Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

A new dad gets plenty of firsts. First steps, first words and first joyless, soul-sucking children's movie. This one was mine. I had taken one of the monkeys to see Puss in Boots and we both enjoyed the heck out of that. So it's not like I roll my eyes at all children's films. I loved Megamind, Despicable Me, and anything by Pixar, but we had seen these on DVD, not in the theater. Taking the monkeys to the theater should be a treat for everyone.

This was like those carbon copy '70s Disney movies that bored parents and children alike.

Halfway through though, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jenny Slate show up. She was the Saturday Night Live cast member who got the boot shortly after using the F word on live TV. I was hoping she'd liven the movie up a little by letting loose a stream of obscenities. But no.

David Cross had some funny moments later on. Jenny Slate had some funny moments...umm later on. Jason Lee kept on looking at his watch because he wanted to get to the bank to cash his paycheck. My monkey was doing laps around the theatre but stopped for the climax which featured a volcano exploding, so the film gets credit for that. So if you're an hour late, just walk into the theater anyway.

Wait for the DVD, then wait another six months.

Notes:  They borrowed a plot point from "The Rescuers," and the music was by former Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh.

Also, does anyone else remember the Ralph Bakshi "Mighty Mouse" cartoon from the '80s which featured a parody of Alvin and the Chipmunks called, "Elwain and the Tree Weasels," and their song was "Twitch and Writhe."? I want to see that movie.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Classics of Western Literature Part 2

I guess I was in fourth or fifth grade, and a classmate of mine was giving away comic books (I suspect this was on orders of his mom wanting to get rid of old comics in the house because at the time, this book was ten years old). And he gave me this! Can you imagine? I'm sure there are young members of royalty who've been given more valuable gifts, but, not the magnitude of this. Think about it: One of the first comic books I ever read represented the culmination of the previous 25 years of DC Comics and the template for what was to come for the next 50 years!
Any gift anyone has ever given me since then has had an awful hard time topping this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movie review: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Possibly the best of the series and here’s why: It gets more thrills out of suspense rather than action. What I remember from number 2 is explosions, Tom Cruise diving sideways in slow motion while  firing two guns at once and him pulling off rubber latex mask after rubber latex mask. This is what I remember because this was all there was.
Ghost Protocol is more interested in fantastic set pieces (the Dubai tower climbing sequence, and a fight at the end at a location I won’t ruin for you.), and suspense. Brad Bird makes things *not* blowing up more exciting than when things do blow up.
The whole parallel-hotel-room exchange sequence could be the most exciting sequence in the movie and it’s basically a McGuffin exchange scene we’ve seen a million times.
It’s all very exciting and very funny. 
They should also get credit for actually watching the TV show. The opening title sequence, is a great homage to the TV show’s opening titles, and the sequence where they misdirect the target to the wrong hotel room was lifted from an episode (whether or not they know it).
Simon Pegg plays the same comic relief Scotsman he played in Star Trek, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Paula Patton gets more beautiful as the movie goes on.
Forget about his personal life, Tom Cruise is a movie star.
I could be wrong, but in the epilogue, Tom Cruise’s hair was much longer than it was during the rest of the film. The scene is supposed to take place some time later than the body of the movie but months later? I didn’t read anything but I suspect they had made an epilogue which didn’t quite work so they brought everyone back for a reshoot.
Bottom line: Very thrilling movie. Don’t get a giant-size soda at the concessions stand because it’s over 2 hours and you really don’t want to miss a minute.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sample chapter from Truly Twisted

