under any circumstances, promote anything for me.

I'll leave this post up for the next few days. Don't be shy if you haven't commented on this blog before - this is a great way to reach a new audience, even if it's only a drive-by commenting.
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I'm promoting the kick-ass thriller, Fifty Grand, by Adrian McKinty. I will be posting a joint review on this book shortly, but for now, I'll say this: it's a great story that really moves.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Who Pulled The Stake Out of Duval's Heart?

The US Open has been plagued by bad weather this year, but it has suffered from no shortage of great stories. My personal favorite is that of David Duval's possible return to form.

Duval, until he practically fell off the face of the earth during the 2003 season, was my favorite pro golfer for several years. I loved how he went about his business on the golf course: the guy was more stoic than Hemingway's eponymous Old Man. He never bought into being a celebrity, and didn't really care to be one, either. Blessed with one of the most rhythmic swings on tour, Duval became one of three pro golfers to shoot a 59 - yes, a 59 - in competition, and he did so in the final round of the Bob Hope Classic ten years ago by eagling the 18th hole to win.

He dethroned Tiger Woods as the world's number one player for a time, and he quickly earned the dubious distinction of being the best player never to have won a major. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride seemed to be his cruel fate in major after major. That is, until, he captured the Claret Jug by winning the Open Championship in 2001. I'll never forget that tournament. I was living down the Jersey shore for the summer with a couple of buddies and it just so happened I had the place to myself when Duval figured out a way to win while not even playing his best golf.

And then, as they say on every E True Hollywood Story, tragedy struck.

Some say it was the swing. Some say it was physical injuries. Some say it was a form of vertigo. Some say it was personal troubles. Who knows why, and even Duval himself might now know why, but for whatever reason or reasons, he lost his game. As the oft-repeated saying goes, you never own the game of golf; at best, you only borrow it for a short time.

He'd played a cut swing for most of his career, one that was so finely tuned he'd all but taken the left side of the golf course out of play. But suddenly he was hitting hooks and couldn't find a fairway. His motivation and his competitiveness, right around the same time, left him. He struggled. Every once in awhile, he would show flashes of brilliance, popping back up on the radar screen just long enough to make us wonder. But he couldn't seem to break through.

And that's why it's so exciting to see he's currently tied for third at the US Open, with sixteen holes left to play. This isn't a flash in the pan, play well for 18 holes sort of thing. Duval has put in a wonderful performance at one of the toughest venues out there: Bethpage Black. Though he's five shots behind the leaders, it IS the US Open, so anything can happen, especially at a course known to wreak havoc. It would be the golf story of the year if he were to win.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three Good Scenes And No Bad Ones


Howard Hawks gets my vote for the most versatile director of all time. The man could direct anything. Comedy, noir, horror/sci-fi, and Westerns. Sure, many other directors have worked in several genres, but Hawks's contribution to every genre is incredible. Consider this:

-His Girl Friday is considered by many to be the quintessential screwball comedy.

-The Big Sleep. It's either this or The Maltese Falcon that's the best hard-boiled detective/film noir movie ever made.

-I'm partial to Rio Bravo, but Hawks also directed Red River. Two of the finest Westerns ever made. If you've never seen Rio Bravo, just watch the first five minutes - it's one of the best openings to any movie I've ever seen. There's literally no dialogue for most of it, yet we learn everything we need to about the characters, and we feel like we absolutely have to keep watching the film to see what happens to them.

-Let's not forget that he was largely responsible for The Thing. He's listed as producer, but apparently he oversaw most of the production and some claim he took over as director halfway through filming. The Thing is the perfect blend of old school sci-fi and horror.

-He also directed Sergeant York and To Have and Have Not.

The title of the post refers to Hawks's belief that, in order to make a good film, all you needed was "three good scenes, and no bad ones." That may be true, but most of his movies contain three great scenes and many, many good ones. It just doesn't get any better than when Margaret Sheridan opens the door and The Thing is standing right there; than when Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson pass the time between shoot-outs by singing a couple of tunes; or than when Bogart and Bacall...basically do anything together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buy Rita's Book!!!!

My good friend, Rita Vetere, had cause to celebrate yesterday: her second e-book, Born of Darkness, was released through Lyrical Press.

Here's the blurb:

"There's no escaping black karma, even for immortals.

Meet Jasmine Fairchild, outrageously gorgeous and extremely persuasive -- unnaturally so. Jasmine is a Cambion, part mortal, part succubus.

Enter Ahriman, an ancient and evil incubus. For centuries, he has exploited the secrets of reincarnation to reach his goal of immortality and the eradication of humanity. All he needs now is a portal, an opportunity...and Jasmine.

She stands alone as the only force powerful enough to immortalize or destroy him, and her dual nature makes Ahriman's task a little tougher than he thought..."

