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 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
-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.