June was wrapping up quite nicely.
It was a week after Claire’s date with Icky and Carl’s trip to Quaker County. Claire didn’t tell Carl about Icky because it didn’t mean anything, nothing happened, and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Things were going too well between the two of them to risk ruining it by telling him about some silly date.
Carl didn’t tell Claire about his trip to Quaker County because, he reasoned, he wasn’t 100 percent sure he found what he was looking for.
June was wrapping up quite nicely.
Claire was sitting at work and she was on the phone with Carl and he was talking like Charles Boyer again.
“I want to smother you een keeses.”
“Me too…it’s been too long…I can’t wait for the weekend.”
“Why wait,” he said. “Come over my place for lunch, we’ll have a nooner…”
“I couldn’t do that.”
“Come on, be impulsive for once.”
“I can’t…”
“Come on…I want to kees your neck, I want to kees your belly, I want to kees your thighs.”
“Stop it,” she whispered.
“If you don’t come here I’ll go over there and ravage you right there on your desk. Won’t that cause a commotion.”
“Not in this newsroom.”
Then there was silence as she thought it over, she just needed a little push.
“Come on…you know you want it…”
And she did. “I’ll be over in 15 minutes,” she said.
“I’ll be naked and waiting.” he offered.
Claire hung up and walked into the editor’s office. “John, I’m going to take a long lunch because I’m covering candidates night tonight at the JCC.”
He wasn’t even paying attention to her, and waved her on.
Cool, he didn’t suspect. So she hopped in her Escort and sped down the boulevard, she was getting excited. She never had a nooner before. She had so very few secrets from mom, this could be one of them.
She pulled into the lot of his apartment and climbed the steps. Before she could knock on the door, Carl opened it, and he was dressed. A weird smell drifted out of the apartment, she looked over his shoulder to see sheets over his furniture and men in overalls painting his ceiling.
Carl joined Claire in the hall and closed the door behind him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, as soon as I hung up the phone these guys showed up, I tried calling you back but you had left by then.”
“Shit,” she said.
“Yeah I know, picture me naked and waiting, and fat guys with paint brushes show up, that’s not my idea of a nooner.”
“Maybe tomorrow.”
He wrapped his arms around her and started kissing her neck, “Here, in the hall!”
She bent  for a few seconds, (figuratively and literally) then said, “No, no, my place, hang on for a few minutes.”
They ran down the steps hand in hand and got in her Escort, vroom, they raced off to her house. The whole way Carl was fondling her. Claire never realized how hard it is to drive when a maniac is playing with her breasts.
They pulled into her driveway to be greeted by Mari’s Hyundai. “Shit,” she said. “My mom’s having lunch.”
Carl moved in closer to lick her ear. “Maybe she’s having a nooner, we’ll join her.”
“No, no, tomorrow, we have to do it tomorrow.”
He got serious. “I don’t know about you, I’m going to explode in about 10 minutes.”
She felt her bra getting tight. “Yeah, me too.”
“Here, in the driveway; on the gravel.”
“No, no,” she said, “a hotel…”
He stopped kissing her suddenly, and looked at her with wide eyes, as if to say, “How’d such an innocent girl like you get ideas like that?” Instead he said, “Let’s go.”
Vroom, they took off back down the boulevard, to the mythical Blue Lantern Hotel, way up on Route 1. It had the reputation for such rendezvous, and furthermore, it was across the street from a drive-in adult movie theater, what more could you ask?
They jumped out of the cars and made a dash for the lobby. Carl quickly checked in for a couple hours, signed the register Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, took Claire’s hand and they let themselves into their room. 
He picked her up, threw her on the bed, tore off her clothes, and they made mad monkey love with their socks on for the next two hours.
Afterward Claire felt cheap, but in a good way.
After they got dressed Claire waited in the car as Carl checked them out. She knew it would be hard to stay focused when she got back to work.
Then something weird happened. The door of the room next to the room they stayed at opened. This was about 30 yards from where she was parked, she saw a woman exit the room and scamper across the lot to a car. Behind her, a man old enough to be the woman’s father stepped out of the room, but he didn’t follow her across the lot, he was walking back to the lobby to check out, she assumed, and as he came closer to the lobby, he began to look familiar, tall, black, graying hair, fortyish-- Claire ducked down under the dash board before he walked past the hood of her car. 
She emerged in time to see Carl pass the guy, then open the car door. “We have to do this more often,” he said, smiling, starting up the car.
“Did you see who you just walked by?”
“No…my high school principal?” he joked.
“No, Richard Atkinson…”
His expression didn’t change.
“The guy my mom’s been seeing!”
“Did you see who he checked in with?”
“Do you think it was your mom?”
“Yikes…makes you wonder…what kind of person checks into the Blue Lantern at noon?”

A little ecstasy

When running two long blog posts, it's best to break up the gray with a picture.

And you can't go wrong with girls in togas.