Rita is a great writer and, more importantly, just a wonderful person. Here's a link to an excerpt from Born of Darkness. Check it out if you get a chance.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I've Been Tagged

Those of you who know me well know I don't like to talk about myself. Perhaps that's why I sometimes struggle to come up with material for this blog. Today I am going to write about myself a little bit, but I have a good excuse: I was tagged to do this 4X4 meme by the notorious Seana Graham. I've tweaked it a little bit as you'll see.

Four golf courses I'd like to play:

1. Augusta

2. Pebble Beach

3. Pine Valley

4. TPC Sawgrass

My four favorite Westerns are:

1. The Searchers

2. Rio Bravo

3a. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

3b. Once Upon a Time in the West

4. Unforgiven

PS - When will we see a revival of this genre? I hope soon. It is one of America's greatest contributions to the cinema.

Four books that I recommend to friends, family, and strangers:

1. Dead I Well May Be

2. The Shadow of the Wind

3. Noble House

4. Bernard Cornwell's take on Arthurian Legend

Four reasons why The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie ever made:

1. George Lucas didn't direct it.

2. George Lucas didn't write the screenplay.

3. No Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks, or bad dialogue.

4. "No, I am your father."

Four languages I studied in high school:

1. English (yeah, it counts)

2. French

3. Latin

4. Greek

And no, I don't really remember any French, Latin, or Greek, and even English is a struggle these days.

Four stories I want to write before I die:

1. Screenplay for a biopic on Caravaggio

2. Sci-fi western set on Mars

3. A book that makes money

4. Screenplay for a sequel to this year's Star Trek

Four people I'm tagging to do this as well

1. Jenna O'Rourke

2. Nate Green

3. Nicklas Hughes

4. Matt Damon

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keep Passing The Tapes


When the subject of favorite TV show inevitably comes up at cocktail parties (has anyone actually been to a cocktail party in the last twenty years?) or in annoying Facebook copy and paste lists, most people rattle off the standard answers: Seinfeld, The Simpsons, MASH, The Cosby Show, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Friends, Star Trek, etc.

My answer is not so standard, though I do have one of the most loyal cult followings to back me up here. My favorite TV show of all time is none other than Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There's a good chance you've never heard of it. That's okay, because you still probably know what it is. If you've ever seen or heard about "that show where three guys watch and make fun of appallingly bad movies," then you know what I'm talking about.

MST3K was created by Joel Hodgson (who also starred) and enjoyed a decade long run on various channels, beginning life on public access TV in Minnesota. From there, it spent several years on Comedy Central and ended its run on the Sci-Fi Channel. About halfway through the series, Joel Hodgson left, and Mike Nelson, the head writer, took his place on the Satellite of Love as the man trapped in space forced to watch bad movies.

Yes, for literally ten years, all these guys did was make fun of bad movies. The premise: a guy is shot into space by an evil mad scientist, builds a couple of robots for company, and is forced to watch terrible movies as part of an experiment.

Admittedly, the show had its low points. The creators themselves will be the first to say it took them a few seasons to really get what they were doing and perfect it. And then there were times when the movies they were watching were so bad (Manos: The Hands of Fate to name one), they literally couldn't do anything with the material.

If you've never seen the show, I recommend starting out with one of these episodes:

-Pod People
-Future War
-Time Chasers

The title of my post refers to a line that appeared in the end credits of the show. MST3K enjoyed a huge cult following, and it became customary for die-hard fans of the show to tape an episode and pass it along to people who had never tuned in before. The creators heard about this and actually encouraged it to entice new viewers, because the show, like many good ones, was always a stone's throw away from the gallows.

Monday, June 8, 2009

HarperCollins To Release Two More Books From Michael Crichton

Today was the first time I went back to Michael Crichton's website since his passing, and I was treated to some great news. HarperCollins plans to release two more books by him. One of them was discovered in his files, while the other one will be developed from his notes and files.

I was truly saddened by the loss of this man, so this is indeed great news.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Need A Primer on....Primer

Netflix has this great feature called Play Now for some of the films in its ginormous library, which is large enough to impress even the likes of Burgess Meredith without his glasses. Anyway, based upon several recommendations, including one from my alter ego/son, Nicklas Hughes, I watched the film Primer through Netflix on my computer. I felt wonderfully high-tech and hip while doing it, which means I am neither.

The opening scene of Primer sucked me right in, and the hyperrealistic dialogue, as un-understandable as it was, had me reeling in a good way. Basically, the film follows two friends, who are amateur inventors looking to make the next big discovery, when they realize (SPOILER ALERT - YOU'VE BEEN WARNED) the anti-gravity machine they've constructed also doubles as a time machine of sorts.

The film moves well and has an uneasiness permeating every scene. You keep waiting for that inevitable disaster to happen, and it does....or at least I think it does.

You see, once the third act began, I couldn't follow a damned thing that was going on in the movie. This is to be expected somewhat when you're dealing with time travel, paradoxes, multiverses (?), etc., and especially when the story is about two engineers speaking in jargon the entire time. But alas, I couldn't piece together what was happening at the end, and not even a little quality time on the IMDb forums was much of a help. To sum up, here's what I read about the movie:

a) It requires multiple viewings. And even then, you still might not get it.
b) Many, many things are left unexplained.
c) No one can actually agree what is going on in the film.

Now I for one enjoy a lively debate about a movie as much as the next guy, but when the confusion reaches a certain point and when there is so much left up to the viewer to decide, I think a story has lost all meaning and worse, any sense of purpose. I'm not talking about a "Lady or the Tiger" scenario, I'm talking about where you just have no effing clue what is going on in a story, and even the people who praise the story don't seem to know much more than you do about it.

So, where's the line between complex, mysterious, thoughtful and subjective meaninglessness for you?

All that being said, I do recommend Primer because it is well-filmed, moves quickly, and was shot for a ridiculously low amount of money. It goes to show that creativity can triumph over low budgets and limited resources. My hat's off to Shane Carruth, the writer/director. I'd love to see more movies from this guy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Join Rita's Monthly Chat: June 8th at 8:00 PM EST


All are welcome to join Rita Vetere's monthly chat, being held on June 8th at 8:00 PM EST. This time around, SW Vaughn and Denise K. Rago are Rita's guests. As per usual, there will be prizes, including:

-A copy of SW Vauhgn's Hunted
-$10 gift certificate to Lyrical Press's bookstore

And, Rita will give away an ADVANCE COPY of her upcoming novel, Born of Darkness! So come one, come all. Rita's chats are always a good time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Are We Even Arguing?


After the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Orlando Magic in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James walked off the court without congratulating any of the Magic players or coaching staff on their victory. There is now a debate raging in the sports world as to whether King James committed an athletic faux pas.

That there is even a debate speaks volumes about the current level of professional sports. This is one of the very first things we teach kids when they start to compete - you always, always, always shake your opponent's hand after the game, win, lose, or draw. (Of course, if your opponent plays dirty or disrespects you during the course of the game, then all bets are off, but that wasn't the case here.)

If this had happened at the end of any golf tournament, the golfer who shunned his opponent after the final round would be universally condemned, no ifs, ands, or buts. Yet another reason why golf is my favorite sport.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that I'm hating on LeBron. He's a gifted athlete, and when all is said and done he'll be known as one of the best basketball players in history. But even more importantly he's a nice guy, who usually brings a lot of class to a sport where class is in short supply. His emotions got the better of him in this case, and I can certainly understand that. What bothers me is the fact that there's even a debate about this. He should have shaken his opponents' hands after the game, end of story. And everybody knows it. Or at least I hope they do.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Get Out Of My Face, Theater


Last night, the wife and I saw Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, a play set in one room that takes place mostly on Christmas Eve. We saw it at the Arden Theatre, which is a great intimate venue in Philadelphia.

The Seafarer is really a simple story of men fighting their demons, both metaphorically and literally. I was impressed by how well McPherson's writing managed to inject laugh-out-loud humor into a play that was at times a very dark meditation on life.

The five actors all turned in wonderful performances too - Joe Hickey, Anthony Lawton, Brian Russell, Greg Wood, and William Zielinski - so I recommend the play itself and the actors without reservation. It really was a treat to see a well-written, well-acted play, something I don't do enough of.

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The title of my post is a poor play on words, referring to In-Yer-Face Theatre, a phrase used to describe "young playwrights who present vulgar, shocking, and confrontational material on stage as a means of involving and affecting their audience." There's nothing vulgar about McPherson's writing, unless you find the f word objectionable, but the material is confrontational and at times shocking.

If you'd like to learn more about Conor McPherson, check out this interview. If great actors like Ciaran Hinds are drawn to McPherson's material, he must be doing something right.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dethroned


Congratulations to Lesli Richardson, as her book Good Will Ghost Hunting: Demon Seed just became Lyrical Press's number one mainstream bestseller. Demon Seed is the first of five books in the series.

Here's the blurb for Demon Seed:

Kalyani Martin is a virgin and has every intention of staying that way despite the overwhelming attraction she feels for the co-host of Otherworlds, her new ghost hunting show.

Devastated by the loss of his wife twenty-five years ago, Will Hellenboek is waiting to die. An archdemon, he bides his time co-hosting Otherworlds with his cousin, Aidan. His instant attraction to Kalyani is simply unacceptable to him. His only goal in life is his death, not sex. And certainly not love.

Ryan Ausar protects Earth from anything that would usurp man's free will. His job becomes much harder when his strongest archdemon stubbornly refuses to come back to work.

When lives are on the line, Kalyani, Will and Ryan must make the choice to give up what they hold most dear. Can Kalyani turn her back on the known world and find a little heaven on Earth in the arms of an archdemon?


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The Unearthed enjoyed a nice run atop Lyrical's Mainstream Bestseller List for two months. I'd like to thank those who read it. If you haven't had a chance yet, check it out and see if it might be your thing.