Sample chapter from Pretty, Funny and Evil

6. Being Careful
If you’re stuck in one group in high school, whether you’re in college courses, trade, home ec or whatever, the people in the group you’re in are the only people you really get to know. Except in gym class, where for better or worse, everyone is mixed together.
Gym was where I met Ed Paladino. Every Monday morning as we changed in the locker room, Ed continued the tradition he started in junior year of telling me about his weekend. He told me fantastic stories involving drugs and sex and the police and the train yards, and there was no one like him in my college-bound courses.
It was while we were changing for that Thursday’s gym class when instead of bragging loudly he spoke to me quietly as if he were telling me a secret.
“Do you know that stairway behind the gym that goes to the gym balcony?”
“Yes, the one that no one ever uses?”
He was speaking in a whisper, “Me and a couple of friends always use it. We usually go up there to light up, but last period when we were up there we found a pocketbook ripped to shreds. All the stuff that was inside was all over the ground.”
He smiled, “We decided to leave ’cause we didn’t want to get caught up there with pot and a ripped-off pocketbook. Anyway, out of all the crap that was on the floor I noticed there was a picture of you. If you want to check it out and find out whose pocketbook it is and just get it off the stairway, you’d really help me out. I would do it myself, but I don’t want anyone asking me what I was doing on that stairway to begin with, y’know?”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
How eerie is that? The only thing I could think of was that the pocketbook probably belonged to a mass murderess who kept pictures of her intended victims and marked their faces with an X after she killed them.
Besides that, I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to keep a picture of me in her pocketbook.
I told him I would check it out.
Down a hallway that wasn’t used very much there was a stairway, a landing, another stairway going the other direction and a landing which led to a locked door. I knew what was there from my explorations of the school in my freshman year.
I walked down the empty hallway and turned a corner to see the first stairway. On the fifth step I found a roll of lipstick. I picked it up, studied it and proceeded to the first landing, from there I discovered the mess on the second stairway.
Scattered from step to step were more rolls of lipstick, a half- full bottle of perfume, a note pad, several pens and pencils, loose change, a small plastic case for tampons and some facial tissues.
I gathered everything as I made my ascent and laid all of it down in one neat pile on the top landing. At the center of the landing was a hollow, seemingly lifeless brown leather pocketbook. Next to that was a wallet.
I sat down on the top landing and leaned against the solid wooden door. I picked up the wallet and opened the inner fold with my thumbs. As expected, any money that was there, was taken.
Flipping through the plastic dividers I saw a picture of me, one that I had never seen before. It was a picture of me shouting my lungs out at the previous year’s Jamboree. The Jamboree is where the entire school gets together in the gym to get drunk, carry on and have silly events like three-legged races, egg tosses and cattle sacrifices.
But there I was, in the center of 11 stoned friends, screaming so much I lost my voice at the end of the night and I didn’t realize someone was taking my picture.
I really had no business looking through this girl’s wallet but since my picture was in there, I told myself that I had a small right to be nosey. Besides, examining the wallet was the only way I had of finding out whose it was
Flipping through the plastic dividers, I saw three pictures of girls wearing graduation caps and gowns, a picture of a boy standing in front of a Christmas tree and a picture of a guy in a Harding football uniform. I flipped that picture over and found a driver’s license which put the mystery to a surprising end.
Not wanting to risk being seen in the hallways carrying a pocketbook, I replaced all the contents in the bag and wrapped it up in my jacket. Then I took to the hallways to the school’s lost and found who would return the pocketbook because I wouldn’t.
Walking through the hallways. I knew that answering the question of whose pocketbook it was, introduced a new question; why was my picture in there? My thoughts went back to the photographs of Ann Marie Dodge Ron gave me. Ann Marie didn’t know I kept her picture in my locker just as I didn’t know this girl kept a picture of me in her wallet.
If I kept a picture of a girl I idolized in my locker I wondered if a girl I knew a little would keep a picture of me in her wallet for the same reason: long distance lust.
I wasn’t about to jump to conclusions, or compliment myself in such a matter, but on the other hand, I still didn’t want to risk embarrassing the girl by returning the pocketbook directly to her. I didn’t want her to know that I saw my picture in her wallet, so when I went to the lost and found I told them her name but I didn’t give them mine.
You have to be careful when you get involved with a girl like Carol Martino.

Intrigued? Download a copy of the whole book here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Anita freaking Brikman and my brush with death

Being a semi-part-time vegetarian, I'm always on the lookout for good fake chicken nuggets. I was at a Whole Foodsy kind of supermarket once with my little niece and found a package of (to avoid legal entanglements we'll call them) Apex brand fake chicken nuggets. No chickens were harmed in the making of these nuggets. I was game. I took them home.

I fried them up in butter, because, let's face it, most fake foods taste like shoe leather without some doctoring. I offered my niece some, but she declined.

I eat them, they weren't bad, and not ten minutes later, Anita freaking Brikman, then the health reporter on Action News, comes on my TV and says, "A consumer activist group in England is demanding the recall of Apex brand fake chicken nuggets because in England there are reports of vomiting, projectile diarrhea, and for the lucky ones, death!"

Could she not tell me this a week earlier? Could she not tell me this a week later? No, she waits for ten minutes after I ate them.

Crap! I started freaking out. My niece thought all of this was very funny. I call my wife, a nurse, and she was like, "Well how do you feel?"

"Fine, except I'm freaking out!"

She took a poll of the other nurses, who recommended some Pepto Bismol. I took off to the drug store, and drove back home swilling PB from the bottle.

Got back, got online. First  I found the Apex website, that said, "You might have heard some nasty stories about our fake chicken nuggets. They are not true!"

Then I went to the anti-Apex website that said, "They're lying, the bodies here are piling up!" And at the bottom of their homepage, instead of a visitors counter, the counter ticked off the death count.

And then...I lived.

Further research revealed that a mystery ingredient in the fake chicken nuggets was mushrooms, and someone  with allergies to mushrooms who ate the fake chicken nuggets would be playing a culinary variation of Russian roulette.

The moral of the story of course is I should have had a cheesesteak.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DVD review - Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale

My children were given this as a Christmas present and I was a little wary. The Tom and Jerrys from the '40s were beautifully animated but colossally violent. The ones from the '70s were badly animated, and worse yet, in response to the complaints of violence, made Tom and Jerry extremely dull friends. I also vaguely remember Filmation licensing the characters in some pretty crappy Saturday morning fare. Films followed in the '80s in which the cat and mouse had voices! Sacrilege!

My expectations weren't set too high.

But, I was pleasantly surprised. The animation is good, great backgrounds. Tom and Jerry remain enemies. Tom gets beat up some, but not with cast-iron skillets. The story isn't Citizen Kane, but it has its moments. And much of the comedy works. And, the whole thing is set to the score from the Nutcracker. How freaking ambitious. It's as if, inspired by Mickey Mouse's appearance in Fantasia, Hanna-Barbera convinced MGM to make a nearly feature length T&J classical music piece, and it sat in a vault for 70 years.

I haven't seen the other T&J direct-to-DVD movies, but this could very well be the best T&J cartoon ever. And quite possibly the best Hanna-Barbera production.

Also, for cartoon fanatics, don't miss the very beginning where they cleverly combine the Warner Bros. logo with the font and background of the '40s MGM cartoons.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie review: Some long overdue notes on Star Trek

Some first impressions as the closing credits are running on my DVD player.
I like the red shirt guy when they sky dived and his parachute sucked him into the big fiery drill thing. He was even wearing red. It was a funny joke, the characters and audience all knew he wouldn’t last long.
Isn’t Winona Ryder (Spock’s mom) younger than the guy who played Spock?
Why did she jump into the dying planet?.....her son and husband were with her, it’s not like she was abandoning them on the planet.
I liked the Kobayashi Maru scene, especially compared to how they did it in Wrath of Khan. Uhura says the same opening line, but this time totally bored.
Putting the scorpion thing in Pike was too much stolen from Khan. 
umm..why did the interior of the Romulan ship look like an exploding volcano? Even when it *wasn’t* in battle.
Is Eric Bana awful in *everything?* I only saw him in The Hulk where he was equally uninteresting.
Time paradoxes always make my head spin, the whole explanation of the plot made no sense to me. I have to watch it again now.
When the giant drill thing was attacking earth, weren’t there other ships there to cut the line holding the drill?
And the giant drill thing hanging from a spaceship was kind of silly.
Why would Spock maroon Kirk on a planet with man-eating dinosaurs?
The ending: Ummm..if you shoot a black hole at an enemy ship, it’s best to take off right away and not hang around to see how it works out and risk getting sucked in.
I liked the whole starting over the whole timeline thing. I like to think this means Star Trek: Next Generation will never have happened.
Old Trekkies know Capt. Pike wasn’t confined to a wheelchair til much later. And Kirk didn’t even hear about it until months after it happened.
I never thought I’d say this but: Too much Leonard Nimoy!
There was a scene in the original series where Kirk had to  piss off Spock to get him to beat him up, so that was borrowed, also.
Lots of dialogue allusions to ST II, III and VI, so that was cool
Also, an allusion to ST: TMP, where the operator of the transporter sat behind protective glass to protect him from the radiation. They forgot about this for all the movies until this one.
Good use of rest of crew (sulu, scotty, chekov, especially Scotty and Uhura), most films, heck most episodes had no idea what to do with these extra characters).
What was Tyler Perry doing there?
In conclusion, despite all the petty gripes, I did enjoy it, especially the first half. It just got sillier as it went on and the climax was more confusing than exciting. I really don’t mind the changes from canon, after 40 years of clutter it could use a good reboot. The big problem was it started off as a “not your grandfather’s Star Trek,” but still relied on kitschy plot tropes. (earth in danger, Enterprise is nearest ship, phaser gets knocked away in two different fight scenes, transporter, communications become dysfunctional when convenient for plot.)